Date: 2004

AUTHOR: Round Table

LOCATION: Ramallah

PUBLISHER: German-French Cultural Centre Ramallah

SOURCE: German-French Cultural Centre Ramallah

Round Table II

Round Table II

– Arabic comments –

Adila Laïdi:
First I would like to say that we would like to thank Mr. Brock for telling us about the great hardships that he suffered as a child and as a teenager and I am sure many people here have experienced similar hardships either personally or through their families. But I think I speak for many here in saying, that many of us here were shocked by the patronizing tone of the intervention. I think that Palestinians have no lessons to receive from anybody, especially about how to live their predicament. Every suffering, every predicament is subjective, is unique. In  that light I would like to address three points, first of all the issue of victims and martyrs. Palestinians don’t go around the streets looking to be martyrs or looking to be victims. On the contrary, all of our enterprise in life is to try to live a dignified, normal life, not to be a victim, not to be a martyr. People just want to be free and to live a normal, ordinary, simple, life. Nobody wants to be a hero, nobody wants to be a martyr. But there is a difference in how refugees are being treated. If you are historically a refugee and you live in a political entity that accepts you, that gives you political rights, that gives you economic rights, then – by all means – you have no excuse to victimize yourself and to exploit politically your victimization. However if your opportunities in life are limited, yours and those of your children, and if you are parked in human “concentration camps”, like José Saramago called them – and I am not talking of course about the German concentration camps which were death camps, but here we are talking about life camps where Palestinians are parked for decades and decades and decades in self-perpetuating poverty such as in Gaza and Lebanon then it is a different case. Whereas if Palestinians are treated just like any other human beings, not better, not worse, like in Jordan, like in Kuwait, like in the Gulf, like in the American Diaspora, these Palestinians, despite being refugees and despite having lost everything they strive to achieve an build their lives.  For example since you were talking about the arts – many Palestinians have been at the forefront of the Arab arts and Arab literature and they are emblematic figures in Arab culture. But here we did not talk about them because we are not here to propagandize Palestinian culture, we are here this morning to analyze it and to criticize it. So we are not going to talk about  all the people who built Kuwait and who built Qatar. So of course – but maybe, I am sure you can look in the internet and you will find information about these people. We are not asking for handouts. Palestinians have pulled themselves by their bootstraps and they have not victimized themselves. It is only people who live in perpetual poverty and have their rights, their political rights taken away in perpetuity that end up resisting. The last thing is regarding the war and about the objective reasons of the war, not withstanding the religious differences, and the ethnic differences between us and the Israelis: The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a cultural problem, it is not a religious problem, it is not an ethnic conflict, it is not a mafia conflict. It is a conflict about land, it is a conflict about something very objective. It is about people who came and who stole another people’s land. It is just as simple as that.

Professor from Al-Quds University:
I would like to ask Mr. Bazon: Are you aware that the victims of the Nazis of Germany are today’s Nazis of Palestine, are you aware of that? It seems that your long journey through Russia and Germany did not give you a chance to experience or learn about them. In fact they are the real murderers who ouested me from my house, killed my brothers and sisters as they did  your family, and they continue to kill me and kill my brothers. My family lives about 20 or 40 kilometers from here and for the last five years I have not been able to see my mother. Can you imagine that? I am a foreigner in my  own country, due to the Israeli war. So how can I live with a beast? You know, I am telling him “come dear, you are a nice guy”, and he wants to eat me. They are just beasts, they want to kill me, they are not going to come up for a cultural life with me. Secondly, how can you be sure, even if I renounce violence, even if I offer them everything good in life that I am going to be accepted by Bush and Sharon and the killer and liar of Britain and all the same kind of leaders that I am not a terrorist. They don't accept me. Even if I put my neck under a knife, they will say “you are the terrorist”. If they see my blood pouring to the ground, I am the terrorist and they are the freedom fighters. How can I accept that?

