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YNet: “Shenkin on the corner of the Hawara checkpoint”

by Yael Ivri, February 6th

Palestinian artist, Haled Jarar, hung his photographs on the fence of an IDF checkpoint near Nablus; the “Activestills” exhibit covered the streets of Tel Aviv with photos of squatters. Two exhibits, two protests

On Saturday at midday Haled Jarar, 31, a Palestinian artist living in Ramallah, drove up to the Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus, his car contained his debut exhibition.

The photo exhibition, part of a campaign called “30 days against checkpoints” initiated by the Palestinian HASM organization, was hung on the Hawara checkpoint fence for three hours. Some 200 visitors, including Israeli and foreign peace activists, as well as numerous soldiers and Palestinians made their way to or from Nablus to see the exhibition.

Jarar’s camera captured the impossible reality Palestinians endure at the checkpoints and beyond. “This is my non-violent protest,” he stressed. “I want to highlight my people’s tragedy through art.” According to Jarar, many Palestinians who passed by and looked at the photos showed much interest, but also desperation.

“Some said they should be shown in Tel Aviv and not in Hawara. We are familiar with this reality, they told me, but my answer was that this is just the beginning of the journey.” His photo exhibition will be displayed in Tel Aviv and from there will also tour the world.

Neta Golan a veteran peace activist and a visitor at the exhibition said the photos of the Palestinians at the checkpoints, which included women and elderly people, sparked enraged responses. A passerby pointed to one of the photos and told a soldier in the area: “look what you are doing to us.” The soldier responded by saying that he himself did not appear in the photos and left, added Golan.

In another incident an elderly Palestinian woman lashed out at the visitors: “You come here, look at us, take our pictures, and then leave,” she said angrily.

Nablus, biggest urban jail

Some 10,000 Palestinians cross the Hawara checkpoint every day. Muhammad Duikat, one of the campaign organizers explained that the choice to display the exhibition at the Hawara checkpoint was not incidental.

“Nablus is the biggest urban jail in the West Bank,” he says. “Since 2002 we can only come here on foot, through six checkpoints surrounding it and it’s almost impossible to leave. City residents, men aged 16-45, can’t leave without special permits that can only be obtained outside the city,” Duikat said.

Jarar, a graphic artist by profession, describes himself as an amateur photographer. He was born in Jenin, but currently resides in Ramallah. In a conversation with him, after dismantling the exhibition, he sounded satisfied. “I didn’t want to be political,” he almost apologized.

“The majority of my photographs document scenes of nature, animals and landscapes.” Despite this, the moment he decided to display his works, it sparked a political inclination within him. “I decided to try and also help my people,” he recalls, telling how at 3 pm, after the display was taken down from the fence, two soldiers apprehended him at the fence.

Meanwhile on the streets of Tel Aviv

According to estimates by an American journalist Robert Neuwirth, who runs a blog devoted to squatting, “there are about a million squatters worldwide, and until 2050 one out of every three people will become a squatter.” Whether these are realistic estimates or not, Israeli squatters encounter many difficulties, some of which were documented in an exhibition displayed in several parts of Tel Aviv over the weekend.

The group of photographers “Activestills” captured the Israeli version of the squatting trend, namely when social activists, young anarchists, or just homeless people with high awareness take over abandoned buildings and turn them into residential buildings that often serve the community. Under the banner of “A home without people, a people without a home” (the global squatters’ slogan), the exhibit was hung on three abandoned buildings in Tel Aviv that were formerly used as housing units and its tenants evacuated. Another part of the exhibition was hung close to a squat that has been operating for the past two years on Ben Atar Street in the Florentine neighborhood.

The photographs in the exhibition document the attempt to transform an abandoned building on 60 Shenkin Street into a social center and a residential area. Last December, after more than ten years of neglect and decay, a group of activists entered the building, among other things to turn it into a social center. They were later joined by two refugees from Darfur in Sudan, and a single parent family, who together renovated the building.

The Shenkin squat operated for about a month and half until January 14th when police broke into the facility and broke up the party. The tenants were evacuated from the building and thrown onto the street along with their belongings.

“The exhibition documents the history of the squat on 60 Shenkin Street,” explains Keren Manor, one of the exhibition’s initiators.” From the moment the tenants entered the building, cleaned it, started running activities and until they were evacuated.”

The purpose of the exhibition according to Manor is to “convey the message that squatting serves the community: There are dozens perhaps hundreds of abandoned buildings in Tel Aviv and they are only held for real estate purposes, yet there are thousands of homeless people.”

Hanging of the photographs in the street was carried out discreetly in the middle of the night. Manor, however, clarifies that it all serves the purpose. “The fact that we hung up the exhibition without a permit from the institution, exposes us to people without the need for mediation by a gallery or a museum. We are looking for direct contact with the street, and the aim is to primarily shatter the negative myths on the topic.”