art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

(Interview) Samar Hazboun On Living And Working Under Occupation.

samar1/Before The Wall, image © Samar Hazboun/

Born in Jerusalem and raised in the West Bank, Samar Hazboun, who uses photography as a tool to tell stories, first explored photography while pursuing a degree in International Relations in Prague. I first got to know her through her wonderful project Palestinian Women and after that tried to follow the work she did throughout the years.

Most of her projects have focused on women’s rights, particularly in the Middle East. As she says it herself, her authentic interest in political expression through art and her personal relationship with the Palestinian case has led her to successfully fuse subject matter and medium into a budding practice of photojournalism. Many of us who follow her work are thrilled she managed to do that.

I was lucky enough to catch Samar this month,  establishing a virtual relationship between Zagreb and Jerusalem – we’ve talked about her inspiration, life under the occupation, and joys and sorrows of the work she does. With her honest smile and wise insights, Samar proved to be exactly the kind of person I would imagine behind the work she creates – the work which is always filled with depth, thought and empathy.

hush

How did you start taking photos, what inspired you to take the camera and make it your world?

I was born and raised in Palestine, and then went to study abroad. I wanted to study photography, but my parents weren’t really encouraging for fear of not being able to earn a living with it. So, I didn’t study photography and I am actually happy I didn’t. I still ended up doing photography in my free time. For me, it began as a healing journey. I was very depressed and had a lot of emotions I didn’t know how to deal with it.

Growing up in Palestine, under the occupation and witnessing its violence, had a lot to do with it. I had a lot of stress, tension, and I began isolating myself a lot. Somehow, when I got a digital camera, I started taking self-portraits and photos of different things in the house, it was like a therapy. So that was when and how my relationship with photography was born.

Was there a moment, a photo or a project, that made you feel like what you are doing is important – not just to you, but also to other people? When you felt the power of it?

Because of how it all started, in the beginning I took a lot of self-portraits. I had my first solo exhibition in Jordan and there was a lot of people and media attending. That was one of the moments when it struck me – why are we doing this? Why are these people looking at the photos of me and my emotions? It’s not important. I felt kind of sad, because at the end of the day I am someone who has a good life, when you compare it to other people’s lives.

So I understood the power that photography gave me and I decided to use it in a different way, in a way to allow other people to express themselves and tell their stories. And really, for me storytelling is all I care about now with photography.

What was the first project you did after realizing that?

The first project I did was actually an experiment, I wanted to do something with people and see if I’d be able to actually do it. That’s how Palestinian Women came to life. I wanted to find answers answers to questions people often asked me. They often say to me “you don’t look like a Palestinian” or they ask me “what are Palestinian women like?”. Situations like that made me do that project.

I wanted to show how we are diverse as women, as human beings. You can’t really define a Palestinian woman, the same way you can’t define a Croatian woman. Your experience in life is what shapes you. So I started looking for women in Palestine, that are from all kinds of background and do all kinds of things. I’ve photographed a minister, a doctor, a footballer, a housewife, a circus performer…

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The project dealt with stereotypes about Palestinian women and Arab women in general. Do you think the situation has changed during the last couple of years when it comes to that? Are Palestinian and Arab women in the mainstream western media still presented in one–dimensional manner?

I think it has changed, Palestinian women have done really well lately. They’re present and vocal, they’re breaking taboos and stereotypes, being the teller of your own stories is really what changes the narrative. I really hope that the situation in the region doesn’t take away from that progress, that it won’t remove the focus from the positive things that are happening and exist in the region.

People who have never met Arab women have a certain idea about them, and it’s very tricky to talk about it without falling into stereotypes.  For me and for other artists dealing with such issues, we have to be very careful, because we don’t want to be looked at as something different, exotic, or victims even. We don’t want to be represented as one thing only. Yes, we live in a male dominated society, but I’ve lived in Europe and saw that that is not just an Arab issue, it’s a global problem for women.

One of the most important things for good photography is earning the trust of the people you are taking photos of. How did you manage that, is there a certain process you go through with people when you start a project, or do you find it different every  time?

