Culture as a Force for Change: Pull Quotes, Forum Transcript, and YouTube Recording
“If Palestinians and Israelis do not humanize one another, if they don’t see the real person on the other side, you can’t persuade anybody of a political solution.”
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“Mekudeshet is an independent cultural NGO, but really we’re a crazy, crazy, experiment, creating original art and music that tries to humanize across divides in Jerusalem.”
“We’re a team of Israelis and Palestinians, plus an Armenian, and the commonality of what we are is that we really love Jerusalem. We believe that if this place is where all of the challenges of this place are felt most acutely, then this is exactly where we need to work. That we shouldn’t run away from the challenges, or run away from the fractures, but rather, we need to dive into them and see what we can create together to heal them.”
“Our most ambitious project yet, it’s “Feel Beit,” which is a polyglot of Hebrew, Arabic, and English, meaning ‘feel at home.’”
“We create art, and art, at its best, is about capturing something very real in the human condition. Art is really about humanizing. And art is something that, when it’s good, gets you beyond political abstractions and gets you to complexity, heart and soul.”
“We dance together, we party together, we create beautiful things together, we create concerts and films and salons and workshops, and most of it is about telling stories, really, it’s about telling stories about real people, and doing something that allows you to see a side of a person that you couldn’t have seen in any other context.”
“It’s about community, and the community that we have built over the years has become resilient. And that’s how we navigate the challenges of anti-normalization and BDS.”
READ THE TRANSCRIPT:
Culture as a Force for Change
Jonathan Kessler: I’d like to welcome everybody to this forum. It’s great to see you, Karen. It’s great to see my good friend Riman and meet Apo. As I mentioned a minute ago, it’s always our preference to gather people in person, we will have an opportunity to be with Karen and Riman and Apo in January in Jerusalem at Mekudeshet, and no doubt there will be many opportunities to share that experience more broadly with people who aren’t on the mission but are on this call. Mekudeshet is one of the most remarkable places that gathers the most amazing people, and they’ve been doing it for years, but we don’t hear nearly enough about them, we don’t see nearly enough of their content, and Heart of a Nation hopes to change that. We want to amplify your amazing work, we want to amplify, as much as we can, the people that you’ve brought into this place. And Karen, you have been a leader for many years in that effort. You’re also such a dear friend of mine and so many people on this call. Thank you so much for your leadership within the Heart of a Nation Executive Committee. You are the perfect person to get our discussion underway, and I’m going to turn things over to you now. Thanks, Karen.
Karen Brunwasser: Thanks, Jonathan. It’s really an honor to be here and to have this opportunity to address the folks here on the Zoom today. It’s a really important effort that I believe in very much. You pitched me on this idea at the very beginning, and I completely bought into it. It’s really extraordinary to see all the great work that’s been done in such a short time, and we’re all waiting for you here, all the folks that are in the States, we’re all waiting for you to come here, in Israel/Palestine. And I also am really happy to be here on the call with two colleagues and friends, with Riman Barakat and Apo Sahagian. We’ll take about half an hour to talk and then we’ll take some questions from everybody here. And I’ll just do a little bit of background on Mekudeshet, on our latest and most ambitious project “Feel Beit,” and I’m going to ask my colleagues to come in with their experiences and their takes on the things that we’re trying to accomplish.
So, I’ll say that officially, Mekudeshet is an independent cultural NGO, but really, we’re a crazy experiment, and we create original art and music that tries to humanize across divides in Jerusalem. For the last 10 years, we’ve been best known for a massive, city-wide, city-specific festival, that commissions artists of all different kinds of disciplines for big and small works, for known artists, for up and coming artists, all different kinds of folks, that grapple with Jerusalem, probably the most sensitive city and complicated city in the world, that produce new work out of that process of grappling, that finds potential for something better in our reality here. So, just a few examples of the many projects that we’ve done, one was a massive sacred music festival that invited musicians from Israel, Palestine, and from around the world to bring their sacred traditions to the heart of Jerusalem and see if through music they could turn the holiness of the city, which is so often a source of conflict, into a bridge.
