I recently found out by chance that Gabi Baramki died at the end of August last year. The sad news had skipped my attention because at that time I was still in Italy on holiday. Recently I was driving in Jerusalem with Suad Amiry. We passed in front of what today is the Museum on the Seam and she told me Gabi had died. I was deeply saddened by the news. I had seen Gabi Baramki at the Educational Bookshop for the launch of his book Peaceful Resistance, and had been profoundly moved by this old man, who with all the dignity a human being can show, expressed his outrage for the 48 hours permit he had been given to visit Jerusalem for “health reasons”. Gabi, son of one of the most famous Palestinian architects, Andoni Baramki, was one of the many forced to live Jerusalem, his hometown, in 1948, and could now return only and if the Israeli administration decided to grant him entry – and for how long.
I have seen many books presentations at the Educational Bookshop and elsewhere since I arrived in Jerusalem, but this one stroke me deeply and left me a strong feeling of powerlessness and sadness. Gabi dedicated his life to fight for human rights, freedom of thought, and for a free education. His book, which I devoured, recounts the story of Birzeit University in Palestine, where Gabi served as director for nineteen years. He was laughing, during the presentation, recalling the heated moments when the Israeli army stormed the university premises, and he found himself more often than not summoned by them, threatened, prevented from working. Peaceful Resistance is the moving story of an educational institution, of the brave people that attended it (or tried to), and of the man that never saved energy to design a better future for his students under occupation.
The house where the Baramki family used to live had been designed and built by Andoni Baramki in 1934. It was lost to the family in 1948, and never regained. When in 1967 Israeli invaded and occupied the Jordanian controlled portion of Jerusalem, barriers were lifted and Palestinians went back to their properties, convinced to get them back. The Baramki’s house, like all other occupied houses in town, was never given back. It had served as a military outpost from 1948 to 1967, and then was turned into what was initially called the Tourjeman Post Museum, today Museum on the Seam. The damages inflicted by the war are still visible and are kept that way as a “reminder” – of what precisely is not clear to me. Anyway, Andoni Baramki was never allowed to set foot in his house again, and his son Gabi could only enter it when the recent museum was inaugurated. Suad Amiry told me that on that occasion Gabi was asked to pay the ticket to enter the museum. I can only imagine the absolute rage and endless sense of frustration that poor man must have swallowed before turning his back to the Israeli young girl at the counter and walk away.
Here is a comprehensive and fascinating article on the story of the house and the family, and this is the website of the Museum of the Seam. Notice what it says about the building at the very bottom of the page: “The Museum is situated in a building that was built in 1932 by the Barmki (misspelled name, editor’s note) family. Following the war of 1948 until the six days war of 1967, the building served as an army outpost on the border between Israel and Jordan alongside the Mandelbaum Gate that connected the divided city“. What it fails to say is the real story of dispossession and violence the museum is built on. I went to visit an exhibition there when I had recently arrived in Jerusalem – I did not know the story of the house, nor Gabi Baramki. Now that I do, I make a point to never visit that museum again. I own this to the memory of a wonderfully dignified man, that died with a sorrow in his heart as heavy as the mortars blow that damaged the house where he and his family had once lived.