I think it really depends on what you want to do, but I know that for me it goes really slowly, because I need the time, I want to take the time, and give the time to people. I don’t want to just come somewhere, take a photo and leave. I don’t know how to do that. When I do that, I’m never happy with the result. So, I really like to spend time with people, and the most time I’ve spent with people is when I did a project about women who were sexually abused…

That was the project Hush, right? Those are such delicate issues, and it is captured so well in your photos. Was it hard to get the women in shelters to open up to you, how was that experience?

I spent two months working on that project, the first month I was just going to the shelter without my camera. I was going there on a daily basis, spending six to seven hours with the women, just playing games, doing workshops, talking about everyday things, having them ask me questions too…

I created a sort of friendship and then, when I came back with my camera, it didn’t feel strange, it didn’t feel like I was taking something from them, it was a mutual relationship. They started telling me their stories without me even asking. So, yes, trust is very important.

And also – you really need to be genuine and interested in what you want to do, and in what people have to say. With Hush, the reason why I wanted to do it is because sexual violence is a big problem that nobody wants to talk about, in our society the honour of the family often depends on the woman and that is why it is such a sensitive issue.

hsh

I was really tired of people not wanting to talk about this subject. The main thing for me was that these women are often blamed for the violence done to them, you know “it’s her fault” kind of a thing.  The project was a real challenge, it took me a year to get a permit to enter the women’s centre and I faced a lot of problems – some of the women who worked in the shelter didn’t want to do their shifts when I was there.

I needed to make sure I didn’t reveal anything about the location of the shelter, the architecture of it, and so on. A lot of challenges, but I managed it somehow.

How do you cope with all the challenges? For some projects, even in regular conditions,  it takes away so much time and energy, and in Palestine, under the occupation, I assume it’s much worse – due to all the restrictions and inability to plan things ahead. How do you manage to stay motivated, to keep on doing the work you do?

I think the main thing that I remind myself of is that it is a project, and not a product. At the end of the day, I know it is a project and it will take me a long time to finish it. And you have to come to terms with that because if you want to work on a project and finish it in a month or a week, I don’t think it is going to work, you might be disappointed. You have to have it in your mind that it is an ongoing thing, a learning experience.

For example, I did a project Beyond Checkpoints, about Palestinian women who were forced to give birth on Israeli checkpoints. With this project it was even more challenging because I was trying to portray a story that was from the past, something that already happened, but there was very little visual evidence left from these crimes. I had to travel long distances around Palestine to find women and manage everything. When I think about that, I don’t know how I manage to continue and motivate myself…

Believe me, sometimes I just sit and cry, but then I get up and continue because I love the challenge. With every project that I’ve done I didn’t feel like I am repeating somebody’s work, I felt like I was doing something new, like I was paving the way. It’s like learning to walk, you need to fall many times to find your balance and do it properly.

Women are often in the focus of your projects. They are also in the focus of the project Before the wall. Could you tell me more about that project and do you think some of these generations will also live to be the in the phase without the wall?

I really hope they can be the people living without the wall, I hope we will witness the fall of the wall in the near future. Before the wall was an answer to this situation where the wall was presented as a sort of indifferent thing – nobody really knows why it is there, nobody understands what it really does to people.

I felt intimidated by the way all of this was presented and I thought to myself – ok, the wall is here and the people who are supposedly the terrorists, which the wall prevents from moving from one side to another – are also here, so I might as well put them in front of the wall and photograph them.

beofre

I wanted to show how it is really sad because this was the last generation of people before the wall was closed off completely, built. I wanted them to be dressed as plain as possible to show the contrast between them and the wall, to show how small and fragile they are against the wall. All the people affected by the wall are regular civilians, going about their daily lives, and the wall prevents them from doing that.

The wall is just one of the horrible aspects of the occupation. The other aspect you’ve dealt with in your work are Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel, shown in your project Detained: Confessions of Palestinian Children. How big of an issue is this in Palestine and how hard it was to talk to children about their experiences?

I was really surprised when I did this project – that there were so many children imprisoned by Israel. I thought it was going to be hard to find them, but there are so many of them! The hardest thing was getting them to open up about their experiences, there were many who couldn’t talk about it, children who were so traumatised by what had happened to them that at the age of ten or twelve they would still wet their beds and would not be able to speak properly. Children who isolated themselves, had nightmares…etc.

