Unreached Network

Ethnographic Reflection Aida Refugee Camp

‘We cannot control the wall, but we can make our side look better for us.’ Sari.

The image of hope and resilience came alive in the artwork that dominated the Israeli separation wall on the Bethlehem city side. The magnificent colours, energy and messages mixed with the bustling traffic, call to prayer and beaming sunshine invoked solidarity and passion for the Palestinian cause.

The wall seemed further away from Sari’s reflection when viewed from inside of the refugee camp. The politics that isolate the camp from the Palestinian Authority mean that rubbish is not disposed of effectively, paths and roads are rudimentary, structures are crumbling, and the streets were quiet. The wall seemed taller and darker. Sari explained to us that the wall contains gates that bridges Rebecca’s tomb and the camp and Israeli soldiers often come in unannounced and take Palestinians to jail- just for living here. The wall seemed thicker.

From the location of the wall you can see the famous large key that represents the keys that Palestinians families have held onto since the Nakba. The key statue, held in the air is the center-point for protests and celebrations and marks the main street of the camp. As we were admiring the structure a yellow taxi briefly parked in front of us. Two young, white, Western men caught my eye- distracting me from the Palestinian protest art. They stepped out of the car, looked at the ground, looked left and right, scanning- looking without seeing. They took a few stylistic photographs of the statue and immediately stepped back into the taxi from which they had taken no more than three steps and drove away.

They extracted all they wanted from the art. They did not want the pain, the politics, or the passion. They just needed a photograph. The removal of the Palestinian people from their collective key struck me as another form of colonial violence. The stripping of this mighty symbol from its meaning reminded me of the stripping of Christ before he walked to the cross. The humiliation of the Son of God mirrors the constant humiliation of the Palestinian people who are homogenized, dehumanized and demonized. They are powerless against Israeli soldiers extracting their people from their homes, their homes from their people, and now their art is extracted too? Where will this picture go? Instagram? How many likes will this person receive? Do you think he will post with a Palestinian flag- #solidarity? On the one hand this is the precarity, ambiguity and vulnerability of art, that it can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. On the other however, the receiver has to surely try to understand the context before endeavouring to interpret it.

The artwork in the West Bank cannot be treated as an exhibition but should only be seen as a shared cry. Creativity cannot be sold by the rich to rich and stolen from the poor for the rich’s gaze. The key cannot be removed from the people, and we cannot benefit from their pain.

Victoria is the Advocacy Officer (under 35’s focus) with Sabeel-Karios, advocacy based human rights Christian charity promoting a just peace in Israel and Palestine. Find out more about their work here https://www.sabeel-kairos.org.uk/, find them on Twitter @SabeelKairos or Instagram @sabeelkairosuk, or email advocacy@sabeel-kairos.org.uk