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Israel's control over movement, reflected by a local artist

May Castelnuovo presents a visual representation of 101 things, at which we would rather not look.  

Photo by Meitar Moran

As the crow flies, the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design is situated less than one kilometer from the separation wall. Indeed, the crow need not even fly from Israel’s most prestigious art school to the questionable concrete barrier; it can mosey there at ease.

Within Bezalel, one finds the typical Israeli mix of art that concerns itself with local realities and that which stubbornly ignores them. This post is dedicated to one work of the first category, presented only last week by a student at Bezalel’s photography department. I am sharing it for two reasons. First, it is the work of a dear friend, who is also a recent creative partner and +972 contributor. May Castelnuovo is responsible for the photography and film footage of “Last Metro to Taksim,” a five part exploration of protest-Istanbul.

Second, while professedly a rudimentary experiment, it is an enormously educational piece of art. It is made up of permits – permits necessary for movement, permits for crossing the wall. The crow may fly right over it, but it traps men and women. Many Palestinians never get a permit to cross the separation barrier and go into Israel. For those who do, Israel issues 101 kinds of permits: only for Jerusalem, only for a specific hospital in Jerusalem, only for daylight hours, for all hours, for a few hours, etc., etc.

The permit policy can be described as a form of bureaucratic violence, or at least a tool of intimidation. Palestinians receive no information about how to qualify for a permit. One permit expires, and the next offers entirely different liberties, for no apparent reason. The printers at Kafka’s castle work overtime.

Like the wall itself, the policy is presented as a security measure. It is, however, a dubious one. On one fine day last August, Israel experimented with relaxing this policy and lavishly issued nearly 300,000 permits, drawing multitudes of Palestinians to Mediterranean beaches. No violent incidents were recorded that day. The meager value of this gross infringement on human rights was clearly displayed, and yet the experiment has not yet been repeated.

Castelnuovo sought to obtain copies of all the different types of permits and post them as is on one of Bezalel’s walls.  She learned that this is pretty much impossible, even for an Israeli. The permits are issued at the whim of the “Civil Administration,” a incommunicable, totalitarian arm of Israel that manages the lives of 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. The Civil Administration’s headquarters are located in the settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah. It is an organization of which most Israelis know nothing at all. Few express curiosity about it.

So here’s one who did express some curiosity, and found herself running up against a wall. Even Gisha, an NGO that concerns itself directly with the freedom of movement of Palestinians, was unable to supply all 101 variations. Castelnuovo obtained a single permit. It permits its holder only to visit Tel Aviv, for one day only, in order to attend a conference. She photocopied it 101 times, and posted the copies in a form that highlights their prime number (the deletions on the photo are my own, made at the suggestion of the artist).

The piece poses a couple of interesting questions from an artistic standpoint. Here is a photographer making use of the Xerox lens, for want of an effective photographic vantage point on her subject matter. Here is also a very charged use of a replication: does the multiplying of the single permit reduce it to a Campbell’s soup can? Is this work not only repetitive, but redundant?

I think not. Rarely does one encounter a more honest artistic rendering of our homegrown evils. In Maya Angelou’s poem “I know why the caged bird sings”, the caged bird sings of its shattered dreams, while the free bird is oblivious to such sufferings. At Bezalel last week, a free bird lamented the condition of the caged ones, and her song was a concise and precise chirp. With society, the media and the education system looking the other way, this is the most we may know – a single story, and even that, only if we care to listen. Then we must use our imagination to sense the unthinkable reality. Our neighbors, by the millions, are subjected to endless, constant, meticulously designed harassment in our name.

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    1. Kolumn9

      Access to Israel, like access to any country, is not a human right. The denial thereof is therefore not an infringement on human rights.

      These Kafkaesque policies are a silly attempt at squaring the circle between trying to maintain a security policy which benefits from minimizing access by Palestinians and a humanitarian policy which tries to deal with 101 different reasons why a Palestinian might benefit from access to Israel (and potentially vice versa).

      As far as I am concerned no permits should be issued at all for any reason. That would entirely remove the material for this kind of exhibition and the countless articles that the inconsistencies in the policies engender. More importantly it would work towards removing the perception among the Palestinians and their supporters that the Palestinians somehow have a right to enter Israel and Israel is blocking them when no such right exists in the first place.

