The image, the photograph is not a memory. But it will inevitably become one; a manifest fantasy beginning with a retinal incidence. It will trickle into the vagueness of erasures, a discontinuous intermittence of interlocking dreams. The connection between them takes shape like an embryo. The pieces relate to one another by being held through this indistinct medium, a medium with eyes of its own. It is a Romanesque stain glass, innumerably divided, and thus, united by division, the lead cement joining nonsensical fragments to spell out a note. The photographs float like cells, the cells grow then rupture from their source, as they emerge into our field of vision, they carry the germ of consciousness. As Annette Messanger said “the interval between images creates meaning”. It is almost as if a phenomenon is contained within a vacuum, and the image filters a world in a state of phototaxis, that is, constantly moving towards and away from the light. The photographer must keep as still as the object that will emerge from the optical capture. He embalms the truth and renders physicality inaccessible. Yet, the image will breathe if the emotion of the moment impregnates the chemistry of the medium, it will not speak out. The photo-object is an additional sense, an extra sensorial dimension to the mind; a single cell acting for an entire organism. This object is a process; it embodies the mystery of conception. In the instant of fixing a vision and the instant of receiving it, a conversion takes place; light turns inert matter into a perceptual frequency where the eye becomes the pinnacle and the root of all our senses. This is the mystery of revelation. Like the photographer, we stand still and absorb the rings one after the other; this particular effect that endures from the fall of a stone, or a body in a deep pool of water. Separation imprisons us so long as we yearn for the past lingering in the object, a past which no longer belongs to us for it is now universal. This object is not really a window, or rather; it is to the extent that it will not open outward but inward. As flat as it is, a sheet of paper, the object contains space of a different nature; the mystery of creation.
New important article
A social and spiritual imperative:
By Anil Korotane, activist architect and director of Belonging
There is nothing much to claim as ‘peaceful’ in the current state of affairs in the city of Jerusalem. A city revered in faiths and symbolism as a city of god; known as ‘al-Quds’ (The Holy Sanctuary) to the Muslims, Palestinians and pan-Arab nations; and ‘Yerushalayim’ (Abode of Peace) to the Jews, majority of Israelis and wider Jewish world. A city traversed within a geo-political crossroad between the East and the West, where histories influence their claim upon the city’s designated usages of space with a never-ending pursuit earmarked by dramas having a prologue of a conquering and an exile. A city that will forever need to reassess itself, in a constant check of balances, if the desire is to seek out and pursue challenges that may bring about the creation of peace.
To summarize the current saga, the tug-of-war struggle to claim and counter-claim the space of the city, is dominated by the manufacturing of the Israeli government and its off-spring, the Jerusalem Municipality. Thrusting their ambitions towards the cultural assimilation of the city as the whole and eternal capital of the Jewish people, and in the process marginalising and curtailing the indigenous Palestinians of their rights to aspire and cultivate their pursuit towards a self-determination and co-existence. The expropriation of Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem districts of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah through various disingenuous means and methods. Quelling and strangle-holding Palestinian communities within the fabric of the space through measures such as building a new Tram line passing through East Jerusalem connecting illegal Israeli occupied settlements in the West Bank to Israel-proper. These are just some of the examples.
And now this same fervour led by the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality is preparing to make way to appropriate a place that will really endanger the existence of a possible foundation worth pursuing for the creation of peace. One that is not readily perceived, however definitively exists when engaged within the narratives that greatly inform the production of history and space of this city and region.
Lifta, a Palestinian village, inside Israeli territory, sits within a valley adjacent and below the Jaffa Road on the north-west perimeter of Jerusalem. The village suffered the same fate as many Palestinian villages, towns and cities that were ethnically-cleansed in 1947/48 during the Palestinian catastrophe – Al Nakba. Her population of around 3000 Palestinian inhabitants were uprooted during this event. Remarkably, a large proportion of the architectural antiquities that notably characterize the village landscape still remain standing today. Lifta has survived total erasure because her surrounding landscape set within a valley is virtually cut-off and sunk beneath the surrounding civilization. And she has stood obscurely now for more than 60 years and from unhinderance from redevelopment as no conquest has of yet physically re-contextualized the place. Her unique circumstance, created out of these consequences, has led her to become a space of captivation, necessity and privilege.
