Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Mission Accomplished

Ten Years After

Note: written on the day Osama Bin Laden was killed.

There's no doubt over the main news story this week: after a decade of planning, attempted operations, rhetoric, minor victories, apparently endless cold trails, dashed expectations and anticlimax, the operation was finally given the green light last weekend. To enter an impoverished strip of land, an isolated state ruled by an Islamist group regarded by some as being more than merely sympathetic to terrorism. A seemingly impossible border crossing, finally if indirectly negotiated by just over two dozen brave and dedicated professionals. A single determination and fixity of purpose, in an operation which had to be co-ordinated in utter secrecy until eventually, success was made certain, and the word was out.

Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, led an orchestra of European musicians in a "peace concert" performance in Gaza.

Daniel Barenboim, Vienna, 2008. Picture: Wikipedia.

Guerrilla Performance

Since its inception in 1999, millions have followed and been entertained, educated and inspired by the history, the example, and the performances of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The brainchild of Barenboim, an Argentina-born Jew who today holds Palestinian citizenship, and his friend, the now deceased Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said, it was intended from the start to bring together young musicians from Israel and Arab countries, seeking to enable dialogue between the various cultures of the Middle East, and promoting peace and co-operation via the making of music together. Today, still featuring both Jewish and Palestinian musicians, the orchestra has members drawn from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and boasts an international reputation for the quality of its performances.

First time I watched Paul Smaczny's multi-award-winning 2005 movie about the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Knowledge Is The Beginning, it was mostly with my jaw on my lap. I recall saying to Linda, "This wee guy's saving the world!" and also if I remember correctly, there was a wee bit of dust or some such bloody thing in my eye at the time.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Pilas, Sevilla, 2005. Picture: Wikipedia.

This latest victory against the forces of fear, ignorance and intolerance once again shows the maestro continuing from strength to strength. Israeli citizens are prohibited by law from entering Gaza, however the new Egyptian military leaders have plans to open the border at the Rafah crossing. Barenboim entered Gaza via Egypt, together with 25 other musicians. Then they played some Mozart.
Update (June 25): Well whaddayaknow, Danny boy's only gone and got himself an honorary knighthood from Her Maj. Or rather, from the British ambassador to Berlin, at a gala dinner in the German capital. He is now a KBE - Knight of the British Empire - the highest honour said empire can bestow upon mere foreigners.

I've also learned that there are two versions of Paul Smaczny's film Knowledge Is The Beginning in circulation. The one currently showing on British Sky TV is the original, and ends when the dream of a Ramallah concert seems lost. Paul yelled out Cut! and Print! then spliced in some other live performance footage to round off the work... a matter of mere days before it became clear, towards the end of the tour, that in fact the troublesome security issues had been resolved; Ramallah was going ahead.

The edition on the 2DVD set is a revised and updated version. It shows the different factions entering the West Bank, all under their Spanish diplomatic passports, but separately and at different times (the Israeli musicians not arriving until the day of the performance). This is followed by some actual footage of the Ramallah concert, and rounded off by one of (Sir!) Daniel's amazing humanitarian speeches. The second DVD is, of course, that entire concert.

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