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Middle east

Thousands gather at concert for captured Israeli soldier

Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2011-10-12

A concert featuring conductor Zubin Mehta (pictured), the Israel Philharmonic and Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi took place on Monday near Gaza in support of Gilad Shalit, the captive Israeli soldier who was snatched by Palestinian militants in 2006.

At an early evening concert in a park Monday, Indian conductor Zubin Mehta called for the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held in Gaza for four years. The Bombay-born conductor who has been musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for more than 30 years gave an open air concert in southern Israel, a few miles from the spot where Shalit was seized near the Gaza border.

The 10,000- to 15,000-strong audience included Shalit’s family and a number of Israeli politicians, including Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Monday’s concert marks the culmination of an eight-day march by Shalit family supporters through Israel to the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, to press the Israeli government to try to secure a deal for his release. "This is a tremendous show of mobilization, invested with much emotion,” said FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from the concert venue in the Israeli town of Sderot.

Last week, Netanyahu told reporters he was prepared to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. But, he stressed that the swap could not include "top terrorists" and that there were differences between the two sides over releasing some Palestinian prisoners back into the West Bank. Israel maintains that many released prisoners would have to live in exile.

A goy with a political voice

A day before the concert, Mehta said he had cleared his schedule to conduct Monday’s concert as "a gesture for the young man and his family to tell the world that four years without a single visit is too long."

The concert program included works by Verdi, Mozart and Beethoven. The star attraction of the evening was Israeli folk rock singer Shlomo Artzi. At 60, Artzi is one of Israel’s most popular male singers and thousands of Israelis have grown up to his politically neutral yet proudly patriotic tunes.

Unlike Artzi though, Mehta does not conform to the patriotic Israeli artistic archetype. As the Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Mehta is one of the most respected figures on the Israeli national landscape. His international reputation as a conductor is unassailable. The 74-year-old conductor has been associated with some of the world’s leading orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics.

But Mehta, who was born in Bombay into a Paris family, is not Jewish, and still less a man of consensus – certainly not with the current Israeli government.

Scathing criticism of Netanyahu’s government

He is one of the few people in Israel to push for a dialogue with Hamas. A few days after the appointment of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he wrote a column in the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, in which he condemned the "hate” speech of Israel’s chief diplomat. "This man, with his foul language,” he wrote, “is the ruin of any hope of rapprochement between Israel and other nations (...) I hope the new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will put an end to this irresponsibility. "

Mehta conducts his political struggle with relative discretion. The Israeli media consider him as less pro-Palestinian than his colleague, Daniel Barenboim, an Argentinian-born pianist and conductor, who is an outspoken critic of Israel’s settlement policies.

But on the ground, Mehta has been a steady voice for peace and cooperation. He has started a training program for Palestinian musicians in the cities of Nazareth and Shfaram. And just as he wants Shalit released soon, he also dreams of Palestinian musicians playing in the Israeli Philharmonic - one day.


Date created : 2010-07-05


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