The weeks/months leading up to May 15 commemorated the 61st anniversary of al-Nakba (‘the catastrophe’ for palestinians (or ‘independence’ for israel)), the end of the British Mandate in Palestine and the 1948 war which turned much of historic palestine into the land of Israel, and it also celebrated Al-Quds (Jerusalem) as the capital of Arab culture: http://www.alquds2009.org/english.php
This is an excerpt from ‘Once Upon A Country’ by Sari Nusseihbeh, president and professor of philosophy at Al-Quds University, the only Arab university in Jerusalem, p46-7, published 2007. I thought it was interesting because it gives a personal Palestinian account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – in this section Sari is reading his father’s memoirs from the 1948 war:
“…When the local Palestinians warned the general that their towns could fall if they didn’t get the support of the Arab Liberation Army, the general said there was no need for alarm. “Let Jaffa fall,” he told my father’s friend. “Let Haifa fall,” he added, warming up to his theme. “Let Acre fall, let Safad fall, let Jerusalem fall, let Nazareth all, these towns are of no strategic importance whatever, and we can always take them back.”
“The Jewish leadership, by contrast, knew precisely what they wanted. They had a plan, and the discipline necessary to carry it out. Counted together, the various military groups such as the Haganah and Irgun had thirty thousand well-trained men working together in coordinated attacks. Theirs was a Spartan army, steeled by the horrors of Europe. It was also far better equipped than the local Arabs, as it had access to large numbers of weapons that had been smuggled into the country from Europe or stolen from the British during the war. Small factories were making armoured cars, mortars, and bombs.
As for their plan it was offensive rather than defensive. The idea was to expand their borders and thin out the Arab population by taking the battle far beyond the UN-sanctioned partition borders. They set out grab as much territory as a fait accompli before the Transjordanian army arrived on May 15.
“In the months leading up to the end of the Mandate, while the British were still technically in control of the country, the same story repeated itself throughout Palestine. Just as Glubb Pasha had predicted, in villages and cities, organised groups under either the Haganah or the various underground Zionist organisations, attacked poorly defended Arab areas. A large number of Arab towns and cities designated by the UN plan as part of the Arab state fell under Jewish control. Jaffa, Haifa, and hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees clogged the roads heading east away from the coast. My father’s memoirs tell a grim story of an entire people fleeing out of fear.
“There was a lot of expulsion at gunpoint, though just as many Arabs left their homes willingly, as people often do to escape a battle or a natural disaster, assuming they would return the moment calm again prevailed. This was another case of people not knowing what they were up against. Ben-Gurion had come to the conclusion that expulsion was both necessary and, under the cover of war, possible. Rational political and military planners, not hate-filled thugs, ordered these expulsions. Their primary aim was to make their state demographically viable.”
After many sicknesses and attempted healing and more lethargy, emma and i finally made our way to the gates of the old city Petra, Jordan – we gawked mouths wide open at the immense history of the sight and cringed at the multitude of tourists in the way – ourselves incldued.
After spending too much filoos in over-priced wadi musa (village near Petra) we made our way to Amman where we trundled up and down the ‘7 hills of Amman’ being comforted by familiar sights of contemporary art galleries, modern cafes and places we seemed to simply ‘blend in’ .
– the city, quite divided, one side very rich, big flash hotels, apartments, shopping centres, tree lined streets, cafes, galleries etc., the other side more reminiscient of any busy arab city you may come across – and on the outskirts, many Palestinian refugees are still camped in tents to this day. (Ten official Palestine refugee camps are located in Jordan. They accommodate 337,571 registered refugees, or 17 per cent of the 1.9 million refugees registered with UNRWA in Jordan. –http://www.un.org/unrwa/refugees/jordan.html) – Although we did not visit these sites I hope next time I can organise some interviews.. life in exhile..
During this lazy trundling we came across a few exhibitions as part of ‘the guardians of memory’ – al-quds week: various artists, jordanian, palestinian, international reflecting on life under occupation, life during/after war, and the concept of personal and collective histories in relation to memory. The concept of ‘memory’ and its many affiliations keeps plucking the hairs on my arms, particularly over the past 6 months in Israel/Palestine. As a 23 year old you can imagine how hard it is to fully comprehend the concept of a memory that lasts through war, let alone several wars over a lifetime – especially when the memory of my own life consists of being able to be ‘free’ as a child, having a leniant mother, and father who didn’t contest, who took us on many daring adventures in the forests, oceans and rivers, who made flying foxes for us at every sight of two strong poles/trees looking far enough apart, putting us in the back of a trailer and driving at daring speeds along dirt tracks in the outskirts of the canberran/nsw mountains – of having christmas and afterwards spending lazy weeks at the coast, of going to school and only dealing with conflict in petty child gangs – where although they remain on my mind and history – they stayed within school and only on the mind of a 11 year old who was still able to find solice in others rejected.
