Palestinian Media: Peering Through Windows

“The right is written with my blood…

 There is a name that my mouth repeats,

Al Quds, here we are, we have come to save you.

Young soldiers have defeated the old, thrown stones

Made the enemy’s murdering army flee”

In a timely release with the second Intifada in 2000 (Al Aqsa Intifida), Lebanese pop-artist Diana Haddad put out a track and music video called Al Haq yaktubo min Dami (The Right is Written With My Blood) written by Saudi poet Suad Al Sharbatli and directed by her then-husband Emarati director and media executive Suhail Al Abdool. In solidarity with the Palestinians, Haddad cancelled a 15-city tour of the US. “This song is the least I can do for the Palestinian people in support for their cause,” said Haddad adding “if we believe that these hard times are not the times to contribute anything; then when is the right time? We cannot watch idly what we see on television and not move,” Haddad stated in an interview asking her about the reasons for the video and tour cancellation.  The video was released on many highly rated pan-Arab television channels reaching the television screens of Arab viewers in 21 countries from Mauritania to Yemen.

In an earlier example, Palestine was the subject of a popular operetta by Egyptian producer Ahmad Al Arian. The 18-minute video of The Arab Dream became one of the most popular songs following the Palestinian Intifada. Directed by Tariq Al Arian and written by Egyptian poet Medhat Al Adl and Emarati poet Saif Al Khalidi, The Arab Dream operetta brought together over 20 artists from across the Arab world including Syrian Asala Nasri, Kuwaiti Nabeel Shuail, Tunisian Lutfi Bushnaq and Sudanese Sumayyah. Like Haddad’s The Right is Written With My Blood, the video was circulated on a wide array of Pan-Arab TV channels making it one of the most widely distributed songs in the Arab world. The video, a montage of black and white footage from the Palestinian Nakba (exodus), the October war, Gamal AbdelNasser public appearances, the artists’ studio recordings and the live stage performance of the operetta, starts off with a waving Palestinian flag implicitly making the case for Arab unity as a solution for a liberated Palestine.

Generation after generation

Will live on our dream

And what we say today

We are accountable for in our lives

It may be true that the darkness of night

Will separate us for a day

But the brightness of light

Can reach the farthest of skies

This is our dream for life

A chest that embraces

All of us, all of us

In 2008, following the Iraq war, Al Dameer Al Arabi (the Arab Conscience), part two of The Arab Dream was released by the Arian duo. This time, over 30 artists, from across the Arab world joined forces, including up-and-coming young pop-artists like Nancy Ajram and Diana Karazon to perform the operetta. The forty-minute song, centered on Palestine spoke about the dire situation of the Arab world from the conflict, to the Iraq War, to sectarian tensions and political instability of Lebanon. The video, a montage of news footage cross fading between shots of the artists performing in the recording studio, showed images of war, destruction and the deteriorating political landscape of an Arab dream in shambles.

Fast-forward to 2011, another example appears on the Pan-Arab television arena, which now holds over 90% penetration of all television viewing in the Arab world. 10-year-old Esam Bashiti from Jerusalem recited Ahlam Al Tufoola (Childhood Dreams), a moving poem, written by his family member, on the popular Arabs Got Talent in its first season. Receiving an emotional ovation from the audience and the judges alike, Bashiti advanced well into the final episodes of the season beating competition from talents from across the Arab world. Aired on popular Pan-Arab channel MBC 4, Arabs Got Talent, became one of the channel’s most successful shows and is currently running in its second season.

MBC 4’s mother company, MBC Group, is a Saudi-owned media conglomerate that runs some of the most popular Pan-Arab television channels in the Arab world including the highly rated Al-Jazeera contender news channel, Al Arabiya. It’s reach, like all 500+ Pan-Arab television channels covers 22 Arab countries.

What is interesting about MBC is that ever since its inception in 1991, it has never been based in Saudi Arabia. First launched in London, beaming its then, one channel to the Arab world via satellite. Later, it moved its headquarters to Dubai in 2002. By basing its headquarters outside of Saudi Arabia, it was able to feign an independence and sovereignty from the state’s stringent regulations on content and production. This does not in any way imply that the move freed it of all constraints of Saudi regulation. This is especially witnessed in the state’s influence on its editorial interventions in the news coverage of Al Arabiya. However, the point is this: in order to function (editorially, professionally and to a large degree, technically) it has had to seek editorial asylum and go offshore.

