Palestine Pulse

World-renowned Palestinian artist finds peace in Jerusalem

Article Summary
Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata will be buried in Jerusalem despite resistance from the Israeli government.

The wish of world-renowned Palestinian artist and writer, Kamal Boullata, to be buried in his birthplace of Jerusalem will be carried out Aug. 19. Boullata died in Berlin Aug. 6 and will be buried in the Orthodox cemetery on Mount Zion, "next to his family and ancestors” in Jerusalem, according to a public statement from his family.

Maher Hanna, a Jerusalem-based lawyer, told Al-Monitor that after a week of strenuous effort, “Israel approved the request to have his body allowed into the country for the purpose of burial.” Hani Boullata, a relative of Kamal, told Al-Monitor that the Israeli shipping company has been cooperative. He expects to be able to secure the body from customs at Ben Gurion Airport. “We have done all the paperwork and paid the 400 shekel [$113] fee for getting the burial license,” he said.

Lily Farhoud, Kamal’s widow, said that the tensest time was when they did not know whether the Israelis would approve. Terry Boullata, who was with Lily in Berlin, said, “The hardest part was the fact that the Israeli Embassy in Berlin would not give a provisional approval, as we were providing them with all necessary documents.”

Palestinian lawyers in Jerusalem said that Jews who wish to be buried in Jerusalem often obtain approval within hours. “It took us more than a week to get the approval,” Hanna said.

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The Boullata family stressed in their statement the right of every Palestinian to return to his homeland. “It is particularly important for Jerusalemites, for whom the Holy City is part of their lives and essence. It is sad that so many are denied this right, but it is a bitter satisfaction when someone of his stature and world-known respect is finally allowed his last wish,” read the statement.

Kamal Boullata was born in Jerusalem and grew up in the Old City. His family traces its history in the Old City back 600 years, according to the records of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem and the Arab Orthodox mukhtar for the Old City, Mitri Toubbeh.

Kamal was known for his colorful, geometric silkscreens and his use of Kufic script, an early form of Arabic calligraphy. He was also the author of several pioneering books and articles on Palestinian art and contemporary culture.

Palestinian artist Suleiman Mansour said, “Kamal and his contributions must be seen in their totality. He was a writer, a painter and most of all a person whose contributions focused on Jerusalem.” Mansour said Kamal “liked to have fun and joke at times and was totally serious at other times. He was a special person.”

Mansour said Kamal's art was always full of meaning. “He would use a word or an Islamic statement to illustrate his ideas. Even in the totally abstract work you can feel the shades and lights of the Old City of Jerusalem," he said. "He was honest with himself and with his art; he returned to figurative in his last years, he went back to realistic styles and shapes in his work."

One of Kamal Boullata’s memorable works was a 1978 silkscreen, in which he played with the Arabic words "revolution" and "wealth," (thawra and tharwa), criticizing the lifestyles of PLO leaders in Lebanon.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO executive committee from Jerusalem, called Boullata “an innovative and forward-looking artist, who reflected Palestine’s soul with unmatched brilliance and infinite beauty. Kamal advanced the Palestinian cause for freedom through his creative production in the areas of art, intellect and historical analysis, including his significant publications on Palestinian and Arab art and culture.”

The Meem Gallery where Boullata spent his last days issued a statement praising his work. “We take comfort in our special memories of him; spending time with him and his wonderful wife Lily Farhoud. Kamal was an incredible artist, thinker and writer,” it read.

Since 1967, Boullata was barred from Jerusalem because he was in Beirut that year, at an exhibit, when the Israeli occupation began. All his efforts to return to Jerusalem failed, except for a brief visit with a foreign passport in 1984. The visit was memorialized in the film, “Stranger at Home.” However, Jerusalem was always in his heart and his art, his family's statement concluded.

Boullata’s funeral will take place Aug. 19 at 4 p.m. at the cemetery of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem at Mt. Zion. The family will receive condolences at the Arab Orthodox Club in Beit Hanina after the ceremony and Aug. 20 from 4 to 8 p.m.

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Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, a media activist and a columnist for Palestine Pulse. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and is currently director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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