Qalandiya International 2016
Click on the names below to visit each section:
Fission, by Ala Younis
This Sea is Mohammad al-Khatib's, by Adania Shibli
In the closing scenes of Hboub El Rih (The Blowing Wind), an early 1980s drama series based on the Arab resistance in the late era of the British Mandate in Jordan and Palestine, an Iraqi actress calls to the blowing winds for fighters in Bedouin garb to emerge like sandstorms from scattered dunes. They were born from the call, or came back to life by it. In 1984, an actor shaved a receding hairline to resemble that of poet Ibrahim Touqan’s. He shaved it in Baghdad, where he travelled to play his character in a drama series shot in its studios. An Egyptian filmmaker had moved to, and then fled from, Baghdad just as his Syrian film on Palestinians escaping in water tanks to modern Kuwait through its desert was resented in Damascus in 1972. Resentment shook an artist’s voice from Damascus when he spoke of the little value of his salary as an art teacher, and of his father who was martyred in the 1967 war, in one sentence. The people on the other side of the border shouted: ‘Watch out for the mines!’ But none of the returners stepped on any.
The gestures are scathed; splintered, trapped; and they fission. They cause too much movement in international waters, moving against the current, eastwards, and from the Red and Dead Seas; they are flooding the River Jordan and the two lakes of Tiberias and Hula.
This land experimented an effective irrigation system; it allowed farms to be created in the desert. Pipes, just like its return projects, are so narrow, with holes so thin, that they drip drops slowly to the roots.
The international wet body is stirred, moving in place. On these returning ships are Jamal – not Gamal – Abdel Nasser: the martyred father of the Syrian artist, who was killed in 1967; a troop of soldiers was trapped without water that same year in the Sinai, a painting by a Palestinian fighter who became an artist at age 39 of a young woman sailing with a group of men from one side of the shore to the other; dithers of hair that flew from a man-made receding hairline; another log of hair donated to militants reading solidarity letters in the bushes across the last border; a chain of Danish crones morphing into a house; a sack of flour received from an UNRWA office; a scent of locally made detergents emitting from a laundry line in the new refugee camp besides a destroyed refugee camp; a scholarship check stamped and collected from an Arab bank; moments of feeling wastefulness upon discovering video recordings of national songs in old celebrations someone posted to YouTube; so many heart beats, so many permits and refused permits; and all the non-verbal, non-iconic non-slogan-employed gestures that were produced as part of, and fed, the life and promise of the return.
When he gave me the drawing and said it was drawn in Palestine, I knew who this soldier was. The sea was behind him; his upper half was naked except for a rifle, his other half donned military trousers that needed no camouflage.
Each time, I have to re-look. If the sea is in front of the soldier and his land is behind him, then what is he gazing at through the horizon?
On this land, inside the line, some drive to the edge of a hill that is yet to be built, and point to this horizon. It has to be a clear night to see that here, there is the sea. It is that darkness behind the glistening lights; physical access is mostly obstructed. On an adjacent land, across the border, some drive to the western hills and point across the vapour-obstructed horizon, these glistening lights are of Jericho and Jerusalem. On this land, a non-biennial named after a defunct airport that became a checkpoint, is producing art (events) around the return of subjects, from that line of sight/night. ‘There on the hills are other hills, they sleep and awake on our promise [of return],’ she sang.
Participation is institutional. Participation is by invitation, or extending interest for collaboration. Participation is anticipated to be representational. In, in, out, out. Return is constructed on existing borders; it’s a (sad) reality that has become a representational feat.
In its edition in 2014, a participant spoke about how in 1967, not only people on the west side of the 1948 borders managed to re-join those on the east side, but also how they managed to buy products while they were still untaxed (cheap) in the newly fallen west bank. A bookshop there still sells notebooks that have stickers of the introduced tax.
The notebooks are offering a chance to reduce the time, which spans generations, that has been stuck between the return and its promise; to be able to address a return as the first subject: my, I, return. This embodiment of the act of return, despite decades of delayed or deformed or restricted fulfilment of this project, is offered through an object priced at the plus tax value, to level its position to that of similar objects in the wake of an act that ‘levels’ the returning subjects. Leaving from one customs’ authority to another, in 1988, one currency across the border collapsed when the leading representation of the ‘returners’ shifted from one authority to another.
In 1994, there was a return. In a sea of non-camouflaged militant garbs, men raised their hands to salute a returner. In a sea of saluting raised arms, only two of the open fists gestured the victory sign. In another photo of the same event, a red rose branch froze in the air as it attempted to fall on a sea of berets and non-receding hairlines.