Many of the children I met weren’t included in the project. They simply couldn’t talk about what had happened to them. You can’t force somebody into telling their story if they are not comfortable or confident about it, or if you feel like it might traumatise them even more. So I didn’t push, I let it go. Although many of these stories were not in the project in the end, they were still an important part of my experience.

deatined

In connection to that, could you tell me what are the worst things occupation brings to your everyday life, emotional states it evokes? How would you summarize it, what would you share as a message to people – about occupation and the state Palestinian people live in?

To be honest, I feel sorry for the occupier. They will wake up one day, when it is already too late, and realize that what they’ve done is beyond destroy other people’s lives. I can’t imagine myself being a soldier or a person who’s occupying another person, or someone who took somebody else’s house, or kicked the family out of their land, or burned somebody’s trees.

At one point Israel and its people will wake up to question their actions and it will be an ugly feeling. Palestinian people will live and they will survive, we’ve been through a lot. In the end we are the ones who suffer the injustice, and not the ones doing the injustice – and I think that is something that with time will be even more clear to the outside world.

Is there any sort of a cooperation that you did with Israeli artists and photographers, is there a dialogue on that level?

I don’t think these things are as beneficial as they might seem, at least at this point. It’s hard to work on projects when we are not equals. Some things need to change before that happens.

I am always fascinated by the Israeli society – nowadays, when you have internet, when it is easy to be informed and get more sources of information, you would expect them, and that would be my dream, to just take the hammers and tanks and destroy the wall. You would expect them to say – enough with this bullshit, we don’t want this anymore.

hjazb

Could you tell me something about your inspiration – when it comes to Palestinian artists, authors, musicians, filmmakers? Is there anybody you really love and get your inspiration from?

That’s interesting. I love a lot of filmmakers and authors, and we have a great art scene growing constantly. But my inspiration always comes from the people I meet doing my projects, people with everyday struggles, people who barely survive but still keep on doing it.

People I met while working on my projects are really my biggest inspiration because they went through so much. I now started working on a project with the Syrian refugees and that has been so important to me, life-changing and inspirational. I was in houses of people that have no water, no furniture, nothing to offer me to drink, yet their generosity is beyond descriptiom.

These are the moments that change you and make you look at your life in a different way. And that is essential – the way your work reflects on you, and how it makes you more emphatic.

I actually wanted to ask you what you are working on at the moment, so tell me more about that project, it sounds really intimate and important to you, but it could also be important to many people, especially with all of what Syrian and other refugees face today.

I’ve received a grant from the Prince Claus Foundation, the grant is called Culture in defiance. My project is called Past preserved. I’m meeting with Syrian refugees who fled the war and we’re trying to recreate  the photos they’ve lost and preserve the memories they have from their past.

All of them left Syria without any photographs and the main idea is to find an object that holds a memory very dear to the person and also to photograph them the way they would like to be photographed, not as refugees.

At one point they were like you and me, and yes – at this moment they are refugees, but they are also much more than that, and they deserve to be seen as who they are, not as who the war has made them.

//all photos © Samar Hazboun//

For more on Samar’s work, visit her official website.

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P.S. Happy New Year! ♡

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Jungjin Lee: Unnamed Road.

jua

Unnamed Road is a book by Korean photographer Jungjin Lee, in which she approaches the territories of Israel and the West Bank by turning to the landscape. After reading Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks , Unnamed Road was a book that allowed me to continue the journey – this time by looking, not reading.

Lee turns to the landscape in a similar way Shehadeh does. She explores spaces more than people. Her black-and-white images are self-contained worlds of stillness and wonder, as she searches for something constant in the life of the landscape.

Unnamed Road

Her approach is not documentary (atleast not primarily), it’s more like meditation – a search for the spiritual potential with(in) the landscape. In a way, that approach is a luxury international photographers (or people visiting the West Bank) can afford to have, because of their fresh relationship with the landscape.

For the locals, that relationship involves so much more, it is a burden in so many ways (Shehadeh writes about it very well). It becomes hard to enjoy it or just be present in the moment.

Unnamed Road

That being said, I still really like going through images in the Unnamed Road. Not just because they are a great work of art. I like it because it makes me think of a scenario in which some fundamental truths do not alter – even in the West Bank and the Occupied Territories. I like to picture it as true, as possible.

I like to imagine people (those who live there and those who come to visit) looking at the landscape, walking, breathing – just being present and nothing more. No burdens, no thinking, no fear. Just people and the land – pure, authentic, everlasting relationship.

