Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Second Banned Song

In 1969 the military band of the Nachal brigade was at the peak of its creativity and fame. The story of shirim ivri'im in the 1960s and 1970s is unimaginable without the military bands, and the Nachal band was the best of them all. Any new creation of theirs was bound to catch everyone's attention.

No-one saw this one coming, however: Shir Lashalom, Song for Peace, with Miri Aloni as the lead.

First, the music. It was of a type the military bands had never used. Electrifying.

Second, the content: while it was a full-throated call for peace, and that was fine, it contained an enigmatic line: al tabitu leachor, hanichu lanoflim. Don't look back, leave the fallen behind.

It was an immediate smash, and almost as swiftly it was banned. As I noted when presenting Hasela HaAdom of 1954, songs can't be banned in Israel, but in 1969 the state control of the radio was still significant enough that an order not to play the song there was largely effective. But not fully: if the 1954 ban created mystery, the 1969 one aggravated, and never really succeeded. Everyone knew the song, and it was sung all over, accompanied by arguments (Israelis love to argue). I don't remember how long the official ban stood, but it couldn't have been very long.

No-one ever said so out loud, but there is reason to believe the unorthodox music was an added aggravation for the old codgers who felt it was their job to protect the purity of Israeli music. It was only five years since they had forbidden the Beatles to visit Israel (damaging cultural influence, they had called it).

In the 1970s the national disagreement about the price of peace versus controlling the occupied territories got worse, and shir lashalom became the anthem of the peace camp; in those years it definately wasn't part of the consensual canon of shirim. Miri Aloni never really took off as an important singer, either.

On Saturday night, November 4th 1995, middle-aged Miri Aloni was brought out of semi-retirement to sing shir lashalom at the end of a massive demonstration in Tel Aviv, called to bolster the declining political standing of the Rabin government in the face of rising Palestinian terror and broadening Israeli public dissatisfaction with what was then called the peace process. She was flanked by Rabin to her right, Peres to her left, and assorted apparatchiks on either side, and they fervently sang for peace. (Well, Rabin didn't really sing. But he tried).

A few minutes later Rabin was dead, shot by Yigal Amir. Rabin had folded the sheet with the song's words into his pocket, and at his funeral Eitan Haber, his top aide, presented the blood-stained page. Israel was plunged into deepest shock... and shir lashalom was elevated to the pinnacle of consensus, where it remained for a number of years.

After 2000 and the Palestinian determination to terrorize Israel into positions it wouldn't take, the song lost luster. Today it's solidly part of the canon, and everyone knows its words and melody, but it isn't a religious article anymore. It's a nice song, with lots of historical baggage if you care to reflect on it.

Hebrew words
English translation
Let the sun rise
light up the morning
The purest of prayers
will not bring us back

He whose candle was snuffed out
and was buried in the dust
bitter crying won't wake him up
and won't bring him back

Nobody will bring us back
from a dead and darkened pit
neither the victory cheer
nor songs of praise will help

So just sing a song for peace
don't whisper a prayer
Just sing a song for peace
in a loud shout

Allow the sun to penetrate
through the flowers
don't look back
let go of those departed

Lift your eyes with hope
not through the rifles' sights
sing a song for love
and not for wars

Don't say the day will come
bring on that day -
because it is not a dream -
and in all the city squares
cheer only for peace!

The first video has pictures of Rabin, with the original, 1969 version of the shir. The second has a segment of the Nov. 4th 1995 performance.


Anonymous said...

Is there a Palestinian song for Peace?


Bryan said...

This is unrelated to this song, but may I ask if the song "Kalaniot" is considered a shir ivri? There's a dance group at my school called Kalaniot and upon googling it, I realized it was a song as well. Is it recognized by Israelis, or is it just an old song that most people wouldn't recognize?

Sylvia said...

Yes Bryan, ALL Israelis would recognize Kalaniot which is associated with the late renown singer Shoshana Damari.

Yaacov said...

I second Sylvia. Kalaniot and Shoshana Damari are the grandmothers of shirim (as in "the mother of all...).

I'll write about them by and by.

Anonymous said...

I hope it is PC to fall for her even before Yaacov has introduced her