Speech given by Daniel Barenboim upon receiving the Buber-Rosenzweig-Medal at the Week of Fraternity 2004

Like music, history requires no interpretations. Yet both of them need an honest, albeit sometimes painful narrative.

Bad Nauheim, Germany, March 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This praise has deeply moved me. Moreover I’m hesitant to believe that I can meet these expectations. Many of the things I did, and still am doing, I do them, believe it or not, simply because I enjoy them. As it was mentioned before, I was born in Argentina. I then moved to Israel at the age of ten together with my family, and like other young people of my generation, I perceived the history of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict as it was told to us back then. Of course, the tale told in Israel was quite different from the one told in the Arab world. Today we know that both of them are false. A historical account should be clear, unambiguous and in a certain way unemotional, in order to ensure its continuity.

Like music, history requires no interpretations. Yet both of them need an honest, albeit sometimes painful narrative. I never even intended to do something in these lines; rather I always carried it inside of me, and, in the beginning, I was almost exclusively curious to get to know the “other”. Nevertheless, I believe that one should exercise caution when describing this conflict, because the conflict between Israel and the Arab states (like Egypt, Syria or Lebanon) is not comparable to others. Even though there are diplomatic relations with Egypt, they resemble an ice-cold peace. In fact, relations are so ice-cold that in the past it has happened that many of the young musicians which you saw in the short movie-presentation, feared to even attend our Workshop, because doing so is perceived negatively in their home country. In the Arab world any kind of cooperation, even if it is connected to music, is regarded – not by everybody, but by several people – as a sign of normalisation, which is generally unwanted. But this is only one chapter of the story, the other is the conflict between Israel and Palestine. No conflict should be considered as normal, and this one is especially horrid, because it is eating up both sides from the inside. And that of course, leads us to Martin Buber. I had the great privilege – and this is why I’m so thankful and so touched here, today – to attend several lectures given by Martin Buber at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. And likewise in private – I was unfortunately acquainted to him only vaguely – he spoke about this history, this tale of ours, the Jewish people. Already in Karlsruhe in 1921, he was a strong advocate of honest negotiations with our Arab neighbours. He really was a true “Spiritual Zionist”, not a Nationalist. He thought that the duty of the Jewish people and their nation, Israel, was to compensate for the mistakes that were made and to exercise readiness to reconcile towards the hostile neighbours. And they are hostile indeed. No doubt about that. But the Israel/Palestine problem is not a problem of two nations. It is a problem between people that have ironically managed to live together as long as another nation, namely the British, controlled the country. After the withdrawal of the British, the confrontation escalated. Back then, we were all Palestinians. Martin Buber too was a Palestinian. Palestine is a very literal term indeed. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which you have probably often heard, was founded in 1936 by Hubermann as the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra. And Toscanini led this orchestra as its first conductor. We mustn’t forget this, for the paths of these tales sometimes move in parallel and sometimes against one another. I personally met many Palestinians, not those who came to Palestine from Tunis for political purposes for example, but those who lived in Palestine and who are not able to comprehend why Jews, Muslims and Christians, in fact all of them Palestinians, could live in relative peace prior to 1948, and why one part of this population, namely the Jewish part of the Palestinians, now demanded its independence.

Jewish history though, is a whole different tale. But I have to tell you honestly, that I don’t have the feeling that all of us, that are or were living in Israel, regardless of political convictions, really did do everything possible to explain to those people why it is the way it is, and why we think the way we think. And we even failed to explain it to ourselves and to understand it in an adequate way. Namely that since 1948, since the very day the State of Israel was created, Jews around the world were no longer a minority like they had been for 2000 years, sometimes tolerated, sometimes treated with cruelty so inhumane that it is beyond any description. At present however, this persecuted minority has become not only a people, but a nation. And therefore, I find that we have to carry a greater responsibility to show readiness to reconcile. This is the week of Fraternity. We already learned about this principle from the French Revolution; yet, prior to Fraternity came Freedom and Equality. In my eyes these three terms from the French Revolution are not only valid, they also appear in the right order and there are many people in that region that don’t have Freedom, and many more that don’t experience Equality. Thus, how does that allow us to speak about Fraternity? One often talks about the necessity to feel tolerance. But what is tolerance? I can tolerate someone that is equal to me, otherwise this would not be tolerance. Acceptance, maybe. Acceptance means to accept that someone can be different and perhaps, this is the reason why we managed to live together in such a good manner. Like different musicians sitting together in one orchestra. Just imagine everybody playing alike, those would be the most tiresome concerts in the world. But the acceptance that one is free to play differently is one of music’s most important rules, and this we all need to learn, just as we must also learn that violence, which is being exerted all over the world, is unacceptable. And this fine line between unacceptable but understandable is very dangerous. This is why I devoted myself so much to this Workshop, this “West-Eastern-Divan” project, together with my friend Edward Said, who unfortunately is no longer among us. He was born in Jerusalem and was a proper Palestinian. He did not believe in a military solution either, and someone like him, born in Jerusalem, spending his childhood among Muslims and Jews, himself was a Christian. He also had difficulties understanding why the Jews needed to have a state of their own and not the Non-Jews from former Palestine. Therefore, our duty is to promote the dialogue between Jews and Palestinians. Hence, and I really do mean this in all its simplicity and honesty, I don’t want to be thanked for what I’m doing with these young people, because it is truly the greatest joy I can have as a musician, as a human being and as an Israeli. You know, one year ago or maybe a little more than that, during one of my visits to Ramallah, I played in front of 300 children. Maybe 13- or 14 year old kids. And after I played, some of them played for me. And then, after the official closing of the event, many of these young people came to ask me for an autograph. Just imagine, in Ramallah, which is usually off-limits to any Israeli citizen, an Israeli comes and plays and the Palestinian children want to have an autograph. This was already very touching. And then a little girl, maybe 13- or 14 years of age, came up to me and I asked her:” Do you play the piano, too?”. She replied:” No, I play the violin.” Then I asked her: “Well, why didn’t you play now?”, “Ah” she said, “I didn’t know that that was possible. I thought it was reserved to pianists only.” And then I told her: ” On my next visit, would you like to play?” “Oh, yes”, she replied, “I’d like that very much. I’m so happy that you are here.” “Why are you so happy that I’m here?” Whereupon she said: “Because you are the first thing – she actually said “thing” – from Israel that is neither a soldier, nor a tank.” This concert, as you surely know from the coverage in the newspapers, did not end the conflict. Yet, at least for a couple of hours, it managed to reduce the level of hatred to zero. And now, about a year ago, we began to establish a music education program in Ramallah. There are excellent teachers from Germany participating who went there to teach, and the children have already advanced to such a high level of playing, that when I will go to play there again this coming May, they will play with me. Just imagine, a little hall with maybe 20 to 25 Palestinian children making music together. And one should not thank me for that. What more could I wish for or what could I love to do more? The “West-Eastern-Divan” also developed incredibly well ever since its creation five years ago. Last summer, we played concerts in Berlin, London and various other places. Though this project will only reach its full dimensions on the very day that it will be possible for us to play in all of the countries represented in this workshop and orchestra: namely in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Israel. This is not the case yet, though I most strongly hope that it will happen soon. As I stated before, it is an enormous honor for me to receive this prize here today, and allow me to express my gratitude for being awarded this Medal and for the commendation, and thus as it is accustomed to say in the ceremonial language of courtesy: I do not deserve it. Thank you.