No ordinary concert
Last week the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the musical group set up by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, played at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Tania Tamari Nasir tells the story of two powerful experiences in Jerusalem and Birzeit, the backdrop to this unique project where Arab and Israeli musicians play together, transcending conflict and war, extending a hand for peace
Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim's friendship has inspired numerous creative collaborations which have significantly touched and continue to touch the lives of many Palestinians and Israelis. Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society, (Pantheon Books, 2002) is a perfect example of such a collaboration, an exciting record of some of their most stimulating conversations in recent years. In his introduction explaining the reason behind publishing these conversations Said wrote: "Our whole aim was to share our thoughts amiably and energetically with each other, and with others for whom music, culture and politics to-day form a unique whole. What that whole is I am happy to say, neither of us can fully state, but we ask our readers, our friends, to join us in trying to find out."
As a reader and friend I am dutifully heeding the call, responding by recounting what I have personally experienced and what I have discovered when in the company of Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim, and at an unusual concert five years ago in Jerusalem; music, culture and politics met to create a unique whole, a unique moment, of truth and reconciliation. Alas, only a moment, and only for a while.
A few months ago a friend sent me Suzie Mackenzie's article "In Harmony" (The Guardian, 3 April, 2003). "I am sure you would enjoy reading it," she said. She was right. The article was an interview with Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, authors of Parallels and Paradoxes. I had read the book in galley proof when Edward Said sent it to me and I was moved and impressed by what these two creative minds had to say to one another and to the world, on issues as diverse as music and politics, all set in the frame work of a liberal humanism.
But there was something else in the article that touched me personally. At one point, in the course of the article, Mackenzie quotes Edward Said describing a concert of Barenboim's that he had attended several years ago in Jerusalem at which Barenboim dedicated an encore to a Palestinian friend who, with her husband, had entertained both him and Edward at their home in the occupied West Bank. The person Edward Said spoke about was me, and the briefly alluded to story was an experience that has enriched and inspired me ever since. The experience had a special significance for me. It had reinforced my long-held belief in the arts as unmatched instruments of change, as powerful tools of the mind and soul that when used creatively and honestly, can conjure up new and exciting realities of their own.
It was the first week of March, 1998, and Edward Said was calling from his hotel in East Jerusalem, his voice, as always, urgent, energetic. "I am here with my close friend Daniel Barenboim, he told me. He is a wonderful man, a great human being. He is Israeli, an ardent supporter of peace and justice for Palestine and the Palestinians."
"Daniel is giving a concert this week-end in West Jerusalem," Edward went on to say, and had asked him to invite, on Barenboim's behalf, some of his Palestinian friends.
Edward must have sensed my hesitation on the other end of the telephone. "Tania," he hastened to say, "I really know the situation, your sensitivities and reservations, but Daniel is no ordinary man, no ordinary musician. I would like you to come. What do you think?"
What did I think? Invited to a concert by Daniel Barenboim, in the company of Edward Said, two intellectual and artistic giants of our time. How could I stop and think? Others would jump at such an opportunity, yet Edward knew exactly why I had hesitated and why I had to "think" instead of blurting out the spontaneous "yes" that should have come to my lips.
I had to think because, apart from the emotional and moral barriers, actually getting to West Jerusalem, just 20km away, was itself a major and risky undertaking.
AS A PALESTINIAN residing in the West Bank, under Israeli occupation since 1967, I was prevented by military orders from being in Israeli territory. West Jerusalem, where Daniel was to give his concert, was a physically prohibited area for me.
Most Palestinians under occupation have deep reservations about relations with Israelis. With the on-going military occupation and daily human rights violations one cannot simply turn a blind eye to the injustices and the humiliations. One cannot simply go to a concert in West Jerusalem and act as if everything in our lives is normal.
It was now close to five years since we had returned to Palestine. After almost 20 years of exile my husband, Hanna Nasir, president of Birzeit University, had been allowed back home, a home under occupation but home nonetheless. The end of the deportation order was part of the confidence-building measures that came in the aftermath of the Oslo accords. Promises of peace brought cautious joy to our hearts. The long years of exile were a strenuous burden. We were tired of confrontation, animosity, bitterness and anxiety. We longed for stability, for our family and for the millions of Palestinians living and struggling for decades in a state of endless hope for a just resolution to their national problem.
