art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

The Book To Read: My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness.

Adina Hoffman’s My Happiness Bears No Relation To Hapiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century is the best book I read this year, and it just might be one of my favourite books ever. I read it half a year ago, when it finally found its way through the jungle of air mail, and I am finally writing this review.

I mentioned the book in some of my previous writings, in connection to other stories, but never dedicated a full post to it. I needed time, I guess. The book tore me apart. Hoffman tells the story of Taha Muhammad Ali, great Palestinian poet, writing about his life, poetry, and the culture he emerged from.

9780300141504/photo via Yale Books/

I already loved Taha’s poetry so my expectations before reading this book were high. All of the doubts I might have had disappeared after reading the prelude pages. I think there was no better person to write Taha’s biography than Adina Hoffman. Her writing is so delicate, so rich in detail and encompassing at the same time, and simply – captivating. Taking in consideration the trust and the relationship Taha and Adina had developed over time (before this book was to be made), this was just a perfect combination.

Hoffman writes about Taha:

“Taha is a hardly well-known personality in the West; he is, in his own proud terminology, ‘a peasant, a son of a peasant!’, and is, moreover, a latecomer to poetry: his first book was published when he was fifty two years old. He’s a writer with a relatively small oeuvre (five collections of poems and a book of short stories) and a mostly underground reputation in the Arab literary world – where, it should be said, poetry has always been a highly public medium.(…) Taha Muhammad Ali is, meanwhile, nobody’s national poet. An autodidact, he has operated a souvenir shop near Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation for more than fifty years. Although his store has for much of that time served as a modest magnet for poets, intellectuals, teachers, and ordinary people of all Arabic-speaking stripes and camps, his perspective on modern Palestinian history and literature has remained unusually private.(…)

It also seemed to me then – and has only proven truer the more time I have spent with Taha – that his story is at once entirely singular (even eccentric) and completely representative of the sagas through which his people have lived. Born in 1931, Taha has witnessed enough history to fill several lifetimes, and I wanted, as I set out, not just to account for what he had seen but how he had seen it: to try, in other words, to convey  the ways such cataclysmic historical events look through they eyes of one exceptional man. As most everything in the Middle East inevitably is, the effort may be viewed as political – but it was insipired, first and foremost, by the far less absolute realm of art.”

Hoffman also writes about her perspective when taking on this project, her views as a Jewish woman, as an Israeli citizen, her experience of life in Jerusalem and differences in relation to Palestinian lives. She writes: “An American-born Jew who has lived in Jerusalem for much of her adult life – assuming a sort of bifocal nationality in the process – I carry two passports, American and Israeli, and am someone who arrived in the Middle East knowing not a word of Arabic and bearing no particular affinity for Palestinian culture.”  Around two decades later, she took on a hard role – to write a biography of a poet Taha Ali, to submerse herself in Arab culture, but also – inevitably – to tell a political story, a story of a Palestinian life in twentieth century.

mishra_1-120309/young Taha Ali, photo via BOMB Magazine/

That fact itself is a big sign of hope for the Israeli-Palestinian story. Because, more than politics, poetry, historical insights (all very important and present in this book), above all of that, Hoffman’s approach to Taha’s story is emphatic, human.

She describes Taha’s influences when growing up, writing about his father’s madafeh:

“Abu Taha, meanwhile, spent almost all his waking hours in the third room in the house, his madafeh. In Saffuriyya, as in other Palestinian villages of the time, a madafeh – literally, a place for dyuf, guests, could mean any number of things… But to call it a ‘humble’ room , or to detail its minimal contents – a few straw mats, several thin wool-stuffed mattresses, a low stool, the worn shoes of the men cast of by the door – is to do injustice to the vast place this small square of plaster and stone occupied in the imagination of the young boy. It was – as his basically immobile father was, the sturdy pivot around which all his own wanderings through the village and orchards unfolded. It was the place where he first heard poetry and pre-Islamic legends, first encountered local history and world politics, first absorbed how men talked to one another, first learned how to listen. It was ‘the university of fallah’, as his brother Amin describes it, more than half a century later. The guests in the madafeh, he says, would constantly tell stories and talk and argue and laugh: the conversation never stopped. ‘They had knowledge of life, they had experience. And they had confidence in themselves.’

Taha Ali spoke the language of the village, the language of the people. And that made his work more spacious, for all of us to take our place in it. His is the story of  melancholy and exuberance, the land and the memory. His own village, Saffuriyya, was bombed number of times in the night of Fifteenth of May , in 1948. Saffuriyya was bombed number of times in the course of that night – unarmed civilians were bombed number of times in the course of that night. It was the day of Nakba, the catastrophe.  The event is described in the book:

“Following the dirth path that ran beside the bayader, he walked for about five minutes, and it was then that he heard an odd, low, whirring sound, something circling in the air above. As it lifted to a whistle, then mounted to a roar, he saw a brilliant flash, felt a crash and tremor, and another – then everything was smashing glass and rising smoke, shouts in the distance, wailing nearby, people running, children crying, the sixteen goats yelping in terror as they scattered.

