A professional Palestinian orchestra has performed in Israel for the first time in the history of the Jewish state – a landmark cultural event for residents of a region wracked by conflict for generations.

The Palestine National Orchestra, an initiative of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, debuted on New Year’s Eve to a packed hall in the West Bank city of Ramallah before taking their show on the road to Jerusalem (left) and Haifa. Some of the performers, Palestinians raised as refugees in neighbouring Arab states, were setting foot in their ancestral homeland for the first time in their lives.

Led by Swiss conductor Baldur Bronnimann, the more than 40 Palestinian and foreign instrumentalists eschewed overtly political works in favour of Beethoven, Mozart and, perhaps most interestingly, Gyorgy Ligeti, the Jewish-Hungarian composer who lost most of his family at Auschwitz.

Yet while the selections may have been designed to duck the political subtext, the troupe themselves did not always go along. Suhail Khoury, director of the Edward Said Conservatory, opened the performance with a singular declaration of purpose: “Today an orchestra,” he told the crowd. “Tomorrow a state.”