art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Playlist: Nakba Day.

shatila 5 ivana/Shatila, photo © Ivana Peric, MER/

Today’s playlist is a little different. It’s fifteenth of May, Nakba day, the day of the catastrophe.

It is the day when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes, when they watched skies falling on their heads, when they died or continued to live – with sadness and longing, always looking back to that all-defining 1948.

To commemorate this day, I am posting a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, called The Dice Player. This video features a beautiful animation by Nissmah Roshdy. Darwish writes:

And so the fear strolled within me

And I strolled barefoot in its path

Leaving behind my childhood memories

And the dreams I had for tomorrow

Previous Playlist:

Ghalia Benali

Alsarah & The Nubatones

Kaan Wafi, Pieces From Exile

Yasmine Hamdan

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Fazal Sheikh: Independence | Nakba.

fs3/photo © Fazal Sheikh/

Fazal Sheikh is an artist who uses photographs to document people living in displaced and marginalized communities around the world. His principle medium is the portrait, although his work also encompasses personal narratives, found photographs, archival material, sound, and his own written texts.

Independence | Nakba, is his third project in The Erasure Trilogy. It consists of a series of 65 diptychs – one diptych for each year between 1948 and 2013 – that places together portraits of persons from both sides of the Israeli -Palestinian conflict, and of gradually increasing age.

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These double portraits ask us to think not only about the relations that existed between Israelis and Palestinians before the war—each portrait presents someone who either lived in Palestine before the founding of the Israeli State or someone whose ancestors did—but also about the impossible politics of separation that, still today, maintains a distinction between Israeli liberation and Palestinian catastrophe.

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Staging a relation across a line of division, the portraits invite us to register the enduring bonds that tie the past, the present, and the future together: a past that preceded the division between Independence and the Nakba, a present that still remains haunted and defined by this division, and a possible future that, taking its point of departure from these bonds, could enable a different and more forgiving tomorrow.

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The Erasure Trilogy explores the anguish caused by the loss of memory—by forgetting, amnesia or suppression – and the resulting human desire to preserve memory, all seen through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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What makes me happy is that The Erasure Trilogy, although it tells a story of physical erasure, also shows that you cannot erase (all) memories, even if you take the places aways from people, even if their reality mainly remains wrapped in silence – somebody will remember, somebody will preserve and somebody will have the desire and power to tell the story.

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There is no complete, all-inclusive and definite erasure. Whether it is for better or worse, we are carrying a whole world within us. That’s what resistant. That’s where resilience comes from. It can be our deepest wound and a source of greatest joy and bravery. Through his work, Sheikh opens the window into these worlds, one person at a time.

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//all  photos © Fazal Sheikh//

For more, visit Sheikh’s official website.

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Palestine

Shatila, Still An Open Wound.

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Just two weeks ago I visited Beirut, the city I’ve been waiting on for so long. Being there, my big wish was to explore Dahiyeh, the southern part of the city. I’ve realized it is an area totally separated from the rest of the city, an area in which the oppression and segregation of Shiites and Palestinians continues.

What really struck me was the visit to Shatila. I thought I was well prepared for it. After all, I did read all of those books and articles, I’ve listened to numerous lectures, watched movies… I knew what the world of Waltz with Bashir looked like, I knew the streets on which the characters of De Niro’s game were walking on, I knew all about the piles of bodies from the Gate of Sun, I knew about the dirt Beirut’s elite refused to see – like Lamia Ziadé wrote:

“But we still want to think that our country is the Switzerland, the Paris, the Las Vegas, the Monaco and the Acapulco of the Middle East all in one, and what’s more, we want to enjoy it. From the cafe terraces of Raouche or Ain Mreissels, where we sometimes go for a banana split, we can’t see the Shiite ghettoes or the Palestinian camps. And when we wear sunglasses we can’t spot all the dirt.”

shatila 2 ivana

Well, atleast I thought I knew… Coming to Shatila made me realize that nothing can really prepare you for it. Most of the things we know about Shatila are connected to the massacre of Sabra and Shatila (1982) and the War of the camps (1984 – 1989). Since all of those events took part during the Lebanese civil war I think our brain tends to put them in the “past” department. But there is no “past” departments in Shatila, everything spills into present.

