On Friday, January 28, 1999, world-famous concert pianist Daniel Barenboim, an Israeli who emigrated from Argentina with his family in 1952, gave a concert at Kamal Naser Hall at Birzeit University in Ramallah. The evening was organized by the National Conservatory of Music and Birzeit University. Barenboim, at the urging of his personal friend Prof. Edward Said, agreed to accompany a Palestinian pianist as a demonstration of normalization between the two peoples. Following are excerpts from an article that appeared on February 5, 1999, in The Jerusalem Times.
Barenboim said, "I came to you as a private citizen to share my feelings with you. I do believe in coexistence among nations. Only by such interaction can they reach cultural fulfillment." Barenboim then mentioned the Andalusia of Muslim Spain as a supreme example of a time and place where peaceful cultural interaction occurred in a multicultural landscape—Jewish, Muslim, and Christian.
In an interview with Al-Ayyam, Suheil Khoury, the Director of the National Conservatory of Music said that the four hands played by Barenboim and Abboud [a pianist from Nazareth by way of London] was the result of an initiative taken by [American-Palestinian Prof.] Edward Said.
Said said he hoped the evening would serve as a symbol for how the future would be shared between the two nations, the Palestinians and the Israelis. "Daniel [Barenboim] believes as I do that there can be no separation among nations, and that they do have to exist in a just and balanced way...."
But in the Al-Ayyam interview, Khoury played down the moral significance of Barenboim’s concert, and instead emphasized the concert’s artistic merit. Khoury said hosting Barenboim involved more than the question of his Israeli nationality. " In a sense, Barenboim is coming not directly from Israel but is arriving from various parts of the world. Besides, he is a personal friend of Edward Said."
Khoury added, "We came to the conclusion that it was possible for us to host such a musical evening as a national conservatory, because he [Barenboim] was coming in a private capacity and not in the name of a framework that aims at coexistence and at the implementation of the normalization process. We welcome him, first and foremost, as an Argentinean.
"We do not undertake joint programs with Israelis that are part of cultural initiatives proposed within the framework of the peace process, and that are meant to promote normalization," Khoury said, "But in Barenboim’s case, we feel we are dealing with a world-class musician. That is why his religion and his nationality are of no consequence. Only his art counts."
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is an independent, non-profit organization providing translations of the Arab media and original analysis and research on developments in the Middle East. Copies of articles and documents cited, as well as background information, are available upon request.