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The long story of the protest movement’s favourite song

Ori Golan
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Published: 27 June 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The song 'I have no other country' is the anthem of Israel’s protest movement, but it has a much deeper history. ORI GOLAN speaks to OFRA FUCHS-MANOR, widow of the song’s writer, EHUD MANOR.

In June of 1982, Israel Prize laureate and much-loved songwriter Ehud Manor was sitting with his wife, Ofra, in their living room, watching a television news item about the war in Lebanon.

Ofra Fuchs-Manor recalls the moment vividly. “We saw footage of Israeli soldiers entering Beirut. Ehud broke down. I tell you, he was weeping. He said: ‘I cannot take it’, and then he began jotting down words on a piece of paper.”

Those words went on to become the song Ayn li eretz aheret (I have no other country) frequently voted Israel’s favourite song. The title morphed into a popular catchphrase in the country, quoted by everyone from settlers to democracy protestors.

A democracy protest montage set to Manor's song.

“Fuchs-Manor says the song was, really, about Manor’s younger brother, Yehuda, who died in the War of Attrition in 1968.

“I remember Yehuda well. A tall, hugely handsome young man. He came to visit me in hospital shortly after the birth of Gali, our first born. He arrived in military fatigues, carrying his rifle, eager to meet his niece. From there he was drafted into the war and we never saw him again. He was killed in his tank, in the Suez Canal, during the War of Attrition in 1968, aged 19.

Manor's handwritten text of the song
Manor's handwritten text of the song

“After his death, Ehud became a very introverted, mournful person. Many of his songs came from this place of deep longing and sadness. Even his happy songs, such as Bashana Haba’a, have sadness infused into them,” she said.

Manor, who died of a heart attack in 2005, was a prolific songwriter whose songs have become the mainstay of Israeli discography. Some of his most memorable songs are played during Israel’s Remembrance Day.

As a lyricist and translator, Manor’s work was legion. The inventory includes the translations of Joseph and the Technicolour DreamcoatLes Misérables, Hair, and a host of other well-known Israeli musical productions. He also penned A-ba-ni-bi, the song which catapulted Israel to first place in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest, for the very first time. It earned him international fame overnight.

But I have no other country had a rather unpromising start.

Initially, Manor gave the lyrics to singer-composer Corinne Allal, who offered him music she had written for another song, Don’t look at me like that’, words she had found on a piece of paper that a former flame had left in her home before disappearing for good. Manor modified the lyrics to fit the tune.

Singer Arik Sinai was offered the song but refused to record it. “He couldn’t bring himself to say, ‘I have no other country'. He was so angry and opposed to what was happening in Israel at the time,” says Fuchs-Manor

Other singers also refused. “No one wanted a bar of it,” she remembers. The song was left unclaimed for four years until 1986, when singer Gali Atari decided to record it.

It was an instant hit. I have no other country spawned dozens of versions, including Fuchs-Manor’s own rendition.

Over time, the song title was adopted, usurped, quoted and co-opted by different interest groups. It became a rallying cry for different sections of Israel’s society in support of their cause, including the settlers’ movement.

How did Manor feel about it?

“Initially, it hurt him a lot. We were in the car, driving, one day when we saw cars with bumper stickers carrying the slogan “I have no other country” on them. It soon transpired that the right had adopted it as their slogan. After some time, he told me: ‘I wrote the song. It will be adopted by all segments of the country; it is now everyone’s.’ I think he accepted it. It belongs now to everyone: the secular, the religious, the left, the right … You know, even the Palestinians quote it!”

The song also made an appearance at one of Israel’s watershed moments, the night former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

Ehud Manor and Ofra Fuchs-Manor towards the end of his life (Itzik Biran)
Ehud Manor and Ofra Fuchs-Manor towards the end of his life (Itzik Biran)

“Just before Rabin took to the podium at the city hall, Ehud and I went up and … It was just incredible. Seeing all those thousands of people singing I have no other country; it was the most moving moment of my life. We knew Rabin and Leah (his wife), so at the conclusion of the rally we said hello to them and walked down the stairs. Four minutes later Rabin walked down the same stairs and was assassinated. We heard the news in the car and were in total shock.”

That night Manor wrote a poem dedicated to Rabin, This cannot be, which was later put to music and performed by Boaz Sharabi.

The lyrics to I have no other country have also made their way into international politics. When now president Yitzhak Herzog was head of the Jewish Agency, he jotted them down on a napkin and gave it to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when they met in the US.

In January 2021, after the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters, Pelosi quoted them. “Especially during this sad time, I recall the words of the great Israeli poet, Ehud Manor, […] ‘I can’t keep silent in light of how my country has changed her face, won’t quit trying to remind her. In her ears, I’ll sing my cries until she opens her eyes',” she said.

Last year, Pelosi cited the poem again, in the context of the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe vs. Wade, ending women’s right to abortion.

Manor’s song is a gift which continues to give. It is closely associated with the civil protests across the country against the proposed judicial overhaul. The song title is emblazoned on hundreds of placards, portions of the song are regularly quoted, and recently Gali Atari and Corinne Allal performed it together in front of a massive crowd in one of the Saturday night demonstrations on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv.

Fuchs-Manor approves. “There is not a single demonstration where this song is not sung. It’s dynamite!”

“Ehud loved this country with every fibre of his being. This is our country. We really don’t have another country.”

Photo: Ehud Banor and Ofra Fuchs-Manor around the time the song was released (Hanoch Hasson)

About the author

Ori Golan

Ori Golan is a Sydney-based freelance journalist.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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