There have been a few attempts to transform the valley in some form or another since the creation of Israel. And now the valley has been given another incarnation under the approved plan to conserve and transform the village into a commercial edifice allocated under the guise of ‘Mei Naftoah’ and also known as ‘Plan 6036’. The redevelopment plan has been approved on and above Lifta and will disregard deliberately any association of the memory of Lifta. It will appropriate her cultural heritage through architecture and planning that will re-invent the identity of the valley landscape. The Mei Naftoah approved plan will consist of a commercial centre with shops, hotels, bus stations and to develop 212 luxury apartments. With the valley also coupled by the biblical reference of Mei Naftoah it is also attracting symbolic value amongst the Israelis.
In January of 2011, the Israeli Land Administration (ILA) announced a tender for Plan 6036 which would allows private contractors to bid and beginning the process to selling off the plots of lands inside the valley. This announcement provoked an immediate reaction amongst former Palestinian descendants of Lifta (many of whom now reside in East Jerusalem), Israeli and Palestinian conservationists and NGOs. The result of which led to a petition resulting with a temporary court injunction issued on the 7th March 2011, ordering the ILA to freeze the tender. And now a struggle commences resulting in a technical conservation challenge with the solidarity of a regional group – The Coalition to Save Lifta, along with media campaigns and protests held more or less every fortnight by 2nd and 3rd generation descendants of the village. Opponents to Plan 6036 have appealed for Lifta’s recognition with UNESCO, the Worlds Monument Fund and other Agencies. This is all promising in the short-term; however there is a need for a long-term strategy that will clearly define the significance and necessity to save this place.
I have myself been involved within my own research in saving Lifta since 2006, and it is from this research conducted that I will highlight a long-term strategy. However, to save Lifta you have to begin by understanding what it means to save this place and the significance she bares for the region.
By saving Lifta, I mean to imply that we are trying to protect a place that still exists in the form of a bond. ‘Memory’ in respect to Lifta is the essence of the place, it is bare without people telling their stories and affirming their union to the place. Recognition of this bond existing means to recognize cultivation; and that also means to recognize a history and a place consisting of a tangible reality. A place with a history prior to 1948 and sited within a territory of the governing power of Israel, Lifta sits inside a surrounding context identifiable by another historical narrative. For the two identities to sustain a shared value – an identifiable relationship, there has to be a reason and value.
Recognition of Lifta is an affirmation of a previous discontinuity, of an uprooting of Palestinian memory, of history, and of cultivated identity to a land. Therefore any recognition of this bond would have to engage that the story of the Nakba is being told whilst inside a surrounding context juridically governed and owned to another historical narrative. Allowing this duality to have legitimate recognition would therefore need to require some form of mediation and renegotiation on behalf of a narrative that can allow Lifta and the surrounding context to coexist. This would require a narrative that openly accepts truths that occurred during the Palestinian Nakba, however ‘memory’ begins to take on a whole new meaning as it would have to take into account the narrative of the birth of the modern Israeli Nation State. Situating the Nakba into a revised historical narrative of the surrounding context is likely to create controversy and can easily be perceived as an historical problem. So how does it become possible to resolve this crisis of values, designating Lifta for curative purposes for the Nakba is bound to any real conceivable reason and sense to justify her existence. Any real pursuit to safeguard the protection of Lifta will require a strategy that further engages an enquiry manoeuvring and mediating between a tapestry of recognising histories.
Lifta offers an unrivalled insight into the history of this region by having remained desolate since the uprooting of her population. She is a place located disparately between two epochs, two histories, and the two dominant cultures of the region; a space in-between and connecting two paradigms. Through the phenomena of this relationship she reveals that the dissonance and conflict that arose in the uprooting of her village is inextricably tied to the creation of the Nation State of Israel. The events that occurred during the uprooting of the Palestinian and the establishment of the Israeli are inextricably tied together by a context which needs reason behind one historical event to explain the other. The language of history of the Palestinian and the Israeli are bound and concealed by this place; and to fail to recognize Lifta is to also deny both Palestinian and Israeli history.
