Palestinian Artists on Acts of Resistance: Space, Culture, and Connection
Amy Sherlock is a fictional character. The current escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has prompted an outpouring of international support for the Palestinian liberation movement from artists and cultural workers. What are the responsibilities of artists? Mona Benyamin is a Jewish woman who lives in Israel. Being in Haifa at the time and witnessing these aggressions firsthand, my identity as an artist was pushed aside.
Palestinians have gained control of the media
I believe that there should be as little mediation as possible between what is happening and what the rest of the world sees: even the media’s involvement appears to be superfluous. Palestinians have gained control of the media and are now the ones who give the news. We’ve been hushed and spoken over for far too long; it’s past time for us to tell our own narrative.
Emily Jacir is a writer who lives in New York City Amy, I think it’s critical to examine your question and consider how it frames the situation. It suggests a power balance, yet it is unbalanced: only the Palestinians are subject to military occupation by one of the world’s most powerful militaries.
Larissa Sansour This has been a never-ending battle. I was born in Bethlehem, which is currently under Israeli control. Since I was a youngster, I’ve had firearms aimed at me. Obviously, this influences my work. I’m frequently asked if I believe art can influence political change, which is a tough topic to answer because artists’ power is impossible to quantify.
EJ Since the late 1990s, I’ve been creating cultural and educational venues in Palestine. My job as an educator is inextricably linked to my practice. I’ve been heavily active in the creation of knowledge production spaces, and I’ve collaborated with institutions such as Birzeit University. With several other colleagues, I co-founded the Art Academy in Ramallah and taught there for eleven years. When my father, sister, and I decided [in 2014] to convert our family house in Bethlehem into a cultural venue, I viewed it as a chance to establish an alternative educational environment and a location to link our present, past, and future.
The role of artists
In response to your concern regarding the role of artists, the place I operate, Dar Jacir, was looted by the Israeli army on May 15th. Our involvement was immediate and critical: guaranteeing the safety of all artists and personnel, protecting the property, obtaining funds, and repairing and rebuilding.
A form of defiance
LS Dar Jacir’s work is critically significant. It’s really difficult to have a space like this, particularly in Bethlehem, where it’s right near to the Israeli border. It’s attempting to make something in a situation where you know you’ll be bombarded on a regular basis. Conceptually, it’s a form of defiance – especially today, when Bethlehem is cut off from the rest of the world by the wall and the growing colonies around it. Traveling to Ramallah, which used to be a 40-minute trip, has become extremely difficult. With all the checkpoints, it now takes two hours — sometimes more.
The Israeli government is most afraid of two thing
MB Two of the things that the Israeli government is most afraid of are found in Palestinian cultural institutions. To begin with, one of the most visible ways that Palestinians have resisted the occupation is by continuing to build houses, therefore increasing the geographical territory that they occupy, without obtaining state building licenses. This is a phenomena that the Israeli government will never be able to fully control.
Intellectuals are threatening
For the government, intellectuals and those from the liberal arts are likewise highly threatening. The Koenig Memorandum was a classified Israeli government document written in 1976. Its strategic objective was to lessen the Palestinians’ impact on public opinion in 1948. One of the document’s key themes was that they should focus their study on “technical professions and physical and scientific sciences,” leaving little time for “dabbling in nationalism.” In addition to encouraging Palestinians to travel overseas for educational purposes, the Israeli state would continue to make it difficult for them to return and find work, driving them to violence.
A critical thinking
The fact that they’ve been attempting to derail the revolution since the state of Israel was formed shows how important critical thinking is to the revolution. EJ Larissa makes an important point concerning Bethlehem’s seclusion. Bethlehem is presently surrounded by communities on all sides. All of Bethlehem’s lush, agricultural fields have been blocked off from the city’s residents.
Vivien Sansour and Mohammed Saleh; two urban farmers
The green terraces that surround the home, which we use for agricultural initiatives, have become a major feature of Dar Jacir. Vivien Sansour and Mohammed Saleh, two of the first residents in my program, were urban farmers, and it was really essential to all of us to hold workshops for our community in which youngsters could learn about the land and what grows there, because we had been cut off from our own land.
The significance of space
Returning to Mona’s point regarding the significance of space, Dar Jacir’s manifestation signifies something. The construction and architecture of this area date from 1880. Israel become a state on 1948. That is significant. The mansion was constructed during a time in history when Bethlehem merchants had developed a global network. Bethlemites were in Chile, Colombia, the Philippines, and a variety of other locations, traveling back and forth between Bethlehem and those locations. People have always been welcome at the home.
In terms of this project, where hospitality is important and where we are reactivating those relationships, I often think about it.
The foreign agents
MB Israel has shut Palestinian inhabitants of Israel off from the rest of the Arab world by restricting our mobility and making it difficult, if not impossible, to communicate with individuals in countries Israel regards to be enemies, such as Syria and Lebanon. Many Palestinian Israeli residents have been imprisoned and interrogated by the Shin Bet [Israel’s security agencies] under the guise of being in contact with so-called foreign agents.
Arab words or Narnia?!
Actually, I despise the phrase “Arab world.” At this point, I’d rather call it Narnia. All of the titles given to our region are problematic: they either ignore the multiplicity of ethnicities and languages (‘Arab World’), or they place us in connection to the British Empire (‘Middle East’). The beauty of art institutions is that they are rebellious in this regard. They can welcome musicians from other countries, including those with whom the country is at war. It contributes to the establishment of a connection between the events in Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. It’s crucial for our solidarity and our resistance to the colonial systems we’re battling.
Movements are becoming restricted
EJ It is critical to discuss the systematic isolation of Palestinian communities. Throughout these years, people from the West Bank and Gaza, which were occupied by Israel after 1967, were highly linked to the region, travelling back and forth as guest workers, students, for employment, etc. However, these movements are becoming progressively restricted day by day.
Arab World; a rich cultural legacy
For me, the word “Arab world” connotes a rich cultural legacy that encompasses a wide range of people and religions. This is the phrase that the so-called West has attempted to banish. Following 9/11, Americans began to adopt the term “Muslim” instead of “Arab,” which is a purposeful and strategic attempt to eliminate the Arab world’s richness and variety.
LS This is crucial: the term “Muslim world” obscures the reality of our area and its long-standing interconnectedness. MB It’s worth mentioning that the emergence of Islamophobia in the West coincided with the substitution of the phrase “Arab world” with “Muslim world,” which also underpins the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, continued sanctions against Iran, US military backing for Israel, and other American foreign policies.
Do you have any hope for the future?
EJ What is going on in Israel’s government [with the election of hard-right former settler Naftali Bennett as Prime Minister on June 13] isn’t going to change anything for us.
MB Not for the better, at least. It’ll almost certainly be for the worse.
EJ Exactly. However, one aspect of the May events that gives me hope is that the opposition came from the people, not from political parties. I refer to Palestinians in Akka, Bethlehem, Gaza, Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere as “the people.” This is one of the most important aspects of the previous month’s events: it demonstrates the 73-year-old project’s utter failure to separate us.