The Arty Semite

Lebanese Belly Dancer Can't Go Home Again

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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Lebanese-French belly dancer Johanna Fakhry has gyrated herself into some big trouble with her homeland. She has been barred from returning to Lebanaon following an appearance last month at Hellfest, an outdoor music festival in France, with the Israeli metal band Orphaned Land.

The Jerusalem Post reports that it was Fakhry’s idea to dance onstage with the Israeli musicians, and to hold up the Lebanese and Israeli flags side by side in a gesture of peace and brotherhood (though the Israeli one happened to have been much larger). Orphan Land’s lead singer Kobi Farhi was pleased to join forces with the belly dancer after she contacted him through Facebook. However, he warned her of his concern for her reputation and safety should she appear with the band, and especially should they wave their national banners together. Lebanon has technically been in a state of war with Israel since 1948.

“I know. Bring the flag — this is my choice, and I want to use my art for the sake of peace,” was reportedly Fakhry’s response to Farhi.

It is not surprising that Fakhry was a fan of Orphaned Land, a group that mixes Middel Eastern sounds with heavy metal. The band has fans throughout the Arab world and the Middle East, who apparently exhibit their devotion by attending Orphan Land’s concerts in Europe.

The number for which Fakhry appeared onstage with the band was a spirited rendition of “Nora El Nora,” taken from the “Nora El Alila” piyyut (liturgical poem) from the Yom Kippur Ne’ilah service. The lyrics, exalting the power of a merciful God to grant life and peace of mind, were appropriate for artists seeking to bridge the long-standing hostilities between their countries.

The amateur video of the performance at Hellfest has been visited by over 22,000 viewers, but Fakhry will not be visiting her homeland any time soon. The 22-year-old dancer, who was born to a Muslim family in southern Lebanon, has been threatened by her family members and others. Facebook posts have labeled her a whore who has sold out to the Mossad.

Despite it all, Fakhry is not backing down or recanting. “As a young child living in Lebanon, I, too, thought of Israel as an enemy, now I consider them friends. We are all one people. I want to tell my fellow Lebanese that I am proud of my roots and my country and who I am as a Lebanese. I will always raise the colors of my flag with great pride. Please understand me before you judge me. I don’t regret what I did on stage because my actions were delivering a passionate message of freedom and peace,” she told Lebanon’s NOW website.

Watch Johanna Fakhry perform with Orphaned Land:


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