I am writing these words as a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations and as someone who holds two passports: an Israeli and a Palestinian one. I am writing them with a heavy heart, as the events in Gaza over the past few weeks have confirmed my long-standing conviction that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conflict is not a political conflict, but it is a human one between two peoples that share the deep and seemingly irreconcilable conviction that they are entitled to the same small piece of land, and that without the other.
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It is because this fact has been neglected that all the negotiations, all the attempts at brokering a solution to the conflict that have taken place until now have failed. Instead of acknowledging this true nature of the conflict and trying to resolve it, the parties have been looking for easier and fast solutions. Unfortunately, as in all important subject matters, there are no shortcuts when it comes to solving this conflict. A shortcut only works when we know the territory we cut short and in this case, nobody possesses that knowledge as the essence of the conflict remains unknown and unexplored.
I have deep sympathy for the fear with which my fellow Israelis live today: the constant sounds of rockets being fired, of knowing that you or someone close to you might get hurt. But I have profound compassion with the plight of my fellow Palestinians in Gaza, who live in terror and mourn such tragic losses on a daily basis. After decades of devastation and loss on both sides, the conflict has today reached a previously unimaginable level of gruesomeness and despair. I therefore dare to propose that this may be the moment to look for a real and true solution to the problem. A ceasefire is of course indispensable, but it is by far not enough. The only way out of this tragedy, the only way to avoid more tragedy and horror is precisely to take advantage of the hopelessness of the situation and force everybody to talk to each other. There is no point in Israel refusing to negotiate with Hamas or failing to acknowledge a unity government, no, Israel must listen to those Palestinians that are in a position to speak with one tongue.
At the very heart of the much needed rapprochement is the necessity for a mutual feeling of empathy, or compassion. In my opinion, compassion is not merely a sentiment that results from a psychological understanding of a person’s need, but it is a moral obligation. Only through trying to understand the other side’s plight can we take a step towards each other. As Schopenhauer put it, “nothing will bring us back to the path of justice so readily as the mental picture of the trouble, grief, and lamentation of the loser.” In this conflict, we are all losers. We can only overcome this sad state if we finally begin to accept the other side’s suffering and their rights. Only from this understanding can we attempt to build a future together.
Daniel Barenboim is general music director of La Scala, the Berlin State Opera and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Together with the late Edward Said he co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a Seville-based orchestra of young Arab and Israeli musicians. He is a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations.