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Qalandiya International 2016

Contextual Notes:

Rawan Sharaf

Reema Salha Fadda

Stephanie Bailey

010_05 / 6 October 2016

Click on the names below to visit each section:


The Sea: A Narrative for Reclamation, by Rawan Sharaf


The Sea as Archive: On Qalandiya International in Beirut, by Reema Salha Fadda


Mare Nostrum: A Petrified Clarity, by Stephanie Bailey



 The Sea

A Narrative for Reclamation

Rawan Sharaf


This sea is mine
This sea air is mine
And my name – if I mispronounce it on my coffin – is mine
And as for me – full of all reasons for leaving –

I am not mine.


– Mahmoud Darwish, The Mural [1]


Hamody Ghannam, from the exhibition The People of the Sea, Haifa.
Hamody Ghannam, from the exhibition The People of the Sea, Haifa.


This sea is mine is the title of the third edition of Qalandiya International (Qi); a collaborative contemporary art event founded in 2012 by a coalition of Palestinian cultural institutions that takes place every two autumns. Organized and conducted against all odds in a challenging political context, the event endorses diverse activities – including exhibitions, workshops, seminars, screenings and tours – and is mainly featured across Palestinian cities and villages (including 1948 Palestine). This year, the geographical domain of the event has expanded to include Amman, Beirut, and London; a gesture that recognizes the fact that those cities (except for London) have accommodated Palestinian refugees since 1948 and today host vast numbers of refugees escaping the horrors of regional warfare. This transnational extension does not only serve the necessities imposed by the particular theme of Return but also responds to one of Qi's primary goals: to reach out to wider audiences in the local and international domain and position Palestine on the map of international contemporary art events.


For this edition, the sea has been introduced as an alternative entry point to contemplate the question of the Return – the 'antithesis'[2] of the Nakba, to reference Qi2016's curatorial statement – which refers to the ongoing expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians from their homeland. The title, borrowed from Mahmoud Darwish's epic poem The Mural, simulates the Palestinian diasporic anguish. While the ultimate manifestation in the verse is a claim of ownership of the sea – the intangible and unattainable – it negates the ownership of the self, mirroring Palestine's collective absence of control over its present and future. It is within this context, marked by political failure and stagnation, that Qi2016 offers a window to re-think the Nakba and the Return, through the relationship with the sea as a concept, a metaphor, and an actual territory.


The sea in the Palestinian context is bitterly associated with the loss of the coastline in 1948. Major cities such as Yafa, Haifa and Akka, which at the time, thrived socially, economically and culturally, were tormented by the erasure of their coastal centres, cultures and livelihoods in acts of war, iconoclasm, and ethnic cleansing. Historically, the Mediterranean has been the gate for invaders (the Romans, Crusades and Bonaparte, to name few) such that it became allied in popular culture with ghader, or treachery. After all, the sea was the access for Zionist European migrants to Palestine in the early twentieth century, through the ports of Haifa and Yafa, as it carried Palestinian refugees away to their Diasporas. Additionally, coastal cities embraced urban modernity – much of which was correlated with the British Mandate and Zionist enterprises – and exemplified an open, subversive and innovative culture that seemed rather foreign and provocative to the traditional social norms of the mountain rural culture, as coined by Salim Tamari.[3]


Conversely, the land represented the stable source of economy and livelihood for Palestinians – the tangible physical loss borne in 1948. Following the Nakba, mountain culture prevailed in the Palestinian national and cultural rhetoric and was manifested, for instance, in visual arts through representations of landscape, rural culture and folklore. Land became the metaphor for the lost paradise, identity and resistance as depicted in the works of numerous artists. The representation of the sea, however, remained constrained to the context of the Nakba, portraying forceful displacement in boats, as depicted by Tamam Akhal and Abed Abdi.


Thus, while Qi2016 seeks to explore the sea as a way to articulate Nakba, it also provokes a reclaiming of the sea in order to weave it back into the national narrative and collective imagery. Through a vast range of exhibitions, screenings, public interventions and talks as well as a four-day symposium, Qi2016 encompasses versatile interpretations and conceptual frameworks for the concept of the Return, produced independently yet collaboratively by partner-institutions. With some drawing the sea as embodiment of hopes and agonies, openness and limitations, pleasure and demise; others contemplate the connotations of the Return through notions of urbanism, destruction, reconstruction, repetition and myth. This intellectualized theoretical realm is both an attempt to overcome restrictions on movement within and across Palestine, and to create a prism through which ties between coastal and mountain Palestine might be restored.


Two exhibitions adopted the sea as a conceptual framework: The People of the Sea, organized by Arab Culture Association in Haifa, and The Sea is Mine, organized by Eltiqa Group and Shababeek in Gaza. Both exhibitions are staged in coastal cities, which share equally catastrophic yet opposite histories. Haifa, on the northern coast witnessed one of the most brutal offensives of ethnic cleansing by the Zionist militias in 1948, leaving the majority of its Palestinian residents displaced[4] and the remaining minority compelled to have Israeli citizenship. While Gaza on the southern coast, which fell under the Egyptian rule following the ceasefire in 1948 – hosted over 200,000 refugees – three times its population[5]. For the opening event, Qi2016 is arranging buses to transport audiences from Ramallah to Haifa in what mimics a symbolic act of return. The visit, which would mainly include Jerusalemites and international audiences, demonstrates the depth of territorial segregation established by the Israeli apartheid system, since Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are prohibited from accessing historical Palestine unless they have a permit from the Israeli military. Concurrently, no buses are arranged for the Gaza exhibition.  The strip has been under Israeli military siege since 2007 (following the takeover of the strip by Hamas), in addition to regular aggressions, destruction, displacement and severe socioeconomic situation, all of which accentuates its isolation and rupture from the rest of the Palestinian geography.


Echoing these historical and present differences are the two exhibitions in question. The exhibition in Haifa curated by Mohamed Badarne, The People of the Sea, considers the state of loss that is present in Palestinian relationships with the sea: from those who were forcefully separated from the sea, to those who still live by it under difficult conditions in Akka, Haifa, Yafa and Gaza. Featuring a myriad of artists from Palestine and the Diaspora, the exhibition seeks to portray the living cultures of the sea, which bear the layers of erasure and resurgence, as well as the memory of, and nostalgia for, its loss. Staged at the Arab Culture Centre – formerly an Israeli cinema recently acquired by the Arab Culture Association – suggests the reclamation of cultural public space in Haifa, a city which has – over the past few years – been resurrected as a cultural hub for Palestinians. The location weaves through a narrative of repair into the unfolding layers that make up Haifa's torn history.


In another approach, the exhibition in Gazacurated by Raed Issa and Shareef Sarhan, The Sea is Mine, features only Gaza artists tackling the sea from their perspectives, entailing contradictory connotations of a sea is both the only public space for leisure and source of living for fishermen, and another harsh border zone and death route for those seeking to escape across the Mediterranean. Here, the situation in Gaza is a bold reminder that the right of return is rather remote, while literal return is practically impossible given that those who were displaced 67 years ago are no longer the same people, and their homes are no longer waiting for them.


Yet, while the intentions of Qi2016 are to transcend the coercive fragmentation of Palestine, the realities on the ground – of ongoing Israeli assaults and entrenchment of its colonial apartheid policies – accentuate the extremity of the physical division and renders Qi's ambitions of unification quite difficult.


It is these imperious urgencies that the Jerusalem Show VIII, organized by Al Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, addresses in its exhibition Before and After Origins curated by Vivian Ziheri. Staged at two venues, Al Ma'mal Foundation in Jerusalem old city and the Youth Activities Centre in Shu'fat Refugee Camp, the show considers the ongoing threat of displacement for Jerusalemites through constant harassments, pressure and discriminative colonial law. It is this palpable threat that the exhibition seeks to address: the struggle for the right to stay and possibilities of resistance and steadfastness in the face of Israel's systematic policies for emptying the city from Palestinians.


Nevertheless, as art is capable of escaping the harsh realities on the ground by producing virtual terrains of imagination, contemplation and provocation, so Qi2016 crosses beyond the subjugation of political, social and economic hegemonies in order to revisit rather than negate the right of return. After all, as Omar Alghbari proposes, in order for return to actuate, new practical strategies need to be established through critical cognizance of its meanings and connotations.[6] Primarily, it is essential to abandon the mentality of refugees into constructing the mindset of returnees, throughpractically endorsing urban, economic and politically decolonizing mechanisms. Reflecting this is the Ramallah Municipality exhibition, Sites of Return, contemplating return through stories and memories from across the city, which includes Campus in Camp – an experimental educational initiative cofounded by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti in 2012 to activate critical learning in refugee camps. Through their work, they develop conceptual and practical means for breaking the social exclusion and political stigmatism attached with refugee camps and refugees, embracing them as proactive producers of contemporary Palestinian identity and culture.


Nakba in this perspective is not an event of the past, but rather an ongoing process regulated by the colonial edifice and its mindset. Here, pondering on aspects and scenarios of Return while the colonial condition persists harshly on the ground necessitates equally an attempt to re-think urgencies, nuances and implications of colonization and political subjugation in this context and prospects of decolonization of imagination and knowledge to reclaim the narrative despite the fragmented reality of Palestine and that of Qi.

[1] Mahmoud Darwish, Mural, translated from Arabic by Hammami, R. and Berger, J. (Verso Books, London: 2009). Accessed online at: http://www.merip.org/mer/mer248/mural.


[2] Qalandiya International (2016) This Sea is Mine: Curatorial Statement, available from http://qalandiyainternational.org/about/qi2016.


[3] Salim Tamari, Mountain Against the Sea: Essays on Palestinian Society and Culture (University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2008).


[4] Walid Khalidi, 'The Fall of Haifa Revisited', Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 37 (No. 3 spring 2008), pp. 30-58. Available at: http://www.palestine-studies.org/jps/fulltext/42012.


[5] Badil, 'From the 1948 Nakba to the 1967 Naksa', BADIL, Occasional Bulletin No. 18 (June 2004) Available at: http://www.badil.org/phocadownloadpap/Badil_docs/bulletins-and-briefs/Bulletin-18.pdf.


[6] Omar Alghbari, 'Emancipation from Nakba in Preparation for Return', (in Arabic), Fusha (23 May 2016). Available at: http://arab48.com/.




 The Sea as Archive

On Qalandiya International in Beirut

Reema Salha Fadda


 Everything began in 1948. In May. My grandparents were on a boat to Beirut,

after their city Jaffa had been bombed. During those few days,

the waves became too intense. They were forced to return.

They sat in the port for one week, waiting for the sea to calm down…

the waves wouldn't subside. But when they came back, Palestine was already gone. 

– Kamal Aljafari, The Roof (2006)


Ahmad Barclay & Hana Sleiman, PLO ships leaving port of Beirut.
Ahmad Barclay & Hana Sleiman, PLO ships leaving port of Beirut.


The sea has been a site of precarious politics in Palestinian history: a bitter reminder of the loss of Palestine's economically prosperous costal cities (notably Jaffa, Haifa and Akka) during the Nakba of 1948; a territory marked by waves of forced Palestinian exile and settler migration from Europe; and, as with Gaza today, repeated Israeli incursions have turned the sea and its surrounds into a theatre of war. Yet in spite of, or perhaps driven by such ruptures, the sea continues to occupy the spatial imaginary of Palestinian artists, offering a vast and fluid space to consider the political and emotional resonances of contested geographies that deny their free movement. The impenetrable border politics and militarized checkpoints that disrupts the geographical continuity between the land and sea is a point articulated to trapping effect in Inass Yassin's short film, Dreaming of the Sea (2006).  As the film suggests, though the sea cannot be reached, its absence heightens its symbolic poignancy for Palestinians – at home and in the diaspora – as a site where trauma and hope intersect.


The title for this year's Qalandiya International (Qi), The Sea is Mine, considers the sea as a departure point from which to negotiate a critical discourse on the Palestinian right of return.  In keeping with the theme of return, Qi2016 will for the first time extend beyond the geographical borders of historic Palestine, to host exhibitions in Beirut, Amman and London. At a time when the politics of exclusion is becoming increasingly pronounced through the maritime refugee crisis, the exhibition frame pays heed to the contemporary regional struggle by connecting to Palestinian diaspora communities across borders. As Heba Amin has argued, the mass displacements occurring globally over the past five years has given rise to 'new geographies of activism'[1]: an approach encapsulated in Qi2016 trans-national exhibition programme in which the politicized subject of the refugee is mobilized as a political agent of return within Palestine's 'diasporic public sphere'.[2] Thinking of Palestine within a global perspective marks a liberatory gesture that not only affronts Israel's ongoing settler colonial project, but also considers ways to re-think the trans-national tyranny that prevents free movement across borders. Thus new strategies of organizing and exhibiting culture, not only works to diversify the creative ecology in Palestine and beyond, but inquires into the nature of cultural production as a platform for new political and artistic solidarities to be formed.


The curatorial framework for the Beirut iteration of Qi2016 at Dar El-Nimer, titled Sea of Stories, aims to open up 'a space for conversation on what return means for today's Palestinian community in Lebanon…[and to] retrace the journeys of people, ideas, narratives, and objects across the Mediterranean'.[3] Dar El-Nimr, which opened its doors in May of this year, offers a necessary space to reactivate Palestine's fragmented cultural and political history. As an institution dedicated to promoting Palestinian culture, it is already playing a sizable role in activating and building the Palestinian cultural archive through private collections, workshops, exhibitions, including the Palestinian Museum's inaugural exhibition, At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery. Moreover, it's position within the cultural landscape of Beirut, highlights the powerful role of institution-led cultural agency in countering Palestinian invisibility.


Lebanon has been a precarious home for Palestinian refugees and a compromised site for its cultural and political narrative. Following the Israeli invasion of 1982, which led to the destruction of Palestinian social and cultural institutions and the PLO's forced withdrawal from Lebanon, Palestinians lost the 'base to conduct their struggle'.[4] It was the image of the PLO ships leaving Beirut port, a watershed moment that marked the end of the relative autonomy of Palestinians in Lebanon, from which the exhibition title takes its cue. The theme's emphasis on storytelling, attends to the accumulative process and personalised narratives that make up Palestine's diasporic cultural expression. Ahmad Barclay and Hanna Sleiman's extensive inter-active archival project Sea of Stories: Voyages of the Palestinian Archive – which will be exhibited in the gallery's main space – looks to the sea as a unifying archival space that has transported multiple narratives across the Mediterranean to various locales. In framing the Palestinian archive around the fluid and expansive metaphor of the sea, the historical archive is positioned within an ever-evolving framework, accounting for the erasures and ruptures that the Palestinian historical narrative continues to suffer.


That Qi2016 takes place two-weeks after the 34th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 – a bloody period in Palestine and Lebanon's history – is not insignificant.  It is within this context of violent suppressions inflicted on Palestinian camps in Lebanon that informs Abdulrahman Katanani's The Wave (2016) – a metal sculpture constructed from barbed wire ­that speaks to the impossibility of imaging freedom beyond man-made borders, wars, massacres and border policies that continue to limit spatial freedoms.  The violent waves of history that have afflicted the lives of Palestinians in the Sabra refugee camp where Katanani grew up, is pronounced through this visual gesture. But its production also points to the spirit of resilience, echoing Edward Said's claim  that,  '[t]o be a Palestinian is to stand at the nexus of these forces, either to be swept away by them or in some way to comprehend and employ their force constructively.'[5]


The forces Said spoke of back in 1980s – Zionism, colonialism, Arab nationalism, to name a few – continue to persist today. Yet the impact of neoliberalism and globalization on Israel's settler colonial project, has intensified the way in which the state asserts its power at home and abroad. The most illuminating example of this is the government-initiated Brand Israel campaign, which seeks to present the nation 'as a productive, vibrant and cutting-edge culture'.[6] To use an example that takes into consideration Qi2016's curatorial theme, Israel's beaches have become a marketable commodity to promote the idea of a 'cool', de-militarized Israel to visiting communities: an image that obscures the culture of oppression routinely inflicted on Gaza's shores just 30 miles away, which has rendered its Palestinian population in a state of dependency and an ongoing process of de-development. And so, when Israel teamed up with the French municipality to host 'Tel Aviv sur Siene' – an initiative to celebrate and promote Tel Aviv's beach culture in Paris, which came only a year after the Israeli military killed the four Baker boys on Gaza beach – it pronounced the power inequalities and visual dissonance between Palestine and Israel's relationship to, and re-visioning of, pubic space.


