Music at the Good Fence

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta performed Tchaikowsky and Offenbach in an unlikely setting Friday before an audience unfamiliar with the works of European composers but appreciative nonetheless. The place was the open fence in the Israeli border village of Dovev and the listeners were several hundred south Lebanese–school children, border police, Christian Phalangists wearing side arms, Druze, Circassians, Israeli settlers and Lebanese farmers.

It was a holiday for the Lebanese and a propaganda victory for the Israelis through the universal language of music. Mehta, who visited the open fence a week earlier, decided that it would be an excellent spot for a concert. His 100-member orchestra arrived in buses from Tel Aviv with their instruments and sheet music. They set up in a clearing near the border, under a few trees that offered meager shade from the burning sun.

The Lebanese, who might have expected Oriental tunes and a belly dancer were intrigued by the violins, French horns and bass drums. The percussion instruments they have been used to for many months are machineguns and mortars.

Tzvi Baer, Israeli border police chief in what appeared to be a reference to the bitter fighting that had broken out between Egypt and Libya, said: “While somewhere the guns are roaring between two states that have defined themselves as sisters, we here produce wonderful sounds, the eternal tones of music to our neighbors.”

Mehta expressed hope that someday “soon we shall perform in Cairo and the Egyptian national orchestra will perform in Tel Aviv.” A Phalangist major presented the maestro with a Lebanese flag painted on cedar wood as a gesture of appreciation. He said his people may not have understood Tchaikowsky but they understand “the call for a brotherly alliance between you and us.”

Reality intruded, however, when a wounded Lebanese soldier was carried through the fence opening for medical treatment at the border clinic. But for a while the tragedy of Lebanon’s civil war had been forgotten.

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