Issue No.
196, August 2014 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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A Guiding Light Falls on Ramallah
By Sam Bahour

Ramallah is now usually quiet at night. This has not always been the case for this summer town located in the centre of the West Bank. As a matter of fact, before the latest Israeli military aggression and subsequent re-occupation of the West Bank, Palestinians in Ramallah were known to walk the streets and socialize well into the night. Tonight, however, the deafening silence was broken, not by the frequent Israeli tanks and jeeps that now enter and exit the city at will, but rather by the music of the distinguished Daniel Barenboim, one of the great musicians of our time. Despite the Israeli Apartheid Wall and despite the humiliation of having to cross the Israeli military checkpoints surrounding Ramallah, this world renowned musician, an Israeli by nationality, visited Palestine again, being received by a larger and larger audience every time.

Barenboim, this absolutely incredible musician, a legend in his own right, took to the stage some three weeks ago at the Friends Boys’ School in front of a standing-room-only audience and proceeded to perform an extraordinary piano recital. For a continuous sixty minutes, the mixed Palestinian and foreign audience watched the intensity of his every move and the fiery of his musical climaxes along with the occasional lull in the beat. Children in the audience stared with awe. If I did not know better, I would swear that my daughter Areen, a first year piano student, didn’t blink throughout the entire performance as she soaked in every note.

More than a musician, Barenboim is a humanist who sees beyond the frameworks that define traditional conflicts, especially those between Palestine and Israel. He values justice, social justice, which he profoundly articulates as the needed foundation for successful resolutions of conflicts around the world.

"Returning after the intermission, Barenboim addressed the audience and reflected upon the life of the noted literary critic, scholar, advocate for Palestinian independence and his close friend, Dr. Edward Said (1935-2003). As the disciplined musician he is, Barenboim explained how he and his late friend created the Barenboim-Said Foundation in order to promote “music in education" and “educational music," two distinct goals as stated by Barenboim. Barenboim reiterated the need for “all sides" to look beyond the borders issue and economic issues and so forth, and to realize that without the presence of social justice peace will not come to the region. Barenboim spoke frankly of the need for both Palestinians and Israelis to remove the ignorance of “the other" in order for a peace based on social justice to be ushered in. He spoke of the fact that more and more people from all corners of the world understand that the existing situation has reached a point that is now intolerable.

As if a piano recital were not enough, Barenboim proceeded to proudly announce that an initiative that he and the late Dr. Said started during their trip in August of last year to create a Palestinian orchestra within five years had already begun to bud. He spoke as two dozen young Palestinian members of the National Conservatory of Music Student Orchestra -- or more accurately called by Barenboim the Palestine Youth Orchestra -- surrounded him on stage, each armed with a weapon of “mass pleasure:" violins, flutes, cellos, and drums. The orchestra performed that evening for the first time under the direction of Barenboim. They were received by multiple standing ovations and by Barenboim’s beaming pride and joy. Through music, Palestinians have proven that they have the institutional discipline of development needed to join the ranks of a global world. 

As Barenboim stated, everything and everyone is linked; all our actions have ramifications and music is a teacher of this interconnected reality. Palestinian organizations like the National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem are giving children an alternative to the destruction being imposed on them. Barenboim is not only paying lip service to a different kind of future for our two peoples, he is also contributing to forging this future professionally, financially, morally and politically. As Barenboim spoke so eloquently that night, one could not but think of how many of our Israeli neighbours share his humanity. At the end of the event, as he engaged my daughter about her first piano lessons, I thanked him for allowing Palestine to share in his legend and expressed our respect and admiration for him for putting humanity and justice before all else. Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994). He can be reached at The following are excerpts from Daniel Barenboim’s acceptance speech upon receiving the Wolf Prize at the Israeli Knesset on May 9th, 2004.

The Declaration of Independence was a source of inspiration to believe in ideals that transformed us from Jews to Israelis. This remarkable document expressed the commitment (I quote): “The state of Israel will devote itself to the development of this country for the benefit of all its people; It will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace, guided by the visions of the prophets of Israel; It will grant full equal, social and political rights to all its citizens regardless of differences of religious faith, race or sex; It will ensure freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture." (end of quote)

The founding fathers of the State of Israel who signed the Declaration also committed themselves and us (and I quote): “To pursue peace and good relations with all its neighbouring states and people." (end of quote)

I am asking today with deep sorrow: Can we, despite all our achievements, ignore the intolerable gap between the Declaration of Independence promised and what was fulfilled, the gap between the idea and the realities of Israel?

Does the condition of occupation and domination over another people fit the Declaration of Independence? Is there any sense in the independence of one at the expense of the fundamental rights of the other?

Can the Jewish people, whose history is a record of continued suffering and relentless persecution, allow themselves to be indifferent to the rights and suffering of a neighbouring people?

I believe that despite all the objective and subjective difficulties, the future of Israel and its position in the family of enlightened nations will depend on our ability to realize the promise of the founding fathers as they canonized it in the Declaration of Independence. …Music is the art of the imaginary par excellence, an art free of all limits imposed by words, an art that touches the depth of human existence, and art of sounds that crosses all borders. As such music can take the feelings and imagination of Israelis and Palestinians to new unimaginable spheres. I therefore decided to donate the monies of the prize to music education projects in Israel and in Ramallah. Thank you.

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