Similarly, under different circumstances, given the constraints of PA, Hamas, infrastructure limitations as seen in the cases of Ma’an, Al Aqsa, VOP and other so-called ‘indigenous’ media institutions, “Palestinian media” has had to, in order to function, always exist everywhere and elsewhere. The limitations are different, of course, but that would be stating the obvious (political fragmentation, Israeli control of the OPT, infrastructure etc). What is common, however, is the necessity to look elsewhere, to exist elsewhere.

The notion of “Palestinian media” is not like any other media, it has had to exist against all odds: through windows.

Whether it was setup in a strictly off-shore model, as in the case of AbdelBari Atwan’s Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper, Al Qabas for which Naji el Ali made his 40,000 cartoons, or through solidarity projects like the Arab Dream/Conscience, through special sections like Al Safeer’s Falasteen, or even through opportunities that presented themselves like Bashiti’s resilient assertion of innocence — the unifying thread of “Palestinian media” has always been: existence through a series of windows.

These windows come in different shapes and sizes. Some are tinted, some are transparent; others are broken. Some windows were utopian, capitalizing on the seemingly safe-space of online and digital platforms like EI and Palestine Note. Others came in the form of a state’s desire to capitalize on the cause as a means of gaining political clout through the influence of public opinion. Whether it was used to gain popularity, advance a political agenda or to carve out a space for Palestine in an increasingly populated arena, “Palestinian media” has always managed to emerge, like much else in Palestine, in the most unique of ways.

Through the windows emerges a commitment to placing “Palestine” in the hearts and minds of not only the Arab publics, but global public consciousness at large, however varied the intentions may be.

Al Jazeera, as outlined by Zayani and Lynch, presented a very different kind of window. To some it was a panorama; to others it was a ploy. Whichever way one looks at it, whether as an assailant or a cheerleader, Al Jazeera provided a different kind of window for “Palestinian media”. Beyond the coverage of Palestine, whether it is seen as serving a greater Qatari agenda or not, the Al Jazeera phenomenon was, to a large degree, a different kind of “Palestinian media” window, insofar as its housing of what, would in a utopian idea of a functioning Palestinian media landscape, would be available in terms of talent, expertise and media-savvy professionals. What Lynch does not address is the significance of those that call the shots behind the scenes in the New Arab Public.

Off and on-air, in Arab media conglomerates the region over, through the decision making powers of Palestinian television media executives with significant power and a professional talent-base, channels like Al Jazeera were able to flourish.

Al Jazeera, launched on pan-Arab satellite from Doha in 1996, built its strong talent base off the spoils of failed London-based BBC Arab television venture (part-owned by Saudi’s Khalid Bin Faisal Al Saud). The closure of BBC Arabic, created a huge window of opportunity for the Qataris to tap into some of the most talented Arab journalism professionals based in London, many of whom were Palestinian.

By attracting talents from the BBC and elsewhere, like Waddah Khanfar who started as a Palestinian reporter covering the Afghanistan war then appointed Al Jazeera’s Managing Director quickly rising three years later to being its Director General, Al Jazeera was able to become as what was perceived by many, until recently (with its selective coverage of the Arab uprisings) an answer to the region’s prayers. “The maverick channel”, as it is called by Kraidy & Khalil in Arab Television Industries also had many other Palestinian executives at its helm including Ahmed AlSheikh, who ran its news team. On screen, talented professionals like Ghida Fakhri, Muna Ibellini, Tareq Ayyoub and Jamal Rayyan, became a different kind of window for “Palestinian media” – both visually asserting Palestine on the world media arena and editorially.

While home-grown Palestinian media organizations face the challenges of “professional qualities” (Jamal) they have long sat at the helm of the most influential media organizations in the Pan-Arab context – on and off camera. Al Jazeera is the most prominent example.

Contemporary examples, as explored by Stein & Swendenberg are also in abundance. Whether it is through hiphop music of Arab diaspora in solidarity, like Omar Offendum’s Destiny or The Narcycist’s and Low-Key’s Long Live Palestine, there are countless examples of how “Palestinian media” has transcended conventional norms when it comes to challenging media structures through windows. The digital landscape has allowed, not just for Palestinian-generated content as outlined by Khalili, but also for other manifestations of The Arab Dream phenomenon – through a “Global Palestine”, in my opinion, a great metaphor for Palestine in the global conscience.