It was an all-defining moment for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

“They walked for two days and much of two nights, and under the fig trees of Bint Jbely, the people at last came to rest. The harsh July sun had followed them across the border, and thousands of children and women and babies and man sat in exhausted groups, the ‘lucky’ ones finding space beneath  the only semblance of a roof in sight – the wide pointed leaves of the trees. Infants bawled, old women whimpered, mules brayed, truck brakes screeched, and those who found refuge in these foreign orchards and fields were surrounded on all sides by a constant, anguished din.

Noise or no, it was perhaps the first time in the course of those long hallucinatory hours since they’d left the village that Taha and his family and the people huddled with them had a chance to pause and try to reconstruct what had just happened. (…)

In a poem written forty years later, he describes a night when ‘we had/neither night nor light,’ when ‘no moon rose’:

We did not weep

When we were leaving

For we had neither

Time nor tears

And there was no farewell.

We did not know

At the moment of parting

That it was a parting,

So where would our weeping

Have come from?”

Taha_breakfast_lunch_dinner_copy_body/Taha Ali, photo via BOMB Magazine/

It was an exodus, a dual one. While the body had to go, the mind and the heart stayed. But, in the meantime, everything changed, and when the body and the mind returned – there was no familiarity with the space, no warmth, there were only flashes of what used to be, only ghosts of history. And home was lost once again.

Hoffman writes:

“Although I know why Taha wants to go to Saffuriyya, I was not expecting a pilgrimage today. A few years earlier, in fact, when I’d ask Taha if he would take me to see what was left of the village, he’d begged off – insisting that every time he visited it he had a headache for three days. At that point, he had volunteered his brother Amin to accompany me instead – and had, in the end, written a poem called ‘The Place Itself, or I Hope You Can Digest It’, explaining his reluctance to return to the literal location of Saffuriyya, which is nothing but ‘dust and stones’, when emptied of the lives and life that gave it meaning: ‘For where are the red-tailed birds / and the almonds’ green? / where are the bleating lambs / and pomegranates of evening – / the smell of bread / and the grouse?'”

I am not keen on bombastic statements, but if you read one book this/next year – let it be this wonderful book.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Suad Amiry & The Absurdity of Life Under Occupation

Sohrab Sepehri & Water’s Footfall

Robert Fisk & The Age of The Warrior

De Niro’s Game

Standard
art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

(Interview) Tamara Erde: On History, Memory & Living Near the Livings.

Tamara Erde is a French-Israeli filmmaker who creates in various mediums, from documentary and fiction films, to performances and video installations. Erde is a brave artistic soul, often taking from her most personal places and transforming it into her art. In her work, she often deals with political and social issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is what hits home. I was truly happy to be able to do the following interview and get to know more about Tamara’s work and her personal journey while making it.

Capture/Tamara Erde in Cell in a Human Scale/

Being born and raised in Israel, Israel being a part of your identity, did you have issues when you first started making films about different layers of Israeli – Palestinian conflict? Did you feel your work will be politicized, dissected in a particular way?

Yes, having been born and raised in Israel, and later on deciding to live and work on different, critical aspects of the Israeli society and politics, it has been a rather difficult process, to acknowledge I will face the unsatisfaction and sometimes anger of many of my friends and society in which I grew. I also have my films shown less in Israel then in anywhere else, so this is also a shame for me, as I’d love to show them there too and arouse a discussion about it. But I guess that indeed, once they touch core political problems that are in the basis of the perception and life views there, it is directly politicized and remains only as a political work and not a cinematic, creation as well.

In your documentary film released this year, This is my Land, you focus on how  Palestinian and Israeli (Jewish and Arab) education systems teach the history of their nations. You also confront your own history (in relation to the land) and the way it was built up, created. You admit you first started asking questions and having doubts about the nature of Israeli occupation during the army service. Could you tell me more about this film and the experience of it, but also the story of your personal journey, which could be marked as – before and after – the army service?

I have decided to do this film when I found myself, about two years ago, asking myself how come I didn’t know and didn’t search to know, what I do now, about the history of my country and my region. Because the information is out there, in Internet, in books, in the mouth of people. And for me the direct answer was – the education I got. So that has brought me to wish and come back to Israel but also to Palestine, and see now, from my new perspective, how kids are taught.

