Ahdaf Soueif on the guardian

"Leaning against padded walls in a darkened room we eavesdrop on an argument: "the elite think they can get independence without resistance - by collaboration -"
"What's wrong with being normal? Normality as a form of resistance -"

"What is normal?"

"You know, sometimes I forget that we're under occupation . . ."

Last week I heard the same phrases in Ramallah. Today, we're listening to them at the Venice biennale, in Ramallah Syndrome, a project by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti.

Three biennales ago, in 2003, Bethlehem-born Hilal and her husband, Petti, provided the exhibition with Stateless Nation: a number of giant passports that you came upon, one by one, in the pavilions of different states. The passports were issued by different authorities, but the bearer's place of birth was always Palestine. Now I'm struck by the converse: the number of people born in different parts of the world who identify themselves and act as Palestinians. And this year the Palestinians have - well, not a pavilion, but a space of their own. As one of the 44 "Collateral Events" of the 53rd biennale, they are housed - courtesy of the City of Venice - in the former Convento dei Santi Cosma e Damiano"

for the all article http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/jun/13/art-theatre

Marisa Mazria-Katz on the economist

"Ramallah Syndrome", the installation consists of a padded cell in which visitors sit in darkness and listen to a soundtrack. For about ten minutes, the sounds of beating hearts mix with tractor hums, and heavily accented voices proclaim in English: “We are imagining stability… sometimes I forget there is an occupation…if you just go North, South, wherever there is a checkpoint…reality says we are under occupation...we absolutely need to be one people.”

“There is a massive over-exposure of images of Palestine,” says Petti. “And because of all these images you cannot hear anything. So we decided to produce something that is more linked to the people, which is interesting, crucial, and also self-critical. We are asking those who only know the news to listen to everyday life here.”


for the all article http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/content/marisa-mazria-katz/stateless-nation-palestine-venice-biennale

Bidoun

In Palestine c/o Venice, special mention goes to Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti for their remarkable sound installation Ramallah Syndrome. Rarely do sound installations make any sense of their spatial dimensions but this work demands that you enter a small, dark room, so that once you close the door, your eyes adjust and you feel the sense of enclosure, being surrounded by grey walls and overwhelmed by the voices and sounds that are expertly mixed into a complex and uncompromising soundtrack of occupation. The piece shifts with great linguistic dexterity between notions of normal, normality, normalcy and normalization, and mulls over the political implications of them all.


http://bidoun.com/venice/?p=91

Ramallah syndrome sound installation at the Jerusalem Show III

http://www.e-flux.com/shows/view/7229

http://www.almamalfoundation.org/

It has become a small nucleus of Palestinian society


- Alessandro:
Specifically Ramallah is a different situation, it's not like, let's say, Bethlehem, Hebron or Jenin or Nablus exactly because, as you just said, there is a kind of urban density with people, with diversities even though they're under occupation. So what we are trying to understand is that if specifically for Ramallah, there is a possibility for a Palestinian counter-project, something that we can call resistance or just another form of co-optation. Because we can say that perhaps in Jenin, Hebron, they do the same thing more-or-less, but they are not built in the same way, for the same reason and they don't have the power. This is the basic thing about Ramallah, no? That in a way, because there is the Palestinian Authority, they have the power to speak for everybody, in other words they are representative of power.

- Jamil:
It has potential yes, because if you take other towns – we don't have cities, we have towns – if you take al-Khalil or Nablus, for example, these cities are still structured by family-groupings, the main families there, they control more-or-less the economy and political structure etc. Ramallah is different, it doesn’t have this structure. It has become for some various reasons - I have mentioned some of them - the annexation of Jerusalem, the borders etc. - the fact that it has become the seat of the Palestinian Authority, NGOs, new companies, private sector, political parties, so it contains this plurality, diversity from different parts of the West Bank, so it has become to represent the Palestinian society in terms of the composition of Ramallah, the demographic composition. And in terms of people relating to each other not through kinship but through other means, through work, through neighborhoods, through associations, through cultural activities, political affiliations etc. Now, this is still, I think, in a state of potentiality, to become the opposition centre, it has some objective qualities because of its representative character. It could become the centre for resistance and demand for self-determination and for inventing new forms of opposition to the Israeli project.

