The Multaqa: Museum as Meeting Point program, an initiative of the German Ministry of Education, Science and Culture that trains refugees from Iraq and Syria for guide positions in a handful of cultural and historical museums, has been widely praised in the Western media. But, as Ariella Azoulay argues in this excerpt from a work-in-progress, it doesn't go nearly as far as it could to undermine the cultural dynamics of imperialism and give rise to a new set of human rights.
It is no secret that millions of objects that had never been destined for display in white cubes were looted from all over the world only to be carefully handled and preserved in Western museums as precious objects. Once looted, these objects were made inaccessible to the people who had created them and to the communities in which they had been produced, used, and exchanged.
Over the past few years, it has been fairly common to hear: "the time has come for a new vision for Palestine/Israel." It is hard to refute the reality of a dead-end implied in this expression, but must a dead-end always lead us to a new vision? As Hanan Ashrawi has previously stated, new forms of talks, dialogue, and inventiveness are not what was missing in the endless peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
After 65 years of "peace talks" – they didn't start with the Oslo accords, but way back in 1949 – we should question the very relevance of the procedures of peace. A peace treaty is usually called for in a situation of war between two existing states. In the case of Palestine since 1949, peace talks were a means for imposing partition, which was rejected by the majority of the population in Palestine in 1947; they were a way to bypass that rejection and implement partition through violence. In 1948-49, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled, the country was destroyed and its face transmuted by the new state; but full partition was not achieved. Ever since, maintaining the fantasy of separation has required the use of more and more violent solutions to the problems entailed in partial partition. Peace talks are a means of ruling that for the last 65 years have kept Palestinians and Jews haunted by the same question that colonialism lethally injected into the Middle East: for or against partition; one or two states. The major difference between then – prior to 1947 – and now is the excessive violence that was exercised in order to achieve what was doomed from inception as opposed by the majority of the concerned population – namely partitioning.
In this lecture, given the the "House of the People" in summer 2012, with the help off photos, Azoulay explains why the further she went into her research on revolution, the harder she found it to push aside unsettling questions regarding what is -- or is considered -- a revolution: why was the violence exerted in Palestine in 1948 perpetuated as independence and why were the feverish efforts of Jews and Arabs to create local peace alliances dropped out of this history and not considered a potential for revolution? Why was Algeria etched in consciousness as war while Hungary designated revolution?; why have revolutions in Haiti or South Africa been characterized as rebellions or coups d'état, while the struggle for civil rights or against rape in the US were each described as movements. And why did the latter not constitute the basis for a re-conceptualization of revolution, body politic, ruling power and regime?
The UN's newly unveiled partition plan is contrary to the wishes of most of the country's inhabitants. Palestinians took to the streets in protest. This was the last time Palestinian protest was perceived as a civil movement. Since then they have been doomed to expulsion and have been viewed as mere assailants from without. Unknown photographer, Central Zionist Archive.
The time has come for Palestinians to return to Palestine. It is time for Israeli Jews to cease the reproduction of violence, maintaining the consequences of the constitutive violence of 1948 that made Israeli Jews citizens, and Palestinians - non-citizens of their homeland. The time has come for Israeli Jews to recognize the constitutive disaster – the Nakba – not only as a Palestinian catastrophe but as a catastrophe in the production of which they are implicated on a daily basis.
The time has come for the second generation of perpetrators – descendants of those who expelled Palestinians from their homeland – to claim our right, our fundamental and inalienable human right: the right not to be perpetrators. Without this fundamental right one can never be a citizen governed equally with others.