Another project was called “Amen,” and this was a collaboration between artists and spiritual leaders from the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faith, as well as some folks that don’t believe in anything but have some interesting ideas, and they created a shared house of prayer, also at the center of Jerusalem. Another big event was something called “Huna” that Apo appeared in in 2017, this was a massive event in public space under the Jerusalem sky that drew on the commonality between the Palestinian cultural musical heritage, and the musical heritage of Jews from the Middle East, to create a new harmony, always acknowledging the stuff that’s touchy, the stuff that’s complicated, the stuff that’s unequal, and trying to create a culturally competent space for everybody.
So that’s what we’ve done in the past, and the really interesting thing I think is the team that we are today. We’re a team of Israelis and Palestinians, and an Armenian, and the commonality of what we are is that we really love Jerusalem, and we believe that if this place is where all of the challenges of this country are felt the most acutely, then this is exactly the place where we need to work. That we shouldn’t run away from the challenges or run away from the fractures, but rather we need to dive into them and see what we can create together to get out of them or to heal them. So the exciting thing is, and hopefully you’ll be hearing about this a little bit more publicly soon, is that in 2020 we launched our most ambitious project yet, it’s “Feel Beit,” which is a polyglot of Hebrew, Arabic, and English, meaning “feel at home.” It’s a new culture house on the invisible border between East and West Jerusalem, on top of a magnificent promenade, that is envisioned, curated, produced, staffed, by a collective of creatives that represents all of the sectors of Jerusalem. Apo was the founding artistic director of Feel Beit, and Riman is the person that without whom we wouldn’t have had a diverse group of collectives to begin with. And I’ll say, we’re in Feel Beit, all three of us now, and if our technology was better we’d give you a tour of the place. I tried, but it didn’t look so great, but the place is absolutely spectacularly beautiful. It includes a performance venue, a club, a digital broadcasting studio, a bar cafe, a co-working space. We were looking forward to hosting folks, those of you who are coming on the trip in January, and those of you who might come at other times, and we aspire all the time to the highest level of cultural accessibility which is not a simple thing because as I said, we’re a very diverse group, not only because we have Palestinians and Israelis, or folks from West Jerusalem, folks from East Jerusalem, Christians, Muslims, Jews, but within our groups, there is diversity. And it’s not just a diversity of ethnicity, but there’s diversity of biology. An organization with a diversity of opinions which is very important, and so with many different pieces of a complicated Jerusalem puzzle, it can never all fit together perfectly exactly at once, right? If you have on the one hand an ultra-Orthodox component of our organization that has its needs and requirements in order to participate in what we’re doing, and you have Palestinians on another side, and you have a very small minority of Christians in the city, unfortunately that’s gotten smaller and smaller, and you have secular Jews and religious [Jews] — you have all different kinds of folks here — there are moments when, and we’re not going for the lowest common denominator, we’re not trying to say, “What can we do together, that we can all do at once, and how can we lead the parts of our identities that might complicate our meeting so that we can be together”’ No, that’s not what we’re saying.
This place is very much about bringing your identity with you when you come into this place, with all of its weakness, its complexity, and even when sometimes our identities can challenge one another, and the needs of, for example, a Haredi man who wants to participate in a cultural event versus the needs of a woman who wants to sing. These two can sometimes come into conflict, or issues with kashrut, issues with wine, issues with all sorts of things. This is a space where we don’t try to hide those complications, but we try to be very deliberate about how we deal with them. And how we use art to sometimes get beyond what you couldn’t get beyond in other ways. I’ll say, y’know, let me see. I’ll say one other thing before I invite Riman and Apo to join in the conversation. There are two things that we really believe in here. I mentioned Jerusalem, so there’s another couple. We have a really firm belief in art as a transformative force that can — that is sensible and nimble enough to do things that other things cannot. And that when all else breaks down, art and music sometimes can break through. And I
think we also very much believe in this crazy experiment that we’re doing together, practice it every single day. I think there’s a common notion here that the best critique of what’s wrong is the practice of something better. That’s what we’re trying to do here through our new culture. Riman, do you want to take over? I’ll say that Riman Barakat is a dear friend. I met her really at one of the darker times of the last ten years, towards the end of the 2014 Gaza war. It was a moment when — y’know, we had been in this organization trying to create relationships with the cultural institutions in East Jerusalem. We had some success, although not tremendous success. And the war happened and everything sort of just broke down. And we were looking for somebody and at the moment we were looking, Riman was looking for somebody. And it was very unusual to be looking to cross the divide and the moment, and Riman was. Riman has a very sort of impress of history of doing all kinds of activism in the peace world. She’s also an entrepreneur and has the organization created about the business experience of Palestine, which takes people to see a side of the West Bank and East Jerusalem that is not the one that you see in Jerusalem: the creative side, the entrepreneurial side, the artistic side. And I’ll say that — y’know, our organization has existed for now eleven years. Riman joined us — we met in 2014, she joined us in 2015. And while we had always said that our organization really cared about diversity, practicing diversity in Jerusalem — there’s a big difference between declaring that you want to do it and actually knowing how to do it. And Riman is really the person that changed our world.
