In one of the last major exhibitions of his work before his death last year, the father of British pop-art Richard Hamilton hung a striking digitally-printed triptych in one of the main spaces in London’s Serpentine Gallery. With simple cartographical shapes it replicated the change in Palestinian land tenure over the second half of the 20th century: post-Balfour in 1946; in 1967 after the Six Day War; and the present position. In those 66 years, the region’s Jewish-Arab population ratio has climbed from 44:56 to the current 87:13.
And if you want some more harrowing statistics, try these: last year 495 Palestinian houses were razed to the ground, over 18,000 of their olive trees were uprooted, and 4,000 acres of land was ‘confiscated’ to make way for the construction of 26,837 new ‘settler homes’. According to one Herefordian who recently visited the region, the take-up of these flashy new concrete apartment blocks is predominantly by Americans.
Palestine’s contracting geography, combined with its people’s struggle to protect scarce agricultural land and water supplies, are recurring themes in many Palestinian films, such as Carolina Riva’s poignant ‘The Colour of Olives’, Elia Suleiman’s highly original ‘The Time that Remains’, ‘The Iron Wall’, Hana Elias’ Oscar-nominated ‘The Olive Harvest’ and ‘Rachel’, a moving documentary dedicated to the American peace worker Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by a land-clearing Israeli bulldozer in 2003.
In April, UK activists were heartened by the news that the Co-Operative Group – this country’s fifth largest food retailer – plans to cease trading with companies that export food products emanating from illegal Israeli settlements. The campaign was orchestrated by Boycott Israel Network, which says that staple retail products likely to disappear from your local Co-op’s shelves will include new potatoes, citrus fruits and mangoes, fresh herbs and even bunches of cut flowers. To avoid any legal backlash to its controversial decision, the supermarket group is at pains to stress that the move is not an Israeli goods boycott, since it intends to continue to do business with Israeli-owned companies who can guarantee that they don’t export from illegal settlements.