art of resistance, Palestine

The Dupes of the Day.

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This post is a small mental note, to capture the disturbance I am feeling and don’t want to forget.

The Dupes (1972) is a film by Tewfik Saleh, based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men in the Sun. In Men in the Sun the story is a story of Palestine – story of memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting. Constant internal state of chaos and confusion is inevitable.

It is the story of three men who try to leave their impoverished and hopeless lives to get work in Kuwait. They hire a water-truck driver to transport them illegally across the border in the tank of his truck. The journey is not an easy one.

It is a journey that millions of people embark on nowadays. I just came back from Belgrade, where there are thousands of refugees, most of them trying to reach Hungary and enter the European Union (I will write more about that soon). They are being smuggled and cheated on, they are played with, their lives are bargain cheap to politics. They are the dupes of our time.

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Watching The Dupes right after I came back from Belgrade was a truly emotional experience. The film managed to capture the essence of Kanafani’s novella perfectly. The characters are philosophical and the focus is on them rather than the plot. Their internal struggle is what matters.

All of them are, through desert and heat, for days and weeks, staring at the same invisible door somewhere ahead – to open, to let them in. What they are ready to go through for that is beyond imaginable. Last couple of years, from time to time, media shows us the photos of bodies of drowned refugees, bodies of refugees suffocated, bodies of refugees who died from hunger…

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Their whole life is what they are ready to invest to travel into the unknown. Saleh’s film and Kanafani’s novella capture that so well. We have a refugee crisis, Europe screams. The thing is – we’ve been having a refugee crisis since Saleh made this film (1972), since Kanafani wrote this book (1962), and way before that.

Palestinians have been refugees for so long now that being a refugee is a normal thing, it’s an identity, it’s one’s whole life. People are fleeing Afghanistan and Iraq for decades now. People are leaving Syria and Libya for years now. And that is just to name a few.

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Europe is acknowledging refugees now only because they are now coming to Europe, because they are not far away, somewhere out there. And the saddest part is that this new awareness is not obtained in order to help the refugees, but in order to preserve ‘our’ borders.

The truck moves through the desert, carrying people, their thoughts, their dreams, their families. All of them stare in silence. When will they reach it, that inivisible door? How will they see it? Will it see them?

/You can watch the The Dupes on YouTube./

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Ghassan Kanafani: What is a homeland, after all?

Last couple of weeks I’ve been rereading Ghassan Kanafani‘s Men in the Sun and Returning to Haifa. Both are great novellas, and like in most of Kanafani’s works –  politics and literature remain inseperable in them. Kanafani once stated: “My political position springs from my being a novelist. In so far as I am concerned, politics and the novel are an indivisible case and I can categorically state that I became politically committed because I am a novelist, not the opposite.”

g5bGhassan Kanafani

In both Men in the Sun and Returning to Haifa the story is a story of Palestine – story of memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting. Constant internal state of chaos and confusion is inevitable. How does one return if he didn’t leave at all (in his mind and heart)? But he did leave physically, unwillingly, and everything changed in the meantime… How does one face that?

For Kanafani and his protagonists, Palestine is what defines them – their most important cause in life and an essential part of their identity. But what happens to them when the story of Palestine is so complicated? How do they act, what do they think, how do they shape their lives? Palestine is their homeland. But what is a homeland, after all?

Here are the excerpts from Returning to Haifa.

“When he reached the edge of Haifa, approaching by car along the Jerusalem road, Said S. had the sensation that something was binding his tongue, compelling him to keep silent, and he feIt grief well up inside of him. For one moment he was tempted to turn back, and without even looking at her he knew that his wife had begun to cry silently. Then suddenly came the sound of the sea, exactly the way it used to be. Oh no, the memory did not return to him little by little. Instead, it rained down inside his head the way a stone wall collapses, the stones piling up, one upon another.”

He turned toward his wife, but she wasn’t listening. She was turned away from him, absorbed in gazing at the road — now to the right, where the farmland stretched away as far as one could see, and now to the left, where to sea, which had remained so distant for more than twenty years, was raging near at hand. Suddenly she said:

   “I never imagined that I would see Haifa again.”

   He said:

   “You’re not seeing it. They’re showing it to you.”

With that, Safiyya’s nerves failed her for the first time and she shouted:

“What’s all this ‘philosophy’ you’ve been spouting all day long? The gates and the sights and everything else. What happened to you?”

You should not have left Haifa. If that wasn’t possible, then no matter what it took, you should not have left an infant in its crib. And if that was also impossible, then you should never have stopped trying to return. You say that too was impossible? Twenty years have passed, sir! Twenty years! What did you do during that time to reclaim your son? If I were you I would’ve borne arms for that. Is there any stronger motive? You’re all weak! Weak! You’re bound by heavy chains of backwardness and paralysis! Don’t tell me you spent twenty years crying! Tears won’t bring back the missing or the lost. Tears won’t work miracles! All the tears in the world won’t carry a small boat holding two parents searching for their lost child. So you spent twenty years crying. That’s what you tell me now? Is this your dull, worn-out weapon?”

“What is a homeland?”

She leaned forward, surprised, as though she didn’t believe what she heard. She asked with a delicacy that contained uncertainty:

 “What did you say?”

“I said, what is a homeland? I was asking myself that question a moment ago. Naturally. 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? I’m only asking.”

Once again, Safiyya began to weep. She dried her tears with a small white handkerchief. Looking at her, Said thought: “How this woman has aged. She squandered her youth waiting for this moment, not knowing what a terrible moment it would be.”

You can buy Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa & Other Stories on Amazon, or download a PDF file here.

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