In the Presence of the Holy See

When Pope Francis visits the Holy Land this year, he is also visiting Palestine, a country with a now-dwindling Christian population and an ongoing history of suffering caused by conflict and occupation. These pieces were created by the Palestinian Museum to honour his visit; they reflect some of the ironies of our current situation, and the complexity of our identity as a land and a people.

 

The images, in many ways self-explanatory, are each made up of two works combined. In Dheisheh Camp, these works consist of prints from the UNWRA archive juxtaposed with present-day photographs of refugees; placed alongside one another, they ask how the lives of Palestinian refugees have changed or failed to change in the years following their dispossession. Exodus, exile and loss have been dominant themes of the Palestinian narrative since 1948, alongside a growing anger that the problems the country has faced for so long remain unsolved. However, perhaps equally synonymous with Palestine are words like endurance, survival, and faith. Looked at another way, it is these qualities, too, that the works seek to recognise.

 

In Manger Square, meanwhile, similarly recent photographs of the Palestinian landscape and its people are combined with Western baroque paintings of biblical scenes. Both depict some version or other of Palestine, but little else seems to connect them. The paintings interpret episodes from the life of Christ as a means of glorifying God and spreading His teachings, but the photographs glorify nothing; produced by journalists for the media, they bear witness to mundane episodes in the often uncomfortable and difficult lives of Palestinians today. The images are almost comically mismatched, expressing the extraordinary contrasts between the stories that have come from Palestine over the years, and the different ways in which visual art has reacted to them.

 

Yet we might also argue that there are deeper connections at work here. Biblical paintings are, among other things, allegories of the Christian values: charity, mercy, compassion, and faith in a just and loving God. There is suffering and sacrifice, but they hold out a hope of eternal life. What these photographs documenting everyday life in Palestine show, however, is a conspicuous absence of Christian compassion, and hope glimpsed only in the courage and humanity of their subjects. In this sense, the incongruity of the combined images is an important reminder of the hypocrisies that have often characterised the way the world deals with Palestinians. It is also possible to see in them not two warring narratives but a single tale of the tension between Christian values and the plight of many of the world’s Christians - between the sanctity of the Holy Land and the violence it has suffered.

 

This project is not a complex one: we simply wanted to use art to beautify the places the Pope is to visit without disguising the fact that these places, and the people who live in them, face oppression and hardship on a daily basis. For Palestinians of all creeds, Pope Francis’s visit is a source of joy and hope in difficult times, and the Palestinian Museum is proud and happy to welcome him to Palestine.

 

 

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
(c. 1602)
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio
“Reach here your finger and test the reality of my being”
photo: An Israeli Border Police examines the ID card of a Palestinian at the Qalandiya crossing during Ramadan. 20 Aug. 2010
by Matt Milstein

 

Abraham’s Sacrifice
(c. 1635)
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
photo: Israeli soldiers overwhelmed by the smell of dead bodies in Jenin refugee camp, West Bank. 16 Apr. 2002
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Madonna of the Rosary
(c. 1607)
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio
photo: Israeli soldiers arresting a Palestinian on a roof during a protest against home demolition in Kharbatha bani Hareth, North of Bil’in.
by Jamal Arouri

 

The Deposition
(c. 1507)
Raphaello Sanzio da Urbino
“In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem.“ Zechariah 12:11
photo: Israeli soldiers kill a Palestinian and detain others, downtown Ramallah. 31 Mar. 2002
byAlexandra Boulat

 

The Denial of Saint Peter
(c. 1610)
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio
“This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.“ Matthew 26:34
photo: West Bank settlers attack a group of Palestinian farmers near Nablus. 25 Oct. 2006
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary
(c. 1516)
Raphaello Sanzio da Urbino
photo: Via Dolorosa, old city of Jerusalem.
by Jamal Arouri

 