Riman Barakat: I joined Jerusalem Season of Culture at a time where I felt the crises in Jerusalem and where I’ve kind of like tried many other things when it comes to bringing Israelis and Palestinians together and meeting Karen, meeting the Jerusalem Season of Culture, was an invitation to kind of find other answers that I hadn’t seen coming or envisioned before. And really, y’know, since 2014, the work that we have been doing in approaching Palestinian community and Palestinian artists has required us sometimes to be slow, but very consistent. And despite all the crises that Jerusalem has been through, slowly, slowly this community became a resilient community that acts together. And I want to say that where we sit right now — I mean on the seam line between East and West Jerusalem, the task — my personal sort of mission and task of bringing people together and finding a way to heal Jerusalem also when it relates to me. I grew up in East Jerusalem, witnessed the first intifada — so whenever there’s violence in Jerusalem, this brings many painful memories that I don’t want to go to these places. I don’t want to be in that consciousness of fear and despair. And what we’re doing right now is offering that kind of hope and that kind of transformation that art offers us. I want to say that the sphere of art and culture, especially in East Jerusalem, is a very sensitive one, and that’s because art and culture in East Jerusalem or art and cultural institutions have kind of been the institutions that took over the mission to represent Palestinian identity and heritage after many years of an absence of political leadership in Jerusalem since the death of Faisal Husseini. And when it comes to Palestinian art and culture, it does not know a green line. It is that sphere that unifies the Palestinian identity. When we are tapping into the art and culture and using that as a bridge to connect people, we are really kind of tackling the issue at the heart of where it’s most intense. and again I say, for example during the war in May, one of the things that I kind of felt — y’know, was glad to see that many Israelis approached me, approached other Palestinians, to kind of check in on how things are going. One of the things that I felt has changed is that there is now that kind of connection and community that is from both sides that speaks a different language. And that has able solutions. And see it first started to work in Mekudeshet and be present sometimes in other organizations. I would kind of be one of the only, if not the only Palestinian in the room. And today Jerusalem feels like there is a basis for a future that is going to be different. And for me, this use of — this tool of art and culture is a very significant one. I want to say that at Feel Beit, we have all kinds of artistic creations. And some artistic creations are catered and targeted towards the Palestinian community in specific, or predominantly, and others are more mixed. So here’s also, like, that space of expression of the Palestinian identity with an invitation also for Israelis to peek in on what’s going on in the Palestinian art sphere. Which also gives a place of identity and expression and artistic productions as well as connects the two peoples. I’ll stop maybe here, unless Karen — unless you think of something that I’ve —
Brunwasser: You did a great job, you got it. Thanks, Riman. I think that that notion of the Palestinian identity being one that comes into the space and expresses itself freely and in its fullness, is really important, and is something that can be challenging for those of us on the Israeli side, and then we can also challenge that. Ultimately, we have this really strong relationship, after years and years of simultaneously dealing with the complexities of Jerusalem but also dealing with actually producing, creating festivals, art, having a space together. I feel like this bringing of Palestinian identity into our place is super important and is something that broadens us. And that’s actually an interesting segue to Apo, who’s neither Palestinian nor Israeli, but Armenian. And also, but — yeah. Yay Armenia. And what’s interesting about Apo is that sometimes he rolls his eyes at both the Israelis and Palestinians, and says, “Leave me alone, guys. Y’know, get your acts together.” And I tease him that he can be the cynical subtext of our organization. But that’s a positive thing. He keeps us grounded in reality. The important thing to know about Apo — well there’s lots of important things to do — he’s also a Jerusalem, born and raised in the Armenian Quarter. He’s the lead singer of Apo and the
Apostles, which is a really successful indie rock pop band, with its strongest following in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but also a really strong following in both Israel and in other parts of the world. But he — that’s one project. He also has an Armenian folk project. He has a Hebrew project he did with Shannon Streets. He sings in Arabic, he sings in English. He also writes. And here at Feel Beit, he’s part of the artistic team. He also has a podcast called Apo and the City. And he’s part of our arts and ideas team. So, he does lots of stuff. And what Apo, what I’d like to ask you to do, Apo, is as an artist — from the artistic perspective, because we talked a
lot of theory here — if you could sort of talk about how the art comes into play in all that we’re doing.
