Music unites: children taking part in the Ukuleles for Peace project.It may sound like a joke, but Ukuleles for Peace is succeeding where the politicians fail. “Words seem only to divide,” says Paul Moore, the one-man band behind the project, “but music unites us all in harmony.”

And what better way to bring Jews and Arabs together, than seeing their children play this small, easy-to-learn four-string Hawaiian guitar?

English-born Moore holds weekly Ukulele classes in schools in neighboring Jewish and Arab towns, bringing the children together for regular rehearsals and performances as a combined orchestra of ukuleles, kazoos and other fun instruments, singing in Hebrew, Arabic and English in old people’s homes, music festivals and peace events.

He launched the initiative four years ago, with weekly classes in the Hod Hasharon Democratic Elementary School and the El Najach elementary school in nearby Tira, a Sunni Muslim town of 22,000.

“It’s slowly building as I bring the younger kids up to performance level, to join the older ones who have been performing since the beginning,” 58-year-old Moore tells ISRAEL21c.

The Ukuleles for Peace project will feature in a new full-length documentary by Canadian filmmaker Tony Coleman called The Mighty Uke, about the instrument’s worldwide resurgence.

For three decades, Moore has been an eclectic professional musician, performing and recording as a traditional one-man skiffle band unique to Israel. He also has his own jazz band.

Originally from Romford, Essex, he never intended to live here. Having ditched a lucrative career in the London Stock Exchange, the classic sixties dropout became a “wandering busker of no fixed abode,” arriving in Israel in 1978 as a kibbutz volunteer. He fell in love with the country, married an Israeli woman, had children and became an Israeli citizen.

On September 11th 2001, Moore was visiting New York having just attended an international ukulele convention in New Jersey. “I was sitting in a Manhattan bar,” he recalls, “and people were coming in from downtown, covered in dust, telling their horror stories. It made me aware how international terror has become. For me, it was a sign that the time had come to do something.”

Back in Israel, the second intifada was raging. “People were being blown up every day. It reached the stage where I’d had enough of living here. All the dreams of peace were disappearing,” explains Moore. “I realized that I might as well leave, or do something about the situation – it was no use pulling my hair out. The day it hit me was when my nine-year-old son Alon cursed the Arabs. He was picking up on the emotional frustration surrounding him.”

The solution, he thought, lay in the humble ‘uke.’ “As a musician, most of my work is with kids. Through music and children, we can create an atmosphere of peace,” says Moore.

This year, Moore is coaching over 70 students aged six to 14 from the two schools at three levels: beginners, intermediate and the 20-strong orchestra. “They are mainly girls – the boys get embarrassed being with all the girls, and drift away. Alon, who has since left the group, befriended Fahdi from Tira – he just stayed with Fahdi this weekend. They no longer play the ukulele together, but the aim of this project goes far beyond that,” says Moore, noting personal satisfaction at his son’s volte-face.

Parents of other Tira children, he points out, have been offended when their offers of hospitality were rebuffed. “It’s not all lovey-dovey. Relationships take time to build. The parents are getting to know each other. It’s a long, hard process. Now I have friends in Tira. At the beginning, when I’d go for dinner at [Arab] parents’ house, we would avoid politics. Now we can sit down and discuss the situation – we might not agree, but we talk,” says Moore.

Two mothers from each community organize regular joint events, with trips including a day at the opera. The orchestra has held several picnics at which families have begun to interact and get to know one another. The children and some parents meet regularly to rehearse and travel to performances. “The children, in particular, have formed friendships that led to birthday party invitations and other social outings,” says Moore.

Before the Ukuleles for Peace program was introduced, there were virtually no communal ties between Tira and Hod Hasharon, a rapidly growing Jewish suburb numbering 45,000 a 20-minute drive away.

Yet it remains a small-scale project run on a shoestring budget. “People in the ukulele community around the world send me occasional donations,” he notes, adding that on a good month, donations reach $250. “Funding is necessary if we want it to grow and expand into other communities,” he explains.

The initiative has become a full-time voluntary labor of love for Moore and his partner Daphna, who spends hours coordinating rehearsals and performances.

This summer Moore plans a fundraising trip to the US and Canada and a benefit CD featuring contributions from leading international ukulele players and tracks by the orchestra will soon be released.

“My dream is to create orchestras in several communities and towns, enlarging the circle of real co-existence. If the situation with the Palestinian Authority is safer, I’d like to form a group there, too,” says Moore.

“It’s very rewarding. I know it’s only a small drop in the bucket, but local grassroots activities are just as important as peace agreements. A suspension bridge needs lots of wires to hold it up.”