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End Israel's Occupation: 40 years too many

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“Palestine Uncut”
’67 Occupation Exhibition
and Palestine Film Festival

16 and 17 June 2007
State Library of Victoria
Melbourne – Australia



About 1,000 people walked through the doors of the State Library of Victoria on the weekend to see “Palestine Uncut” – the ’67 Occupation Exhibition and Palestine Film Festival marking 40 years of Israel’s occupation of the remaining Palestinian lands. The interest was palpable amongst the predominantly Australian visitors and many of them were young and keen to gain a different perspective on the whole Palestine/Israel narrative.

There was much to see and hear and certainly something for everyone. Few would have known the intense preparations that had taken place only hours earlier to create what would be a two-day occupation experience. Twelve committed members from Women for Palestine, Australians for Palestine and the Palestine Community Association of Victoria spent 10 hours lifting, carrying, building, hanging and testing all the material that had been put together over months of careful work. The single purpose was to highlight the human desperation of a people under an inhuman occupation.

Film Festival

Film Festival Not a single person could have seen the films and been unmoved by the visually explicit scenes that are every day life in Palestine. In particular, the film “Rachel Corrie: An American Conscience” reduced people to tears, so much so that many could not even speak. Perhaps it was the riveting words written by Rachel Corrie who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 - words read by The Rev Helen Cox who so skilfully transported people back in time and place where Rachel died her terrible death because a state had allowed such acts to happen without anyone being called to account. And nothing has changed today. Palestinians are being killed every day, but there is no one outside their world who mourns their loss. Only those who live it and know the realities we all need to find out. Helen brought it all home to us with a depth of feeling that can only come from someone deeply committed to social justice.

“The Iron Wall” made many people angry to think that such inhumanity could be going on in our world today without governments or the media demanding an end to the Wall’s outrageous reason for being. Every film had a different angle, but all showed the Palestinians as people, not the “terrorists” that some would have us believe. Children still go to school when they can, adults to work when they can, people get married when they can, yet everything depends on the surprise attacks, the arrests, the killings, and the interminable waiting. And one film showed that waiting as the shorter version of “The Colour of Olives” had to be replaced by the longer one due to a technical malfunction. The extra 37 minutes was really felt by the whole audience because the film was all about waiting and any inconvenience or discomfort felt was no match for that experienced every single day by every Palestinian under occupation.

The Wall

We had hoped to show that “waiting” in theatre as visitors entered the State Library. However, a mock wall intended to be 4 metres high and 6 metres long had to be dismantled because it apparently did not conform to health and safety regulations. We found a way around that and extended the frame to 4 metres with signs showing just how high it would have been and that double that was the actual size of Israel’s Wall. It was an imposing reminder as people looked up and imagined the monstrosity of such a barrier being erected between people. The remaining wall allowed had information and maps attached to it telling people what happens in actual terms when a wall divides your home from your neighbours, your land from your home and you from the world at large. Many people were taking notes and asking questions.

Dispossession collages

As people made their way upstairs, seven panels of collage told the Palestinian narrative of Dispossession, a story that has had no end in almost 60 years as millions of Palestinians wait to return home in refugee camps inside Palestine and in the neighbouring Arab countries. How anyone could deny the mass human exodus in 1948 and again in 1967 is unfathomable. Photos were officially taken during those times and these collages – initiated by Women for Palestine back in 2002 - depict the pictures, documents and personal possessions that broke apart a whole society with a heritage deeply rooted in Palestine and Palestinian history.


The whole tragic saga of Palestinian dispossession gave way to a series of paintings by Melbourne artist Dora McPhee whose main works for the exhibition came under the title “Disappearing Palestine”. Six maps showed graphically how Palestine became Israel and how Palestinian land is still being eroded today. Many people were visibly shocked by the 3-D depiction of the current West Bank where no mistake could be made about the Wall’s deliberate trajectory deep inside Palestinian territory and the still-expanding Israeli settlements it protects. One of Dora’s large paintings “Occupation” from an earlier series, left the viewer in no doubt about the extent of human suffering left in the wake of human destruction and a new painting on Gaza graphically portrayed the prison ghetto that it is while the agony of the symbolic figures reminded us all too clearly of the 1.4 million population shamefully abandoned to a hellish existence by the whole world.

The most haunting works though were Dora’s Palestinian portraits “Waiting for Justice” – a series of faces showing the decades of catastrophic loss, deep pain and unending struggles etched into the weathered lines of their lived lives. People were struck by the strength emanating from these portraits, each one more poignant than the last, all showing what has become known in Arabic as sumoud or steadfastness. Even the death masks showed that the quiet resistance remains, an eerie reminder to the viewer that human beings cannot be expunged from existence even through death. Until justice is done, the ghosts of their lives will continue to roam in the consciousness of the living.

