Qalandiya International 2016
In an attempt to suggest a different point of entry and to dust off the layers of repetitive manifestations of the Nakba and imagined “Return”, Qalandiya International adopts “This Sea is Mine” as the title of Qi 2016. The Sea, which has inadvertently been omitted from our narrative and the agendas of our politicians, and subsequently been transformed into another component of the siege, or a trap for those fleeing death, could potentially elevate the question of this right from the possibilities of politics to the realm of obviousness. It may be able to position Palestine and the Palestinians in their rightful historic and geographical place and enable us to reclaim our organic ties with the future and the world.
Can a word carry the cure to all the ailments, both past and present, of a tragedy? For us Palestinians, “Return” has become the core antithesis to our “Nakba”.
The dictionary definition of the Nakba, together with general everyday practices, has fixed the portrayal of the Nakba as the forced displacement of around 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 from their homes and the destruction of hundreds of villages by Zionist paramilitaries as they established the state of Israel. The idea of return, the most ‘intuitive’ right of Palestinians, and part of the holy trinity of Palestinian dreams and national demands (alongside self-determination and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital), has been reduced to a rigid slogan. Today the slogan is static and empty of meaning or connection to our national project, and is only used by politicians for public consumption.
More commonly, the Return ‘project’ has been diminished to merely the symbolic realm of visual culture, most often manifested in shallow and one-dimensional representations of the Nakba, such as the symbol of the key, the UNRWA refugee card and the map. All of these are routinely paraded on national occasions and the Nakba commemorations on the 15th of May of each year, when we witness imagery and political propaganda produced for the occasion that is then swiftly removed the next day.
The recent escalation of violence in the Arab world and the resulting human tragedies and mass displacements that have followed may shift the last glimpse of light shining on the plight of Palestinian refugees over to more urgent and pressing issues. Ironically, because of the recent escalations, these current manifestations of the original Nakba have become the harshest and cruelest for decades. Perhaps the apocalyptic image of the people of Yarmouk Camp in Syria waiting for their portions of humanitarian assistance amidst the destruction of the camp after surviving months of hunger and siege is one of these new manifestations, much of which remains hidden away from the eyes and interests of the media. And we cannot help but view the current refugee crisis, with so many trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe as they flee the region, especially Syria, as a reproduction of the Palestinian tragedy with all its ramifications and larger questions.
In this harsh context, as hope subsides and collective dreams fall apart, enlightened projects can almost disappear, and as the voices of intellectuals and artists are hushed and popular movements and demands retreat in the face of narrow and exclusionary ideological political rivalries, the third edition of Qalandiya International brings to the foreground the issue of the Palestinian Return. What is happening around us makes it more crucial than ever before to debate the concept, its positioning and its meanings, on many levels: political, cultural and humanistic. Qi2016 attempts to open up the concept of Return and approach it from new and fresh perspectives.