At Kunstnernes Hus, 30 chairs were lined up in two rows, facing each other. At any given time there was approximately 10 or more people scheduled to sit. More than 50 persons were organized participators in the performance, according to a time schedule. This persons contributed on the bases of their respective engagement: artists, activists and supporters of the Palestinian camp, and members of the camp itself. The rest of the seats were available for the audience to take part. The biographical texts was scheduled to be read every 20 minute by a prepared performer.
It was not obvious who was an organized participator and who was a spontaneous participator from the audience. Nor was it pointed out who was a refugee and who was not. The fellowship was defined by the fact that the Palestinian Camp members are "undocumented" refugees who have twice received rejections on their asylum applications. In spite of statelessness, occupation and oppression, they are not getting protection in Norway.
Beit Aza is a mourning ritual of Palestinian and Arab tradition. By sitting together, mostly in silence, while playing recitations from the Koran, the mourners show respect for the deceased and his or her family and friends. Guests come and go, and the ritual goes on for three full days.
The performance aimed to bring into focus issues of exclusion and inclusion, questioning the ethical values expressed in today’s Norwegian asylum policy. It highlighted the citizens´ individual option to participate in the present reality, or in contrast, their choice to observe it from the outside. The objective was to put solidarity, empathy and understanding, but also confrontation, into play through tangible, physical presence. The sitting, the silence and the long duration of the piece can be tied to a concept of waiting. In its format the performance manifests, in a gentle way, both grief and protest simultaneously.
Beit Aza was created and organized by Atelier Populaire Oslo, at the time beeing Pierre Matte, Lars Sandås, Mona Bentzen, Marit Ødegaard and Andrea Lange, in collaboration with members of Palestinerleiren. The texts used in the performance were written by Erik Skuggevik, Kari Helene Partapouli and Kari Gellein.
Up to 2009 almost all Palestinian asylum seekers arriving in Norway received protection. As part of the socialist-left government’s extensive tightening of their asylum guidelines, this has been inverted; today most applications are rejected. If you are a Palestinian from the West Bank, you are for the foreseeable future destined to a life of occupation. If you are a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, you are for the foreseeable future destined to a life under a blockade in one of the world’s largest prisons. If you are born in a refugee camp, that’s where you belong, now and forever. You cannot escape; if so, the Norwegian authorities would send you back, in order for your destiny of occupation, marginalisation and powerlessness to be fulfilled.
– Rune Berglund Steen, author and director of Anti Racist Centre, Norway