Until my army service, I was very zionist and nationalist. I didn’t know much about the conflict, I didn’t have contact with Palestinian people, nor did I think about it too much. My army service was during the second Intifada, I saw then how the decision are taken, how life are being played with for political little reasons, I saw for the first time (even though it was sadly through the information computer screens) Palestinian people. And this has made me start asking question and doubting what I was doing and believing till then. From that I went to a journey of some time, trying to learn and research the story of “the other side”.

Very few children can see through and doubt the education they receive. I am sure that if I had to go back to school, changing the position – going to a Palestinian school, or to an orthodox religious school, I would have been following this sets of values and beliefs. Very few people also doubt or question their education on their later life, as adults. I had the chance to do it thanks to my profession, to my films that have brought me, and still do, to discover and investigate about my identity, and the society I live in, or from which I come.

But even though the ability to change the way a child perceives his education is so small, the ability to change the education we give him, is much more probable, and possible. For me, this voyage I wish to go on with this film, back to this primal encounter with the teachers, and the school, in the place where I was born, which imposes the charge of the conflict, is a way to make myself, and hopefully my viewers, think about the way we can change the education system, and assure a better future society and life for the generations to come. And I think this is true to Israel-Palestine, but also to many other places around the world.

disney ramallah/Disney Ramallah/

Disney Ramallah is your latest short film. It is a story of a father and son in Ramallah, confronted to the harsh reality during the Second Intifada. The boy has one dream – to go to Euro Disney for his birthday. Of course, that is not possible, and the father ends up making a home-made alternative universe for his son. Something in this story, the creative magic and will maybe, reminded me of Yalla to the moonThere is something mesmerizing about these parallel universes people create among the harshest of conditions, which also remindes me of Guido Orefice in La Vitta è Bella. What inspired you to write and direct this story? 

I have written this story basing on my experiences and what I have seen during the Second Intifada when I was in the army, but also what I have seen later on, in the West Bank, when I have met many children and heard their stories and their families stories. One of the things that inspired me mostly was their energy, their hope, their great force of life, even in the harder and most extreme situations. That has made me imagine that boy that all he wants, like many kids, is to go to EuroDisney, and what happened when this meets his father’s harsh daily struggle, who has put aside his childhood dreams and urges.

When I was a child, I grew up alone with my mother, since my dad died before I was born. At nights, sometimes, I used to be afraid that she will die too, leaving me alone in the world. And so, I used to ask her, simply, what if… And she used to tell me the name of her friend; she will take care of you if I die, I talked to her about it, she will adopt you. For some months, years even, I remember, I kept repeating this question, wishing only for one answer: I won’t die.., but she never said this to me. She told me the truth, at simple as it was.

And years later, I kept asking myself about it… What would I do? Do we always need to tell the truth to our children? What does protecting someone means? Hiding from him sometimes? Or on the contrary remaining loyal to the truth? Or maybe creating a different, imagined truth, for those we love. Those questions, daily dilemmas, of parents, of human relationships, are in the heart of Disney Ramallah. In this story, an additional aspect joins those universal story of father and son, since Rabia and Ahmed live in Ramallah, in a complexed reality.

You create in various mediums, not just film. One of your installations and performances is A Soldier’s Dream.  It was influenced by poems of the great Mahmoud Darwish, and aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writingHomeland, in the context of Israel and Palestine, is a complex term. It involves memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting, and generally – an internal state of chaos and confusion. It is not just Darwish who struggles with the notion of homeland. Kanafani writes in Returning to Haifa: “What is a homeland? Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? Khaldun? Our illusions of him? Fathers? Their sons? What is a homeland? Is it the picture of his brother hanging on the wall?” How do you see this issue of  homeland, and why did you approach Darwish and his poetry through your installations and performances?

It was after my last visit to Israel, on the spring of 2010, that I’ve decided to create this project around the poems ad writing of Mahmoud Darwish. On my return to France after that visit, I felt more then ever helpless, seeing the frozen situation, the immobile misery and injustice that have long ago conquered this land. In front of my eyes I still had this image of the sea, near Gaza, divided by the separation wall, thinking – what else can be done when even the water are bound to surround. I’m looking again, now in France, at the few pictures I’ve managed to take there, at the point where the wall meets the sea, before the soldiers came with their weapons towards me.

Staring at this black and white desperate silence of the water, I recalled Darwish’s texts about the water; “Who says that water has no color, flavor or smell?” [Memory of forgetfulness].

I thought about the relation between words and images when confronting those ungraspable impermeability, where is their limit in view of that, where are there points of force, of challenge and of completion. It was from that desperation that I felt a need to return to the words of Darwish, whose words are imprints of footsteps on this sands of misery, of that surrounding water, and yet, of the whole world outside, of the love and the hope deriving from the simple beauty, form the power of the sincere words, phrases, memories.