Bazon Brock:
Of course it is quite understandable what you said in general about war and suffering and dehumanization. But this is not a conference about general experiences in times of war. What I want to tell you is how one from the attitude or standpoint of art and sciences could from the experiences we had in Europe look upon these generalized experiences of war and suffering. Otherwise this would just be a conference on the cruelty of war or on the going-ons in war and injustice and dehumanization. But the point of view is arts and science or art sciences and the phenomenon of war, what normally would be looked upon being the phenomenon of war. And from this point I said, arts developed like science in a historical époque of the fourteenth and fifteenth century to generate other aspects on the going-ons in the world than those of culturalism. Others – that means those criteria which come from out the difference of cultures of the different opinions and meanings because it is just a structural problem. Everybody is looking upon himself as a victim, in any culture, everywhere, even the Israelis of course, and they had good reasons to look upon them. But when they took another standpoint they stopped looking upon themselves as victims, they shifted to a completely different attitude. Of course the attitude is in many cases one which you can only accept when being an artist or a scientist and beyond this you are a member of a culture. If I would speak as a member of my culture I would say exactly the same like you or the young lady there, exactly the same thing. I would repeat every word of what you said when speaking as a member of my culture. But as an artist or a scientist I am not speaking as a member of my culture. I am speaking as someone who is confronted with the fact that there are many cultures, so many parties or victims and many attitudes of gaining back ones country and so on. We had to stop fighting back, gaining back our countries, we were driven from our homes, too. But Europe developed because we did not go on with fighting. Now with the Russians, the Polish and so on, it was the opposite: we said, okay, we accept what has become the result of this history and now we try to bind ourselves as former victims and winners on a completely different level. The different level is the level of arts and sciences or – in older terms – humanity and internationality. And the socialist system was nothing else but a universal humanitarian system which covered all cultures. So as a member of a culture, I repeat, I would say exactly the same things that you just commented on about the going-ons here. Everyone in his culture placed in such a position like yours or mine would say the same thing and you can prove it in historical documents. There are documents since 2.500 years ago where you can find exactly this kind of reaction and everybody says “okay, as a member of his culture he is right, because we have had the same experience”. That is quite common to cultures. But being aware of the fact that there are many cultures we cannot stick just to the definitions, the identities of our proper heritage and culture, because we logically have to ask ourselves how to deal with the fact that there are many cultures like us, many groups of suffering people and so on.  Therefore we have to ask where does the criteria come from to speak about this relationship between the cultures and this cannot be cultural or culturalistic again. Otherwise it would be just unfair to speak about other cultures in terms of your own culture, for then you do not accept others. That is what I understood was our job over here, to look upon the situation from 2.000 years of experiences with cultural identities and 600 years of experiences of overcoming this natural fighting and confrontation of cultures, “this we and them"– I think in Europe for example of the antagonism of France and Germany. You cannot believe what kind of confrontation up until the 1950's exisisted the German-French cultural opposition was dedicated to. It was horrible, slaughtering, looking upon each other as being apes, louses and so on. That is quite common to cultures, every culture has a kind of ability to classify the others as being animals. And we stopped this kind of culturalism between Germany and France, between Poland and Germany or the Czechs and the Germans, because there were people of an understanding who said, “okay, we have to stick to our culture of course, because every man is culturally fine, but then we have to accept another system out of the fact that we belong to different cultures”. And this is a point of art and this is a point of science, and especially in art sciences one could combine both attitudes, both methods of how to bridge. For instance in the fields of art history it is of greatest importance to find out in which way masters of these and those regions or époques differ, how they differ, not how they agree. How they differ, they differ in their ability to propose, to confront us with problems, artistic ones – of course artistically formulated – which just could not be swept away by the next one who said “okay, I am the master, you are just a slave, your work is gone because I am now the master” and then the next one comes and he says “no, you are gone now, I am the master, simply because I am fifty years younger than you”. It is a community – the field of arts, the field of science – of those who contribute to the management of the principle of unsolvable problems. If you become a scientist or an artist you will be an expert, being dedicated and orientated to a specialized question, for instance aesthetic ones or whatever. The more you are specialized as every experienced scientist the more you are astonished about the fact that you do not understand anything, because as you proceed with your expert studies you create more problems. The more you are an expert the more problems you can contribute to the community of scientists or artists. So everyone from Einstein onwards makes an experience, we dedicate ourselves as specialists to a problem, then we start creating more problems. And even in technology or every day’s life problems can only be solved by creating new problems. And there are some rules on how to manage them. If for instance you lack electricity or energy you might for example build atomic plants. But the question whether you want to suffer under the lack of electricity now or will you have a future confrontation with the problems atomic plants confront you with – so we want to solve problems of the lack of electricity and energy and then we build up this technology and suddenly we find out that this technology as a problem solving system is presenting more problems to us than the original ones were which we tried to solve. Those are the special aspects, the special matters, the special attitudes. As members of a culture you are quite right, and everybody as a member of a culture would exactly say the same thing. I would say it as a German exactly in the same way. We knew what it meant to say this to a French man and what came out of that. Therefore, thankfully, the French and the Polish and the Czechs and others prepared themselves to start a new relationship, especially with Germans, but not as Germans but as representatives of a greater unit, let’s say Europeans or members of the worldwide community of civilized states. So Germany came back into the family of civilized societies, not culturalized but civilized. And that is the reason why Europe developed in the way it did. Nearly all over the world people are keen to know and understand what went on there, because we had this conflict in Europe in many époques in many relations in the same radical way as it was over here. Taking the land, taking the houses, killing the members of family, even children – I lost my younger sister and my younger brother. That is quite common to cultures and the fighting of cultures. Should we go on for ever and ever with this kind of naturalism in our cultural evolution? No! Since 2.500 years the Buddhist influence, the philosophical influence, the scientific influence and of course even the Muslim influence as a development of the seventh century tried to give an idea of what it meant to build up this general universal unit of mankind. The general name for this is civilization. And if we would look properly at the contribution of Mohammed then we would say, the working out of the idea is the contribution of the Muslims in the building up of a worldwide civilization. And that makes the difference: it is the difference of speaking upon these affairs in terms of culture or speaking  in attitudes of a universal civilization.

Carl Hegemann:
Maybe one question  is necessary. Who decides about the higher level? Who establishes the standards of civilization which are higher levels How can you dismiss the suspicion that the standards of civilization you mentioned are only standards of Western civilization which occupied the whole world?