An article published three days after in Al Hayat newspaper wrote on this return as a project that will happen in the future. It was an article on calculations. On who and how many will receive the returner; how to leave after the return so that one is sure he is able to return again and on which day of the week(end) would this return be; how this gesture will offend politics; the anticipated chaos that will be caused by the 20% of the city’s population who are over 20 years old (those who are under, were 60%) when they come out unaffected by sub- or internal politics to salute the returner; and on where the returner is coming from, arriving at, riding in. The article was not only about how far (in time and geography) this return would happen from all the previous (multiple) exits and borders, but also how every exit would have its own similar seeing-off gatherings.
The returner came from the Rafah border; so close to, but not from, the sea. As per the article, the return was made quicker by promises of covering the costs of administering the autonomous existences on the land after returning to it. In 1994, it cost 80 million US dollars, half of which were not in the saving box at the moment of return.
The split in representation, since, closed off that border.
He wrote, ‘Neither origins, nor geography, nor history have the slightest bearing on this definition, so long as the Palestine of the old definition has been wiped from the face of the earth and the Palestine of the definition to come remains a dream of the future. This conception of Palestinian identity imposes the assertion that the Palestinian is not who belongs to Palestine in the geographical sense, but to the Palestinian cause, as a political-cultural project.'
He said, the sea was high, it threw them back and they never managed to leave.
He said, mako awamer [Received no orders, in Iraqi dialect], then put a bullet through his head.
She said, when the pilgrims knew we came from there they tapped on our arms in a gesture that sought to borrow a blessing from the place to where we will return.
She said, she can return through her French passport, but if she does then she has to see the others. She can’t because she’s terrified to see them face-to-face. Then she cried. Her tears fell into Sharjah’s sea.
He returns every time he enters his studio.
She cried her eyes out to buy that artwork of the returning flock, lead by a woman. Such a beautiful blue was his choice of the sea. One step on the land and the rest are still at sea, and of the raised arms coming out of the boat in water, one fist gestures a victory sign. She paid some thousands of dollars for it then wrapped it well in fear of misfortunes.
Awaiting an expansion of her (personal) exhibition space, she hung a copy of it in her heart.
Who is Mohammad al-Khatib? We know he is a young man, twenty years old, and that he is from al-Khalil. And he wanted to go to the sea, with his friends. We can then assume that he deliberated at length over the question: how to get there? We can imagine, under the present circumstances, two possibilities of a sea that Mohammad al-Khatib might visit.
The first possibility is the sea of Gaza. As its name quite literarily indicates, the sea of Gaza can only be accessed at the moment only by whoever finds themselves there. And how can Mohammad al-Khatib get there? He first needs to reach Allenby Bridge in order to cross the Israeli controlled border to Jordan, and so his friends, one of whom is denied entry to Jordan by the Israeli intelligence, then head to Amman airport, and from there, to Cairo airport. But before that, Mohammad al-Khatib needs to obtain a visa to enter Egypt, which is very difficult to get, but he can try nonetheless, and he does, and so do his friends, except for one who is on the Egyptian intelligence list. From Cairo, he should head to al-Arish, except for his friend who is denied entry to Egypt despite having a visa since he was unfriendly to security services. There he has to arrive in Rafah, where he will find the crossing closed and will be ordered to return back to where he came from.
But then he might find someone to bring him to Gaza through the tunnels, and from there to the sea; something that is getting more and more difficult to do these days, since the Egyptian authorities waged their US-and Israel-supported war against tunnels leading to Gaza. And so, after three days travelling, Mohammad al-Khatib will arrive, without any of his friends, at the sea of Gaza, on the 1st of September 2016 at around 5pm and will have one hour before the night falls and with it the Israeli naval artillery. But that hour with the sea is what counts. It counts sixty minutes, or three thousand and six hundred seconds; an infinite time. Who did ever count up to the number 3600, except for the waves of the sea?
The second possibility is the sea of Yafa.
And to get there, we can imagine under the present circumstances, two possibilities.
The first possibility is that Mohammad al-Khatib's father, or his uncle or his cousin, or a close friend of one of these, or a close friend of an acquaintance of them, got a connection to someone who has a high position at one of the PA offices, or is an informer of the lowest degree who is providing the Israeli intelligence with information. That connection got Mohammad al-Khatib a permit to enter Israeli territories, except for area D, from 7am until 7pm, which allows him to visit the sea. What about his friends? Well, they are his friends, and they too got a permit, except for one who is on the Palestinian intelligence list. That day, the 1st of September 2016, they would all start early and be the first to stand at the Bethlehem checkpoint. They were delayed a bit, and one was turned back for no reason, but at around 5pm, after having been stopped here, searched there, with one arrested here, and another one arrested there, Mohammad al-Khatib arrived at the sea of Yafa; a name which is not quite literal, but metaphorical, since Yafa is many kilometres away. He has one full hour, leaving one hour for the road before his permit expires. But that hour with the sea is what counts. It counts sixty minutes, or three thousand and six hundred seconds; an infinite time. Who did ever count up to the number 3600, except for the waves of the sea?