In Forgotten Oceans, an experimental dance film, you explore the theme of physical memories of spaces. Again, such an important theme concerning the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, its millions of people living in exile and millions of memories that were and are wiped out. Like Khaled Juma asks in The Unseen aspects of War: “Are the memories we grew up with which are destroyed not pieces of us? Should we not consider the destruction of the places in which we were raised with these memories to be the destruction of a part of us, just like our hands, our heads, or our hearts?” It is like the “my tree was gone” moment from your film. Why did you find it important to make this fim, to do this exploration, and could you relate it to Israeli – Palestinian conflict, from your own perspective?

Actually, this video dance, that I created in an aim to develop and include in a performance piece later on, is also the continuation of my work inspired by Darwish, aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writing. Being an Israeli I was amazed how many things I have discovered, when reading Darwish’s poems, on my “Homeland”, how close I felt to his words, and how painful it was. His words, have become, to me, a life-time journey, and this performance was part of this journey.

The poetic, the never ending, floating magical words, are living side by side with reality, with the aching sand grains of this land. On the video dance Forgotten Oceans the scene is to describe a “no man’s” land on which all characters are immigrants. Turning around, discovering the new space, the new land that is assumed to be their new “home”, again. A land on which they have no past, no memories or acquaintance, and apparently no future either. They are doomed to eternal wonderings.

forgotten oceans/Forgotten Oceans/

Based on the poetry of Mahmod Darwish; the physical choreographically language of the piece, as well as the visual language, aim to create this sense of “no people” on a “no land”. The characters existence in the space is never substantial, no relation is ever physically created between them. “We live near the livings”, Darwish once wrote about his people, and it s this sense of the term “exile” that I wish to give to the spectators in this piece.

• • •

 /all images via Tamara Erde/

For more on Tamara and her work, visit her website.

Standard
art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Khaled Juma: The Unseen Aspects of War.

Khaled Juma is a Palestinian poet, author of children’s books and plays. He was born in Rafah, lived in Gaza city for a long time, and has recently moved to Haifa. First Juma’s poem I ever read was Oh Rascal Children of Gaza, tribute to the children of the Gaza Strip which he wrote while the missiles were falling on Gaza last summer.

Today, I wish to post his text The Unseen Aspects of War, also written during the latest Israeli attack on Gaza.

“The most dangerous thing that happens in war is what is not said, what is not photographed, and what is not talked about. It is not just stories that are told here and there to stir up peoples’ emotions and make them cry, but it is the real crime against humanity: the crime that does not receive attention because the sound of blood is always louder. However, in the end the tragedy is the tragedy, and it is huge, but should not override our sense of the small tragedy. This is not a comparison between what happens in democratically advanced countries and what happens in Palestine, especially in Gaza, but it is an attempt to convey an image of what it means to live in a state of war, even if your house is not bombed, your son is not killed, and your wife is not injured.

The first thing I will talk about is the sound of the missile and its imaginary weight. What is the effect of the sound of a missile from an F-16, even if it does not kill or injure, a missile that weighs at least 250 kilograms, and often over 1000 kilograms. For its safety the plane cannot descend lower than 2700 metres, and therefore its noise cannot often be heard, nor the sound of the missile it drops. But all of a sudden, you hear the sound that usually comes after the explosion, because the speed of the missile’s explosion is much higher than the speed of sound.

The matter is not just related to the explosion, which gives you an idea about the Day of Judgement, but also the tremors that happen after the explosion. Israel tested the characteristics of missiles in order to destroy tunnels supposedly in the area of the bombardment. Therefore, you hear a sound, which at first sounds like thunder on the open sea, before the sky lights up momentarily. Then come the tremors, and before you recover from the shock of the missile, the next one comes at you. You cannot start counting to know when it will end, because they possess an unlimited number.

For example, they once bombed a ministerial compound next to my house with 13 rockets. It is not important if the missile kills or injures you, as the matter concerns where you are at the time of the explosion. Are you asleep? Drinking tea? Standing next to the window? You might get lucky in how your body reacts. Sometimes you fall to the ground from the rush of hot air caused by the missile. Or the window falls out of the wall, marking the end of its resistance. Or tea and sugar fall to the ground from the shelves. Or you find your neighbour at your door as the tremors forced him out of his house. All of this is only related to the sound of the missiles. As for what they do, no one remains who can tell us about what happens when a missile falls near them.

Second is the issue of terror and waiting, even in situations where there is no shelling. In war the body’s ability to gauge its surroundings, the shape of the eyes, and nerve sensitivity all change. Hearing becomes more acute, sense of smell surpasses that of dogs, and skin acclimatizes. Even the concept of time changes. These changes do not lie in a single factor, but hold sway over children’s fear, your personal fear, the smell of the air, spirits floating in the air, the horrible silence of mothers, and the worry of fathers who try to hid it. In war we become something else, somewhere between human and machine.