Bazon Brock:
I know this argument about Eurocentrism. The answer is quite easy: In Europe itself this idea had to be fought out with millions of death with millions of starving laboring men. The unions for instance, the representatives of the laborers in the European countries, though they were dominated nationalistically and culturally they fought for 150 years for the idea of minimum pay for everybody regardless of his abilities. Minimum pay for everybody which everybody should earn, this was fought out against European ideas of national cultures. So it is the result of a 150 year fight. And look upon those who want to have these things clash. The guys who try to make us believe that the economy would develop much better if there were no rights, no social security, no minimum wage. They want to keep the evolution of an international civilization that is being developed by the European labor unions and they want to destroy the results. So the answer is: Nobody does, it comes out of the fight and from the inside of  people who are in the problems which come out of the fighting. No-one taught the labor representatives to fight for European centralism by asking for minimum insurance, social insurance and health insurance for workers. How stupid it would have been to say “this is a Eurocentric idea to ask for health insurance”. This is how it developed in Europe. And we had in 1820 in Wuppertal the idea of health insurance, the idea of social insurance. The father of Engels was a Wuppertalian entrepreneur, and he told Marx about this idea and then Marx said: “Oh, that is very interesting, what are you doing there?” And then he said: “Okay, in Wuppertal we now all have a minimum wage .” And then he said: “Okay, this is not patriotic, this is not a good idea for our nation because if we want to compete with the French and the British who are more developed, we should stop this nonsense of paying the minimum wage. The French don’t pay, the English don’t pay, so why should we pay, this is not nationalistic? And they said: “No, because our competition would be much easier with this  system when we pay minimum wages, when we ensure everybody in health insurance and so on. So Bismarck as a real guy of might and power decided to guarantee everybody health insurance, social insurance and a minimum wage. How stupid it would be to say this is Eurocentric and therefore in India or Africa nobody should ask for health insurance, for minimum wages and social insurance, it is stupid. The argument is clearly answered: The answer is, nobody defines what is the universal standard. It comes as a result of fighting. If you keep people from fighting like now in the era of Globalization. You see they want them to stay away from the fighting from which forth the standards of universal civilization. Of course you contribute to completely  the opposite side of what I think with your idea.
[further arguing on Khaled Hourani]

I would like to comment, because 35 years ago, we dedicated the documenta no. 5 exactly to this problem. And I am proud that you 35 years later by your own way of arguing discovered this very point. It is no longer the war, the paintings or the pictures of war, it is just the war of pictures, and that is what everybody in these fields is interested in. They don’t care for the paintings of the war, they don’t care for any picture of suffering people, they don’t care, they just use the paintings.

Romuald Karmakar:
I just want to interfere before we change the theme. Adila, I first met Bazon Brock last Saturday and we had a little argument on Sunday at the conference in Tel Aviv, because he was teaching the Israelis. So this is a habit – and I hope that Bazon will not be too angery with me – it is his habit to preach and to say words like “this may teach you something”. That is his way of thinking, that is his way of being. What strikes me most is his rhetoric, because first of all he describes to us – and also to me – that he is a child of a fugitive family and that his destiny is part of the destiny of twelve million people from mostly East European countries that were integrated into Germany. Then he continues saying, that he himself never saw himself as a victim. This is a very interesting and strange point of view for me. Maybe it is for him, for Bazon, for his way of life and for his career – because he is a professor. In Germany the twelve million fugitives we had always saw themselves as victims and also the Germans saw themselves as victims and it took German society until 1982 in the mid-eighties, to accept the broad part of German society that the most important crime that the Germans committed was the crime against the Jews. And it is only a few years ago that the destiny of the fugitives was accepted among the broader German public and it was initiated by left-wing intellectuals like Bazon Brock. So it is not true that the issue of the destiny of the fugitives was never an issue in German society. Secondly it is very strange that you start from this point of view, for he is giving you a lesson about how strong his character is, how he survived the problems. And it is a big problem and it is also was a big achievement of German society after the war to include twelve million people in German society and to construct a democratic society. The second thing that is absolutely wrong is his way of seeing the National Socialism, because he uses words like “the National Socialism didn’t have an idea about what they were doing” and then in term of the Holocaust you talked about it  that it was “just stupidity”. Maybe to us it feels like it was just stupidity, but it won’t help one understand how such a small country such as Germany conquered the whole of Europe if there were only idiots doing the job. There was an ideology behind it, but it was not a homogeneous ideology how to conquer Europe, there was not even a homogeneous approach on how to occupy France, Poland or Denmark. There were always numerous and different ways of occupation. There was not a single program of what we call National Socialism, but there was something like “Weltanschauung” which means “world view” and this drove them and the majority of  German society to follow the leaders for more than twelve years, especially in the time of war. So when you come here to Ramallah and tell the people that they shouldn’t look for a solution and all these things, it sounds very strange from somebody who comes from Germany to say this to the people here, because the Germans and especially German society is only back in the game, because all the other countries who were conquered by Germany offered them their hand and gave them the chance to participate in Europe, in the UN for example. So it is very strange how you appear. And now the last thing I want to say is: There were intellectuals in the SS and they defined themselves as the elite – because you were talking about the Reichsicherheitshauptamt – this was the terror center of the Nazi Germany. And there were intellectuals in there, they were developing plans to conquer Europe and other races by saying “we have nothing against other races, we have nothing against the Jews but we have to kill them, because they are a threat to our society”. So I just want to say that you are very close to this way of thinking as a German who got a second chance to be like that.