Now back in Palestine I felt that peace might have a chance. I am a pacifist at heart and I can never accept wars or violence as a solution to any conflict. Wars, and the arrogance of military power, may offer immediate solutions but it is only justice that brings lasting peace and real healing to any conflict. And I wanted that healing more than anything else in the world. For over 50 years, ever since childhood, my life has been a battlefield, not only actual but intellectual, emotional and moral. Ever since 1948, and the beginning of the Arab-Israeli wars, my life has been a constant witness to pain, anguish, despair, humiliation and the ever growing yearning for liberation and dignity.
The deportation of my husband was especially traumatic. He left our home on the evening of 21 November, 1974, in answer to a phone call from the military governor of Ramallah, asking him to come for an 11 o'clock meeting at the military headquarters to discuss the repercussions of a peaceful protest march that students of Birzeit University had conducted earlier that day. The whole West Bank was in an uproar against occupation.
It was just after Yasser Arafat had addressed the United Nations General Assembly. The Palestinian voice was finally being heard at an international forum and everyone felt the impact of this historic occasion and the possibilities for a major turning point in the Palestinian struggle. Worried at the summons Hanna left our home around 10pm. The children were asleep and I started what was to become a seemingly endless, tense waiting for his return. Several hours later, with Hanna still not back, I realised something was seriously wrong.
I alerted members of our family, friends, and university officials. Morning came without any news. Enquires were made on all levels. The military governor's office assured us that Hanna was still at a meeting with other West Bank leaders. He will be home soon we were told again and again. Finally, as we listened to the 10am Arabic broadcast on the Israeli radio we learned the devastating truth. Hanna, with four other Palestinians, had been deported at dawn to the Southern borders of Lebanon. There was no meeting with the military governor. All they had been told were lies and attempts to stall. Later we learned how Hanna, like the others, was handcuffed and blindfolded like a criminal and driven for seven hours to the Lebanese border where he and his companions were deported. Furtively, under cover of darkness, our lives changed.
I remained in Birzeit with our four children hoping that efforts to bring Hanna back would bear fruit. Deportation is an illegal act under all international human rights laws. Close to a year passed before we realised that the Israelis were adamant and that his return would not happen. Hanna and I were forced to make one of the most difficult decisions in our lives: I left Birzeit, family and friends, the landscape that I loved, and with the children joined Hanna in his exile. Amman, Jordan, was to become our new home.
Besides being illegal, deportation is inhuman and unjust. Exiled or deported, banished from everything you know and love, you realise that there might be no limit to the sentence. A lifetime may pass and you might never see your homeland or loved ones again. We were lucky. After almost 20 years, with new political circumstances, on 29 April, 1993, we received news that Hanna's deportation, like that of many others, was over. Early the next day, at 7.30am, we were on a bus with the first group of Palestinian deportees allowed to return to the West Bank and Gaza. Once again, dramatically and without warning, our lives changed. We were on our way back to Palestine.
DESPITE THE JUBILATION, returning to Birzeit after all those years was not a simple matter. Many things had changed, not least ourselves. The long years of absence and the ongoing pains of occupation had taken their toll; the daily confrontations, fear, death, destruction, confiscation of land, uprooting of trees, the ever present threat of illegal settlements and fanatic settlers and with it all the growing resistance, the Intifada , a people's uprising calling for freedom and for justice. All of this had left its mark and shaken people's lives into new patterns and realities. And as if this was not enough there were now the new political, social and moral issues brought about by the Oslo accords with which to deal. Oslo brought with it severed dreams and distorted rights. Yes, we needed a peaceful resolution to the conflict, but it was imperative that it be just and dignified. How could this be achieved? I wanted to understand and come to terms with the new circumstances of our return.