The most tragic thing is not that nobody was really brought to justice for the horrible crimes committed in Sabra and Shatila more than three decades ago, the most tragic thing is that people still live there – in refugee camps, in dirt, poverty and desperation.

I was standing on the place where the massacre was committed, a small area of orange and brown dirt, thinking how it wasn’t until recently that a small memorial plaque was put to commemorate the victims. It seemed so unfair – for this place to look so everyday like, to feel so ordinary, a patch of land close to a small building, where chickens and turkeys sometimes come out to have a walk.

But that is what also makes it symbolic on so many levels – this suffering that goes on, continues and deepens, but still goes somewhat unnoticed, still gets perceived as a normal state of things. That is what Palestinian people understand the best, hardly anybody can relate to it as much as they can – life of suffering continuously followed by ignorance, by status quo.

shatila ivana

In Shatila, more than twenty three thousands of people live in the area of one square kilometre. There are families of fifteen living in small room for years. Camp was built in 1949, and in the first years refugees lived in tents. In 1949 that piece of land was rented by UNRWA on a 99-year lease which proves it was known already at that point that the Palestinian refugees will stay outside Palestine for a long time.

In the 70’s, when many of the refugees lived in Shatila for more than twenty years, they started building first houses and small buildings. With time, people expanded the houses, doing it mostly themselves – which is a problem because the constructions in the camp are quite cheap and poorly made, and it feels like everything could just collapse one day. The very sad thing is that, if something like that happened, the world probably wouldn’t care.

I asked the translators that were with us in the camp if they had ever been in this part of the city before. They were Lebanese and lived in Beirut. They said this is their first time, adding that they hope it’s also the last.

In discarded Shatila, the view of the sky is prevented by the intricate web of electricity cabels, connecting all of the buildings and houses. Everybody is stealing electricity here, and a man recently died due to a dangerous encounter with the web of cables. But it’s nothing new here, people already got used to such stories.

shatila3 ivana

There are special educational issues in Shatila connected to the school in the camp, financed mainly by UNRWA. Lovely people from the Association Najdeh explained to me how every year there is a battle about the finances for the next school year and UNRWA claims they are not able to finance it anymore.

At the moment there are around fifty students in every class and next year there might be more – due to budget cuts. Activists from Najdeh tell me that the big shift happened after the Oslo Accords, when UNRWA decided to focus more on the West Bank, while the Palestinians in Lebanon were left almost forgotten.

Health service is also on the long list of the things not functioning well in Shatila. “Panadol for everything” is already a famous saying in the camp beacuse it illustrates the situation well. The only help people get is mainly connected to food – certain amounts of flour, rice, oil, gas. But there are almost no efforts to move beyond the relief phase.

There are also a lot of Syrian refugees in Shatila nowadays, but also some of the Lebanese refugees who arrived to the camp during the Civil war. At the moment, there is still around one thousand people in the camp who have been there since 1949. They’ve spent their whole lives there and welcomed their old age there. I cannot even begin to imagine what their life was like, but I am sure it took enormous amounts of strength and resilience to survive through all of that, to still find a reason to live and look forward to every new day.

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Some of them still keep the keys of their houses in Palestine, together with the small things they took when they were leaving – every year on Nakba day they take it out of their drawers, under their pillows and from their walls. They sit and talk about their memories and the right of return. But it seems like the world keeps on laughing in their faces.

Palestinians really have it the worst in Lebanon. They cannot get the citizenship, they cannot work, or own a property. Basically, all they can do is to be in a refugee camp, and/or turn to criminal or radical activities.  As we walk through the camp, I see children playing with small wooden planks on the dusty streets, pretending they have guns and are in a war, behind a house that has Rachel Corrie graffiti painted on it.