While it doesn’t function under an umbrella called “Palestinian Media Corporation” – the strong presence of Palestinian media decision makers, editorial influence, platforms, initiatives, segments, film, websites, sections in fact collectively as Sienkiewicz put it:

“constitute potential building blocks for the Palestinian “imagined community, a possibility that would counteract the otherwise factional and fracturing nature of the nascent nation’s media.”


Night’s Watchmen of the Holy Lands

Last month during spring break, I had the opportunity to visit the Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam exhibit at the British Museum in London, UK. A collective of academics, curators and prominent figures of the highbrow global art scene, including Venetia Porter, Qaisra Khan and Karen Armstrong, author of Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time, curated the extravagant exhibit. Examining the significance of the Hajj as one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the exhibit follows the evolution of the journey throughout history, dating back to its pre-Islamic practices. The exhibit featured an impressive showcase of archaeological material; manuscripts, textiles, historic photographs and artworks including textiles commissioned by Sultan Selim Khan (Selim III) dated 1204 AH from the Khalili Collection, the second largest collection of textiles and objects related to Mecca and Medina after Topkapı Sarayı in Istanbul.

While the exhibit itself received many an accolade for its scope, display, educational and cultural value, one of its sponsors in particular provoked a very different debate.

Sponsored by HSBC Amanah (the Islamic Banking division of HSBC), the Khalili Family Trust and the King Abdulaziz Public Library, the political motivations of the latter were received with much skepticism and criticism. In her article Kneeling Towards Riyadh for Guernica, Joy Lo Dico chastises The British Museum for omissions in the curatorial practices surrounding the holy site now controlled by the Saudi monarchy, the Al Saud family, for being subservient to the oil-wealthy royals controlling the most important site for Muslims worldwide. From the siege of Mecca in 1979 by Jahayman Al Utaibi, which ended in a death toll of over 1,000 people (rebels, forces and civilians) to the fires of 1997, Lo Dico calls out the gaps in between the display panels.

“The Hajj is a very important use of soft power,” says Saudi scholar Dr Mai Yamani to Lo Dico,

“When King Fahd adopted the title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, that was partly a response to the threat of the Islamic revolution and Khomeini questioning why the al Saud’s were the rulers of it of it.”

This was not the first time that Saudi control over Mecca was brought into question. In fact, the Saudi regime has been lambasted for its destruction of a long list of historical sites in Mecca and Medina, according to Salah Nasrawi of AP who wrote of the demolitions in his article Mecca’s Ancient Heritage is Under Attack, published in 2007. The demolitions include the house believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad in 570 and the Dar Al Arqam, the first Islamic school where the Prophet taught and a 200-year-old Ottoman fort on a hill overlooking the Kaaba in 2002.

Recently, the construction of a massive clock tower, The Royal Mecca Tower, looming over Mecca reignited a debate surrounding the commercialization of the holy site. “It is a commercialization of the house of God,” Saudi architect Sami Anqawi told Nicolai Ouroussoff in the article New Look for Mecca: Gargantuan and Gaudy published in New York Times in 2010.

Similarly, in her article Has Hajj Lost Its Egalitarian Spirit? for The Green Prophet, Arwa Abu Rawa argues that the simplicity of the Kaaba, the key destination of the Hajj pilgrimage “has been undermined by the proliferation of luxury hotels, malls and towering skyscrapers which surround the holy site.” She states. “You can even start your day with the usual Starbucks coffee if you like or pick up a McDonalds after prayers.”

Control of Mecca by the Saudis does not stop at its architectural endeavors, the Saudi regime controls entry and exit into the Kingdom, thus restricting access to the holy site by way of documentation and bureaucracy. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca under Saudi law. Bar the limited authority of the resolutions put forth by the States of the Organization of the Islamic conferences, Muslims worldwide have little say over the fate of Mecca.

Architecture, real estate and “development” in the case of Mecca and Medina sheds light on the political nature of its practices and those who control it. If Mecca, a site, which today is primarily if not exclusively holy to one religion, poses such a challenge to regulation practices and authority, what of a holy city at the heart of not one, but three religions and historical significance?

On access to Al Aqsa, the Church of All Nations, and the Temple Mount, who has the final say?