Settling back home Hanna and I realised that we had passed a new milestone on our journey. As the days went by, happy to return home, I felt my natural optimism winning over my anxious questioning. I wanted this to be a turning point. A healing wholesomeness was settling in my heart as I saw hope permeating the despair of the previous years. All around me, although conscious of the painful price of Oslo, people wanted to give the promise of peace, no matter how fragile, a chance. And I was one of them. I felt ready for a new beginning, for making the most of a historic moment of change. I have faith in change -- positive, constructive -- in liberating land and identity. I wanted to accept compromises with dignity. I wanted to trust the adversary. I knew that in order to make the most of this latest peace effort wise, pragmatic, yet cautious decisions had to be made.
I remember now how, with the Oslo peace accords, scores of attempts at what was termed normalising relations between the Palestinians and Israelis were proposed. This was one of the conditions for the implementation of this latest rapprochement. As Palestinians we felt the pressure on all fronts -- political, social and cultural. We were told, now that a peace process was unfolding, there was no reason why Palestinians and Israelis should not work together and efforts at normalising relations between them should get underway.
Was it as simple as that, I wondered? Were the Oslo sponsors so naïve as to think that years of conflict and suffering can be just put aside, wiped out and forgotten? We realised that drastic and painful changes in attitude and thought needed to be made as part of the dynamics of reconciliation, but we also felt that respect and sensitivity should be shown to any reservations or questions. People, of flesh and blood, were involved, not inanimate pawns in a game of chess. To be able to last, and be credible, the Oslo accords needed proper, cautious handling by all.
Like many others active in the cultural life of the community I was involved with issues dealing with normalisation. As a singer I was often invited by visiting artists and managers of cultural events from abroad to take part in "peace concerts" with Israeli artists, concerts that were to reflect goodwill and the winds of change brought by Oslo. Although I was willing to listen and appreciated the sincerity and enthusiasm of those involved I had to politely refuse such offers explaining that, although I strongly believed in the arts as a vehicle for understanding, I believed even more strongly that to be effective such a message could not be based on wishful thinking but must be embedded in the credibility of factual truths.
And the truth was that despite the signing of the Oslo accords Israel was still occupying Palestine, was still building settlements, was still committing grave human rights violations. Israel was still not showing any serious intention of implementing Oslo. What was there to celebrate? What was there to show of peace? My singing with an Israeli artist in the context that peace was finally here would be a lie and one cannot play around with the sacredness of truth, nor with the wholesomeness of art. We cannot give false impressions. We cannot deceive the world.
Alas, despite the expectations the post Oslo years are a period I look back at with sadness. The false sense of peace grew larger with each day. The years brought more and more disappointments as the Israelis proved less and less willing to implement the Oslo agreements, blaming the Palestinians, describing their protest and resistance to occupation as terrorism. The frustrations mounted and erupted into the inferno of the second Intifada, that burns to this day .
Depressed, but not ready to give in, I searched for ways to keep going. I remember the excruciating anger that gnawed at my heart. I had been cheated and robbed of my expectations and of the chance for peace. I hoped against hope for a miracle that could save us, all of us, Palestinians and Israelis alike. It was at this time of intense frustration and a growing fear of the mounting hostilities surrounding us that I felt myself investing more and more hope in the Israeli voices calling for justice and peace. I desperately wanted such voices to make a dent, to become voices of sanity and moderation influencing the Israeli government's negotiations for a political settlement.
The tragedy of Palestine and the complex conflict between Arab states and Israel have lasted too long. Serious attempts at solving them have been the focus of numerous mediation efforts yet, after decades, the problem is still here. Why? Where is the fault? Where does the solution lie? To me, a Palestinian who has lived first hand the details of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict, I have always thought of it as a simple, straight-forward, black and white situation. Naïve, maybe, but true if you examine the details of how Israel was created on a land not its own, replacing an indigenous people by others, strangers to the land, from all over the world.
I wonder how many of those states that voted positively for the creation of Israel, hoping that by doing so they would be absolving the horrible crimes committed against world Jewry in the West, also realised that with this solution they were committing another similar and grave crime against a people faraway and innocent of the whole affair.
The creation of the state of Israel on Palestinian land contained a death sentence for Palestine and the Palestinians. It was an injustice par excellence. I firmly believe, and more than ever before, that peace will only come if the international community, as well as Israel and the people of Israel, decide to put the record straight. Peace will only come when the injustice is dealt with, when rights are restored, when Israel is ready to recognise an independent, viable Palestinian state alongside its own.