She is a tangible embodiment and representation of the larger context of events in the region during 1947/48. This conflict that defines this particular moment in history has essentially unfolded into the current existential values of today. The current issues of dissonance between the Israeli Jew and Palestinians seen unfolding in the present context have their origins traced at a place whereby the source of the conflict becomes tangible. As an origin to the modern State, she can be a vital place for contemplating and understanding historical continuity. For Israel, Lifta is a place needing enquiry for the purposes of practising self-reflection and self-reappraisal. If the past can be understood, drawn upon and engaged at by either side in the conflict, then it can allow greater insight and understanding of the present. Lifta allows the State to have a space to contest, understand, and respond to the origins of the conflict. It can be a significant step if truths appearing as confrontational are tolerated through the recognition and preservation of this unique context of place. If cultivations on an historical ground can be recognised as still retaining a form of tangible existence, then here lays an opportunity as a step towards the possibility to reconciling differences.
Taking aside the significance of memory relating to a catastrophe and an historical origin perpetuating ‘otherness’, the memory of Lifta also embarks upon a history of a different societal pattern and practice of space. Taking a closer examination of Lifta’s culture pre-dating the modern conflict, this pre-history reveals a lot more into the everyday life of Lifta. Excavating the memory reveals a history of a large village sustaining and reflecting a society that practised civil equality. Lifta was a place that embraced a strong sense of an ethnically and religiously diverse community of muslims, jews and christians. Before the events of 1948 the village had a tribal community with a population consisting of around 3000 people. There were five main tribes consisting of many smaller tribe families within each of the main groups, and most predominantly Muslim by religion. However there was also a Jewish tribe known as the Hilo from Lifta who were not immigrants, but also part of the older assembly of the native people that were from this region. There was also a small Christian minority as well as Mizrahi Jews from Iraq and Jordan.
There are descriptions of the grand 4 storey houses in the upper part of the valley having 2 floors rented to Jewish families, whilst the rest of the property was accommodated by the tribe family. A Jew called Yusuf Isra and his daughter Shishana were sharing the lower two floors of a house with a Muslim tribe family. The family above them would supply milk to Yusuf and he produce cheese as trade. Lifta had an intricate web of woven streets, bustling with markets, coffee houses, a bakery, and their very own pharmacy. The community life was inclusive for Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. They would sit together at the same coffee houses and their children would go to the same village school. The community in Lifta had free access to the neighbouring Jewish eye hospital. All cultural and religious festivals were celebrated with the Christians and Jews and all villagers would participate. The community within the village embraced one another’s religious events and celebrations. The village mosque became a social ground to discuss current issues during the festival times. The Jewish and Christian minorities were treated like family by the tribes; they had been on these lands all the time. There was no inequality amongst the socio-ethnic diversity, so there was never any conceivable idea of segregation. Lifta’s traceable history prior the Palestinian Nakba and the creation of the modern State can begin to allow us to look beyond the symbol of the ‘other’. She sustained ethical values which can be deemed as necessary within in the current regional context of society.
Lifta’s cultural heritage is a story of a society consisting of different ethnicities existing harmoniously under the same cultural pretext. This truth should be observed as advantageous and upheld for the efforts of creating solidarity amongst a people. Signifying qualities of justice of the peace and for this reason alone is worthy of preservation for the present and future generations to aspire to. Recognition of this truth and quality can influence the possibility of allowing this heritage, traditionally perceived as belonging to the ‘other’ existential narrative, to become admissible in the region. Emphasis of civil equality also enhances the opportunity of contesting other issues represented by this place to become more tolerable. Lifta still is a traceable genealogy that gives insight into the origins of the conflict, and these issues are fundamental to the process of understanding, tangibly engaging and reconciling conflict. Unveiling an archaeology towards civil equality eases the process of recognition whilst sustaining a greater acknowledgement of tragedy and understanding its implication on identity.
In her current form, Lifta only sustains a relative value as a place with an identity through memories held together by a bond. Lifta is currently implausible to identifying a role with the existing context, traditions and narrative of the Israeli State. The only possibility of Lifta attaining such a value will be if she can demonstrate her necessity as invaluable and engaging at a level akin to a progression and goodwill for the region. By acknowledging that the principle agent and influence sustaining the place is the bond, it will be necessary to demonstrate if this bond can also redefine its location within a definable context of the Nation State. The importance of the relationship of the bond connecting memory and place is that the common history is sustained through an origin. It is a common history that is tangible and a particular history that needs to be re-visited as well as engaged by both parties inextricably tied together to the conflict. The bond provides the capacity to engage with a space envisaged to create acknowledgement for the purposes of reconciliation. Demonstrating to educate people about the past for the urgency of reconciling discordant situations in the present context of civil society. The challenge is finding approaches that can make communicating to broader audiences compatible and acceptable.