So how can i begin to imagine a history under occupation, a memory of not one ounce of freedom – or not knowing what real freedom is? I think artists dealing with these concepts are bringing to make it almost comprehendible…
these selections were on display at the Darat al-Funn gallery in Amman – http://www.daratalfunun.org
Preceeding this exhibition over the past couple of months I have seen a few exhibitions that focus their work around violence, war, history and the ways in which memory is affected or shaped by these factors. The first was an exhibition at Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem, called ‘HeartQuake‘ which “seeks to shudder and shake, identity and otherness vis a vis anxiety; to highlight and stress the process of man’s emotional contention with his environment, and also to peer through the prism of dread to examine his reactions, whether as aggressor or victim – all this with the purpose of attempting to comprehend and influence the dynamic of social and political relationships.” (Raphie Etgar, Curator)
A work that forced me to stop and realise i was breathing was one titled ‘Giant Babies’ by Max Streicher (Germany), his Giant Babies sculptures, made of nylon, electric fans,
at the height of 300 cm, sat there facing each other in the gallery, simply breathing – their bodies expanding on their inhales and crumpling with their exhales – which the sound also formed as a backdrop for the other works in the room. for me this work simply re-instated the most innate of human actions – the most fundamental faction of life. also as he states “comprises notions of vulnerability, renewal, future and hope.”
Another work which i found quite haunting was one called ‘Profile, Israel, 2001’ by Yael Bartana, an Israeli artist; a 3 minute video loop which showed young Israeli female soldiers during fire practice. “The weapon is stripped down, checked and secured ma’am! The weapon is stripped down, checked and secured! That sentence is reiterated and echoed throughout Yael Bartana’s entire video work.” “..lurking in the background are acute questions regarding preservation of individuality within the military structure.”
During the in between time I spent in Israel whilst trying to sort out my visa and rise above the absurd Israeli security faction in regards to “my activities in Israel” – I traveled with Danya on the train to Haifa to wave her off on the boat to Cyprus – before doing this we went to the Haifa Museum of Art to see the exhibitions on at the time called “Power Games” and “A History of Violence” – which particularly resonated with me just returning from Gaza and still unable to comprehend the ways in which people deal with war and trauma in their lives. “This exhibition attempts to examine the concept of violence in a variety of complex political, philosophical and psychological contexts,” says the Curator Hadas Maor.
The “painting depicts a detention camp or temporary prison. A panoramic, bird’s-eye view from outside of the prison area reveals a scraped-over and emptied-out site, which does not fully disclose its function. This work is part of a series of paintings based on a 2003 series of photographs by artist Roi Kuper. These photographs feature the Ketziot detention camp in the Negev, which is also known as Ansar – after the Ansar prison in Lebanon. The Ketziot prison was opened in 1988, following the outbreak of the first intifada. It was closed down during the period of the Oslo agreements, with the freeing of Palestinian security prisoners.
Disturbingly life-like the work ‘eat what you can’t’ by Sigalit Landau (left) “alludes to a state in which the idea of community ceases to exist, and the family structure or stable relationships that parallel it are questioned and threatened. It is a state in which it is no longer clear who can or should take care of whom – not only due to ego, power and political struggles, but also because of the all-consuming distress that is capable of annihilating eve Sigalit Landaun the inner kernel of the self.”
* have a look at the museum websites for more work and info on the exhibitions.
and so, for now we are back in Dahab and have been here for a week, being lethargic, learning more arabic, reading, sleeping, drinking lassies, still feeling belly sick, planning for the next trip to Gaza, attempting to avoid the strips of shops selling the same thing with the shopkeepers yelling the same thing and the restauraunts selling mostly the same thing; but what has given me most solice has been looking down to the bottom of the ocean floor for hours on end, attempting to breathe with fish and remain in constant awe at the diversity of species and life down there.
tomorrow emma and i will travel to cairo for a few days before meeting up with the next CodePink delegation heading to Gaza on thursday/friday. I will be writing a separate blog as well as this one for regular updates on our activities. Many delegations are traveling to Gaza around this time including; The Canadian delegation led by Sandra Ruch is in al Arish and hope to get to the Rafah border today. The student delegation led by our friends from the American University in Cairo will depart for al Arish on May 25. The New York delegation led by Felice Gelman will depart Cairo on Tuesday, May 26. Our delegation of 80 persons will depart Cairo on May 29.
Salaam for now.