Palestinian ‘Key of Return’ on show at Berlin Biennale

The nine meter steel key has been made by Palestinian refugees in Betlehem and symbolizes the right of return for refugees. (Al Arabiya)

A huge key that weighs approximately a ton and symbolizes the right of return for Palestinian refugees was transported from the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem to the Berlin Biennale in Germany.

The key, which is nine meters long and has inscriptions in several languages, started its journey in March when it was dismounted from its place on top of the camp gate.

The steel key was made by Palestinian refugees at the Aida Social Youth Center in Bethlehem. For center manager Monther Amayra, displaying the key in Berlin gives Palestinians a chance to communicate their aspirations to the world.

“This is an excellent opportunity for us as refugees and as the makers of the Right of Return Key,” he said.

“It is a major event expected to receive more than two million visitors who will be acquainted with the demands of the Palestinian people, on top of which is the right of return.”

Temporary peace agreements between Palestinians and Israel have often overlooked the issue of the return of refugees, whose numbers are estimated at 4.5 million. The majority are living in refugee camps and neighboring countries. The issue of refugees, which has been in the limelight on both the regional and international levels, is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict and has for decades, remained unresolved.

Palestinians insist they have the right to return to their homes and their land from which their fathers and grandfathers fled when Israel was established in 1948.

But Israel refuses to grant Palestinians this right and considers their return detrimental to the Jewish state.

Salah Abdul Shafi, head of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Berlin, visited the exhibition and described the key as an integral part of Palestinian history.

“This is a piece of art because it is part of Palestinian memory and history,” he said. “Taking the key to Berlin will draw the attention of Germans and tell them the story of Palestine. It is part of this story.”

Amayra told the story of the key in Berlin and that of another old key hanging from a ribbon he wore around his neck. It is the original key to his house that he inherited from his father and his grandfather.

“This is the original key my grandfather kept after he was kicked out of his land and his house was destroyed. He then gave it to my father and when my father died, it went to me. I keep it with me while dreaming of going back home.”

Owing to the sensitivity of the issue and the controversy about the return of refugees, Joanna Farsha, assistant secretary general of Berlin Biennale stressed that the key is presented as a symbol of peaceful resistance.

“This key stands for non-violent struggle and its presence here is a constructive initiative to tackle the issue of refugee camps in the West Bank,” she said.

“That is why we decided that instead of hosting an artist to tell us its story, we would move the key to Germany and invite the entire society in order to take part in the controversy about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

“It is important to look at the several meanings of this key especially the journey it took from the Aida camp to Israel until it arrived at Germany. In each of these stages, the key conveys a different meaning. It does not have just one single meaning.”

A Polish visitor at the exhibition explained the meaning she saw in the key.

“A key indicates the action of opening as we all know,” she said. “But its presence here gives it a deeper meaning. It means we are here to open something not only in art but also in out hearts and minds. This is what I felt when I saw the key.”

The key will remain on display in Berlin till July 1. It has already received invitations to other exhibitions in several countries like Belgium and Turkey.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

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