The Missing Gesture
Edward Said is professor of comparative literature at Columbia University and a leading Palestinian thinker. This comment is from his talk on February 20 to the UCLA International Institute.
My friend Daniel Barenboim — the Israeli-born musician with whom I co-sponsor music seminars between Israeli and Palestinian students — is most exceptional. He is exceptional because he understands what no Israeli politician understands: Much more important than fighting over who is right and who is wrong is the need for a gesture — a gesture of compassion, a gesture of acknowledgment and responsibility. No Israeli leader has ever, ever, made a gesture of this sort toward the Palestinians. Not one. None. Not one gesture saying, “We are responsible for what happened” in 1948 and afterward, the way the Poles have said, for example, about what they did to the Jews. Even the Japanese have acknowledged what they did to the Chinese.
One of the qualities that distinguishes Barenboim is that he was curious to see who we Palestinians were. Like so many Israelis, he grew up never meeting a Palestinian. But then he wanted to see us, to meet us. Not for the Palestinians’ sake, but for his own. He wanted to understand because we occupy the same land. He wanted to look honestly at the whole picture.
What is missing, therefore, from the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict is someone on the political level like Barenboim who provides a compassionate, universalizing view of the whole—someone like Nelson Mandela who will say “we can find a way of living together, each in our own manner, as equals, despite the past.” The starting point of this future, though, is not a plan but a gesture—a gesture of responsibility for the past.