- Sandi:
(in Arabic) So what do you feel could be the potentiality of Ramallah?

-Jamil:
Because Ramallah has become a real urban centre, forget for a minute about the colonial situation, it has come to represent Palestinians from different walks of life, from different areas, from Gaza, also with Palestinians who are returnees, diaspora, so it has become a small nucleus of Palestinian society, including also Palestinians from '48 areas who work in Universities and different institutions. So objectively it has the potential to become the centre for resistance against the Israeli project of turning Gaza and the West Bank into Bantustans and calling it a Palestinian state.

[Extracts from conversation no.7]

There is this illusion that they can do it without resistance...


- Jamil:
There remains still among the elite of the Palestinian Authority, and part of also the political elite and the private sector, the idea that there is still the possibility of a state, of an independent sovereign Palestine through negotiations. There is this illusion that they can do it without resistance – I'm talking about not just one form of resistance but resistance in its various aspects; against the Wall, against colonization, against normalization etc. But this myth, this illusion, is, I think, disappearing fast after the failure of the Road Map, of Annapolis, after the rise of the extreme right-wing Israeli government, the continued expansion of the colonial settlements. So now, the great majority of people realize that there is not going to be a Palestinian state in the sense that Bush used to talk about, or maybe that Mubarak would talk about. But there is a project, a Bantustan state, with pockets of population under the control of the Israeli state.

The elite have also come to see that they have some privileges and they don't want to say to the Israelis 'Go to hell. The PA is just a fa├žade, we don't have any form of sovereignty, and we're going to dissolve the PA and go back to a liberation movement.' The time will come, I think it will come soon, even if Obama assures them everyday that there is a two-state solution. There is not, there is one state that is creating an apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

- Alessandro:
Is it even possible to dismantle the Palestinian Authority at the moment, because too many people are inside the machine?

- Jamil:
They are inside the machine and certain structures have been created and certain people find it difficult to do it, how are you going to support 165,000 people who get salaries form the PA. What about the education which is now run by Palestinians, health services etc. You could keep the PA, not as a political organ but as a municipality running services, that's what it's doing in fact, it's not doing more than this! Because there has been no negotiation done by the PLO, the PLO has been frozen since the PA has been established, it's not active, it's not the representative body. We don't have any national institutions, for example, since 2006, the Legislative Council has been paralyzed, the PLO institutions have also been paralyzed so that's why we have this polarization between Hamas and Fateh and each has established its own political domain , with Fateh in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, with no national umbrella, no national institution to flesh out your differences, find out the solutions to the national problems.

Once you are outside Ramallah you immediately face Israeli checkpoints, so you have to see it through this system of controlled urbanization where the Palestinian Authority has some sort of symbols of sovereignty, but in fact it's all very deceptive. There is not much power, this is it. I f you go to the restaurants and if you go to the fashion shops you can maybe choose fashion from Italy and maybe suits from France whatever, you think that you have entered this bubble - but it is a bubble, it can be punctured. Like what happened in 2002 when the Israelis invaded Ramallah. Which within one hour the Israelis took complete control, Arafat was besieged in one room, with smelly toilets and it was difficult to get him food. It shows you the real power - still with the occupation, when they want to use it they use it.

[Extracts from conversation no.7]

'Forget about Jerusalem, Ramallah is your centre.'


- Sandi:
You don't think that the project of normalization, or normalizing Ramallah, is like giving someone machines to live longer? Like having a dead-body that is kept alive by the illusion of being alive?

- Jamil:
You think it's like a bribe to the political elite?

-Sandi:
Exactly.

