Noa, Israeli singer: ‘This war doesn’t get us anywhere’

The award-winning singer, who represented Israel at Eurovision in 2009 in a duet for peace with her Arab friend Mira Awad, says that the Hamas attack on October 7 and the bombings in Gaza have reinforced her conviction about the need to end the Middle East conflict

Noa in her recording studio in a kibbutz near Tel Aviv.Jaime Villanueva
Antonio Pita

It was dawn on October 7 when the world media began to report that Hamas had taken advantage of the fact that Israel was celebrating the end of the Sukkot holiday to launch a surprise attack in which it ended up killing 1,200 people and kidnapping more than 200. Ahinoam Nini, 54, the successful Israeli singer and songwriter better known as Noa, received her first messages of concern from abroad. The first one was from her friend, the Spanish singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat. Noa recalls this as she speaks from Shefayim, the kibbutz north of Tel Aviv where, every day, she walks for a few minutes from her house to the coast of that same Mediterranean Sea that her friend Serrat has sung about so much.

In these days of pain, Noa needs those moments of calm and reflection by the sea more than ever, she says. The massacre of October 7 and the subsequent massive bombings in Gaza have further convinced her about the message in the title of the song she performed in 2009 at the Eurovision contest with Mira Awad (the first Arab singer to represent Israel): There Must be Another Way. “I support the two-state solution and the rights of the Palestinian people. And I have not changed my views at all. The importance of working tirelessly for peace has been strengthened in me. Because look what happens when it’s not done [...] The war would stop tomorrow. It doesn’t get us anywhere. And for Hamas there are solutions.” The two will share the stage again on Wednesday, to sing with the Berlin Philharmonic. The funds will go to the Israeli forum that represents the families of the hostages in Gaza and to two women’s peace organizations, one Israeli and one Palestinian.

Although she would not like to be on the same list as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom she has criticized for years, the international recognition Noa has built up over the years through music awards and sales makes them both among the few living Israelis whose name sounds familiar abroad. Her fame and decades of activism now open privileged doors for her, such as those that lead to Pope Francis in the Vatican, to pressure Hamas to release the 134 hostages remaining in Gaza. She is wearing a symbol around her neck that represents that movement, in which she has been passionately involved. It is a soldier’s dog tag with the motto: Bring them back home now.

Question. Can you show it to me?

Answer. Sure. Like everyone in Israel, I take the hostage issue very personally. I don’t think there’s a single person, no matter what they think, who doesn’t have a personal connection to the fact that about 250 people were kidnapped. Many are still there. For any country it would be traumatic, but for this one, which is really small, 250 hostages are like thousands of people in another. It is super traumatic that they took them away and we don’t know when they will come or what condition they are in. I’ve done a lot of work to try to bring them home through any connections I have in the world, including the Pope, who I spoke to many times. Unfortunately I don’t think he can do much. I have also raised money, performed, marched with them, posted many messages on the internet... I feel that we are in the depth of the trauma and far from its end.

Noa and Mira Awad, at Eurovision 2009.
Noa and Mira Awad, at Eurovision 2009.

Q. You say that it is an issue in which many people in Israel are involved, but I get the impression that your political camp is more sensitive to the issue than the right.

A. Everyone has an opinion about the hostages. We have seen some terrible things from the Israeli right, radicals who are blaming them for wanting to have their children back at the expense of eliminating Hamas. How can anyone dare to say that wanting your family back could stop the army from destroying Hamas? I’m not into human sacrifice in any way. I think that we have to do everything to save and protect human life. Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian, all human life. I do not support the death cult.

Q. You were talking to me earlier about the conversation we should be having right now. What is it?

A. I think we are fighting three wars right now. There is one within Israel, between two different visions of life. A war of ideas. Many years ago, it was the peace camp. And then you add the democracy camp, in conflict with anti-democratic and anti-peace forces. During the years of Netanyahu’s rule, it has deteriorated into a full-blown catastrophe in the last 10 months, with all the demonstrations [against judicial reform].

Then came October 7th, like digging a deep hole in the bottom of the earth. There is also the conflict within Palestine. They also have to understand who is in charge. Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Al Fatah... Those who believe in non-violent resistance, those who believe in violent resistance, those who believe in elections...

On top of that, there is a big international issue, which is basically Iran and its proxies and all those people who want the cult of death, versus those who want some kind of agreement now.