Apo: I’ll just say a few words about me and how it relates to the artistic direction that I’ve sort of used in Feel Beit. As Karen said, I’m an Armenian, born in the Armenian Quarter.
And until the age of ten, the only language that I spoke was Armenian. That’s the native tongue. Then I picked up English, Hebrew, and Arabic. And I’m trying to pick up other languages along the way. At 18 I started to get involved in the East Jerusalem music scene. There was surprisingly a rock rap scene going on in East Jerusalem from 2008 to 2010. I was involved in it, regardless of the fact that I didn’t like rap. But whatever, it was some money. Afterwards I started to get very proximate with the dynamics of the Palestinian music scene in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank and also in the cities of Haifa and Jaffa and these cities. I got involved with
Mekudeshet starting from 2018, and it was around when we came to Feel Beit and as Karen said I was one of the artistic directors when Feel Beit opened up its doors. The way that we approached art in Feel Beit was that we were trying to make sure that the art and the content that we present in Feel Beit spoke to Jerusalemites first and foremost, because at the end of the day, this is a house for Jerusalemites — and for example, we were trying to make sure that most of the artists that come up on stage spoke in English, so we told them, “Even if you sing in Hebrew, or you sing in Arabic, or you sing in French, we want you to speak in English, because if the crowd is mixed, we want to make sure that we discharge any linguistic predisposition that might occur due to the narratives and due to the traumas and all that.” And English was a good icebreaker, and in a sort of way, everyone felt like they were welcome when the artists spoke in English. So the Palestinians felt like this is not an overly Zionist place, and the Israelis felt like this was not an overly Palestinian place, you know, there’s some middle ground here, and that is where it helped. And the other thing — unintelligible — approximate to the Palestinian music scene. We tried to make sure that if there was content in Arabic, we wanted to find a way to present -(technological issues) — for example, some of the projects that I was an artistic director on, one of them being called “Aadeh” for example, is that because of the sensitivities, the cultural sensitivities, that Riman touched upon, that sometimes Palestinians would not want to go to an Israeli venue or a venue that is associated with being an Israeli venue, despite the fact that Palestinians in East Jerusalem do not have venues with the necessary facilities, just like Feel Beit does have — so the way that we went about it is, so we created a project called “Aadeh” which reminds you of the Greek taverns, or the Balkans, you have like the Kfanas, and the Palestinians have their own version of it, so we tried to create projects like that where the Palestinians felt like their voice was being heard, or their culture — and I’m not talking any political culture, I’m just talking about their social culture — was represented on stage. Or at least represented in the venue. And thus, it was much easier for them to mingle with the idea that perhaps Feel Beit is a place that we can feel more or less comfortable in, it was a way for them to entertain that idea. And that’s how we went about the projects we were doing. One of the other projects that we’re doing in the future is called “Maunmewar,” which is also in Arabic, and it’s going to be exclusively in Arabic, and we’re trying to make sure that Feel Beit has a stage for even content that the Palestinians themselves cannot perform on stages in East Jerusalem or the West Bank. That being like content, if you’re a comedian and you want to touch upon a touchy subject, so you don’t have the comedy seller like in New York or in LA, I forgot. So it’s sort of a place that we can bring to Feel Beit. And also, I wouldn’t say that I’m an academic, but I have a BA and Masters in political science, and I’ve been to good places and good academic institutions, so another project that we want to make sure that we do that’s going to happen I think in a few months, we’re combining intellectual talks with art, and of course, the audience, and it has always been the way that we do, we’re trying to make sure the content is accessible to Israelis, Palestinians, and foreigners. Because, just like right now, people usually forget to say one thing about Jerusalem. It’s the biggest Jewish city, it’s the biggest Arab city, it’s also the biggest (unintelligible) city, so you have to make sure that any content that you do, targets all three of them at the same time, simultaneously, and equally. So that is another project that we take in Feel Beit. I think I’ve tackled a lot, if you have any questions, call my secretary.