In every corner there is a small dedication to Arafat, a relic from a long time ago – when Arafat was still young and cool, when he stood for something.  The flea markets we pass by are modest, people are trying to sell whatever they can to earn some money. There is garbage in all colors everywhere, and the smell is far from nice.

I gaze up to the sky and think about the children we met at the Centre for psychosocial support. I think about the way they showered us with smiles and joy. They are children like all children – same in the way they treat the world, but different in the way world treats them.

What will happen with them when they grow up? What can happen with somebody who grows up in this environment? Walking on these streets it is easy to understand how one can turn to radicalism – when your life doesn’t have a purpose, you might wish to find it in your death.

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That’s the south of Beirut, separated by another Green line, still unnamed and not very much talked about. Beirut, a city that sleeps above the ancient Rome, still doesn’t like to learn from its mistakes.  Like the lyrics say – Make me forget myself, I want to be like Beirut. But the thing is – we’ve all forgotten too much, and some days it seems like all we do is forget.

//all photos © Ivana Perić, MER//

If you find issues in Shatila important, please see more about Association Najdeh  and the work they do in Shatila and in other camps.  You might ask them how you can help. Because there’s always something we can do and a way we can help. Hey, maybe you can collect some money among your friends and donate it to Najdeh?

Or you can try to inform the people in your country about this, protest and put pressure on your government to do something about Shatila and other camps (and Israeli – Palestinian conflict)? Or you can maybe even go to Shatila for couple of weeks and volunteer? Maybe you could teach English, or prepare some creative workshops? These are just some of the first ideas I had. Whatever you do, it’s important.

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Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

The State of Denial: The Nakba in the Israel Zionist Landscape.

Today is the 67th anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus. In a poem written forty years after he fled his village, Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali described that evening of the catastrophe:

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?

occupied pal/Nakba, photo via Occupied Palestine/

To mark the 67th Nakba anniversary, I am posting an excerpt from Ilan Pappé’s essay The State of Denial: The Nakba in the Israel Zionist Landscape. This essay can be found in the book After Zionism: One State For Israel and Palestine.

Pappé writes about Nakba denial in 20th century (in Israel), and the way it changed in 21st century. I think it captures the essence of Nakba issues today – today we all know about Nakba, we know what happened and how it happened, but it’s what we do with that knowledge that differentiates us. What’s being done with what we know is what we should focus on.

Nakba Denial and the Israel/Palestine Peace Process

“Even before the U-turn in American pulic opinion after 11 September 2001, the movement of academic critique in Israel and the West and its fresh view on the 1948 ethnic cleansing was not a very impressive player on the local, regional or international stages. It did not in any way impact the Israel/Palestine peace agenda; and Palestine was the focus of such efforts at exactly the time when the fresh voices were heard. At the centre of these peace efforts were the Oslo Accords, which began rolling in September 1993. The concept behind this process was, as in all the previous peace endeavours in Palestine, a Zionist one.

Hence, the peace process of the 1990s, the Oslo Accords, was conducted according to the Israeli perception of peace – from which the Nakba was totally absent. The Oslo formula was created by Israeli thinkers from the Jewish peace camp, people who have played an important role in the Israeli public scene ever since 1967. They were institutionalised in an ex-parliamentary movement, ‘Peace Now’, and had several parties on their side in the Israeli parliament. In all their previous discourses and plans, they had totally evaded the 1948 issue and sidelined with the refugee questions. They did the same in 1993 – this time with the dire consequences of raising hopes of peace as they seemes to find a Palestinian partner for a concept of peace that buries 1948 and its victims.

It is noteworthy that the potential partners withdrew from the process twice at the last moment; ultimately, they could not betray the Palestinian Right of Return (nor is any leader empowered to do so, as the right is an individual one). The first was Yasser Arafat at the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. He was later followed by Abu Mazen in the various, admittedly much less significant, attempts to reach a solution  with the Israeli governments of Olmerr and Netanyahu.

