GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The only airline in the Gaza Strip was released to the public for the first time in a decade, following a complicated international restoration effort to fix the instrument after it was almost destroyed in an Israeli airstrike.
Some 300 fans participated in the performance on Sunday, staring at terrible silence that 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 feels like playing history," said Japanese pianist Kaoru Imahigashi. "It's amazing. I felt the prayer of peace for many people."
The history of the piano goes back for many years and reflects in many ways the story of Gaza.
The Japanese government donated the piano some 20 years ago, following temporary peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. At that time, Gaza was going to be Singapore in the Middle East.
Fayez Sersawi, official of the Ministry of Culture, said he was responsible for receiving the piano, which was placed at a major theater in the newly built al-Nawra's northern Gaza resort. He said that music festivals were a regular activity before the beginning of the second Palestinian rebellion against Israeli occupation in 2000.
In 2007, the resort closed the theater and swimming pool and cut down most activities after Hamas, an Islamic militant group, took control of Gaza with weapons after winning the law. Under the Hamas rule, many forms of public entertainment, including bars, cinemas and concert halls, have been shuttered.
A subsequent Israeli-Egyptian blockade, which caused weakening Hamas, and serious injury after a three week war with Israel in January 2009, closed the plant completely.
The piano was emptied and left unused until 2014 when an Israeli airstrike during a third war with Hamas destroyed the Al-Nawras hall. The piano was miraculously found undamaged, but rude and unplayable.
After the piano was discovered, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, which supported development programs in Gaza, was involved.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry confirmed that a piano was donated to the Palestinian Authority in 1998. Workers from the cooperative took the serial number and contacted Yamaha, producer. The company confirmed that the instrument was manufactured between 1997 and 1998.
"All matched," said Yuko Mitzui, a representative of the cooperation agency.
The Belgian Nonprofit Music Fund, which supports music instruction in the Palestinian territories, sent a French expert in 2015 to restore the piano. Another Belgian restorer visited Gaza last month and put the latest details on the instrument. A limited private concert was held as a trial period.
On Sunday evening, all 300 seats in the theater hall of the Red Crescent Federation in Palestine were occupied with fans of all ages, when the raped audience listened eagerly and clapped in applause at the end of each performance.
Kaoru, the pianist, stroke the keys evenly 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 the piano."
Gaza has a music school, Edward Said Conservatory, with 180 students. It suffers from a lack of funding and operates in several rented rooms at the rescue service's main station.
A group of students from the conservatory cooperated with the Japanese artists and played the Palestinian National Anthem and expressed great applause from the audience.
Ismail Daoud, a conductor leading the school, said it is difficult to bring pianos to Gaza because of their weight and their prices, but that his school "desperately needs them".
In 2009, Washington-based auxiliary group Anera purchased two created pianos for Gaza and helped coordinate their cross through Israel's strictly closed boundary.
The Ministry of Culture has now given the piano to the conservatory – "to the place it belongs to and where it should be", said Daoud. "The revival of the piano is like the revival of the Palestinian people."
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