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Tuesday, August 23, 2005


West-Eastern Divan Concert Strikes Chord in Ramallah

courtesy Sam Bahour in Ramallah

by Samia Khoury

I am Avi the cellist
I am Yossi the flutist
I am Nurit the violinist
I am Moshe the trumpest

We could not believe that we were in Ramallah. And we were sure it was not easy for the audience to envisage Israelis without their army uniforms, and not on special duty raiding homes and terrorizing the people. We were formally dressed for a concert at the Cultural Palace. Along with other young Israelis and Arabs from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Palestine we were performing with the West- Eastern Divan orchestra conducted by Maestro Daniel Barenboim.

What a joy it was to be in that beautiful place hearing the cheering crowd, the endless applause by people, who in spite of what we have done to their lives, during 38 years of occupation, came out to hear us and welcome us warmly. Of course we realized that had it not been for the special relationship between Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, this project would not have materialized, and we would not have been performing in Palestine and believing that music transcends all misunderstanding and hatred.
However, nobody should expect people living under occupation to welcome their occupiers in their midst before they atone for their crimes and end the occupation. We, out of all people should know how it feels. Up till now we refuse to perform Wagner in Israel because his music reminded us of the hated Nazi regime. So deep down in our hearts we really thought that those people coming out to listen to us cannot be the "terrorists" that our government has made us believe they were. They were human beings yearning for freedom, the slogan under which the concert was performed in memory of the late Edward Said.

Yet we could understand why many others could not feel comfortable watching us perform, as we realized that we were a reminder of the brutality of the Israeli soldiers during "operation defensive shield" in 2002. And some might be wondering if we were part of that operation. We had heard so many ugly stories, and they could have very well been experienced by some of the people listening to us tonight. The lady whose home was searched three times and was deprived of her torch- light, when it was the only source of light she had with the electric current being cut off. The one thousand dollars which were looted from a home whose owner must have left in a hurry fearing for her life. And the so many homes which were used by soldiers and left like a pig sty, while so many young men and students were picked up from the streets for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The irony of it all is that the whole concert was under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, that building in which the soldiers during that operation really went amok. What was done there was despicable. So we were wondering whether the audience was seeing images of soldiers as we were performing or did the beautiful music of Mozart's Sinfonia concertante (K.297b) and Beethoven's powerful Symphony No. 5 have a healing effect?
Deep down in our hearts we felt we owed those people much more than a cosmetic concert. Maestro Barenboim said he was not a political person. But in this troubled land nothing said or done can be non-political. So we cannot take it for granted that this concert could happen again under the same circumstances and that it will be a start for a process of normalization. We appreciate the Maestro's vision that performing together or getting to know each other as human beings will remind us that we are destined to live together on this land. But to be able to realize this vision we have to recognize that there are International laws and UN resolutions that we need to abide by as a country created by the International Community. We cannot continue to occupy a whole nation, and deprive them of their inalienable rights, and at the same time accept them to acquiesce. In fact we heard it very clearly at the concert, that our security is dependent on the freedom of the Palestinians.

How true that is. So maybe it is we before anybody else, who have a special responsibility. Should we not be the ones to start the campaign for ending the occupation and pulling down the walls and check points? Only then can the two peoples really enjoy the fruits of a just peace, which will bring about the freedom, equality, and fraternity that Maestro Barenboim feels strongly about.
Our only hope for another concert would be along the WALL so that with horns and cymbals we will help pull it down.

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