GROUND TRUTH DESTRUCTION AND RETURN IN AL-'ARAQĪB
DESTRUCTION AND RETURN IN AL-'ARAQĪB
Ground Truth is an ongoing project that aims to provide historical and juridical evidence on behalf of communities in the illegalised Palestinian Bedouin villages in the northern threshold of the Negev/Naqab desert, Israel. While forced physical displacement and illegalisation render these communities non-existent on maps and aerial imaging, state-led land works and afforestation transform and erase their land and material cultural remains. The project aims to document and collate disparate legal, historical, and material evidence for the continuity of the sedentary presence of the Bedouin population on this land, as well as traces of their repeated displacement and destruction by government forces.
At the heart of the project are a community-led photographic dossier and a 3DGiS platform that utilises contemporary and historical images to map the presence and remnants of the Bedouin's inhabitation. This first iteration of the project centres on the case of the al-'Araqīb village, which has been demolished over 116 times over the past 60 years. A second phase of the project would wish to expand the work into more unrecognised villages where establishing proof of continuity of presence would be helpful.
Through a collaborative process of DIY aerial photography with Public Lab, Zochrot, and the local families of al-'Araqīb, a kind of 'civic satellite' is formed. We use kites and balloons equipped with simple cameras to form a methodology through which aerial and ground views can be gathered across multiple expeditions. These are assembled through photogrammetry into stacked geo-referenced 3D point-cloud photo terrains. Photographs, taken by residents and activists, document not only expulsion and destruction but also their ongoing life and resistance. These photographs, along with other media, data, and testimony, attest to an inflicted violence by connecting the history of this local land struggle to larger-scale and longer-term environmental transformations and to the conflicts that such changes have provoked.
Ground Truth is an ongoing collaboration between several organizations and the Bedouin community of al-'Araqīb, which began in 2015 and culminated in a public event and conference: "Ground Truth: Testimonies of Dispossession, Destruction and Return in the Naqab/Negev".
The community of al-'Araqīb: Nūri al-Uqbi, Sheikh Sayah al-Tūri, Aziz al-Tūri , Sabach al-Tūri Marim abu Mad’im, Salim al-Tūri
Forensic Architecture is a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London. It includes a team of architects, scholars, filmmakers, designers, lawyers and scientists who undertake research that gathers and presents spatial analysis and evidence for international prosecution teams, political organisations, NGOs, and the United Nations. Additionally, the agency undertakes historical and theoretical examinations of the history and present status of forensic practices in articulating notions of public truth.
Forensic Architecture team: Eyal Weizman (Principle Investigator), Ariel Caine (Project Coordinator & Researcher), Franc Camps-Febrer (Design & Software Development), Samaneh Moafi (Film editing), Christina Varvia.
Zochrot (remembering in Hebrew) is an NGO working in Israel since 2002 to promote acknowledgement and accountability for the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 and the reconceptualization of the Return of the Palestinian Refugees as the imperative redress of the Nakba. Zochrot’s main projects include tours to the sites of destroyed Palestinian villages, seminars for educators, collection of oral testimonies, art gallery, an annual film festival and an online archive about the Nakba.
Zochrot team: Debby Farber, Umar al-Ghubari
And other associate organizations:
Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) is a community that applies low cost, easy-to-use open source hardware and software for investigating environmental health and justice issues. Its core program is focused on promoting grassroots "civic science" and locally-relevant outcomes that emphasize human capacity and understanding. Team: Hagit Keysar.
ActiveStills Collective collective was established in 2005 by a group of documentary photographers out of a strong conviction that photography is a vehicle for social and political change. They believe in the power of images to shape public attitudes and raise awareness on issues that are generally absent from public discourse. ActiveStills view themselves as part of the struggle against all forms of oppression, racism, and violations of the basic right to freedom.
The collective – comprised of Israeli, Palestinian and international photographers - operates in Palestine/Israel and focuses on social and political documentation, publications, and exhibitions. It works on various topics including: the Palestinian popular struggle against the Israeli occupation, rights of women, LGTBQ, migrants and asylum-seekers, public housing, and other forms of economic oppression. Team: Oren Ziv, Keren Manor, Yotam Ronen.
