Post by Aydin Cosgun
A week ago we visited an exhibition called “Future Heritage” (https://future-heritage.org), a german-palestenian project to “transform local cultures sustainably, thereby keeping traditions and skills at the heart.” At the exhibition we met some interesting people, one of them was a local artist named Hamza. We talked a little bit about art and other stuff. Few days later Ramsis and I met him by coincidence near our apartment, when he was transporting canvasses. We found out that he is our neighbour. We helped him carrying the huge canvasses to his apartment, while carrying he told us that he is preparing artworks for a new exhibition, which will also be exhibited in Italy. Things like that seem to happen often in Ramallah, every time you go out, new opportunities pop up. We had a little chat and I asked whether I could do an Interview with him for the documentation project, because I thought it might be interesting to show some local Palestinian art and how he uses art to express himself. Hamza approves and says that we can come whenever we want, because he’s mostly working at home and we should feel free to come when we want to.
We enter the university and are overwhelmed by all kinds of flags, posters and scarves in all different colours and shapes. Mostly in the colours of the three main parties. Green for Hamas, yellow for Fatah and red for the leftist party PFLP. Everywhere we go, we are accompanied by the signs, posters and students who openly show their colours and reveal their “political” convictions. Not a single meter seem to be spared by flags or posters. Today there are also parades by all the parties, after that they have short talks and performances on a small stage. Many Birzeit students attend the talks and are cheering and clapping every now and then. We understand little to nothing, but sometimes the speakers of the parties sound like war cries, which is quite intimidating. In two days the student council elections begin. The elections are important for the parties, because it indicates the popularity of one party or another.
Today Ramsis and I visited Hamza to do an interview and to talk about the edible cutlery, on which Ramsis is working on, because Hamza also offered his support in that project. Hamza showed us some of his artworks and we talked about how his art portrays the situation in Palestine. His art mainly focuses on raising awareness to social and political issues, without taking political sides. This is also why he is allowed to use city walls as “canvasses”.
We talked about his motivation and also his collaborations with a lot of other artists from Palestine and abroad. He also had many exhibitions in Italy and other countries. And at some point whether you want to or not, you always end up in politics, but it’s totally normal, because “politics” effects everyday life and you just can’t ignore it. And like many other people, Hamza made clear, that even though he doesn’t like the life and situation in Palestine and had several opportunities to move away, that it is somehow his “duty” to stay and by that to demonstrate resistance. He said if he leaves, someone else will take his place and that he is too stubborn to “allow” that. “Existence is Resistance”. I really respect that many Palestinians stick to hope and seem to have a never ending endurance and patience in living the Resistance day in, day out. I talked to many locals and even though if there are many different political views, all of them had nearly the same mind-set and way of thinking: the situation is bad, but we won’t give up and keep on going whatever it takes.
While we talk, there are debates going on in the University of Birzeit. Tomorrow the elections end. The student council elections at Birzeit are very important for the parties, because it can be viewed as reflecting society’s politics. The university has an important role in the elections, because some of the leaders among the Palestinians are Birzeit graduates and second Birzeit has a leading role in the political life, especially among the students and also in fostering and enhancing the national identity of other Palestinians. That is also why the parties financially support the student councils and try to build up a good image and advertise themselves as good as they can.
Again we arrive at the university and today the elections end. The university is again very crowded, reminds me somehow of a music festival, where you have to squeeze yourself to get from A to B. There are some choreographies and talks going on. The university is still coloured in green, yellow and red, but all the flags have to be removed till noon, otherwise the parties get hard sanctions and are not allowed to participate in the election or get punished in other ways. The students are allowed to vote till 4 pm and at 8 pm the final election results are clear. I heard from many students, especially from younger ones, which are in their first year that they will not vote for anybody or just will make their vote invalid by voting for two parties, because they still made no experience, which party will represent them the best. I accompany some of my group members to the election and want to check out how Palestinian elections roll. I’m not allowed to go in, but can watch them from outside through porthole windows. Unspectacular. It’s a normal election. Don’t know why I expected something extremely different.
Later, after working a little bit more on our projects, the whole German squad is invited to a Palestinian students place. We get a ride to the fields of gluttony. We eat. Again. A lot. And it’s delicious, like always. Maqluba, salad, dolma, hummus, chicken, beef, whatever our hearts desire.
At about 8 pm, after we finished eating and drinking chai, we heard that Hamas won. Some people of our group want to witness the celebration at the university, but a little later we were informed that the celebration was cancelled. Could be because the leading party is Fatah and they wanted to make sure, that Hamas has a hard time celebrating their success. Later that evening on our way back home by bus, we saw many policemen and some “civilians” on the streets with machine pistols and alike. Maybe to intimidate Hamas supporters, so they keep calm and don’t openly celebrate.
I’m amazed how much hummus and falafel a man can eat without getting tired of it. Now its three weeks in and I can’t remember a day I didn’t eat hummus or falafel and I’m still craving for chickpeas. I fear that I have to go cold turkey on chickpeas, when I return to Germany and that this will be pretty hard. Well, after a big breakfast with falafel, hummus, foul, salad and coffee, we head to university.
Today Hamas is celebrating their win in the elections, but it seems like they are not really celebrating to the fullest. I ask some of the students and they tell me they fear that they might get imprisoned if they party too hard. Somehow it sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. They are serious and it really happened. Last year when Hamas won, many of the student council, which were supported by Hamas, were imprisoned and threatened by the Palestinian Authority. Some of them were imprisoned for months for no apparent reason.
Later that day, after the “celebration” is more or less over, some people caused trouble near the cafeteria. I’m not sure, who exactly is involved, because there are people everywhere and they all gathered to see what’s going on. Some say it were Hamas fighting against Fatah members, while others claim that it’s an internal fight of Fatah members, because they thought that they will win this year and couldn’t deal with it and started to blame each other, which has led to a physical conflict.
I wonder and respect how still many students and also other people keep on doing what they want to do, although they face many problems in everyday life, especially when they are politically active. Because nobody is spared and if you say something “delicate”, it could be that your whole life will be turned upside down in form of further restrictions of “rights” like freedom of travel, speech and thought.
– Aydin –