      Reply to Comment
      • “Access to Israel, like access to any country, is not a human right.”

        Supporters of the settlement enterprise typically maintain that all of the West Bank is Israeli territory. When you talk about Palestinians from the West Bank ‘accessing Israel’, are you acknowledging the legitimacy of the 1967 borders? And if you do not acknowledge their legitimacy, then how do you square support for Israeli Jewish settlement in the West Bank with support for restrictions on one Palestinian’s movement – even if just for one day – in the opposite direction? It would seem that you favour sealed bantustans.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Yes, but I don’t claim all of the West Bank as Israeli territory. Everything within the 1948 cease fire lines is certainly Israeli territory. The West Bank is disputed and will at some point be partitioned between Israel and Palestine. All this was agreed to between the two sides at Oslo. So, what precisely is the problem with Israel denying foreigners access to territory that is undisputably Israel’s?

          Reply to Comment
          • Gearoid

            The problem is that access is allowed for settlers.

            Two legal systems for two different peoples is what strengthens the use of the term apartheid.

            If you’d like to make it equal, make sure the settlers are required to follow the same permit regime. But I doubt this violation of democratic principles really bothers you in the least.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Two legal systems for two different peoples is what strengthens the use of the term apartheid.

            Given that People A are notorious for carrying out acts of terror, such as suicide bombings, are not willing to accept existence of the state and are actively working against it, while People B are active supporters of the state and aren’t particularly notorious for suicide bombings, there is hardly a reason to handle these people under the same legal terms.

            Reply to Comment
          • David T.

            “Everything within the 1948 cease fire lines is certainly Israeli territory.”

            No, everything with its internationally binding declared borders within partition territory.

            “The West Bank is disputed …”

            No, it was occupied by Israel in 1967.

            “So, what precisely is the problem with Israel denying foreigners access to territory that is undisputably Israel’s?”

            So people which are kept expelled and denationalized become “foreigners”. Did you pick that up from a certain propaganda before 1945?

            Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        The violation took place in 1948, when the residents of Palestine were expelled from the territory seized to become Israel. No permits should need to be issued, because Palestinians should have the freedom of movement in their native land.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Yes, yes.. In 1948 a terrible thing happened. The Jews won the war and the Palestinians failed in stopping the birth of Israel and throwing the Jews into the sea. The horror..

          Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Oh, the horror of throwing the Jews in the sea! How often do we hear of it!

            No horror about throwing the Arabs in the sea, as actually happened.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            You are truly sorry that Jews had won that war, are you not?

            Reply to Comment
    2. @Kolumn9, So long as Israel controls the West Bank, and holds the market there captive (Palestinians do not have their own currency and are dependent on Israel’s ports for import, etc.), so long as families are divided by the wall, so long as Israelis may settle throughout the West Bank, free to enter and leave at will, and are encouraged to do so by the Israeli government, so long as medical facilities in the West Bank are greatly dysfunctional due to occupation policies… in short, so long as Israel occupies the population of the West Bank, in many ways that transcend physical violence, and keeps it a disenfranchised hostage, access to Israel for Palestinians is a human right.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        No Yuval. It is not. Even as an occupied population the Palestinian residents of the West Bank have exactly zero right to claim access to Israel. Yes their economy and health system is crappy, something you can say about any of Israel’s neighbors, and like them the Palestinians have no ‘human right’ to access Israel. Neither poverty nor dependency issues rights. This is yet another of these purely sentimental articles where yet another ‘right’ is created from smoke and a litany of complaints.

        Reply to Comment
        • In this case military occupation is quite deliberately impeding/controlling Palestine’s economic development. Israel and the OPT are enmeshed, and you persist in treating them as though they are two separate entities.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            In the vast majority of cases military occupations, deliberately or not, impede economic development. In this case, at least until the suicide bombings started, the Palestinian economy was immensely better off than it was prior to 1967.

            Israel and Palestine are quite obviously separate entities. That Israel retains some aspects of control over Palestine and that Palestine refuses to reach a peace treaty with Israel do not change that.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            Get back to us, K9, when Israelis need a permit to enter Palestine, instead of using guns.

            Reply to Comment

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