Brunwasser: Okay, I think maybe it’s time to turn it over to questions, Jonathan?
Kessler: A’shanti, can we begin with a question from you?
A’shanti Gholar: Absolutely, hello everyone. I am A’shanti Gholar, and I’m very honored to be a part of the Executive Committee of Heart of a Nation, and I have a question for Riman. In the invite, there’s this amazing photo of you addressing the Women Wage Peace Rally, and for me, I focus on getting more women politically and civically engaged. I was curious about your work with women and how you’re using this to connect women from different cultures and ethnicities?
Barakat: Interesting question because, I guess addressing Women Wage Peace, was one of the few things I’ve done. If we’re talking about the context of Feel Beit, so usually we’re working with communities, but I want to stay involved in many other things where it is clear, especially in things related to dialogue, it’s clear that the discourse has been very much dominated by male voices. I was recently, just a few weeks ago, in these five days of dialogue in a group of Israelis and Palestinians, and it’s clear that we still have a lot of work to do, both in Israel and in Palestine. The older generation, which tends to be men oftentimes in these kinds of contexts, coming from a point of view that is literalistic maybe a little on the Israeli side, and from the Palestinian side, maybe a kind of like old guard, have a tendency to want to silence both women and young people, and that’s something we’ve kind of taken upon ourselves, me and a few other women who were at least present in the room, to kind of challenge that and bring on the women’s voice. And especially kind of lacking in this discourse are emotions, and many times, these male voices are sort of dismissing emotional aspects, whether they’re fear and trauma, mistrust, which are really at the heart of why we are stuck in the conflict. And our mission in that forum was — really very interesting to see, one of the guys was a military general, by the last day was saying, “I’ve been in this kind of dialogue for so long, it’s the first time that I’m in this kind of forum and we start to speak about emotions.” And going back to Feel Beit and what we do through art, is I think what’s missing, is touching the heart of people — Heart of a Nation — and making that authentic kind of connection, also letting go of those facades that we put and we pretend to be other people just to kind of present or hold onto a certain position, but sometimes we’re not contributing to solving or moving forward, so kind of being authentic, being with the heart, is something that I think we do very well here in Feel Beit.
Kessler: Thank you, Riman. I think I’ve got Adi from Dimona up next.
Adi Ben Boher: Hi, good evening. First of all, before I ask the question, I just noticed when Karen was talking, she spoke about belief in art. And I write in Hebrew, and then I said, “Hey, Emunah (faith) and Omanut (art), the words are so close,” which I really like that connection. I wanted to ask, is everything political in Mekudeshet? Do the stories, the themes, are the projects, are they all politically oriented, do they start political? Or do they become political on the way? Or is it things that don’t deal only with the conflict? And the question is to all.
Brunwasser: No, definitely not all political. Not even remotely all political. At least not in the conventional — political with a small “p,” in the sense that everything is political, and art is political, and what we’re doing is, but we’re not creating political art. We create art, and I think art at its best, is about capturing something very real in the human condition. Art is really about humanizing. And art is something that, when it’s good, gets you beyond political abstractions. And gets you to complexity, heart, and soul, the human condition. So no, we talked about a lot of the process where we deal with these issues, but it’s only a part of what we do. It’s an important part, but it’s not how we spend all of our days. We dance together, we party together, we create beautiful things together, we create concerts and films and salons and workshops, and most of it is about telling stories, really, it’s about telling real stories about real people, and doing something that allows you to see a side of a person that you couldn’t have seen in any other context. That’s what the artistic lens hopefully does. But no, we’re not creating, drawing pictures of our borders that don’t exist. Anybody else want to contribute to that?
