art and culture

Social change in Israel Palestine: Gesher Le-Aravit (Bridge to Arabic)

i Jul 21st 2016

Gesher Le-Aravit (Bridge to Arabic) is a grassroots Arab-Jewish project and a unique social change model, developed by four teachers in Jisr A Zarqa, the poorest Arab village in the country. The project offers Jewish Israelis from all over the country to learn the Arabic language and culture in an Arabic-speaking environment. To this day, more than 250 Jewish Israelis visited Jisr A Zarqa to learn Arabic and to participate in a rich cultural program.

Bridge to Arabic

A cooking workshop in Arabic, offered in one of the Bridge to Arabic tours.

The project creates employment and sustainable livelihood for more than ten families in Jisr a Zarqa. Thus, Arab-Jewish dialogue is both a learning experience and a contribution to socio-economic prosperity in the village.

Understanding the language of the other is a fundamental step on the way to a shared future.

To this day, no other project in Israel-Palestine is offering such studies.

What can you do to support this project?

Offer your financial support and become our friend from abroad. The project has been running for five years and seeks partners and supporters in order to expand.

Experience learning as part of an organised or private visit to Israel. Visit us on Facebook, get in touch and help us spread the word.

gesher le aravit


 

Gaza play director, Samah Sabawi, demands an unequivocal apology

i Jun 3rd 2016

‘Tales of a City by the Sea’ is a play about Gaza, which tells of a love story set amid war and siege, remains on the VCE curriculum despite accusations it spreads anti-semitism. “It seems that I, the writer, missed the memo that I can’t write an artistic piece about Palestinian life without inserting Israel’s point of view into my art” wrote Samah Sabawi in the Age, adding, “This is wrong on so many levels.”

“What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.”

In this Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 photo, Palestinian women sift through used clothing at the weekly flea market in Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Palestinian women sorting used clothing at the Nusseirat flea market in central Gaza, February 15 2016. There are few other income sources for women in the Strip. Image found here.

Read the rest of “Vision of everyday life in Palestine too bleak for some” by Sabawi.

Read an earlier post about the vicious accusations and call for withdrawal of the play from the VCE curriculum.

The Anti-Defamation Commission’s chair will be speaking at Limmud Oz this month, about the subject of bigotry.


 

“Tales of a City by the Sea” remains on the VCE syllabus

i May 11th 2016

Samah Sabawi’s play “Tales of a City by the Sea” was recently named by the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC), chaired by Dvir Abramovich, as a text that incites against Israel and should therefore be removed from the VCE curriculum. The ADC claimed that the play portrayed Israel as a “blood-thirsty, evil war-machine” and amounts to “anti-Israel propaganda”.

This is an outrageous claim. The moving work was reviewed brilliantly by the AJDS’ Ann Fink, following an AJDS group booking followed by a Q&A session, in 2014 when the play debuted. The actors were said to be “bringing alive the pain of exile and separation from extended family, especially grandchildren”, according to Fink. “Commentators often remark on the large numbers of children, educated women bear in Gaza” she added. “Samah Sabawi demonstrates exactly why this is so.  As long as families are destroyed, there will always be a natural urge to rebuild them. Similar sentiments were expressed by many Holocaust survivors.”

AJDS executive member Dr. Jordy Silverstein told The Age that “telling these human stories is not ‘anti-Israel’.”  She continued to say that “It is vitally important that young people, including those who are Israeli or Jewish, are able to access these stories, and hear them articulated from a Palestinian perspective. Having this play on the VCE syllabus will help to open people’s minds, not close them off.”

Read more of Timna Jacks’ piece in The Age (9/5/16).

 


 

‘Unpicking Jerusalem: a re-examination of the archives’ by Sary Zananiri

i Feb 19th 2016

By Keren Tova Rubinstein

Sary Zananiri’s mounted and manipulated photographs in Unpicking Jerusalem: a re-examination of the archives reflect Jerusalem’s historical trajectory from 1850-2015 in overt and subtle ways. Though the subject is as infinite as time itself, and though the architectural and human landscape that comprises this place is equally vast and complex, entering the gallery one can’t avoid its smallness, and the concentration of images evokes discomfort and rage at history, unwieldy as it is.

 

Description

The Little Woods Gallery tucked away in Collingwood, on a corner that epitomises Melbourne’s gentrification. It’s a single, small, semi-divided exhibiting space, that in January housed Zananiri’s four unframed photographic prints on glass. These were wall mounted on plain pine supports, except for the first one to greet you as you entered the gallery from the street.

