So the perception I get of Jericho from the various texts you’ve written about it, and what you’re telling me now, is that it has this fantastical quality to it, which kind of reminds me of what we were saying about sci-fi worlds, but in any case, it gives the impression of a place that evades the usual methods of representation.
Jericho definitely possesses that otherworldly quality. I have no idea why. People have very different reactions to Jericho; I love it, my grandmother loved Jericho, she rented a house there; and my grandfather hated it. Going there was torture for him but he went anyway because he loved my grandmother (and you never argue with a Palestinian woman; you do what she tells you to do). So my grandfather would call it Jericho-les-Puces, Jericho-and-Fleas. But yes, it is indeed both otherworldly and earthy, a place of possibilities. I know I speak about Jericho a lot; people who go there are either extremely underwhelmed or extremely overwhelmed – but no one can be indifferent.
Jericho-les-Puces, which I find quite funny, makes me think of a flea market actually – les puces in French – this weird place that deals in nostalgia and kitsch, where you can find everything, and where you’re kind of seeking to redefine your relationship to the past.
I’d never thought of that actually – but there’s definitely some of that too. And another thing is, Jericho is also very empty – it’s not the bazaar or the souk. The old city is actually the ruins of a very, very old city. So there’s that.
I’ve got this story, which, to me, represents quite well the spirit of Jericho. Three very good friends live there – one of them is this Catholic Arab priest, who’s originally Lebanese. He runs a school, and he’s adored in the city. The second one is the imam of one of the biggest mosques in Jericho, and he’s pretty conservative. And the third one is this old man who’s a communist leader and an atheist. And these three are friends – they meet up every night to eat together and smoke shisha and talk about politics. I really want to have a talk with these guys and have them tell me about what Jericho means to them.
That sounds like a beginning of a joke – a Catholic priest, an imam, and a communist leader walk into a bar…
It does, doesn’t it? I’ve never seen together but I’d love to. So once, I ran into the imam and the priest having lunch. Just before I leave, the imam turns to me – and he knows I’m Catholic from Bethlehem – and he says, “have you ever seen this, an imam and a priest having lunch together in a non political way?” And the answer is no, never. So I may just be reading into this, but it seems like this is the kind of thing that could only happen in Jericho. These two men really associate the possibility of that relationship they’re having, of what’s happening between them, with Jericho.
As you said, Jericho is a place brimming with possibilities – and a fertile ground, a terreau, for cultural productions.
We actually do use the word terreau a lot to describe what’s going there. So I have another story: I was back in Bethlehem and it was really weird, because I was going to my yoga class – we’re really getting into yoga in Palestine because it presents us with different ways to reclaim the body and the very idea of movement – and after that, I met up with a young performance artist, and then with this young designer, in this super hipstery coffee shop in Bethlehem, where most of the patrons are local Palestinians, though there’s also a great deal of foreigners, and I was thinking, this all kinda feels like Brooklyn. And there’s a marathon happening right now, too; it’s in its third or fourth year, and it’s actually becoming a huge event, with international visibility. The idea is that you can’t actually run a full marathon in Palestine because of the wall, so the runners have to run laps – and it’s such a smart and simple idea, when you think of it. So all the coffee shops and the restaurants are open with all these pre-marathon menus with carbs or whatever you’re supposed to eat before a marathon. This whole thing is obviously very political, but there’s no political jargon involved; people are just really excited about it. Last year, the guy who finished first was from Gaza, and this spoke volumes. The point is, we’re able to do this in conditions that should render it impossible; it should not happen and yet it does. There’s an attempt at creating a sense of community. Whether it works or not is another question, but at the very least, it creates hope.
These are such great anecdotes, because in the mainstream foreign discourse, Palestinians are shown either as terrorists or victims relying on foreign powers, but in both cases it’s a dehumanizing and reductive perspective that doesn’t take into account the daily life there. It makes us forget that they’re people, who keep on doing all the ordinary daily things that humans do, who are into arts and sports, who go to festivals and coffee shops…
Yes, and the truth is, we’re bored of the usual depictions of Palestinians. And that’s perhaps why there are now so many narratives about the future in Palestine – because you only see a person as human if you consider that they have a future. So talking about our future, asserting it, is a way of talking about our humanity. We know we can’t stop the settlements. So how do you respond to that? One of the ways is to remind the world that it’s people’s lives that are at stake.
Yes. And I feel that showcasing the ways people live on a daily basis – it just focuses more on the open-endedness of things, the fact that life is messy and contradictory and you can’t easily write preformatted narratives about everything, no? It helps us shift away from one-sided discourses that deal in the esthicization of exile and fragmentation – because that’s another thing I’ve noticed, this sort of romanticization of the migrant condition. It’s so easy, to dream of exile, when you’re not the one who has to deal with actually crossing borders.
Yes, we absolutely need to showcase the mess, because everything is shifting all the time. You can’t have any type of unified discourse about something that’s so complex and constantly evolving. Even the political discourse within Palestine is not unified.
What Palestinians want first and foremost is the luxury of forgetting that they’re Palestinians. Because we’re never allowed to stop thinking about exile. And it’s unbalanced – because, come to think about it, most Israeli artists are clueless about us. We’re nothing to them and they’re everything to us in a sense.
So the UN has recognized Palestine as an observer state in 2012; and a few months ago they pulled up the Palestinian flag. And I hate flags and everything about national anthems, but I couldn’t help but feel touched by the existence of this. It reminds me of this interview with Darwish I read, where the interviewer asks him something to the effect of How can you be a nationalist when you’re a poet, when nation states are obsolete, etc. Darwish’s answer is spot-on: he basically tells him: yes, I know, just give us a state. The moment we have a state we’ll throw it out of the window.