Friday, June 24, 2011

Picasso in Ramallah, bulldozers in Bir Al-Ad and the fear of missiles

This week there arrived at the International Academy of Art, Palestine - in Ramallah - the painting  "Buste de Femme," which Pablo Picasso painted in 1943 when he lived in Nazi-occupied Paris. The painting is usually located at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Its value is estimated at seven million dollars and it was lent to the Palestinian gallery for one month.

Khalid Horani, director of the Academy of Art, who had conducted the negotiations with the Dutch museum told that it took no less than two years of discussions and coordination and struggles to overcome numerous bureaucratic obstacles and allow the valuable painting to move from the Amsterdam airport to that of Tel Aviv and from there through the IDF checkpoints to Ramallah. "Nothing is normal over here" Horani said. "We planned to get an art work here, but found ourselves going through all the political complications."

Fortunately, the project of the "Picasso in Palestine" exhibition got very energetic assistance from Hourani's Dutch colleague, Charles Esche, who said "Our Picasso was changed in the course of its journey to Ramallah. It gets another meaning, and the story of this travel will remain part of this painting's history."

Never before was a work of art on this level exhibited in the Palestinian territories. (Art Knowledge News ).

On that same day, at almost exactly the same hour that the valuable painting arrived at the showroom in Ramallah, bulldozers of the Israeli Defense Forces made their way to the tiny village of Bir Al-Ad in the South Hebron Hills, and in less than an hour demolished its miserable huts, destroyed sacks of animal food, uprooted plants and shrubs, leaving behind heaps of rubble and ninety homeless people. The nearby caves, also used for housing, were on this occasion not demolished, but the soldiers made sure to cut and sever the electricity cables which the inhabitants had installed to light them. "You here don't deserve to have electricity!" said one of the soldiers to a resident who dared to protest. Ezra Nawi and Rabbi Arik Asherman, Israeli peace activists who arrived at the spot after hearing the inhabitants' desperate pleas for help, were immediately taken off to military detention.

And this destruction was nothing new or unusual in the history of the Israeli occupation on the West Bank. It happens routinely, on one week in the southern West Bank and next week in its east, although such events receive very little attention and are rarely reported in any media. Had I wanted, I could have post here every week - and maybe two or three times a week - the story of the latest destruction, and they would all be alike as two peas in a pod (or two drops of blood), different only with changing name of the most currently destroyed village. As usual in such stories, the land of Bir Al-Ad is coveted by settlers – in this case, the settlers of the nearby Mitzpe Yair. Officially, Mitzpe Yair is an illegal outpost, even by the rather permissive standards of the Israeli occupation. Which in no way disturbs the same authorities to consider its inhabitants fully deserving of a regular supply of electricity which the army takes care to provide.

And two days after these events, the Army's Home Front Command conducted a civil defense exercise in unprecedented dimensions throughout Israel. And in this exercise horror scenarios were postulated of war on four fronts, against the Palestinians and the Syrians and the Lebanese and the Iranians simultaneously and the fall of seven hundred missiles. And citizens were to take the air raid alarms seriously and run immediately to the nearest shelter, if any. And a senior Home Front Command officer expressed dissatisfaction with the indifferent behavior of many citizens, especially the Tel Avivians who ignored the blaring sirens and continued to bathe in the sea. "When real missiles fall, we will see them running" said the officer with some vindictiveness.

But maybe the fall of the real missiles can be averted. If the day comes when e residents of Bir Al-Ad  can live peacefully in their miserable homes, and when loaning paintings to a gallery Palestinians would no longer need to struggle through the coils of Israeli military bureaucracy, and when all Palestinians - rich and poor, rural and urban -  are a free people in their homeland of Palestine, then might also the officers of the  IDF Home Front Command consign the horror scenarios to the archives and take off their uniforms for a refreshing swim on the Tel Aviv sea shore.

Photos and account of the destruction by Rabbi Arik Asherman

Account on the Rabbis for Human Rights website

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