As Makdissi asks

“How can a state claim to have one identity when such a large proportion of the people over whom it rules have another identity?”

From the shut down of Al Mughrabi Bridge to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City citing concerns over “public safety” to the restricted access to holy sites to the Christian Palestinian West Bank community during Easter, it is clear that, like Mecca, control over holy sites in Jerusalem is held by the powers that rule – be it lawfully or not.  And if the West Bank or Gaza identity cards and behind-the-wall status of Palestinian Christian and Muslim communities “complicate” the matter making it susceptible to “security” claims, what then do we call the hindrance of access to Lebanese and Syrian Christians who wish to visit the holy sites? What then is the reason I cannot visit the Al Aqsa mosque?

While the circumstances are by no means comparable, in the commercialization of Mecca, the “annexation” of Jerusalem and the demolition and renaming of Bahrain’s Lulu roundabout, there is a common ground to be found: architecture or its erasure for that matter is indeed always political. While architectural endeavors may begin on the left side of an architect’s brain they must always strip away their creative innocence in order to come to life. The politics need not be blatant. A simple inscription on the bottom right hand corner is enough to implicate any given blueprints in white and blue.

Land Day 2012 على هذه الأرض ما يستحق الحياة


Over 2,000 protestors from Gaza gather at Biet Hanoun, North of Gaza Strip in solidarity for justice in Palestine on Land Day 2012.

On 29 March 1976, the Israeli government announced its plan to confiscate thousands of dunums (one dunum equals 1000 m²) of Palestinian-owned lands in the Galilee for security and Jewish settlements. At the same time, the government also decided to impose a curfew on Palestinian villages in Israel. Palestinians citizens of Israel organised a general strike and protests on 30 March, as a response to the Israeli policies of appropriation of their lands. The strike took place across Palestinian towns in Israel, and protests were also held in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed, about one thousand were injured and hundreds of others were arrested by the Israeli authorities. Since then, 30 March has become an annual day of great significance for Palestinians all over the world. – Al Haq Human Rights Organization, Ramallah, Occupied Palestine

على هذه الارض ما يستحق الحياة

تردد ابريل
رائحة الخبز في الفجر
آراء امراة في الرجال
كتابات اسخيليوس
اول الحب
عشب على حجر
امهات تقفن على خيط ناي
وخوف الغزاة من الذكريات
على هذه الارض ما يستحق الحياة
نهاية ايلول
سيدة تدخل الاربعين بكامل مشمشها
ساعة الشمس في السجن
غيم يقلد سربا من الكائنات
هتافات شعب لمن يصعدون الى حتفهم باسمين
وخوف الطغاة من الاغنيات
على هذه الارض ما يستحق الحياة
على هذه الارض سيدة الارض
ام البدايات
ام النهايات
كانت تسمى فلسطين
صارت تسمى فلسطين
سيدتي استحق لانك سيدتي
استحق الحياة

محمود درويش –

There’s on this land

what is worth living,

The recurring of April,

the smell of bread at dawn,

A woman’s amulet for men ,

Aeschylus’s writings,

the beginning of love,

Grass on a stone,

mothers standing on the thread of a flute,

and the invaders fear of memories.

There’s on this land what is worth living,

The end of September,

A lady leaving the forties

with all its apricot,

The hour of sunlight in prison,

Clouds imitating a flock of creatures,

A people’s cheers for those going up

to their doom, smiling

and the tyrants fear of songs.

There’s on this land what is worth living,

There’s on this land,

the lady of lands,

the mother of the beginnings

and of the ends.

It was called Palestine

Its name later became Palestine

My lady: I deserve,

since you’re my lady,

I deserve life

Mahmoud Darwish

The Wall & All Its Friends: Documenting the Absurd

”Hypocritical council with an automatic majority against Israel,” said Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, aka. Bibi, describing the United Nations Human Rights Council’s investigation into the impact of its settlement construction on the human rights of Palestinians calling the 47-member committee “Detached from reality.”

This is a week of disheartening realities. One of seeing the matrix of control at play. Between Bibi’s rejection to cooperate with the UNHRC’s investigation into the impact of illegal settlements in the West Bank, going through Jeff Halper’s 94% Solution, which might as well have been a re-purposed exegesis/manual on “Under the Security Mask: How to Oppress a People, Stifle Them, Kill Them Slowly and Get Away With it All” and then, just when you thought it was all over, at the end, be asked whether you thought whether the apartheid wall is in fact an apartheid wall. It was set be one of those weeks.

