Feature: The Winds of Change

Ten years after the intifada and times have definitely changed -- but hearts have stayed the same. The story of Ramzi Radwan is one of inspiration and hope for young Palestinians who love their country as much as they love life and the future before them.

Ten years ago Ramzi was a young child, only nine years old, throwing stones almost too big for his tiny hand at Israeli occupation troops. Ten years later, the image has changed dramatically. Now there is a young man of 18, smartly dressed and well-groomed, hoisting a viola under his chin. The transformation seems unreal, until Ramzi speaks.

Although born in Bethlehem, Ramzi has lived his entire life in al-Ama'ari Refugee Camp near Ramallah. When the intifada began, Ramzi took his place among the ranks of shabab (youth) resisting the Israeli occupation. "There wasn't a day that went by when I did not demonstrate and throw stones," Ramzi says proudly. At the tender age of nine, he would undauntingly face the soldiers, throwing stones and empty bottles at passing cars and setting up barricades to prevent army jeeps from entering the camp. Like most other young boys, Ramzi defied even his family in order to participate in the Intifada. "My grandfather would warn me not to leave the house. He was worried about me. But I didn't listen. It was my duty to join the other shabab"

Ramzi was arrested a number of times during the intifada. "They never once caught me during a demonstration. "Ramzi says. "It was always when demonstration, "Ramzi says. "It was always when I least expected it, usually when I was just walking down the street". But prison did not suit Ramzi. Instead of staying in jail for months, he would pay the fines demanded so that he would be released. However, coming from a refugee camp, with his grandfater the sole supporter of the family, Ramzi had to think up ways on his own to collect the money for the fines. "I used to sell the outlawed al-Nahar newspaper every morning to make money. Once I collected NIS 4,000, all of which went to paying fines."

Ramzi also had his fair share of injuries. Just above his right elbow is a circular scar where a live bullet penetrated. Doctors have since told him that if the bullet had hit just two inches lower, he would never have been able to play the viola. Ramzi can't remember how many times he was hit by rubber-covered metal bullets, but he brushes the question aside with a nonchalant wave of the hand.

The introduction of music into Ramzis life was accidental. "We used to know a woman who would occasionally gather shebab to speak to reporters about the intifada," Ramzi recalls. "One day a man from the Popular Arts Center came with her and asked me if I would like to play the viola." Thinking that it would be an opportunity to do something new, Ramzi accepted and began taking lessons in the Center.

In 1995 he enrolled in the National Conservatory for Music in Ramallah, where he is now a second-year student. Last year, a group of musicians visiting the conservatory heard Ramzi play and realized his talent. He was then playing grade six pieces after only two years of practice. A scholarship to attend the Applehill Music Camp in New Hampshire followed, and last summer he went. It was the first time he had ever left the country. "I was so surprised about people's image of the Palestinians. They couldn't believe that we wore jeans just like them, much less played classical music."

A lot has happened to Ramzi over the past few years. Undreamed of doors have suddenly opened for him and his future looks bright. But he has not forgotten the days of stone-throwing. When asked if the intifada achieved its objectives, Ramzi answers thoughtfully, "In a way it has. At least now we live in relative security, without having to face Israelis at every turn." However, while he realizes that the achievements fall far short of the aspirations, he remains hopeful that the future will be more promising.

Becoming a musician has not altered his sentiments towards the struggle. "If I had to, I would do it all over again," he maintains confidently. "Music is now a part of me, but it does not interfere with my political activities or affiliations, which are very much part of being Palestinian."

Ramzi has great plans for the future. He wants to continue with his music and would one day like to be a part of a Palestinian symphony touring the world. "Then the world would see that the Palestinians are a cultured people who just needed the opportunity to flourish," he says with a slightly bitter tone.

Ramzi has grown into a distinguished young man full of talent and promise. But behind the notes of Mozart and Bach lies the boy of nine determined to chase the occupation away.