- Jamil:
I don't know the point of view of the Israelis but I think that the first thing they want to establish is: 'Look, Jerusalem is not going to be your capital, if you want a capital, here is your capital, Ramallah-Bireh.' 'Forget about Jerusalem, Ramallah is your centre.' I mean talking to the elite, not to you and me. 'Ok, you want to have a sense of urban life, you can have your theatres, you can have your restaurants, you can have whatever, but within this few square miles, few square kilometers.' But at the same time, it reminds them every now and then, they go in at two o'clock in the night and they take who they want and they leave. And they tell them before, they tell the police that 'We have some activity between 12am and 4am' which means 'disappear' so they tell them who's the master, but allows them to play in this free space, a space which has been fenced. This, I think, will eventually, I hope sooner rather than later, will become obvious.

[Extract from conversation no. 7]

Can you have a boyfriend in Qalqilya?


- Alessandro:

It's true that we can criticize Ramallah, but especially from the point of view of women, it's a place for freedom. Especially when we discuss with younger women. For them, being in Ramallah is gaining a space that is free from what is imposed or what is perceived to be imposed by the family. What do you think?

- Wafa':
I'm actually from Gaza. And this is very important because it defines what I'm going to say and perhaps where I stand.

I think there is a like a very huge relation between loving Ramallah and how the people from the outside look at Ramallah as the liberating city - it's not!
As a Gazan who came here in 1990 to study at the university maybe I was deceived by this 'Oh Ramallah, the liberal city!' The city where women can do everything that they want, where they feel this is like a free place for them. It gives them back their rights and their freedoms. But after one year of being in Ramallah I discovered this is deceitful. This is not true. As far as you're not from Ramallah, you don't carry the privileges of Ramallah people. You will always be labeled as a stranger who is not a 'Ramallawi'.

In 1995 I decided to go back to Gaza. I decided that this is my place. And if I am a free woman, I call myself a feminist, and if I am a feminist then I have to try it there, not in Ramallah. In Ramallah you cannot tell what's true and what's not true. And you cannot read the faces of the people. You cannot tell do they like you because of who you are, or because you are really making an effort to look like them.


- Manal:

My position is not to be attacking Ramallah. Not to highlight the positive or the negative side of Ramallah. I moved to Ramallah 10 years ago. I grew up in Damascus and if you look to Ramallah it's the same. When women want freedom they go to Damascus, when youth want more opportunities they go to Damascus.

I see Ramallah since the 40s as the open city and was the centre. We know that Umm-Kulthum used to come to Ramallah to record her songs, there were famous restaurants that people from Lebanon and other places came to. Ramallah was always an icon of openness an icon to receive everybody.
I don't attack Ramallah, because Ramallah is accepting everybody. It's accepting the Muslim, it's accepting the Christian, it's accepting the conservative or the religious people, it's accepting everybody.

I want to say to Wafa', can you keep smoking and doing what you do in Gaza when you know people don't like it? You can do what you like in Ramallah.
This highlighting of the negative side, it's as if, I see you as if, you are closing the only hope of a place that is receiving everybody, of a place that is giving you yourselves the space to be do be who you are and what you are, to do what you want to do.

For us, for women, Ramallah is the only place where women not only can live alone but can have a boyfriend. I'm not sure you can have a boyfriend in… can you do it in Qalqilya?

- Ruanne:
When you say everyone is accepted in Ramallah, I think everyone is only accepted within certain parameters. Ramallah is a space of consumption, this is what it has become. If you want to be politically active or critical then no, you're not allowed to do that. You're not allowed to go and demonstrate. I went to the Manara to demonstrate over the attacks on Gaza, and I saw a child beaten up.


[Extracts from conversation No. 5]

Gaza is safe. Ramallah is not safe.


- Munir:
I wrote an article about Ramallah and Gaza. I said: Gaza is being destroyed form outside and the main tool is the Israeli army, Ramallah is being destroyed from the inside, and the main tool is the World Bank – which is the consumption. The consumption pattern is really getting inside of us, our thinking and our perceptions; and our relationships etc. are decided totally by this pattern.

All the talk about Gaza is about how can we ruin it from the inside. The idea of 'help' and paying money and reconstruction and so on, is actually to finish Gaza from the inside. As long as the destruction is only from the outside, Gaza is safe. Ramallah is not safe. Because on the outside it looks like everything is fine and everything is flourishing, so I feel… development projects change the city in ways that are much worse than sometimes destroying a few buildings here and there.

