GAZA (Reuters) - Classical musician Daniel Barenboim, a supporter of Palestinian rights, broke new ground on Tuesday when he traveled to the Gaza Strip to conduct a concert.
Musicians from some of Europe's top orchestras entered the coastal enclave from Egypt via the Rafah border crossing amid tight security, to form the "Orchestra for Gaza" and play Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" and the Symphony No. 40.
Barenboim's appearance with the orchestra, players of the Staatskapelle Berlin, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris and La Scala of Milan, was a first in recent memory in Gaza where traditional Arabic music is more common.
An audience of some 700 attended the hour-long concert at the plush al-Madha center along the beachfront in the northern Gaza Strip.
The event was organised by the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that cares for Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
When introducing the event, Barenboim said the concert was taking place because "these are people who care about you, this is why we are here today."
Barenboim has become a controversial figure in Israel for his vocal opposition to its occupation of the West Bank, where he has performed on several occasions.
Since 1999, he has promoted Arab-Israeli cultural contacts and he leads the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, made up of young Israeli and Arab musicians which is based in Seville, Spain.
In 2008, Argentine-born Barenboim, 68, also took Palestinian citizenship and said he believed his status could serve as a model for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
"As you know I am Palestinian ... not (just) because I have a Palestinian passport and I am also Israeli, so you see it is possible to be both, but in order ... to have justice and peace we have to do many things.
"Our conflict is a conflict of two peoples who are convinced they have the right to live in the same little piece of land, therefore, our destinies are linked," he said.
"No people should be expected to live under occupation," Barenboim added as he received a standing ovation from the audience of academics, foreign guests and schoolchildren.
The concert comes a day before Islamist Hamas, who rule the Gaza Strip, and the more secular Fatah faction that controls the occupied West Bank, were due to sign a reconciliation agreement they hope will heal a political rift between them.
Israel maintains a blockade of Gaza because it is run by Hamas, who unlike Fatah, are hostile to the Jewish state and refuse to recognize interim peace accords or renounce violence.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, once the dominant Palestinian party, was driven out of the Gaza Strip by Hamas in a brief civil war four years ago.
Barenboim, today considered one of the world's leading conductors of the operas of Richard Wagner, Hitler's favorite composer, has further damaged his reputation in Israel where he has tried unsuccessfully to break an unofficial taboo on playing the music of the German composer.
Writing by Ori Lewis