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Back view of mounting apparatus for “Mamilla from the West”, 2015, radiata pine, direct print on glass.

This first, larger two-piece, is floor-mounted on a pine easel that reminded me of building materials, hinged in order to support two glass prints, one seen through the other. The front panel shows the arched entrance to a modern day mall in Jerusalem. Happy shoppers and people going about their day, oblivious to their function in this re-examination of the space they occupy. Through the arched entry to the rather posh mall, one sees the second pane, this one revealing the same location in Palestine that is no longer. It is a soft sepia market scene, peacefully conducted, before it was destroyed: the eroded landscape reappearing. But it is, of course, difficult to see.

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“Mamilla from the West” reflecting Melbourne.

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Palestine viewed through Israel in “Mamilla from the West”.

Mamilla

As explained in the exhibition’s text, the area Zananiri chose to examine is Mamilla, at one time a passageway connecting the Old City with the growing population of Jerusalem at the second half of the 19th century. Mamilla borders Jaffa gate and is adjacent to the remains of an ancient cemetery and a pool. With its shops and businesses, it was the city’s new commercial centre in the twilight of the Ottoman Period. It connected the city’s east and west, while the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway was built nearby in 1890. Important national figures, such as Khalil Sakakini, one of the key cultural leaders of Palestine at the time, would frequent the local cafes. In 1936 the Palestine Broadcasting Service (PBS) was also established in Mamilla, from which it would broadcast in Arabic, Modern Hebrew and English. The PBS would become a pivotal propaganda tool for the British Mandate.

This unique intersection of cultures made the area a wellspring for ideas, discussions and articulations of national types, ideologies and manners of discourse, evolving in the face of rapid demographic change and the soon to be realized partition plan for Palestine.

In the 1930s Mamilla was the stage for riots between Palestinians and new Jewish immigrants. The PBS was bombed by Zionist paramilitaries, only four years after broadcasts began. And by 1946 the same armed fighters would also bomb the nearby King David Hotel, an event that I, as an Israeli child at school, had been taught of as a celebrated moment of Jewish self-determination. The destruction that enabled the creation of the State of Israel was never discussed, not once.

"Mamilla Riot"

“Mamilla Riot”, 2015, photographic print on glass, 60 x 90 cm.

Following Israel’s declaration of statehood, Mamilla decayed into an industrial slum, as it lay in the ethnically cleansed, post-Nakba no-man’s land between the new Jewish state and Jordan.

Mamilla in ruins, 1949. Found on Wikipedia.

Mamilla in ruins, 1949. Image by Moti Kanari, found on Wikipedia.

The Palestinian residents that left/were evacuated during the Nakba of 1948 were replaced by a predominantly Mizrahi population. Jewish immigrants began arriving in mass waves into Israel in the  early 1950s and immediately became second-class citizens in the nascent Socialist Zionist Jewish state. Most were settled in transition camps, later to be relocated to development towns and other disadvantaged peripheries.

Those streets remained in relative neglect and dispute right through the 1990s. By this time Zananiri’s family had already left Amman to resettle in Sydney, Australia. Sary still recalls the Intifada, as it gripped his child’s imagination with images from the media. The fissure between Israelis and Palestinians had become completely cemented. And despite continuing legal battles and endless delays, it was then that the decision was made to ‘resurrect’ the Mamilla mall, or rather recast it. Teddy Kolek, the mayor of Jerusalem at the time, rejected out of hand one architect’s plan, which proposed conserving all of the existing facades.

Once again the area was evacuated (markedly differently to how it took place in 1948). Mamilla neighbourhood was no more; it was now the Mamilla precinct. The architect, Moshe Safdie, had delivered a winning plan for a high-end shopping mall for the newly and radically gentrified neighbourhood. “An architecturally eviscerated space,” Zananiri writes.

Portico to Sakakin Cafe

Portico to Sakakin Cafe. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Medium and impact

Zananiri is a glass artist combining archived photographs with his own for this project, processing these layers, splicing and suturing them together. This convergence of different points in time serves as a both a visual reminder and a rejection of the erasure that occurred with the Zionist colonisation of Palestine. But the insistence on returning lost buildings to the newly constructed Jewish national landscape can only be done virtually, on computer. Sitting at one’s computer, one can often feel powerless in the face of the ongoing destruction. This feeling is performed explicitly in the piece “Mamilla from Plaza”, in which the artist’s replaces a certain, now destroyed building, back into the neo-oriental, Zionist landscape.

