When people are enemies, they tend to dehumanize one another. When people want to make peace, they emphasize their common humanity. I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of bridging the divide through music, food, and art.
A visit to Israel inspired Andrew Roseman to bring Israelis and Palestinians together through a music festival called Man of a Thousand Teas. Some may question whether this is an attempt to normalize the occupation, or argue that it doesn’t do anything to help but I see it in the same vein as the effort of Edward Said and David Barenboim’s West-East Divan Orchestra.
Andrew Roseman, like thousands of American students, visited Israel last year to experience the country’s culture and history. But unlike some young tourists, who spend their days getting drunk and tan in Tel Aviv or secretly pleasuring each other in tents in the desert, the junior from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, embarked on a project to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, at least for a day. Since spending four months in Jerusalem, he’s been working to create a festival (called Man of a Thousand Teas) that would feature musicians from both sides of the Green Line. I haven’t heard of anyone trying anything like that before, so I called Andrew to see how it was going.
VICE: What inspired you to try to organize a festival in Israel?
Andrew Roseman: Well, I was in the process of trying to book a [music] show in Jerusalem and I was talking to my [Palestinian] friends, and I was like, “Hey, I’m going to be playing in Jerusalem in a couple of weeks.” And they couldn’t come, obviously, because people from the Palestinian territories aren’t allowed to just enter Jerusalem without a special pass, and it’s very difficult to get. And on the other side, when I was booking shows in Bethlehem, my Israeli friends said, “Oh, I can’t go because I’m not allowed in Palestinian territory.” After a while, we were like, “You know, it would be kind of sweet if we could start a music festival that would bring together Palestinians and Israelis in a politically neutral area that both Israelis and Palestinians have access to.” There aren’t many places like that, but there are a few and with my friends’ help we were able to find a spot that you don’t need a pass or any sort of form to access—a Bedouin area in the Jerusalem wilderness, basically in the Judean desert. Little by little, it’s coming together, and I’m pretty excited about it.
What’s your perspective on how Palestinian and Israeli youth feel about the conflict between the two sides?
I was there when the most recent Gaza conflict was happening and the rockets were going back and forth. There were a bunch of protests and during one, you had Israelis on one side waving Israeli flags and shouting, “Get Hamas out of Gaza,” and then on the other side you had Palestinians waving Palestinian flags and yelling something—I don’t speak Arabic—about the Intifada. Those are two very different messages. I think young people from this part of this world just kind of grow into their context and they don’t necessarily get many chances to intermingle with each other and actually chill. Most of the people I’ve spoken to have really good intentions—at times, it appears that the issue is too complex and people are dug in too deep for anyone to make any sort of difference—but with that attitude we’ll never get anything done.
Have you got a lineup of bands and artists in mind?
Yeah, we’ve reached out to a bunch of bands. We’re in the process of talking to some booking agents. One artist that we’ve made a lot of progress with is Ben Blackwell—he’s a black Israeli rapper, and he’s got a song, “Israel We Go Hard,” that’s pretty sweet. I’d never heard of him before but he’s got a nice following on YouTube and after listening to his stuff we figured he’d be really cool to get on the bill. We’re also trying to get Shadia Mansour, who is a Palestinian female rapper—she’s unreal, she’s got incredible charisma. One big name is Balkan Beat Box, a pretty famous band from Israel, and we’re hoping to get them to be one of the headliners. Ninet Tayeb is this Israeli singer and she’s so talented and really, really sexy.
What’s the hardest part about trying to put this together?
Right now it’s funding. It’s the most difficult part and it’s so stressful. We’re talking to a bunch of fairly affluent influential people and they seem pretty interested… but they keep trying to make sure the festival will have some sort of political slant—kind of like conditional sponsorship—and we didn’t want to deal with that at all. We’re not trying to establish any political agenda, we just want these people together, listening to the music they like and having a good time with each other. The funding part has been difficult but I think if we all do what needs to be done we can make this happen, because it would be unreal, it would be indescribable. Anyone interested in helping Andrew and his friends out should email firstname.lastname@example.org @HCheadle