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Israel Denies Exit for Palestinian Artist in New Museum Show

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Khaled Jarrar, video still from “Gently I Press the Trigger” (2014) (image courtesy the artist)

With less than a week to go before the opening of two shows that feature the works of Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar, I received a message from him that read: “The Israelis sent me back.” Another soon followed: “No trip to NY.”

Jarrar was to take part in a panel on the opening day, July 16, of Here and Elsewhere at the New Museum, and be present for a separate solo show at Whitebox Art Center that I organized with him, opening July 17. We were excited and planning a further satellite show at Undercurrent Projects. The only thing left to do was pick him up at the airport and start installing when I learned that his departure from Palestine had been blocked.

He phoned me shortly after, detailing his ordeal. Israeli soldiers kept him waiting for hours on end before transporting him, together with a group of others who were denied exit, to a spot further away from the Jordanian border crossing. When they were released, they had no other option but to travel back to Ramallah. It was two o’clock in the morning at that point and he had missed his flight. He had tried to reason with them to no avail. “There is no reasoning,” he said to me. “This is retribution on their part, it is revenge and you can’t reason with that.”

I first met Khaled Jarrar during the 7th Berlin Biennale in 2012, where he stamped people’s passports with a “State of Palestine” seal. He quickly convinced me to have my passport stamped, and did just that before I realized I had planned to fly to Tel Aviv a week later. I felt that the duration of the artwork extended when I entered Israel and went through immigration. I realized I only suffered a fraction of the hassle in comparison to what Palestinian citizens have to go through regularly.

I met him subsequently in Ramallah, Graz, Geneva, and Berlin again. He had no problem traveling to those places apart from the fact that it takes a very long time and often many ordeals in dealing with Jordanian border officials. Palestinians live in a virtual open air prison, and for those residing in the West Bank the only entry and exit point is the Allenby Bridge (also known as the Al-Karameh or King Hussein Bridge) that crosses the Jordan River from the West Bank. From there it is on to Amman, and the airport.

I had thought that the most difficult thing would be for him to obtain a visa. The United States was willing to give him a visa, as all his papers were in order, but to get it, Palestinians must go to the US consulate in Jerusalem, which they are not allowed to get to unless they obtain a special permit. Though he did make it to the consulate and got a visa, exiting to Jordan proved impossible.

Khaled Jarrar sent me the following statement, which is reproduced here verbatim:

“ZE ZEVEL” — “Exit Denied.” That means, “he is garbage.” When I was trying to cross Allenby Bridge as usual, I heard one soldier say this to his superior officer, while they were arguing about me in Hebrew. That was the only word that I could understand from their discussion. Allenby Bridge is my only gate to the world. Amman is the only place from where I can fly to the world. Yesterday I was denied exit from the West Bank. I was surprised, because never before did the Israelis prevent me from traveling. I was shocked that I was sent back and couldn’t cross Allenby Bridge. People tried to help me and reached out to the authorities. Everything was checked, but after a very long wait and without understanding what was happening, I was informed “security reasons” would prevent me from traveling until the 1st of August. For now that means that I missed my morning flight from Amman to New York, that I will miss the opening of the show at the New Museum, and that I will miss the artist talk with Lamia Joreige and Charif Kiwan that is supposed to happen on the 16th of July.

Yesterday was the longest day of my life and a day of humiliation. I felt real racism on the part of the security at Allenby Bridge. When this one soldier was talking to his superior officer and I understood what he said (“ze zevel”), I shouted at him that I was no “zevel” and he was impolite to call me that. No one listened to me, like I did not even exist. It’s a long story and it’s the story of many people who are being denied from crossing Allenby Bridge for security reasons by order of the Israeli intelligence. On the day that I wanted to cross, it meant that I missed my flight to the USA, my first time traveling there, and my show. Another man, a PhD student, missed his flight to give a talk in Spain. Another man wanted to go to Amman to spend the last days of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr with his family, but he was not allowed.

Khaled Jar
Ramallah
14 July, 2014

The show at Whitebox Art Center, featuring a live Skype chat with Jarrar, will go ahead with a new title — No Exit — on July 24.

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