"Mamilla from plaza"

“Mamilla from Plaza”, 2015, photographic print on glass, 60 x 90 cm.

Clearly seen in the photographs is the unique architecture of Palestine and Israel. Juxtaposed, the building styles might initially bear resemblance to one another, but as Zananiri puts it, Safdie’s desire to show cultural sensitivity, preserve certain buildings and synthesise a new style that indigenised the new mall into its landscape, paradoxically ends up with monuments to neo-colonialism and capitalism. It is an exclusionary and false indigeneity, mimicking styles while voiding them of living cultural realities and connections, or in the artist’s words, ‘effacing Palestinian modernity’.

Mamilla circa 1900

Mamilla circa 1900. Image courtesy of the artist.

Glass is fragile and transparent, but it is also razor sharp and heavy. This medium drenches the photographs with emotional resonance. Zananiri’s techniques and chosen materials seem a fitting response to the nullifying tendencies of exile; a response to the coloniser’s urge and power to archive, record and enumerate his takings. His power to make meticulous lists and even publicise them with indemnity. This impulse is conveyed in “Dismembered Façade”, a photograph showing the dismantled, numbered and reassembled bricks of one of the buildings preserved by Safdie and his team. The crude black numbers scrawled on the creamy sandstone bricks seem like stains or scars, like numbers tattooed into an arm. And the edges of shopfronts Zananiri placed in the background of this reassembled wall serve to remind us of the site’s function, to sell unnecessary and mass-produced, likely non-indigenous stuffs. It is testament to the blood-stained commodification of Palestinian culture. There is no escaping history, I thought as the Holocaust came to mind (a personal habit). Genocides have their patterns too.

"Dismembered Facade"

“Dismembered Facade”, 2015, radiata pine, direct print on glass, 200 x 90 x 10 cm.

Colonialist tendencies

The artist’s choice to use photography, the evidence-based primary resourcefulness of archives, and to engage with architecture, is a fitting response to the chauvinist and colonialist tendencies of reappropriation, erasure and rapid reconstruction. He too is preserving secreted images of Palestine as it lives on and evolves within the fabric of Israel. The choice to manipulate photographic images also calls attention to the use of photography as proof and as political leverage for acts of occupation.

Cafe bombing prior to Jewish war of Independence

Cafe bombing prior to Jewish war of Independence. Image courtesy of the artist.

Zananiri’s preoccupation with these different media draws our attention to the ways in which images can be used to falsify history. Complicating the act of archiving is crucial to the artist, who has always resided in the Palestinian diaspora. Viewing the place at once through these multiple lenses – the Ottoman period, the British mandate, the post Intifada world of prosperity for some and deprivation for others, and the view from Melbourne 2015 – forces the viewer to confront the emotional weight of the Nakba, and of absence.

 

Claustrophobia and time travel in Collingwood/Palestine

Outside the gallery I finished my latte next to ageing government houses and urban fusion cafes. There are myriad layers of construction here too, making almost completely invisible the Indigenous history of this colonised space. Contested as it is, Melbourne’s inner city carries on with its prosperous growth. But if we make use of history and leverage our discomfort from colonisation’s privilege, we might help to pave the way for new ways of being. Zananiri’s work was galvanising and confronting, and rewarding as it was necessarily unsettling.

 

The Collingwood Coffee Palace in 1879. Its facade remains on top of the Smith Street Woolworths.

The Collingwood Coffee Palace in 1879. Its facade remains on top of the Smith Street Woolworths. Image found on Wikipedia.

Mamilla under curfew in 1938

Mamilla under curfew in 1938. Image courtesy of the artist.

At the entrance to the PBS building

At the entrance to the PBS building. Image courtesy of the artist.

To the right is the artist, Sary Zananiri

To the right is the artist, Sary Zananiri.

The Same Sea

i Dec 5th 2014

By Ann Fink

Tales-of-the-City-72Tales of a City by the Sea was a stunning theatrical experience. It is a many layered love story, set in the Gaza Strip. It is a unique play, written by Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian writer, poet, playwright and political commentator; a wordsmith of great talent. It is a poetic and musical journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza strip prior to, during and after its bombardment in the winter of 2008-9.