I want to say something about the word resistance. When an army invades you resist the army. When consumption invades you resist consumption. Ramallah is not resisting consumption.

- Manal:
What do you mean by consumption?

- Munir:
The number of workshops in Ramallah is consumption beyond belief, for example. Another one is the rise of the banks – Ramallah it is becoming the hub…

- Manal:
This is happening everywhere…!

- Munir:
We have to resist the pattern of living is being imposed on us but very sweetly … but this is how the world has been conquered.

- Manal:
I see consumption everywhere, not only in Ramallah. It’s the mentality of societies everywhere. In Damascus – an unoccupied place – consumption is everywhere. It is a world plan. I want you not to just collect the issues and see them in Ramallah…don’t just condense everything in Ramallah.

- Nasser:
But what's interesting in Ramallah, what's specific about it, is that the creation of a regime of consumption is precisely linked to the occupation by army Munir was talking about. Actually there is not such a split between occupation through consumption and occupation through army, they are two intertwined and interlinked things. It is about the creation of new subjectivities, people think differently, you are reconstituting subjects, reconfiguring people…the radicality of the situation here positions this in a much wider process of fragmentation and bantustanization; it means that here consumption cannot be separated from the colonial regime.

[Extracts from conversation No. 5]

What is wrong with being normal?


- Yazan

Ok, I want to say something about Nasser's mention of normalcy. I think there is the mixing of issues, a city trying to be normal is just a city trying to be normal, the 'project' is an extra thing. What is normal for a city under occupation? Who decides? Is Bethlehem more normal? Or is Nablus the normal city? I think a city trying to progress, to have its own space, own intellectuality, is a city in a normal situation, I think the Palestinian Authority allows for this somehow. But I think it's a normal thing to try to be normal, the article suggests it's a negative thing.

- Nasser
What I was trying to say is that, this quest for an uncritical normalcy, a normalcy associated exactly with the kind of everyday rhythms of a normal city is a disassociation from the reality. I actually tried to outline many of the positive things that are happening in Ramallah but this normalcy comes at such a high price. A very clear project is being fashioned in and through the city of Ramallah. Especially through the construction of subjectivities in Ramallah, the construction of identities, the construction of social divisions, of class [intervention by Yazid] but it's happening in Ramallah!

- Yazid
It's the institution not the place! The institution is what came and changed the place.

- Nasser
Is it the people who use normalcy which create this problematic, 'we just want to be normal', 'we just want to have normal lives'. What is normality in this case?

- Yazid
Survival.

- Nasser
You're doing so much more than survival, such as sitting here right now.

- Yazid
I can't live anywhere else but Ramallah. Ramallah has always been a representation of my lifestyle.

- Lisa
I think that a lot of people, this new middle class, are trying to legitimise their own search for satisfaction, enjoyment, whatever, etc, as a kind of resistance activity. I don ‘t buy it. But I think that it’s exactly the colonial situation that forces people to justify their own lives to themselves. What am I doing?

- Alessandro
This is clear. In fact, it’s how Ramallah wants to play it! This is the discourse, the cultural discourse. I am not saying this is all the domains but at least in the cultural life, how Ramallah wants really to be as a global city.

- Lisa
But many things went out of control. Even if, I wouldn’t call it conspiracy, but certainly Oslo-wise, a political project right, and obviously the whole point was to create a false consciousness and make people begin to feel like they are living in a normal society, and that was the whole idea. Ramallah has become a normal Arab city or like a city anywhere. Where you have very heterogeneous population, it wasn’t that way. You have growing polarisation, social polarisation, definitely. This also didn’t exist before in this sense. Cultural polarisation in the sense of dispositions, you know, consumption patterns

- Sandi
They were asking if participation in the party was a form of resistance! So what is our self-critique? How will we pay the taxes of what we are benefiting out of this?