I personally support the two-state solution and rights of the Palestinian people and I haven’t changed my views. I think we should choose for peace, for the quest for peace, for the importance of working indefatigably for peace. Because look what happens when you don’t. When you take all that important work and push it aside, devalue it, demonize it and put in the military might of Hamas and the military might of the Israeli army. What is the result? Death. Death, suffering. Who needs that?

The importance of working indefatigably for peace has been strengthened in me

What Hamas did was a horrible act of human brutality. It brought no good to anyone. Not for the Palestinian people, and definitely not for the Israeli people. It’s devastating. And look at the number of victims now. I would stop the war tomorrow. If I were the general to stop it, I would stop it. It doesn’t get us anywhere. And for Hamas there are solutions. I’m not a general, but there are many solutions to this problem other than dropping more and more bombs. We need creative people, perhaps more women, to contribute good ideas. The solution of war, the macho and violent solution, has led the world from catastrophe to catastrophe, with millions of deaths. Enough of that. We are no longer in the Middle Ages. So I think we can say: we condemn terrorism, brutality and violence.

Q. You said that, if it were up to you, you would stop the war tomorrow. Most Israelis would tell you that….

A. I support the end of violence. And it is only possible through a diplomatic solution, which can only come with international intervention. If I were prime minister of Israel, the first thing I would do would be to clearly state my intentions. Because intentions are very important. That doesn’t mean I know what to do with the army tomorrow. Of course we can’t have Hamas terrorists bombing my people. I can’t risk them coming and kidnapping more children and raping more women. It’s a problem for which I don’t have an immediate solution. But I know I have to say that I want a diplomatic solution. Two states for two peoples and talk to whoever wants to talk to me, which of course is not Hamas. And let the international community help. If I were prime minister, we would never be in that situation in the first place, because I would have made peace with the Palestinians long ago. Both parties bear a lot of responsibility for the failure of the attempts. But I am Israeli, so I take responsibility for my part.

Q. I understand what you mean, but there is an urgency about what is happening now in Gaza.

A. I want international intervention tomorrow.

Q. Which would mean to stop…

A. It means we have to stop. I read something that is a solution I would propose. The release of all Israeli hostages and all Palestinian security prisoners. Hamas prisoners and leaders would leave Gaza for a third country. Telling them: “We are not going to kill you because it would mean killing all those civilians, but you have to leave. It’s not an option for you to be here. I personally believe that you all deserve to die after what you did. The death you have caused does not give you the right to life. But I won’t kill you. You won’t be here. “You will not threaten Israel, nor the Palestinians.” The international community intervenes. We stabilize the area. We help rebuild it.

Q. How do you feel when you see the images from Gaza?

A. Horrible. It’s a nightmare. I do not speak for all Israelis, but I speak for many, even many who will not say it now. They feel like when you talk to a lot of Palestinians, they say they don’t feel for the Israeli side, but they do. Now they have to be on their side, protect their people, cry with their people, because we are in the middle of the trauma. I know this because I talk to Palestinians all the time. Many people in Gaza suffer horribly, on all sides. Because of Hamas, because of what is happening, because they have a connection with Israel, friends, projects together. And we make enormous personal efforts to help them. We give them money to buy food in ways that I won’t say so as not to put them in danger.

Clearly I suffer a lot knowing what is happening to the people on the other side. I do not subscribe to right-wing Israeli propaganda that all Gazans are guilty of what happened on October 7. I see Hamas as guilty, and also the Israeli government, which strengthened Hamas and did not make peace. Hamas is guilty of the massacre. Israelis are guilty of failing to promote peace, as is anyone who has tried to prevent it over the years. People who prevent peace have blood on their hands.

Q. So There must be another way is more relevant today than in 2009.

A. Of course. There is always another way. You have to be brave enough to find it and move forward.

Q. Excuse me for going back to the details. But if Hamas leaders or militiamen do not want to go elsewhere, as proposed, what can be done?

A. When you are already in a situation of conflict and war, you are in shit. People die in war. The idea is always to try to avoid war in any way possible. If I present a plan to stop it and ask my partners around the world to do it with me, but there is a refusal, what am I supposed to do? Die? Because that’s what Hamas offers me. It is not a black and white solution and I certainly cannot give one like that. As an artist, I understand complexity very well.

Q. Just as an artist, what do you think you can contribute with your voice and your fame to this situation that generals, politicians or the general public cannot?

A. Art is a reflection of the complexity of the human soul, it allows us to see things that we did not see before. I did a concert in Luxembourg. At one point, I started singing: “From the river to the sea, two states for you and me.” It’s an example of what I can do. To transform a phrase that is normally said with anger and hatred [”From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”] into something we can all be a part of.

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