The second possibility is that Mohammad al-Khatib's father died, and so did his uncle, his cousin, their close friend, and the acquaintance of a close friend with a connection to someone who has a high position at one of the PA offices, or had been an informer of the lowest degree that provided the Israeli intelligence with information, who also died a while ago; but not the son of his neighbours, who needed none of these connections to reach 'inside'. He works there without permit, and he knows how to get there without permit. Mohammad al-Khatib spends all night with the son of the neighbours in order to learn the 'illegal' route that will allow him to get to the sea.
And we can imagine under the present circumstances, two possibilities for an 'illegal' route.
The first possibility is to drive with a yellow plate numbered car. Mohammad al-Khatib has a friend with such a car and with a desire to go to the sea. He leaves, with his friends, except for one as there was not enough place in the car, early in the morning from al-Khalil to Wadi an-Nar, or the fire valley way, until they reach Beit Jala, except for one who gets carsick due to the many turns and curves for which Wadi an-Nar is known. They pull out the sunglasses and kippas, and head to the tunnel checkpoint just as the rush hour hits, with the settlers of the south on the road for work in Jerusalem. And since the soldiers don't want to disturb any of the settlers, or delay them, the car passes; alas half way to the sea, the car gets hot, and after a couple of hours trying to cool it but failing, the friend driving and another one stays behind with it, and Mohammad al-Khatib rides the buses to the sea. He arrives at around 5pm on 1st of September 2016, and he has one full hour before he needs to ride the buses back to al-Khalil during the rush hour when his chances to go unnoticed are higher. But that hour with the sea is what counts. It counts sixty minutes, or three thousand and six hundred seconds; an infinite time. Who did ever count up to the number 3600, except for the waves of the sea?
The second possibility is not to find a friend with a yellow plate number car in the entire area of al-Khalil, so that Mohammad al-Khatib, with his friends, needs to use the on-foot 'illegal' route to get to the sea.
He prepares himself, along with his friends, to leave before the dawn rises. He heads to the south, rather than the north, to the area of al-Ramadin. There, between the hills, passes the route of the wall, still incomplete, in the form of wired fences. They get off the stolen car they rented, and run to the fence, and run and run, all reaching it except for one friend, who loses a shoe as they run and goes back to look for it. Then, as they jump off the fence, another friend tears his jeans all the way from his thighs to his bottom, with blood gushing out, and he is left behind. Mohammad al-Khatib cannot be delayed, otherwise they will be caught, and he keeps running until he reaches the small white bus with a driver from Rahat, waiting with doors wide open, and once Mohammad al-Khatib enters, he leaves the scene with full speed. But the price is high, and Mohammad al-Khatib has money only until the first third of the way. With no money left, he hitchhikes to the sea, where he arrives at around 5pm on 1st of September 2016, and he has one full hour before he needs to hitchhike back to al-Khalil. But that hour with the sea is what counts. It counts sixty minutes, or three thousand and six hundred seconds; an infinite time. Who did ever count up to the number 3600, except for the waves of the sea?
And there he is standing before the sea, where he may finally shout out loud: This sea is mine'. And we can imagine under the present circumstances, two possibilities for a response from the sea.
The first possibility is that the sea, upon hearing Mohammad al-Khatib's shouts (in Arabic obviously), and glimpsing in his raised hands as he ran towards it what may resemble a knife, it panicked. The sea thought Mohammad al-Khatib wanted to stab it. The news of young men from al-Kahlil who had been suspected of planning knife attacks are too many for the sea to be cool about it. The sea calls the police to inform it about this shouting and running. But prior to the police arrival and as time was still running, as was Mohammad al-Khatib, the sea jumps to neutralize him, and pulls him to the ground and drags him inside to contain his danger. But misfortune happens and Mohammad al-Khatib dies in the process.
The second possibility is that the sea, upon hearing Mohammad al-Khatib's shouts (in Arabic obviously), opens its heart, since this is the sea of Yafa and it has not heard Arabic at this spot for a long time, and maybe it glimpses in the raised hands of Mohammad as he runs towards it the hug he intends to give it. Like a lover's ear and eye, the sea does not confuse what its beloved says for the opposite. But like in love, once one claims another is theirs, the other is bound to claim the same.
As the sea hears Mohammad al-Khatib shouting, 'this sea is mine', it calls back: 'you are mine.' And the sea does not let go of Mohammad al-Khatib ever again.