YH: How did you get involved in Heartbeat?
SM: I attend Seeds of Peace. The person who started Heartbeat, Aaron Shneyer, is also involved in Seeds of Peace…I had a music video on YouTube and he saw it and he invited me… He took some tools, or whatever you want to call it, from Seeds and started something different, with music and youth.
YH: What exactly does Seeds of Peace do?
SM: Seeds of Peace is a non-profit organization that brings young people, youth from conflict areas—for example [from] Palestine and Israel, Pakistan and India—to meet in a camp in Maine. In [the] camp, you have dialogue sessions instructed by mentors who are professionals. These dialogue sessions are usually very intense, and it’s just an opportunity for young people to talk about the conflict, and it gives them space to say what they want to say without fear and judgment.
YH: How did your family and your community react when you started playing in Heartbeat?
SM: I come from a community that is very closed. It’s a small city in Israel, all Palestinian, and my family has been there for more than nine generations. I’ve been living there my whole life, and all my family lives there. And everybody knows everybody, everybody is in everybody’s business, and they are usually very interested in what people are doing. My community is something that has been hard to deal with. I come out of my community saying, “I don’t want to support this; I don’t want to be part of this ignorance or laziness in not doing anything,” and I get judged for it, and I get criticized. But my family is very supportive, which is very helpful.
YH: When people criticize your involvement in Heartbeat, is it out in the open?
SM: It’s hard for me to describe. People gossip a lot. They talk about each other. I come from a very conservative place. For me, as a girl, it’s definitely different from being a boy in that community, and doing what I do—touring the states with boys and girls who are considered strangers to the rest of the people (they don’t know them, they don’t interact with them), staying in Tel Aviv for a lot of hours, going all the way alone—that’s kind of unacceptable with social codes….I hear people talking, and even if I don’t, I know they are because I know the community that I grew up in, and I know what’s acceptable to them and what’s not. But again, when you’re doing something that is life-changing and you’re stepping out, people will eventually start seeing what’s right, and that this is the right thing to do.
YH: Given that the members of Heartbeat come from such different communities and perspectives on the Israeli-Arab conflict, how does the group get along as a whole?
SM: We get along very well. You heard the music. [This tour has] been very emotional, and we all love each other very much…We don’t even think about that what we’re doing is unusual. This is why we had to sit down and [say], “People don’t understand what’s going on back home.” They need to understand that this isn’t something that [Israelis and Palestinians] do [there]. People don’t meet; they don’t play music together. They don’t sit down and talk.
YH: Have you ever had a performing experience with Heartbeat that stands out as especially emotional or unique?
SM: It’s all so meaningful and powerful. I think the greatest moments are when we feel so united on stage that when we make mistakes, or when we mess up or something, it’s just so much fun to know that people are behind your back. We laugh between us, and it’s that kind of connection that is just so unique and so special that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
YH: Do you have a favorite song to perform that addresses those themes of unity and peace?
SM: There’s something behind each song…Sometimes there’s an Arabic song that we play. It’s a love song; it’s not about [the conflict], but it’s really about the poetry of love and Arab music. Being able to play Arab music with all these people ([there are] Americans on stage…we have Jewish Israelis, and we have Palestinians) and to all play a very Middle Eastern Arab song, is also very powerful.
YH: What has American support for Heartbeat looked like on your U.S. tour?
SM: A lot of places that we’ve visited are very, very welcoming. People obviously don’t come up to me and say, “I don’t support what you’re doing. I disagree,” but sometimes you feel that people are not accepting the idea by their questions, or by the faces they make about our songs, the comments they make. I think this [U.S. tour] is actually more positive because a lot of people don’t know about
YH: Beyond spreading awareness, what are your thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the best way to work toward changing the current political situation?
SM: I think the situation is very, very bad. I come from a place that suffers from a lot of crimes and a lot of chaos. Living in an all-Palestinian city [in Israel] is very hard because the police won’t step in—the government won’t do anything about it, they don’t care about the school system, they don’t care about anything… You can go and you can see, you can be totally ignorant to the situation and understand what’s going on when you walk down the street. I do hold an Israeli citizenship, and [we’ve] been there for nine generations… It’s amazing how people say, “There’s justice, this is democratic,” but you come there and you see that my city is suffering because of the inequality… If I want to apply [for a job at] a Jewish mall or whatever, when they hear I’m Arab, they would always respond with, “Oh, actually, we don’t need any employees.” At the airport I get treated differently. My message is to bring justice and to say that I’m not equal in my own country, in my own land. Of course, everyone comes from a different background in the group. Even if we have this unified message, we also each have messages that we want to share with the world.
As for the conflict, I don’t understand how we’re in the 21st century and people are still under occupation, still fighting over land and the separation… I think the only way that peace will happen is when we’re all equal and when someone breaks the siege. I personally don’t think it’s going to come from the government. It’s groups like Heartbeat who will step out and say, “Ok, I’m doing something, I’m going to change the situation, I’m going to change the world. I’m going to change where I live.” More and more people are going to say that, and I hope we are actually driving people to do something.
—This interview was condensed by the author