Despite the years of war and conflict many Palestinians were now pragmatically ready to accept new realities. Many became actively involved in peace activities, not only independently and internationally but also taking the courageous step to work with the Israeli peace camp. To some it was rewarding, to others disappointing. Not much was achieved. Not much could be achieved. Hostility was turning into chaos and I was scared and shaken as I watched the avalanche of militancy and violence. I wanted at all costs to save the remnants of the positive feelings of optimism that had permeated my being since our return from exile. What should I do? I felt the need to try out new ways of dealing with the situation, with the delicate and pertinent political and existential issues surrounding me. Who holds the secret wand, the magical potion for salvation? The stagnation was suffocating.
IT WAS AT THIS TIME, five years ago, while this battle was raging within me that Edward Said called inviting me, on Daniel Barenboim's behalf, to attend his piano recital in West Jerusalem. I knew that it was not a casual invitation and I promised to think about it. And I did. Not only did I accept the invitation to the concert but I found myself inviting Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said to have dinner at our home in Birzeit.
The visit was a warm and memorable occasion. We spoke mainly of politics, little of music. The myriad levels of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were discussed, argued and analysed. There were points of conflict, moments of mutual recognition and understanding. We were conversing with sincerity and respect. I could feel Edward's pleasure to be with his friends from both sides of the divide. Daniel enquired about my husband's deportation, our return, about the University of Birzeit, the students, how we coped, how we dealt with occupation, the hardships of closure and check points and siege.
I can still see his face, concerned and absorbing all that was said, genuinely needing to understand and, most importantly, genuinely wanting to find ways to change the appalling situation for both the Palestinian and Israeli people. We stressed the fact that it was for the occupier to make bold and courageous goodwill gestures, to offer the Palestinians some proof of its commitment to peace. The Oslo accords needed to be implemented in the time and framework set for them. This was the test and the crux of the matter. Israel was stalling, walking away from it all. How could we trust it?
It was late when Edward and Daniel left and once again Daniel extending the invitation, personally this time, for me to attend his piano recital in Jerusalem the following evening. I assured him that I would be there.
Writing about it now, after all these years, I seem to live the experience all over again. I remember how, full of apprehension and excitement, I took the taxi that Edward had sent. It had special licence plates that would make it easier to "smuggle" me from Birzeit, in the occupied West Bank, to "Israeli" Jerusalem. It was a risky decision to make yet I knew in my heart that the time had come for me to make it.
In attending Daniel Barenboim's concert in Jerusalem I would be attending my first function ever in Israel. But I was not simply going to attend a concert, and Daniel Barenboim was not simply an internationally renowned musician. More meaningful to me was that he was an Israeli who recognised "the other", who addressed the injustice inflicted upon us by his own people, who recognised the Palestinian identity and the need for an independent Palestinian state side by side with the state of Israel. For him, as for me, this was the only viable solution to the long years of conflict between his people and mine.
Comforted by this knowledge I accompanied Edward Said to the Crown Symphony Hall. Backstage we met Daniel. There was an obvious excitement in the room. Daniel was happy to see us. We were equally thrilled but I could not shake off an intense feeling of unease. After years and years of denial here I was, in West Jerusalem, at an Israeli function. Was I right to come here? Was this normalising relations with the adversary? Was what I had stood against for years, what I have refused to be party to, now underway? What had changed to make me do it? Had the occupation ended? Was I free? Had justice been done?
The familiar leitmotif of questions were repeated but I reminded myself of my conviction, of the conscious decision that I had made and as if to support me I heard my father's voice, advising me: "If you believe in something you know is right have the moral courage to stand by it, defend it against all odds."
He would have blessed my coming here. He would have understood. I remembered his friendship with a Jewish doctor from Jerusalem. They grew up together and my grandmother would knit pullovers for both of them. They were close, very close, until the 1948 Arab-Israeli war separated them, only to meet again in the aftermath of the 1967 War in a tearful reunion that was cruelly severed once more by the ugly reality of Israel's ongoing occupation of the rest of Palestine.