Unnamed Road

Unnamed Road

Unnamed Road

jung

//all photos © Jungjin Lee//

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Occupied Pleasures: (Girls) Just Want to Have Fun.

tanya/Gaza: A toy store van drives along Gaza’s beach high way/

Who says Palestinians don’t (like to) have fun? With a great sense of humor and a touch for details, Tanya Habjouqa captures the ‘occupied pleasures’ of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The following are only a few stories from her great photo series – be sure to check out her official website for more.

tanya23Hayat Abu R’maes, 25 (left) recently took a yoga lesson from a visiting American yoga instructor. She is now teaching the young residents of her village, Zataara, a small village on the outskirts of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The women are increasing in number each week. They call it, “inner resistance and that its proving to be the ultimate release.”

tanya26West Bank: Students from the Al-Quds University javelin team wrap up the last practice before summer vacation in the West Bank city of Abu Dis, next to the Israeli Separation Wall.

tanya44West Bank: After grueling traffic at the Qalandia check point, a young man enjoys a cigarette in his car as traffic finally clears on the last evening of Ramadan. He is bringing home a sheep for the upcoming Eid celebration.

astaGaza: A woman plays with two baby lion cubs born in the Rafah Zoo. Gaza once had six zoos, but two were closed due to financial losses and the deaths of large animals. Gazan zoo keepers are renowned for creativity in limited options, having famously painted a donkey as a zebra, smuggling in animals in the tunnels, and stuffing them once they are dead as animals are not easy to replace.

tahWest Bank : Two furniture makers take a break in a pair of plush armchairs (of their creation) in the open-air in Hizma, against Israel’s 26-foot high Separation Wall.

tanya5A young fiancee goes wedding dress shopping in Gaza. Her future husband is working in Libya, where she hopes to join him. Since the Israeli siege, many Gazans say that girls are marrying younger as there are less possibilities for both work and travel. Most young girls say they hope to find a husband who is based outside or will find work that will take them away from the confines of Gaza.

//all images © Tanya Habjouqa//

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

(Interview) Tamara Erde: On History, Memory & Living Near the Livings.

Tamara Erde is a French-Israeli filmmaker who creates in various mediums, from documentary and fiction films, to performances and video installations. Erde is a brave artistic soul, often taking from her most personal places and transforming it into her art. In her work, she often deals with political and social issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is what hits home. I was truly happy to be able to do the following interview and get to know more about Tamara’s work and her personal journey while making it.

Capture/Tamara Erde in Cell in a Human Scale/

Being born and raised in Israel, Israel being a part of your identity, did you have issues when you first started making films about different layers of Israeli – Palestinian conflict? Did you feel your work will be politicized, dissected in a particular way?

Yes, having been born and raised in Israel, and later on deciding to live and work on different, critical aspects of the Israeli society and politics, it has been a rather difficult process, to acknowledge I will face the unsatisfaction and sometimes anger of many of my friends and society in which I grew. I also have my films shown less in Israel then in anywhere else, so this is also a shame for me, as I’d love to show them there too and arouse a discussion about it. But I guess that indeed, once they touch core political problems that are in the basis of the perception and life views there, it is directly politicized and remains only as a political work and not a cinematic, creation as well.

In your documentary film released this year, This is my Land, you focus on how  Palestinian and Israeli (Jewish and Arab) education systems teach the history of their nations. You also confront your own history (in relation to the land) and the way it was built up, created. You admit you first started asking questions and having doubts about the nature of Israeli occupation during the army service. Could you tell me more about this film and the experience of it, but also the story of your personal journey, which could be marked as – before and after – the army service?

I have decided to do this film when I found myself, about two years ago, asking myself how come I didn’t know and didn’t search to know, what I do now, about the history of my country and my region. Because the information is out there, in Internet, in books, in the mouth of people. And for me the direct answer was – the education I got. So that has brought me to wish and come back to Israel but also to Palestine, and see now, from my new perspective, how kids are taught.

Until my army service, I was very zionist and nationalist. I didn’t know much about the conflict, I didn’t have contact with Palestinian people, nor did I think about it too much. My army service was during the second Intifada, I saw then how the decision are taken, how life are being played with for political little reasons, I saw for the first time (even though it was sadly through the information computer screens) Palestinian people. And this has made me start asking question and doubting what I was doing and believing till then. From that I went to a journey of some time, trying to learn and research the story of “the other side”.

