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How classical music plays into the Palestinian narrative

We hear a lot in western media of the Barenboim-Said initiatives to bring classical music to the Middle East as a force for peace.

Here’s how the story plays out locally:

Ramzi Aburedwan … grew up in the refugee camp of Al Amari near Ramallah. At the tender age of 8, he witnessed his best friend being killed during an Israeli military operation. He then found himself throwing stones during the first Intifada and as a street combatant Aburedwan seemed destined for an Israeli prison or a Palestinian martyr’s poster. But fate decided to intervene.

At 17, he was invited to a music workshop in Al Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah, where he fell in love with the art and started to learn to play the viola….

‘Music is a universal language,’ Aburedwan says. ‘We encourage Palestinians to use this artistic tool to harmonise and enrich their cultural life, promoting international awareness and recognition of the Palestinian nation.’

Read more in Gulf News/Al Bawaba.ramzi


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  1. And for some Palestinians, their music can be a ticket to freedom. A wonderful success story of the Barenboim-Said program is that of the young flautist Dalia Moukarker. Among the artists Maestro Barenboim brought into the West Bank to inspire and mentor the young Palestinian musicians was the great Emmanuel Pahud, Principal Flute of the Berlin Phil.

    In 2009 the NYTImes featured a story which described Mr. Pahud’s visit and a 16 year old Palestinian flute student who he taught and mentored there, Dalia Moukarker.

    3 yrs. later, the NYTimes ran a follow-up on Dalia. She had perservered, and with her incredible determination, talent and the helping hands offered her by Mr. Pahud, her teachers and the Barenboim-Said program, she was accepted to study at a prestigious conservatory in Germany. Here’s her success story:

  2. This Orchestra is one of the VERY efficient ways to show the world how co – existence can be lived LIVE> Maestro Daniel Barenboim should get for incredible work the Nobel – Price. It cannot be enough appriciated!
    Politician’s should start thinking when they hear and see the young people performing together. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama should invite the Orchestra to Washington together with Mr. Abbas AND the leader of the Hamas!
    They should play Beethoven’s ninth Symphony!! Music will win over politics! I am shure they start thinking (for a change)

  3. To Norman, Michaela, and Michael- so right you are.

  4. Abigail Clifford says:

    Very touching and laudable, but how do you solve the problem of half a million settlers who will refuse to move.
    Look how difficult it was to get the 9,000 to move from Gaza 10 years ago.
    Of course if everyone played the flute and violin there wouldn’t be a problem or would there?

    • If they (Israelis) will continue to open new settlements than it will never be possible. They should stop this ! It’s like oil in fire! And they know it!!
      They should have today the United Palestine – Israel State!
      Could you imagen to drive from Istanbul without boarders on a highway to Alexandria? One day hopefully will see it, but only if there are no crazy ones like Mr. Ahmadinejad who wants to destroy the State of Israel.

    • All of the so-called ‘settlements’ are of course illegal under international law. This is one of the clearest points that can be made. 4th Geneva Convention Section 3 Article 49 “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

      As for ‘the power of music’, yes certainly I think it is nice when music can accomplish harmony in a way that politicians cannot. A few more documentaries like ’5 Broken Cameras’, some more plays like ‘My Name is Rachel Corrie”, and a few concerts in solidarity with the Palestinians, and the Israelis will be shamed into finally at least giving them a state.

  5. For anyone who wants to learn more about Ramzi and Al Kamandjati Music Centre he established should definitely out Candace Allen’s excellent and moving book “Soul Music” published by Gibson Square which goes deeper than anything I’ve ever read about how classical music is transforming the lives of young people all over the world including Palestine, Venezuela and the Congo.

  6. Michael – it is not only “Mr. Ahmadinejad who wants to destroy the State of Israel.” It is in fact the stated aim of the Hamas, both in their manifesto and rhetoric. It has been the aim of Egypt, Syria and most of Israel’s neighbors for a very long time. Iran is just the latest and the most capable one for the time being.
    As a Christian, I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying that Jews seem to be paranoid. BUT – with a very good reason, unfortunately.

    When there are chants of “Jews, Jews, to the gas” I wonder – Are we ever going to recognise these echos in time? Or only when it’s too late?

    • “It is in fact the stated aim of the Hamas, both in their manifesto and rhetoric.”

      Quite correct – one of those inconvenient truths.