Thus the desire to reclaim access to public space has become a central consideration for Palestinian artists, seen in the works of Qi2016's contributing artist Kamal Aljafari, whose cinematic practice is informed by an impulse to reclaim Jaffa's buried cultural past through the act of collecting, and re-appropriating, images from Israel's cinematic past. It is the sea that offers a spatial anchor amidst the rapid urban transformations of the costal cities in Jaffa, in Kamal Aljafari's Recollections (2016). The layered images of Jaffa (past and present) are presented in a synthetic attempt to narrate the city's complexity as both part of Palestine's history and Israel's present. In doing so, his films provide a cinematic archive for a vanishing Palestinian landscape that seeks to (re)imagine and (re)image the urban landscape away from the gripping powers of state power and neoliberal agendas that are aggressively transforming the coastal cities of historic Palestine.


The neoliberal production of urban space is a regional dilemma that informs the artistic practices of Dictaphone group – a Lebanese collective, whose site-specific performance seek to challenge the post-war reconstruction developments in Beirut and its alienating effects on Lebanese publics. In a newly commissioned video installation for Qi2016, titled Camp Pause: Encounter in Rashidieh (2016), the film follows the journey of four inhabitants of Rashidieh refugee camp – the closest camp to historic Palestine located on the coast of southern Lebanon, near the city of Tyre – to re-map their personal relationship to the geographies they inhabit. The group will also extend their intervention through a site-specific performance of The Sea is Mine, a boat-tour that sets off from from Ain el Mraiseh Port, to expose audiences to the corrosive effects of privatization on Beirut's sea front and its consequent restrictions on Lebanese publics.


Despite the insurmountable blockages to free-movement that has been exacerbated by military, maritime, political and economic forces, Qi is an insistence on the reiterative power of culture to reclaim public spaces or sites that have become synonymous with Israel's colonial apparatus. (It is important to note that Qi is named after Israel's notorious Qalandiya checkpoint that separates the West Bank from historic Palestine and the international community).  By activating a cultural space that interrogates the silencing mechanisms of power that suppress Palestinian narratives and platforms of resistance, Qi attests to the sizeable role culture can play in sustaining a spirit of persistence against the ongoing Nakba. As an event that is firmly positioned within the international art circuit, it is also it forces us to consider the privileges of movement across borders, that underpins global art world flows.


By reaching beyond borders, institutions and public space, Qi offers a wider vision of how to read Palestinian culture: in flux; in exile; unfixed; communal; hyphenated; compromised; obscured; and, caught in an ever-evolving process to restore an interrupted history through cultural acts of reclamation.  And whilst culture may not be able to produced meaningful political change – to borrow a phrase from Ralph Ellison – it offers 'raft of hope… that might keep us afloat as we tried to negotiate the snags and whirlpools that mark our nation's vacillating course towards and away from the democratic ideal'.[7] In a region crippled by autocratic regimes, wars, mass migration, and ongoing colonisation, Qi offers a temporary, symbolic raft between cities, to move beyond the unstable present and to open up a space for narratives that have been lost or buried – at sea or on land – to be (partially) restored.


[1] Heba Y. Amin. 'Towards a Spatial Imaginary: Walking Cabbages and Watermelons', Ibraaz.org, 5 July 2016 http://www.ibraaz.org/essays/160


[2] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, (University of Minesotta Press: Minneapolis, MN: 1996)


[3] Taken from the curatorial statement release Qalandiya International 2016: A Sea of Stories at Dar El- Nimer.


[4] Elias Khoury. Elias Khoury in Beirut Review. Prague Writers' Festival, 15 Jan 2009 http://www.pwf.cz/archivy/texts/interviews/elias-khoury-in-beirut-review_1794.html


[5] Edward W. Said. 'Palestinians in the Aftermath of Beirut' in Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 12, No. (Winter: 1983).


[6] See Sarah Schulman, 'A documentary guide to 'Brand Israel' and the art of pinkwashing', in Mondoweiss (November 30, 2011), http://mondoweiss.net/2011/11/a-documentary-guide-to-brand-israel-and-the-art-of-pinkwashing#sthash.1tDzXfGz.dpuf.


[7]  Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man. (London: Random House: 1952)




 Mare Nostrum

A Petrified Clarity

Stephanie Bailey


O my name: where are we now?
Tell me: What is now? What is tomorrow?
What's time, what's place, what's old, what's new?

One day we shall become what we want.


– Mahmoud Darwish, The Mural [1]


Variations of a C.