Very few children can see through and doubt the education they receive. I am sure that if I had to go back to school, changing the position – going to a Palestinian school, or to an orthodox religious school, I would have been following this sets of values and beliefs. Very few people also doubt or question their education on their later life, as adults. I had the chance to do it thanks to my profession, to my films that have brought me, and still do, to discover and investigate about my identity, and the society I live in, or from which I come.

But even though the ability to change the way a child perceives his education is so small, the ability to change the education we give him, is much more probable, and possible. For me, this voyage I wish to go on with this film, back to this primal encounter with the teachers, and the school, in the place where I was born, which imposes the charge of the conflict, is a way to make myself, and hopefully my viewers, think about the way we can change the education system, and assure a better future society and life for the generations to come. And I think this is true to Israel-Palestine, but also to many other places around the world.

disney ramallah/Disney Ramallah/

Disney Ramallah is your latest short film. It is a story of a father and son in Ramallah, confronted to the harsh reality during the Second Intifada. The boy has one dream – to go to Euro Disney for his birthday. Of course, that is not possible, and the father ends up making a home-made alternative universe for his son. Something in this story, the creative magic and will maybe, reminded me of Yalla to the moonThere is something mesmerizing about these parallel universes people create among the harshest of conditions, which also remindes me of Guido Orefice in La Vitta è Bella. What inspired you to write and direct this story? 

I have written this story basing on my experiences and what I have seen during the Second Intifada when I was in the army, but also what I have seen later on, in the West Bank, when I have met many children and heard their stories and their families stories. One of the things that inspired me mostly was their energy, their hope, their great force of life, even in the harder and most extreme situations. That has made me imagine that boy that all he wants, like many kids, is to go to EuroDisney, and what happened when this meets his father’s harsh daily struggle, who has put aside his childhood dreams and urges.

When I was a child, I grew up alone with my mother, since my dad died before I was born. At nights, sometimes, I used to be afraid that she will die too, leaving me alone in the world. And so, I used to ask her, simply, what if… And she used to tell me the name of her friend; she will take care of you if I die, I talked to her about it, she will adopt you. For some months, years even, I remember, I kept repeating this question, wishing only for one answer: I won’t die.., but she never said this to me. She told me the truth, at simple as it was.

And years later, I kept asking myself about it… What would I do? Do we always need to tell the truth to our children? What does protecting someone means? Hiding from him sometimes? Or on the contrary remaining loyal to the truth? Or maybe creating a different, imagined truth, for those we love. Those questions, daily dilemmas, of parents, of human relationships, are in the heart of Disney Ramallah. In this story, an additional aspect joins those universal story of father and son, since Rabia and Ahmed live in Ramallah, in a complexed reality.

You create in various mediums, not just film. One of your installations and performances is A Soldier’s Dream.  It was influenced by poems of the great Mahmoud Darwish, and aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writingHomeland, in the context of Israel and Palestine, is a complex term. It involves memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting, and generally – an internal state of chaos and confusion. It is not just Darwish who struggles with the notion of homeland. Kanafani writes in Returning to Haifa: “What is a homeland? Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? Khaldun? Our illusions of him? Fathers? Their sons? What is a homeland? Is it the picture of his brother hanging on the wall?” How do you see this issue of  homeland, and why did you approach Darwish and his poetry through your installations and performances?

It was after my last visit to Israel, on the spring of 2010, that I’ve decided to create this project around the poems ad writing of Mahmoud Darwish. On my return to France after that visit, I felt more then ever helpless, seeing the frozen situation, the immobile misery and injustice that have long ago conquered this land. In front of my eyes I still had this image of the sea, near Gaza, divided by the separation wall, thinking – what else can be done when even the water are bound to surround. I’m looking again, now in France, at the few pictures I’ve managed to take there, at the point where the wall meets the sea, before the soldiers came with their weapons towards me.

Staring at this black and white desperate silence of the water, I recalled Darwish’s texts about the water; “Who says that water has no color, flavor or smell?” [Memory of forgetfulness].