In more ways than one, this cluster of works in combination with a dose of realpolitik rained down like a meteor shower of hard facts. Surely something as sturdy as a 8 meter high “security fence” could protect one from. Alas, “protection” dropped from the list of supposed Wall functions as facts bore holes through its insurmountable thick skin of cement. From B’tselem’s laundry list of human rights abuses, Halper’s mindboggling “matrix of control”, Machsomwatch’s powerpoint of injustices, the bleak virtual reality of SafePassage, Azoulay and Ophir’s showcase of permanent disaster creation, the unnerving potholes of Khleifi and Sivan’s Route 181, Gary Field’s depressing black and white photos, Meir Wigoder’s disempowering how-to on photography and borderline self-deprecation and Michael Sorkin’s misshapen plea – we were in an apocalyptic space with no end in sight. “Creative attempts to dematerialize the wall only reinforce its existence. The wall’s surface is stronger than all the creative and political gestures of defiance.” If, as Wigoder suggests, photographing the wall makes one an accomplice to the injustice that it imposes, then what can we consider the process of writing about photographing the wall? Or writing about writing about photographing the wall, for that matter?

Pity the subaltern.

And then there was light. The wall had grown another side. A third side! Who would have thought it possible? And they named it a thirdspace. Not only that, but it had an economy, and stores and graffiti. The monster’s mouth had been transformed into a music hall. In it rang an orchestra. It broke out in melodious song. The song of resilience, of strength, of hope. But most of all, of Palestinian resilience. And genius.

And like every feeling of impending doom, a turning point revealed itself. It came in the form of words. And some pictures. And imagined sounds. Through Özgüc’s audacity, tipping an academic Foucaultian-backed hat to resistance, Tawil-Souri’s dynamic exhibits of captivating contrasts and a display of survival against all odds and the happy-sad irony of Decode Jerusalem in which Palestinians had a voice set against Tolan’s soundtrack by Qalandia’s Mozart Ramzi Aburedwan, a weight was partially lifted. Partially out of embarrassment. To make way for courage. This was unlike any other breed of courage. This was resistant courage that refused, not only to be subjugated, but to be studied and discussed as a subject of subjugation. Courage that forced a reconsideration of modes of analysis.

“They will remember that we were sold, but not that we were strong. They will remember that we were bought, but not that we were brave.” – William Prescott, former slave 1937.

In Beyond the Panopticon: The Separation Wall and paradoxical nature of Israeli security imagination, Umut Özgüc hangs, not a two, but a three-way mirror on the Wall. An experiment, which at first glance may seem bizarre and inconceivable, soon proves to be something of a revelation. “Is it really possible for a sovereign power to reduce a life into a bare life?” he boldy asks.

NPR | Ramzi’s Story: Laying Down Stones, Picking Up Instruments

While recognizing that the wall, as it stands within the political matrix is indeed a “political technology” to control Palestinians, Özgüc, backed by Tawil-Souri’s exposition on Palestinian perseverance in the most impossible of non-places and conditions, throws a bucket of paint at the bleak surface of the wall in protest of its imposed meanings. He calls that specific shade of paint: the thirdspace.

“Any analysis of the Wall should go beyond questioning how the Israeli power works and engage with the nature of the new resistance emerged in the West Bank and Israel”. (Özgüc )

In Through an extensive deconstruction process, Özgüc and T-S raise the flag of the thirdspace above the wall. Only after a detailed illustration of not only the functions of the wall as an apparatus of “exclusion” and “intervention”, but of the implication of the rationale behind the same, does Özgüc proceed to argue the consideration of the wall as a thirdspace.

The Tawil-Souri & Özgüc paint is acidic: “productive and positive”; it gives credit and questions a reductionist rhetoric by empowering through recognition, the possibility to look beyond the wall. However, this thirdspace does not emerge from a vacuum, rather it is a manifestation against all odds, “in the midst of an oppressive aesthetic of concrete, barbed wire, bullets and tear gas”.  It rises. As legendery poet Mahmoud Darwish puts it, in Tawil-Souri’s Checkpoint Economy we see how, indeed “On this land, there is what deserves living” (Darwish)

But is it apartheid?