Professor Oren Yiftachel teaches political and legal geography, urban and regional planning and public policy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Yiftachel is one of the main critical geographers and social scientists working in Israel/Palestine.
Miki Kratsman Miki Kratsman an artist and photographer. "The Bedouin Visual Archive", a project which he is undertaking in collaboration with the Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF) is aiming to use narrative and visual literacy to raise awareness to the rights violations of the Bedouin and give voice to their silenced histories and claims on the land.
As part of his work in the Negev and specifically in al-'Araqīb, Miki Kratsman took part in the discussions, meetings and conceptualisation around the formation of this project.
Michael Sfard (Michael Sfard Law Office | Legal Partners) is a lawyer specializing in international human rights law and the laws of war. He has served as counsel in various cases on these topics in Israel. Sfard has represented a variety of Israeli and Palestinian human rights and peace organizations, movements and activists at the Israeli Supreme Court. Team: Michael Sfard, Carmel Pomerantz.
Forensic Architecture, Masters Course students (MAFA) at Centre for Research Architecture Goldsmiths, University of London, 2017.
Princeton University Conflict Shorelines II course students, taught by Eduardo Cadava and Eyal Weizman in spring 2017.
Destruction and Return in al-Araqib
Negev/Naqab Desert, Israel/Palestine, 2010 – ongoing
(Investigation 2015 – ongoing)
Israeli authorities have claimed that the Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Negev/Naqab Desert did not exist prior to the establishment of the Israeli state, and that the villagers are trespassers. Collaborating with local families, Forensic Architecture analysed British Royal Air Force aerial photographs from 1945 (taken more than three years before Israel’s establishment), and compared them with a ground level archaeological survey, contemporary aerial images generated by cameras attached to kites, and photogrammetic models, to establish the historical continuity of Bedouin inhabitation.
The evidence established in this project is currently being prepared towards a legal petition for a land claim trial by the al-Turi family of al-Araqib, to be presented by advocate Michael Sfrad.
Presented in the context of the Truth Commission on the Responsibility of Israeli Society for the Events of 1948–1960 in the South.
Project team: Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator), Ariel Caine (Project Coordinator), Franc Camps Febrer, Omar Ferwati, Christina Varvia, Nicholas Masterton Footage from Unrecognised Forum by Alina Schmuch and Jan Kiesswetter
Collaborators: The village of al-Araqib; Zochrot; Public Lab, Sayakh al-Turi, Aziz al-Turi, and Nuri al-Uqbi / al-Araqib; Umar al-Ghubari and Debbie Farber / Zochrot; Hagit Keysar / Public Lab; Oren Ziv and Yotam Ronen / ActiveStills; Miki Kratsman, Oren Yiftachel, ‘Conflict Shorelines’ course at Princeton University; MA in Forensic Architecture at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Thanks to: Yeela Raanan / RCUV
We live in a time where the need for urban research that is critical in its questioning of relations of power and domination is strikingly clear. But what does it really mean to do ‘critical’ urban research? And what is our role, especially as early career researchers, in connecting our research work with the practices urgently needed to bring about social change? How do we avoid common problems of simply speaking into our echo-chamber, and failing to connect our scholarship with material social change?
In this postgraduate masterclass we will discuss and workshop these issues with Prof. Oren Yiftachel (Ben Gurion University of the Negev) and Prof. Libby Porter (RMIT University).
Come along and join in the conversation.
Light refreshments provided.
This is a free event (registration essential) sponsored by RMIT Centre for Urban Research, Critical Urban Governance program.
Room 09, Level 03, Building 12, RMIT City Campus, 402 Swanston Street Melbourne, VIC 3000
24 August 2018
Space, Law, Coloniality: Ruptures and Continuities
August 30 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
There is an intimacy to the relationship between space, law and coloniality. It is an intimacy that enables continuity under conditions of rupture and returns disguised with a rhetoric of advancement. Struggles for and over land, recognition, citizenship, and the conditions fundamental for a human existence have prompted the re-coordination of colonial-capitalist regimes of power through property, governance, law and land. This seminar and panel discussion brings together scholars, activists and thinkers who are practicing critique at the intersection of this intimate relationship for an engaged discussion about the ruptures and continuities in diverse colonial presents.