Bazon Brock:
He said, the Germans looked upon themselves as being victims for instance as represented by institutions who pretended to be the speakers of the Silesians, of the Pomeranians, the East Russians who had to flee to the western part of Germany. Of course the functionaries of these groups wanted to have an influence and they always said “we are speaking for these twelve millions and therefore we should never go into any negotiation with Poland about the lost areas”, the “occupied areas” as we called it. We called all the territories which were taken by Poland after 1945 the “occupied territories”. These functionaries said: “We should never start negotiations with Poland. We should keep the situation brutal and aggressive in  preparation of the next war, so we do not integrate these refugees.” The functionaries who by their will of having the political power said “we are not going to integrate the refugees, because then we have dynamics of re-asking the Polish whether you give it back or not, and if you don’t want to give it back we start a war again”. And of course, as you know, they had no influence in the Western German politics, these functionaries never had any meaning. The refugees were integrated. We did not ask to get back the occupied territories back. By three contracts now everyone in Germany – nearly everyone – without, let’s say, 10 percent of people like everywhere, even here, 10 percent or whatever never, never would agree to any logical idea, but all the rest accepts that we do not ask for the occupied territories back, even now when people privately start to ask for their homes back, their villas. It is common sense now in Germany from the government down to the average man that they say that  “this is not the official political idea, this is private,  as a private person you can do whatever you want, ask the court marshal or whatever to give you by a sentence of the court back your villa in Posen but this is not official politics”. So we integrated the refugees. We gave up the occupied territories. We did not ask to go on in terms of our cultural rights any longer.
The second: When America went into the recent  War in Iraq it was exactly the same as with Hitler. Of course he had the power to send in marching machinery  units of men to go to Poland and Russia. And then what happens? Exactly the same as now – what does it mean to conquer Iraq? Nothing, nothing, nothing at all. If there would not have been thoe stupid idiots in charge in Washington everybody could have said “oh, let’s pretend we will win the war”. And then what? What is the aim of this war? What do you want there? They never asked this. And this is the sense in which I meant “they had no idea”. The Americans did not have any idea what to do after the invasion of Iraq, and Hitler didn’t have the slightest idea what to do after conquering Russia. That is what I call political stupidity and this is irrationalism.

Fareed Majari:
I would like to intervene at this point. I think I am very grateful to both – Bazon’s contribution and also to your interventions and reactions. I do feel that this brings us to the very point of this conference. It goes deep to the roots of the question of the existence of an artist and his role and how he perceives his role. Is it detaching yourself from all points of references, of political references, of cultural references or do you contribute, do you want to be part of the political processes and claim to be able to be part of political solutions. I definitely do not have any answer to this question, but I think it is a  worldwide question.

Alia Arasoughly:
Before going to the next presentation by Vera Tamari and Nahed Awwad, I have a comment on Khaled Hourani’s presentation. I think that there is a big difference between somebody who is covering war as a news person whose profession it is to go from one place to another to cover war or someone whose profession it is to look at war in a which it will sell the evening news.  War then becomes a commodity regardless of the degree that they may personally get involved in the different contexts of war. And I think there is a  marked difference between the news person who covers war – and that is, I think, the example that Khaled Hourani talked to us about – and between filmmakers who live in communities that are experiencing war,  and  speak of their lived experience. And I highlight this difference only because of what it implies and the possible implications it has. I think that someone who covers war as a profession that is feed into hundreds and thousands of TV-screens internationally every night and is a product, this person is not interestd in the resolution of war. This person’s mother and father and sisters are not in that war.  Most of the time they also lift themselves out of the war, there is of course a high casualty rate, as some very tough jobs have high casualty rates, and they are paid the rates and insurance that go with risk. I think independent filmmakers – and I mention specifically Palestinian women and men filmmakers – who make independent films go into contexts where most of us don’t have any kind of insurance, don’t have any kind of bulletproof vests, don’t have bulletproof cars, we go out into very dangerous circumstances with only our jackets while the international crews  have their protection. What drives us to do this and to get those images at a very high price for us is, I think fundamentally, we want to show what war is like so that we can  contribute to the ending of war so that we and our communities and our families don’t have to experience war again.  I think this is really for me as a filmmaker the mark difference between news and independent filmmaking in war.

– Comment by Khaled Hourani in Arabic –

بفكر طبعاً الصورة اللي بقصدها هي الصورة اللي بالفلم السينمائي أو الصورة اللي في الأخبار (النيوز) أو في اللوحة اللي في المتحف الصورة بشكل عام ( آز أن إيميج ) مش الصورة الإعلامية فقط، مع أنه ما يحكم الآن هي الصورة بشكل أو بآخر الصورة الفوتوغرافية.

