Jerusalem Show IV

Survival of the Fittest

Curatorial Statement – Jack Persekian

It takes an out-and-out crowd like this one to march for Jerusalem, and go on and on and on, year after year, here and elsewhere in the world, on Jerusalem Day (the last Friday of Ramadan), on Land Day (March 30th), on Palestine day (29th of November), on Balfour Declaration Day (2nd of November) … even though there seems to be no end in sight to the conflict and the liberation of Jerusalem (at least to us mortals) neither peacefully nor militarily.

One can’t imagine the agonizing and protracted decline from, what seems now in retrospect, the euphoric moments of victory over the occupation or at least the enlivened hope in the hearts of the people during the first Intifada, to our current state of hopelessness and desperation. Two decades ago the first Intifada brought with it so much power to the people and enabled everybody to participate in the drive towards changing our dire reality then. It empowered the people to confront the Israeli army with bare hands and stones, and despite the heavy losses on the Palestinian side, it culminated in an ethical and moral victory over the licentious occupation. Everybody felt a sense of duty towards defending our rights for self-determination and statehood, coupled with actual participation in the various forms of resistance that prevailed then. A strong sense of belonging and ownership characterized the overall attitude of people to the land and to their fellow nationals.

Then came those who only wanted to practice authority, take control of resources, grab every opportunity and reap as much benefit as possible in the shortest time possible. No heed was given to those who paid with their blood to pave the way for the opportunists to come and seize control over the tattered land and exhausted population. Nevertheless, the people were allowed to collect the crumbs, as they were hired in the gargantuan apparatus of the PA, which is living off the kindness of the USAID, the European Union and other friendly and kind countries. The spirit of initiative was robbed away from the people and they were left to the mercy of the officials who embarked on charting their fate. Any progress, development or confrontation for that matter was to be directed via remote control from the top. People lost connection with the collective sense and gradually drifted towards personal salvation and eventually egocentricity. People lost hope for a peaceful and humane resolution to the conflict as they saw droves of settlers rampaging in their properties, stealing land and robbing the people of Palestine of every possible way to earn a decent living and provide for their families and their future. Negotiations became the object and the reason for the PA’s existence, while Israel is busy creating facts on the ground by the day with irreversible consequences to this illusive peace agreement – I love the US administration’s term “shelf agreement”.

Nowadays each person is fending for himself. Coupled with the fact that people are up against adversaries, so to speak, in both governments, the laws and regulations are perceived as tools and means of control and subjugation, nothing to do with public wellbeing and social welfare. But it does not stop here and goes further to infringe on the rights and safety of individuals as dog eat dog and the law of the jungle prevails. Among ordinary people it seems that, now more than ever, might makes right and whomever has no family or, better still, clan support is walked all over. In this context there is no room for individuality, for it can only exist in a tribal context. Dramatic shifts have taken place in society and groups of different creeds, ideologies and even ethnic backgrounds have drifted further away from each other. Clusters of people barricaded themselves in the pockets of land assigned to the Palestinians according to the Oslo agreements and created their own ridiculously minute isolated worlds, abetted by the fragmentation and disconnectedness of the country. Some pockets are cut off and terribly poor, and others, more in the center of the country aloof and appallingly apathetic. It is no wonder Ramallah has become the center of attraction, creating the delusion of normalcy, prosperity and freedom. Jerusalem, meanwhile has been left out, abandoned by the pathetic negotiators in Oslo, severed by the Israelis from the rest of Palestine, and is left for the settlers to desecrate at their free will. Its Palestinian inhabitants are forsaken to withstand the fiercest tide of Israeli discrimination orchestrated by the security forces, the ministry of interior, the municipality and the various arms of the government. The abysmal economic conditions and the free-reigning gangs of thieves and criminals are decimating the people of Jerusalem. It is no longer safe to be in Jerusalem and it is no longer possible to stay away from it, for the Israelis would not allow you back (if you leave for a while) revoking your residency rights in the city (notwithstanding that you were born in Jerusalem and lived a good part of your life there). It is not at all easy to find a house to live in as rents are extremely high, unaffordable to the average person, and the exorbitant prices of property are totally insane, unaffordable to any person middle class or rich. Jobs are scarce and what’s available in Israel is limited to cleaning and garbage collection. Very few can manage to save money, yet that’s rarely reinvested in the city as the Israeli tax system is merciless and uncompromising when it comes to collecting money from the Arabs. And to add insult to injury hardly anyone gives a damn about a neighbour. People have become increasingly agitated, aggressive, impolite and violent. Misunderstandings and arguments are dealt with by force and absurd brutality. People have no patience to wait and are increasingly hostile to one another. They have confused what’s rightfully theirs with what might makes theirs. Alas, it’s only the weak subduing the feeble, no confrontation with the Israeli forces, no resistance or uprising; just as the infamous saying goes: one sick man fucking a corpse.

Apologies for the rude and doubtlessly inappropriate language but can’t help myself being amused every time I think of this saying. To me, it accurately describes our situation, as we seem quite docile and totally helpless in the face of the Israelis, yet unflinching in killing one another (as is the case with the ongoing fighting in Gaza between Fateh, Hamas and other factions). Daily, we hear of heists and people being defrauded of their precious and dear belongings (as is the case with numerous break-ins and shady land deals based on fraudulent deeds). And what’s obvious everywhere one looks is the careless and disrespectful attitude towards everything beautify (the environment, the people, and the public domain). I have yet to witness demonstration such as this one calling for the respect of the other human being’s right to live in a safe and clean environment, calling for the return to the social bonding of the first Intifada, when people planted their backyards to feed the neighbourhood, when people opened their homes and organized classes for the neighbourhood kids as schools were closed for months on end. When fear was only from the enemy and everybody knew who the enemy was. Today I believe the enemy is within, and in the same way as the people in the picture are hopelessly screaming for the sake of Jerusalem, I am helplessly calling for the sake of our survival.