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
(c. 1608)
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio
“Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” Matthew 14:8
photo: The arrest (and later deportation) of a German peace activist in the Jordan Valley. 18 Jan. 2014
by Eric Sánchez

 

Christ healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda
(c.1670)
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
“Rise, take up your bed and walk.” John 5:8
photo: A Palestinian passes into Gaza via the Erez checkpoint. 24 May 2006
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Crucifixion of Saint Peter
(c. 1601)
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio
photo: Palestinian peasants attacked by Israeli settlers during olive harvest season in Salfit, West Bank. 25 Oct. 2006
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Lamentation of Christ
‭(‬c. 1606‭)‬
Annibale Carracci
photo: First lifting of the curfew in Jenin refugee camp after the Israeli raid. 15 Apr. 2002
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Conversion on the Way to Damascus
(c. 1601)
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio
photo: Destruction in Beit Hanoun after the Israeli military operation, North of Gaza. 14 Nov. 2006
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Ecce Homo
(c. 1605)
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio
“Ecce homo!“ John 19:5
photo: Palestinians crossing Qalandiya checkpoint on their way to Jerusalem. 20 Apr. 2002
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Beach refugee camp, Gaza Strip
UNRWA photo archive
An Israeli soldier at Qalandiya checkpoint. 20 Apr. 2002
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Madonna of the Rosary
(c. 1607)
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio
photo: Sun is shining through what was once the roof of a Palestinian Refugee shelter in the Burj el-Barajneh camp, Lebanon 1993.
by M. Nasr
UNRWA photo archive

 

Beach camp, after heavy rain has flooded many refugee shelters and caused great damage to refugee camps in Gaza Strip, 1993.
G. Nehmeh
UNRWA photo archive
Israeli soldiers kill a Palestinian and detain others, downtown Ramallah. 31 Mar. 2002
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Clothes distribution in Rafah refugee camp, Gaza Strip 1972.
Kay Brennan
UNRWA photo archive
An Israeli soldier searches a Palestinian boy at a checkpoint in Hebron, West Bank.
20 Nov. 2005
by Nayef Hashlamoun

 

Palestinian refugees walking across Allenby Bridge on their way to Jordan, July 1967.
Myrtle Winter
UNRWA photo archive
A woman runs terrified from her house in Bint Jbail during a “temporary cease fire“ in South Lebanon during the Israeli led war of 2006.
by Tanya Habjouqa

 

Palestinian refugees walking across Allenby Bridge on their way to Jordan, July 1967.
UNRWA photo archive
Jenin refugee camp after an Israeli raid. 19 Apr. 2002
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Dheisheh refugee camp, after the 1948 partition.
UNRWA photo archive
A segment of the Israeli separation wall near Beit Hanina, Jerusalem 2012.
by Tanya Habjouqa

 

A partly demolished Palestinian house in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip 1989.
Hashem Abu-Sido
UNRWA photo archive
Qalandiya checkpoint 2013.
by Ahed Izhiman

 

One of the few remaining refugees after the civil strife in Jisr el-Basha camp, passes a quiet moment in the partly damaged Pontifical Mission Church, Lebanon 1976.
UNRWA photo archive
Palestinian Presidential Headquarters (al-Muqat’a), Ramallah 2002.
by Jamal Arouri

 

Dera'a emergency camp for Palestinian refugees, Syria 1970.
Jack Madvo
UNRWA photo archive
Palestinians, previously detained by Israeli soldiers, walk back into the besieged West Bank city of Ramallah. 6 Apr. 2002
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Entrance to beach refugee camp in the Gaza Strip blocked during the first Intifada, 1991.
M. Nasr
UNRWA photo archive
Beit Jala, northwest of Bethlehem. 19 Mar. 2007
by Alexandra Boulat

 

Baqa’a refugee camp, Jordan 1969.
G. Nehemeh
UNRWA photo archive
Birzeit road, as vehicles movement was blocked at Surda checkpoint, 2003.
by Jamal Arouri