اللي حاولت أقوله بخصوص سطوة الصورة المفبركة أو سطوة الصورة المنتجة بنوايا هي موضوع تغلب حتى على الفن، الإنسانية منذ أن رسمت على جدران الكهوف وحتى الوقت الحاضر لم تستطع الحؤول دون هذا الموت العبثي اللي بتعيشه الكرة الأرضية، للأسف الفن وُظِّف أكثر مما وَظَّف نفسه لمنع الحرب.

الأوروبيين بعد تجربة الحرب العالمية الثانية واللي عاشوا فيها ويلات كبيرة، مقولة ثقافية العامة للموضوع والرغبة في تجاوز ويلات الحرب أنتجت مفاهيم الشعوب والناس تلقوا هذا المعطى كأنه أدركت الإنسانية عبث الحروب ومأساتها وبالتالي الفكر الإنساني والفن كشف وفضح هذه البشاعة اللي في الحرب وإنو الإنسانية رايحة تعيش في تبات ونبات. للأسف في العشر سنوات الأخيرة هالتطور التكنولوجي اللي مفروض نكون مسرورين عليه وهو لازم يتجند لمواجهة المرض والجوع ننتج غذاء أكثر ننتج غذاء بجودة أعلى نتغلب على مشاكل الطبيعة والزلازل وما إلى ذلك، إنو هاي التكنولوجيا وُظفت أخيراً في حروب غير مبررة، بالقطع لا يعني أحد إذا الحرب تبعت شارون أو تبعت بوش غير مفيدة ولن تنجز شيء، أنا أعتقد أنو هم ضحايا أيضاً، مشني الحروب نفسهم وهذا لا يغير في الحقيقة شيء إنو الحرب شيء بشع، الحرب المفروض الفن يدينه بشكل مطلق.

التعليق اللي كنت بدي أقوله أنا - قبل مل تحكي عليا- بخصوص(يعني) فكرة الفلسطينيين عن الفن والحرب، إحنا كشعب عشنا الحرب في تقديري كمفعول به غالباً (يعني)عنا طبعاً رأي إلى حد ما  في الفنون اللي بننتجها واقع تحت ردة الفعل أكثر منه رأي في الحرب بشكل مطلق. على سبيل المثال أنا ما شفت أي معنى للي قدمتو تينا بخصوص (اللاند سكايب) في فلسطين ولا علاقة بموضوع الفن والحرب أبداً.وخشيتي إنو ليس فقط الصورة التي يريد من يُحَارب أن ينتجها عن الآخر هي التي تُوظَّف ضده، إنو الصورة اللي بنتجها من سَيُحَارب عن نفسه بين الحرب وأخرى. الفلسطينيين أنتجوا صور خلال هاي الإنتفاضة أفلام وغيره عن ذاتهم، طبعاً للأسف اللي بحكم مش الصورة  اللي بنتجها الشخص عن نفسه اللي بحكم الصورة اللي بتنتجها المؤسسة الأقوى عن من تريد، الصورة اللي بنتجوها الفلسطينيين إذا ما تيسر لنا محاسبتها أو مراقبتها فهي صورة بائسة: صورة صراخ، صورة ضحايا أيضاً، صورة أبطال وهميين. الفلسطينيين في الأربع سنوات الأخيرة اللي هي سنوات الإنتفاضة إحتفوا بصورتين تنتين، والصورة هي ليس فقط إذا بنصورها وبنضبها في البيت بتصير صورة، بتصير صورة إذا بتنتج تعرف تُسمى تنشر في وسائل الإعلام، صورة محمد الدرة كضحية وصورة فارس عودة كبطل وهدول الصورتين و ليس بينهما ثالث هم أكثر الصور اللي تم الإحتفاء فيهم للتعبير عن حجم الضحية اللي فينا وعن حجم البطل اللي فينا، وفي الحقيقة هذا غيّب الصورة الثالثة صورة اللابطل واللاضحية.

باعتقادي إنو الحوار اللي كان ممكن تروحلو ندوة من هذا النوع الفن والحرب كموضوع هام ليس فقط في فلسطين فقط وإنما في العالم، لو من جانب المنظمين اللي هم معهد جوته مشكورين على هذا التنظيم لو تيسر لهم الإتصال بعدد أكثر من الفسطينيين ذو الخبرة ويستطيعوا يدلوا بدلوهم في هذا الموضوع، حتى نكون نحكي في الدايرة، يعني انا لاحظت معظم العناوين اللي فيها مداخلات  الفلسطينيين بتنفع تكون في أي موضوع آخر، كان في مرة ندوة في بير زيت عن (اللاند سكيب) كان ممكن تنفع محاضرة تينا فيها، ما إلو علاقة هادا، مفروض يكون في دقة، باعتقد إنو بالثقافة الفسطينية وبالناس العايشين في البلاد هادي مين بقدر يدلي دلوه في المواضيع هاي وشكراً.

– Contribution by Vera Tamari, introduced by Alia Arasoughly –

Vera Tamari:
Initially I was supposed to be preparing a paper for this colloquium but then I was supposed to be away and couldn’t prepare anything, so we decided to show a film that Nahed Awwad did – a short video about 15 minutes – about an installation I did in 2002 called “Going for a ride”.