At this point another image, that of my friend and mentor Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, came to reassure me. I remembered his commitment to literature, and music in particular, as "creators of miracles" as he would passionately declare. Jabra, the well-known Palestinian writer, artist, critic and translator was born and grew up in Bethlehem, fleeing in 1948 to Baghdad where he lived and died in 1994 and where he was instrumental in paving the way to modernity in Arabic literature and art. I remembered how he often reminisced about his life in Palestine, about Jerusalem in particular, the scene of many of his novels and poems, and how he had told me with enthusiasm about a fine arts club that he had started in Jerusalem in the early 1940s following his return from studies at Cambridge. It was a wonderful group, he would say, with Jewish, Arab and international members, all of whom, he said, believed in the power of the arts to transcend difference. Yes, Jabra, also a friend of Edward Said, would understand why I was here. Slowly the questioning abated. Feeling less anxious I tried to relax and enjoy the evening. I had not been to a concert for a long time.
Daniel hit the first notes of the magnificent Pathetique and slowly I was transported to another world where music reigned, enveloping me with tranquility, helping me forfeit pain and anxiety. I wanted only the healing power of music to take effect. But this was not to be: for to me this was not an ordinary concert at which one could close one's eyes and pretend all was well with the world. Try as I might I was acutely conscious of where I was, of the people around me, of why I was there and how. I was conscious of Edward sitting beside me. Was he worried about my being here, wondering if he was right in encouraging me to come tonight? I felt him watching me as from time to time I dried my tears. This was nothing new, I wanted to re-assure him. Beautiful music never fails to move me to tears. But here, now, the tears were not only for the music. I found myself crying for all the joys and sorrows of my life, the past , the present and maybe, unknowingly, for the future.
Snatches of Beethoven's familiar music echoed in and out of the alleyways of fancy, the depths of the mind, the labyrinth of the soul, searching, probing, questioning in dazzling kaleidoscopic formations of sights and sounds memories and recollections, flowing, climaxing and receding like words of a song in harmony with Daniel's music, recreating for me a dense, intricate, long forgotten narrative of my own.
In the confined space of a small concert seat faces, places, events and emotions crowded around me: images of my childhood, parents, family, husband, children and friends unravelled, projected against the backdrop of a landscape of rocks, of cypresses and pines, of flowers and fruit orchards, of sea, of sand clouds and light. All were seeped in an overwhelming quagmire of injustice that shaped the reality of my days, of where I lived and how I lived and to where I was heading, of loss of country, of exile, of tragedy, of war, of hope of resilience and of the ever present pain of severed dreams. Shaken by this unexpected surge of emotion I suddenly realised that I was here not only to examine new ways of dealing with the adversary, not only for the music, but intuitively and just as importantly I was making an intimate return. I was returning home.
NOT FAR FROM WHERE I sat in the concert hall was the Maskobieh, the Arabic name for the Russian compound where in June 1941 I was born, where the walls of an old hospital heard my first cry, where my eyes first saw the luminous light of Jerusalem. Now this same Maskobieh is the site of an Israeli prison where Palestinian young men and women are detained and tortured. Unlike me their cries are of death not life, and their eyes, unlike mine, are made blind to the light of this holy city. As I sit here I could feel the pain fusing and reverberating with the music, instigating the doubts. What was I doing here, enjoying a concert with my adversaries? I was torn with feelings of guilt. I should not have come.
With memories of Maskobieh another picture came rushing by, of my aunt Olga who lived in this same compound in a beautiful house with a lovely garden of blue jasmine and climbing pink roses. She had to flee her home in fear for her life when the British army suddenly left Jerusalem on 15 May, 1948, ending their mandate in Palestine, leaving the country defenceless, vulnerable to the bloody battles that rage to this day. I remembered my aunt's anguish, her tale of bewilderment, of how in her hurry and fear to flee she had left a pot of lentils cooking on the stove and discovered herself with a shoe on one foot and a slipper on the other. As a child, listening to her recount the sad story, I realised for the first time in my life the power and horrible impact of war and what fear means. I became aware that a great tragedy had befallen us.
