Travel writing on the Middle East

I once reported and wrote a story about street musicians in Jerusalem for a publication based in the Middle East that publishes in English. Not one word in the story had anything to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The street musician world of Jerusalem is prolific, varied, talented, and extraordinarily interesting. They have no politics to espouse when they perform. Violinists, guitarists, singers, all play because they want to. Many perform at some of Jerusalem’s open mic sessions at different places in the city. Their performances are free, unless you want to tip. It’s some of the best local color that the city has to offer.

Guitarist Adi Hazan in Jerusalem’s Zion Square. Photo by Genevieve Belmaker.

However, when the story was published, words had been added to make it more dramatic, more interesting, more violent. Words that evoke fighting and conflict were added, and a photo of a religious man was made the lead image.

There’s nothing wrong per se with framing a story about street musicians in the context of the geopolitical situation. Whatever works for that publication, really. But there are times when it gets to be ridiculous. This was one of them.

Music is music is music. Yes, it can be used to influence and incite. But not in this case. One street musician, a close friend, told me that he plays in Jerusalem on the streets because he simply must. In his case, there is a spiritual connection to the city that motivates him.

I wish editors at that publication would have emphasized that – spiritual connection – instead of what they did – social disconnection.


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