Tales of a City by the Sea tells the story of Jumana, (Nicole Chamoun) a Palestinian woman, a journalist who lives in the Shati’ (beach) refugee camp in Gaza and Rami, an American born Palestinian doctor and activist who arrives on the first ‘Free Gaza’ boats in 2008. It is a story of impossible love, crossing cultural as well as national boundaries, intertwined with the parallel tale of Jumana’s cousin, Lama. (Emily Coupe)

Lama is the reluctant fiancé of an entrepreneurial local Gazan, (Reece Vella) a tunnel smuggler, a fixer, a man bereft of family, besotted with Lama, who, in turn longs for the “great romantic love” and constantly postpones any final commitment. Together Jumana and Lama look longingly out to sea, discussing the endless possibilities that lie beyond the horizon.

And then come the boats. Boats to break the blockade. And on one of those boats, in the finest romantic tradition, comes Rami, a wealthy Bostonian doctor, born in the USA to a family of Palestinian origins and a mother (Wahibe Moussa) with important connections. Wahibe Moussa is a star. As Rami’s mother, she is a force of nature. But even she cannot breach the blockade that isolates Gaza from the outside world.

Osemah Sami as Rami is suitably handsome, blissfully blind to the mores of traditional and Hamas enforced Muslim Gaza.  And he wears socks with his sandals. Oi vey! Osemah Sami is simply superb as Rami.

Jumana is the adored and adoring daughter, of a not so simple fisherman (Majid Shokor) and his wife, (Cara Whitehouse) a woman who alone could terrify the IDF (according to her husband). Other children have married and live outside Gaza on the West Bank. Relationships with grandchildren can only be conducted by Skype. Cara Whitehouse and Majid Shokor play Jumana’s parents to great effect, bringing alive the pain of exile and separation from extended family, especially grandchildren

Jumana’s laptop plays a very significant and at moments, erotic role in this tragic romance.

And then there is the voice and the music. Hauntingly beautiful, exquisitely sung, the music and the poetry add another level to the writing and serve to deepen the impact of this powerful story of imprisonment, separation and finally bombardment. Assel Tayah has the voice of an angel. I have never heard any music like this. Not quite the Arab music one hears on Israeli radio. Definitely Middle Eastern in origin, but different. The program notes that the sound design is by Khaled Sabsabi and the sound mix is by Max Scholler –Root.

As this lovingly wrought, gentle tale continues, with the sea always in the foreground, the inevitable scenario turns dark. Rami returns to the USA ostensibly to close his clinic and prepare for life in Gaza. In reality, he dreams of freeing Jumana from her prison, to deliver her to a life of luxury and liberty in the USA. She has sworn never to leave her family or her country.

On December 27th 2008, Operation Caste Lead begins and the bombardment destroys Jumana’s home, kills all of Lama’s large family and brings back Rami, smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels. He works day and night as a doctor to save lives and comes at last to grips with the Gazan reality.

One month later, in the shadow of the ruins of her dreams, Lama agrees to marry her long suffering and patient fiancé. “He”, she explains to a skeptical Jumana, who is still in the throes of romantic love, “will always be a good provider. We will always have plenty to eat and he will give me a good life. Together we will build a new family.”  They marry and within the year, Lama is pregnant.

Commentators often remark on the large numbers of children, educated women bear in Gaza. Samah Sabawi demonstrates exactly why this is so.  As long as families are destroyed, there will always be a natural urge to rebuild them. Similar sentiments were expressed by many Holocaust survivors.

Meanwhile Rami tries to persuade Jumana that there is no future for them or their children in such a place. But she still refuses to leave.  Love conquers all and again he returns to the USA to close his practice and prepare finally for a life in Gaza. On entering the US, he is arrested, charged with being a Hamas terrorist and we are left with Jumana, once again gazing out to the sea and the horizon beyond, imprisoned, but infinitely patient.

Tales from a City by the Sea is a universal story of love  which crosses boundaries and checkpoints, cultures and nationalities; of grandmothers and grandfathers who will never be able to know their grandchildren, whose own children will become distant and alien. The tyranny of distance, which figures so large in the Australian experience, cannot be compared to the cruelty of the blockade of Gaza, which began in June 2007 and continues to this day, but it resonates with those who feel forever separated from their kin.

