Feature: Young musicians spread hope in streets of Israeli-blockaded Gaza

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by Sanaa Kamal

GAZA, June 30 (Xinhua) — Every day, just before sunset, three Palestinian youths from the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip play music in public places for local residents for free in an attempt to alleviate their sufferings.

The three young men, who usually play music in public parks and beaches, also hope to reinforce the message of hope and life in the exhausted war-torn coastal strip, which is home to 2 million people.

Once working as wedding musicians, they say they want to help local residents relieve the psychological stress caused by the deteriorating conditions in the strip.

Dubbed “Street Band,” the three-member team constantly visit several public places where they play flute, clarinet, guitar, organ, and other musical instruments.

The three are self-taught musicians who learned through online videos. They play classical Arab music as well as Western tracks.

“We try to get rid of negative energy and frustration through music,” Jihad Abu Shamala, from the northern Gaza Strip, told Xinhua as he tuned his guitar.

Abu Shamala, who is also a singer, said music is the “food of soul and the language of feeling,” adding that it gives positive energy to listeners.

“As musicians, we can read the people’s facial expressions, so we know when their mood changes,” the 22-year-old musician said. “We always succeed in bringing smiles to their faces amid the difficult conditions they have been going through.”

Abu Shamala believes that the situation in the Gaza Strip will not change soon. “We cannot change reality because it is so complicated, but we are trying to create a joyful atmosphere for everyone … this is the least we could do,” he explained.

The Gaza Strip has been placed under a tight Israeli blockade since Islamic Hamas movement seized the territory by force in 2007.

In the past 13 years, Israel and Hamas have been engaged in three major wars that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis.

The blockade has pushed Gaza’s population deeper into poverty, while unemployment in Gaza has reached an unprecedented level.

According to official figures, 70 percent of Gazans are unemployed, many of whom are educated young people, according to local Gaza-based committee resisting the Israeli blockade.

The dire political, economic and social conditions of Gazans have also caused them mental health problems such as depression, disorder and drug abuse.

“The young generation is able to alleviate the complications experienced by the residents through innovations and new methods that contribute to spreading positive energy among the traumatized people of Gaza,” Amir Kamal, one of the three musicians, told Xinhua.

“Some people outside Gaza believe that the people of Gaza are accustomed to wars and death, but people here love life and want to live in peace,” the 27-year-old clarinet player said.

He said that they prefer to play music in crowded places to amuse families and kids, pointing out that this “makes them feel happy, especially when people interact with the music.”

Mohammed al-Atrash, a man in his 40s, reacted pleasantly to the music played by the three young men. He said they help him forget the daily worries caused by the difficult economic and social conditions.

“Gaza deserves better conditions for its people who deserve a better life,” al-Atrash, a father of six, told Xinhua.

According to statistics by the Mental Health Organization in Gaza, more than 60 percent of Palestinians suffer from depression and psychological stress.

“Large numbers of Gaza residents are exposed to the most severe types of depression as a result of the deteriorating political and economic conditions,” said Sami Owaida, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Community Mental Health Organization.

Depression negatively affects the social lives of Gazans, Owaida said, adding that people in the impoverished territory became more exposed to physical ailments caused by the negative psychological state.

“This increases the need to change the daily routine and reduce negative feelings … those young musicians can help reduce stress and trauma,” the psychiatrist said.

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