      • neil van der linden says:

        There are many stated aims in the region. De facto Hamas has regularly offered acceptance. If Israel would acknowledge Palestinian caims.
        About Ahmadinejad: the paradox is that he is now promoting the father of his son in low as the next president. Who got into a controversy in Iran when he stated that under certain circumstance acknowledgement of Israel should be possible.
        Meanwhile, although it is getting a bit outside the scope of this posting: Ahmadinejad has repeatedly spoke nof a regime change in Israel. Which is perhaps not remarkable as almost the whole world is talking about a regime change in Iran. But he has not spoken about destroying Israel. That would destroy the Palestinian population too by the way. Not that many rulers in the region really care about the Palestinian. They are just a token.
        The chants of “Jews, Jews, to the gas” do not come from anybody in the Middle-East but from Western football hooligans, notably in Holland, when Amsterdam’s club Ajax, associated with Jewish football players, even if there have only been a few, play matches with other cities. Probably nobody in the stadium means this, in fact probably nobody has an idea about what they are chanting. Yet it is eerie.
        About Iran: one of the most promising conductors of Iran was a member of the WED orchestra and was assistant to Barenboim. For this he was criticised but from high up he has also been protected.
        Meanwhile the Edward Said Conservatory is doing good things. Let it be known that Souheil Khoury, the director, and his wife Rania Elias, of the Yabous Festival (named after the name the city had before becoming Jerusalem), (both Christian Palestinians by the way) are by no mean soft on Israeli poiitics, on the contrary.

        • Les Berger says:

          The chants of ‘ Jews ,Jews to the gas ‘ do not come from anybody in the Middle East, Hamas has offered acceptance of Israel, Ahmadinejad has not spoken about destroying Israel — just what newspapers do you read Mr van der Linden? Just two days ago the Iranian regime spoke about obliterating Haifa and Tel Aviv.

          Holland is becoming one of the most anti-semitic countries in Europe. This on top of their record of handing over the greatest percentage of their Jewish population to the Nazis during WW2 and of supplying a significant number of soldiers to fight with the Germans is the background that makes one suspect that either your newspapers are supplying you with edited information or possibly not publishing inconvenient facts at all.

          The most positive thing about Aburedwan’s story is that maybe some Palestinians are beginning to realise that always playing the victim card has only kept them in a state of dependency, that life moves on (they were by no means the largest post-WW2 refugee problem) and they need to build a state themselves with their own hands.

        • Neil – This is so fantastically illiterate as a comment.
          The chants of “death to Jews, to America, to Israel” and a never-ending list of annihilation threats to Israel are regular with Khamenei and his fans, echoed by Ahmadinejad. It is very disingenuous of you to pretend otherwise.

          It is of course false to say that Hamas “regularly offered acceptance”. In fact, the much more moderate Arafat and Abbas rejected every offer (only to regret it years later; Barak/Clinton, Olmert/Bush).

          Michael – In the spirit of wonderful Western tolerance you suggested to invite all the parties involved to a performance of Beethoven 9th. Well, one can talk about Netanyahu’s and Abbas’ mistakes but consider the following: Hamas was elected once and killed the opposition. They haven’t held any elections since. The Israelis deserve better, and more to the point, the Palestinians deserve better.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            I remember a time, when extremists like the Hamas were a minority and not supported by the Palestinian public as they are today. I wonder what made extremists like Hamas to become so popular over the years…
            cui bono? Always the first question.

          • neil van der linden says:

            To Fabrio: yes that is true. In 1995 when I went to Palestine and Israel there was a real mutual support for the Oslo agreements. Probably on both sides there have been mistakes and trickeries since, but I felt that the most disappointing thing was the fact that the Israeli government inside of their interpretation of the Oslo accords went on with the settlements. Disappointment in the Fatah leadership made the Palestinians turn bitter and move to Hamas. I saw the settlement of Har Homa/Jebel Abu Ghneim being built and I could not believe my eyes. Salfit near Nablus and under the gaze of the expanding Ariel settlement used to be a secular leftist den. Gradually it became Islamist. Maybe Islamisation gave a sense of unity, but initially that was not the driving force. Even inside Gaza Hamas was not yet that important.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      Wasn’t what the “famous sentence” Mr. Ahmadinadjad – he is a nutcase anyway but let’s try without lies – actually said:
      “The occupying regime must become history.” (in farsi: “in rezhim-e eshghalgar bayad az safhe-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.”)
      Even if I try hard, I can not understand this as a call for the destruction of Israel. Since the sentence was said in the context of the status of Jerusalem in particular.
      It seems massive propaganda in the west has made this “destruction of Israel” phrase he never said a “fact” in the minds of most of us sheeple.

