No Peace Process Without Education

Now, more than ever before, it is important for Israel to grant Palestinians free access to education.

The following article by Daniel Barenboim appeared in Welt am Sonntag on 21 July 2002.

It is difficult to speak about Palestinian rights when we keep hearing about suicide attacks on the Israeli civilian population. And let it be said loud and clear: there is no justification for Palestinian violence. It must stop. Unresolved, however, is the basic question of Israel’s reaction to such unacceptable actions. In the snail-paced course of the peace process, it must have become clear to the Israeli government long ago that there can be no military solution to the Middle East conflict, neither on a moral basis nor from a strategical standpoint. Every one of Israel’s military victories since the founding of the State of Israel has led to a political setback. And it has long been a known fact that the two states – Israel and Palestine – cannot be separated, if only for reasons of their interconnected economies.

Nine years ago, Israel prohibited the founding of a conservatory in Ramallah, fearing that it could give rise to a hotbed of Palestinian extremism. Now the Israelis have closed off the streets in front of the University of Bir Zeit, arguably the most important and enlightened educational institution in Palestine. I feel that this is a more than ill-advised reaction on the part of the Israelis. The restriction of education is always a source of new aggression. Old hatreds are passed on to a younger, more open generation. Israel, of all nations, should know from its own tradition that education is a basic right of all people. For two thousand years the Jewish people were kept together in the Diaspora by their teachings. It would only be consistent that Israel, as the occupying force, grant to the Palestinians the right to education as one of their first rights. Not out of generosity, but out of the knowledge and experience derived from age-old Jewish tradition.

Perhaps there really is a danger of increased conspiratorial activity at the university. On the other hand, preventing the access to Palestinian universities gives the State of Israel no additional security whatsoever. The greatest security that Israel can attain at the present is its acceptance by the Palestinian people. This is where the politics of peace-making must begin, especially since Arafat’s authoritarian regime no longer functions. The Palestinian population – the man in the street – has long since taken over a vital position here, and it is the people who will ultimately determine the future of the peace process. At all events, the political efforts have reached a dead end: George Bush, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat agree with the rhetorical formulae of reforms, but each means something different with this concept. Bush wants a negotiation partner acceptable to America. Sharon wants the Israeli occupation to be recognized. And Arafat sees reform as nothing but a cosmetic retouching of the current situation. In the end, neither Bush nor Sharon will bring about democracy by overthrowing Arafat. It has become the cause of the Palestinian people. Most of them are no longer ready to accept the corruption. Israel must do everything it can to support the democratic movement in Palestine. Now, more than ever before, it is important for Israel to grant Palestinians free access to education. Despite and because of the Palestinian attacks, it is time for a gesture of generosity: freedom of education, at Bir Zeit University as well, would be a major step in the peace process. Every closed university in Palestine deliberately holds it back.

Daniel Barenboim is the principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Berlin. An Israeli citizen, he aroused controversy last year because he conducted music by Wagner in Jerusalem.

Translated by Roger Clement