The performance, which I saw on the 23rd of November, the final afternoon of its far too short, sell out, season, at La Mama Theatre, in Melbourne, Australia, took place literally at the opposite end of the world from Gaza, a 36 hour direct flight distant. The production was an overwhelming achievement. All the components of good theatre, acting, casting, set design, dress and music all came together under the superb direction of Lech Machiewicz.

Having just flown in from Tel Aviv, the authenticity of the characters played by the actors was breathtaking. I could have sworn that Lama was the check out girl at our local supermarket and that Jumana was sitting at the table next to us at a wedding we attended in Jericho.

Nicole Chamoun, Jumana, is probably one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Her acting ability matches her looks and she is already well on the way to a great career.

Emily Coupe as Lama, the chatterbox cousin, with her sexy tight jeans and hijab could be any Palestinian teenager shopping in Ramallah or on the streets of Jaffa, texting as she walks and gossips with her friends.

Lama’s fiancé, Reece Vella is uncanny in his portrayal of the non stop cigarette smoking fixer, tunnel smuggler, entrepreneur. Ubaldino Mantelli completes this multi ethnic cast, a testament to the rich diversity of Melbourne’s immigrant heritage.

The set is simple and effective. Sheets hung on receding lines to be drawn as needed. Domestic images of washing hung to dry on balconies and rooftops of apartment buildings lining the sea shore The same sea whose waves crash on the shores of Tartus in Syria, on Beirut in Lebanon, on ‘our’ beach, the Tzuk Beach in North Tel Aviv, Israel, and onto Jumana’s beach in Gaza. It is the same sea.

 

Post Script.

On November 22nd 2014, The Alrowwad Cultural and Theater Society performed a production of Tales of a City by the Sea in Bethlehem, Palestine. The production was directed by Dr.Abdelfattah Abusrour. Dr Abdelfattah Abusrour stressed the importance of this production, citing the lack of theatrical works that explore the Gaza case and Diaspora Palestinians. The play, he writes, demonstrates the role of theatre in supporting the Palestinian cultural values of beautiful resistance against the violence of occupation and its ugliness.

Iraqi Music and Peace film finished – support still needed

i Dec 5th 2014

On the Banks of the Tigris: the hidden story of Iraqi music has just been completed! This feature length documentary shows the human face of Iraqis and their culture – a face that’s missing from most media.

When Majid Shokor escaped from Iraq he discovered that the songs he loved as a child in Baghdad have a surprising hidden history. This film tells the story of Majid’s extraordinary journey around the world to meet the exiled musicians of all faiths who still play and sing these songs today.  They are reunited in a joyful concert at London’s Barbican Centre, where music and culture transcend religion and politics.

A five minute trailer can be viewed at: http://www.fruitfulfilms.com.au/films/tigris#viewtrailer.

Making the film has been an epic journey for filmmakers Marsha Emerman and Majid Shokor.  In Australia, Israel, Europe and Iraq, they filmed Iraqi musicians playing beautiful music and telling stories of love, loss, and longing for their homeland.

While the Ba’ath regime tried to purge Iraqi music of its origins, cultural identity can’t be erased.  In Israel, 88 year-old musician Elias Shasha tells us: “I remember the Tigris, the boats, the fish…I can’t forget that I was born in Baghdad and I am Iraqi.”

The documentary film is part of a long-term peace education project. Marsha and Majid have spoken to schools, unis, and community groups, been interviewed on radio and in print, and run a website, Facebook page and YouTube channel to promote Middle East peace and reconciliation.

They’ve also staged concerts at London’s Barbican Centre and here in Melbourne. When the great Iraqi-Israeli musician Yair Dalal performed with local Iraqi group Mesopotamia, these Assyrian Christian musicians were amazed that they all “became friends in one minute”.

The filmmakers now need your generous support to release the film, continue their peace activities, and maximise the film’s impact. They think audiences worldwide will embrace this film that celebrates our common humanity and peaceful co-existence.

Donations of any amount are welcome and are tax deductible through Creative Partnerships Australia.  You can donate by using this secure online link https://www.creativepartnershipsaustralia.org.au/artist-projects/marsha-emerman or please contact marsha@fruitfulfilms.com.au.

Your contributions will support: international film festival entries, writing and producing a press kit, a new film website with Iraqi history, music and links, producing a school study guide, and organising an educational tour.