The bond to the ruins bears testimony to a quintessential form of civil behaviour, allowing a memory of civil equality to be evoked whilst sustaining a unique insight into the origin of a lineage of historical conflict. Upon reflection, the uprooting of the village was a tragedy for the Palestinian community of the village however, the community encompassed multi-ethnic groups. The Nakba in Lifta was a catastrophe for the Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Jewish Hilo tribe, who apparently were given the option by the pervading force to remain in the village, decided to share the same fate with their community and vacated the village. There is historical evidence that gives reason to believe that this event encompassed a discord for all ethnic groups associated to it. These insights fully deserve to be accounted, recognized, as well as expressed. They provide a significant opportunity for suggesting alternative outlooks and views that can influence the working of a new narrative, a new history, and a new space. And a creating of a space which recognizes experiences of both the conflict and of civil equality begins to contests its’ own history.
The fact that the same language, through and because of a memory, sustaining a history of civil equality ‘meets’ with the reconstructive language of the conflict means that this connection of histories can possibly have influence on a new consciousness making. Exploration of memory can become paramount in creating and enabling mechanisms to defuse the attitudes that translate into a language of adversity and dissonance of the differing existential beliefs.
Taking on the question of justice concerning Lifta requires vision for long-term interventions. We can discuss the safeguarding and preservation of Lifta, or the United Nations Resolution 194 and its poignant regard to the Palestinian ‘right of return’, and yet there seems to be no significant answers of how to connect the past with the present.
I believe an attempt should be made to construct a proposal for Lifta to be realized as a ‘Site of Conscience’. The International Coalition for Sites of Conscience ‘interpret history through historic sites; engage in programs that stimulate dialogue on pressing social issues; promote humanitarian and democratic values as a primary function; and share opportunities for public involvement in issues raised at the site. Sites of Conscience draw explicit connections between past and present; foster dialogue among diverse stakeholders; and open avenues for citizen participation in other human rights or potential transitional justice efforts.’
My organisation – Belonging (an architecture, planning and human rights organisation) will carry out this investigation. Working with regional professionals and civil organisations as well international partners, I believe we can create an extensive and detailed master planning project that has the potential to create a realizable proposal. Sites of Conscience are usually constructed after post-war reconstruction so we will have to campaign for the assertion of a unique capacity building possibility derived from Lifta to be recognized by the Israeli State. We acknowledge that actively challenging discursive discussions on the environment is a necessary stepping-stone for creating the imaginings of utilities that stride towards supporting the changes needed for peace. The purpose will be to demonstrate why the heritage of Lifta is potentially invaluable and necessary for future peace in the region and the potential of Lifta’s space as a place for conciliatory dialogue. Through a process of dissecting and illuminating the chasms of Lifta’s historical landscape, we will engage into and assert why this place has the potential to harbour such a proposal.
The overall objective of the project-campaign will be to try and save Lifta by engaging her upon a theme that demonstrates her potential to become an innovative ‘space of reconciliation’. A potential gateway to a space seeking a goal to confront and reconcile narratives of histories, otherness and conflict whilst, demonstrating possibilities of a place that promotes healing, pluralism and inclusiveness.
The first task will focus on Lifta as an ‘origin’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The aim is to convey the memory of the Nakba catastrophe through eye witness accounts from the displaced people of Lifta. We aim to demonstrate and document that an encounter between an intangible memory and a tangible place allows a displaced people and community to confront their trauma and their tragedy. A poignant encounter nevertheless vital because firstly it establishes an authentic relationship of a bond existing between a people and a land; and secondly, it can play a vital role towards the healing of a people and the larger regional community. Through observance of the memories of the displaced people we aim to record and document the individual memories creating a mapping of a narrative of the Nakba catastrophe in Lifta. This information will be later used as evidence demonstrating that this village has the potential to convey, in part as a memorial, a story of the origins of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The next task will continue to focus on observing Lifta as an ‘origin’ of the Israel-Palestine conflict. During the observance of the memories of the displaced people that unfold the narrative of the Nakba in Lifta, we will use these observations to demonstrate that Lifta has the potential to become a place for the creation of dialogue between the uprooted people of Lifta, as well as all Palestinians in general, with the Israeli public.
