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Page last updated at 11:50 GMT, Monday, 14 January 2008

Jerusalem Diary: Monday 14 January

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

THE VISION OF MUSIC

President Bush confidently predicted peace within a year during his visit to Israel and the West Bank.

Daniel Barenboim
Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan
Daniel Barenboim conveyed his own message, on Saturday night.

Barenboim is, probably, unique. He is the only person I know who holds Israeli and Palestinian citizenship. His parents moved to Israel from Argentina when he was seven.

A few months ago, Barenboim - the music director of La Scala and one of the finest pianists in the world - was awarded honorary Palestinian citizenship for his work with Palestinian musicians. He established, with the late US-Palestinian academic Edward Said, the West-Eastern Divan which brings young musicians together from across the Middle East.

Barenboim was in Ramallah to give the inaugural concert on the new Steinway, donated to the city's Cultural Palace.

He played three Beethoven sonatas, just before he embarks on a complete cycle in London.

The hall was packed, and rose in tribute, as he crashed to the end of the Appassionata.

Afterwards, he spoke to some reporters.

"I am not a politician," he told us. "But I know one thing. There is no military solution. We are blessed or cursed to live with each other... Even not very intelligent people are saying that the occupation has to be stopped."

I asked him whether he shared George Bush's optimism, expressed just two days before, in the same city.

Barenboim fixed his eyes on me with the intensity of a man who is used to conveying his musical instructions clearly, and in the expectation that they will be followed.

"We have been living in this conflict for many years. It would be absolutely horrible if now, with good intentions, expectations are raised, which will not be fulfilled... Then we will sink into an even greater depression."

On stage, just before playing a meltingly beautiful Chopin nocturne as an encore, Barenboim turned and talked to the hall.

"My wish," he said, "is that it doesn't always continue to be a special occasion when I or my colleagues come to play in Ramallah."

He wished, rather, for a "regular musical life" in the city, "so the problem is to make the occasion special, not that the occasion is special".

But there were limits.

"Music will not bring peace to the region. I'm not here to make a political speech. The negotiations required have nothing to do with music. But music will enrich all sides, if we open our ears, our brains, and our hearts to it."

Anyone listening to him play the Andante of the Appassionata would say amen to that.

THE PRESIDENT COMES TO TOWN

President Bush's own swing through Israel had its musical symbolism.

At Ben Gurion airport, Mr Bush, stood to attention for the Star Spangled Banner and the Hatikva (the US and Israeli national anthems).

In Ramallah, he emerged from his car and walked straight into the presidential office. Unlike his predecessor, Bill Clinton, he was not going to listen to the Palestinian anthem.

Presdient Bush at Tel Avivi ariport
President Bush gets the full ceremonial welcome at Tel Aviv

"That hurts," a Ramallah resident who was watching the TV pictures, told me. "It's disgusting behaviour."

Nor were there any schoolchildren on hand to serenade or to dance.

That too, according to one Palestinian government adviser, was kyboshed by the American protocol advance party.

The previous day, Mr Bush had appeared happy - even moved - to be entertained by Israeli children, singing popped-up versions of Hava Nagila and Shalom Aleichem.

Others, who had been watching the event with full stomachs, were less happy.

But did White House protocol sign off on the welcome music that the Israeli military bands played at Ben Gurion airport?

One sharp-eared Israeli friend heard them play a hit from 1963, called The Soldiers' Love Song, with lyrics by Haim Hafer.

    The soldiers have to leave town...
    Our love burns like fire...
    And even if we fondle another
    It's not the end of the world
    We will think of you dear...
    We don't know when we return
    But until the summer
    You can go with others

[Click here for a rendition of The Soldiers' Love Song from Belgian TV in the early 1960s.]


Read previous diaries by Tim Franks:

Your comments:

Do you really think that Maestro Barenboim is not doing a excellent job in favour of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, even if he is rejected by (some of) his own people? I am sure that you do not prefer weapons to musical notes. Barenboim's work in the Middle East is a wonderful example for every one of us.
Eduardo Agulla, Córdoba, Argentina

In response to Choudry... you speak of an empty promise by Bush to Abbas... and I must remind you that Bush is in no position to make such promises to Abbas in any case. Those promises, hopefully anything but empty, will come from Israel. Bush or the US act only as mediator. Let's just pray for peace... and soon. This coming from a dual US/Israel citizen who has lived in either country her whole life.
Roni, US/Israel

I'm no supporter of George Bush. And many measures the Israeli government use in their fight to keep citizens safe have had an overall negative effect on any peace process. However, your problem with Bush not listening to a Palestinian national anthem... there is no nation yet. That's a fact. Secondly, your comments about no Arab children to sing and dance...weren't Palestinian children singing and dancing on 9/11? Why would anyone, even Bush, want to watch children forced to dance for someone they're told every day is the enemy of their people?
Jason Marck, Chicago, USA

It's strange how US Presidents decide to resolve the Palestinian-Isralei conflict in their last year in office. Bush's rhetoric and actions have never matched. I am not surprised at his refusal to respect the Palestinian national anthem. It's far easier to make an empty promise to Abbas about a homeland. Actions speak louder than words and Bush's actions do not give me any reason to be optimistic.
S. Choudhry, Peterborough, Canada

I am a dual national British/Israeli and have lived in either country all my life. I think it's safe to say that Daniel Barenboim lost any kind of respect from the Israeli Jewish population when he played Wagner, a rabid anti-Semite and ideological precursor to the Nazis before an Israeli audience without warning. The western media loves him, but like many other leaders, he is completely rejected by his own people and rightly so.
Jonathan Black, London England




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