interviewed by Predrag Pajdic, March 2007

Oreet, could you please tell me about the origin of your name?

My name comes from the Hebrew word Or, meaning light. The eet or or -it at the end, makes it a girl's name. In the 1960s many girls were named Orit, Dorit, Ronit etc. After I came to England I changed the spelling from Orit to Oreet so people could pronounce it how it should sound.

When did you come to England, where from and why?

I was born in Jerusalem and left when I was 19, basically as soon as I could. It was 1987 when I first came to live in Leicester, England. It was the coldest winter ever, about -9 degrees, I was in shock. I left Jerusalem for political and personal reasons, some of which I was aware of at the time, some became clearer only years later.

As a teenager I was becoming aware of the Israeli occupation of the
Palestinian people, if you were brought up in Jerusalem where I was, near Shoaffat, it is hard not to be aware of it. I joined various peace movements like Peace Now and went on marches opposing the occupation.

However when I was 18 I had to join the army. At first I tried to escape it by going to a kibbutz, but was kicked out for bad behavior (literally). I was lucky enough to meet a lovely British rugby player, we got married and came to live in Leicester. Personal reasons I guess were to do with the nationalistic militant mentality in Israel, claustrophobic feel of the small state and the need to feel more anonymous among like-minded people.

What is your definition of a like-minded person? Did you find what you were looking for here in the United Kingdom?

This is a difficult question. In my experience what we are looking for in people and in places tend to change over time and a lot of the time, as we change and grow. What I did find here when I first came to live in the UK was a very warm Bengali community at my doorstep and that was great. Later on when I moved to London I learnt to really appreciate the diversity of individuals and communities around me. This is only possible in a big metropolis. I like being able to go down to Leather Lane Market every day and talk to the owner of the Lebanese café about food and politics in the Middle East. I like the possibility of dressing up and going out to a club like Wotever, even if these days I don't go out much.

We have been working together now for some time. What fascinates me more than anything else in your work is a bravery to touch 'forbidden', taboo zones. Do you know what I am talking about?

Yes I do. Firstly I think you are talking about my long project relating to Marcus Fisher, an imaginary character, who materialized in a series of interventions, performances, interactions, photographs and videos. Marcus Fisher, or rather the art project as Marcus Fisher, has been described many times as a forbidden terrain, border-crossing visitor. More so in Europe than in the USA, where the image of the orthodox Jew is still considered a taboo, mainly due to the Jewish Holocaust during WWII. This project brings to the foreground not only notions of xenophobia but also many issues around gender and dogma, identity structures, belief systems, and the occurrence and friction of religion in a secular urban capitalist society.

Currently I am researching a small, anti-Zionist sect of the Orthodox Jewish community veiled in controversy. Part of this historical movement is called 'Neturei Karta', 'Guardians of the City' (NK originated in Eastern Europe and Palestine in the early 20th century). I focus on it because of my interest in the notion of sub-groups, a group within a group, a sub culture if you like that is perceived as different, unusual, but also abnormal; a group of clowns, mad people, and hence disregarded.

My interest in the intricacy of identity structures is well placed in this research, as most people perceived the image of an orthodox Jew as synonymous with Zionism, however this is not always the case. The research is also intended to challenge and locate my own secular belief system in relation to Neturei Karta; whilst I share their main pragmatic claim to Free Palestine, I cannot embrace their notion of a messianic figure waiting to emerge as the true savior of Zion. Needles to say that regardless of secular belief systems, the attempts to visualize and embody messianic figures have been explored by many artists, filmmakers, digital gaming and special effects experts.

Are the Jewish people those who are the most offended by your work while dealing with orthodoxy?

Not really. My work tends to offend 'politically correct liberals', not necessarily orthodox people themselves.

Why is that?

The problems I encountered with my work usually come from a few fronts. In the past for example, lawyers employed by TV stations, stopped a couple of programs claiming that the work will offend the Jewish community and that they weren't prepared to take risks (I am referring to English TV channels here in the UK). Like I said before I think there is a real fear here and in Europe to be blamed as anti-Semitic. However this means that there is a wall of censorship blocking the more problematic areas of Jewish race, culture, community, or religion from being openly discussed in the media or the art world.

In relation to my work, among offended ones are also a very small number of American academics who dismiss my work as anti-Semitic or one that is ridiculing orthodox communities in general, which could not be further away from the premise of the work. In addition I had encountered problems with some PR people who have censored my work at the very last moment, basically because they were cowards.

If I take my mother as an example of someone who comes from an extreme orthodox background, her response to my work is very appealing. She finds it difficult yet funny and she is prepared to talk about it, which is all you can ask for.

'Welcome Home' has also been described as work that enters taboo zones.

Tell me more about your work 'Welcome Home'.

'Welcome Home' is an on-going, context-responsive, interdisciplinary and mostly collaborative art project looking at returning, non-returning and disappearance from psychological, political and domestic perspectives.

Through my continuous research into the effects of immigration or the 'post-colonial condition' I became invested in finding out what happens when one returns to the place they've left behind. Situations where the expectations of returning and coming back home are met with the reality of the changes that have taken place over time, and where home is no longer home as we imagined or remembered it. Looking at notions of returning led me to explore situations where returning is not actually an option. I looked into cases of disappearance, particularly those in hostile regimes where people's identities are erased and they no longer have the possibility to return. I also looked at disappearance as a psychological step away from one's personal life. It was fascinating to find out what is required legally in order to attain a perfect disappearance, or a complete legal identity change.

Using all that as a background research I began to focus on the Palestinian villages and towns that have 'disappeared' around 1947-9 due to attack or fear of attack by Israeli forces. Many of these 'ghosted' villages now exist as Israeli habitats with their original names slightly changed, as Al-Malkiya became Malkia.

The Palestinian inhabitants of these 'lost villages' dispersed mainly into the Middle East and now they and their families are part of a growing Palestinian Diaspora. The refusal to grant the original inhabitants and their families the right to return to their homes by the state of Israel is an evasion of the international declaration of human rights.

In June 2006 'Welcome Home', a gathering included the 30 minutes performance 'Memorial Service' in which I am dressed similarly to the Israeli army general Moshe Dayan, famous for his eye patch. As the names of hundreds of eradicated Palestinian villages are spoken by Palestinian voices, my character shreds envelops with the names written on them. Alongside me is the voice artist Mikhail Karikis who performs live, through vocal techniques, some mourning sounds taken from various global sources. The 'Memorial Service', was performed to 350 people and ended on a high note when the London based Palestinian folk dancing group AL-Zaytouna, consisting mainly of Palestinian immigrants, danced the Dabke. 'Welcome Home' has been invited to Oslo, to be performed in collaboration with Rim Banna, the highly acclaimed Palestinian musician, composer and singer.