Israeli Conductor Daniel Barenboim: The Key to the Future Rests in Gaza

Daniel Barenboim, one of the world’s leading pianists and conductors, made an appearance this week for the first time in the Gaza Strip, arriving via the Rafah crossing.

How was the visit?

It was a very profound experience for me. First of all, pupils from the conservatory in Gaza came to the Rafah crossing point, and played for me and the orchestra a few selections, and that impressed us; then I met many young people in the concert hall, and I didn’t know I must say that I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t know much about civilian life in Gaza.

Daniel Barenboim  May 3, 2011.

There are in Gaza, I think, 1.7 million people, and they have 12 universities! I was also impressed by the fact that such a high proportion of the population is under the age of 30; I was told that the figure is 85%. This was a completely non-political event, and I am using these words carefully. It was organized by the United Nations and a Palestinian NGO. I didn’t meet with political figures; we were greeted by UN representative Robert Serry and then I gave a speech well, not a speech, I said a few words at the end of the concert.

So for me the concert was a success in that I was able to meet so many young, educated people, and this was, and remained, from start to finish, a non-political event.

So why was the concert such a secret?

For security reasons, members of the audience were invited. There were also a number of logistical problems between the UN and the Hamas government. I don’t know the details, but there was hesitation about doing the concert up to the last moment, and so the UN people only declared that the concert would happen when they sent out invitations.

Were you frightened?


It doesn’t create tension when attendees have to be invited?

No. Clearly it’s easier to conduct a concert in Berlin or London, but this was very important to me, and I think it was important for all of us, because our future, the future of the state of Israel, is connected to the Palestinians’ future, whether we like it or not.

You had already appeared many times in Ramallah.

But that is something different. I learned another lesson yesterday: We myself and the people who work with me, the musicians can do a lot in Ramallah, and we do quite a bit there, with Europeans ... but if we manage to carry out cultural work, musical work, in Gaza, we will exert an influence on the cultural life of the Gaza Strip as a whole. I think that the key to the future rests in Gaza, and not only in Ramallah.

Your fans in Israel say that you did not utter a single word about Gilad Shalit.

I reiterate: I traveled with a cultural, human message. The Gilad Shalit affair pains me, just as it agonizes everyone in Israel and everyone in the world who value human rights that’s clear. But I didn’t go there with political objectives.

But this is an issue of human rights.

To whom should I have said a word about Gilad Shalit? Had I met with Hamas leaders, perhaps I would have said something, but I didn’t meet with them. I didn’t want to do that, and they also did not ask to meet with me. I wasn’t going to Gaza to be exploited for political purposes.

What was your impression of Gazans’ circumstances?

The quality of life there is very, very low. Not only with regard to culture, but to life in general. I was very impressed, as I said, that they have there 12 universities, and such a high proportion of young people; people there want to learn, and they have the ability via the Internet to receive all the information that they want, and I’m addressing culture now. They have educated people and they also have other people who lack information and education.
Thus, if we want something positive in our future in the region, we have to have concern for the quality of life led by others. That is a much stronger and worthy course to follow than focusing exclusively on political points. I think that the only important type of security that can be won by the state of Israel is to find acceptance among the peoples in the region, particularly the Palestinians.

Thus, our dispute does not have a military solution. Nor unlike what many say is there a political solution based on economics and all that. This is a human problem; it’s not a dispute between two states; we have here a dispute between two peoples which believe that they have a right to live on the same small piece of land. And so we have to learn to live with them, or alongside them, but not with our backs to them and their backs to us.

This could turn into a dispute between states come September.

I think that long ago the time came for them to have a Palestinian state, and I’ve supported this idea for 30 years. I also told them that I believe that the struggle for Palestinian independence is a just one, and so it cannot be attained by violence because violence detracts from the sense of justice. I said this yesterday in Gaza, not in Tel Aviv.

Do you think reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah will work out?

I don’t know. I’m not sure. I hope so. Clearly any new step carries with it the potential of not turning out for the best. But if there is somebody to negotiate with, and if the other side has one united voice, that is, of course, preferable to speaking with a divided body.
This July you will play Beethoven’s five concertos in Israel. I have a feeling that you come here to perform music seriously, whereas you go there to play music to serve other purposes.

Do you think that the music played there wasn’t serious?

I went there with musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, La Scala Orchestra from Milan, and orchestra musicians from Paris. You think that isn’t serious music?