I was not fond of my balcony that overlooks the valley of Tarfidia, or the valley of the land of loyalty. However, the view had always fascinated many of my visitors. In Beitunia, on the opposite mountain, there are buildings that people say look like sardine cans or matchboxes. I do not care much about these analogies because I think my apartment building is very similar to the matchbox buildings. The only difference is that my building is in the ‘posh’ neighbourhood of al-Tireh. Those attached to the ‘poshness’ of the neighbourhood are reluctant to criticise its buildings and other things. The magic of Beitunia buildings can only be seen at night. The black plastic water tanks on the roofs disappear and the array of black, infinite window holes turn into a spectrum of white, yellow and orange, shimmering like the lights of Tel Aviv on the coast—whose ‘beauty’ one can enjoy from my balcony, too. My balcony was my only contact with the outside world during the coronavirus pandemic. I kept the large shutters open, which was unusual for me. From there, I witnessed the quick passing of spring in the valley, with its fragrance and colours of green and yellow. And I have grown weary of the sunset behind the orange Mediterranean skyline, regardless of the colours and shapes.
During quarantine and while working from home through digital communication software, the question that always haunted us in the organisation was what we should do if the global disease and quarantine continued into next year. How are we to address the current context of the corona pandemic and integrate it into our programs and work in the coming years? These questions stemmed from our realisation that the pandemic would leave deep social scars and alienation from what was intimate and familiar to us. We realised its inevitable impact on our future. However, unlike the history of epidemics in Palestine, this pandemic coincided with Israel’s plan to annex the West Bank and move forward with the normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab countries. It also coincided with the deepening economic crisis, especially the decline in international aid and support to Palestine and the failure of the Palestinian political project.
Like everyone quarantined this year, I was curious about how my friends around the world dealt with the new system and how different countries adapted their systems of control, militarisation, health, social welfare, etc., under this health emergency. Through several Zoom sessions, conversations and discussions, I realised the eternal contradiction between the countries of the South and in Europe in terms of how they define ‘crisis’, how they link it to the corona pandemic and how they deal with it through the cultural field.
The more I listened to cultural workers from Europe and the United States, the more I became aware of the decline of western countries’ awareness of the crisis in the rest of the world. The corona pandemic added another layer to aggravating long-term political and economic crises in the contemporary history of people of the South in general. A crisis is not new to the people of the South. For example, the massive explosion of the ammonia nitrate shipment that ripped through the Beirut port on the 4th added to the ongoing corona crisis. It also added to Lebanon’s political and sectarian corruption and the outdated patriarchy of the ruling party, thus deepening the economic crisis.
As in Palestine, the current Israeli annexation plan is another link in the long chain of continuous colonial oppression of the Palestinians that have caused a fragile donor-dependent economy. Palestinian society has been divided into geographical Bantustans with no political vision nor horizon. Moreover, the outdated patriarchal political fractions are further entrenched. Fundamentalism and tribalism as a way of life increasingly dominate, and consumerism and neoliberal individualism prevail.
I have been reading coronavirus literature since the beginning of the pandemic. Several thinkers, artists and academics have developed perceptions and speculations about the role artistic and cultural institutions play in light of the current global crisis.
Whether the pandemic is natural or fabricated, some people have dealt with it from a perspective that sheds light on the unequal distribution of power and the monopoly of the state over the political decision in isolation from the people. This perspective emphasises the hegemony and tyranny of the state and investment companies on the one hand and the countermovement and demands for social justice and democracy on the other. Many post-structuralists have anticipated scenarios of more divided societies, whereby states fortify their borders to protect themselves. They also foresee an increase in the state’s systematic internal violence using new, smart methods to undermine and silence the countermovement.
Others looked at scenarios closer to science fiction and George Orwell’s novels. They predicted a future behind screens in gated societies where the corona pandemic would liberate humanity from its biological shell, transforming human life into digital life par excellence.
Another group examines the pandemic crisis using the concept of the Anthropocene epoch and humanity’s significant influence on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems. They see capitalism as a project that attacks human biology and body, the air we breathe into our lungs and the food that nourishes our bodies.
Meanwhile, others called for an escape from the vicious circle of the cultural economy inhabited by a dependent funding relationship between donors, whether they be countries or other parties, and between cultural institutions, artists or cultural actors through institutional programs. It has imposed agendas that frame cultural work, entrench dependencies and accustom artists to the inability to work outside this systematic relationship.
Hence, this project came to life. A group of young writers from different Palestinian backgrounds narrates the impact of the pandemic on their daily lives while exploring their future and the unknown future of humanity, from each writer’s perspective.