Third is a matter related to a of sense of security, for in all wars there are different sides. Anyone who is not a party in a war can feel relatively safe. But in Gaza, there is no such luxury. You are exposed to death if you are involved in a battle, if you are the neighbour of someone involved in a battle, or if you are the neighbour of a friend whose nephew is involved in a battle. Of course, this does not stop you from being bombarded even if none these of factors are present, as was the case with the four Bakr children, killed in plain sight of a large gathering of foreign journalists.

The fourth matter is related to you feeling as if you have transformed from victim to executioner. How would you feel if they bombed your house and you saw it on the Western news being displayed as the house of a poor Israeli, blown up by missiles coming from Gaza? Your tragedy of being bombed and killed is stolen from you, while you are prevented from screaming. In war you feel like you are alone. Nothing is with you. No one is with you. Even the doors, the television, the people and the crowds. It is most noticeable when you hear an expression like: “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

Fifth is what happens after the bombardment of houses. If you survive the missile, the house is the place in which we are raised and have memories. In this sense, when Israel bombs houses, it kills the life of the resident even if they are not at home. Are the memories we grew up with which are destroyed not pieces of us? Should we not consider the destruction of the places in which we were raised with these memories to be the destruction of a part of us, just like our hands, our heads, or our hearts?

Sixth is the issue of the wounded. For example, during the massacre of the al-Batesh family, 50 people were injured in the same raid. These injuries included 32 people who had to have limbs amputated. However, because the death toll was so large, these injuries were nearly ignored. After every war in Gaza, thousands of people with disabilities are not mentioned, other than as statistics.

The seventh matter is a psychological factor. Can you image a situation in which people who are being subjected to all of this pressure cannot scream or cry? Whether it is those who lose consciousness at the sound of a missile, or those who have lost their children, fathers, friends, an acquaintance, or maybe all of the above? I know a friend whose library was destroyed by a fire after being shelled by tanks in 2008. Even though he was educated and well aware of the situation, he has yet to recover from that situation and gets a tear in his eye anytime it is mentioned. So what will be the situation of our children? They do not understand what the word “Israel” means, or the meaning of the word “death.” They only know — as a child once told me — “Why doesn’t God love us?”

Eight is something related to the concept Carl Gustav Jung called “crisis storage.” The nature of this concept is related to a defence mechanism designed by the body for dangerous situations, especially in front of children so as to not terrify them. After the dangerous situation ends, the body recalls all the fear and confusion at once, which leads to misfortunes only known by God, that often produce imperceivable abnormalities. I recall that after the 2012 war, many people said to me: “It is strange that we did not feel scared during the war, but after it finished we feel terrified.” This is precisely the concept of “crisis storage.”

The ninth matter is the issue of geographical memory loss. When there is a place we are connected to that is bombed and destroyed by Israel, years later you are not able to tell your friend “I played here,” or “I studied here,” because “here” no longer exists. There is an erasure of geographical memory, and Israel tries to erase our connections to this land.

Tenth is the loss of safety and confidence in mothers and fathers due to their inability to protect their children. This subsequently leads to the breakdown of relationships between parents and their children.

War is cruel, it distorts the human characteristics within us, no matter our ability to withstand. Before anyone thinks about the restoration and reconstruction of Gaza after the war, they must think seriously about the way to restore the lives of the people of Gaza, and sew up the holes within them, because what Israel ultimately aims to do is kill us, or at least demolish our spirit and ability to live.”

Translated by Kevin Moore

/all the GIFs in this post are from the legendary Waltz With Bashir/

 

Standard
art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Worn Out, Gaza.

Iyad Ramadan Sabbah is a Palestinian artist, famous for his sculptures and installations that are very artistic and beautiful, but also political and almost always related to Palestinian issue(s). Palestine is all over his artwork, but Sabbah has no issues with that. He uses his art to show the suffering of his people.

In his latest artwork, Sabbah displayed clay figures on Gaza beach depicting people fleeing their homes, as part of a contemporary art project portraying the recent Israeli onslaught on Gaza. The exhibition, called Tahaluk (Worn Out) is meant to show the horrors Palestinians faced in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood of Gaza city.

10542889_10154767251335444_3149741570408284339_n

Sabbah said he wanted to represent the psychological impact of war and commemorate those who died.

“There has been a violation of humanity in all of the Gaza community as a result of the aggression,” he told The Independent.

1507603_10154767251280444_9146143827199506434_n

The sculputures were also placed on the beach in Gaza to symbolise the refugees fleeing to other countries illegally in a desperate attempt to escape the conflict.  They were all created using mud and waste materials found in bombsites.

