In an interview after a recent rehearsal, Mr. Barenboim said he worried that the latest war could turn into a “world catastrophe” if further efforts were not made to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.
“There is no point in saying, ‘We the Jews have suffered more than anyone else,’ or the Palestinians saying, ‘We have suffered more than all of you,’” he said. “This has been a very difficult century with little peace. I think we should move on, forget our own positions and move forward with a sense of equality.”
The school year at Barenboim-Said Academy started this month with the usual orientation sessions on Israeli-Palestinian tensions, how to respect differences and ways to look beyond stereotypes.
Then came the deadly Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7 and subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza. Many students, with their phones full of panicked messages from friends and relatives and images of destruction, were too disturbed to practice their instruments. The school’s leaders, including Regula Rapp, the principal, and Mr. Barenboim’s son Michael, who serves as dean, brought in counselors who spoke fluent Hebrew and Arabic.
The students made it a point to connect with each other and they organized meetings to try to resolve some of their differences. Unsure what to say, sometimes they just offered hugs. At one point, they gathered for a dinner at the beginning of the semester, sharing homemade dishes: hummus, baba ghanouj, labneh and bulgur salad.
Their conversations were sometimes tense as musicians from Israel spoke of the loss of a sense of security and Palestinians described life under the suffocating blockade that Israel has imposed on Gaza for 16 years. The conversations were also deeply personal, with some students sharing stories of losing loved ones during decades of violence in the Middle East.
The students tried to support each other as they faced new difficulties in German society; authorities banned many pro-Palestinian gatherings, and a synagogue in Berlin was attacked with firebombs. They would meet in their dorms or go out for beer and cigarettes and talk about how they felt guilty about being away from their families.
Roshanak Rafani, 29, a percussionist from Tehran and member of the student government, said the uproar in the region could be devastating; she has sometimes thought about quitting her studies.
“Imagine people are dying, and now I’m just practicing to see which hand to place here or there,” she said. “We all feel this inner conflict.”
She added that the young musicians had overcome their differences by embracing the idea that “we are all students and there is no way for us here now.”
“We’ve all accepted that we can’t really convince each other of many things,” she said. “People talk and raise their voices and scream and cry, but two hours later they hug each other.”
The war also hangs over classroom discussions.
In a recent philosophy class, the topic was Plato’s allegory of the cave, a metaphor for thinking about the gap between ignorance and enlightenment.