Interview1st collaboration between a Lebanese Christian and Israeli

Banned from Lebanon for Israel ties, artist sings Arabic cover of Eden Golan’s ‘Hurricane’

Carine Bassili, devout Christian living in US, hopes her music will build bridges between her people and Israelis: ‘You cannot have peace before having healing and reconciliation’

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Lebanese-American singer Carine Bassili, May 2024. (courtesy)
Lebanese-American singer Carine Bassili, May 2024. (courtesy)

Carine Bassili did not expect her classical Arabic cover of Israeli artist Eden Golan’s fifth-placed Eurovision song “Hurricane” to gain such popularity.

But a short video clip from the song shared on Instagram by her friend Jonathan Elhoury, a Lebanese-Israeli activist, has racked up nearly 14,000 likes.

“It was just a small gesture to support her,” said 39-year-old Lebanese artist Bassili, who is now living in the United States, in an interview with The Times of Israel. “I saw all the abuse she got on social media, and what happened to her in Sweden.”

During the Eurovision contest in Malmo on May 7-11, the Israeli singer was repeatedly booed on stage and was accompanied by a heavy security presence throughout the competition in light of a wide range of threats. Various anti-Israel protests were held in the Scandinavian city during her stay.

Lebanon-born Bassili is an ardent supporter of the Jewish state, a notable exception in a country that has never had diplomatic ties with Jerusalem and from which Islamist terror group Hezbollah has been launching deadly projectiles at Israel on a daily basis since October 8.

She left Lebanon for the US 19 years ago. Her childhood was marred by the internecine Lebanese civil war, which erupted as a conflict between Christians and Palestinian insurgents in 1975 and expanded to encompass vast segments of Lebanon’s sectarian society, lasting until 1990.

She grew up in a Christian area of Beirut near Dahia, the Hezbollah stronghold in the Lebanese capital, and remembers frequent rushes to bomb shelters, “always running for our lives,” and rockets falling on her school. The conflict took the lives of numerous members of her family.

“We grew up not hating anyone,” she recalled. “But many Lebanese Christians don’t trust Palestinians, due to our history with them.”

‘The veil was removed’

The IDF intervened in the Lebanese conflict on the side of Christians against Palestinian militias in 1982, and maintained troops in the country until 2000, but Bassili said “she didn’t really care about Israel” while growing up in Lebanon.

Her interest only emerged many years later, when she chanced upon the teachings of US Rabbi Jason Sobel in 2017. The rabbi’s lectures prompted her to a more attentive reading of the Old Testament, and to discover “God’s heart for Israel and the Jewish people.”

“The veil was removed,” Bassili recalled. She has been a staunch supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state ever since, a passion she has expressed through her music.

In 2020, she began connecting with Israelis online – an act that would constitute a crime in her native Lebanon. “Even singing to the God of Israel is not allowed in churches in Lebanon,” she noted.

Among those she became acquainted with was Yair Levi, a Jewish Orthodox Israeli singer and an IDF captain. The two became friends, and in January 2021, they recorded an Arabic version of “Refa Na,” a Hebrew chant of healing from the biblical Book of Numbers. The song was shared by the Israeli government’s official Arabic-language X account as an example of “musical cooperation” between the two countries.

The biblical chant held particular significance for Bassili.

“I felt it’s beautiful to sing for a healing between Lebanon and Israel, because you cannot have peace before having healing and reconciliation. We need to go deeper than just say we want to have peace and political [settlement]. We need an inner healing in our hearts, we as Lebanese towards Israel, too.”

Lifetime ban from Lebanon for ‘collaboration’

Lebanese-American singer Carine Bassili (courtesy)

The collaboration with an Israeli earned Bassili a lifelong ban from the Lebanese government from her homeland. Al-Akhbar, a newspaper affiliated with Hezbollah, also condemned her, decrying her act of “normalization” with Israel and calling her song a “naive move.”

“This was the first time in history a collaboration took place between a Lebanese Christian and an Israeli, and I think it was shocking to everyone,” Bassili said.

She continued on her artistic journey, releasing another song in November 2023, titled “God of Israel” in collaboration with Yair Levi and American Christian singer Sean Feucht.

Her most recent pro-Israel activism, including her participation in pro-Israel protests on US campuses, has gotten her some backlash at home, with some accusing her of ignoring the plight of the Palestinians.

“I think there is enough news about the Palestinians [on Lebanese media],” she said. “I want to show the other side for the Lebanese to see.”

But she has also received support from some Lebanese Christians, who thank her in private messages for representing them and praise her for her courage, and also from some Lebanese Shia Muslims, including at least one with family members inside Hezbollah. “That was shocking to me,” she said.

Lebanese-American singer Carine Bassili during a pro-Israel protest on a US campus, May 2024. (Instagram, courtesy)

As for her Arabic cover of “Hurricane,” only a short clip was shared on social media, but Bassili has not decided if and when to record and release the whole song, and whether she might do a duet with Eden Golan herself. “I don’t even know if she has heard it,” Bassili wondered.

Speaking from the depth of her faith, the artist had a message of support for Israelis in the ongoing conflict against Hamas, which broke out on October 7, when terrorists from Gaza rampaged through southern Israel, and, in acts of unspeakable brutality killed 1,200 people and took 252 hostage.

“War is ugly, we can’t deny some innocent people from both sides have died, but I believe this is not only a physical war. It is a battle between good and evil,” she said. “We must first go back to our Bible and then follow history to know the truth, as I did, and understand how this long-lasting conflict has affected the land that belongs to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

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