1382142_10154767251350444_7743416548187451095_n

During the latest attack on Gaza, at least 2,145 Palestinian were killed and 11,200 civilians injured, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures.

iyad sabbah

/all images via Jamal Dajani/

For more on Worn Out installation, see the article on Cairo Post and The Independent. For more on Sabbah and his work, visit his official website.

Standard
art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Remembering Edward Said: In the name of Humanism.

“Humanism is the only – I would go so far as saying the final- resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.

Edward Said

The end of September (25th of September to be precise) marked eleven years without Edward Said, literary theorist and an intellectual who was a founding figure of the critical-theory field of Post-colonialism, and a strong advocate of political and human rights of the Palestinian people. His capital work, Orientalism,  preseneted the Western study of Eastern cultures and, in general, the framework of how The West perceives and represents The East.

It’s hard to label people as heroes in today’s world, but I would say Said was one. Living in exile, he chose not to look the other way and forget the injustice and struggle in his homeland, but to fight, to raise awareness, to dedicate his life, his time, dedicate it to better understanding, to fairness, even if it meant (and it often did) repeating things all the time, hitting the wall all over again. Even in his last years and months, sick and exhausted (over a decade fighting with leukemia), he was writing, giving three hour interviews, and finishing documentaries about Palestine. Now, that’s dedication.

Said’s great intellect and his inexhaustible energy are strongly missed. Many of the things Said wrote about – from  cultural representations of the East to the question of Palestine – remain a hot topic (and a burning issue) today. To commemorate Said and recall the magnitude of his works, I’ve decided to gather some of the great thoughts and excerpts from his books and essays, and provide links to some of his great interviews.

edward saidEdward Said /photo via reformancers/

No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things; in Eliot’s phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the “other echoes [that] inhabit the garden.” It is more rewarding – and more difficult – to think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others than only about “us.” But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how “our” culture or country is number one (or not number one, for that matter).” /from the book Culture and Imperialism/

“The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the Western expert. From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the Orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.” /from the book Orientalism/

In a great interview for Ha’aretz (Said mentions it in the above posted  interview Reflections on Exile with Brian Lamb), Said provides a detailed insight on the issue of Palestine. Ari Shavit describes the meeting with Said:

His hair has turned gray over the past year. The cancerous growth in his stomach bothers him too. Nevertheless, Edward Said is still a very handsome man, punctilious about his appearance and his dress. A silk handkerchief protrudes from his jacket pocket and the gold watch on his wrist glitters when he stretches out his hand to take a sip from the bottle of Pelegrino on his desk.

He exudes charm. The most widely known Palestinian intellectual in the West, he is warm, learned and cunning. Highly political, emotional, with a sense of humor. He skips lightly and gracefully from poetic quotations from Dante to Zionist-damning quotations from Sternhell – and back again. He takes obvious delight in moving between the various languages and between the cultural levels on which he lives. Between the different identities that skitter within him. As though celebrating his ability to be British and American and Arab all at the same time. Both a refugee and an aristocrat, both a subversive and a conservative, both a literateur and a propagandist, both European and Mediterranean.”

In an answer to the question “Is this a symmetrical conflict between two peoples who have equal rights over the land they share?” Said answers:

“There is no symmetry in this conflict. One would have to say that. I deeply believe that. There is a guilty side and there are victims. The Palestinians are the victims. I don’t want to say that everything that happened to the Palestinians is the direct result of Israel. But the original distortion in the lives of the Palestinians was introduced by Zionist intervention, which to us – in our narrative – begins with the Balfour Declaration and events thereafter that led to the replacement of one people by another. And it is continuing to this day. This is why Israel is not a state like any other. It is not like France, because there is continuing injustice. The laws of the State of Israel perpetuate injustice.

This is a dialectical conflict. But there is no possible synthesis. In this case, I don’t think it’s possible to ride out the dialectical contradictions. There is no way I know to reconcile the messianic-driven and Holocaust-driven impulse of the Zionists with the Palestinian impulse to stay on the land. These are fundamentally different impulses. This is why I think the essence of the conflict is its irreconcilability.