Professor Oren Yiftachel teaches urban studies and planning, and political geography at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba. His work generates critical and comparative understandings of the relations between space, power and conflict, with special focus on Israel/Palestine. In recent years he has focused on the legal geography of neo-colonial relations, on the rights of indigenous peoples, and on migration, planning and urban citizenship. His most recent book is Emptied Lands: Legal Geography of Bedouin Rights in the Negev (co-author 2018).
Professor Libby Porter is Vice Chancellor’s Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University. Her work is about the relationship between urban development and dispossession, with a recent focus on the possessory politics of urban property rights. Her most recent book Planning in Indigenous Australia: From imperial foundations to postcolonial futures(Routledge 2018) co-authored with Sue Jackson and Louise Johnson rewrites the history and future of Australian urban planning and its relationship with Indigenous peoples.
Professor Mark McMillan is Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor Indigenous Education and Engagement at RMIT University and a Wiradjuri man from Trangie, NSW. His expertise is in the area of human rights and, in particular, the expression and fulfilment of those rights for Indigenous Australians. Mark was admitted to the Roll of the Supreme Court of the ACT in 2001, is a current board member of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and the Trangie Local Aboriginal Land Council. IN 2013, Mark was awarded the National NAIDOC Scholar of the Year Award. His current research work is about Indigenous governance and jurisdiction for native nations and at RMIT he is leading the Bundyi Girri program which is unique in focusing on the responsibility of non-Indigenous Australians in their relationship with Indigeneity.
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne, 3051 Australia
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
- Event Category:
Ground Truth: Testimonies of Destruction and Return | Forensic Architecture (Goldsmith University, London) & Al-Araqib
Exhibition in Binyamin Gallery
Artist: Forensic Architecture
Curator: Debby Farber
Opening: 09/08/2018 19:00 - Closing: 01/09/2018 14:00
Screenshot from GT platform: www.naqab.org
House of Ibn Beri Family, Al-Araqib (3D Model)
Aerial Photo of Al-Turi's Cemetery
Aerial Photo of Al-Araqib 1945/2017
Installation view, Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum
Kite attached a camera documenting Al-Uqbi cemetery in Al-Araqib
Exhibition installation view, Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum
Installation view, Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum
Installation view, Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum
Installation view, Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum
Ground Truth: Testimonies of Destruction and Return | Forensic Architecture (Goldsmith University, London) & Al-Araqib |
Exhibition in Binyamin Gallery - Click here to watch film about the project
Zochrot is pleased to invite you to Ground Truth – the launching exhibition of an ongoing research project. The project, an ongoing collaboration between the inhabitants and Popular Committee of Al-Araqib, the Forensic Architecture independent research agency at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Zochrot. The centerpiece of the project is a geographic mapping platform that facilitates the collection, documentation and production of historical, legal and material evidence that map historical remains of Al-Araqib villagers’ sedentary settlement on their land – a moment before they vanish.
Destroyed and rebuilt over 130 times in the past seventy years, the Palestinian-Bedouin village of Al-Araqib has become iconic of the broader struggle of so-called “unrecognized villages” outlawed by the Israeli government, at the northern edges of the Naqab/Negev. Since the Nakba, Israel has promulgated a system of laws enabling it to easily dispossess the Bedouins, adopting a labyrinthine legal logic that denies the vast majority of the Bedouins the ability to hold on to their land. Large swathes of Bedouin lands have been handed over to agencies designed to promote the Judaization of the Negev/Naqab, ignoring its indigenous past. In particular, these state and quasi-state agencies ignore the property laws and land tenure system that have governed the area for generations, with the agreement of both the Ottoman and British authorities.
The exhibition presents the research products, and elaborates on them thorough a series of gallery meetings and seminars, as follows:
* Meeting and discussion on the opening night, Thursday, August 9, 2018, 19:00-22:00 with families from Al-Araqib, Adv. Michael Sfard, Adv. Carmel Pomerantz, and Prof. Gadi Algazi.