– Film screening –

Vera Tamari:
I would like to thank Nahed Awwad for following every detail of the installation-making right from the beginning, because it is the only record practically that we have of that installation since the army came into the site again with their tanks and re-destroyed the installation. I would also like to thank Penny Johnson who wrote an article that was distributed amongst you, it is called “Ramallah Dada – the reality of the absurd”. Penny wrote this article describing the car-installation “Going for a Ride” as well as another exhibition called 'Eyewitness' that took place at the same time in Ramallah in the municipality building which was also about the destroyed personal objects of people. The article was published in the Jerusalem Palestine Studies last year. I hope that you will be able to read this article; it is quite informative and thought provoking.
I have a few comments on my installation “Going for a Ride”.

Boris Moscowitz:
I am also one of the guests, coming from Germany, Boris Moscowitz. I am a publisher of an arts and culture magazine which is called “Berliner”, referring to the city at the same time. It is about an attitude, it is about being in a city where a system collapsed and another system had to realize that the values of the other may have not been the best, but that one's own are not the best either. This is why we call ourselves “Berliner”. I have a question to you and also to the other filmmaker, because basically both of you had a great education, you are privileged in some sense. The pictures you are presenting are the reality of here and this is not to be questioned. Is it your reality, which is to be asked, and how can you comment on this? And tell me, what we see, isn’t it in a way – and this is not judgmental – isn’t it kitsch to victimize yourself, to bring up emotions? We see children, we see destruction, we don’t see the longing for normality. Also every culture, every person wants security, wants safety, wants a family, has a longing. I walked through the streets – and it is my first time in Ramallah, I have to admit – and I was amazed because there are things I have not seen and I could not imagine. I knew about the destruction and I am not questioning it, I know about the dead children and about the dead people and I am not questioning it, I am not questioning history. I just wonder why this longing for normality which we see in the streets and in the stores, why isn’t that communicated as a contradiction, not as a solution. This is, I think, also picking up what Bazon was saying it’s not about solutions, it’s about realizing contradictions and dealing with these contradictions. I had a cab-ride here. And I know it is not symptomatic, please don’t get me wrong. I had a cab-ride and the driver did not speak anything but Arabic, but however he was able to communicate that “America is bad, Bush is an animal, Sharon is an animal, Germany is good, France is good, Hitler is very good, Bin Laden super good, […] good, Heil Hitler” and he took my arm, he tried to raise my arm. Yes, this is just one person out of many and we have right-wing people, difficult people in Germany as well as  in England and in the States. It’s everywhere, you have people who will have this attitude. But isn’t it the role – and I think Mahmoud tried to say this – it’s about being self reflective, self-critical and this is what I miss in the work of these two filmmakers. It is an important contribution, but you two are privileged. You show your homes, and then show the streets, show the contradictions of your lives. Make your contradiction basically, through this contradiction we will understand what you want, what you live and what you have to deal with. But otherwise it is just a cliché and it’s kitsch. And at some point  you are just emphasizing one side. I am not sure that if what I am saying is really helping and I am not sure if this is the practice of the artists. Artists should –again: I am not teaching – I am just saying these are just some ideas that I have these are just some things I have seen and that I basically want to contribute and I leave it up to you to discuss these issues from all sides. And also of course there is a contradiction in German society, of course what Bazon says is one and what Romuald says is something else and Carl would say something else. But these people are able to sit down at a table and discuss and accept each other’s difference. And I have a feeling that t the way Bazon was presenting his ideas and this is his style– well maybe it encouraged us to  stop listening to what he was saying and so we miss the essence of what he was saying which again is a question about form. And this is where now we come back to the topic “Art and War”, it is all about form, it is all about context. It depends: do you present it in a way where he said “photography is a media that is relevant” and landscape painting well we cannot relate to it anymore, it doesn’t carry the message anymore. And if you do political art – it’s fine. But somebody said: “Oh, how can I do something else?” Do something else, you cannot be a political but you can make pictures of the landscapes. These landscapes will carry the message in a way by what they are showing and what they are not showing. And this conflict you have is also on the other side of the wall, there is conflict on every side. Of course, when we met the Israelis – I guess a part of our role is to be the link. Unfortunately not all of you can travel, except for the privileged who then again choose not to be the link. Whoever has the chance to be the link has to communicate in both ways. Who has the capacity to reflect, the intellectual has the knowledge to reflect and not abuse it, to create images that again create a judgmental prejudice.  This is what I have to contribute to the films I have seen. I don’t question their content, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely understand the cause, but I absolutely don’t understand the way you work, I am sorry.

Alia Arasoughly:
Let me be as blunt as you. And I think when we were talking over lunch that when the conversation got interesting in the morning, we stopped for lunch and then we didn’t carry some of those threads that were brought up as to why we make the images we make. I think that you presume to know me and you presume to know my work. All you have seen of my work is maybe three minutes all together. In, “This is not living”, it is a constant search with all the women in the film for a normalacy, for trying to go to work. Women of all classes were shown in the film for example there is a woman who owns a TV-station and she is an editor and lives in Nablus. And you hear the beginning of her voice…

Interruption by Boris Moscowitz:
I am sorry, again: Of course there is ways to introduce ourselves to the works we do. And I am sure you haven’t seen every film that Romuald has done, you haven’t read every piece that Carl has written, this is the way, we meet here the first time. You choose the excerpts, the minutes that you think are most representative or most valuable for the discussion. We are starting a discussion, we are not presenting our works, we are not looking for a validation for our works, this is not art criticism here.

