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Palestinian youngsters make music in former prison

By Erika Solomon

NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) - Ramzi Abu Redwan says he remembers waiting in the halls of Al-Fara'a prison as a boy, holding his grandfather's hand and staring up at the walls as he waited to see his father, jailed by Israel.

Now, those same walls echo, not with the footsteps of Palestinian prisoners, but with music and children's laughter.

The prison, just outside the West Bank city of Nablus, was used in turn by the British, Jordanians and Israelis.

It was made into a youth sports center in the 1990s, after limited Palestinian self-rule began in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in a 1967 war.

Now, each summer, Abu Redwan turns the facility into a music camp for Palestinian youth from poor families and refugee camps.

Abu Redwan is not the only one whose past meets the present in the halls of Al-Fara'a. The parents of some 20 youngsters who have attended the camp have been imprisoned there, and one teacher is a former prisoner.

Palestinians jailed by Israel for anti-Israeli activity or violence are widely seen by their brethren as heroes of what Palestinians describe as resistance against occupation.

"We're trying to liberate people. We're giving our children a kind of internal freedom," Abu Redwan said. "Maybe (my generation) didn't have the means of expressing ourselves, but our children will have a different means of resisting occupation that is better, and stronger."

Abu Redwan, who got an opportunity to leave his home in Al-Amari refugee camp to study music in France, wants to offer the same chance to other Palestinian children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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His project, called "Al-Kamanjati" ("The Violinist") offers youngsters musical training from September to June. They are given instruments, and to wrap up the school year, they spend a week at Al-Fara'a and perform in an end-of-session concert.

About 25 instructors come from Europe and the United States to participate at the summer camp.

Ethan Cardoze, a member of the Paris Orchestral Ensemble, has come to the camp for the past two years. He said he benefits as much from the experience as his pupils.

"Each day I'm learning Oriental music, and that's something that makes me richer. I love the freeness (of Oriental music). Western music is really square, with bars, with rhythms. It's very strict. Oriental music is much more supple. You have to listen more, you have to adjust your personal sense of rhythm."

This year, the project will fund a visit to London by 18-year-old Shehadeh Shalady, where he will study violin-making. At the camp, he proudly shows off the first two violins he has made. One has a tiny Palestinian flag painted on it.

Asked if he feels strange using a former prison as a music camp, Abu Redwan shook his head.

"It's true that this was a prison, but walls don't hurt you. It's the people who use them that do. It's true that this place brings back a lot of memories, but it's great that now we can fill the place with something positive," he said.

(Editing by Richard Williams)

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