Barakat: I just want to add that the context, you know, the reality that we are in in Jerusalem, and also now that we moved to Feel Beit, we are on the seam line between East and West Jerusalem, and our role is oftentimes to provide a response. It could be an artistic response to what’s going on, but we also cannot ignore this context. We cannot ignore the fact that we are in the middle of the neighborhoods that surround us. And in turn, the reality also asks us to respond, but we do respond artistically.
Kessler: Thank you. Brian, you said that Ari Roth had a question.
Ari Roth: Thank you. What a splendid presentation. All three of you are remarkable, and I think you’re modeling a cultural cohesion, showing us how the work is done and putting content at the center of it, and asking audiences to get absorbed in the things you produce together, it’s beautiful. I do want to ask your biggest challenge, in a way, and how you negotiate those challenges together. You are on this scene of some very tough challenges around issues of radical politics, around issues of normalization and anti-normalization movement, cultural boycotts that you definitely are confronted with and have to nimbly negotiate your way through. Talk about even the name. You have two names. Mekudeshet and Jerusalem season of culture. And one name doesn’t go down so easily in another community. So how do you just finesse your name identity? And how cohesive are you in the solutions you come up with?
Brunwasser: I think Apo and Riman you should take this question, definitely. All the stuff you’re talking about we have lots of experience in. We are very well aware that we have name issues. We actually have three names now. We have Jerusalem Season of Culture, Mekudeshet, Feel Beit. Jerusalem Season of Culture works great for Charedim, Mekudeshet does not, nor does Feel Bet. Mekudeshet is the name by which we’re very well known in the Israeli art scene, that’s our claim to fame. And Feel Beit works very well with Palestinians, and Jerusalem Season of Culture also. But anyway, complicated, but Riman and Apo you guys take the rest of this question.
Barakat: It’s about community, and the community that we have built over the years has become resilient. And that’s how we navigate the challenges of anti-normalization and BDS, that’s one way of seeing it. And also, the fact that we have people on our staff, for example, when it comes to the Palestinian community, we have people who have very strong Palestinian national identities. And that is important, that gives legitimacy to who we are, and the voices that we express, and also how we communicate to the outside world. I mean, that we anticipate further challenges, I’m sure there will be further challenges. But what we’ve learned over time, is basically that this community that we have kind of invested in over a long time, and by community I’m not just talking about our core group of staff, but also a few circles of artists, creatives, audiences, that have become familiar with our work and sees themselves as a part of this community. And that’s what allows us to continue and to be strong, and we hope that we can even grow even further. I hope I answered your question so far. Being sensitive and culturally competent, realizing that we’re in a space, for example, in the last two summers we’ve had music performances in sort of a festival in the park, promenade next to us, and the people from the neighborhood, also we made sure that they feel that this is also theirs, that they’re not coming to an Israeli event only, and that was something I think everyone could feel and see around them. It was very evident that this was what was happening.
Apo: I’ll just say something very briefly. A challenge for me being an Armenian is Jews and Arabs, I mean, that’s the number one challenge that I have to face with. Look, sometimes the way I go about it is that I don’t overthink if there is a project that I think is going to work and I feel good about it. And I feel like the people involved in the project will not necessarily make Jerusalem better, but will definitely not make it worse, then I’m down for it. And one of the projects, that we had the “Aadeh” project as I told you, was trying to make a tavern sort of atmosphere here in Feel Beit every Thursday night with a DJ and an afterparty. In May, or in April, when was the civil war here, we had like a civil war here a few months ago, and during the civil war when all of the bars shut down and all of the clubs shut down, and we had to shut down as well because of all the sensitivities, I actually got texts, and people asked if Feel Beit was open, or if it was going to be open on that Thursday night when they know there’s going to be that project, when there’s going to be an “aadeh.” And I felt like people were saying in this madhouse that’s on fire, there’s at least one place where I can have a drink for two hours, and then go back out into the madhouse. It is a challenge, and when it comes to the name, look, I’ll be very honest, from the river to the sea there’s one currency, and it’s called the shekel. And that’s a Hebrew name, and everybody says it. With names, you can play around with it, you can juggle around with it, but again, it’s all about not overthinking, because once you overthink, you’re never going to cross the river.