AlNakbaExpulsion3/Expulsion from Ramie, November 1948. Photo via Desip/

When the final moment came, and the Palestinians realised that on top of not witnessing a genuine Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, there was no solution offered for the refugee question, they rebelled in frustration. The climax of the Oslo negotiations – the Camp David summit meeting between then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat in the summer of 2000 – gavethe false impression that it was offering the end of the conflict.

Naive Palestinian negotiators located the Nakba and Israel’s responsibility for it at the top of the Palestinian list of demands, but this was rejected out of hand by the Israeli team, which succeeded in enforcing its point of view on the summit. To the Palestinian side’s credit, we should say that at least for a while the catastrophe of 1948 was brought to attention of a local, regional, and, to a certain extent, global audience. Nonetheless, the continued denial of the Nakba in the peace process is the main explanation for its failure and the subsequent second uprising in the Occupied Territories.

Not only in Israel but also in the United States, and even in Europe, it was necessary to remind those concerned with  the Palestine question  that this conflict entailed not only the future of Occupied Territories, but also that of the Palestinian refugees who had been forced from their homes in 1948 (and indeed from the whole area that was once Palestine). The Israelis had earlier succeeded in sidelining the issues of the refugees’ rights from the Oslo Accords, an aim helped by ill-managed Palestinian diplomacy and strategy.

The Nakba had been so efficiently kept off the agenda of the peace process that when it suddenly appeared on it, the Israelis felt as if a Pandora’s box had been prised open in front of them. The worst fear of the Israeli negotiators was that there was a possibility that Israel’s responsibility for the 1948 catastrophe would now become a negotiable issue; this ‘danger’ was, accordingly, immediately confronted. In the Israeli media and parliament, the Knesset, a position was formulated, no Israeli negotiator would be allowed even to dicuss the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees to the homes they had occupied before 1948. The Knesset passed a law to this effect, and Ehud Barak made a public commitment to it on the stairs of the plane that was taking him to Camp David.

The mechanism of denial therefore was crucial not only for defeating counter claims made by Palestinians in the peace process, but, more importantly, for disallowing any significant debate on the essence and moral foundation of Zionism.

The struggle over Nakba denial in the 21st Century

When the twentieth century came to an end, it seemed that the struggle against Nakba denial in Israel had had a mixed impact on the society and its politics. The appearance of the ‘new history’ and a far more concentrated effort to protect the Nakba memory by the Palestinians in general, and those within Israel in particular, did crack the wall of denial and repression that surrounds the Nakba in Israel. The new atmosphere has also been helped by a clarification of the Palestinian position on the refugee issue towards the end of the Oslo peace process.

As a result, after more than fifty years of repression, it became more difficult for Israel to deny the expulsion and destruction of the Palestinians in 1948. However, this relative sucess  has also brought with it three negative reactions, formulated after the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada. The effect of these reactions is still felt today, and it characterises the state of the Nakba denial in Israel in this century.

45190f/An early refugee camp. Late 1940s, Palestine. Photo via Jacobin/

The first reaction was from the Israeli political establishment, led by Ariel Sharon’s two governments (2001 and 2003), through the Ministry of Education, to expunge the actual history of 1948 from the education system. It began systematically removing any textbook or school syllabus that reffered to the Nakba, even marginally. Similiar instructions were given to the public broadcasting authorities.

The second reaction was even more disturbing and encompased wider sections of the public. Although a very considerable number of Israeli politicians, journalists and academiccs ceased to deny what happened in 1948, they were nonetheless wiling to justify it publicly, not only in retrospect but also as a prescription for the future. The idea of ‘transfer’ entered Israeli political discourse openly for the first time, gaining legitimacy as the best means of dealing with the Palestinian ‘problem’.