* Hands-on workshop and seminar on Operative Models, Friday, August 10, 10:00-13:00 with Ariel Ken (Forensic Architecture), Miki Kratsman, and Shabtai Pinchevsky and Dr. Hagit Keysar (Public Lab)
* Talk with Nuri Al-Uqbi (Al-Araqib) and Debby Farber (Zochrot), Saturday, August 25, 2018, 11:00
* Seminar on Forensic Aesthetics, Wednesday, August 29, 19:00-21:00, with Prof. Eyal Weizman and Ariel Ken (Forensic Architecture), Oren Ziv (Activestills), Film Director Rachel Leah-Jones and artist Taliah Hoffman.
Project partners: Public Lab (Hagit Keysar), ActiveStills (Oren Ziv, Yotam Ronen), Prof. Oren Yiftachel, Miki Kratsman.
Curator: Debby Farber
Click here for the Facebook event.
Opening: Thursday, August 9, 19:00 | Closing: Saturday, September 1
Gallery opening hours: Wed, 11:00-14:00, Thu, 16:00-19:00, Sat, 11:00-14:00
Address: Binyamin Gallery, 5 Shvil Hameretz St, third floor, Tel Aviv
Gallery opening hours: Wed, 11:00-14:00, Thu, 16:00-19:00, Sat, 11:00-14:00
For more details, please contact debby: firstname.lastname@example.org
From Res Nullius to Terra Nullius: Revisiting Indigenous Histories, Legal Systems and Land Rights in the Naqab
Panelists: Bashir Abu Manneh, Nadia Ben Youssef, Debby Farber
Moderator: Nadia Abu El-Haj
Respondent: Audra Simpson, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University
Chair: Brian Boyd
The Center for Palestine Studies, in partnership with the NGO Zochrot, and Forensic Architecture, will be holding a scholarly panel within the framework of the exhibition, Ground Truth: Testimonies of Destruction and Return in Al-Araqib, to expand the discourse on the origins of the dispossession, expulsion, and displacement of the Palestinian Bedouins in the Negev/Al-Naqab, and in particular its historical background and legal aspects. The panelists are scholars and activists involved in historical research, legal geography, and human rights with the aim of situating the case of the Naqab Bedouins within key international debates, such as the territorial dispossession of indigenous peoples, indivisibility, and interrelationship of socioeconomic, cultural, civil, and political rights.
Nadia Abu El-Haj, Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College, and Co-Director of the Center for Palestine Studies
Nadia is the author of Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (University of Chicago Press, 2001), which won the Albert Hourani Award of the Middle East Studies Association, and The Genealogical Science: The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology (University of Chicago Press, 2012). She has held fellowships at Harvard University’s Academy for International and Area Studies and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. In addition, she is a former Fulbright Fellow and a recipient of awards from the SSRC-MacArthur Grant in International Peace and Security, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the National Endowment for the Humanities among others. Nadia has served on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Palestine Studies since 2002.
Bashir Abu-Manneh, Director of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies, Kent University
Bashir Abu-Manneh is Reader in Postcolonial Literature and Director of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies at the University of Kent in the UK, and author of The Palestinian Novel: From 1948 to the Present (2016) and Fiction of the New Statesman, 1913-1939 (2011). His edited book on Edward Said as critic and theorist, After Said: Postcolonial Literary Studies in the Twenty-First Century, is out at the end of the year.
Nadia Ben-Youssef, Co-Founder and Director Adalah Justice Project
Nadia Ben-Youssef is the co-founder and director of Adalah Justice Project (AJP), and works at the intersection of law, advocacy, and art to advance human rights. Prior to leading AJP, she worked with Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) both in Israel/Palestine and in the US. She coordinated Adalah’s international advocacy on behalf of the indigenous Palestinian Bedouin community in the Naqab, and most recently served as the organization’s first USA Representative. As an outgrowth of her work in the US, AJP was launched in February 2017 to influence American policy and practice in Israel/Palestine. Much of the work of AJP has focused on building a transnational movement against supremacy and state-sanctioned violence together with cause lawyers, community organizers, and artists across diverse movements for social justice. Nadia is a member of the New York State Bar, and holds a BA in Sociology from Princeton University, and a J.D. from Boston College Law School.
