In June 2011, Sternberg Press published Solution 196-213: United States of Palestine-Israel, edited by Joshua Simon. The Solution series invites curators, artists, and writers to address systemic cultural issues circumscribed within a given national context; for the sixth book in the series, Sternberg asked Simon, an Israeli writer and curator, to address the deadlock between Israel and Palestine. Simon invited contributors from Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Beirut, Jerusalem, New York, and Warsaw to propose a patchwork of scenarios—some on the brink of possibility, many pointedly unrealistic—that might change the situation in the region. During a recent visit to New York and following his return to his hometown of Tel Aviv, Simon spoke with Triple Canopy's Anna Altman about the breadth of conceptual proposals that compose the book and the space for imagination that publications afford.
Anna Altman: The United States of Israel-Palestine presents a collection of speculative solutions for how to address the Israel-Palestine impasse, by academics, writers, architects, and artists. How did you choose your contributors? And why from these disciplines and areas of discourse?
Joshua Simon: I didn’t look for people who work in the realm of politics, because their perspective is very much exhausted. I was more interested in gathering proposals from architects, writers, artists, and curators whose work I have been following. The book is so diverse and has so many self-contradictions and different horizons; it shows that the discussion itself is actually far from being exhausted. For example, Raji Bathish’s solution vis-à-vis the Palestinian right of return and the Israeli Law of Return and my proposal on general elections both emphasize the populations between the river and the sea. Meanwhile, Norma Musih’s analysis of Hanna Farah’s work rebuilding the village where his father and grandfather were born insists on a solution for the Palestinian refugees. Noam Yuran proposes that Israelis convert collectively to Islam in order to break the self-mirroring definition of the country as a Jewish state; Itzhak Benyamini has a different tact, calling for new myths that will redefine alliances between Jews and Arabs. The One State project by mock-ambassadors Tal Adler and Osama Zatar somewhat contradicts Sari Hanafi’s proposal for two states with overlapping territories.
All of which is to say there are many other conceptual frameworks we can use to engage with the situation. The partition plan from 1947, the ’67 war and the following occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the separation wall, and now the Palestinian application to the UN to be a member—they’re all different events, of course, but they all come from one basic conceptual framework of partition. The book opens up other possibilities; instead of an “us” and “them,” it proposes a “we.”
AA: I understand feeling that the political discourse has been exhausted, but why do you think that writers and artists have “solutions” that are more dynamic or that are more able to open up the conversation than those proposed through more traditional political channels?
JS: A lot of what we call politics or political work takes place in the art world, in academia, in literature, in cinema, because it finds refuge there. Israel’s political situation influences this in a particular way, but you also see, for example, that writers and artists took a huge role in what happened in Egypt and in the Occupy movement. Politics has left daily life and gone awry; it has become an internal dialogue between lobbies. It has nothing to do with the real life of people. The book is premised on the assumption that these people are doing politics in other realms.
I can give you an example from the book. Yael Bartana’s contribution is a manifesto for the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland, which calls for three million Jews to return to Poland. Bartana engaged Krytyka Polityczna, a left-wing group in Poland doing work on many political issues in the country. It’s not only a monologue of one artist; it’s not only speculation. Polityczna, an Israeli artist, represented Poland in the last Venice Biennale. The movement she invented came to life and was actualized by the fact that it was representing Poland—she was the first non-Pole to do so. Her art wasn’t separate or parallel to politics, it was doing politics.
AA: It seems like the solutions in the book are split into two categories. There are those that are more conceptual and have a historical perspective, such as Sari Hanafi’s “New Model for a Nation State,” which proposes a two-state solution that nevertheless has overlapping territories. Other solutions are much more concrete, practical, and grounded in physical space. For example, your collaboration with Ohad Meromi on reusing kibbutzim structures for communal living or Decolonizing Architecture’s proposals for transforming settlements, both of which respond to physical space and the environment as it is. How do you see these practical and conceptual approaches being knitted together?
JS: Some proposals in the book present a practical yet highly unlikable solution—Ingo Niermann’s call to establish an Israeli-shaped state in East Germany, or to have settlements for gay Palestinians in Israel—and others are totally speculative, yet somehow grounded in reality. To reintroduce the promise of the kibbutz, as my project with Ohad Meromi does, is on the one hand suggesting something practical, but at the same time it’s totally fantastic.
Another example: Decolonizing Architecture proposes the subversion, reuse, profanation, and recycling of the existing infrastructure of the colonial occupation in Palestine. It doesn’t tell you how the settlements are going to be evacuated. Instead, it takes a leap forward and gives you a proposal of what to do with them once they are evacuated. This changes your perspective on time and on the actual situation. Assuming the settlements’ evacuation—just the scenario that this offers, before even going into whether the actual proposal is good or bad—opens up another way of understanding the reality that we are facing now. It changes reality. This is how the book operates overall.
AA: How does that relate to Norma Musih’s assertion that “utopia is a form of concretization that requires detailed planning”? Do you imagine a future in which something new is possible and then begin to plan for it?
JS: Norma Musih’s sees Hannah Farah’s “artistic” return to his village as performative. Rebuilding his family's village is an artistic gesture, but it opens up the possibility—for him, as a Palestinian—to experience the right of return. The project is not as detailed as, let’s say, that of Decolonizing Architecture, but that solution, too, is performative in that it creates a leap into another reality from which we can reconsider the existing one. All of these different scenarios already change the actual reality by projecting into the future, by working toward the future. In this way, the book itself offers a new geography for dialogue. As a format, the book defies territory. It is already a solution.
Yael Bartana, from her coloring book Wall and Tower, 2009.