      • Quite the opposite – the obsession with that one quote comes from the other side.
        This doesn’t stand to the briefest overview of the matter; the genocidal rhetoric have been around for decades.
        Just a few gems to remind you of:
        “We only need one bomb to deal with the Israeli problem” (after denying trying to get one)
        “draw every drop of jewish blood till the last” – doesn’t really suggest great peacefulness, or a problem with the regime only, does it?

        We shouldn’t tolerate this in regard to any country, and yet no one seems to mind when it comes to Israel.
        I happen to care a lot because as an American I have some friends who live in Haifa, and just 4 days ago Mr. Khamenei said he will “flatten Tel-Aviv and Haifa”. (Haifa being the finest example of Jews and Arabs living peacefully together)

        • Fabio Fabrici says:

          I didn’t know those quotes. Do you have sources?
          Anyway, let’s be realistic. Despite all the rhetoric, the Iranians have not attacked another country for centuries. And even the Mullahs are very fluent in “Realpolitik” when it comes to staying in power.

          Khamenei said 4 days ago he will “flatten Tel-Aviv and Haifa”? Seriously? Source? Because I don’t believe you.

          • neil van der linden says:

            Very correct Fabio, I think, and it is good that you quote what Ahmadinejad really said in Farsi. The regime is terrible enough by itself (unfortunately it is not the only regime like that), but it does not help anything at all to misquote and mistranslate what has been said.
            And like I wrote above, Ahmadinejad came into trouble in Iran with some hardliners as the father of his daughter in law had made suggestions of a compromising attitude towards Israel.
            And that person might be the next president. Ahmadinejad is now provoking Khamenei.
            For instance by hugging the mother of Chavez recently in Caracas, which is considered as ‘unislamic’ by the hardliners and is seen as a provocation towards Khamenei.
            Meanwhile by the way recently the Fajr music festival presented a Jewish music ensemble from Isfahan in the festival. And the Jewish communities in Teheran, Isfahan and Shiraz are somewhat thriving, including economically. Of course there is not a real freedom of choice, they have to denounce Israel etcetera, which with a regime like the Netanyahu ones is not that difficult, but yet people of course should be free to express like they want. And to go where they want.

          • Fabio – a simple google search of “khamenei tel-aviv” should give you hundreds of sources, including Iranian media.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            Jodi, you should check your logic. Khamenei said “IF (comeprende amigo, that is an “IF”) Israel attacks Iran, then we will level Tel-Aviv”. That’s quite a different statement than just saying: “We will level Tel-Aviv”. Now why were you quoting so sloppy?
            Are you really thinking that “I will kill you” and “When you kill my family I will kill you.” are interchangeable sentences with equal meaning?

  7. Branimir Pofuk says:

    Despite the great success of El Sistema the killing rate on the streets of Venezuela did not drop down. On the contrary. Almost 20.000 people murdered only in one year. Yet, this tragic statistic can not deny the hope and opportunity given to already more than half of million Abreu’s children.
    Same is with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. As maestro Barenboim told me in an interview last summer in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and as he said many times before: “I do not expect those young people sitting together in the orchestra to suddenly agree on politics and to solve by themselves the Israeli-Palestinian future. What I expect them to agree about is how to play Beethoven’s symphony. Once they did that together, they inevitably start to look at each other with more respect and understanding, even when disagreeing.”
    In this world where reaching mutual respect and understanding is so low on the list priorities and virtues, this is huge!
    Another thing I find very important in Barenboim’s teaching and preaching is a lecture about tolerance. Before I heard him talking about it once in Salzburg (from the podium, of course, just before another concert with West-Eastern Divan) I was considering “tolerance” to be a very good word and very positive goal to reach in human realtions. And then he opened my eyes simply by making me understanding what the word actually means. To tolerate somebody means: yes, I know I’m better, I’m smarter, I’m stronger, and he is stupid, he is lower being, he is bad and he smells, but I will let him live next to me.
    Of course, for those being persecuted, depraved and killed just because they of their race, nationality, sex, gender or religion, even to become tolerated is very high and important goal. But from the perspective of humanity, so strongly promoted by art, artists and above all humanists like Barenboim and Said, that can never be enough.
    By the way, I’m also waiting for years when the Nobel Committee will finally recognize this and give the prize to Barenboim, to Said posthumously, and to all those brave kids who took and are still taking part in the project. Do not think that they are all heroes for their neighbors.

  8. Ramzi is an amazing person. I had the pleasure of meeting him in 2009 when I was involved in a tour to Palestine and saw the great work that was happening. I was lucky enough to perform with him and others and was struck by how Al Kamandjati Music Centre is reaching out to everyone. I believe this is important for Palestinians to have this identity and to forge their own cultural path.

