Strong criticism of Israel was part of the mix at a musical performance by an Israeli-Palestinian band at Temple University.
A musical group composed of Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab and Palestinian teens and 20-somethings opened a show before an audience of mostly Temple University Hillel students by talking of Israel's "occupation."
"Here on the stage, we are equal; back home we are not," a band member said at the Temple Performing Arts Center.
The performance by Heartbeat, a band composed of a rotating mix of musicians and organized as a nonprofit, was billed as a project to build understanding for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through music.
The concert was co-sponsored by the David Project, Stand With Us and the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia.
The band spent the majority of its time during a dialogue session with the audience of more than 100 people speaking of the occupation and at one point, a band member appeared to justify terrorism.
"If somebody is a terrorist, it's not because he's bad," said the band member. It's because of a "really hard reality."
Several in the audience seemed shaken by the band's focus on the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.
There were also a handful of members of Students for Justice in Palestine gathered outside the venue before and after the show protesting the event because they said it "normalized" the violence of the conflict. The students declined to speak with the Jewish Exponent.
Members of Hearbeat spoke with the protesters before the show.
"It was important for us to go outside and tell" the protesters that members of Hearbeat "are also against the occupation" and they "just wished that they would come inside and listen to what the music is all about," said Heartbeat director and founder Aaron Shneyer. The protesters did not go into the concert.
Emily Simons, a junior student who serves as vice president of Temple Hillel, said the dialogue with the audience during the show was "a little tense at first."
The perspective of band members is "something we're not usually told, and we don't usually get to hear from Palestinians," she said. "You could see their passion for why" they're performing.
Simons said she did not think the band member was justifying terrorism but rather said she felt there was a language barrier and that she was expressing her frustration with the conflict. After the comments regarding terrorism, another band member said they condemned violence of any kind from either Israelis or Palestinians.
Rabbi Howard Alpert, CEO of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, said after the opening of the show but before the dialogue between the audience and band members that he was glad students were able to hear the perspective of Heartbeat members, specifically their support for co-existence. The director of Jewish life at Temple, Trisha Swed, agreed, saying: "I'm glad that they are expressing how they feel — Jewish and non-Jewish alike."
'The university did its job and made sure that would happen," said Alpert. Swed said Hillel had been in contact with university officials to ensure there was security at the event. There was a police car parked outside the venue, in addition to security personnel outside and inside the building.