“Not one of our political spokespeople—the same is true of the Arabs since Abdel Nasser’s time—ever speaks with self-respect and dignity of what we are, what we want, what we have done, and where we want to go. In the 1956 Suez War, the French colonial war against Algeria, the Israeli wars of occupation and dispossession, and the campaign against Iraq, a war whose stated purpose was to topple a specific regime but whose real goal was the devastation of the most powerful Arab country. And just as the French, British, Israeli, and American campaign against Gamal Abdel Nasser was designed to bring down a force that openly stated as its ambition the unification of the Arabs into a very powerful independent political force.”  /from the book Power, Politics and Culture/

The Orient is watched, since its almost (but never quite) offensive behavior issues out of a reservoir of infinite peculiarity; the European, whose sensibility tours the Orient, is a watcher, never involved, always detached, always ready for new examples of what the Description de l’Egypte called “bizarre jouissance.” The Orient becomes a living tableau of queerness.” /from the book Orientalism/

In his essay Islam Through Western Eyes for The Nation in 1980, Said writes:

„The media have become obsessed with something called ‘Islam,’ which in their voguish lexicon has acquired only two meanings, both of them unacceptable and impoverishing. On the one hand, ‘Islam’ represents the threat of a resurgent atavism, which suggests not only the menace of a return to the Middle Ages but the destruction of what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan calls the democratic order in the Western world. On the other hand, ‘Islam’ is made to stand for a defensive counterresponse to this first image of Islam as threat, especially when, for geopolitical reasons, ‘good’ Moslems like the Saudi Arabians or the Afghan Moslem ‘freedom fighters’ against the Soviet Union are in question. Anything said in defense of Islam is more or less forced into the apologetic form of a plea for Islam’s humanism, its contributions to civilization, development and perhaps even to democratic niceness.“

He continues to say:

„The Islamic Orient today is important for its resources or for its geopolitical location. Neither of these, however, is interchangeable with the interests, needs or aspirations of the native Orientals. Ever since the end of World War II, the United States has been taking positions of dominance and hegemony once held in the Islamic world by Britain and France. With this replacement of one imperial system by another have gone two things: first, a remarkable burgeoning of academic and expert interest in Islam, and, second, an extraordinary revolution in the techniques available to the largely private-sector press and electronic journalism industries. Together these two phenomena, by which a huge apparatus of university, government and business experts study Islam and the Middle East and by which Islam has become a subject familiar to every consumer of news in the West, have almost entirely domesticated the Islamic world. Not only has that world become the subject of the most profound cultural and economic Western saturation in history–for no non-Western realm has been so dominated by the United States as the Arab-Islamic world is dominated today–by the exchange between Islam and the West, in this case the United States, is profoundly one-sided.“

In this interview with Salman Rusdie, Said talks about the Palestinian experience, saying that unlike other colonial experiences – we weren’t exploited, we were excluded. And that is the essence of the Palestinian struggle.  Let us remember that and let us remember Said.

The 2014 Edward Said Memorial Lecture was held yesterday and you can watch the full lecture by Judith Butler „What is the value of Palestinian lives?“ on The Jerusalem Fund

 

Standard
art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Under The Gun: A Palestinian Journey.

Fourteen years ago, Ahdaf Soueif, famous Egyptian novelist (In The Eye of The Sun, The Map of Love), visited Israel and Palestine for the first time. Under The Gun: a Palestinian Journey (published by Guardian) is an essay she wrote about the journey.

ahdaf soueifAhdaf Soueif /photo via Russell Tribunal on Palestine/

The following paragraphs are the excerpts from it.

I have never, to my knowledge, seen an Israeli except on television. I have never spoken to one. I cannot say I have wanted to. My life, like the life of every Egyptian of my generation, has been overcast by the shadow of Israel. I have longed to go to Palestine, but have not wished to go to Israel. And now I am going there.

I have not felt such anticipation or such fear since I was a child. For the past two months I have been following the news of the intifada. I have compared the images on the BBC and CNN with those on al-Jazira and other Arab channels. I have unspun stories, fumed at the American newspapers and been grateful for some of the reporting in some of the British press. I have started and ended my days reading appeals for help on the internet. And over and again I have asked myself: ‘What is it that I can do?’ Now at last I can do something; I can go see for myself, and write. But going means going there.

We are sitting in a smallish, brightly lit room with vividly blue armchairs. Serious attempts at decor have been made: a cactus growing out of a half coconut shell tilts on an Arab-style carved wooden table, rubber plants and plastic flowers droop from dusty glass shelves, an empty drinks dispenser glows coldly in the corner. On the walls are three reproductions: two are Kandinsky-like, but the third is a large close-up of the two forefingers of God and Adam just failing to meet.

A polite young Israeli comes in and asks me in broken Arabic to fill out some forms. Then he comes back to escort us to the passport window. I say: ‘I don’t want my passport stamped.’ He says: ‘I know.’

