MOST international musicians would balk at the notion of a two-day journey to final rehearsals past military checkpoints on alert for weapons smugglers - but for 19 year-old viola player Ibrahim Masri it's an occupational hazard.

He's part of the Palestine Youth Orchestra [PYO], which has been touring Europe for three weeks and whose 76 members include Muslims, Druze and Christians.

They say they cannot gather the full orchestra at home because Israeli restrictions make it too hard to bring together members from Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem and refugees abroad.

Israel says its West Bank security measures are to protect its citizens against attacks from suicide bombers and gunmen, which peaked in the Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s and early 2000s.

With a progamme combining traditional classical and Arabic music, the orchestra played dates in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

''They're always the best trips of my life. We get very close to each other, and we share unforgettable experiences.,'' said cellist Jude Qalawi as she boarded a bus in Jerusalem at the start of the tour.

She and her companions earned standing ovations at the finale in Amsterdam's palatial Concertgebouw, the home venue of PYO conductor Vincent de Kurt.
He became involved with the orchestra after playing a concert in Jordan in 2017.

''I think the music speaks for itself,'' he said. ''The message is beauty.......is understanding. And music is the best language to do that because everyone in the world loves music.''

Aged 14 to 27, its players on this tour came from Jerusalem, the Israeli occupied West Bank and inside Israel itself. There were also Palestinians musicians from Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon and some non-Palestinians..

However, unlike on previous tours, nobody from Gaza made this trip, orchestra manager Zeina Khoury said. An easier journey was had by Mustafa Saad, the 21-year old concert master and lead violinist, whose two brothers and sister also play with the orchestra.

None of the Saad brothers did army duty, despite coming from Israel's Druze Arab community whose men usually serve in the Israeli military.

''Once you play with your friends in Palestine you can never imagine yourself holding a rifle instead of your instrument,'' he said. [Reuters] 


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