Moments for Possibilities: Air, Land and Sea, organized by the Palestine Regeneration Team (PART), represents the London chapter of Qalandiya International 2016, This Sea is Mine. The project responds to a 'need for an alternative discourse that can heal and nourish real physical space as well as the space of imagination'. It does so by bringing together works that re-read notions of 'air', 'land' and 'sea' by 'stripping away the dominating power of lines on the ground' in order to redefine 'a new geography beyond the currently enforced borders'. Here, human experience forms a new terrain on which all bodies have a place – a concept symbolized by a spoken-word performance created by Naoko Takahashi for the opening of the London exhibition, Variation of a C, which intends to create 'a soundscape with layers of voices'.


Works by an international list of artists point to the shared and expansive legacy of Palestine as a geopolitical territory that stretches across the world through space and time, situated within the equally expansive geography of the Mediterranean region. Rim Kalsom's Migration Cloud: Syrian (Refugee) Parliament [AIR], presents illustrations that seek 'to preserve the tradition of storytelling that so many Syrians hold dear to the seek to them', taking as a central reference the 300-year-old Al Nofara café in Damascus, where Hakawati traditionally told stories. Nassos Hadjipapas's proposal for a Virtual Agora takes the Greek agora as a blueprint for an 'ever-expanding time-based digital archive that will be transferred and safeguarded away from the vanishing Palestinian landscape'. The Digital Garden, by PART in collaboration with Shahmeer Khan and Adhitya Pandu, 'utilises the "digital cloud" as an additional means to reclaim the right of the land and narrate the stories of the Palestinian diaspora' through a device 'made of three individual pieces' – a soil sample, DNA proof, and a narrative contained on a USB device – that together form 'the Whispering Soil'.


Among the works on show, two articulate the frame through which I will respond to the theme of Qi2016. The first is Angeliki Sakellariou's Reclaiming the Sea, which considers the 'continuous interaction between sea and earth' that 'can lead to an aggressive dialogue and a constant act of claiming space from each other, resulting in the formation of uncertain and shifting boundaries.' The second is Sarah Beddington's sculpture, Procession, made from archival and contemporary transparency photographs of Palestinian processions from the early-twentieth century fitted to used-plastic drainage tubes retrieved from builders' rubble; a work the artist designed to question 'how we look at history through a filter of the present'.


In response, this essay will play on what Mahmoud Darwish called 'the clarity of petrified time' in order to construct a sweeping view of a region bound by a sea of overlapping, conflicting, and converging histories; whose currents reach far beyond its shores, and whose surface offers a prism through which to look back.




The Romans called it 'mare nostrum', or 'our sea', which sounds innocent enough until we consider the history that is inscribed into the phrase. It was 30 B.C. when the coveted Mediterranean sea – a fluid superhighway whose shores touch three continents – came under the dominion of a single empire, after the last (but crucial) piece in Rome's puzzle, Egypt, was brought to heel in 31 B.C., signalling the end of a century of Roman civil wars and the Hellenistic Kingdom of Ptolemy.[2] The defeat marked the rise of a 'successor to, and western extension of', Egypt, Persia, Macedonia, Greece, and beyond; and a precursor to empires that followed.[3]


But nothing lasts forever. By 285 A.D. the empire split: Byzantium rose from the eastern capital, Constantinople, as the western empire fell into decline. A Caliphate-led – and holy war-filled – few centuries later, the Ottomans absorbed the Anatolian coast in the 14th and 15th centuries, taking Byzantium's capital in 1453. By the 16th century, it defeated the Mamluk Empire in 1517 to take Syria, Egypt, and Arabia, eventually dominating the Mediterranean from Asia Minor up to Algiers in the south, and Vienna in the north.[4] The 1571 battle of Lepanto – when the Holy League defeated the Ottoman fleet – became the last great naval battle enacted with oar-driven ships,[5] marking an end to the Ottoman conquest of the western Mediterranean and Christendom's efforts to dominate North Africa.[6] A truce was called in 1580,[7] and in reflection of the region's shifting borders, various populations were persecuted or expelled, including Spain's Moriscos in 1609.[8]