I head out of the hotel and start walking. Every car I pass I imagine exploding into flames. How far away does one have to be not to be killed by an exploding car? But the sun is shining as I head down Salah el-Din Street – and I am at home. The street is lined with bakeries, haberdasheries, shoeshops, small grocers, hairdressers. Girls in school uniform and headscarves walk in groups, chatting, laughing. Boys loiter and watch them. The names on the shops and the doctors’ signs are the familiar mix of Muslim and Christian Arab, French and Armenian. The French cultural centre has wide-open doors and an inviting garden; there is a smell of roasting coffee. It’s like a smaller, cleaner, uncrowded Cairo. But two buildings look different from the others: they are modern, precise, their angles are sharp, they fly the Israeli flag, and they are the only ones with closed gates that are made of steel bars.

She talks of tear gas pumped into houses, of rubber bullets which the Palestinian children peel to extract the steel marble within, which they then aim back at the soldiers with their slingshots. She talks of the threat to her mosque, of an ambulance bringing a 78-year-old neighbour back from hospital, how soldiers searched it and stripped it down to the cooling unit: ‘they’ve grown afraid of the air itself.’ I feel dizzy with the detail piling up in my head and leave before I can be made to stay and eat.

The city is beautiful. Like old Jerusalem it is made of pink stone. The narrow streets wind up and down like the streets of an Etruscan town. The houses lean against each other, one house’s roof forming the other’s patio. Ornate stone balconies look out on to the empty street. The sun shines, the air is clean and fresh, the light is so perfect we could be on a film set. A dark green patrol car passes and does not stop us. The microphone blares out in accented Arabic: ‘O people of al-Khalil. Beware breaking the curfew.’ Round the next bend a yellow taxi is at a stop in the middle of the road, leaning to one side. A group of children has gathered round it watching, hushed and still. We pull in by a wall and park. A woman leans against the taxi with a baby in her arms. ‘I know it’s a curfew,’ the driver says, ‘but she has just come out of hospital, and she had the baby, so I drove her. Look what they’ve done.’ A soldier had taken out a knife and slashed the two tyres on the driver’s side. Naturally he only has one spare tyre. With the curfew how is he going to get another one? Two boys are helping him change one wheel. The other children look on in silence. The woman starts walking off slowly.

Maybe there are cafes in West Jerusalem or Tel Aviv where intellectuals, artists, people, sit around and debate the condition of the country and the ‘Palestinian problem’. Maybe they debate the ethics of an army of occupation holding a population hostage, or the civil rights of an Arab population in a zionist state, but these places – the places that are lit up at night – how do I find them? In the entertainment guide I look at the listings: films, recitals, cabarets. I consider taking a taxi and simply buying a ticket. But even the thought makes me uneasy.

Sedition! Snorts Mrs Jibril. ‘We were trying to help the mothers give their children a ‘normal’ childhood. You know what the children sing? They sing: Papa bought me a trifle/ A machine gun and a rifle. We were struggling to to get them to sing normal children’s songs. But normal children’s songs have nothing to do with the reality of their lives.’

‘You know what’s the worst of it’, they say, ‘is that they keep you guessing. You never know if a road is going to be open or closed. When they are going to shut off your water or turn off your electricity. Whether they are going to permit a burial. Whether they are going to give you a permit to travel. You can never ever plan. They create conditions to keep you spinning…’

I have seen women pushing their sons behind them, shoving them to run away, screaming at the soldiers: ‘Get out of our faces. Stop baiting the kids.’

I have heard a man say: ‘I have four sons and no work. I cannot feed them. Let them go out and die if it will help our country; if it will end this state of things.’

I have seen children calmly watch yet another shooting, another funeral. And when I have wept they’ve said: ‘She’s new to this.’“

For more – see the original essay on Guardian and read Soueif’s collection of essays Mezzaterra : Fragments from the Common Ground.

Standard
art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine, travel

Bil’in, Palestine: Teargas canisters as flower pots.

It’s old news, but this beautiful Palestinian art of resistance needs to be captured and written about all over again – residents of Bil’in use teargas canisters – to plant flowers.

Teargas canisters are lefovers from the clashes with the Israeli soldiers, and this way of using them is maybe the most beautiful and peaceful symbol of resistance. Bassem Abu Rahmah, a protest leader, was killed in 2009 when Israeli forces shot him in the chest with a tear gas grenade (his mother is on the photo, watering the plants). The garden is to commemorate him and other victims in the Palestinians’ fight for their land.

Bilin has become a symbol of Palestinian protests against Israeli policies in the West Bank, and the village’s struggle to regain its land became the subject of a 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary Five Broken Cameras.

It’s not just that the Palestinians are not going to be destroyed – they are going to grow, and find a way to make something out of the occupation – something for the future.

Enjoy the photos (© AP).

Flower on razor wire

Palestinian activists stand near roses planted in used tear gas canisters

Art of resistance: Palestinian garden of tear gas canisters

article-0-1878010700000578-253_634x422

bfbf10b2345e0e213f0f6a7067001081

slier1

 

Standard