Daniella Cheslow Multimedia Journalist

Daniella Cheslow
Concert brings classical music to Gaza

Residents in Gaza were serenaded by 25 musicians from Europe who performed a concert led by Daniel Barenboim in the Hamas-run enclave to draw attention to its plight.

Published at The Times of London.

Barenboim, an Israeli conductor, is opposed to his country’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. “We are playing this concert as a sign of our solidarity and friendship with the civil society of Gaza,” he said.

Barenboim, 68, entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt because Israelis are not allowed to use Erez, the Israeli checkpoint. The conductor, who was born in Argentina and raised in Israel, was greeted by dozens of young musicians from the al-Qattan Music School in Gaza.

The European musicians, calling themselves Orchestra for Gaza, came from five leading orchestras including Staatskapelle Berlin, Vienna Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. The event was organised by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and Unesco .

At the first international performance in the Gaza Strip the orchestra played Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Symphony No 40.

“Our conflict is a conflict of two peoples who are convinced they have the right to live in the same little piece of land, therefore, our destinies are linked,” Barenboim said. “No people should be expected to live under occupation.”

In 2001 the conductor defied a ban on playing Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer, in Jerusalem.

In 1999 Barenboim and Edward Said, the late Palestinian scholar, founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which brings together Israeli and Arab musicians. Barenboim continues to conduct, teach and support Palestinian musicians and students in the West Bank. He accepted an honorary Palestinian passport in 2008.

During the Israeli Operation Cast Lead offensive in 2009 Barenboim denounced the Israeli Army’s “relentless and brutal bombardment of Gaza”.

The Mozart concert was a refreshing break for Palestinians in Gaza whose lives are overshadowed by the blockade that Israel and Egypt imposed after the Hamas takeover in 2007.

Jawdat Khoudary, owner of the al-Mathaf Cultural House that hosted the event, said: “For a few moments Gaza could again be a part of the world, far away from the blockade and siege. We can be part of the world, and we can have culture like any other civilised city.”

Amal Syam, a women’s rights activist who attended the concert, said: “It’s good to hear and see this group making this kind of concert about peace, especially at a time when Hamas and Fatah are trying to sign the agreement together in Egypt.”

The 1.7 million inhabitants of Gaza have been isolated since Hamas seized power. They have gradually come under strict Islamic rule. In the past year Hamas has banned women from smoking water pipes and unmarried couples from walking together in public. Israeli limitations on goods have led to unemployment and poverty.

Filippo Grandi, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, said to Barenboim: “Thank you for bringing us the best gift of all, the gift of music.”

Photo by Mohammed Abed pool/EPA, published at thetimes.co.uk.