Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Razzouk Tattoo Parlour: 700 years of tattooing history

By Alicia Ramos Perez - June 18, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [artist] [Christians ] [Jerusalem]

Two streets away from Jaffa Gate, at the entrance of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, Razzouk Tattoo Shop can be found. The owner, Wassim Razzouk, is hard at work, continuing a 700-year-old tradition to today. 

As he sits in his small parlour, he narrates the story of his shop, his ancestors, Palestine and himself.
Wassim Razzouk is the 25th generation of Palestinian Christian Copts tattoo artists. “We’ve been in the tattooing business for the past 700 years. We came to the Holy Land 500 years ago and before that, 200 years tattooing in Egypt,” Razzouk told Palestine Monitor.
Tattooing is a practice that used to be done within the church and served as a proof of pilgrimage to distinguish Christian Copts from non-Christians. A small tattooed cross would identify the Copts. Now, the ancient art is being modernised.
Razzouk now uses his 300-year-old stamps carved in olive wood to tattoo people of all faiths and cultures. The oldest stamp in Razzouk’s tattoo parlour is a Jerusalem cross of around 500 years; an ancient document traces the stamp back to 1669.
Continuing the tradition during occupation
“There are many success stories of Palestinian businessmen and women [as well as] Palestinian artists, spread all over the world.” Razzouk emphasised urgently.
Razzouk paused for a second. He decided to change the train of conversation and gifted Palestine Monitor with his personal testimony on how Razzouk’s Tattoo parlour and the history it entails can be used to fight oppression.
Razzouk believes that his tattoo parlour can be a tool in fighting occupation.
“I catch the eye and attention of a lot of Israelis, especially on such a subject like tattooing.” Razzouk confessed that several Israeli tour groups of between 30 to 50 people stop in front of the tattoo parlour. They request a two-minute conversation with Razzouk, were he gets a moment to explain the tradition his family has been carrying out. “You know how Israeli talk about Jerusalem. They talk about it from their view, they think that Jerusalem is theirs.”
Razzouk explained how he utilises these two minutes of the tour to talk about his shop, his history and his origins. “I go out and I start talking about the history of my family and the history of the Palestinian Christian tradition… They come in the shop and they see the key,” he said as he motioned to a key hanging from the ceiling.
“They know what this key is. They are exposed to the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, the one they claimed it never existed.”
The key Razzouk was referring to was 'The Key of Return’, a symbol of Palestinian exile since the 1948 occupation.  When Palestinian refugees left their homes, they took their keys with them in the belief their return would be imminent. The keys have been passed down on generations as a keepsake, a memory from their lost homes and an everlasting symbol of their desired right to return.
Razzouk explains during his two-minute intervention in the tours how his grandfather tattooed the Emperor Haile Salassie from Ethiopia in 1933 and how his great-great-grandfather tattooed King George, the King of England.
His intentions with relaying these stories are enlightening people with reality: “My presence here, in Palestine [was] before they even existed. My word, this attention that I get, two minutes, the seed that I put in their heads, changes their mind, changes their lives also, and the ideas they have. Show me one of them [Israeli] that can tell me the same thing.”
Razzouk’s presence is living proof of the truth of Palestinians in Jerusalem and their long history.
The questions Razzouk usually receives from the Israeli tourists are related to historical evidences of Razzouk’s family tradition. “Do you have tools from the past? Who did you grand-parents tattoo? King George the King of England… They realise, I am a Palestinian. They realise now, they see it in front of their eyes: a life, the Palestinian presence.”
Wassim Razzouk used his story, his family’s history to reach those people and tell them about the reality of Palestine.
Wassim Razzouk has also been participating in several interviews in international news outlets. This has allowed him to spread awareness to the international community and within the Israeli people of the reality Palestinians in Jerusalem face.
He mentioned that he was contacted by German public television as they wanted to film '70 Years Israel’, a documentary including Razzouk Tattoo Parlour and a motorcycling club Razzouk has with a group of Palestinian friends in Jerusalem.
“Of course, some of the [Palestinian] members of the club said 'you crazy?,’” Razzouk stated when talking about the German documentary. “I said, exactly, this is why we need to be there! I need to show them that Palestinians are not what you think they are,” he continued.
Razzouk’s eyes had a special glaze. “It’s beautiful [the German documentary]! And then a Palestinian motorcycling club! It is an exciting moment. It is in the middle of the programme. In minute 24, all of a sudden you see a big group with motorcycles, with music… We took them for a ride. And everybody is watching and the tension is so nice. And all those people are Palestinians. And they are talking in a language that they can’t understand. Those people are alive! Palestinians are alive, and they speak. We are Palestinians!”
Razzouk’s testimony is one of many looking for an alternative way to fight the occupation. With his art and the history of his ancestors, his message is crossing frontiers. “My word has reached the world. I am lucky because I have something [the shop] that attracts people and I can use it to spread the word.”
“The occupation cannot stop me from living.”

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