  9. neil van der linden says:

    And of course Israel has had no wise leadership after Itzak Rabin and Lea Rabin.

    • A wise one – no.
      But a “right-wing” gov. that every few weeks call for negotiations, for discussion, for informal meetings between Netanyahu and Abbas. we all know what the response is from the other side.

      • neil van der linden says:

        yes we know because since Rabin died Israel either asked for impossible conditions; then it is easy to pretend you are ready to ‘negotiate’
        or they acted differently on the ground from what they pretended to convey by mouth
        meanwhile also on the Israeli side ‘leaders’ like Liebermann and the spiritual leader of Shas Obadia Yousef or Yousef Obadia who looks very much like an aytollah said things which did not mirror a very peace-loving and compromising mindset.
        And yes these were very wise words from Barenboim, as quoted by Branimir: “I do not expect those young people sitting together in the orchestra to suddenly agree on politics and to solve by themselves the Israeli-Palestinian future. What I expect them to agree about is how to play Beethoven’s symphony. Once they did that together, they inevitably start to look at each other with more respect and understanding, even when disagreeing.”
        And these are very wise words by Branimir: “By the way, I’m also waiting for years when the Nobel Committee will finally recognize this and give the prize to Barenboim, to Said posthumously, and to all those brave kids who took and are still taking part in the project. Do not think that they are all heroes for their neighbors.” The prize has been given to less effective, well-spirited and prolific people.

        • again, this is just ill-informed, it’s so historically inept.
          The peace offers made by Barak and Olmert were much much more generous than Rabin’s.
          Palestinians rejected all three of course and launch their Intifadas.

          What happened since? Abbas has regretted the Intifada, Arafat regretted rejecting the peace proposals.

          • neil van der linden says:

            Just as ill- or half-informed as your statement…. even the chief negotiator of Barak, an Orthodox Jewish Israeli, I forgot his name, later wrote an article about the fact that while seemingly generous what Barak presented to Arafat was something he knew Arafat could not accept.

          • Please stick to the music. Avoid geopolitics.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      True. Didn’t they even have an Russian immigrant, ultra-right-wing-extremist and ex-hooligan named Avidor Liebermann (?) as foreign minister until recently?

      • Liebermann is in power because of the mass Russian immigration to Israel.
        He doesn’t call the shots, Netanyahu does. And now Ms. Livni (former Labour, Kadima) is in charge of the Palestinian conflict.

  10. The challenge of Western classical music in a Middle Eastern setting is magnified by the need to create a listening audience for it. The underuse of the Cairo opera house is a case in point. As with the Edward Said Conservatory, Kamindjati is facing the frontier of a new generation to be already familiar with the language of Westen music that Westerners fairly take for granted from early childhood. That is why I don’t really accept the phrase “Music is a universal language” when one assumes that Western harmony is the basis of it. And certainly this would not be the case in places like India either.
    Of course, Western music is not completely foreign as universal pop music relies on the common chords of tonal harmony. But one cannot underestimate the deep traditions of Oriental music not based on those constructs. Kamindjati and the ESNCM are doing much to further the double traditions of Western and Oriental music.

  11. Violinist Simon Hewitt Jones from Fifth Quadrant and composer Antony Pitts (published by 1equalmusic) worked extensively with Ramzi on the Road to Jericho project, both in Ramallah and in Aldeburgh. The result was the dramatic cantata ‘Who is my neighbour?’ premiered at the Spitalfields Festival:—who-is-my-neighbour.html


    To all those who are unaware or ill-informed, please take a look.
    Forget the rhetoric, the sheer volume, the moan of pleasure – just look at the hand gestures….Only one thing comes to mind.
    Watching this, I’m proud to be an American; I’m well aware that it is only the United States that can stop this.

    I have great respect for Europe and its tolerance.
    But surely this is a matter of tolerating the intolerable.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Then as a proud American, you should take a moment and google “Operation Ajax”. I believe that was the first time the US undertook to overthrow an elected foreign government in the interest of Big Oil. And it looks like Iran was headed in a good direction then. They might have developed into one of the more stable, democratic countries in the area. Instead, the US and Britain helped install the pompous terror regime of the Shah which was followed by the Islamic revolution. The world is still dealing today with that massive interference in their politics back then.

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        Yes. That operation could be looked at as the initial ignition of the chain reaction to the worse we have today in the middle east. It is what happens when cowboys try to manage world politics. People make decision based on what they know. If you know little, then help you God… and if he’s dead then nobody will help us…

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