Debby Farber, curator Zochrot NGO
Debby Farber is the curator of Zochrot NGO (“Remembering” in Hebrew), an Israeli organization working to promote acknowledgement and accountability for the ongoing injustices of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. From 2012 to 2014 she served as the Civil Transitional Justice program director in Zochrot where she established the first Unofficial Truth Commission in Israel for the events of 1948 in the Negev. Debby is a former AHDA fellow of the Institute for the Study for Human Rights at Columbia University and is currently also a PhD Candidate in the Politics and Government Department in Ben Gurion University where she explores the linkages between Visual Culture, History and Political Geography within the visual historiography of Israel/Palestine.
Brian Boyd, Director of Museum Anthropology, Columbia University
Brian Boyd (M.A.(Hons.) Glasgow 1991, Ph.D. Cambridge 1996) is currently Co-Chair of the Center for Palestine Studies. He is Program Director of the Columbia Center for Archaeology, Director of Museum Anthropology, and Co-Chair of the Columbia University Seminar on Human-Animal Studies. He is also Chair Emeritus of the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Division.
He has been carrying out archaeological research in Southwest Asia for almost thirty years, and currently co-directs the Columbia-Birzeit University project “Building Community Anthropology Across the Jordan Valley”, based in the town of Shuqba in the West Bank, Palestinian Territories (partially funded by the Columbia University President’s Global Initiative Fund). His research focuses on the prehistory of southwest Asia, the politics of archaeology in Israel/Palestine, and human-animal studies.
Audra Simpson, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University
My primary research is energized by the problem of recognition, by its passage beyond (and below) the aegis of the state into the grounded field of political self-designation, self-description and subjectivity. This work is motivated by the struggle of Kahnawake Mohawks to find the proper way to afford political recognition to each other, their struggle to do this in different places and spaces and the challenges of formulating membership against a history of colonial impositions. As a result of this ethnographic engagement I am interested especially in those formations of citizenship and nationhood that occur in spite of state power and imposition and in particular, I am interested in declarative and practice-oriented acts of independence. In order to stay faithful to the words of my interlocutors I am interested as well in the use of narrative as data, in alternative forms of ethnographic writing and in critical forms of history. In order to stay faithful to my own wishes, I work at every turn to enter the fields of anthropology and Native American Studies into a critical and constructive dialogue with each other.
My second research project examines the borders of time, history and bodies across and within what is now understood to be the United States and Canada.
Photo: A kite equipped with camera over the cistern of Muhammad Ibn Salame Al-Uqbi, Negev Desert. November 2016. Forensic Architecture (Ariel Caine) / Public Lab (Hagit Keysar) / Al-Araqib village / Zochrot
From the Italian Academy at Columbia University.
Hagit: Seeing Jerusalem with new eyes
Activist and artist Hagit tells us the story of how her activism developed from childhood growing up in West Jerusalem, via confrontational demonstrations and photography exhibitions, to finally finding a new kind of information activism. She tells us here about how she intuitively experienced the city where she grew up, seeing it again with her own eyes and turning the mirror back on her own society to challenge established truths, and of how she first encountered the issue of house demolitions going on not so far from her own door.
Tell us a little about what you do.
Image - pretty balloon making photo.jpg
My name is Hagit Keysar, I live and work in Jerusalem. I'm very much influenced by this city, its troubles, stories and beauty, though the final one is becoming increasingly obfuscated. Maybe some of that beauty I am trying to restore by creating images of the city with its inhabitants... I am an activist who thinks through the medium of art and research practices, and since 2011 I've been very much engaged with collaborative mapmaking techniques, and more generally with open technology practices. I am interested in how such practices might take shape, and what kind of politics it would create in a contested and controlled environment like Palestine-Israel.
How would you describe your work?
I experiment with techniques. I am not a geographer, I am not a technologist and I am not an environmentalist. I am not an artist. I am not a scientist. But I am interested in all of these ways of thinking and doing.
I think what got me to where I am now was growing up in Jerusalem and suddenly realising how the people who are just next to me live. The devastating situation they are experiencing, and the fact that I didn't know about it all my life. I read this article in a newspaper one day, about thirteen years ago, on house demolitions in Jerusalem and it shocked me that my life is so safe and normal in so many ways, and I couldn't imagine a situation where my house would be demolished. But that is what is happening to people living a five minute drive from my house.
Did you decide to do something about it straight away or was it a longer process?
