Christmas in Bethlehem — The 2001 Edition

How much can the work of a camera man during a concert reveal about the Middle East conflict?

January 6, 2002

How much can the work of a camera man during a concert reveal about the Middle East conflict?

I have Israeli friends, and I have Palestinian friends… I have Jewish and Muslim friends, and I have Arab friends. All along, I have listened — and always, to their side of the story. I never ventured to express a judgment. It is not my fight, it is not my war.

I cannot therefore judge them. I do not even pretend to know what a just solution to their conflicts ought to be. All I can do is suffer — and cry with them for every life so senselessly ended. What I can do is to hate violence itself, with all my heart.

I do know, however, that my own life has been made much richer by the art, the music, the mathematics, the science, the thought and the friendship of the Jews and of the Arabs. I owe them my admiration, respect and love, as well as a great part of what I am — and what I feel.

And I still remember, decades ago, playing among the ruins of war as a five-year-old. It was the month of May that year, when the air smelled of flowers — and grandmothers and aunts sang their rosaries in the church near-by.

Little boy that I was at the time, I can still smell the scent of spring flowers mixed with the stench of death, which for seven long years had not yet vanished. Violence breeds violence

That memory resurfaced at a more mature age, when I was sitting on a terrace in Beirut and looked at the black ruin of what had been a luxury hotel. It bore the scars of mortars. I heard gunshots and explosions in the distance — and wondered what all the violence had been for.

The warmongers the world over would make us believe that wars are a normal part of human life and a source of progress. Do not ever believe that. Violence breeds only violence.

Half of all people that have ever inhabited this earth in history are alive on our planet today. That is why we cannot use history as an excuse. Our hearts and our minds, our collective morality is shaping not only the present and the future, but the past of humankind itself.

We do realize that death will come to us all. But no matter where we live, it is not meant to come in rage — and indignity. That is what makes it so crucial which heritage we will choose. Is it Albert Einstein’s — or Prime Minister Sharon’s ? The Persian poet Omar Khayyam’s — or Chairman Arafat’s?

It was with all of those thoughts and sentiments in mind that, over the holidays, I watched the Christmas concert of the Rome Symphony Orchestra in Bethlehem on television. I was touched by the symbolism of it all, in these arduous times.

As I mused for a moment, I was just as quickly brought back to reality. The TV cameraman covering the concert soon focussed on an Israeli soldier. The soldier played “cat and mouse” with a young Palestinian who was trying to jump a wall in order to get into the church — and listen to the music.

Next, the cameraman skilfully zoomed in several times onto the Star of David hanging from the neck of one of the Italian musicians. It was at that very moment that I realized that, in these times, there is no escaping. Even the presumably universal message of music can no longer be left alone even for one day, even with the best of intents.