The River has two Banks: A Curatorial Project across Ramallah, Palestine and Amman, Jordan from September to the end of October 2012
The King Hussein Bridge that links Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories may not be very long, but its political and social connotations are endless. Ironically, the same structure not only provides the physical link between Palestinians living in the West Bank with Palestinians living in Jordan, but also reminds them of their division.
Since the second Intifada, Atarot Airport between Jerusalem and Ramallah has been closed and the Israeli authorities have prohibited Palestinians from using Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. This leaves the King Hussein Bridge as the only international exit from the occupied West Bank for Palestinians.
It is also the only entry point for Palestinians living in Jordan to go to the West Bank. Major political events have meant that a number of Palestinians left their homeland and fled to Jordan; many escaped to the East Bank, for example, when Israel took the West Bank from Jordan in 1967. Sadly, crossing back over to the occupied Palestinian territories is a luxury reserved for people with Palestinian identity documents.
Yet another deterrent to undertaking the journey across the Jordan is the effort it actually takes to cross the bridge. It should only take about two hours to get to the other side, but lengthy delays are routine. Repeated passport and baggage checks and seemingly endless orders to get into and out of buses are inevitable. In the summer, the heat and flies make the journey very unpleasant. The trip takes even longer for tourists, (the other demographic 'permitted' to cross the bridge) made into a chore by the authorities who are afraid of what foreigners might discover about the reality of daily life under occupation in the West Bank.
The growing distance between Palestinians living on either side of the river, an issue exacerbated by what happens on the bridge, is the issue that a new curatorial project, 'The River has two Banks', will address. The idea behind the project is to bring two communities together who share history and culture, but have been divided by political circumstances.
Whilst the work of the artists involved will not necessarily feature the bridge, the project is about creating the opportunity for exchange between cultural practitioners on both sides of the river, something that is currently not easy.
The project is a combined effort between Shuruq Harb, a visual artist, curator and writer based in Ramallah, Palestine; Toleen Touq, an independent cultural operator based in Amman, Jordan; and Samah Hijawi, a visual artist, cultural manager and researcher also based in Jordan. The idea was born after the three felt that they were missing out on opportunities for Jordan and Palestine to become closer and more familiar with each other. According to Samah:
"It was such a shame that we were missing out on possibilities to exchange… you would imagine because of the shared history and the social constructs that actually we would be closer, more familiar… they [Palestinians] have a very difficult experience coming across the border, the only way to travel is through Amman. It makes it a very complex relationship so we're trying to change that a little bit."
The ongoing project encourages a reworking of the connections that those living on each side of the river share – both from the past and today – and provides a platform upon which artists can meet to develop significant connections. As Samah explains:
"The idea of the project is about mobility and taking the opportunity to look at how the shared history is reflected in artistic production across the two geographies. Landscape is a theme that comes across a lot in our discussions… what we're trying to do is take work across the two geographies and open up discussions around similarities and differences."
But the project, due to take place from September until the end of November 2012, is not just restricted to the artistic community. It will consist of a number of events across Ramallah, Palestine and Amman, Jordan, at venues such as the Sakakini Cultural Centre ‑ a non-governmental, non-profit arts and cultural hub in a restored traditional mansion in Ramallah ‑ and Makan, a contemporary art space in Amman. The idea, Samah told me, is to reach as wide and diverse an audience as possible: "We're trying to make this programme also very accessible to the public so that it's a conversation; it's not always specifically involving the artistic community."
The first project from the initiative is the Travelling Artist Open Call. Palestinian artists, writers and thinkers who are already travelling via Amman, Jordan during October and December 2012, are invited to extend their journey by an extra night and stay in Makan to present their work. On an optimistic note, the Travelling Artist project invites people to see the reality of travel in and out of the West Bank as less of a restriction and more of a chance to forge stronger connections with people in Jordan, or as an opportunity to create new ones that perhaps did not exist before.
Other parts of the project, to be confirmed, include research into the contemporary music scene in Jordan and Palestine, open discussions and film screenings. Samah explained that they hope to document the project either through video or written pieces. This means that there will be something to leave behind as a reference to the investigations and questions that they will put forward in their discussion sessions and film screenings.
So whilst politicians and officials continue to overlook the problems that make the daily lives of Palestinians endlessly difficult, initiatives like 'The River has two Banks' will highlight and address them. The two countries are connected and entwined and this exhibition will be an essential medium through which to understand the history and contemporary culture on both sides of the river; and to celebrate them coming together.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.