When I heard about it, it made me do something. Obviously not exactly what I am doing today, but it immediately made me realise that I needed to do something. First I contacted some organisations that I figured would be working in the area, to learn a bit about it. But mainly I shared it with friends and people I know. That was my learning process more than anything else, more than reading reports or getting statistics. For me the way to do something was to invite my friends to a tour that was guided by someone who knows the situation very well. We went together to East Jerusalem and learnt about how people live there. I think we also met some people, but that was my way to learn about it.
Did that bring about the idea of separation for the first time? Or was it there before but only came into focus then?
For sure it was present before, but I was not very much preoccupied with the question of separation. I think growing up and going to a daily Jewish school in West Jerusalem, it wasn't part of the things that were on my mind. You can find many reasons for that – not everyone around me was like that. It wasn't something that preoccupied me until I learned about the different experiences of life between people in my city - or what I thought was my city. It definitely got me learning about the whole environment in which I had been living, and I think it was the moment I started to develop a political language, which previously wasn't part of my life.
How did the process of building an understanding of this separation begin? Who is responsible for it? How is it being imposed on people?
I think there was a lot of naivety and ignorance during the first years I started to learn about the place I live in. In the beginning I wasn't preoccupied by the question of separation, I was just looking to bypass it. In a way I was trying to examine the limits of what I could do. I went to an art school in Jerusalem and that was more or less the same time I started to be more and more aware of where I was living.
Part of being an art student implies searching for objects around you, and I think learning about the environment was part of this search. I was very much engaged in questions about the occupation - and our role in it - and I was looking for a way to experiment navigating in this environment that I felt I didn't really know.
One of the first projects was when a good friend and I decided to go and reach Ramallah. For us, Ramallah was this distant Arab city. But it is just around the corner from Jerusalem. My experience of growing up in Jerusalem and thinking about Ramallah was an impression of a demonised urban area. When I was nineteen years old and a soldier in the , I had to take a bus that went through Ramallah. And I will always remember the terrifying feeling I had when I looked at the streets around me, thinking about the possibility of finding myself there alone. I think that fear was something I wanted to confront, so we decided to drive there. And that was the first time we saw the wall. They had just started building it. Obviously we didn't reach Ramallah, but we got to know some people and got into all kinds of interesting and revealing situations, confronting our ignorance and placing ourselves and our lives in relation to what we saw there. It was more of an experiment - going there to see who we'd meet, how we'd feel, how people would treat us, how we would treat other people, and learn from those experiences about the space we live in. That was the way I was doing it, at least at the beginning. Only later did I started going to protests, demonstrations and so on.
Did that happen after taking those trips?
Those trips became part of my graduation project. I did a video and it involved a lot of ethical problems that I look at today – problems that I saw already then but I thought were worth presenting. Like filming someone who didn't know I was filming. I presented it only because I thought that our conversations, which happened only because he didn't think I was filming, were worth watching. Because it was rare, because this kind of meeting between me and a Palestinian man in what was becoming “behind the wall” was an interesting moment. But again it was me using my power and my privilege to do whatever I wanted to do, without really involving the people who were affected by it.
Did you feel brave?
I wouldn't call it brave because I was very unaware. We went to places and afterwards people would say to us “you're crazy, it's very dangerous. It's a very dangerous village. How come you went there?” We just went and bought some stuff, went to some shops, talked to people... We didn't think about danger and I'm glad we didn't. Actually, I might be reconstructing it. Maybe I wasn't so naïve. Maybe I didn't want to accept the limits that were accepted as a given around me. I wanted to check it with my own eyes. I remember I was using this expression a lot at that time - “to know things with my own eyes”, or something like that...
So you've seen what you've seen "with your own eyes", and you realised through other people's eyes that you had done something more radical than they would allow or want you to do. What influence did it have on your life in terms of what you wanted to explore?
I think I started to realise how the occupation works and I started going to demonstrations. The first demos I remember going to were in
South Mount Hebron
Watch this tour through Hebron with Yehuda Shaul from Breaking the Silence.
