The West Eastern Divan Orchestra in Ramallah

The orchestra dreamed up by Palestinian academic and author, the late Edward Said and continued by their music director Daniel Barenboim reached a high point in its concert in Ramallah. The concert was packed out. For it to happen
at all much behind the scenes negotiating at government level was necessary. The orchestra is based in Seville and documents were needed to get beyond the checkpoints into Ramallah. Then playing surrounded by heavily armed soldiers is not an every day occurence even for those of Middle Eastern origin. More.
What sort of impression is this imaginative project making? Clearly there are mixed feelings. When awarded a prize for music in Israel Barenboim used the occasion, in the Knesset, to speak out about the petty humiliations that Israel constantly deals out to Palestinians. Certainly Barenboim has succeeded in upsetting some Jewish opinion, but some of the musicians made their own comments after the Ramallah concert.


It was particularly gratifying to have got Birmingham City Council to organise the reception for Daniel Barenboim when he brought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra here. I now hope that Birmingham will be visited by the Palestinian/Israeli group. However I find it particularly strange that the local press (Birmingham Post and Evening Mail have studiously refused to print any reference to the issues when Birmingham people have been involved in fact finding and visits of solidarity with those suffering in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. That involves both sides. I sent a note to the Post about the reception for Barenboim. There was a review of the concert, but no word of Barenboim’s efforts for peace.
When the seven Birmingham councillors visited Palestine and Israel in January 2004 a press statement was released. Albert Bore was particularly worried that 4 Cabinet Members were among those going, but he need not have worried since not a word about this important event was printed. The Israeli Government took trouble over our visit (for its own reasons) and similarly Palestinians, both Moslem and Christian, showed the legendary hospitality wherever we went.
There was an exception, published in “The Moan Zone” where Mick Rice spoke from Jerusalem. I received calls from reporters since Birmingham, along with other places across Britain, had been caught in a big freeze. Birmingham had come to a stand still, and the Cabinet Member for Transportation was reportedly “on holiday” in Israel when I should have been there to grit the ice-bound roads. Albert Bore assured me that gritting had gone to plan. What had happened was that heavy rain had washed the grit away. This had been followed by a steep fall in temperature which had frozen everything. Since this was the afternoon and traffic was already on the road it wasn’t possible for gritters to get out again. The affair gave the opposition the excuse for a field day with accusations that the gritting lorries were in the wrong place.

1 thought on “The West Eastern Divan Orchestra in Ramallah

  1. Anupam

    a US Ambassor traveling the ME in the early 1900 that deceribss Palestine as a thriving agricultural commerce centeri can do better than that. Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg (18 August 1856 2 January 1927), primarily known by his Hebrew name and pen name, Ahad Ha’am, (Hebrew: אחד העם‎, lit. one of the people, Genesis 26:10), was a Hebrew essayist, and one of the foremost pre-state Zionist thinkers. He is known as the founder of Cultural Zionism.from wiki’s cultural zionism page:Ahad HaAm became the main leader of the WZO along with Chaim Weizmann, who easily energized the Zionist movement with ideas for a regeneration of the Hebrew language, establishment of Jewish settlements in Palestine, and resurrecting nationalism with Jews in the Jewish Diaspora.here is what HaAm wrote about Palestine in “We who live abroad are accustomed to believe that almost all Eretz Yisrael is now uninhabited desert and whoever wishes can buy land there as he pleases. But this is not true. It is very difficult to find in the land [ha’aretz] cultivated fields that are not used for planting. Only those sand fields or stone mountains that would require the investment of hard labor and great expense to make them good for planting remain uncultivated and that’s because the Arabs do not like working too much in the present for a distant future. Therefore, it is very difficult to find good land for cattle. And not only peasants, but also rich landowners, are not selling good land so easily. […]” (quoted in Wrestling with Zion, Grove Press, 2003 PB, p. 14)i find it amusing the reason HaAm thinks palestinians are not cultivating the sandfields’.

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