Centuries passed yet again, during which time the French and British empires emerged to represent a developing 'capitalist world-economy' and 'concomitant new international order'.[9] The British became 'the first of the modern great powers to view the Mediterranean as a single geostrategic unit',[10] obtaining tactical control over its waterways and islands from the sixteenth century onwards, including the much desired Suez Canal: the link to the Arabian Gulf and India.[11] Such manoeuvres were designed to build the British Empire's global economy, resist French and (emerging) Russian advances, and keep Ottoman power at bay. Alliances were formed and broken right up to World War One; the British and French even agreed to give Constantinople and the Turkish Straits, among other territories, to Russia, one year before the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement.[12]


As the story goes, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Britain and France divided the Mediterranean between them.[13] In this imperializing (and industrially modernizing) game, Armenians suffered genocide, Greek and Turkish populations were expelled and exchanged, and the people of the Middle East were sectioned into various mandates. Then World War II began, and Mussolini announced plans to re-establish the Roman Empire's Mare Nostrum, which ultimately failed. The war – in Europe at least – essentially ended with Americans bailouts: first Greece and Turkey in 1947 with the Truman Doctrine, then Western Europe via 1948's Marshall Plan[14], the same year the British Mandate in Palestine ended, the state of Israel was declared, (recognized by Truman that same day[15]), the prized ports of Palestine were seized,[16] and the Nakba began.


A new era ensued, and the Mediterranean became a site of decolonization and neo-colonization, as the United States and the Soviet Union sought to fill the void left by the departing European empires, and various inter-national unions, from the European to the Maghreb, formed, and various pacts were made.[17] The 1956 Suez Crisis saw Britain and France make their last attempt at retaining power in the Middle East, as both empires unravelled, with civil wars and uprisings taking place from Algeria and Cyprus, to Indochina, Kenya, and Malaya. Meanwhile, the U.S. developed two key (yet oppositional) trilateral relationships with Turkey and Israel on one side,[18] and Egypt and Israel on the other.[19] The latter would come to a head in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when Israel acquired the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, and then in 1973, when attempts were made at taking those territories back. And while the Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1978 as part of the US-managed Camp David Accords (and the subsequent Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979, and arbitration in 1989), Israel deployed settlers to secure its occupied lands.


Fast forward to 2005 – two years after the devastating blitzkrieg-style US-led invasion of Iraq, whose repercussions are widely felt. Israel officially disengaged from the Gaza Strip, despite continuing to exercise aggressive control over its perimeter (land, sea, and air), such as when Israel closed, then bombed Gaza's international airport during the Second Intifada, or during the brutally relentless airstrikes that characterized the 50-day offensive in the summer of 2014.[20] Four years earlier, a Turkish ship tried breaking Israel's Gaza blockade, resulting in the deaths of Turkish activists on board, and causing a major rift between the two nations. (Relations have since begun to thaw.)


A year after that event, in 2011, the  Arab uprisings – which affected all of the Mediterranean's coastlines – were triggered following events in Tunisia that previous winter; the same season eight Roman columns washed up on Gaza's shore.





The aim of this essay was to articulate what Dominc Fenech describes as the East-West and North-South tensions that 'enduringly intersect' across the Mediterranean's waters: 'under some aspects intertwining and under others entangling with each other, but in any case fostering further fragmentation within the region, even as the protagonists of contemporary international relations ascribed to the Mediterranean a geostrategic unity'.[21]


This 'unity' is something history returns to often.


As Syria collapses further into chaos, with Britain, France, the United States, Russia and Turkey all participating in its demise, modern nation states are openly picking up on where their imperial histories left off. Russia is eyeing not only the Turkish Straits and the Black Sea, but the Baltic, too; just as Turkey openly plays war games along its borders. Even China is reactivating the Silk Road, acquiring the Greek port of Piraeus in 2016 and taking a mediatory role in the Middle East.[22] Meanwhile, the 1995 'Barcelona declaration', re-named 'The Union for the Mediterranean' in 2008, seeks a 'common area of peace, stability, and shared prosperity in the Euro-Mediterranean region'. It includes 28 EU states and 15 southern and eastern Mediterranean states, Turkey, Palestine, and Israel included.[23]


Amidst all this, a yearlong mission instigated in 2013 by the Italian government and funded by the European Union in response to the migrant crisis was named Operation Mare Nostrum.[24] The project lasted just a year given the costs of operation and the reluctance from other states to contribute to the cause.


That a phrase historically tied to imperial power was used in a short-lived recovery mission to save those directly affected by such forces, says a lot about what has been done in the name of 'our sea'. 