South Mount Hebron. I don't remember the reason we were there precisely. It was either to protect villagers while they took water from the well or, to walk the kids to school because they were being harassed by settlers. I remember a lot of border police and soldiers arrived and they wanted to arrest all of us. And I remember all of us running away from the police up this hill – lots of people, including the elderly, all running from the police! It was a surreal situation, I never imagined myself running away from the Israeli police. It was a new experience, I started to develop a new consciousness about the authorities surrounding me.
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Later I went to Bil'in, which is a very famous Palestinian village in the West Bank that protested – and still is protesting – against the building of the wall and the confiscation of lands. That was the first time I experienced the Israeli army shooting at me. That was really scary because I was obviously on the Palestinian side and they were shooting tear gas and I remember I was terrified. I just wanted to hide. I couldn't believe I was in this situation. That's another understanding. You experience that and you realise how extreme it can get. You go to these extremes, and you keep on going, and then you start changing your whole perspective on the people you see on a daily basis in the streets you grew up in, and the soldiers around you, and the soldier you used to be, and the whole thing becomes unstable.
You're rejecting this identity, this relation you have. That was when I kept on going to the demonstrations in
Watch video footage shot by David Reeb of a protest in Bil'in from 2007.
Bil'in that were organised by the local communities and the anarchists against the wall. It was a non-violent resistance movement but obviously there was a lot of violence there - soldiers were shooting tear gas and sometimes live ammunition. Young Palestinians started throwing stones at one point and people I knew and cared about got beaten and hurt. That made me furious and that violent situation made me violent. I found myself in a situation where I saw my best friend being beaten by a border police soldier and I just went and started beating him up. I wasn't afraid at all but looking back on it afterwards I realised I didn't want to be in that kind of situation. I didn't want to feel that violence inside of me. It was a slow process. All this hate that you see, it's not only hate - there is a lot of courage and creativity on the Palestinian side. There were lots of artistic projects going on in Bil'in and they were doing amazing things. I think it has been four or five years of protests and there are amazing things happening there, but it's a very violent and confrontational environment. I didn't want to be in that environment any more. I felt like I wasn't responding to it well. It was the start of another phase, in which I stopped going to demonstrations and I looked for new ways to do my own activism.
Was there any trigger to this new phase? Inspirations, ideas, discussions?
First I think I never really reached that point where I decided I didn't want to go to demonstrations. It was very much tainted with guilt. But there was a process of understanding why I am not going, putting it into words and explaining it to myself. It took a while, years. But at the same time I was finishing my art degree and I was involved in an artist-run gallery in Jerusalem, so I had a space in which I could experiment, learn more about the socio-political situations in Israel-Palestine and explore it with other people. We created a platform for documentary films and we invited lots of filmmakers – including Palestinian filmmakers - to Jerusalem. We invited them to the very core of the Jewish area of Jerusalem, which is really no trivial thing. We screened films outside, where it was accessible to anyone who passed by to watch the movie and participate in discussions. At the beginning we thought that it was taking a risk and even irresponsible, something that we cannot do, to screen all kinds of films that challenge the established truths of Israeli Jews. But amazingly enough we didn't encounter any kind of aggressive or violent responses from people who participated and watched the films.
Finding out that you could raise issues, that it was possible to create this public discussion, was a great experience. It was on a very small scale, of course, but still it was a public discussion! Even the simple act of bringing Palestinian women in this neighbourhood and in this gallery was a radical one, because there isn't any framework for this to happen. The work in the gallery was also a sort of intuitive field research for me - it was about going back inside my own society, not working with Palestinians in the West Bank or researching Palestinian problems, but more looking at Israeli society.
Why was it radical to bring female Palestinian artists and filmmakers into spaces where they do not normally appear?
I think it was the simple fact that they were present in that little quiet Jewish neighbourhood in the centre of Jerusalem, it had a performative quality to it. The gallery's neighbourhood is not like those satellite neighbourhoods that were built after 1967 in the suburbs of the city from where you always see the Palestinian landscape in the background, where you feel that you are on the outskirts of the city. Most of the big neighbourhoods of Jerusalem are basically on the outside and they always border the Palestinian landscape, because it's also meant to create a separation between Palestinians villages, blocking the connections between them. This neighbourhood is so protected it's almost as if it doesn't have anything to do with the political situation, the occupation, the Palestinians. You don't see Palestinians. And if they are there, they are invisible because they are just doing obvious jobs like working in the adjacent market, carrying things: “he's there because he's doing his job” is not the same as “he's there like me and you, a person living his life, walking down the street.” He is a worker, serving you, an unequal. And suddenly there is this change in the street and you see a group of Palestinian women - who are not there because they are serving anyone but there because they are presenting and they are meeting and they are talking about themselves and their art - engaging in our lives. It was something very different. And you could see it. The way they look is also very different, because many of them are very traditional or religious, so it was very visible.