I thought about the relation between words and images when confronting those ungraspable impermeability, where is their limit in view of that, where are there points of force, of challenge and of completion. It was from that desperation that I felt a need to return to the words of Darwish, whose words are imprints of footsteps on this sands of misery, of that surrounding water, and yet, of the whole world outside, of the love and the hope deriving from the simple beauty, form the power of the sincere words, phrases, memories.

In Forgotten Oceans, an experimental dance film, you explore the theme of physical memories of spaces. Again, such an important theme concerning the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, its millions of people living in exile and millions of memories that were and are wiped out. Like Khaled Juma asks in The Unseen aspects of War: “Are the memories we grew up with which are destroyed not pieces of us? Should we not consider the destruction of the places in which we were raised with these memories to be the destruction of a part of us, just like our hands, our heads, or our hearts?” It is like the “my tree was gone” moment from your film. Why did you find it important to make this fim, to do this exploration, and could you relate it to Israeli – Palestinian conflict, from your own perspective?

Actually, this video dance, that I created in an aim to develop and include in a performance piece later on, is also the continuation of my work inspired by Darwish, aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writing. Being an Israeli I was amazed how many things I have discovered, when reading Darwish’s poems, on my “Homeland”, how close I felt to his words, and how painful it was. His words, have become, to me, a life-time journey, and this performance was part of this journey.

The poetic, the never ending, floating magical words, are living side by side with reality, with the aching sand grains of this land. On the video dance Forgotten Oceans the scene is to describe a “no man’s” land on which all characters are immigrants. Turning around, discovering the new space, the new land that is assumed to be their new “home”, again. A land on which they have no past, no memories or acquaintance, and apparently no future either. They are doomed to eternal wonderings.

forgotten oceans/Forgotten Oceans/

Based on the poetry of Mahmod Darwish; the physical choreographically language of the piece, as well as the visual language, aim to create this sense of “no people” on a “no land”. The characters existence in the space is never substantial, no relation is ever physically created between them. “We live near the livings”, Darwish once wrote about his people, and it s this sense of the term “exile” that I wish to give to the spectators in this piece.

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 /all images via Tamara Erde/

For more on Tamara and her work, visit her website.

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Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Things we must know and remember about the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.

The number of victims in Gaza continues to grow, several days ago Israel and its Egyptian allies offered  „ceasefire“ that’s as laughable and insulting as it is insincere, pretty much all of the mainstream media reported how Hamas rejected another chance for peace, just like they’ve reported about the terrorist attacks on Israel and Palestinian violence as the main reason for the recent turmoil.

Now, this is an ideal chance to stop, think, rewind. We’ve seen this before. It is just like Robert Fisk wrote in his latest piece for The Independent: „Once, we used to keep clippings, a wad of newspaper cuttings on whatever we were writing about: Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Gaza. Occasionally, we even read books. Maybe it’s because of the internet, but in most of our reports, it seems that history only started yesterday, or last week.“ He continues to say: „I’m afraid it’s about context, this memory-wipe. It’s about the way that armies and governments want us to believe – or forget – what they are doing, it’s about a historical coverage, and it’s about – and here I quote the wonderful Israeli journalist Amira Haas – ‘monitoring the centres of power’.“

10313386_10204019644990042_1826316081284667245_nimage © Paolo Pellegrin

So what do the centres of power want us to forget, what does Israeli government want us to leave out? Well, there are a lot of things, a lot of truths we must speak off and keep on going back to. The recent turmoil is not about the boys that were killed, and it is not about Hamas and its rockets. It is about decades of injustice and decades of oppression, decades of colonialism and its insatiable appetite, decades of wrong leaders and bad judgements and – decades of ignorance and status quo.

Escalations are due to happen. Occupation itself is an escalation, and these are some of the reasons why.

