Issue No.
196, August 2014 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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The Last Word - A Jew in Ramallah

Daniel Barenboim, the acclaimed pianist and conductor, along with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, gave a highly publicized performance at Ramallah's Cultural Palace on August 21st. The classical concert wasn't the first to be performed in Ramallah, but it surely was the first to be conducted by a Jew leading an orchestra that consisted of musicians from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel as well as some European countries.

"Live aus Ramallah" "En direct de Ramallah" was written on the German/French satellite channel ARTE which aired the entire performance and incidentally got that evening the highest number of viewers ever. I wonder what thoughts came to the minds of the French and Germans who watched the unusual event from the Middle East? It wasn't very long ago, after all, when scenes of Israeli tanks rolling into downtown Ramallah were being aired on the same screens.

Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, horn, clarinet and bassoon and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 were played to a packed concert hall with an audience that couldn't have been more representative of the Palestinian people. There were at least four ministers from the Palestinian National Authority, security officers in uniform, men and women casually dressed, others in proper attire, ladies with jewellery and gowns ready for a soirée dansante and others with the traditional headdress. There were children, foreigners, disabled persons, nuns -- you name it! Palestine was there that night.

Apart from the enthusiastic clapping between musical movements (as normally done while listening to an Arab singer such as the legendary Egyptian singer Um Kulthoum), the audience was extremely receptive and warm to the performers. The final standing ovation lasted for over five minutes, to the delight and amazement of the musicians, particularly the Israeli ones who were mostly apprehensive and worried prior to coming to Ramallah. It was reported that after the concert, the musicians were so excited that they stayed up till three o'clock in the morning discussing the evening. "This is the realization of a dream. I feel as if I am becoming more and more leftist," commented Y. Lantner, an Israeli musician, "because now I understand that there is life here. They never show that on television." It seemed that, unintentionally, the effect of that evening was felt more on the performers than on the Palestinian audience that was far less shocked and demonstrated readiness to host Israelis, particularly since the slogan of the concert was "Freedom for Palestine" and because all the musicians came in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, Barenboim's close friend, would have been proud that night since he was co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra back in 1998. Their vision was that the youth orchestra would foster dialogue and reconciliation; both also felt strongly that music can transcend all misunderstandings. The concert was indeed an appreciated human and civilized attempt to show solidarity with the Palestinian people as well as a plea for reconciliation. However, healing can only start when the cause of all our problems is uprooted, i.e. the Israeli occupation of Palestine.


Sani P. Meo

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