Intimate objects tell tales of ongoing conflict

The glasses of a cameraman killed in Nablus. A shredded jacket worn by a bus passenger when a bomb exploded nearby. Running shoes that belonged to a Palestinian jogger shot when gunmen mistook for him a Jew in Jerusalem. A refusenik's army dog tags. An ashtray made from a grenade casing and bullet shells. The "Objects in Conflict" exhibition opened Monday in the Knight's Palace in the Old City of Jerusalem's Christian Quarter. It is scheduled to go on display in Tel Aviv in November, and perhaps at the Edinburgh Festival next month. All remnants of an ensuing conflict, 16 items of little value that evoke the personal stories of a handful of the Israelis and Palestinians caught up in years of turmoil. At least that's how Dutch curator Nadette de Visser described her exhibition that opened in Amsterdam last month. "They are the very foundations of this conflict... perspectives of people that this conflict is made up out of," de Visser said. "The selection is based on the idea that you want people to understand each other better and to renew a small base of empathy for each other's story and each other's experience," de Visser said. A freelance journalist who spent three years based in Jerusalem as the second intifada raged, de Visser said she wanted to find a way to express the personal stories of people caught up in the violence. She "wanted to take a step away from the political dimension, and the news dimension which is emotionally distant. Facts and figures, which say on a technical level what you need to know, but don't tell you anything about what the conflict is really like." De Visser said she felt people living outside of the conflict had no understanding of what was happening on the ground, that events here for them were simply repetitive. The objects made things tangible, she said. Beside her hung the shredded remains of a jacket belonging to former Jerusalem Post reporter Erik Schechter, who was moderately wounded when a suicide bomber detonated his charge on a crowded No. 19 bus on Jerusalem's Rehov Aza in January 2004. A small box held photocopies from Proverbs that belonged to an Orthodox Jew killed in the same bombing. The original bloodstained pages were buried with their owner. Three pieces of hand-made soap from a factory in Nablus were placed in another glass box, the owner shot and wounded in an IDF raid. On a shelf - a settler's bottle of home-made wine, crushed from grapes given by his Palestinian neighbor. The exhibits do not speak for themselves; each is accompanied by a short explanation. A empty heart-shaped candy box decorated with beads was a gift sent by an Israeli Jew to her Palestinian husband imprisoned in an Israeli jail. De Visser said she tried to exclude political symbols and objects that would provoke controversy from the exhibition. Her aim, she said, was "to get away from that stereotypical enemy image and realize that in the end, we're all dealing with human beings here, and that notion is getting lost more and more on both sides." She said it had been difficult to find a space to host the exhibition and that both Israelis and Palestinians were apprehensive about the idea. De Visser eventually found space to host the exhibition in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but not in Ramallah or Bethlehem.