"The curators organised these shows mainly via Skype," says Yazan Khalili, head of the Khalil Sakanini culture centre in Ramallah, which is one of the nine Palestinian culture organisations participating in Qalandiya International. "It was a virtual round table," he adds: Palestinians from Ramallah or Beirut can't go to Haifa without Israeli approval and very few are allowed to go to Jerusalem. The Gaza curators couldn't even travel to the West Bank.

Gaza has been virtually closed off since the Islamic Hamas took power more than 10 years ago. Gaza and the West Bank are divided; physically, since Israel lies between them and politically, because of the deep split between Hamas and the more moderate Fatah, the Palestinian party that rules the West Bank. It's quite an achievement that artists and others involved with culture in Gaza and the West Bank are even talking, the curators agree – and fittingly, solidarity is the Qalandiya International theme this year.

"Art has the power to unite"

Observers, however, wonder whether solidarity among Palestinians still exists. People seem to think they are showing solidarity even if they only post a photo or a link on Facebook, argues Reem Shadid, co-curator of the project. It seems that the kind of solidarity that made people take action and that liberated entire peoples is a thing of the past. "We have to discuss new forms of solidarity," says Shadid.

All the same, solidarity with Palestine is the focus in performances and panel discussions in New York, Dusseldorf and London. Qalandiya International certainly sees itself as a manifesto of solidarity among artists, who unlike the Hamas and Fatah political factions actually communicate and help one another.

 "Art has the power to unite," states Khalili. "Art wants to present a different form of politics and in such fragmented times, culture argues that yes, there is solidarity among Palestinians." That is how it has been for decades, he adds. Palestinians started demonstrating unity right after 1948 with folk songs, traditional tales and embroidery, Khalili says.

It's really no coincidence at all that Mahdi Baraghithi wore a replica of a Palestinian embroidered shawl at the opening ceremony this week. For him, one thing is clear: Palestinians "are one people."

Sarah Judith Hofmann

© Deutsche Welle 2018

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