- Alessandro
Maybe a point is the definition of resistance. We always refer to the first intifada as a model, the only model, which can be a problem. Lisa's articles and also Nasser's article say there is a different form of resistance today. Then you didn't go to the cinema because you were resisting, now it's different. It's not only negative. We are also a part of that, we are also having a life. It would be stupid to have the same model as the first intifada for the sake of it. But it has to be said that the opposite is also stupid, when you are building your career on Palestine, on the tragedy of Palestine, and having a normal life. And honestly, everyone here even though they are under occupation, is enjoying his or her life to some level, so you can also resist and have a normal life. The Lebanese have always managed to balance resisting and also trying to enjoy life. I don't think it's completely wrong.

(extracts from conversations N. 1/Oct. 2008 and N. 2/Dec. 2008)

This is a kind of reverse-orientalism


- Yazid

This is worrying me a bit, it reminds me of the beginnings of studying architecture, this European way of defining cities, its population size and what symptoms can you refer to in order to call the space 'a city'. For me, this approach is totally European. It doesn’t really matter if Ramallah is called a city or a village. It's just a human population living in a built-up fabric. Why should we always define things by a fixed caliber? I find this very tedious. I don't find the European case to be a good reference. Therefore Nasser, I have a real problem with your article. It's reference is a European way of looking at the space, it reminds me of the story by Raymond Williams about a guy who was living in a valley (determined to be rural) then he left to London where he became a big-shot intellectual and then returned to the valley. The way he looked at the valley on the return is the way you are looking at Ramallah. I think Ramallah is really different from this, Ramallah is not you or me, it's the people living there, and also not just about those who live there but those who go there, it's a popular way of looking at space.

- Nasser
Actually, there are many points to be made about Eurocentrism. But I have a problem with your absolute differentiation between a European model as the norm and then an Arab, Eastern one. I feel this is a kind of reverse-Orientalism - to interpret our cities as totally different from European ones, there is nothing in common. As if living in a village or a city doesn't matter. I find that problematic. The fact that the discipline was developed under a European cannon is true but it doesn't mean that there are no objectives, no universals, in that. I wasn't trying to slide into a Eurocentric kind of thing, actually the references that you talk about is exactly the kind of self-referencing that happens at an elite and maybe even at a popular level in Ramallah. The point I was trying to make is that people in Ramallah think that they have achieved a kind of metropolitan modernity, in a way this becomes a trade-off. It becomes a positive outcome of a negative situation: you're enclosed, you're confined but somehow you are isolated from the Islamic trends of the rest of Palestinian society. You're given room to urbanize in a metropolitan, secular, modern way. The point was to judge the argument along its own credentials as well. When claiming to be an urban modern metropolis this is what it means. Whether that's a positively good thing or bad is another issue, it doesn't mean it’s a model to be reached. Nor is it sufficient to say that this is just a European model. There are many Eastern cities that have this level of complexity and hold this level of multiplicity, so it's not such a clear-cut European-Oriental dichotomy.

(extracts from conversation N. 1/Oct. 2008)

Ramallah is the place of corruption!


- Nasser

We’re interested in how space and the production of space and it’s articulation with new power, different types of power – economic power, class power, political power – different kinds of power is producing a city or what appears to be a city but is underpinning a much larger political project that is sometimes opaque, sometimes not very clear.

What does the production of space in Ramallah mean today? What does the articulation of the city mean? How does this fit into the wider context? How does it fit into wider political projects? how does it fit into political economic, neoliberal projects?

- Yazid
Ramallah is the place of corruption, it's the place of opportunity, central policing, money, power, etc. PA being used as an authority. Institutions are difficult to uproot, building institutions is a way of controlling the Palestinians. I disagree with Nasser using the growth of the art scene as the problem. But economics is right, I know so many businessmen becoming millionaires through building the city, using the PA as a bait for making money.

- Nasser
It's not so guilt-free. This is not just an institutional dynamic; there are people who actively collaborate, there are people who tie their own interests to the institution [PA] at a political level, economic level, intellectual level, cultural level, all these levels consciously or unconsciously.