Embroidery display

Moving on from the portraits, visitors saw the richness of the Palestinian centuries’ old culture in the tableau of embroidered dresses, shawls, headgear, cushion covers, tablecloths, picture frames and other artefacts. Embroidery so fine and delicate that there was no doubt about the Palestinians having an advanced culture bringing into relief the unbelievable barbarity of what is happening to them today under Israel’s brutal occupation. A Palestinian woman dressed in traditional costume sat at a table offering Henna tattoos which was eagerly taken up by everyone. While they sat and watched delicate flowers being drawn on their hands, Mai would listen to their observations of what they had seen in the exhibition and in the films and she would tell them stories about Palestinian life and what it has meant for her to be safe in Australia. The personal contact with a Palestinian engaged young and old and everyone left that little bit wiser about Palestine and the Palestinians.

Children’s paintings

But perhaps the children’s drawings and paintings that had come from Jenin Refugee Camp gave the truest indication of what the Palestinians are having to endure, despite Israel branding Palestinians as “terrorists”. Every picture showed tanks and helicopters firing at defenceless people below, bombs dropping from the sky, soldiers shooting at people while some already lay dead on the ground. So much brutality and horror that surrounds their young lives were inevitably the subjects of their reality and still the dreams of youth came through in the brightly coloured flowers, green trees and blue skies and sunshine. Photographs of children’s faces looked out at everyone passing through and it was evident that these children were no different from the children we see every day in our schools and homes. The yearning for a kinder, more gentle life could be found in the deep pools of their eyes and their shy smiles as in one moment of the photographer’s time, they were made to feel special.

Photographic Exhibition

There was no mistaking the meaning of occupation when visitors came to the Rusty Stewart’s photographs. Taken while he was living there only three years ago, every photograph showed a people living without freedom. The stamp of the soldier’s jackboot was never very far away and every aspect of life was caught in the photographer’s lens. Grief permeated everything captured in the faces of women seeing the lives they have borne snatched away over and over again. But these are not a people ready to succumb and each photo showed in different ways, a people determined to resist what is being forced on them relentlessly. The photographs were also compiled into a moving slide show accompanied by the lone voice of a woman lamenting and sometimes keening as her grief escaped into the space in which we all had gathered.


On both days, presentations were given on different aspects of life under occupation. All sessions were packed with people wanting to hear first-hand accounts. It was difficult to ignore a grandmother Mary Baxter who has spent the last three years on and off in Hebron as a human shield for Palestinian children trying to get to school and home while Israeli settler children lay in wait to attack them with stones. The interest was intense and Mary was besieged by people after each session wanting to know more.

People had to be turned away from Michael Shaik’s sessions on the situation today because even standing room was filled. It was a superbly polished account of the political machinations that ensure the occupation remains. Question and answer time began to compete with the film session scheduled, but people wanted to know more. Michael’s own experiences in Palestine gave great depth to his talk and some young Australian students were so mesmerised that they asked Michael if they could get a copy of his presentation to give to their class at school. Their unadulterated sense of social justice saw immediately the injustice of the Palestinian situation and showed just how powerful false propaganda can be in blinding people to the truth if the myths are allowed to take hold uncontested. In discussing this with Michael afterwards, we all agreed that our work must go on even if it only means chipping away where we can because in the end, truth will always find a way of emerging.


So many of the people coming in to see the exhibition and attend the films had been merely walking past when Palestinian chemistry lecturer Adel Yousif standing on the pavement outside found a way to persuade them inside. It was an amazing performance that had us all gaping in wonder. Few refused him and many even stayed on to see a film. Some told us that they had been in a hurry, but on seeing the exhibition all sense of time and urgency had fallen away. The most common question from all these Australians was “why wasn’t there a permanent exhibition?” So positive was the feedback that we all were determined to make a permanent exhibition possible.

A delightful incentive had also been added by the presence of four beautiful Palestinian girls in their costumes, two walking the streets each day handing out fliers. They certainly attracted many comments from people wanting to know what culture their costumes represented and they were proud to say that they were Palestinian and their dresses traditional of Palestinian culture.

People were able to take home catalogues, newsletters and other information and many wanted to know if they could get any more for schools and reading groups. We promised that text displayed in the exhibition would be available on our website www.67.com.au and that there would always be people ready to speak with them about any issue on which they required further information.

As the last session of the film festival was being screened, our team of 12 dedicated workers swung into action and in less than an hour and a half, every piece of the exhibition was dismantled and packed away leaving everything as it had been. No one would have known that it had taken months of preparation and 10 hours of solid work to set up, and two days of intense activity to show Palestine under occupation. We left feeling that we had a least scratched the surface and given the people of Melbourne something really to think about. We also knew that our work had really only just begun, but for Palestine everyone of us said it is worth that and much more. Hanging over us that whole weekend had been the awful situation in Gaza and the desperation of a people for whom the world had killed all hope of something better. We are determined to make Palestine live for them even as far away as Australia.



© 2007 Women For Palestine