image of jerusalem 2013

Shadowed Perspectives from Afar?
The on-going conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is producing innovative forms of expression these days!...

20 March   |   2001   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... One such upgraded form of expression has come from a number of Middle Eastern designers who are using their new fashion collections to make hard-hitting political statements. A recent display at the Tel Aviv Ascola School of Design featured the creations of twenty-two Palestinian and Israeli artists. Their use of helmets, flak jackets and camouflage clothing is a custom-made indictment of the violence in the Holy Land in which well over 400 men, women and children - Israelis and Palestinians alike - have lost their lives over the past five months.

There is an evening dress by an Arab couturier with a fake bomb woven into the floor-length and barbed-wire hoop skirt. Another one is a homicidal bag made from x-ray films of knives, pistols and explosive devices. Better still, what about eye lenses that are scored by tiny lines of wire for sharper vision? Or even the perfect figure made out of a map of Israel criss-crossed by a thin green ribbon - a reference to the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank and Gaza territories which Palestinians are struggling to reclaim for their future state.

The shell-shocked frocks are reminiscent to the angry British punk attire and the threads of American rappers of yesteryears. Fashion designers are working from within a palpable sense of mounting pain and anger caused by the recent bloodshed. For instance, Israeli designer Ronen Levine offers a harrowing ensemble of a floor-length straitjacket made from the fabric of a keffiyeh, the traditional Arab head-dress, and a Jewish kippa or skullcap that hoods the face of the wearer as if he is about to be executed. A keffiyeh cord serves as both necklace and noose. Alongside it, in crisp contrast, a shoe by Arab designer Nassim Ghneim stands alone, half of it flawless, the other half crushed and smelting into the mud. It symbolises the land, the unequal terrain and the march forward. So long as the shoe retains its bent shape, no progress can ostensibly be made in the negotiations between the warring peace partners of the Holy Land.

Over the past four years, I had the stanchable privilege of working with the Churches of Jerusalem. During this short time, I witnessed much prayer, hope and expectation being expressed for a better and brighter future for this land. But then again, I also witnessed that same sense of prayer, hope and expectation being squelched pitilessly let alone scarred ruthlessly by people who did not seem to appreciate the God-given value of life - any life, all life - or who placed political designs above human lives! And much as I called for dialogue and coexistence between the ‘two peoples and three religions’ of this small parcel of hallowed land, I often felt helpless in the face of an indefatigable determination to sink deeper into the political mire. Calls such as mine - and much more importantly those made by the religious leadership - sounded vacuous at best and redundant at worst! Intransigence was often the anti-dote for optimism, and parvanimity the unyielding partner of magnanimity. Although people often ‘listened’ to what others were saying, they did not always ‘hear’ them ..!

Today, I am even more concerned about the future of the land where God chose to reveal His divine will. Indeed, ever since the creation of a new Israeli government under the challenging leadership of PM Ariel Sharon, local conditions have become grimmer. The reality is acrid. The Palestinian territories have been cordoned off. Hardly any movement is possible anymore. The siege has become almost hermetic and people feel caged in. Consequently, hatred let alone bigotry and distrust have become rampant in both communities, and the wounds on both sides are not only festering - they are stenching too. Physical and structural violence are commonplace these days, and rejection of the ‘other’ is the rule rather than the exception. Are subjugation and surrender the awkward names of this latest tactic? Is cutting off oil supplies or financial lifelines the strategic answer for security let alone for good will and good faith between both sides? Conversely though, can blowing off innocent civilian people in bloody suicide attacks become an adequate riposte to political frustration? I fear not!

In the past five months, Palestinians and Israelis have both been traumatised - almost irreparably so - by the unstoppable confrontations that have ravaged their collective psyches. Yet, I believe that no amount of brutal force will resolve the conflict. Force is the anti-thesis of any solution. As the eminent pacifist Martin Gilbert wrote recently in his latest tome, non-violence - be it in the soul, the mind or the heart - is always the answer. So let me posit a couple of observations that will appear facile and naive to both parties. They will not sit comfortably with the flag-waving aspirations of both peoples and will inevitably come across as being partisan!

Israelis and Palestinians are destined willy-nilly to live together on the land of their forefathers. Neither can cleanse the other out. Neither can delete the history of the other. Neither can dominate the other for long. But in order to live side by side, Israelis must accept once and for all that they cannot occupy a land that is not theirs, and then expect Palestinians to cower under their overwhelming military might. Freedom is a rejuvenating concept, and history teaches its readers that force cannot vanquish all. Hand in hand with this realisation though, Palestinians must equally learn to stake out their future independent state in the spirit of give and take. It is no use talking about peace when incitement continues in some quarters, and when the political concept of ‘peace in proximity’ has not yet sunk in fully. But to achieve that, what is needed in this land is a civil society whose intellectuals and institutions have the moral probity and practical ability to enforce such an educational exercise.

The best package deal I can offer - for all that it will matter to the bigwigs negotiating in far-off places or calling the shots from their own little fiefdoms - is for Israel to relinquish its unrelenting colonialist grip that implies the control of another people and their basic freedoms through the control of the land and its resources. Conversely, Palestinians must learn to yield their lofty dreams and to settle instead for more achievable and realistic goals.

What is obvious to me is that a lot of Palestinians and Israelis - despite the recent hardening of positions - acquiesce to this scenario privately but disagree with it publicly. But this is a human reaction that stems from emotive as much as ideological or political considerations. My own concern is a moral one that blends my own Christian religious beliefs with my moral precepts. Suffering is a recurrent theme in the Bible, and has also become a malignant theme in the lives of both peoples here. Is it not time that this unjust chapter be brought to an end with justice? After all, does everybody not seek to spare this land of further pain, anguish and sorrow?

And in this way, might it not be possible to veer away from an endemic cycle of hostility and think of another fashion show where the themes are somewhat … more pacific?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2001   |   20 March


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