The filmmakers express their thanks to all the foundations and generous individuals who supported production of the film, with special thanks to Dennis Martin and all the AJDS members who have helped us along the way.

2208 Marsha and group cropped by D NeilsonM Tigris 1 (1332)

Portraying the Occupation in Israeli and Palestinian Art

i Dec 5th 2014

By Keren Rubinstein

Can art stand up to the Occupation? Is it crude or privileged to turn to art when countless lives are relinquished for political gain? Perhaps. And yet, I wanted to look at Israeli and Palestinian visual portrayals of the ongoing disempowerment, appropriation and violence entailed by the Occupation. Can I group Palestinian and Jewish Israeli artists together in such a way, or is this a contrived and superficial attempt to suture an intractable and violent rift? It has been done before (some joint exhibitions include David Reeve’s 1987 “End the Occupation”, Larry Abramson’s 2006 “63 Artists at the Separation Fence”, and Farid Abu Shakra’s 2010 exhibition at Umm al-Fahm gallery, to name a few). The juxtaposition of Palestinian and Israeli works is not meant to imply symmetry between the two spheres, for there isn’t one (to hugely understate the state of play). Furthermore, any examination of the Occupation in art must be prefaced by the undeniably censorial attitude to the Palestinian narrative in the Israeli artistic world, such that most attempts to tackle my questions by other Israelis have been met with institutional resistance along with a fair degree of resistance from Palestinian artists concerned with normalisation. These questions accompanied me as I set out to produce this visual essay.

It is unavoidable that Israeli art should emerge from Zionism to some extent, be it by way of direct engagement with Jewish history and resettlement, or by way of the attempt to speak to a universal or rather a Western artistic discourse. This is true even for works that might be labelled ‘post Zionist’. Palestinian art, meanwhile, is linked to some extent to Arabic themes which are then synthesized by the experience of the Nakba, and express the position of the dispossessed Other. This is true even as Palestinian artists convey their private psychology or relate to the Occupation with irony, and in so doing express an increasingly universalist aesthetic. Earlier this year art historian and curator Gideon Ofrat stated in a seminar at the Israel Museum that there exists ‘an unbridgeable gap between Palestinian and Israeli cultures, a gap that is rooted in differing perceptions of folklore, language, attitudes to land and the degree of artistic enlistment to combat’. What is evident and undeniable is that Palestinian art, unlike its Israeli counterpart, is far likelier to contain overtly political work. Palestinian art is far more likely to explicitly resist the Occupation, while Israeli art has been described by Ofrat as largely ‘exhausted’ of this dimension of dissent.

I’ve chosen a few works to examine this divergence. To simplify the process, I ended up focusing on a single visual motif that epitomises the conflicting narratives behind Israel/Palestine: the cactus plant AKA prickly pear AKA sabra. This symbol of both national entities is one of tenacity, stubbornness, nativity, survival (or ‘sumud’ – the Palestinian sense of rootedness), while also signifying uprootedness, migration, ruin; it is a highly constructed image, that I imagine will continue to attract the attention of artists for years to come, like the olive tree or the Separation Wall.

The first artist to come to mind when pondering the cactus was Assam Abu Shakra, who was was born in Umm al-Fahm in 1961 and  died of cancer aged only 29. In his short career he focused on the prickly pear, painting cacti that are uprooted, placed in rusty tins and set against a grim backdrop far removed from the plant’s natural habitat. His other favourite image was the airplane – a symbol of Israeli machismo and militarism. In 2008 Abu Shakra’s works appeared in a retrospective exhibition in Tel Aviv, literally while bombs were ravaging Gaza during operation Cast Lead. Why have these works been admitted into the Israeli art world – albeit placed at its margins?

Another image I chose to include was created by Shirley Wagner (b. 1960), an Israeli artist who works and lives in New York. Similarly to Abu Shakra, Wagner’s studio installations depict icons and archetypes, though her sabra plants form a lush cluster sprouting in meticulously embroidered shapes contained behind a coil of barbed wire. Wagner’s landscape is also barren, but it is a simulated natural landscape; the plant is somewhat grounded in her studio homeland. Her work speaks of childhood memories that are recreated in a state of voluntary detachment or a physical remove from Israel.

I leave you to wander through the other works as you reflect on the Occupation’s effects on the artistic imagination.