A very important part for me was to create this visual, performative change - I think you can see it as an intervention in the production of
Read more about the implications of the spaces we create and live in, and the politics of those spaces, in Trevor Paglen's piece on 'Experimental Geography'
space. Changing how a street or a place looks, how we perceive it, how it functions, and for whom, that was a change for me.
What was the perception like?
It was very intuitive. I explain it now this way but probably back then I'd explain it in a much more concrete way. I'd have said “we are helping those women tell their story, or to sell their embroidery” - actual things that we were doing and that were important, especially for those women. Maybe it didn't make a great change for them in their lives, after all they only came for one or two evenings. Maybe they got to know some people or sold some of their stuff, but for me the real change was the fact that they were there.
So the link between the different phases of your work is breaking perceptions. You break down the ordinary, the everyday experience of people. On the one hand you needed to go there, to convince people to come, and you bring them into another environment where they are not expected. I suppose the process is important because you have to convince yourself, then convince them, then convince others and so on...
It's a journey! It was for me a journey of finding new ways to get to new places that I hadn't seen, to meet people I hadn't met, to see the way people live in the West Bank and to meet them in person. Inviting a Palestinian filmmaker who made a film about female prisoners in Israeli prisons (which was a horrifying document of the experience of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons) to screen her film in a gallery was a bit stressful. I went to her village and it was an experience I'll never forget. It was really, really interesting and challenging to talk to her. Her family produces the Palestinian beer 'Taybeh'. She was very welcoming but also detached, and we talked quite a lot. For me it was a personal journey of finding new ways to navigate in this Israeli-Palestinian environment.
It seems that going to the protests was too “activisty” and the art gallery turned out to be too “arty”. What made you change course?
I think that for me art was never an aim. It was more a set of practices, or ways of thinking maybe, and ways to experiment and create spaces. I felt that some of my interests were not relevant to what my colleagues were seeing as what should be in a gallery, or what should be art. There were a lot of discussions about whether it is right for us to deal with all these subjects when we have a responsibility towards the local community administration who gave us the place, the neighbourhood - all kinds of questions like that.
It's not that I didn't agree that we had that responsibility or that we had to take that into consideration. But I wasn't willing to see those problems as something we can solve by just diverting, and I wasn't willing to accept that some things are appropriate for an art gallery and some things are not. The reason I left was partly because I went to study abroad but it was a good point to stop and find my own way with the things I had learned in the “fieldwork” I did at the gallery.
Did your studies abroad impact your developing thinking or was it more of an educational thing?
It couldn't have been just an “educational thing”... the process continued, it was just taking place in a different environment, which among other things enabled a productive distance from my life in Jerusalem. When I was still at the gallery I started a year studying at the Hebrew university in Cultural Studies. I was doing research on the experiences of Palestinian women whose houses had been demolished or were under threat of
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (IAHC) fights agains the Israeli policy of house demolitions and "structural violence" against Palestinians.
demolition. After I did that research, I realised that even though I had a lot of good intentions, I was not doing a lot of good with them. And I had very little power to create any kind of change for these women.
Actually the more I look into it, I realise how complex and devastating their situation is, even with the support of organisations that are trying to help them. So when I went to Manchester I was studying visual anthropology and I was thinking about my research and how to continue what I did with these women, because I really felt I should be committed to these issues and these women, to try and find ways to do something that would have some kind of significance. I think that in the end I realised that what I really needed to do was to examine my own society and examine the perpetrators rather than the Palestinians. Practically what I decided to do was to see how the mechanisms of house demolition worked, how it happened, how they enforced the planning law, who was doing it and what their practices were. Their justifications, their thoughts, their ideas... that is what I decided to do for my MA.