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Edward Said on Daniel Barenboim (1998)

November 21, 2015

In this extract from the essay Scenes from Palestine Edward Said writes about Daniel Barenboim.  In 1998 Said made two trips to Jerusalem and the West Bank to make a film for the BBC on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of Israel.  This is the film referred to in the extract.


Perhaps the high point of my experiences with Israelis was an interview with Daniel Barenboim, the brilliant conductor and pianist who was in Jerusalem for a recital at the same time I was there for the film.  Born and raised in Argentina, Barenboim came to Israel in 1950 at the age of nine, lived there for about eight years, and has been conducting the Berlin State Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – two of the world’s greatest musical institutions – for the last ten years.  I should also say that over the past few years he and I have become close personal friends.  He was very open in our interview: regretting that fifty years of Israel should also be the occasion of fifty years of suffering for the Palestinian people.  During our discussion he openly advocated a Palestinian state, and after his Jerusalem recital, to a packed audience, he dedicated his first encore to the Palestinian woman – present at the recital – who had invited him to dinner the night before.  I was surprised that the entire audience of Israeli Jews (she and I seemed to be the only Palestinians present) received his views and the noble dedication with enthusiastic applause.  Clearly a new constituency of conscience is beginning to emerge, partly as a result of Netanyahu’s excesses, partly as a result of Palestinian resistance.  What I found extremely heartening is that Barenboim, one of the world’s greatest musicians, has offered his services as a pianist to Palestinian audiences, a gesture of reconciliation that is truly worth more than dozens of Oslo accords.

…But at this moment it seems important that we testify to the resilience and continued potency of the Palestinian cause, which clearly has influenced more people in Israel and elsewhere that we have hitherto supposed.  Despite the gloom of the present moment, there are rays of hope indicating that the future may not be as bad as many of us have supposed.

The Nation, May 4, 1998

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 1998

(The End of the Peace Process, revised and updated edition, Edward W Said, Granta Books, London, 2002, ISBN 1-86207-523-9, pp. 254-255.)

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