Alia Arasoughly:
In my paper – which I wasn’t able to tie the threads together unfortunately and I feel bad about it – I was tracing the figure of the mother in three works, one of my works, the work of Randa Shahal and the work of Mona Hatoum. And I actually I was trying – and maybe it was too long an argument, for I wanted actually to show something very personal. And in some way you cannot tell me what I should show for you. I chose this to talk about today, because it is of concern to me. And if you are really interested in me, then you would pay attention to my concern, too, and to the choices I selected for you, rather than reject it and want me to select something for you. You cannot negate me this way. I – as an artist, as a filmmaker, as an intellectual – I am very interested in this relationship and the relationship of loss in war. To me loss is multi-layered and very complex. One of the interesting things I was trying to trace was this sense of how three women filmmakers represent war not as a geopolitical essay of battles and dates but how they represent war in terms of the separation from the mother and the mother as representation of safety. And then the processes of either idealization – which I feel is the core of Mona Hatoum’s work, for  the mother is there in  naked and the voluptuous flesh of the mother, suggests the longing of the child. In Randa Shahal’s piece the work deals withthe mother who is implicated,  she is a guilty mother, and Randa is trying to deal with her mother in war. And then the mother that I trace in “Torn living” through the three narratives is a mother that in some way reproduces unknowingly her own sorrow and pain by telling the stories that then become the stories of the daughter and of nostalgia. I think I have every right to pursue this line of inquiry and I have every right to show the segments I showed.

Khaled Hourani:
مرحباً، كأنه صار الحوار بين طرفين فلسطينيين وألمان وكأنه كل الألمان متفقين على شيء والفلسطينيين متفقين على شيء تاني وهادا مش حقيقي أبداً.

بالنسبة للصوراللي إتعرضلها الأخ هناك بالأفلام خاصة فلم عليا ، بصراحة لو بدي أتخيل أنا كفلسطيني صور بعملها إسرائيلي عن تفجير باص في تل أبيب راح تبين مؤلمة جداً كمان وبتخلينا ندين هذا الموقف فهل سؤال الفن إنو نقدم ناس بتصرخ أو ناس منكوبة بوصل الرسالة في إنو الفن يمنع الحرب ممكن العكس يعمل ممكن يحرض لحرب جديدة، بفكر مهمة الفن وأنا مابدي أعطي وصف تقديري لشو مهمة الفن لأني صراحة ما بعرف بس على الأقل المشهد اللي بقدموا الفلسطينيين عن نفسهم بحسن نية أو بسوء نية هو بساهم في تغييب الصورة الحقيقية اللي المفروض الناس تشوفها مع إنو قد لا يكون من مهمة الفن أصلاً إنو يقدم صورة ورسالة يعني هو مش واسطة لقول الأشياء ممكن يكون هو هدف نوصله، كمان مرة بقول إحنا المتحاورين في هذه الحلقة مش صحيح إنو مقسومين لطرفين، ممكن في إختلافات بين كل طرف على حدة إذا إفترضنا إنو في فلسطينيين  وألمان وغيرنا والدليل إنو ممكن واحد من فلسطين يتفق مع واحد من ألمانيا في هذا الشأن، وهم مش جايين زي ما بنتخيل يحققوا في هالمشكلة بين الفلسطينيين والإسرائيليين ومع مين الحق ومع مين يوقفوا.

الموضوع المطروح هو موضوع فكري وموضوع مهم جداً اللي دلونا في مفروض يكون بمستوى الحرب اللي عنا وبمستوى الفن البائس ممكن أحياناً اللي بينتج في البلد.   

Norman Ohler:
I think it is very, very difficult to make art about suffering. I think it is also nearly impossible and it very easily turns into kitsch, that is why I would on the one hand agree with you. So if I was a Palestinian artist I would – I don’t know, because I am not Palestinian – but I think Palestinian artists have to be extremely careful and sensitive and to think about this claim that it might turn to kitsch. On the other hand, when I saw this film and then when I heard Vera talk about it, how she made it during the invasion was happening – under these conditions to produce a piece of art, to make an installation and then actually having it altered by the re-entering Israeli tanks, I think that is just, in a way, an amazing piece of art. So I think in a way the installation is a great work of art.

Bazon Brock:
But let us say it is a great piece of art, but not because of the circumstances, because of the quality of her as an artist, and that is the difference.

Norman Ohler:
But I think Boris Groys said that a museum of contemporary art is a museum of contemporary art because at that moment when we go into the museum and look at the pieces that is that moment when it is art or when it is not art. And I think that circumstance is part of that installation and that is what makes it very unique.

