I Have a Dream

In my dream it takes only twenty-four hours to create peace. Politics can take more time, but not endless time.

Only twenty-four hours. To change the world you must stick to this timetable. In my dream, I am Prime Minister of Israel. My baton conducts a magnificent new symphony- a Treaty celebrating the harmonious co-existence of Israel and Palestine. In this work I will accomplish what has been impossible until now – the equal rights of these two peoples in the Middle East. The theme of the overture has Jerusalem as the common capital city. This Holy Town should immediately become a shared home for Christians, Muslims and Jews. For me, Jerusalem is a city that still resonates with a history from beyond the ancient civilizations of Rome and Athens.

It is Thursday morning, eight am. A sunny sky, the air mild. It’s a pleasant autumn day that has an air about it of history in the making. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza knocks at the door of my residence, diagonally across from the wall of prayers. Though he has been dead for 300 years I have selected him as my advisor. He has brought my favorite food, hummus. There is also fresh pressed orange juice and strong coffee.

Just as we finish strengthening ourselves the phone rings. It is my friend Edward Said. In real life he is Professor of Literature at Columbia University, but in my dream he has been selected by the Palestinians to sign the peace treaty. ‘Hey’, I say to him, ‘where are you? We want to make peace today, and you’re going to be late?’ When he finally turns up, all three of us know that there will be no turning back. To start with we decide that the Peace-treaty will be enacted from the 15th of May: because on this day fifty-one years ago both our peoples were at war. For the Jews it was the War of Independence, for the Palestinians it was the ‘Alnakbah’ – ‘ the Catastrophe.’ From tomorrow this anniversary of war will only be known as the ‘Day of Peace’.

Three conditions must be met, or the Treaty will not be worth the paper it is written on. Firstly, both nations are obligated to work together. This cooperation will be so tight that not only our economic futures, but also our cultural and scientific futures, will be interwoven. This ensures that Palestine and Israel will be as close-knit as a family. It also implies solidarity. For example, what is to be done with the money European banks stole from the Jews during the Fascist era? My dream is, if there are no survivors to whom to give the money, then Israel should spend the millions of dollars on Palestine refugees.

Secondly, I am in favour of arming both nations. Israel must remain vigilant against the Arab world – but so should Palestine, (at least for her own peace of mind). It will be very difficult for the ultra-religious Jews to accept this. I’ll take options in my treaty to separate Church and State – like in the rest of the Western world. I would do everything for the religious and for the study of religion. After all, Judaism is almost a science, and the Talmud is much more than just a text we declaim. But what will I do about the spectre of radical religious groups…?

Finally, the treaty will provide for the creation of a new domestic secret service, comprising both the army and the police. How about calling it the ‘Ministry for Peace’? A Judge, not a soldier, will lead it. He would ensure a transparency and a conduct that could never last under the hawks of the military. In my dream this would create a new horizon for many. It would be a lively time, and emotions might overflow. Whoever strikes out against peace, would be sentenced to five years in a kind of gulag. Even Palestinians would be sent here. A type of atonement that will ensure reformed behaviour. Let them strike out their own eyes!

Guests begin arrive as we finish the three pillars of the treaty. Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals, musicians, writers and philosophers. Their opinions are the touchstone for the peace. Cigar smoke hangs in the air. There is much debate. Suddenly there is a knock. The room falls silent, and, as one, the heads of my guests turn towards the door. David Ben Gurion has arrived with Gamal Abdul Nasser. In my dream, they have formed an alliance, and are against my treaty. They direct their contempt at Said and myself, shaking their fingers in the air, chanting words such as ‘betrayal of Israel’ and ‘betrayal of Arab nationalism’.

Unmoved, I explain to them that the time has come to relinquish control over one and-a-half million Palestinians. We have a duty to move on. It is imperative not only for moral reasons, but also for the future of Judaism. If the state of Israel does not learn to embrace peace and open her borders, she risks becoming a ghetto.

It is vital that my people understand that this is not about doing the Palestinians a favor, but rather that this the one chance that we Jews have to evolve. Those who exhaust themselves with war will have no strength left for a future of peace. Ben Gurion and Nasser are impressed.

Then I follow up with a Jewish joke that illustrates the inner struggles of my people. Five Jews meet to decide what is important to the human race. Moses scratches his head and says, ‘The ability to think.’ Jesus places hand on heart and says, ‘Sympathy.’ Marx rubs his stomach and says, ‘Food’. Freud grabs his crotch and says, ‘Sex.’ Einstein touches his knees and says, ‘Everything is relative.’ As you see, the joke explains why we Jews are so often consumed by doubt.

The day ends with a celebration. It’s time for dinner. The spread is generous: Kosher food alongside Arab delicacies. Albert Einstein is there; he is a bit grouchy because he is sure that the gravitational fields between the two camps will rip my plans apart. He sits next to Spinoza who explains how belief in just one view can totally sap one’s strength. Naturally, the dramatist Heiner Müller is also present. He smokes a long, distinguished cigar, and makes statements such as ‘Shakespeare uses Hamlet as an alter-ego to change the world.’ Germany’s Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is tolerated because he will donate a case of ‘Cohibas.’ Ludwig van Beethoven sits at the head of the table, head bowed, sketching notes while dreaming up a fantastic anthem for the two new states. Richard von Weizaecker, good-looking as ever, a great statesman and friend of Israel, speaks of the similarities between Berlin and Jerusalem. I was just thinking whether he should be the first Mayor of the new capital Jerusalem, when Martin Luther King Jr. comes through the door. He yells, ‘You have a dream? It’s Barenboim, isn’t it?’ He grasps me by the shoulders, strokes my hair and says ‘I don’t know whether to laugh or cry – you’re alive and I am dead.’

Is this really a dream? In reality, I have already realized my dream on a small scale. This summer I created an orchestra in which young Jewish and Palestinian musicians play together as though they had been doing so forever. Through music we drove away hostility. It is intolerable to think that as we enter the new millennium, the Middle East shall remain the same as it has been during this century – a powder keg, a region of hatred with peoples in search of national supremacy. In my dream it takes only twenty-four hours to create peace. Politics can take more time, but not endless time.

Daniel Barenboim
October 1999

Original article published in DIE ZEIT
Courtesy of Marc Kayser, Editor

“I Have a Dream”,”Go!”