On Tuesday, world-renowned conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim breached the blockade on Gaza by bringing an orchestra of some of Europe’s top musicians to a brief solidarity concert. +972 spoke to him after his return to Berlin.
How do you sum up the visit?
I think it was a very important occasion. Thirty-six of the best European Musicians – from the Berlin Staatskapelle, from the Berlin Philharmonic, from the Vienne Philarmonic, from the Orchestra du Paris, and from La Scala of Milan came there with me and we were able to show solidarity with the civic society of Gaza. This was made possible by the invitation of the United Nations, who organized the concert together with Palestinian NGOs. It was a very important step in that it we didn’t go in with a political mission, but with the humanitarian mission, for the people and civil society of Gaza, who have had no access to culture for a long time.
I was especially impressed by the following fact:The Gaza Strip, as you know, is a very small area with over one and a half million inhabitants. And in spite of the blockade, which deprives them of many essentials – including cement to finish buildings, which you can actually see as you go there – in spite of that, they managed to build twelve universities. Twelve universities, in an area where you not only have 1.5 million people, but in an area where 85 percent of this 1.5 million are under thirty years of age. Very young people who are the hope of the next generation. And I think this is absolutely wonderful that they have built as many as twelve universities for these people. Because these are people who will get knowledge and information through the newest means the internet has to offer. This is the future of Palestine, and therefore, in some ways, also the future of Israel. Because this is the people that it will have to deal with. It’s a humanitarian, Palestinian, but also in a way Israel’s own interest to encourage people who want knowledge.
What is your take on the blockade policy ?
I think the blockade is a very, very major mistake. Because nobody has a right to distribute collective guilt, and also, in a sense, because the blockade is against Israel’s own interests. Israel should be encouraging people there to gain more knowledge and culture, not bring them to a point of total desperation. When people get information and knowledge – knowledge about everything, not just about the present situation, but knowledge of culture, knowledge of science, knowledge of political science – they will want and demand a better quality of life for themselves. And if you take measures that impede them from getting that better quality of life you automatically make them your enemies.
How was the audience’s response?
The audience was extremely enthusiastic. After we finished the concert I spoke a few words from the stage, as the United Nations Messenger of Peace, in the name, if you will, of the United Nations, and in the name of the musicians who came with me. I explained that the purpose of the concert was to show the people in Gaza that there are many people in the world who think about them and who want to show this kind of solidarity.
After I said that, I spoke a few sentences in my own name. I told them I am an Israeli. I told them I am also a Palestinian, and that I was living proof that it is possible to be both. I said that in my opinion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved by military and political means, because it’s not a normal conflict between two nations, of the kind we’ve seen hundreds of times throughout history. When you have a conflict between two nations, it’s a conflict about borders, about water, about oil, about any of these things. Thinks kind of conflict can be resolved diplomatically, politically, and if all else fails, militarily – for instance, conflicts between France and Germany and so on. Our conflict, in Israel-Palestine, is a conflict between two peoples, who are deeply convinced they have the right to live on the same little piece of land. It cannot be solved diplomatically or militarily, or any other means than by understanding the point of view of the other, having the curiosity to understand the other, and then by dialogue with them.
I feel, like most of the world, that the Occupation that existed for more than 40 years now is not conducive to peace, that settlements on the other’s territory are not conducive to peace, and that the Palestinian cause of self-determination and an independent state is a perfectly just cause. It is important to remember the justice and the righteousness of this cause, because a just cause will be never achieved with violence. Violence can win when the cause is not clear, but when you have a clear, just cause, the use of violence only weakens the cause.
This is what I said in Gaza – the exact same things I say in Tel Aviv and in Berlin, and I must tell you I was very moved by the reception – not only to the music but also to what I had to say.
You have put music in the service of dialogue, but also a growing movement that uses music in the opposite way – arguing that by denying Israelis musical performances one can pressure them to change their political opinion. What is your take on the cultural boycott?
I think it’s counterproductive. I think we need to have the courage to open up, and have an open exchange of views which hopefully will then lead to a peaceful solution.
Did you have any response or reaction from Hamas while you were in Gaza?
No – no contact, no reaction from Hamas. I don’t think there were even Hamas people at the concert, and if there were, they were there privately and I didn’t meet with them.
Some Israelis would say you were supporting Hamas by holding a concert there.
I certainly don’t support Hamas. I came there to play for the people who wanted to come to the concert and were interested to hear the music.
This is arguably a very dangerous time to visit Gaza – a peace activist was murdered there two weeks ago and the assassination of Osama Bin Laden came just before your concert. Did you feel safe in the Strip?
There was no problem. There was lots of security, of course, but there wasn’t really a feeling of danger.
Did you enter Gaza with your Palestinian passport?
No, I entered Gaza through Egypt with my Spanish passport.
Will you bring your the West-Eastern Divan orchestra of Arab and Israeli musicians to Gaza?
I hope so. I think the people of Gaza and the civic society there would be very happy to welcome the Divan one day. I hope we’ll be able to do that some day, and I hope sooner, rather than later.