Last Wednesday I had the chance to attend a very interesting cultural conference in De Balie Amsterdam; “What’s art go to do with it”. This three days conference was all about the relations between arts, politics, and the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Door: Ronie Barel

The program of the conference included different speakers from different cultural and national background. Among the others you could find Israelis, Palestinians, Dutch and Flemish writers, film makers and artists who came all the way to Amsterdam to participate in the conference. The conference was organized by Dancing on the Edge, De Balie Amsterdam, and Een Ander Joods Geluid (a Different Jewish Voice). The debates were about film, dance, theatre and literature.

What’s art got to do with politics? What kind of role plays art in complex situations such as the one between Israel and Palestine and other conflicts in the world? When you think about it, you learn that art plays a major role, and has a lot to do with political and social situations. Through art, we as public, have a chance to understand in deep the political situation we are part of. Artists use their art to send a message, to reflect on the reality, and sometimes also to criticize the existing reality. Even though artists don’t always use art deliberately as a political tool, often the way we interpret the final result is very political.

But where does the line cross? Is being an artist, means being a political messenger? What is the role of the artist? Does the artist have to be “politically correct”? How much room is there for the artist’s political and personal opinion?

These issues were widely discussed last Wednesday in the opening program about the relation between literature and the context in which it is written. The lecture was held by the Israeli writer and activist Ronit Matalon and the Flemish writer Kristien Hemmerechts who responded to Ronit’s lecture.

Ronit Matalon born in Israel and is the daughter of of Egyptian-Jewish immigrants, is the author of novels such as: The sound of our steps, and The one facing us, and former journalist of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz where she worked as a correspondent in Gaza and the West Bank.  Her work addresses the deeply rooted political and social conflicts in Israel, but at the same time is a collection of stories with universal themes such as love, family relations and domestic violence. (From the official event page in De Balie)

Matalon’s lecture was about Zionism, literature and ideology. What does it mean to write in Hebrew? What does an Israeli writer represent when she writes in Modern Hebrew, the language of Zionism? How can an Israeli writer with oriental background, with Mizrachi roots from Arab country can express herself in the language of the high state institutions, almost as if it was a foreign language? Is there room at all for political ideology in fiction?

These questions among others were discussed by Matalon, who addressed the clash between fiction and literature to political ideology. During her writing career she had to face more than once this dilemma, and asked herself where does the line cross? What does the writer represent? Should a writer intentionally avoid writing about sensitive social or political issues? And what happens when the message is already there in the language, in between the words? As in the example of Hebrew and Zionism?

This was a very interesting lecture, which is not possible to sum up in few words; you can watch it again here:…-+-writing-the-conflict/uitgelicht/e_9781741/p_11741686

The end of the lecture turned into a discussion which clearly showed the pain of those who are personally involved in the situation, such as the Palestinians and the Israelis in the crowd and Ronit Matalon herself. On the other hand, you could clearly recognize those whom for them, the Israeli Palestinian situation is not personal. This was standing out, especially when Kristien Hemmerechts the Flemish writer simply couldn’t understand the anger of Nadya, a young Palestinian woman who was upset that there were no Palestinian writers in the lecture that evening. Even though the organizers of the evening explained that there were no Palestinian writers in the room that evening due to different logistical reasons, I empathize with the pain of both Nadya and Ronit. The gap between us (who are from there) to them (Europeans) was highly visible and felt strong. I don’t blame anyone of course, I don’t expect foreign to understand, same as sometimes I can’t identify with Dutch or European pain or struggle. Nevertheless, telling Nadya not to be angry was upsetting.

Ronie Barel verhuisde van Israël naar Nederland en is blogger bij

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