Kessler: Rabbi Irwin Kula has a question.
Irwin Kula: Hi. I just want to lift up one thing that Karen said that struck me. I mean, all the presentations were excellent, and that is that the best critique is to do something better. I think that is in a moment of incredible polarization and a sort of very complex seemingly insoluble problems, and everybody blaming everybody, the best critique is to do something better, to create the alternative reality, is a very powerful statement. And I don’t know if this is a question or a reflection, but maybe you could reflect on my reflection. There’s sort of a famous thinker named Stewart Brandt who shows that there’s different pacing in change. So fashion changes much faster than commerce, commerce changes much faster than governance, governance changes faster than culture, and culture changes faster than nature. And that knowing one which later one is working is really very important, and it strikes me that so much of the work that’s done in all of these areas is on the governance sort of policy, political, that was a question that somebody asked, and him working like one layer deeper on the culture level. And I guess that invites — to know one’s working on a culture level means one’s working at a pace that by definition is going to be slower. Because everything else, politics, fashion, and commerce is downstream. And if the problems really are at the cultural level, at the psycho-cultural level, one almost can’t do anything at the political level without affecting the culture no matter what people with the best motivations are trying. It strikes me when I listen to all three speakers that this impatience, obviously because you want to change the political, and on the other hand, there’s this tremendous hopefulness about what’s possible at the cultural level. So I don’t know if that’s a reflection, but if you could reflect on that gap and that pace of change in those layers.
Kessler: Thank you, Irwin.
Brunwasser: You’re reflecting in many ways, our brief back to us. And it’s not the first time, and it’s actually clarifying for us. We had a meeting, I don’t know when it was, eight or nine months ago we were on a call together, about things being emergent that we were in this crazy period in reality, and to try to have the humility to understand that there is an emergence that needs to happen, and to trust processes. It was something that I’d been struggling to say and find the words for, but it was helpful at first, because it’s very much what we’ve had to do and been practicing here at Feel Beit. With a strategy, but nonetheless, allowing things to emerge. We say that politics and society are downstream of culture. And it’s interesting because Riman came from a world that was sort of much more explicitly political, and I think at a certain point as she had described, that something cultural needed to happen. And we know that if Palestinians and Israelis do not humanize one another, if they don’t see the real person on the other side, you can’t persuade anybody of a political solution. We as a collective went through something real -we’ve had two different team members of ours who had a close relative killed in this conflict in the ten years that we’ve been together. And others who’ve had relatives killed at other points in the conflict before we were a team. And we have to deal with that together. And when you see that happen to someone that you know — when that happened to Raya’s cousin, I had just had a baby. And Raya, whenever I brought the baby to work, I would bring that baby to work, that’s something you do here a lot, Raya would grab my baby and take care of the baby and fawn over this baby. And I have beautiful pictures of her with my baby. And when this happened, I sent to everybody I knew in the states this picture of Raya with my baby. And when that happens with somebody who takes care of your child that way and loves your child that way, it’s an entirely different experience, and that is the experience of our team. But we’re also trying through the work that we do, through the art that we do, to experience the process that we’re going through as a team, right? These bubbles that are bursting for us, these blinds spots that are being illuminated by the process we go through, we try to bring those then to our audiences, and create an artistic context where they can have the same thing happen. Does that make sense? I don’t even know if I answered the question.
Kessler: Okay, I’m going to ask Rebecca and then Muhammed to pose questions. Rebecca?
Rebecca Gruber: Hi everyone, I’m so excited to come visit the new space. I just look forward to seeing what you’ve built, and I was wondering if you could share how you think the power of the art and culture you’re creating, and how it can impact beyond the borders of the place that you are? And how might it be part of the conversation about Israel and Palestine given what seems to be happening in the mainstream art world with the Pact B Boycott and beyond. So I’m wondering if that’s part of your conversation since many of us are outside in other places.
Kessler: Fabulous, thank you, Rebecca.