But not all was sad. Images of happier moments in Jerusalem peeped in to refresh me, when in spring my parents and I would come from the nearby resort town of Ramallah, where I grew up, to visit relatives in the Qatamon district of Jerusalem. Images of picnics in the fields, lush and green at the edge of the forest, the anemones red and glowing. Yet it was not only the pastoral outskirts of Jerusalem that I remembered. Jerusalem was the first city I knew and I was dazzled by its energy and magic, the hustle and bustle that tantalised my senses and imagination. It was my city, I was born here and I was proud to be a Jerusalemite.
Now, years later, I feel the same pride, yet it is an injured pride tainted with pain and humiliation; sadly, I had to come to Jerusalem in secrecy, I had to infiltrate it like an outlaw. The anger was deep and real and I felt it blocking the joy coming from the stage.
Daniel was playing beautifully. Was he aware of what I was going through? What about Edward sitting next to me? Knowing him the music would, as always, be at the centre of his concentration. I envied him and longed for the music to take over, but again this was not an ordinary concert. Endless recollections, like variations on a theme, kept pushing themselves against the glorious sound. Unawares, I must have needed the comfort of reminiscing, of revisiting the Jerusalem I love.
It was not only childhood memories that pressed. Others, more recent ones, came. I recalled an incident, early after the 1967 War, when my husband and I accompanied our cousin Kamal Nasir, Palestinian nationalist and poet, on a visit to West Jerusalem. He needed to go there to settle a traffic violation fine. After years of separation we were excited and apprehensive to find ourselves, once again, in West Jerusalem, inaccessible to us since 1948. Jerusalem was and still is at the core of every Palestinian's life, as a reality and as a symbol of our belonging to the land, and like children happy to be back at the scene of our youth we set out on a moving journey of memories .
Hanna and Kamal were exchanging stories and anecdotes of growing up in Jerusalem, their old haunts, Cinema Rex, the coffee shops, the YMCA where they played tennis, where Hanna learned how to type, where they attended concerts given by the Palestine Symphony and where the Palestinian musician Salvador Anita gave his memorable organ recitals. They remembered how once a year Jewish musicians from the Symphony, under the direction of Arnita, would come from Jerusalem to Birzeit College (now Birzeit University) to perform at commencement exercises with the school choir in which Kamal, with his warm tenor voice, was an enthusiastic singer.
I remember, as if it were yesterday, how during that same visit to Jerusalem with Kamal we saw a little Israeli girl crossing the street, happily carrying her violin, confident and at peace with herself and the world. Noticing her Kamal, the committed humanist, known for his love of children and of music, looked at us, looked back at her and in the grand manner of the orator that he was, his face radiating compassion, said: "Look at her, a mere child, carrying her violin, her music. How can I, as a Palestinian leader, label this Israeli child an enemy. How can I disregard her people's humanity even if they have dispossessed me of my country?" His words carried with them the ardent need for peace, and a hidden yearning for a Jerusalem he had once known.
Ironically, soon after that moving incident Kamal, in December, 1967, was amongst the first Palestinians to be deported by the Israeli government. He was a threat to the security of the state, so they said. In 1973 Kamal, then the PLO spokesman and an ardent believer in justice and liberation for all mankind, was brutally assassinated with two other Palestinian leaders by an Israeli commando force that raided their apartments in Beirut. His murderer, decorated and hailed as a hero, is now a well-known Israeli politician. In the concert hall I felt the same unbearable pain and indignation that I first felt when years ago I saw photographs of Kamal's violent death, his bullet riddled body crucified on the floor, his joie de vivre stilled, his voice silenced and his pen dried. I remembered the devastation of loosing a friend, of being robbed of a compassionate leader.
DANIEL BARENBOIM'S music rose to awaken me to reality. What would Kamal say, if he was to see me now, his friend, casually sitting in a concert hall in the midst of an Israeli audience? Would he approve, would he understand? Was I betraying his memory? I felt confused and distraught, then I heard his voice coming to me, tolerant, kind. "Tania, music, art and love are the most powerful gifts the world has given us, a blessing that we should use to bring peace and justice, to heal wounds and soothe pain. You are not betraying me, on the contrary you are re- enforcing the essence of what I believed in." and as if in an after thought I heard him ask: "Do you remember that incident, years ago in Jerusalem, when we saw that little Israeli girl with her violin? Maybe she is here, now, in the audience with you?"
