SUMUD AND THE WALL
Academic conference in Bethlehem, 30 April – May 1, 2010
This is an invitation to participate in the academic conference “Sumud and the Wall” in Bethlehem/Palestine, April 30-May 1, 2010.
The conference is academically supported by Bethlehem University (Department of Humanities), Al-Quds Open University, Oxford Brookes University (UK, Department of Architecture), Universite de Paris XII (France, Val de Marne, LARGOTEC), and Pavia University (Italy, Department of Political and Social Studies).
The Arab Educational Institute in Bethlehem (AEI-Open Windows) is local conference organizer.
Abstracts of conference papers (not more than 300 words) are welcome before February 15, 2010, at email@example.com.
For more information: Dr Toine van Teeffelen, AEI development director, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wall-building in Palestine is the ultimate reality of fragmentation, the shrinking of space and the expropriation of land. The many Palestinians living close to the Wall and other imposed structures are continuously at risk losing a sense of community and place. Access to their lands and properties, traveling possibilities, community networks and services, as well as their memories and meaning-making practices, are cut off by a prison-like and dehumanizing environment.
What meanings are attached to Palestinian places directly affected by the Wall, checkpoint systems and settlements? How can citizens develop strategies that challenge this reality of “bare life” (Agamben), “spatiocide” (Hanafi) or “encystation” (Bowman) typical of those zones?
What can people do in such circumstances? Sumud is the Arabic word for “steadfastness” or “resilience.” It refers to a fundamental Palestinian trait: to keep a deep connection with the land, community and people, and to maintain long-term patience and belief in a system change towards justice and peace.
While tested to the core, how can Palestinian citizens bring out their sumud and voice? How can they develop and apply long-term strategies that effectively challenge the Wall and related structures?
For the sake of peace-building and the protection of human rights in Palestine it is essential to understand and investigate the realities on the ground, including the consequences of the building of the Wall. The academic conference Sumud and the Wall will bring together local and international scholars and practitioners working in a diversity of fields including politics, architecture, peace/conflict studies, anthropology, psychology and mental health, tourism, media studies, Arts, theology and philosophy. It will also propose the establishment of a new academic field -“Wall Studies” - around those lines.
Bethlehem as conference site
As a city, symbol of peace, presently constricted by Walls, Bethlehem has been chosen as a suitable conference site.
The conference will consist of keynote speeches, plenary sessions and workshops at a conference location in downtown Bethlehem. Besides academic sessions there will be lively presentations of artistic and cultural practices at the Wall. Some sessions of the conference will take place directly near the Wall.
Audiences will include local and international scholars, civil society representatives, and representatives of NGOs, activists, and journalists.
Specific themes of the conference
The conference will be organized around 4 lines.
1. The Wall, space and violence
In order to investigate the diversity of options for challenging the Wall it is necessary to understand the various forms of violence it involves.
• Space and structural violence: How do we understand the structural forms of violence brought by the Wall and the system of closure and restriction? Does this understanding point to possible non-violent strategies to challenge the Wall? Are they “cracks” in the Wall?
• The Wall and symbolic violence: What are the implications of certain linguistic terms and discourses referring to the Wall, such as the dichotomy between “civilization” and “wilderness” implied by some official Israeli discourses, or the use of terms which mitigate the violence of the Wall? How does the wall threaten the cultural and symbolic systems and Palestinian traditions?
• Spectacular violence: How does the visual communication of the Wall show or hide its violence (as experienced by visitors, or in photos, videos, cartoons and other media).
2. Life near the Wall
Any effective advocacy vis-à-vis the Wall will relate to the life of the Palestinian citizens living near the Wall in its material, social-psychological and symbolic-communicative dimensions.
• What are the deep sources of sumud/resilience for families and communities living near the Wall or other imposed structures of occupation?
• Do these families and communities live in what is sometimes called a survival mode, or are they able to support or take initiatives for challenging the Wall? What is the relation between survival and non-violent resistance?
• How do families and communities still give social and cultural meaning to lost and desolate places taken away from community life?
• How can these citizens effectively communicate the life they are living (diaries, interviews, audio-visual media)? What key words, metaphors and discourses are used to communicate their life and experience?
3. Activism and sumud practices
New initiatives show that sumud can be expressed in community activities which defy the Wall, checkpoints and settlements but also redefine and in some cases even reconstitute the built environment. Examples are Wall graffiti and murals, new architectural constructions, non-violent actions near the Wall or settlements, children or family events, installation arts, film projections on the Wall, the organization of markets and festivals adjacent to the Wall or checkpoints, the development of prayer or meditation places, and alternative tourist itineraries.
• Sustained activism to prevent the building of the Wall: Reflections on long-term non-violent methods and strategies against the Wall, such as in Bil’in and Nilin. How do we assess effectiveness? How do we support those practices as empowering strategies?
• New practices on/at the Wall: Experiences and reflections on graffiti murals, film screening on the Wall, drama, architectural initiatives, hip hop events, classical concerts, religious-meditative celebrations near the Wall (or, alternatively, at military watchtowers and checkpoints).
• International advocacy and the Wall: Reflections on campaigns based on the 2005 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. Integrating international and local-Palestinian campaigns.
• Wall tours and tourism: What is the role of internationals, including pilgrims, visiting the Wall, staying at families living there, participating in tourist events, doing volunteering work? Can and should the Wall become a tourist attraction without minimizing its negative impacts? Can the Wall become a national emblem of the resilience of the Palestinians?
4. Towards wall studies
The conference is scheduled to launch a new academic field – Wall studies, to be built on an integrated and comprehensive understanding of the impact of the Wall and the possibilities of challenging it.
• Practical conceptualization. How to develop concepts to be used by practitioners? How to translate research into empowering strategies? What is the relevance of newly introduced legal concepts like “spatiocide” and “urbicide”?
• Creative conceptualization. How to link research on the wall and design projects and artistic initiatives? What is the specific role of mobile arts?
• Developing cooperation What are meaningful areas of interdisciplinary cooperation and action research? Comparisons with other Walls across history and contexts.
A preparatory academic committee includes Palestinian and international academics from AEI-Open Windows, Al-Quds Open University, Bethlehem University, Paris XII and Oxford Brookes University.
Bethlehem University (Department of Humanities)
Al-Quds Open University
Oxford Brookes University (UK, Department of Architecture),
Universite de Paris XII (France, Val de Marne, LARGOTEC),
Pavia University (Italy, Department of Political and Social Studies).
Local organizational responsibility and liaison towards Palestinian civil society: Arab Educational Institute (AEI-Open Windows, Bethlehem, member of Pax Christi International).
For more information
Dr Toine van Teeffelen
Development director AEI-Open Windows
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