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February 6, 2013

Orchestra Makes Art out of Conflict

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While the Israeli-Palestinian peace process seems to be stalled for the foreseeable future, some of those on the front lines are reaching out to make their own peace.

One such organization is the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, led by renowned Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim. The orchestra is composed of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and other Arabs aged 15-36 who would seldom have the opportunity to work and interact together.

Barenboim started the project in 1999 with renowned Palestinian-American scholar and activist Edward Said in order to bring musicians together from around the middle east. It has since become a highly acclaimed group that gathers every summer in Spain for workshops before heading out on tour in venues around the world.

But while international audiences flock to see the orchestra perform, it has become a target for controversy on its home turf. Detractors in Israel and the Palestinian territories criticize the orchestra for promoting an artificial “normalization” of relations between the two sides. This can take its toll on the musicians, who feel this disapproval first-hand.

Tyme Khleifi, a 23-year-old Palestinian violinist said, “Coming to this orchestra is probably one of the hardest things that each one of us (musicians) has, like, done. It’s not easy to come and face so much pain and suffering and come face to face with the people who you grew up thinking that they caused it.”

However, for those participating in the program, “normalization” is exactly the point. While the orchestra members realize the orchestra can’t bring peace to the region, 33-year-old Israeli flautist Guy Eshed said, “We are trying to achieve some kind of small utopia in our little community that can maybe give an example outside.”

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