Photo taken by Mohamed Badarni. Wadi Al-Salib, Haifa 1.5.2017
The photo shows a façade of a deserted two stones building surrounded by fireworks and a large advertisement sign placed on its front. The building, as it is seen by its architecture has known better days. It belonged to a Palestinian family that was driven out of its home in Haifa during the 1948 War, the Palestinian catastrophe – Nakba. The event that involved the firework spectacle was Israeli’s 70 years’ anniversary of independence. The large sign which hangs on the façade, states «the Gallery – last apartments for sale». Another one hanging on a different side of the building states: «the Gallery project – the quarter of artists: The link between past and future». While these signs might not be clear for everyone, they reflect attempts to market a Palestinian building, which has been standing empty for decades. The real-estate company which bought this building from the State in 2012 found the «gallery» an attractive branding for marketing and through which it attempts to rewrite a historical narrative of a past. Just like galleries, the narrative encompassed a re-positioning of the historical landscape, within certain imagined space and socio-cultural elements which are arranged in a frame. «The quarter of artists», refers to the name of the outline plan drawn in 1986, although there are no artists living there. Nevertheless, the goal is to repeat past experiences where several Palestinian neighborhoods and villages – such as Old Jaffa and Ein Houd which were emptied of their residents during the Nakba, were preserved after 1948 by Israel and turned into ahistorical artists’ colonies. As to the last sentence of the sign «linking the past and future», it can be taken as a reference to the physical aspect of the building: a hollow two floors above which two modern floors made of cement will be added. Another interpretation could be gleaned from the company’s website. It states that: «The rich history of the picturesque neighborhood is visible from every corner, and you can feel it when you drink a nice cup of coffee in a coffee shop or when you spend a night full of experiences and good energy in a pub close to your home, or even just walking through the enchanting alleys and feeling how each wall tells a story of many decades.» While the past and the future mentioned in the website merely refer to consumption experiences, the history of the neighborhood, Wadi Al-Salib [وادي الصليب] is well documented. Before 1948, it was the largest Palestinian neighborhood in Haifa and encompassed a thriving cultural, social and political live. The first plans to demolish the neighborhood was put forward by the Jewish Agency in the 1930s claiming this conclusion was the result of the neighborhood’s «primitive planning». In the 1960s, two decades after the eviction of the Palestinian residents and the confiscation of the buildings by the state, the demolition suggestion resurfaced following the eviction of the Mizrahi Jews who were housed in the neighborhood in the previous decade, and rebelled against their discrimination on racial ground; i.e. for being Orientals. While many buildings have been demolished, the neighborhood as a whole deteriorated into a place of ruins, standing empty, an extraterritorial space, frozen in time in the center of the city. Many of the buildings’ windows and doors were sealed by cement with warning signs stating that: «the building is hazardous, entrance is forbidden». The State’s and the municipality’s domination over time and space is horrific. They were able to put the place under suspense for many years and then left it to future urban planning. Since 1986 outline various plans of the neighborhood designated few buildings for preservation while many others were demolished and replaced by a green park and megastructure buildings. Based on neoliberal urban renewal principles, these plans converted Palestinian houses into a source of profit for the second time (after their expropriation following the 1948 War). The building in the photo although was designated for demolition in the past, it was found by the Committee for the Preservation in a ‹moderate› physical condition and containing special architectural elements which should be preserved. Yet, its story alludes to larger reality: to the way in which Palestinian time stays an elastic concept under the Israeli domination; it is used sometimes for consumption as the gallery project advertisement, in other times as an ahistorical «artists’ spaces»-image and in yet another time it is completely silenced as terra sine tempore. However, one must bear in mind that in such a settler-colonial setting, time is experienced in a variety of ways. While a certain temporality might be enforced by the regimes, others temporalities evolve from everyday experiences. Moreover, beyond the official history which official plans and real estate companies popularize the history of this building, form a trigger and «… that condense alternative senses of history that weigh on the future» (Stoler, 2016: 347); thus, leaving the horizons of interpretations, moral and political claims open for future struggles.