Barakat: So I’ll take this until Karen sets up and see if she wants to add anything. So we do create artistic works that aim to model something that seems impossible. So we had this concert out of broken instruments that was composed of — on of the composers was Palestinian from Lod, two others were Israeli, but we involved also different parts of the communities, so from East Jerusalem, there were religious people, professional, non-professional musicians, so a whole range of diversity when it came to producing. Mostly, if I can give an example of something that we’ve shared with the world, we have been creating throughout the festival “Journeys to Dissolve Boundaries,” which were audio works that take you through the streets of Jerusalem, the people of Jerusalem, the stories of Jerusalem, and during COVID we’ve produced such a work that you can taste and experience Jerusalem, but also get to hear the stories of this mixture, of this dissolving of boundaries between people of different identities and people from different communities telling a story of Jerusalem.
Mohammed Darawshe: Thank you so much, Jonathan. It’s definitely wonderful to hear Riman and Karen and Apo, I think you’re doing great work. Keep it up, and I’m definitely very proud of the things that you do and the levels [that] you’ve taken this work. You used the word “humanization” as your goal. And humanization, you know, in the field of conflict resolution is considered to be the output of what’s called the social contact theory. The social contact theory we know is important and I would say that every Israeli and every Palestinian deserves to be touched in the kind of work that you do and the kind of work that we do. But the question is, where would we see the larger impact? I mean what’s your long term impact that you want to see beyond touching 200 people, 500 people, 1,000 people, where do you want to see the impact leading to in five years or ten years down the road?
Brunwasser: And because I deal with fundraising I have to answer it quite a bit. There are the official answers to it, but I’ll try to stay in the more conceptual. It’s a super important question. What we try to do, is, and we’ve always done this in Mekudeshet, not merely in the Palestinian
Israeli context, but in the Jerusalem context itself. We started this organization 11 years ago when Jerusalem was coming out of the Second Intifada. It was brought to its knees and people had really lost faith in the city. Palestinians had left, young creative Palestinians, young creative Israelis had left — what we tried to do is, we tried to show, Riman mentioned this, we tried to show people that something is possible that they didn’t realize is possible, and then invite them to sort of come into that space and start creating. We tried to model something that people thought was impossible, and watch it come into reality as something that is now part of consciousness, and now a model that other people are embracing. For example, when we did “Kunna,” which sort of hailed in Jerusalem circles as a watershed event, because it was 2,000 people with a sizable Palestinian contingent in the audience, but it was this event that played off of the Middle Eastern culture I mentioned of Palestinians and Jews. And it was equally in Arabic and Hebrew, from the second you walked in, the security was Palestinian and Israeli, it created a shared space that no one had ever really seen before in Jerusalem. And once that was out there in the world, other organizations started mitigating it. So, here at Feel Beit, we are now the most diverse large-scale arts organization in the country. We’re about 35–40% Palestinian at this point, and 60% Israeli, we have Charedim, I told you all that stuff. Most people don’t even realize that’s possible. When we model that, and we see how some of the other people are saying, “Wait, we need to start working more with Palestinians,” on the Israeli side, or Palestinians that are saying, “Wait a second, if Apo and Riman can do this, and Apo, even he’s not Palestinian, I can walk in here too.” And the other thing that we’re doing, for example, we sit on the seam line between East and West Jerusalem, and the park that’s below us
is a wounded public space. It’s massively beautiful, gorgeous, in some ways it’s very symbolic of Jerusalem itself, but it’s completely under-utilized because it’s been a place of tension. It’s between Palestinian, Israeli neighborhoods, rich and poor, and we’re going into that space, regularly in the summertime, bringing culture that is for everybody, and also it’s produced for everybody, and it’s communicated for everybody, and trying to revive a public space in Jerusalem, that’s not just shared because it’s practical like the zoo, or the bus, or the hospital, but it’s shared proactively because people want to be there together, and increasingly, hopefully, will feel confident walking into the space and saying, “I’m proud to be here. I’m not just here by chance.” And we try to model, and hope that if we can do it here, and we’ve already had some significant success with it, that other spaces in Jerusalem will start doing that. And that these connections and these encounters will spring forth all sorts of other stuff. Does that make sense?
Kessler: I just want to thank Karen and Apo and my dear friend Riman, I also want to remind everybody on the call that we do these online forums pretty regularly and we hope you will join us again!
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