 No wonder Qi2016 proposes to reclaim it.


[1] Translated by Sargon Boulus from the author's collection 'Judariya'['Mural'], Riad El-Rayyes Books, Beirut, 2000. Reprinted in the Palestine-Israel Journal in 2004 from Banipal No 15/16. See: http://www.pij.org/details.php?id=199 


[2] For a succinct summary, see: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/regy/hd_regy.htm


[3] Jan Nederveen Pieterse, 'Ancient Rome and Globalization: Decentring Rome', in Globalisation and the Roman World: World History, Connectivity and Material Culture, ed. Martin Pitts and Miguel John Versluys (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 2014), p. 232.


[4] See: Andrew C. Hess, 'The Ottoman Conquest of Egypt (1517) and the Beginning of the sixteenth Century World War', in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jan., 1973), p. 61, and: Dominc Fenech, 'East-West to North-South in the Mediterranean', GeoJournal, October 1993, Volume 31, Issue 2, p. 130.


[5] David Eggenberger, An Encyclopedia of Battles: Accounts of Over 1,560 Battles from 1479 B.C. to the Present, (Dover Publications, London: 2012), p. 237.


[6] Since the Ottomans re-captured Tunis in 1574, and defeated a Portuguese crusade in Morocco in 1578. See: Andrew C. Hess, 'The Mediterranean and Shakespeare's Geopolitical Imagination', in 'The Tempest' and Its Travels, ed. Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman, (Reaktion Books, London: 2000), p. 122.


[7] See: Hess, p. 122, and Fenech, p. 130.


[8] Dominc Fenech, 'East-West to North-South in the Mediterranean', GeoJournal, October 1993, Volume 31, Issue 2, p. 130.


[9] Fenech, p. 130.


[10] Fenech, p. 132.


[11] As Jerry Brotton writes, 'During which time their activities were defined by 'unprincipled profiteering, pragmatic alliances with the Ottomans, and an enthusiastic participation in the slave trade that included Muslims and Christians alike'. See: Carthage and Tunis, The Tempest and Tapestries', in 'The Tempest' and Its Travels, ed. Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman, (Reaktion Books, London: 2000), p.137. Also see: Efraim Inbar, Israel's Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean, The Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2014, Volume 21: Number 4. http://www.meforum.org/4804/israel-challenges-in-the-eastern-mediterranean


[12] For a brief outline, see: 'Constantinople Agreement', in Encyclopaedia Britannica online: https://www.britannica.com/event/Constantinople-Agreement.


[14] Both bailouts – designed to halt a Soviet threat – pointed to future cold war dynamics that would endure in and around the Mediterranean well into the 1980s and beyond. For an overview, see: Kevin L. Dooley, Why Politics Matters: An Introduction to Political Science, (Cengage Learning, 2014 ), p. 314.


[15] See: the U.S. State Department Website: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/creation-israel.


[16] Aside from being a historic port, 90% of Israeli foreign trade happens via the Mediterranean, to name but a few reasons why Palestine's patch of the Mediterranean is so valuable. See: Inbar.


[17] See: Ghassan Salamé, 'Torn between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean: Europe and the Middle East in the Post-Cold War Era', Middle East Journal, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Spring, 1994), pp. 226-249, and: Dooley, Why Politics Matters: An Introduction to Political Science, (Cengage Learning, 2014).


[18] 'In 1947, Turkey voted against the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, but in 1949 – just two years later – was the first predominantly Muslim country to recognize the State of Israel. During these early years, Turkey's relationship with Israel was primarily built on Turkish concerns that pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism would enable the Soviet Union to gain a foothold in the Middle East.' Dan Arbell, in 'The U.S.-Turkey-Israel Triangle', Analysis Paper 34 published in October 2004 for The Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute. See: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/USTurkeyIsrael-TriangleFINAL.pdf


[19] See: Inbar, 'Israel's Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean'.


[20]  See a summary of the after effects here: http://www.unrwa.org/gaza-emergency


[21] See: Fenech, p. 134.


[23] For more, see: http://ufmsecretariat.org/


[24] Read a full description of Operation Mare Nostrum on the Italian Ministry of Defence's webpage, here: http://www.marina.difesa.it/EN/operations/Pagine/MareNostrum.asp


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