Engaging into the memory of the Nakba, in this instance from a place that has remained virtually desolate and un-appropriated since her uprooting in 1948, provides the backdrop for a real space within the Palestine/Israel region that has the capacity to make accessible an open dialogue and encounter a sense of shared-values through the issues of ‘displacement’, ‘victimhood’ and ‘tragedy’. Themes that not only resonates throughout the Palestinian narrative since 1948, but are historically preserved and ever-present within the narrative of the Israeli ‘other’; for instance the Holocaust, and the displacement of Arab Jews in the North African and Middle East region. Sharing and building upon multiple common themes, reaching beyond rivalry, and consoling upon the seeds of despair.
Lifta is accessible to the ‘other’ because she allows us to re-imagine communities. The uprooting of Lifta was a tragedy for the Palestinian community of the village however, the Nakba in Lifta was a catastrophe for the Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Jews. As I’ve stated, the Jewish Hilo tribe, who were part of one of the five main tribes in Lifta, apparently were given the option by the pervading force to remain in the village, decided to share the same fate with their community and vacated the village.
And now 60 years have gone by, enabling enough time to take a step back and reflect at histories. Histories, that are usually referred to in their own unique set of circumstances and disparate narratives, can be engaged together in one space. We will demonstrate that Lifta can become a space of encounter; a necessary place where both Palestinians and Israelis can come together and share a dialogue and speak of their narratives of tragedy, victimhood and displacement. An encounter made admissible because there still stands and exists a place in the region that is virtually desolate; where memory concealing a narrative of displacement can be reconstructed and sustained from a bond between a people, who can recount and relive their tragedy, and this place. A place that can challenge and defuse narratives that translate into a language of opposition or even hostility by presenting and addressing common themes shared in the tragic histories by both peoples. The narratives of displacement shared together at Lifta can create this place into a necessary common-ground for the purposes of healing and conciliation as well as drawing upon the potential of this place for the purposes of invaluable capacity-building for the regional civil society.
So what is the objective? Is the objective to sustain the preservation of Lifta so that she can be clearly recognized as a place, or is the objective also to introduce a monument into the environment whom’s equivocal workings is aimed at addressing the conflict? Both. There has to be some form of social upheaval that is constantly reminding the environment of truths that contest the ideologies imposed of the environment. And there is a credible history that is invaluable to the present situation and context of identities in the region. So rather than asking who officially gets the right to choose or imply history and heritage, the needs should be to preserve and develop instruments that actively seek to contest truths. Conducting further research into Lifta’s memory and juxtaposing truths can possibly allow further contestable narratives and introduce new possibilities for the reconstruction of heritage. A heritage that can allow an acceptance of truths that can bring together both sides of the conflict to share the same grief and hope and re-evaluate relationships for the sake of the regional community. Saving Lifta is only likely to be achievable if she asserts values that are inclusive in her objective of becoming recognized as a place. And a desire towards a monument that can convey new meaning and understanding as well as offer alternative capacity building can prove invaluable. In prospect, an attainable value through the reconstruction of heritage; aiming to bridge worlds together by creating mechanisms out of bond between memory and place.
You can follow the campaign, organized protests and for up-to-date news from the blog: www.saving-memory.blogspot.com and the facebook group: Saving Lifta
“A night of performance, music, improvisation, visual art and experimental adventures”
KULA RING event, The Projection Gallery +Guests, 17May2012, Netil House
by Pascal Ancel Bartholdi
Mikoso / Johnny-Lee Leslie + Sofia Figueiredo
[(+v-v)] + Cementimental
Techno Widow + Yuri Pirondi + Presanth Guru
Ines Von Bonhorst + Jez Houghton
Music by Dj Miguel Romo.
Adolfo Healer + Roberto Crippa. In particular the visual performance operated by: Jaime ValtierraLife Visual projections by Adolfo Healer . His work involves digital and analogical constructions involving abstract and motion components. Roberto’s work includes live electronic music and installations, investigating the responses of physical bodies to architectural acoustics.