Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza wanted to prove a point when he decided to record his new album in a Palestinian section of East Jerusalem: music can connect people separated by deep divisions.
To make the album, titled East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, Broza assembled an eclectic group of Israeli and Palestinian musicians who have never played together before. He wanted to create a living proof that individuals could look past political barriers and collaborate to create something special.
Released in January, one of the album’s top tracks is a cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding,” which features a choir of Israeli and Palestinian children:
Broza, 58, also enlisted the help of American folk musician Steve Earle to co-produce the album, which featured his first songs written in English. He received contributions from Wyclef Jean, members of the Palestinian hip-hop group G-Town, and Israeli musicians Gadi Seri and Yossi Sassi, among others.
We spoke to Broza on Monday in Washington, D.C. where he was set to play at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. Just two days before playing at the pro-Israel gathering, he performed in the predominantly Arab town of Nazareth in Israel. You get the idea.
Below is a transcript of our chat, edited for length and clarity.
Fusion: Tell me a little bit about how this project came together.
David Broza: The mere concept of it being made in East Jerusalem made it a challenge.
Israelis are reluctant to go there. They don’t feel safe. Palestinians are reluctant to go and play with Israelis in a studio because of the boycott. There are a lot of issues you have to take into consideration and be really patient with.
The actual project took three years. But I had been already in the studio myself working in the East Jerusalem studio for 14 years. So I kind of knew what to expect and it didn’t matter to me if it took another six months or another year. It’s a matter of being focused and staying on target and eventually it will happen.
Steve Earle really just blended in perfectly. He didn’t take sides, he didn’t interfere. He just noted the complexities and really concentrated on the music.
One of the ways I wanted to make everyone comfortable is that I had Israeli and Palestinian chefs come in make us the most luxurious, amazing, delicious meals. By the third day, the studio was full of Israeli musicians, Palestinian musicians.
It was a fascinating capsule where it could either all happen or erupt and be broken down. And it was magical. After eight days and eight nights, it was like telling a fable, a fairly tale.
F: Were there times where you thought it wasn’t going to come together. And how did you overcome those doubts?
DB: This is my album. It’s all about my music. There was no political agenda. Still, everybody on the first day had this look of a half-smile and half-frightened look in their eyes.
But after the first meal and the first wine that we served, and then we went back into the studio at night just to jam, everybody felt, “these are people. We’re not animals, we don’t hate each other.”
Every day that passed, more guests came. And when the guests come, the musicians feel like they are reassured. We’re not doing this alone, this is becoming a magnet for people.
F: Can you talk about why you chose to record in East Jerusalem, particularly the symbolism of that area of the city?
DB: I met the guys who owned the studio, who were part of a prominent Palestinian band called Sabreen. And the leader of the band and I became very close friends. This has been going on for 14 years.
Because of that friendship, I could put [politics] aside and I could tell you I am just doing an album in the Jerusalem area with some friends. But I want people to understand that it’s not an alien place. And it’s not a negative place. So I made the point of helping them discover the beauty of East Jerusalem.
We made a music product. There is no message other than just be people. Enjoy.
F: Even though you say it’s just an album, it is music with a message. What you’re saying is that it’s possible for individuals to overcome political divisions that separate them, yes?
DB: Yes. You can do something that looks like the most political, bold act. But if you take away the issues that differ us, and you concentrate on what puts us together as people — which is camaraderie, compassion, love, joy — this is what it was all about.
The message is don’t let the situation bring you to a point where you’re resigned to the easy solution of building walls, stay behind your wall.
I know I may sound amazed, innocent. But I am not naïve. This has been my goal for years. I’ve been working on peace through education almost my entire adult life. I believe in it, I won’t take no as an answer and I won’t take a boycott as an answer. I think by boycotting, we’re building walls.
F: President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Bibi Netanyahu are meeting today here in D.C. If you could sit in on that meeting, what would you tell them?
DB: My wish would be that we could impact enough people for our voices to be heard so our leaders will follow. Leaders don’t lead unless the people want them to.
I would love to be a fly on the wall and hum my song, and for both [Obama and Netanyahu] to kind of think, “wow, there’s this melody in my head. What is this about peace, love and understanding? Do you hear it Bibi?”
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.