RAMALLAH, West Bank – Conductor Daniel Barenboim (search) brought together Israeli and Arab musicians for a concert that was as much about communication as it was about Beethoven (search) and Mozart (search).
Though Barenboim has often appeared in Ramallah (search), this was the first time that his orchestra, whose 100 musicians come from Israel, Palestinian territories, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, has performed here.
The 700-seat Ramallah concert hall was standing room only and a spillover crowd watched on closed-circuit television in a nearby hall.
The concert was in memory of the Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said (search), who died in 2003. Said and Barenboim, born in Argentina and raised in Israel, founded the West-Eastern Divan Workshop and Orchestra in 1999.
Symbolically, the orchestra is based in Seville (search), capital of Spain's southern region of Andalusia, where Muslims, Christians and Jews created a flourishing culture during the Middle Ages.
Nadeem Hassan, a 21-year-old student at the Damascus Music College (search) and one of 10 Syrians in the orchestra, said he was eager to meet Israelis face-to-face.
"When I got to know them, I found that they were normal people," he said. "Some of them are creative in their work and I learned a lot from them."
Tal Reval Theodorou, 23, an Israeli violist, believes that "it's important for (the people of) our area to know each other. We all understand that we need peace so we meet in this forum and we have human relationships, not a political relationship."
At a news conference, Barenboim repeated his theme that peace must prevail.
"There are two peoples who have a very deep attachment to this part of the world, and either we all kill each other or we learn to live with the fact that we have to share this land in equality and dignity," he said.
Palestinian Minister of Culture Yahya Yakhlif (search) praised Barenboim for backing Palestinian positions against Israeli occupation.