Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


“When you see … that it is possible to have this combination of nationalities perform together — when their Governments are not willing to enter into dialogue, and when Syria and Israel are still in a state of war … – that is, for me, the essence of the United Nations”, said United Nations Messenger of Peace Daniel Barenboim about his orchestra’s upcoming concert to commemorate Human Rights Day.

At a Headquarters press conference this morning, Mr. Barenboim said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had tortured him daily, and he was convinced that it had not been solved because it was not treated for what it was:  a human conflict between two peoples who believed in their right to live on the same small piece of land.  It was not a political conflict to be solved through diplomacy or military means.  As such, it was useless for Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate territorial compromises as their destinies were inextricably linked.  A solution must be based on acceptance of the rights of the other.  “This has not happened.”

The world-renowned pianist will perform with members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra on Monday, 15 December, at 7 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall as a “grand finale” to a series of events marking the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Mr. Barenboim and the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said founded the West-Eastern Divan Workshop in 1999 and the Barenboim-Said Foundation in 2004.  The Orchestra unites musicians from Israel and Arab nations to enable cross-cultural dialogue and promote music.

Mr. Barenboim said the West-Eastern Divan was a human project that brought together people who already had something in common:  their practice of music, expressing hope that, through it, they would come to understand the logic and legitimacy of the other.  It aimed at awakening the individual capacity to think, and he would be honoured to share the stage Monday with an Egyptian, Syrian, Israeli and Iranian.

Asked what the Orchestra and the Foundation were doing to foster regional orchestral compositions, he said there were composers in Israel and Syria writing orchestral works.  The West-Eastern Divan had not played music from the region until now because it had been more important first to give the younger players a music basis on which to build.  In 1999, many had never heard a live orchestra, let alone played in one.  However, it was possible that the Divan would commission pieces from regional composers in the future.

In response to another query, he said the pieces for Monday’s concert had been chosen for their beauty, which allowed for the possibility of playing with different country members.

Asked about his work as a Messenger of Peace, he said he considered his entire orchestra “messengers of peace” in that they were pioneers of a new way of thinking about the Middle East.  Though they could not deliver peace, open checkpoints in the occupied territories or contend with different types of violence, they could present a model for what society could be if the same rules existed on the ground.

In front of a symphony, no one asked about Palestinian or Israeli passports, nationality or religion, he said.  “The first rule is equality, which does not exist in the Middle East today.”  The world had forgotten the order of the tenets of the French motto “liberty, equality and fraternity”.  There could be no fraternity without liberty and equality preceding it.  Music taught that, as well as the rigour of content and form.  The question in the Middle East was not one of a one- or two-State solution; it must be about open borders.  “If you put a wall, nothing will work.”

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For information media • not an official record