War between Israel and Gaza: If we deny the humanity of others we will be lost | International

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The current events in Israel and Gaza have deeply shocked us all. There is no justification for Hamas' barbaric terrorist acts against civilians, including children and babies. We must recognize this fact and pause. But the next step is, of course, the question: what now? Do we surrender to this terrible violence and let our search for peace “die,” or do we continue to insist that there must and can be peace?

I am convinced that we have to continue and that we must keep in mind the broader context of the conflict. Our musicians at the West-Eastern Divan, our students at the Barenboim-Said Academy, almost all of them are directly affected. Many of the musicians live in the region, and the others also have many ties to their homeland. This reinforces my conviction that there can only be one solution to this conflict: on the basis of humanism, justice and equality, and without armed force or occupation.

Our message of peace must be stronger than ever. The greatest danger is that all the people who so ardently desire peace will be drowned by extremists and violence. But any analysis, any moral equation we can construct, must be based on this basic understanding: there are people on both sides. Humanity is universal and the recognition of this truth on both sides is the only way. The suffering of innocent people on both sides is absolutely unbearable.

Israeli troops gather at an undisclosed point along the Gaza border on October 14, 2023. ATEF SAFADI (EFE)

The images of the devastating Hamas terrorist attacks break our hearts. Our reaction clearly demonstrates this: the will to empathize, the willingness to empathize with the situation of others is essential. Of course, and especially now, we must also allow room for fears, despair and anger, but the moment this leads us to deny the humanity of others, we will be lost. Each person can change things and make a difference. This is how we change on a small scale. On a large scale, it depends on politics.

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We must offer other perspectives to those attracted to extremism. After all, it is mostly completely perspectiveless and desperate people who give themselves over to murderous or extremist ideologies who find a home there. Education and information are equally essential, because there are many positions based on absolute misinformation.

To reiterate very clearly: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a political conflict between two states over borders, water, oil or other resources. It is a deeply human conflict between two peoples who have known suffering and persecution. The persecution of the Jewish people for 20 centuries culminated in the Nazi ideology that murdered six million Jews. The Jewish people cherished a dream: a land of their own, a homeland for all Jews in what is now Palestine. But from this dream a deeply problematic, fundamentally false assumption was derived: a land without a people for a people without a land. In reality, however, the Jewish population of Palestine during World War I was only 9%. Therefore, 91% of the population was not Jewish, but Palestinian, cultivated for centuries. The country could hardly be described as a “land without people” and the Palestinian population saw no reason to give up their own land. The conflict was, therefore, inevitable, and since its beginning the fronts have only hardened even more over the generations. I am convinced: Israelis will have security when Palestinians can feel hope, that is, justice. Both sides must recognize their enemies as human beings and try to empathize with their point of view, their pain and their anguish. Israelis must also accept that the occupation of Palestine is incompatible with this.

Daniel Barenboim takes the stage with the West-Eastern Divan orchestra, on August 19, 2023, in Berlin.
Daniel Barenboim takes the stage with the West-Eastern Divan orchestra, on August 19, 2023, in Berlin.Gerald Matzka (dpa/picture alliance/Getty)

The key experience: my friendship with Edward Said

For my understanding of this 70+ year conflict, my friendship with Edward Said is the key experience. We have found in each other a counterpart that can take us further and help us see the supposed other more clearly and understand him better. We have recognized and found each other in our common humanity. For me, our joint work with the West-Eastern Divan, which finds its logical continuation and perhaps even its culmination in the Barenboim-Said Academy, is probably the most important activity of my life.

In the current situation, we naturally wonder about the importance of our joint work in the orchestra and the academy. It may seem like a small thing, but the mere fact that Arab and Israeli musicians share the podium at each concert and make music together has immense value for us. Over the years, thanks to this common way of making music, but also to our countless and sometimes heated discussions, we have learned to better understand the supposed other, to get closer to it and to find common ground in our humanity and in the music. We begin and end all discussions, no matter how controversial, with the fundamental understanding that we are all equal human beings, deserving of peace, freedom and happiness. This may sound naive, but it is not: because it is this understanding that seems to be completely lost in the conflict of both sides today.

Our experience shows that this message has reached many people in the region and around the world. We must, we want and we will continue to believe that music can bring us closer in our humanity.

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