Although Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation and apartheid for over six decades, Western narratives usually paint them as hateful and violent, as if they were born with hatred rather than shaped by a life of displacement, discrimination, military rule, poverty and oppression.
And to deepen the injustice of these narratives, despite being born into these harsh circumstances, the vast majority of Palestinians have still adopted nonviolent strategies of resistance in their continuing struggle for equal rights and justice. Today this nonviolent resistance movement includes: weekly protests against Israel’s separation wall, mass mobilisations against Israeli policies of displacement, hunger strikes against Israel’s inhumane treatment of prisoners and staging protest camps against Israel’s appropriation of land and illegal settlements.
Thus while popular Western narratives have been insisting that Israel is the Middle East’s only democracy and that the civilised Israelis want to live in peace, whereas the backwards Palestinians only know violence, today this distortion of history is being challenged on a daily basis.
A new art exhibition currently travelling around the West Bank called “Chic-Art-Resistance” also offers a strong counter narrative, and with such honesty and simplicity that it is deeply affecting.
Palestinian activists Sami Musa and Mohammed Khatib have transformed the oppressive tools that sustain Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its apartheid policies of discrimination, and transformed them into beautiful works of art that communicate messages of love, dignity and resistance.
Musa and Khatib collected the remains of barbed wires, parts of the Israeli separation wall, spent ammunition used to suppress weekly protests, tools used by protesters to defend themselves from police assaults and the remains of tools used by journalists in order to create installations that symbolise resistance, resilience and ultimately, hope.
For example, one work shows a succulent plant growing out of a gas canister. Another features an image of a Palestinian demonstration embedded in the lens of a vintage camera, signifying that today’s struggle is a continuation of the first Intifada. The artists also represented the resistance against the separation wall by depicting it with a ladder and a hole carved out in one piece, and with graffiti artist Banky’s image of a young girl holding onto balloons, in this case real, in another.
The exhibition launched on 9 December at the Mahmoud Darwish Museum in Ramallah and then travelled to the Bethlehem Peace Centre, where it is on view until 23 December.
Khatib is the coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, a grassroots Palestinian initiative composed of various Palestinian popular committees involved in non-violent resistance in the occupied Palestinian territories, and Musa is a Brazilian-Palestinian artist.
Speaking to Al-Arabiya television, Khatib explained that the aim of the exhibition is to integrate resistance with art. He described how: “We came up with these art pieces which express [our] daily suffering. [We have] turned tools of murder used by the Israeli occupation against us into tools granting hope in life, liberation and independence. [We hope that this art] stimulates all people to get engaged in popular resistance.” It will undoubtedly inspire many.
Especially when placed in historical context. In his article “The idea of Palestine in the West”, Palestinian intellectual Edward Said described how Westerners are unable to recognise the “lived” experiences of Muslims and Arabs, which is why they are willing to uncritically accept the Zionist narrative that Palestinians never existed. Writing in 1978, Said suggested that a sharper confrontation between the Palestinian struggle and the Western and Zionist hegemonic system would render the Palestinian as “an active political force” in a history reclaimed for all humans.
While it has taken many years, and the confrontation is still ongoing, today Palestinians are successfully challenging Western and Zionist hegemony through popular resistance. “Chic-Art-Resistance” is only one of many recent efforts that make very clear that Palestinians do exist, will continue to exist and will also continue to resist until Palestine is free
Images by Haitham Khatib
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.