Images found in ynet.co.il,  calcalist.co.il, www.etgar.info, umelfahemgallery.org, khtt.net, artcity.co.il and iarc.org

Assam Abu Shakra, Cactus Hedgerow, year unknown.

Assam Abu Shakra, Cactus Hedgerow, year unknown.

Assam Abu Shakra, Cactus, 1988

Assam Abu Shakra, Cactus, 1988

Assam Abu Shakra, Sabra, 1988

Assam Abu Shakra, Sabra, 1988

 

Shirley Wagner, Cacti, 2012

Shirley Wagner, Cacti, 2012

Yoel Gilinsky, Sabra in cottage cheese tub, 2011

Yoel Gilinsky, Sabra in cottage cheese tub, 2011

Fuad Agbariya, Sabra, year unknown

Fuad Agbariya, Sabra, year unknown

Rana Bishara, Ticktus Palestine, 2007 (Left) and Homage to Palestine, 1999 (Right)

Rana Bishara, Ticktus Palestine, 2007 (Left) and Homage to Palestine, 1999 (Right)

David Reeve, Sculpture Garden, 2007

David Reeve, Sculpture Garden, 2007

Eran Reshef, Cactus, 2001

Eran Reshef, Cactus, 2001

Ron Gang, Burning Cactus, 1995

Ron Gang, Burning Cactus, 1995

Two poems

i Dec 5th 2014

By Micaela Sahhar

 

Shrinking

Policing over the possible, Dagan, I

note down now how you would note

rumours as facts. Surveying a space where

(it was said) the dead (even then) had

no land, as those who still made sound

scooped trenches for an olive grove

whose massive roots heaved like a pod

 

of whales, beached. I saw the tightness

of their skins on television. Around

the foreign bodies you kept moving (heeding

how a resting shark will drown) This is

a de-construction of facticity you said,

burning objects as like as people

who flock yet, vaporous through prostrated trees.

 

 

8 Asa Street, Greek Colony

(on my father’s restoration)

 

Now I am here, beneath the centenarian wires

of bougainvillea, I pass into the era of my spectre-hood.

Despite your divestments, systematic (grouted tiles)

 

sometimes rageful (half stripped papering) even

from across the street, that I, can line the house against

each gutting, with the seismic breath of a memory

 

(its recital a Stradivarius). These things you can’t see, 

but sensed, the day you invited a side-walk letterer

to depict on our gate pillar, this way to the bomb shelter.

 

*     *     *

 

Published June 5, 2010 in The Age, “Shrinking” appeared at the same time as the Mavi Marmara sailed to Gaza, though the poem was written a year earlier as Sahhar was researching operation Cast Lead for her doctoral degree. 

“8 Asa Street, Greek Colony” is about visiting her family home in West Jerusalem. It was published in Southerly, vol. 73, no. 2, 2013.

For more information on Sahhar, read here.

The Aboriginal Yarra River Walk – “Walkin’ the Birrarung” – April 7

i Mar 22nd 2013
We’re very excited to invite you to a special AJDS event:
The AJDS is this year re-focusing our efforts on Jewish-Indigenous solidarity. To this end we’ve started an Indigenous solidarity group within the AJDS to make connections, run events and get involved in Indigenous campaigns. Our first event of the year is –

The Aboriginal Yarra River Walk ~ “Walkin’ the Birrarung”

We’d love for people to come along who are interested in getting involved with the AJDS Indigenous solidarity group.

Walk description:

The Aboriginal Yarra River Walk – “Walkin’ the Birrarung”  is a highly popular Aboriginal cultural walk which has been running through Melbourne’s centre for almost 10 years, it has opened the eyes, and the hearts, of many thousands of patrons of all ages and walks of life. Come and be a part of this cultural experience.

Discover Melbourne through Aboriginal eyes

Connect with Culture, Connect with Country

Come on a journey of Knowledge and of Spirit

This leisurely two hour Cultural walk begins at the small, but very significant site of Enterprize Park on Southbank, part of the ancestral lands of the Kulin people, which we today call Melbourne. This engaging journey peels away the layers of time and the dramatic irrevocable changes of both people, and place. It evokes the memories of a vibrant natural and cultural landscape. A memory that now lies beneath our urban existence. Come and dispel some old misunderstandings, hear the stories, and see a city with new eyes. “Walkin’ the Birrarung” is not only a cultural and historical journey but an intimate personal one, connecting everyone regardless of age or background, back to a connection with Place. Find Melbourne’s waterfall, its rich wetlands, its Aboriginal people
Its deeper spirit …

Conducted and operated by ABORIGINAL TOURS And EDUCATION MELBOURNE  ‘A-TAEM’
‘A-TAEM’ is the proud Victorian Aboriginal owned and operated business of Dean Stewart, a Wemba Wemba-Wergaia man, with almost 20 years’ experience in cultural tourism, education, interpretation and conservation.

