A Documentation of the Exhibition at Römerstraße 2019


Revisiting VillaRevisiting Villa Khury / the Prophets’ Tower: Haifa. 1995-2019

It is twenty-five years since I first conceived my project on erasure from public memory of the destroyed Villa Khury (1948) and its substitution by the modernist Prophets’ Tower commercial center, erected on the site of this epi-symbol of Haifa’s Arab heritage in 1979. Back in 1995, my project laid bare the Israeli tabula rasa approach: eliminating remnants of pre-1948 Palestine via deliberate architectural and town-planning policies. The fortified Villa Khury was the last Arab stronghold in the city and its fall during the 1948 war signaled Jewish victory in Haifa and precipitated the exodus of much of its Arab population who became refugees. The 1995 project sought to reinstate Villa Khury in the city’s collective memory by inviting public participation of both Jews and Arabs, symbolically restoring the depleted presence of the city’s Arab inhabitants.

In the winter of 2016, I returned to Israel and visited the Prophets’ Tower in Haifa for the first time since I had mounted the project. The level of violence in Israel/Palestine has worsened, in step with the political polarization of Israeli society following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the subsequent collapse of the Oslo Peace Process. I found the ground around the Prophets’ Tower strewn with broken glass and its shop windows boarded up. This flagship of an Israeli vision of urban modernity had fallen into ruin. The only lively spot was a recently built supermarket at the rear which seems to attract customers despite its uninviting surroundings.

Various thoughts flashed through my mind: recalling the Villa Khury’s destruction in 1948; the ground seemed to be speaking to me; was it time to reset? I began to document the present situation on film, initiating random interviews with passers-by. I gradually came to realize that the Villa Khury / Prophets’ Tower performative installation could be thought of as a long durée project, monitoring the scale of violence or acceptance and coexistence between Jews and Arabs. The project embodies the essence of coexistence in the midst of a national and inter-community conflict. We find ourselves inextricably caught up in a Gordian knot that one cannot untie; Israelis and Arabs are impossibly intertwined. Israeli political scientist Meron Benvenisti founded the West Bank Database Project in 1984; documenting social, economic, and political developments in the West Bank. He talks about a “fatal embrace”; what happens to one will inevitably affect the other.

I felt drawn to re-engage with the project; to re-explore this specific site where I felt I could believe in democracy, in free speech in public space and in the mutual recognition of the two communities.
This time I decided to share the reactivation of the site and the subject with a willing, inquisitive, multidisciplinary working group of Israelis, Palestinians and Europeans. Collaboration between Jews and Arabs, between Israelis and Palestinians, is a way of reviving the dynamics of communal collaboration outside of political emergencies, thereby generating the hope that conflicting communities can still discover alternative forms of dialogue.

Find a video documentation of the the full exhibition here.

1st station
Explanation of the original project.

See the other entries of this artist series:
Revisiting Villa Khury/Prophets’ Tower#1: The First Encounter
Revisiting Villa Khury/Prophets’ Tower#2: Civic Performance Art
Revisiting Villa Khury/Prophets’ Tower #3: Wadi Nis-Nas

2nd station
Tracing 100 years of flux between violence, rejection and acceptance, in an animated circular diagram.

An animated diagram, 2.25 meters across, is projected from the ceiling onto the floor. The story board consists of a long durée process beginning at the turn of the 20th century, reaching a peak in the wars of 1948 and 1967; continuing till today when Israel / Palestine has amassed a long history of sharp fluctuations in a cycle of violence.

In 1994/95, when the Villa Khury project was first conceived reconciliation and coexistence seemed within reach but at present the situation remains a vicious circle. If you do not create coexistence, you promote violence. There is no middle way. There is no peaceful status quo. The two communities must find a way to coexist, or no progress can be made.

All images by Ilana Salama Ortar. Courtesy the artist

3rd station
A new documentary film integrates testimony recorded inside and the outside what is left of the once splendid commercial center.

It includes interviews with a working group addressing the political situation as well as the voices of passersby who happened to be shopping at the new supermarket. The film thus interrogates the way ‘everyday life practice’ engages with personal or national history at the multilayered site of the Prophets’ Tower.

In addition, the film provides a platform for a broad spectrum of people’s opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They present the working group the artist has worked with as an example of collaboration between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

Intriguing questions such as the meaning of a new public space at a space of consumption, the insoluble question of One State or Two States solutions, the layered history of Israel /Palestine and the Refugee problem are highlighted by the film.

The choice of The Prophets’ Tower mall as the central pivot of the new film stemmed from its relation to an idealized past where it constituted a relational model of Haifa as a once cosmopolitan city. It provides a concrete possibility of sharing an alternative kind of collective memory and thus embarking upon a renewed process of reconciliation. It operates as a neutral space facilitating utopian discourse where conflicts may be addressed, resolved, overcome or annihilated.

Find an excerpt of the filme here.

4th station
Sound installation: a dialogue divided into two days.

In a space that transmits the ambiance of a prosperous period for the Khury family (the 1920s and 30s) one can listen to (and read the translation of) a dialogue between the artist and a distant relative of the Khury family. The Villa is engraved in his memory in the form of a photograph from the 1930s which stands on his desk to this day. On day one he hungrily and gratefully swallowed every detail of the artist’s dissertation and her art project and willingly cooperated with a stream of consciousness. On the second day his attitude to the artist and to the project underwent a dizzying about-turn as he became suspicious of her as an Israeli citizen. He assigned her to the other side of an unseen barrier and suspected her of threatening to appropriate his personal memories.

5th station
Social media: a description of the project on the Schlosspost invites public participation in the project.

In 1995, artist Ilana Salama Ortar started the project »Villa Khury/the Prophets’ Tower« on the erasure of Villa Khury (1948) in Haifa from public memory, and its substitution by the modernist Prophets’ Tower office building (1979). Through artistic interactions, the project aimed to make the past re-emerge and generate dialogue by engaging different citizens. The Artist Series is an updated storyboard of the original project, using it as an archive and involving digital space to open debate.

Integration of all five stations encapsulates the current complex situation with the added prospective dimension of listening to the Other. It is inscribed within confused temporalities: past, present, and future, linked along the axes of project, horizon, and promise. The project as a whole forges the idea that forgiveness is already happening but still remains to be achieved; that forgiveness may take place even today if only we seek it; that it is all of our personal responsibility, outside of political, legal or judicial frameworks.