Transfer was and is openly discussed as an option when the captains of the nation meet annually in one of Israel’s most prestigious academic centres, the Centre for Intersdisciplinary Studies in Herzliya. It was openly discussed in the early twenty-first century as a policy proposal in papers presented by senior Labour Party ministers to their government. It is openly advocated by university professors and media commentators, and very few now dare to condemn it. As the very end of the last century, the leader of the majority in the American House of Representatives openly endorsed it.

There was a third reaction that followed in the footsteps of the renewed denial and worse disregard for the Nakba; this was the appearance of a neo-Zionist professional historiography of the war, some of it written by a former new historian. This U-turn was led by Benny Morris, formerly one fo the most important new historians of the 1990s. Murris has not changed his narrative: Israel was still in his eyes a state that was built with the help of ethnic celansing of the Palestinians. What he changed was his moral attitude towards that policy and crime. He justified it and did not even rule it out as a future policy. This justification appears also in his latest book on 1948, aptly called 1948: every means is justified in a war against a Jihadi attempt to destroy the state of Israel.

Morris’s retraction was typical to the whole professional historiography of the 1948 war in Israel in the twentieth century. As I have shown elsewhere, the pattern in the new century is very much the same. The facts that the ‘New Historians’ exposed about 1948, in particular those concerning the depopulation of the indigenous people of Palestine, are not doubted any more.

What changed is the total acceptance of the moral validity of this policy. In many ways, the professional historiography in Israel once more regards 1948 as the miraculous pristine moment of the state’s birth.”

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Leila Abdul Razzaq’s Baddawi: Palestinians As Subjects Of Their Own Narratives.

Leila Abdul Razzaq is a young Palestinian-American artist. She’s a talented graphic artist and a great storyteller through images. Her graphic novel, Baddawi, is composed of stories of her father, about his life in a refugee camp in Lebanon where he grew up. Judy Suh made a lovely introduction of Leila and her work in the following video:

Razzaq says she didn’t draw Baddawi because it is a unique story. She did it because it is a common story that is not frequently told. For her, “Baddawi is not a tribute to my father, it is a tribute to displaced Palestinians worldwide. I write this because too often, I see Palestinian refugees (and for that matter, refugees in general) portrayed as objects of suffering to be pitied, defined by circumstance, rather than subjects of their own individual narratives to be empathized with.”

alnaksa01/image via Baddawi/

On Baddawi website, she writes:

“As Palestinians, it is our responsibility to hang on to our heritage and our history, because it’s something that is being erased. We have to take control of our narrative because it is something that is being manipulated. We must maintain our identities as Palestinians in order to fight Zionism and the ethnic cleansing that it produces. For those of is in the shatat (diaspora), it’s not so much an ethnic cleansing that erases us from Palestine, but one in which Palestine is being erased from us.

At the end of the day, power is all about who controls the narratives and the discourse around a particular subject. I’m just another Palestinian trying to take back that narrative.”

firstgrade_1/image via Baddawi/

Razzaq’s Baddawi images are scheduled for publication by Just World Books this spring. Baddawi also has its facebook page, where you can follow the final stages of writing/drawing the book. I am really looking forward to this one!

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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

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Remembering Mustafa al-Hallaj: The Master of Palestinian Art.

Mustafa al-Hallaj (1938-2003) was a Palestinian artist, a pioneer of Arab contemporary art, and a true icon when it comes to graphic arts in general. After the 1948 war, Hallaj’s family moved to Damascus, and he spent most of his life in between Syria and Lebanon. He lost 25,000 of his prints in Israeli attacks on Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon war but managed to save the wood and masonry cuts he used to make them. In 2003, Al-Hallaj successfully rescued his famous work Self-portrait as Man, God, the Devil  from an electrical fire in his home studio, but died after running in to save other works. He was buried in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

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Tex Kerschen describes Self-Portrait as Man, God, the Devil as a master work of fantastic and folkloric imagery:

