"The role of art and museums is to put alternative knowledge and conversations in the cracks of neo-colonialism"

Elisabeth Gondwe, North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum Musarian writing on her trip to Palestine states "The role of art and museums is to put alternative knowledge and conversations in the cracks of neo-colonialism".

"I went to Jerusalem in October 2016 to participate in the Jerusalem Show VIII.  The Jerusalem Show VIII was part of the Qalandiya International 2016.  The Qalandiya International program had events, performances, symposiums and art exhibitions across the cities and villages of Palestine.

The following is my subjective response.

Where is Palestine?  Where is Israel?  Palestine is under military occupation by the Israeli State, which has been imposed on top of Palestine.  It is a fragmented county, with the lives and movements, land and natural resources of the Palestinian people controlled.  Most of the people of Palestine are not citizens of the Israeli State and cannot leave the country.  They are trapped inside walled areas within their country.  Gaza is locked down as a military zone as it is the only remaining Palestinian place that has access to the sea and outside world.  To move between areas, Palestinians are finger print scanned and go through intense military check points where they are subjected to machine guns, wielded by Israeli teenagers doing national service.  The Israeli State seems to have all of the unfashionable things, like walls, apartheid and concentration camps.  I don’t think it is going to end well for the Palestinian people. 

I attended the Palestinian Museum Symposium, which was part of Qalandiya Encounters.  The topics were of survival and cultural identity.  The Israeli State models many of its laws of land tenure on Australian laws.  Of particular concern to the Palestinian people is the non-recognition of commons, land communally held by the community.  Much of the land in Palestine has multiple users and purposes and is shared. The Israeli State sees it as empty unowned land, available for Israeli settlers.

During the program of speakers and forums that formed Qalandiya Encounters, a discussion topic was the challenges that arise from neo colonial extractive capitalism that racializes violence, commits environmental violence and demands the erasure of pre-colonial societies. The western colonial capitalist extractive relationship to nature was discussed.  The mass ecocide happening as a result of extractive industries and the resultant redundant populations were also discussed.  There were Syrian speakers who talked about the present killing and removal of population for western extractive interests.  The role of art and museums is to put alternative knowledge and conversations in the cracks of neo-colonialism.  Speakers talked of how the manipulation of truth then becomes a fact which results in populations living under states of deception.  The Palestinian tourist industry and economy is labouring under this.  When you enter a Palestinian Authority area, you are confronted with a huge red sign that says “This road leads to Area A Under the Palestinian Authority.  The entrance for Israeli Citizens is forbidden.  Danger to your lives and against the Israeli law.”  Israeli tourist information advises visitors not to enter Palestinian areas and makes the experience very confronting for visitors. Once inside, the machine guns disappear and it is a friendly, peaceful society. 

Many Palestinians are trapped and feeling frustrated resulting from a long and increasing military occupation.  Fences are an extreme tool of power. 

I went to the Israeli Museum, the first museum I have ever entered where I had to show my passport and have a body search at machine gun point.  It was a campus of interconnected huge beautiful buildings.  The thing that struck me the most was the use of language.  They talked about the special relationship that the Jewish people have with the land.  They used the term “the Land’ throughout.  It was a very sophisticated use of objects and archaeology to tell a story about the modern state of Israel.  The term “the land” gave the land agency so that the Jewish people were not telling the story but mere actors subject to the land.  Everything was presented as scientific facts and truth.  I saw a Picaso exhibition of 360 of his works. 

The Qalandiya International art exhibition provided opportunities for many conversations.  That was the aspect of it that I liked the most, the opportunity to listen and talk to different people.  I had attended a Sarab 4x4 wheel caravan to the Dead Sea.  It was ..”a journey of exploration into the social and cultural life of Palestinians shaped by historio-political and territorial colonial conditions.”     

A highlight for me was the talk given by the Bedouin Elder in Rashaydih hamlet after dinner.  He was translated into English. He spoke of the history of the Bedouin people and what happened in 1948.  He spoke of what is happening now, with their families being more and more controlled and increasingly fenced in, or their homes and holdings destroyed by the Israeli State.  

For every action in the world there is a reaction.  I believe it is wrong to kill people and steal from them.  It is certainly the wrong basis to found a nation.  It diminishes us all".