“I am Al Walajeh” Photography Exhibition Opens at Dar Kalima

“I am Al Walajeh” a part of the “Image and Identity” Arts Advocacy project I started in 2011, opened Wednesday, July 11th at Dar Kalima College in Bethlehem to over 120 attendees. The project teaches Palestinian youth how to creatively articulate local culture, history, identity and space using images.

The Al Walajeh’s youth’s images are expressly vacant and removed. They tell a story of a once thriving agricultural community, slowly turned into refugees and pushed from their land. They also tell the story of the challenge of photographing Al Walajeh, whose land is occupied by several settlements, the Apartheid Wall and Israeli soldiers constantly on patrol. Since most Al Walajeh’s population travels outside for work, the children struggled to find people to photograph in their homes and village.

This project was made possible by the following organizations and individuals:

“I am Al Walajeh”

  • Producer – Alison Ramer
  • Assistant Producers – Ahmad Shihadeh and E.M.
  • Filmmaker – Hamoudi Shehada
  • Photographer – Stephen Jeter
  • Curatorial – Nancy Salsa Taweel

New State of Palestine VISA

I am the proud carrier of a new “State of Palestine” VISA. No, I am not proud that we have IDs that must be stamped at all. In fact, if this conflict has taught me anything, it is that it is part of my duty as a human being to make those “borders” less powerful. To create a world where gender, religion and national identities are no longer life threatening issues, where being a human being is enough to guarantee your human rights.

But in the meantime, I’m going to use my American and Israeli passports to advocate for human rights by stamping them with a new State of Palestine VISA, issued by Ramallah based artists Khaled Jarrar. Even though 100 states recognize the State of Palestine, the PA does not issue a VISA. What does that say about their thinking? Who is more powerful — 100 states or the Israeli occupiers?

I don’t know why the PA hasn’t issued VISAs. But I do know why I am going to be carrying one:

At conception, I was given two identities: human being and female — not woman. When I emerged from my mother’s womb, my parent’s gave me a gendered name and the state gave me a national identity. I was raised as a Jew and at thirteen, given the choice to be in or out. I chose to be in, had a party (Bat Mitzvah) and joined the Jew Crew for life — or so they say.

By 21, this Jewish identity ran into Zionism — and a Zionist narrative that uses the horrors of Jewish genocide and the power of Judaism to mobilize Jewish people for a nationalist cause. As a result of my Birthright journey, I became the Zionist dream, used the racist Right of Return for Jewish people and became an Israeli citizen. Boy, Jews can be stupid sometimes.

But if I’m a little easier on myself, in some respects it was a practical, adolescent decision. I was empowered by the Zionist narrative which took me out of the Jewish minority in America and placed me in the Jewish majority in Israel. I wanted to further explore my American relationship with Israel, a state which receives more American military aid than any other nation and which claims to be representing the Jewish people. The Israeli government made this easy by offering cash, subsidies, tax breaks and other privileges – Jewish organizations also chipped in and offer to fly and ship a bunch of your worldly belongings at no cost to the “Jewish Homeland”. And so, in the land where national identity, ID cards and passports are life or death issues, I naively became an Israeli citizen.

After living for three years in Tel Aviv, enjoying the beach, boys and booze,  my bubble was burst by the Israeli War in (and on) Gaza (2009) and I felt a need to see another face of Israel. I became a border crosser, leaving the seemingly occupation free Tel Aviv for more thorny territories (Israeli soldiers, walls and checkpoints–Oh my!), and lived behind the wall in Palestinian villages — Nabi Saleh (Ramallah) and Beit Ummar (Hebron), Beit Jalla (Bethlehem) and Al – Ram (Al – Quds or Jerusalem). Over the course of two years, I  lived with Palestinian families and engaged Palestinian officials and taxi drivers, artists and accountants to see Israel from their’ eyes.

Rarely was there a day when someone carrying a machine gun didn’t require me to show him or her my ID. “Where are you going? What do you do there? Where are you from?”, all common questions along the journey which determine your fate. But more powerful than the words you say, the disposition you hold or the attitude you carry, was my ID.

To my surprise, my Israeli ID is the easiest to move with. Like all IDs, it provokes questions. When I spoke Hebrew or English to the soldiers, they asked me if I was Jewish. When I started to speak Arabic to them, I got a lot less questions — in fact, life was easier, for this cute, secular dressing girl. Other girl friends of mine, who look more Arab and cover their hair, have a much harder time and boys — well they have it the worst.

Over the past two years, my American passport has become increasingly difficult to move with, since I no longer carry a VISA. A year ago, soldiers would just wave me through — it seemed to be a courtesy to tourists. Now, foreigners enjoy heavier harassment as the Israeli government attempts to intimidate international activists. Deportation of human rights activists has become common place and as a result elaborate schemes have been devised to visit Palestine, even if activists will never go to 1967 Israeli territory.

As a Jewish Israeli citizen, it is illegal for me to enter what was deemed by the Oslo Accords as Area A — all of the cities in the Palestinian territories. If I am arrested by the Israeli Occupation Forces, I can face thousands of dollars in fines and possibly jail time. However, I can move about Area B and C freely — areas that are still under Israeli military control, but were supposed to transition into full Palestinian control within five years. This freedom has enabled settlers to colonize the West Bank and so — in these areas settlers and Palestinians live side by side.

My Israeli passport is by far the easiest to move with since it doesn’t have any indication of my Jewish identity on it.  My Israeli ID on the other hand, has my mother’s Hebrew name on it. In the recent past, the IDs used to explicitly state your religion, while today the identification is more discreet. Of course, this doesn’t stop soldiers from asking questions about my identity and in protest, I answer the question “Are you Jewish?” by telling them that I’m Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Granted that this harassment is nothing compared to what Palestinians  carrying green Palestinian or blue Israeli IDs (Israeli – Arabs) experience, it touches on how powerful an ID is here in a place no larger than New Jersey.

Aside from daily harassment and intimidation, many people face incredibly difficult life-long struggles to stay in their homeland, where they were born, or to return to the land of their parent’s and grandparents. IDs become a weapon which the Israeli government uses to deem who is in and who is out. And of course, this isn’t some haphazard plan — it is an incredibly systematic way to displace Palestinians, win the “demographic dilemma” and to construct the Zionist myth that Israel was “a land without a people, for a people without a land”.

Since I have the inhumane and unwarranted privilege of crossing checkpoints daily, my ID has become one of the most essential objects I carry daily. When Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar approached me (in Ramallah) with his “State of Palestine” VISA and invited me to stamp my passport I was ecstatic. It enables me to make fun of the current border control system and to create contradictions that the official system doesn’t have a protocol for — yet.  His project provides me with a new tool for protesting the Israeli occupation and an outlet for freedom of expression that was unavailable before.

Luckily, I had the perfect place for the stamp — directly above my Israeli immigration ID, which the Israeli Ministry of Interior put in my American passport. Even though many of my Palestinian friends also carry two passports, due to their green ID registration, the Israeli Occupation Forces will not let them pass the wall into many Palestinian cities (most notably Al Quds / Jerusalem).

American passport with “State of Palestine” VISA (top, left) above Israeli immigration document

Next week I will have my Israeli passport stamped and will be leaving and entering Israel with the State of Palestine VISA in June. Additionally, I will be publishing the numerous stories that I am sure will be prompted by this eloquent project here.

If you would like to have your passport stamped or be involved with the project on other levels, please contact Khaled Jarrar. Additionally, you can support the project by liking the facebook page, “Live and work in Palestine” (which in 24 hours got 500 likes!) and add the State of Palestine VISA to your profile pictures.