The only grand piano in the Gaza Strip was played in public for the first time in a decade, following a complicated international restoration effort to fix the instrument after it was nearly destroyed in an Israeli airstrike.
About 300 people attended the performance on Sunday, staring in awed silence as Japanese and local artists performed for them. For many, it was the first time they had ever heard a piano performed live.
“Playing this piano is feeling like playing history,” Japanese pianist Kaoru Imahigashi said. “It’s amazing. I felt the prayer of peace for many people.”
The piano’s story goes back many years, mirroring in many ways the story of Gaza.
The Japanese government donated the piano about 20 years ago, following interim peace accords between Israel and Palestine. At the time, Gaza was envisioned as becoming the Singapore of the Middle East.
Palestinian Ministry of Culture official Fayez Sersawi said he was responsible for receiving the piano, which was placed at a large theater in the newly built al-Nawras resort in northern Gaza.
He said music festivals were a regular activity before the beginning of the second Palestinian uprising against Israel in 2000.
In 2007, the resort closed the theater and the swimming pool and scaled down most activities after Hamas, a Muslim militant group, took control of Gaza by force after winning legislative elections.
Under Hamas’ rule, many forms of public entertainment, including bars, movie theaters and concert halls, have been shuttered.
An ensuing Israeli-Egyptian blockade, meant to weaken Hamas, and severe damage after a three-week war with Israel in January 2009 closed the resort altogether.
The piano was silenced and sat unused until 2014, when an Israeli airstrike during a third war with Hamas destroyed al-Nawras hall. The piano was found unscathed, but rickety and unplayable.
After the piano was discovered, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, which sponsors development programs in Gaza, got involved.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that a piano was donated to the Palestinian Authority in 1998. Workers from the cooperation agency took the serial number and contacted Yamaha, its producer. The company confirmed that the instrument had been manufactured in 1997 or 1998.
“Everything matched,” said Yuko Mitzui, a representative of the cooperation agency.
On Sunday, the rapt audience listened eagerly and clapped at the end of each performance.
Imahigashi stroked the keys smoothly as opera singer Fujiko Hirai performed the Japanese folk song Fantasy on Sakura Sakura.
It was the first time that Yasmin Elian, 22, attended a piano concert.
“I liked how people interacted” with the artists, she said. “This encourages me to learn piano.”
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