Artist Khaled Jarrar, Photo: Uwe Walter

An Interview with Khaled Jarrar

حسنا ياصديقي العزيز

Interview by Daniel Miller


I want to start with some questions about your artistic development...

I didn't grow up as a child. I grew up as a fighter. When the first Intifada started, I was eleven years old. And every morning, instead of going to school, I went to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers. I also used to play with wood and stones to make small sculptures for the map of Palestine.


You were a fighter...

I had to fight for my freedom to be able to do my hobbies that were forbidden by the military occupation.


But also a kind of cartographer...

Yes. I was searching for my stolen right of freedom and looking for my stolen identity, so this was one of my ways to express myself, or at least to deal with my anger.


Are you still a fighter?

I believe most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. So I am doing what I do nowadays because I feel responsible.


Is your art a way of throwing stones?

There has been always a space to art in my life so I was searching, but the occupation was very cruel and it tried to destroy this space. But they did not succeed. So that’s why I am here showing my work at the Berlin Biennale. Talking about my art is a way to be constructive and critical, and trying to do something for the Palestinian cause.


What is the Palestinian cause?

What I am looking for personally is freedom of movement, to have the space to move, and to work, to visit the beach, and to see my friends in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Yafo. What I want is the one-state solution where all of us live together, all of the humans who are in this area, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or whoever is here. If you want to stay, let's stay, and live together. This is the only logical solution. But this solution is the hardest one.


Do you think there is enough trust between the different sides to make this possible?

No... and this is the problem, and this is what we need to work for. There has been no trust. And the separation wall and settlements produce more hatred. But if we live together and see each other, talk, and discuss, we become neighbors. As I said ... it takes a lot of time. But this should happen after the Israeli government stops the occupation and the apartheid system.


People need to change their attitudes...


Humans are naturally opinionated. We form likes and dislikes almost from the moment we first gain consciousness. Our stances on issues and our attitudes about things are directly linked to our innermost thoughts and feelings. In modern society we are constantly bombarded by advertisements and entertainment which works hard to influence or change these thoughts and feelings. This is how the Israeli government brainwashed the citizens of Israel and makes them paranoid so the Israeli society remains militaristic and obsessed with power as a solution, and through these means keeps controlling the lands and the humans.


How do you think Palestinians and Israelis can contribute to creating more trust?

Trust is not a simple word... and it needs to be interpreted. In a way, I don’t want to represent the Palestinian point of view, because I feel it’s the time to look to the conflict from outside of this the box, to be human and to find new chances. But I think we need to begin by understanding the facts, and then by establishing a real intention to live together in equality. To give you one example: the Palestinians used to have a lot of water. But now they are not allowed to dig new wells. The Israelis are the ones who control the water system in the West Bank and they sell it to the Palestinians. And still give us less than we need, when at the same time the settlers who live nearby on stolen land don't have any restrictions. There are many examples like this. It is an unfair apartheid system.


Why do you think people outside of Israel and Palestine care about Israel and Palestine?


I think people care more about Jewish people and their history. This was the response of Mahmoud Darwish, during an interview with an Israeli journalist. She asked him the same question. And he said to her, '”I thank God that the Jews were the people that occupied us. People care about Jews, and because they care about Jews, they know about us. If someone else had occupied us, then nobody would notice us.''


I was recently reading about the conflict in Kashmir. It is a very similar situation, except that a lot more people have been killed. But the world doesn't really care about this conflict.

The world cares about power. As you know Israel is strong, and they know how to play the role of victim. Recently you had the example of the poem What should be said by Günter Grass  and the reaction which followed it. And this is what happens in Europe if you criticize Israel...


Art and politics seem closely entangled in the Palestinian/Israeli context. Or is this an illusion, manufactured by the export market?

When I was studying in the International Academy of Art Palestine, I met many artists, filmmakers, and researchers who came there. They came to Palestine, and became more famous, and got a lot more notice from galleries and from curators. But many times they came here and did things which were superficial. They spend one month, or two weeks ... and I think that they just wanted something to add to their CV.


Do you resent them?

No, not necessarily ... I am not against them, or with them. But I think that if an artist really wants to relate to this context, then they should live in this situation, they should stay here for longer, and live here ... take time to live in this conflict, and feel it...

Do you know Tintin?


Yes, of course...

Hergé made this comic in the forties called Tintin in Palestine. But you don’t know it, because later they changed it into Tintin in the Land of the Black Gold. In the earlier version, all the bad people were Jews, with crooked noses. And the Jewish lobby came to Hergé, and they told him that he had to make some changes. In the earlier edition Tintin is arrested by the English; in the later one he is arrested by the Arabs; in the early book he's kidnapped by the Jews, later he is kidnapped by the Arabs. And it is very funny, when you see the two books side by side. And this will be my next project: about Tintin.


Let's talk some more about conflict tourism. How can we do more?

I am really trying to take my subjects from my own experience. My first exhibition was an exhibition of photography called At the Checkpoint which I decided to make at the checkpoint itself. No institution or gallery was prepared to support it, because nobody knew who I was. But I understood later that doing things this way was much more innovative and I kept working like this, depending on myself to produce my art.


You are talking about your artistic development. But I want to know about responsibility.

This sounds innocent enough, but it’s actually quite a difficult task. Once one makes a commitment to create art both as a way to feed the soul and a way to feed the belly, art and commerce become intricately intertwined. With each increasing level of visibility and financial success, it becomes that much harder to not make art with someone’s sofa colors in mind. So I am looking around about my responsibility. For example, when I went to Paris last October, I went to the poor areas, where I saw a lot of homeless people and drug dealers. There I felt that I had responsibility, because all of my friends had told me: “Paris, you are so lucky to go to Paris. I love this city, I love Paris ... it's so charming, it's beautiful.” So I took some pictures of the neighborhood, put them on my Facebook account and said “I am in Paris,” and my friends replied: '”What? This is a refugee camp! This is not Paris!” The stereotype about Paris is that it's charming, Champs-Élysées, Moulin Rouge.


The stereotype about Palestine is: a guy throwing stones, a man with a Kalashnikov, a boy with a scarf, tanks, and conflicts. So we need to break this... we need to destroy these images and to tell the truth. There is the Champs-Élysées in Paris, but there are also poor people in Paris. There is the conflict in Palestine, but we also have human lives in Palestine. I think that this is our responsibility: to talk about reality and not to make propaganda.

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