His eyes were twinkling and his smile offered a promise.
The music was at it again, crisscrossing with my recollections, playing havoc with my emotions and I was giving in to all its cathartic powers. My own trials and the ordeals of my family emerged: my husband's deportation, the years of exile, the longing, the homesickness, the anger and frustration, my mother-in-law, sick, waiting for her only son to return, dying without him at her side. The children, growing up in exile, how they suffered as we waited for long hours on the Allenby bridge border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank as we travelled back and forth from Amman to Ramallah and Birzeit to visit grandparents, family, friends and home. Memories of the humiliating body search, the ordeal of hunger and thirst as neither food nor drink was allowed. And once again the questions emerged. How can I come to attend a concert amidst men and women whose elected government is responsible for the suffering of my family, my people? How?
Try as I wanted I could not still the doubts. I could not stop the internal monologue that seemed to surface whenever I succumbed to the beauty of the music. Could this be right? Is it justified to be sitting here casually listening to a performance by an Israeli musician when at this very moment all the villages and towns of Palestine are under Israeli military occupation, where strict siege and daily loss of life and imprisonment is the norm? How did I come here, not heeding all this?
But I was well aware of the circumstances before I came, and I reminded myself of how and why I had accepted Daniel's invitation. Slowly I felt the scepticism ebbing away. Once again confident of my decision I felt a comforting sensation fill my heart. Daniel was fingering the last notes of the poignant Sonata in B minor by Liszt. The brilliant performance was coming to an end and the audience rose in a standing ovation. I stood too, clapping, happy not only for the music but for my own being there.
The enthusiastic audience sat down in the expectation of an encore. Instead Daniel Barenboim took a few steps forward, closer to the audience. He was speaking in Hebrew, which I did not understand. Quickly he resorted to English. "Last night I was in the West Bank, at the home of a Palestinian academic who has recently returned from an unjust 20 year deportation by the Israeli government. He and his wife received me not just as a friend, more as a member of the family."
As he spoke, his voice vibrant and full of emotion, Edward and I looked at each other with wonder. What is Daniel trying to say? Silence, saturated with expectation replaced the resounding applause of moments before. I can still remember that intense silence as Daniel Barenboim, in the white circle of spotlight was fervently talking to an audience in the darkness of the concert hall. His words, as eloquent and moving as his music, hit us all like a shooting star. Awed, we listened, united in a unique moment of intimacy, each alone, yet all mesmerised by Daniel Barenboim's unexpected words.
Daniel spoke of peace, of justice, of the need to end the suffering of both Palestinians and Israelis, then all of a sudden I heard him say: "I am happy to have my Palestinian hostess of last night here with us this evening. She has accepted my invitation to come to Jerusalem, despite prohibitions and many reservations. To thank her, I would like to dedicate my encore to her."
As he moved back towards the piano the stillness was shattered by a thunderous applause. Edward was hugging me and repeating with pride and deep emotion: "Only Daniel can do it, only he can have the guts." And I, what could I say? Overcome and moved beyond words, only the tears expressed what engulfed my whole being, and as if Daniel knew my love for Chopin's music and all it symbolised of an artist's love for his country he chose a Chopin nocturne for his encore. Listening, overcome and happy, I could not help but feel vulnerable as I wondered about the audience, all these Israeli men and women. What were they feeling?
Daniel's courageous words must have placed his Israeli audience face to face with an existential reality. Were they happy? Were they upset at what they heard? The impulsive applause at the end of Daniel's short address must surely be a positive sign. At least they must have understood and appreciated the essence of Daniel's generosity of heart. Suddenly it all became very clear; unconsciously it was for something like this that I was yearning. I knew then I was right to have come.
Back stage, surrounded by well-wishers, Daniel, Edward and I embraced. It was a moment of unparalleled camaraderie. Daniel gave me his flowers. I thanked him for his magnanimous gesture, and Edward, our deus ex machina, beamed with joy over a blessed encounter and a blessed new friendship.