Peace talks that offered no peace

Oslo, or as Edward Said called it „The Palestinian Versailles“ was a bad deal for the Palestinians, and time proves it – day by day. As Simona Sharoni and Mohammed Abu-Nimer write in Understanding the Contemporary Middle East (second edition): „At the end of the 1990s, Palestinians had full autonomy in 27% of the Occuppied Territories. In the West Bank, this translated into 3% of the total surface area, whereas in Gaza the PNA controlled 60% of the territory. In the West Bank villages, however, the PNA had only civil and police powers, Israel remained responsible for ‘internal security’, the meaning of which was open to interpretation. Furthermore, because the towns and villages are mostly noncontiguogus and Israel remained in command of the road network connecting them, all movement of goods and persons into and out of these encalves as well as between them could be interdirected at will.“ Things got worse after the 1996 elections, won by Netanyahu and Likud Party. The 1999 Likud charter emphasized the right of settlement: “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.“ Likud’s policies were based on settlement expansion and „judaization“ of East Jerusalem, among other things. Israel continued to build new settlements even during the recent peace negotiations, often claiming it is an imperative. All the “offers” so far have ignored most of the realities Palestinians endured for decades, their desires and basic human rights, and that is why they never lived outside the sheets of paper and conference halls. One sad fact is that in the world of big politics (and big money and resources) you have to be able to offer something in order to get something in return. There is no moral and no justice anywhere on the top charts of international relations, it is not anywhere in the scope of their interests. That is what Palestinians are paying the price for – the truth is – they have nothing to offer to the other side. Israel has everything. Well, almost everything. The rest they cannot get because – and that is the only thing Palestinians have as an „advantage“ – Palestinians exist and they do not plan on going anywhere. Another aspect of the peace talks is all the pressure put on Palestinians to be the ones to initiate it and adjust to all conditions, but, as Edward Said often asked: „Since when are the illegally militarily occupied people responsible for creating a peace movement?“

Two different nationalisms

There is a lot of talk about nationalism and its connotations on both sides. However, there is little talk when it comes to distinguishing Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms. There is a difference between the Israeli, institutionalized state nationalism and Palestinian nationalism, which is the nationalism of a liberation movement. While Israel justifies everything it does on the premises of national security, Palestinians focus on national liberation. Sharoni and Abu-Nimer describe how: „As a result of the primary emphases on national security and national liberation, different social and ecnomic problems within both communities have been put on the back burners until the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is resolved. Nevertheless, the differences between Israeli – Jewish and Palestinian nationalisms, which are often overlooked are far greater than similiarites. They involve fundamental differences in the history and social context of the two national movements and, most particularly, striking disparities of power and privilege between the two communites.“ We must never forget to mention the power relations and the fact that Israeli – Palestinian conflict is an asymmetric war. When talking about Israeli national security and Palestinian national liberation, there is an impression, and it is being deepened by the political leaders for such a long time, that the two cannot be achieved at the same time – ever. However, the great paradox here is that Israel puts national security as a pre-condition for peace, not seeing how it will never be secure until Palestinians fulfill their national aspirations through a political solution they want.

The disputed „right to return“

Big part of peace negotitations was always the question of Palestinian refugees. It is not just about people returning to their homeland, it is also about finally acknowledging that they actually had to leave and that Israel is responsible for that. There would finally be a much needed recongition. There is another  great paradox – Palestinians should acknowledge Israeli – Jewish „organic“ connection to the land Israel occupies, while Palestinians, the indigenous people, are denied that same connection, and all the rights emerging from it. It is also ridicilous to deny the rights of the Palestinians born in exile, claiming „they’ve never even seen Jerusalem“, while at the same time Jews from all over the world, with no connection to Israel, have the „right to return“, and they are entitled to it by the Law of Return.

Bad leadership, on both sides

Israeli government has done its fair share of crimes over the decades, there is no doubt about that. However, the Palestinian side – from Arafat to Abbas – did nothing to properly fight all the Israeli wrongdoings. Palestinian leadership was and is mainly corrupted, with no real strategy, most of the time serving as marionettes and a mockery. While people in Palestine were starving, Arafat’s big political move was to give Bill and Hillary Clinton  gold and diamond necklaces, bracelets and earrings – worth $12,000. In addition, Arafat gave former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright jewelry worth $17,400. That’s just one example of his international relations strategies. On the other hand – just couple of days ago, Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Egyptian ceasefire intiative, saying he appreciated the Egyptian role and efforts to protect the Palestinian people. The intiative is a big nothing for Palestinian people, but there is no surprise Abbas welcomes it.

