Daniel Barenboim performing in Gaza 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Abed)
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.
Excerpts: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
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
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.