“Mustafa Al Hallaj’s masonite-cut print Self-portrait as Man, God, the Devil is a fable in which he cast himself as man, god and devil, released from the boundaries of political regimes. It is a master work, a continuum of fantastic and folkloric imagery that spans ancient and modern times. He juxtaposes a vast and often idiosyncratic menagerie of symbols —bulls, camel men, birds, lizard-like creatures and fish, with fantastic landscapes and episodes of ancient and modern Palestinian life. The animal hybrids of Hallaj are remniscient of Hieronymous Bosch. It reads cinematically, frame by frame, and is over 100 yards long. It is intricate, outlandish, and epic, full of figures from ancient mythology– bulls, birds, fish, and hybrids. Scenes from Al Nakba and the universal history of human oppression, such as mass hangings and forced marches, spill into representations that draw from his extensive erudition and his own syncretic imagination.”

hallajselfportraitwebSelf-portrait as Man, God, the Devil (detail)

Hallaj was a founding member of the trade union committee of the General Union of Palestinian Writers and Journalists and helped establish an art gallery in Damascus dedicated to Naji al-Ali, famous Palestinian cartoonist (Handala, the Palestinian defiance symbol, is one of Ali’s most famous characters).

Remembering the first encounter with al-Hallaj in the article for Jadaliyya, Samia Hallaby writes:

We ran into Mustafa one afternoon on Hamra Street, and he invited us to drop in later that evening to his tiny, humble abode. After several artists had arrived, Mustafa went out to bring food, alcohol, and cigarettes; as he was the exquisite master of ceremonies, the salon began when he returned. My impressions from our brief visit are confirmed by artist Samir Salameh, who lived and worked in Beirut from 1972 through 1979. He describes Mustafa’s Hamra Street studio as an open salon where artists congregated, and where food, drink, and conversation were enjoyed. Salameh remembers that ‘All the artists felt tied to the cause . . . We talked about sincerity in art and a commitment to our subject matter . . . If an artist was concerned with politics and did poor work we would help him improve . . . Many of us liked Picasso and felt he was the master of modern art. We always talked about Diego Rivera and the Mexicans . . . We loved the Futurists and the Cubists.’ Throughout the revolutionary artistic and intellectual flowering in Beirut of the 1970s, Palestinian liberation artists engaged in a spirited dialogue on aesthetics; and Mustafa was at its inspired center.

In the interviews, al-Hallaj talked about the symbols in his artworks saying: “I get my symbols from literature. I made a reading plan for myself in 1952 and I am still on schedule. I read everything but I concentrate on literature and folklore of the world, with the guideline that one of the mind’s eyes is a telescope and the other a microscope.”

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His artworks and all the details they carry within them, serve as notes and reminders, as mirrors and reflections – of Palestinian history, Palestinian struggles, and Palestinian life throughout time. It was his revolution, his great act against oblivion and that is why Hallaj’s contribution to the art of resistance  remains indispensable. As Samia Halaby writes:

“‘As one peruses the print, each part is called forth by the previous image,’ he affirmed. In one section is a figure bent at right angles from the waist, holding up a graveyard on his back. A bird that the artist called a ‘Hodhod,’ the Afro-Eurasian Hoopoe or ‘Stink bird,’ precedes the man. Because the bird has a smelly bump on its head, according to Mustafa, in folktales it is said that it carries its dead mother buried in its head. About the man in this particular section of his frieze he revealed:

‘Our friends when they die are buried in us . . . Their bodies go to the graveyard but their personalities stay with us. We Palestinian artists are an orchestra. We are one choir… We have many friends and many died. We are a walking graveyard of these personalities who left.’

Mustafa was honoring lost comrades in struggle as he poured decades of his experiences into this work.“

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For more on Mustafa al-Hallaj, read the full article by Samia Hallaby on Jadaliyya.

//all the images © the artist’s estate. I found them on Mustafa al-Hallaj facebook page//

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