Achim Lengerer:
I just wanted to say in general that whatever opinion one has about a certain  art work, I would like to distance myself from judging artworks and I don’t think that it is part of the symposium that people show things and it is judged if it is good or bad. I think it is as a guest interesting to look how it is done. And then I refer back to what I said in the beginning, that maybe the criteria are unstable because it – like then if we use a word like “kitsch”, which I wouldn't use at all in this context because I can use it in a German context very well and very precisely and know what is meant by it. But here it feels like it is already a language problem and it is about – because we are translating the whole time – I think it is also about different levels – not like in hierarchies but like parallel levels – of working with – like on which context we speak and what kind of language we then use.  Of course we are coming like guests and we are talking about things in an abstract way. It is already an artistic way. I for myself see, if Bazon Brock is talking  it is a performative lecture – I don’t want to weaken it or judge it – but it is a way of a performance to speak, it is in itself an artistic approach of working with language. I like it or I dislike it or I like what he says or not, but it is not about a direct speech – or I don’t think it is. And coming back to something which is very often used  is  a difference between art that is about political issues and art which is a political issue. And I think that the works that I just saw are in themselves political issues and it is not art about political issues. But that does not mean that one is better, it is just different.

Romuald Kamakar:
I think, what is a problem, also for the people who invited us, is that we are not saying “I don’t like the work I saw for the reason A, B or C”. The problem – and I also have the problem Boris's style is that you come here and tell her what to do. For example, because you asked her “why did you choose this, why didn’t you choose something else and why don’t you make art about what you saw on the one day you were in Ramallah”. But, you know, you can say, “I don’t like the film she is doing or what they are doing”, but you did not talk in this way.  The next thing is that when we talk and represent ourselves here and when we saw the images of the peasants from the 1980s – I mean in our society we are producing, most of the art consists of images that do not correspond to any reality of our society. We have a big society with 80 million people, because we have a history that is very complex and very difficult – but most of the images we produce are images of a nice world, of a peasant  It is not the images of a rotten socialety, of a problematic society.
And what Bazon says is maybe that he wants  art to be judged not because it has a political cause or because it is from the Palestine or from South Africa or from Nicaragua, which is also interesting. You demand this, but for example when you see which films at the Berlin film festival get an award or which films get an award at the Oscars for the best foreign film – it’s always the films that deal with the so-called human values about people. For example people who have immigrated or who have problems like a Turkish family in our German society. So the art products that get awarded and that are always liked  are art products that do not correspond to the way we live in reality.

Adila Laidi:
I would like to make two comments. First I would like to clarify something about the images that we saw in Tina Sherwell’s presentation, because unfortunately she showed the images and talked about their relationship with landscape and then we had these images attacked for being kitschy or being whatever. So I would like to place them in a context. Everybody here – I am talking about the Palestinian artists – see these images as kitschy and old-fashioned. But it is important to know the context in which these images were produced. I will talk only about the artist Sliman Mansour who I believe is the best Palestinian contemporary artist. In the 1980s and 1970s he used to do this work and there is work even more kitschy then these works if you can believe it. He and many  other artists used to produce this kind of very direct, representational work about the village. But the interesting thing is that he has evolved and he has been doing all sorts of things, experimenting with different media and his work  a selection of which we have exhibited at the Sakakini – has been absolutely amazing and introspective, not only in the media that he uses but also in the content about Palestinian history and evaluating it. It is an extremely complex and introspective work. But why did this man evolve from doing these kitschy, direct, pastoral scenes to this kind of very forward and avant-garde work? He is a representative of most of the Palestinian artists who felt the need the first time when they came out on the scene when they were young people, when they graduated and were living in Palestine in the late 1970s and the 1980s they felt the need to create images, because we were robbed of images, like we were robbed of our identity. And so the first images that you create, the first narrative that you create is very direct, is very representational. You create the paradise lost and then you evolve. And this session is only one day, we don’t have time and maybe we don’t even have the inclination – as I said before to Mr. Brock – to show the whole panorama of Palestinian art to show that really we are good for just a few pieces were shown.
The second point that I would like to say is that I am really angry about this issue “Why do we show the kitsch?” and “Why do we show the victims?” and “We should not be victims”. You know, why is it that Palestinians always have to jump through so many hoops, they have to be hip and they have to be introspective and they have to be smart and they have to be this and that to be accepted.  Regardless of what anyone may think, this is our narrative, this is our story and we have the full right to document it and we have the full right to exercise what the French call the “duty of remembrance”, the duty to remember and to document and to express the fullness of the loss and the fullness of the violence that we experienced. And it doesn’t have to be hip and smart and to pass some test. I mean, if I look at the other side, if I look at the Israelis, who have been bombarding us for years – not us, I mean we don’t get American TV-channels or European channels who for years and years have been broadcasting films and documentaries and TV-series and books and museums about the Holocaust. They have every right to do that, they have every right to document it. But why is it that we are criticized when we have a few people who make a few films of a few minutes or a few books that talk about a little part of the Palestinian experience. I think we have every right to express ourselves in any way we want. And just to close, I have ridden in cabs in France, I have ridden in cabs in London, and believe me, I have heard a lot of fascist and racist comments and I didn’t make a judgment about the French being racist or about the British being racist. Maybe you should come and stay here a little bit more and be a town chronicler like Norman.