TEL AVIV (AFP) — Israel's entry for the annual pilgrimage of kitsch and glitz that is the Eurovision song contest has a serious message this year -- an Arab and a Jew singing together for peace in a troubled homeland.
Ahinoam Nini, a Jew of Yemeni origin, and Mira Awad, a Christian Arab from the Galilee, hope the strains of their song "There Must Be Another Way" will echo far beyond the Moscow arena hosting the contest from May 12 to 16.
"I refuse to believe the only way is violence and extremism and hopelessness and despair," Nini, known outside Israel by her monicker Noa, told AFP.
"I am not going to live my life with that future in mind, so if I can do something to change it I will, and this song is a small step," she said.
The two singers insist they are not being naive.
"We don't think our song will bring peace to the Middle East," said Awad, the first Arab to represent Israel at the contest.
"The best thing it can do is resonate in as many hearts as possible and in as many people's minds as possible."
The duo's song includes lyrics in Arabic, Hebrew and English and calls for peaceful coexistence in the Middle East.
"And when I cry, I cry for both of us. My pain has no name. And when I cry, I cry to the merciless sky and say: There must be another way..."
The choice of Nini and Awad for Eurovision stirred controversy as it was made in January in the middle of Israel's deadly war on the Gaza Strip.
Awad faced calls to pull out of the contest in protest at the onslaught that sources in Gaza say killed more than 1,400 Palestinians in 22 days in December and January. Thirteen Israelis were also killed during the conflict.
"These reactions came because the announcement of our participation in Eurovision came at a very bad time which was the Gaza war," Awad said.
Arab-Israeli artists also signed a petition denouncing "the propaganda operation by the Israeli government" aimed at legitimising discrimination against them. Arabs make up 20 percent of Israel's 7.4-million population.
But Awad laughed off the suggestion that she might be used as a fig leaf to cover up the Israeli government's actions.
"The government didn't choose to send me to Eurovision. Noa and I agreed because of our eight-year collaboration," she said.
Awad was born in 1975 in Rama village, of a Palestinian father and a Bulgarian mother. An actress, singer and songwriter, she is also an activist working for Arab-Israeli civic rights.
Noa, also a peace activist, was born in Tel Aviv in 1969 but was raised in New York. She has recorded jazz, pop, rock and traditional music and has performed with the likes of Sting, Stevie Wonder and Carlos Santana.
The two friends, who have performed together several times in the past, support the One Voice Movement in favour of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"I think that this area is drowning in a sort of cynicism and hopelessness because so many things have happened and there were so many opportunities missed to make peace," said Noa.
She insists that she and Awad are not going to Eurovision "to say everything is all right in Israel. Far from that, we're coming to say... we have an alternative to violence."
Israel has won the Eurovision song contest three times -- in 1978, 1979 and 1998. According to the official website for Moscow 2009 the extravaganza has an annual television audience of 100 million people.
"I am an Israeli as well," Awad told AFP. "I think it's natural that I should feel able to be the representative of my country in which I live."