- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian who reportedly was obliged to play a tune on his violin for Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint last month has been invited to participate in a three-day master violin class at an Israeli music center.

The Palestinian, Wissam Tayyem, a resident of the Fara refugee camp in the West Bank, has accepted the invitation, even though he has just begun learning to play violin.

The 29-year-old was photographed six weeks ago at the head of a line at the roadblock, playing his violin for a soldier sitting at a table in front of him. The photograph was taken by a member of an Israeli human rights organization, Roadblock Watch, which posts volunteers to monitor the activities of soldiers at the roadblocks.

The photograph, published in newspapers, touched off a storm because it reminded some people of stories about Nazi soldiers forcing Jewish musicians to perform for them during the Holocaust.

The Israeli army rejected the accusations, saying Mr. Tayyem had been asked to open his violin case to ensure that it did not contain weapons or explosives. An army spokesman, quoting the soldiers, said it had been Mr. Tayyem’s idea to play a tune.

Mr. Tayyem, however, told reporters that the soldier had told him, ” ‘Play a sad song and you can pass.’ It made me sad, and I didn’t play well.”

The story was read by Ofer Mendelovitch, an administrator at the Keshet Eilon Music Center in northern Israel, who decided to invite Mr. Tayyem to participate in the institute’s master violin class. Mr. Mendelovitch got permission from the army for Mr. Tayyem to enter Israel and remain at Eilon, a collective kibbutz, for the three-day seminar.

Mr. Mendelovitch was not put off when he learned that Mr. Tayyem had been playing the violin for only two months, although he has been playing guitar since age 15.

The master class is for more experienced musicians. Almost 50 violinists, from ages 6 to 29, will participate, with their teachers.

“His level doesn’t matter,” Mr. Mendelovitch said. “We just want to give him a concert stage to play on instead of a roadblock.”

Mr. Tayyem said he was eager to participate, even though some in his refugee camp feared that something bad would happen to him in Israel. He has been practicing the past few weeks following instructions faxed to him by the music center.

“I know I will benefit from this course and from meeting other Israeli musicians,” he said. “I believe that music can form a bridge to peace.”

Today, Mr. Tayyem will carry his violin case through the same roadblock where he was photographed last month on his way to the border with Israel, where a taxi will be waiting to take him to a world of music.

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