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Arts & Culture Israeli Exhibit on Coexistence Gets Warm Welcome in South Africa

March 31, 2003
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An Israeli exhibition designed to promote coexistence and tolerance has arrived in Cape Town, its ninth stop on a worldwide odyssey that thus has far taken it to cities such as Belfast, Sarajevo, Berlin and Zurich.

The brainchild of Jerusalem’s Museum on the Seam, it consists of 36 giant posters by international artists whose mission is to raise awareness about dialogue between people and nations and to reduce violence.

The Cape Town Holocaust Center is among the exhibition’s sponsors.

Ahmed Kathrada, a Muslim anti-apartheid veteran who spent 26 years in prison with former South African President Nelson Mandela and who served in his government, underlined the value of the exhibition at its recent opening.

“Art — especially an exhibition of this nature — can play a very effective part in creating the atmosphere for coexistence, reaching many more people than politicians can,” Kathrada said.

“Some of the works are very powerful and I hope that wherever the exhibition goes, ordinary people will get the message of the importance of coexistence,” he told JTA afterward.

Justice Albie Sachs, a Constitutional Court judge and leader in the struggle for human rights in South Africa, said the exhibition’s origin in Jerusalem gave it a “very pungent meaning” for “people reaching across divides everywhere in the world.”

In both Israel and South Africa, people had to learn to live together, respecting each others’ dignity and worth, he added.

The exhibition is accompanied by its curator, Raphie Etgar, who is the director of the Museum on the Seam.

The museum, which opened in 1999, is dedicated to dialogue, tolerance and coexistence. It is located at the point where eastern and western Jerusalem meet, which before the 1967 Six-Day War was the border between Israel and Jordan. It also is a seam between fervently Orthodox and secular Jewish neighborhoods.

Conflict situations around the world, and the violent means used to address them, led to the creation of the coexistence exhibition two years ago, Etgar said.

“Mainly it was what bothered us in our region — the intifada and the issues we deal with every day in our museum — where we emphasize the possibility of reaching solutions without the use of violence,” he told JTA.

According to Etgar, Israel has much to learn from South Africa’s experience.

“South Africa is a good example of some people that had a dream and brought it to reality,” he said.

Etgar acknowledged that the exhibition’s contribution to peace and understanding is, in itself, “small,” but he said it serves to motivate people.

“Those small contributions gather into one big effort,” he said. “There are no big achievements actually. It takes years of education, a lot of changing attitudes, starting at the very top.”

Cape Town’s mayor, Nomaindia Mfeketo, said it was no coincidence that the exhibition — under the patronage of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner — would be in South Africa from Human Rights Day until Freedom Day.

“These two dates play an important role in the history of our country and the liberation of the people of South Africa,” Mfeketo said. The exhibition is “a shining example of the creative ways in which we can participate in bridging the gap between different cultures and religions. Coexistence can only be achieved by learning to respect and appreciate each other’s differences.”

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