- Yazan
I think it's important to remember that the PA is not a socialist movement. It came with a capitalist movement, with its businessmen. It did not try to produce a socialist society. Even now, taxes are being reduced and everyone is happy, they do not understand or care about what taxes mean for health or education. Ramallah is the core of this capitalist notion of this emerging Palestinian state. But if you go to Nablus and Hebron you will also see capitalists. So there is not a new project, it’s the continuation of a capitalist project which is booming in Ramallah. And if businessmen can choose to come and invest they will choose the best for them, not the best for society.

- Laura
Sure it was capitalist but the primary project was to build a state. Now, the building of a state necessarily needs different behavior, so its not a natural way of building a state. The way the PA behaves now is actually exploiting the building of a state for its own benefit.

- Yazan
But what's keeping the PA alive is what is being invested in it.

- Sandi
Yes, Ramallah is a project propped up by Israel, but it's important to understand the collateral effects which Ramallah could produce. What energy it is capable of producing.

(extracts from conversations N. 1/Oct. 2008 and N. 2/Dec. 2008)

It's a city that's in a bubble


- Alessandro

....it was kind of a polemical way to say that Ramallah is centralizing everything. It's a city that's in a bubble without any relation or representation of what is going on in Palestine. But of course this is only one side, it has to be said that there are also a lot of interesting things that are going on at the same time. So the main idea could be really to develop a project that starts to problematize this role of Ramallah. Also, we say 'Ramallah' but maybe it could also be expanded to trying to understand the role of Palestinian cities or the development historically of urban Palestinian cities in '48 and so on.

To question the production of space inside Palestine. And how the official actors inside Palestine, from the Palestinian perspective, see this process, how is works and its problems, especially when developing a city like Ramallah – what are the implications of building a city such as Ramallah? What is its relation with other cities? What is the relation with the struggle in general?

- Sandi
...it's also important to discuss the meaning of building a city under occupation, in terms of, what is really a city? The city is made up of homes and public spaces, and even Ramallah with all that it represents it still has no clear style of public space. And normally the public space is the sphere where group to discuss the city, to discuss their society, different political debates, and it is always related to the notion of the state. So for us planners, architects, lawyers, whoever we are here, I feel it's important for us to first understand the notion of the city under occupation, the notion of public space , I feel this is important especially because we are not dealing with a dormitory city, it's an open city in this sense. It's also important to discuss the meaning of public space within a colonial context. What is the meaning of giving the colonized the ability to do their own city. To what extend does the colonial power give you the possibility to develop, because the city alone is a form of independence from the colonial point of view. So, to what extend does the colonial context really give you the ability to create your own city. This is very important. Ramallah could have been able to create a new form of connection between people. But Ramallah is saying 'we don’t care about anything', 'we need to have normal lives', the more we forget what's happening around, the more we have this. This is the new trend. Public is the sphere where people use the city for collective action.

- Yazan
I don't think we are now in a post-colonial situation, we are in a globalized world. When I open my email everyday I have 20 lists of discussion between people about what's happening what's not. The public space has changed from the physical to an internet space. So the use of the public space is there but in a different shape. So the discussion between people, the manasheer (pamphlets), happens daily between people on the internet. You know whatever is happening in the city, the exhibitions, not only advertisement but also discussions. The whole shape has become globalised. So you can see a city under occupation – the occupation itself has changed, you can have schools, universities, cafes, you can have your own economy – but the whole structure of it changed. So the notion of building a city or a public space cannot be compared to other colonial experiences such as Algiers and France. The relation between the oppressed and the oppressor has changed and is effected by globalization. People are shocked to see how we are living, the many satellites we have, we all watch Al Jazeera and know what's happening. So now the occupation is also virtual.

-Laura
I think that to describe the internet as a public space is problematic because it is a very individual form of public space that bears no challenge to the new mode of occupation. It is a mere adaptation. It's ultimately very passive, it's not inclusive and it doesn't bare a call to action. It's also not creating participation. How often do you reply to these lists? At best you can read them all but how often do you participate in the discussions?

-Omar
I don't know if the problem is whether we have or don't have public space. The space is just there. The problem is, what is the project? On which project to you galvanize support and use those public spaces. I think that what we are definitely lacking is that, the project. I don't think that in the end public space will become a problem, everything can become public space.

(extracts from conversation N. 1/Oct. 2008)