Tour details:

Sunday, April 7 at 1 pm
Duration: 1.5-2 hours
Start : Enterprize Park (next to the Aquarium)  Melways ref: 43 G10
Concludes: Southbank Shop plaza near Princes Bridge

Patron Cost:

$35 Full price
$15 Concession/Student/Pensioner

Bookings essential
Please book online here –
http://www.trybooking.com/45597

Places are limited to 25 people so book ASAP.

If you can’t make the walk but would still like to be involved in the AJDS Indigenous solidarity group please send an email to Max Kaiser at co.ajds@gmail.com

Leunig’s cartoon deserves a more thoughtful Jewish response

i Dec 11th 2012

http://tinyurl.com/czkjlel

Congratulations to Harold Zwier for getting national coverage in the Fairfax stable on 30 Nov 2012. Sanity over hysteria.

Update: Leunig’s own response on 11 Dec 2012  to the controversy which resulted from his cartoon

ON NOVEMBER 21, The Age published a cartoon by Michael Leunig which commented on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The device Leunig used was a parody of the famous poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller about the need to be vocal when one sees a wrong – even if not directly affected by it.

First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

There are variations to the poem and it seems it was first used in speeches Niemoller gave in 1946. In Leunig’s cartoon there are four frames to match the four stanzas of the original poem. There is an almost universal view in the leadership of the Victorian Jewish community that Leunig’s cartoon is anti-Semitic. The media release from the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission quoted chairman Dr Dvir Abramovich presenting the following arguments to support that claim.

”’First they came …’ introduces a celebrated statement attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoller about the apathy of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and their gradual elimination of certain groups. ‘They’ of course referred to the Nazis. In Leunig’s cartoon, however, it is the Israelis who are the Nazis.

”And Leunig’s second anti-Semitic theme? That anyone who supports the Palestinians will immediately be besieged by the all-powerful Jewish lobby, similarly jackbooted, treading on all who oppose them, closing doors in their faces, spiteful, hateful and bitter. In Leunig’s black-and-white world, Palestinian/Arab/Muslim lobby groups are muzzled and The Age would never dare to publish an article (or cartoon) critical of Israel.”

My reaction to the cartoon was very different. The power of a cartoon is in the many ways in which it can be interpreted. Once the cartoon is in the public domain it lives its own life – as indeed does Niemoller’s poem. My comments should therefore be understood to reflect a personal view.

That Leunig comes to his cartoon with the perspective of a Palestinian supporter merely sets the scene. The baseline of the cartoon is that Palestinians are always the victims. We know this isn’t a universal truth, but the cartoon isn’t a balanced dissertation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – it’s a cartoon. It uses exaggeration to tell us something.

The parody of Niemoller’s language is playful: ”First they came for the Palestinians … Then they came for more … ” And in this respect Leunig can be criticised – or maybe he is being self-critical. Is he being too playful about the plight of the Palestinians in complaining overtly about silence as a form of tacit acceptance and covertly that publicly criticising Israeli treatment of Palestinians will be met with anger – from ”the all-powerful Jewish lobby”, to quote Dr Abramovich?

However the cartoon is also clever, because the reaction of the Jewish community as articulated in the Anti-Defamation Commission media release is in fact encapsulated within the cartoon. As Leunig said, ”bitterness and spiteful condemnations would follow”, duly obliged by Dr Abramovich in his comments.

And so the Jewish community has been wedged. A more thoughtful response might have been to silently reflect on the sometimes appalling and disgraceful level of the debate about the conflict – and not just from one side. However, the genuinely held perception of anti-Semitism mandated a public response.

The Jewish community is a wonderful community, but sometimes I wish it was a little less weighed down by its collective memory and a little more informed by it. Sigh.

Perhaps, in the end, we might ask whether the cartoon is really about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or in fact about the conflict between the Jewish community and Leunig. It’s all a question of perception and interpretation – the power of the cartoon.

Harold Zwier is on the executive of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.