A toast to Mr Barenboim

May 8, 2011

In News

Famed Argentinean-Israeli conductor tells ‘Post’ about his recent, unprecedented UN-sponsored concert in the Gaza Strip.
Argentinean-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim, together with 26 European musicians, gave a concert in Gaza last Tuesday, entering the Strip from Egypt, and returned to his home in Berlin at the same night.

The unprecedented concert, arranged by the United Nations, featured his so-called “Orchestra for Gaza” playing Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” and “40th Symphony” to an audience of several hundred in Gaza City. Speaking at the event, Barenboim expressed support for the justness of the Palestinian cause, but said it could only be weakened by the use of violence – sentiments he repeated in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

Barenboim, 68, has been an outspoken critic of successive Israeli governments’ policies regarding the Palestinians, and accepted honorary Palestinian citizenship after playing a concert in Ramallah three years ago. He spoke to the Post by telephone from Germany soon after his return from Gaza.


Why did you go to Gaza to play?

I’ve wanted to go to Gaza for a long time. I have had quite a lot of experience with music education in the West Bank. I was in Ramallah, in Jenin, in Nablus, and of course in Jerusalem. Gaza has always fascinated me because of the curiosity of the situation: it is a part of Palestinian territory and yet it is separated. And I always was very unhappy about the blockade, because I don’t believe that anybody has the right to distribute collective guilt.
But I’m not a political personality, so I wanted to see whether I could go to Gaza and de-politicize all the discussion. And I’m very happy that I succeeded. I was invited by the United Nations and a Palestinian NGO in Gaza. I did not have any contacts with any politicians. I really came to play music for the people of Gaza. They deserve a gesture of solidarity for the conditions of life they have had for quite a long time now.

I was amazed, because I found a civil society which is very much awake and very well informed. I also found a great contrast between the number of unfinished buildings on one hand — because the cement which is required was not allowed to get through — and the fact that Gaza, with its one and a half million people, 85% of whom are under 30, has 12 universities.

I met children, pupils of the music conservatory in Gaza, and I met many young people from these universities and I thought this is the future — they will influence the future of Palestine and the future of Israel. These are people who are so thirsty for knowledge, for the study of everything that has to do with history and human culture. Ten years from now, the young generation will be the majority — extremely well informed and extremely cultured. And these are the people that [we] will need to deal with.

There is something that I find very short sighted among a lot of politicians in the Israeli government at the moment. It immediately reacted negatively to the awakening of the young people of Egypt, and it reacted negatively to the reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas. When you take a new step, a step in a new direction, everything can go wrong [at first]. I’m very well aware of that. But you have to salute that something new and positive is happening. If you think about how you can live with it, you actually increase the chances that it will not go bad, it will go good. For Israel it is much better to have the Palestinians speak in one voice, not with two faces.

Who was in the audience?

Ordinary people — many young people, children, young people with children.

What was the concert program?

It was influenced solely by practical considerations. A smallish orchestra — 26 musicians. Not a huge place — the Archeological Museum. And a small stage. So we played two works by Mozart.

How did the musicians react when you invited them?

With the utmost enthusiasm. Not one of them said, “Oh I don’t know, I have to think of it.” All said they were ready to come, obviously without being paid — and these are top musicians, members of Berlin Staatskapelle, Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris and La Scala. Five top European orchestras. Mine was a message of solidarity with the civil society, not a political gesture. And it was not only mine. It was an all-European message, which was a part of a UN mission. I was a messenger of peace of the secretary-general of the UN.

What expectations do you have of the outcome of this concert?

I hope that music activity will grow in Gaza. I hope that I will be able to go there again and give more concerts. I hope there will be a revival of interest in classical European music in Gaza. For now I see that the civil society in Gaza understood that there are many people in the world who care about them and think about them.

And from Israel?

I don’t know how well informed they are. I, for example, was not aware of the 12 universities. I did not know that there is such a thirst for knowledge. So maybe this will bring some people in Israel to think that this is a people worth having a dialogue with. Again, I’m speaking on the civil level and not the political level. I was not on a political mission and therefore I do not expect any political results…

The Palestinians have a right to a state of their own and to self-determination. We have to [allow] them to understand that we realize that our conflict is not a political conflict between two nations, which fight about borders or water, but it is a conflict between two peoples, which are convinced that they have a right to live in the same small piece of earth. Our destinies are inextricably linked.

I told the Palestinians in Gaza that I believe that the ambition of the Palestinian people to have the right to self-determination and an independent state is a very just cause. But in order for the just cause to be realized, it must avoid any kind of violence. Because the use of violence for the just cause only weakens it.

Can musical education change the social situation in this region? In Gaza and Israel?

Yes, I hope so. Look at Venezuela, where music education changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people, who are now having a normal life. Music also enriches lives. The reason that music is not widespread anymore is not because it is made for the few. It is made for everybody. But we simply do not take enough care of music education for children and young people. If we did, many more people would be active in music and there would be more listeners too.