The key role of the United States

Edward Said dedicated his life to Israeli – Palestinian debates in the American society. It was crucial, he always thought, beacuse USA is where the Zionist headquarters are. That is where the money comes from, and money moves mountains. Just last November, The American Friends of the IDF organization (FIDF) branch in Los Angeles held its annual fundraiser in the Beverly Hilton hotel and raised a record number of $20 million for IDF soldiers’ welfare. Some 1,200 guests attended the event (among them Simon Cowell), the host was a billionaire Power Rangers creator Haim Saban and the guests were entertained by Lionel Richie. It is just one of numerous fundraisers for Israel and its army.  That is why the rare media in the United States providing fair debates on Israeli – Palestinian conflict, like Democracy Now and Vice, are almost priceless. However, until there is not enough pressure from the political leadership and the society in general, it is hard to imagine big changes happening in relations to Israel and the occupation.

Arab is not a one thing, and Arab nations are not a one

If these last couple of days have proved anything – it is that Arab nations, Arab countries and Arab people – are not one. There is no support for the Palestinians from the leaders of other Arab countries, Egypt was waiting for days to open the Rafah border crossing and now initiated a shameful idea of „ceasefire“ that is not even close to a ceasefire. Other Arab countries, the money lands of Gulf and others – stand still, in silence. No surprise there, it is not the first time. In this disheartening fact we could find something positive – this is a lesson, a chance to learn for the western mainstream media. It is time for them to realize that Arabs are not one group, all the same, and Arab countries are not united and we can never speak of them as such. From this lack of support for Palestine, once again, we can learn (beside the fact that economical and geopolitical interests always come first, and moral and justice are laughable terms) to finally stop addressing Arabs as one, and acknowledge the political, economical, cultural and human differences that exist among them. Just like other people – they are not the same, and they are for sure not united – except in doing nothing, just like in this case.

Slowly dying is also dying

While in today’s world everything revolves around numbers, and they have to big and shocking in order to get attention, even when there are no „huge events“  in Gaza and West Bank, there is still a lot of violence, oppression and – slow death. It is the occupation, to some a very subtle thing, but still obvious on every level – the unemployment, the endless waiting, the curfews, the checkpoints, all that despair and uncertainty. A February 2013 publication from UNICEF shows that: „In the past 10 years, an estimated 7,000 children have been detained, interrogated, prosecuted and/or imprisoned within the Israeli military justice system — an average of two children each day. The analysis of the cases monitored by UNICEF identified examples of practices that amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture.“ Briefing on Children in Gaza by Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights notes that Israel’s blockade of Gaza, a gruesome form of systemic violence, “puts children’s right to health at a grave risk as access to health services and care inside Gaza is hampered by lack of equipment, expertise, and medicines, while access to care outside of Gaza is largely restricted.” And these are only children we are talking about. So, even when Gaza and West Bank are not in the news like the last couple of days, there are a lot of reasons for them to be.

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art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine, travel

Bil’in, Palestine: Teargas canisters as flower pots.

It’s old news, but this beautiful Palestinian art of resistance needs to be captured and written about all over again – residents of Bil’in use teargas canisters – to plant flowers.

Teargas canisters are lefovers from the clashes with the Israeli soldiers, and this way of using them is maybe the most beautiful and peaceful symbol of resistance. Bassem Abu Rahmah, a protest leader, was killed in 2009 when Israeli forces shot him in the chest with a tear gas grenade (his mother is on the photo, watering the plants). The garden is to commemorate him and other victims in the Palestinians’ fight for their land.

Bilin has become a symbol of Palestinian protests against Israeli policies in the West Bank, and the village’s struggle to regain its land became the subject of a 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary Five Broken Cameras.

It’s not just that the Palestinians are not going to be destroyed – they are going to grow, and find a way to make something out of the occupation – something for the future.

Enjoy the photos (© AP).

Flower on razor wire

Palestinian activists stand near roses planted in used tear gas canisters

Art of resistance: Palestinian garden of tear gas canisters

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art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

A day in Hebron, West Bank.

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Hebron, West Bank | April 10, 2014

Photos by Ammar Awad/Reuters

1. A Palestinian vendor organises a display of glass ornaments in a glass factory.

2. A Palestinian man paints a traditional vase in a ceramic factory.

3. A Palestinian man paints a traditional ceramic plate in a ceramic factory.

4.. A Palestinian man uses a potter’s wheel to make a traditional vase in a ceramic factory.

5. Palestinians work in a ceramic factory.

6. A Palestinian glassblower uses a blowpipe to make a traditional vase in a workshop.

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