April 1st [Abu Dis/East Jerusalem]

Israeli and Palestinian artists have come together to create “Artists Without Walls”, a permanent forum for dialogue between individuals engaged in all fields of art and culture.

Date: 01.04.2004

We firmly believe that no side of the conflict can have peace as long as the other side lives in fear and distress. “April 1st” documents an action that took place in April 2004 on the location of the Separation Wall in Abu Dis, a Palestinian village located in East Jerusalem. A closed circuit of two video cameras was positioned at the same spot on either side of the Wall. Each camera recorded the view facing away from the Wall.  The cameras were connected to two video projectors, each ne projecting in real time the image on the opposite side. This created a virtual window in that spot of the Wall, allowing people on both sides to see each other.

Trying to make the wall transparent
‘A joint project of Israeli and Palestinian artists, which is minimalist and fascinating in concept, will take place this evening at 6 P.M. in Jerusalem’s Abu Dis neighborhood, near the separation fence. Two video cameras will film what is happening on both sides of the wall, and the material filmed by each of them will be screened at the same time on the other side of the fence. In this way, on each side of the wall, one will see scenes from the other side, and the wall will become “transparent” for several hours.

The event was initiated by Artists without Borders, a forum founded several months ago of about 20 Israeli and Palestinian artists. Its goal is to conduct “a dialogue between committed individuals in all fields of art and culture, who are linked by a mutual respect for human rights, and to express our opposition to occupation and terror of any kind,” according to the forum’s Web site: “The group desires to develop models of cooperation and to bring back the humanity that is found at the heart of our agenda.”

Forum members meet weekly in East Jerusalem and plan joint projects. Eitan Heller, one of the members responsible for the project, says their next activity will be a group exhibit in about a month at a deserted hotel in Abu Dis.

At first, the group considered screening various works on the fence, but this idea was rejected in the belief that using the fence as a backdrop implies approval of its existence.

Four months ago, architect Gideon Harlap complained at the fourth convention of the Israel Architects Association that no architects were involved in designing the separation fence. The fence, he says, is not beautiful, like the Great Wall of China, but is clumsy and ugly, “and architects could have contributed to its aesthetic design had they been allowed to participate in its planning in time.”

The need to beautify concrete walls is also expressed on the protective wall that was built in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood to protect residents from fire coming from Beit Jala. That wall – six meters high and 250 meters long – was covered by immigrant artists from the former Soviet Union with paintings of Beit Jala, which was concealed behind it.

“The idea was to make the walls transparent,” says Shlomo Brosh of the Jerusalem Municipality, whose came up with the project. “If they have forced us to shield ourselves, then we decided that at least we wouldn’t give up the landscape that used to be there.”

While that idea mainly emphasized the aesthetic aspect, and not the ethical aspect, Artists without Borders wants to illustrate the injustice done to the Palestinians living on the other side of the wall. They are both voiding the wall’s material existence by digital means and also illustrating its monstrous presence. “For a few hours, we will operate jointly, we will see and speak to one another, the physical obstacles will be overcome, and the residents of Abu Dis will be able to see what is happening on the other side of the wall,” says the Web site (pia.omweb.org).

The present project is another link in the chain of artistic exhibits and events opposing the construction of the separation fence, bringing it from the unseen margins to center stage. The Tel Aviv Cinematheque recently had a photo exhibit called “Fence or Wall?” by Eyal Ofer, which offered 20 photographs documenting the change in the Israeli landscape as a result of the fence’s construction.

The Haifa Museum of Art, in the context of an exhibit of winners of the Minister of Education Prize, is now showing a video installation by Ruti Sela, “Livnot” (To Build). In this satirical work Sela pretends to be Education Minister Limor Livnat and invites a three-year-old boy to build the separation fence with her, from Lego blocks. Three months ago the Jerusalem Artists’ House exhibited the installation “Shulchan Aruch” (A Set Table) by Ruhama Weiss and Magdalena Hefetz, another response to the separation fence. Discussions around the installation dealt with the cultural significance of borders, fences and separation.

The Bineth Gallery on Gordon Street in Tel Aviv also felt a need to take a position on the subject of the separation fence. Starting today, a photography project by Alex Levac, documenting the building of the fence, will be displayed in the front window of the gallery. Every week the gallery will be displaying another photo from the series of pictures of the separation fence that Levac has been publishing in Haaretz. The pictures were taken at different spots along the fence, in Abu Dis, Baka al-Garbiyeh, Nizlat Isa, and elsewhere.

The event tonight will not be in a gallery or other safe, quiet place. The participants will meet in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood, on the corner of Hahagana and Etzel Streets from 5 P.M. till 6 P.M. and then go by bus to the protest event.’

Dana Gilerman / Haaretz, April 1, 2004.

Photos: Oren Sagiv