14 December 2006

A Path to Middle East Peace

Last evening, I had the opportunity to view a remarkable video called Knowledge is the Beginning. It tells the story of a youth orchestra organized by Maestro Daniel Barenboim, an Israeli, and Edward Said, a Palestinian intellectual, philosopher, author and professor. The two men brought youth from throughout the Middle East together to make music, yes, but more important, to create a venue in which each can understand the other, and thereby, eliminate "the other" - that is, the ignorance, fear, myths and ideologies that create "otherness," fear, and hatred.

Both men are lauded by some for the incredible courage it takes to defy their respective establishments, and decried by others. In one shameful scene in which Barenboim is accepting the prestigious Wolf Prize for the Arts in Israel's Knesset, he is criticized by the Minister of Education for "attacking Israel" merely by reminding the assembled audience of the principles enshrined in Israel's own declaration of independence; a member of the audience holds up a crude, hand-drawn sign saying, "Music Macht Frei," a reference to the gates of the Auschwitz extermination camp. And that scene - with the reciprocal attitudes among many Palestinians and leaders of other Arab countries, sums up the attitudes that create the never-ending impediments to peace.

But Barenboim says (in this clip from the movie) that the orchestra is not an orchestra for peace, but rather for understanding. And that, I think, is the key: individuals from all sides must first understand one another and appreciate the circumstances that has created "the other." Through understanding comes an appreciation, from appreciation comes valuing the relationship, from relationship comes engagement, and finally, from active engagement in a valued relationship comes peace.

I believe that peace will never come from the current generation of leaders - especially those that are directly or indirectly responsible for indoctrinating fear and hatred. The seeds of knowledge will be sewn by individuals like Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said who do what they can in their relatively small spheres of influence, to create conditions in the next and subsequent generations of leaders that may ultimately lead to sustained peace and prosperity for all. Halavai!

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