12.00 The Construction of a Hybrid Heritage of the Jewish and Bedouin Refugee Life
Can an art project on contemporary ethnography, in which, among others, a group of Jewish artists and scholars from West Jerusalem, a Bedouin community from the Occupied Territories, and the Israel Museum took part challenge the hegemonic discourse and practice of the homogeneous identity-making in Jewish-Israel culture? This paper will deal with “The Eternal Sukkah” project done by the Sala-Manca Group, Itamar Mendes-Flohr and Yeshaiau Rabinowitz, an art project that attempts to combine Jewish Heritage with contemporary Israeli and Palestine territorial politics presenting an alternative and symbolic option to the Hegemonic Israel Jewish Heritage discourse.
Leading up to the 2014 Sukkot holiday, a holiday that commemorates the Exodus and the dependence of the Jewish people, a group of artists decided to delve into the sukkah’s charged meaning in the Israeli context and highlight the temporary nature of the sukkah structure and its associations with exile, thus evoking associations not only with Jewish history but also with the Israeli context. The artists decided to focus on Sukkot as a festival commemorating the biblical Jewish refugee camps bringing to the city of Jerusalem an "authentic" and contemporary house from a refugee camp from today’s Israel/Palestine. The artists traveled to the unrecognized Bedouin village of Khan-Al-Akhmar at the Judean Desert in the Palestinian (occupied) territories to meet members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe. The artists proposed to purchase one of their tiny houses, dismantle it, and reassemblie it as a sukkah in West Jerusalem transporting a piece of one "hidden" reality into another location, where a hidden reality would be made visible. The ephemeral and illegal refugee was rebuilt and used as a Jewish Sukkah for the Jewish Holidays of Sukkoth. A year later the piece was sold to the Israel Museum as an art piece, and the Bedouin community paid half of the amount. The “Eternal Sukkah” became part of the Museum’s art collection and it is being exhibited presently.
The Bedouin-Sukkah, as an expression of the (im)possible Jewish-Bedouin hybrid identity heritage proposed by the artists in collaboration with the Bedouin community was purchased and canonized by the Israel Museum. This act was defined by a major Israel journalist as an historical act, and as the "first official recognition" of the Bedouins in Israel. A Rabbi of the Rabbis for Humans Rights movement described it a kosher Sukkah that totally transforms the mitzvah—emotionally, socially, politically—into the most religious act he has ever felt. A right-wing former parliament member referred to it as a "deplorable action" done by the Israel Museum that crossed the red line in collaborating with illegal groups against the State. The process of transformation of a Bedouin home into a Jewish sukkah, and this Bedouin-sukkah into an art piece that became a symbolic ethnographic piece of heritage, placed the Israel Museum in the opposite role it plays as a "non-political" institution. The representation of the local identity and the Jewish heritage accepted a new possibility of a hybrid heritage. The Museum played a major role, not only in showing a house from a refugee camp in the center of Israel discourse—that is already a strong act—and not in showing a Judaized Bedouin Sukkah, but in the canonization of an ephemeral and illegal house, in recognition of the unrecognized Bedouin community and furthermore in accepting the proposition to express an alternative discourse of hybrid and multicultural heritage that, since the 1930s, has been constantly rejected in the dominant public discourse in Israel.