The “Surda Checkpoint” as a West Bank Artwork


Two years ago I subscribed to the  ‘Art flux’ newsletter. In the October 13, 2007 issue, they mentioned the exhibition: ..”Transactions”..(.September 11 – November 18, 2007).  The picture advertising the exhibition, named “Sexy Semite”, (2000-2002)   was created by Emily Jacir, see here.

The name “Sexy Semite” aroused my curiosity about the artist. Quickly I found that she is a Palestinian artiste…” [Emily Jacir is an artist] currently living and working between Brooklyn, New York and Ramallah, Palestine. Her work focuses on issues of movement (both forced and voluntary), dislocation, radical displacement and resistance. It also addresses the unconscious markers of borders (both real and imagined) between territories, places, countries and states.”.

One of her works catched my eye…”Crossing Surda (a record of going to and from work)”  highlights the Israeli checkpoints  in the West Bank , and in her own words..”Since March 2001, the Ramallah-Birzeit Road has been disrupted by a checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers, APCs and sometimes tanks. This road was the last remaining open road connecting Ramallah with Birzeit University and approximately thirty Palestinian villages.
On December 9th, 2002, I decided to record my daily walk to work across the Surda checkpoint to Birzeit University. When the Israeli Occupation Army saw me filming my feet with my video camera, they stopped me and asked for my I.D. I gave them my American passport, and they threw it in the mud. They told me that this was “Israel” and that it was a military zone and that no filming was allowed. They detained me at gunpoint in the winter rain next to their tank. After three hours, they confiscated my videotape and then released me. I watched the soldier slip my videotape into the pocket of his army pants. That night when I returned home, I cut a hole in my bag and put my video camera in the bag. I recorded my daily walk across Surda checkpoint, to and from work, for eight days”.  see here.

Emily Jacir Crossing Surda

Emily Jacir                                                       “Crossing Surda”

In those days, of the Olmert-Mhammoud Abbas talks, and specially to day, November 3-5, 2007,  where the Saban Forum in Israel and Jordan hold his annual meeting, the Surda checkpoint  will not be one of the main issues of the meeting. Trips between Palestinian cities in the West Bank, which used to take just one hour will continue to take three times more because of the delays at the checkpoints.

I went curious about the  fate ( November 4 ,2007) of the Surda checkpoint and Emily Jacir’s work “crossing Surda”. Well  Jacir’s art… “has appeared in a number of Biennales including the 2006 Sydney Biennale, the 2005 and 2007 Venice Biennales, the 2005 Sharjah Biennial and the 2004 Whitney Biennial. In 2007, Jacir was a recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award, an annual prize from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, headquartered in The Hague” see here, so her art was well curated and funded and received the prize and attention of many visitors.

In contrast to that, the changes at the Surda checkpoint are minute and subtle: from a fixed to a flying checkpoint. In more details the actual situation according to the “West Bank: Access and Closure” map (September 2007) , shows the fixed checkpoints in the Birzeit-Surda-Ramallah aera, see here, (West Bank closure map | September 2007, 17.5MB)

Ramallah map

Fixed checkpoints

Once done  a work of art is here for ‘eternity’.  Emily Jacir’s work of art is perhaps a candidate. But it seems that the Olmert-Abbas talks are also going on into  ‘eternity’. So the West Bank checkpoints will be with us for a long time.

Now, look at a curious fact, the REAL checkpoint between Birzeit and Ramallah behaves like a work of art. It is always exhibited, at a fixed or a flying has a name “The Israeli Palestinian conflict”. It is funded and curated by the Israeli authorities and nothings prevent from the steady flow of visitors to visit the ‘Gallery’ and to stay there for hours.  What is left, is to consecrated it as a major Artwork and to be the recipient of some prestigious Award.

Here are pictures from the Surda checkpoint.


Surda 8


Surda 7

Here are pictures from Sharif Waked’s “Chic Point a seven minute video that ponders, imagines, and interrogates “fashion for Israeli checkpoints.” “, with two additional pictures from the real world.

chic 3





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