Fallen-Towers, triptych, photography by Rachela Abbate
Fallen-Towers, triptych of a watchtower in the ex-military base in Beith Sahour, West Bank photography by Rachela Abbate

The works developed during the three months of residency at Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency in Beith Sahour, West Bank/Occupied Territories were focused on the environment of Oush Grabh (Crow’s Nest in Arabic) and the ex-military base on its hilltop. Oush Grabh – part of the village Beith Sahour- is a wadi on the border to the desert close to Bethlehem. As it is not inhabited or cultivated it is left now in almost natural conditions, showing the “wounds” of the conflicts and of pollution. The ruins of an ex-military base from Jordanian occupation times are the dominant landmark of the zone, the ruins of former habitation were less visible.

In the same time, Oush Grabh is a very important place because of the migration birds – more than 520 species – landing here during their migration for different reasons one as the special vegetation. Oush Grabh is on the path of more than 500 million migration birds passing over the Syrian-African crack (Jordan Valley). The paths are lying between southern and eastern Africa and north and eastern Europe and Asia.

Artistic works in confrontation with the conditions of cultural values.

 To be able to do an artistic work in political conflict zones means to evade the emotional reaction. One has to prove the conditions of possibilities of judgment, which allows to take a position and to realize an artistic work. In proofing, the given situation can be understood and judged.

Oush Grabh is a place in which different categories of values collide.

Following groups of interests claiming territorial rights based on different categories:

  1. The efforts of the Israeli settlers to determine the territory as a historical one and build on it a settlement. An interpretation of the space based on the selective historical definition.
  2. Ornithologists and nature preservationists want to protect the uniqueness of the territory. The scientific definition of the territory.
  3. The Israelis occupy the whole area, the indigenous have no autonomy to deal with their own ground. A juristically – political definition of territory.

So it is given a territory contaminate by different definitions and intentions to control this space: A piece of nature with rests of military occupations on which we find nationalistic Israeli graffiti done by the settlers.

Nature, untouched part of the territory, is actually a cultural space in which several conditions and evaluations are confronted. Interesting are two of them seemingly neutral because they base on collective conventions: a scientific evaluation of space and historical identification.

tell me how many birds, site-specific,West Bank, by Rachela Abbate
Tell me how many birds, 2009, work for a site-specific installation on shooting ramp in ex-military camp Beith Sahour, West Bank, by Rachela Abbate

In the installation Tell Me How Many Birds, consisting of banners with the written biological names of birds landing here during their migration is reflected on how the scientific space is defining and conquering natural space. The reality of the bird’s migration and their flyways is researched and categorized. The disposition or the categorization is a predicate and our approach towards nature is defined through it.  It is a form of conquering a space in which the aspects of conservation and saving nature is not the aim of science. The wild life protection of the area seems to have a moral aspect but it is an occasional product through the effort to control decision capacity. Science offers justification for control, but also a reflection of the quality and intensions of decision taking. The latter has often historical importance as we experienced with Darwin’s hypothesis for the Imperialistic area (the so-called Social Darwinism was a “scientific” justification for racial discrimination and colonialism).

In the second work, Star of Bethlehem, in a ruined watchtower of the ex-military base is drawn a hexagram with wire.

star of bethlehem, site specific installation by Rachela Abbate
Star of Bethlehem, site-specific in Beith Sahour, West Bank, wire in a destroyed watchtower, by Rachela Abbate

The settlers’ effort to occupy the space is initiated on a selective historical identification and interpretation. On an interpretation of history, they justify every act and set themselves free from any ethical concern.

Science and history don’t lead necessarily towards morality neither they guarantee justifications. In the absence of reasonableness, they become instruments of power. We can also use them as an instrument of knowledge proving always our way of thinking and feeling.

An enlightened view requires visibility of cultural judgments. Culture is not neutral, is not universal, it is based first on the human being’s aptitude to go beyond needs and own interests and empathizing for the OTHER.

Culture doesn’t justify anything but it is always helpful to analyze the mode of consciousness. That enables ethical acting and is a condition of a true encounter with the other.

N.B.: The interventions shown here couldn’t be set up because of the political situation and the presence of the Israeli military. For these reasons, we decided to avoid stressing the fragile situation for the Palestinian inhabitants. We left – after researching and several examinations of the location – the work in the suspension of realization.

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