Masquerading under cherry picked semantic preferences, the wall and the checkpoints navigates the texts like one would navigate a house of mirrors. “Security fence” read one. “Separation barrier” read another. Indeed, apartheid is a deceptive thing. In its starring role in Halper’s  “The Matrix of Control” co-produced by B’tselem and subtitled by Decode Jerusalem – Apartheid reveals its true colors, or the lack thereof.

Apartheid’ is defined by the UN as

“…a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group … over another … and systematically oppressing them…” by: creating ghettos; land confiscation; bans on freedom of movement, speech assemblies and mixed marriages; illegal arrest and detention. (United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)

Yes, yes the UN is just the UN and no country, oppressive or not is under any obligation to “listen” to it! Bibi has made that very clear this week, so has the rest of the world as it sat by idly since 1967 watching international law being violated decade after decade. Same goes for the International Court of Justice. (Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (ICJ 2004). They are, afterall “hypocrites”, no? –Bibi 2012 .

So let’s look at what others, the “civilians”, the “grassroots” the academics, the NGOs, the do-gooders have to say: 500+ checkpoints, colored identity cards, land confiscation, settler-only roads and highways, minimum wage, 17% access to water, fragmented communities, 70 isolated enclaves, permits, humiliation, anger, surveillance, attacks, violence, base-less imprisonment, tree uprooting, bulldozing, curfews, closures, military raids, harassment, no representation or trial rights and a score of other abuses — is it apartheid? (B’tselem, Halper, UNOCHA, Human Rights Watch, Tawil-Souri,, ICAHD, UNHCR)

If the wall and all its friends in the matrix of control are not examples of apartheid posing under “security” disguises, I don’t know what is. As Özgüc puts it, in Palestine-Israel

“Security is not an innocent language; it produces arbitrary identities and landscapes.” (Özgüc)

In Palestine-Israel, security is always “security”, between quotations, pulled from the MOD or elsewhere in the state. It will, just like the wall that it justifies should remain treated and referenced in the same framework that it uses to validate its existence and acceptance as a legitimate means for its continuity: “security”. “The Wall regulates details of everyday life by “[assigning] each individual his name, his true place, his true body, his death by means of omnipresent power” (Foucault in Özgüc) And while the Apartheid wall in Palestine-Israel, shares similar traits and justifications to its brethren on the borders of US-Mexico, India-Pakistan, the Saudi-Yemeni “barrier”, the Belfast Peace Lines, the Cyrpiot cousin of the green line twice removed, the Berm aka Wall of Shame in Morocco, Korea’s KMZ – is in fact, quite, for the lack of a better word, divisively unique.

“Israeli expropriation of non territorial, supra territorial, and “special” territorial assets (such as single horizontal laminations of space) including the aquifer, airspace or even the olive groves hacked down in the name of “security” extends the wall by other means”. (Sorkin) In Palestine-Israel, where a mammoth-like wall built its framework in a manner hell-bent on maintaining the purity of Barak’s “we are here and they are there” governing by politics of purity, purity has little room for existence. Just as “security” lost its innocence, so has the “law” – in Palestine-Israel, “law” is also, forever trapped in walled between quotations.

It is the justification and the reigning of “rule of law” just like the “security” rationale, law proves an equally iffy player. As Azoulay and Ophir contend, “The abuse of life at the hands of the ruling power is not due to some withdrawal of the law, but occurs thanks to a savage proliferation of legalities and illegalities and the creation of an extensive judicial patchwork that has no lawfulness of its own and that keeps changing the law itself, the regime’s authorities and immunity, and the subject’s own status before the law.” (Azoulay & Ophir)

Yet, against all odds, matrices and laws Palestinian resilience lives on, strong and innovative, challenging and ultimately irrepressible. It twists the disciplinary function of the Wall into room for creativity, resistance and counter hegemony.

“I reject the idea that Palestinians’ lives can be reduced to bare life; because the weak has always a capacity to resist being docile and the power always produces its alternative forms which make total control an unrealizable dream.” (Özgüc)

So yes, ladies and gentlemen, it most definitely, is apartheid. So lets call it like it is.

During the siege, time becomes a space
That has hardened in its eternity
During the siege, space becomes a time
That is late for its yesterday and tomorrow

(حالة حصار A State of Siege, Mahmoud Darwish)

The above is a response to the following cluster of works:

  • Jeff Halper (2000). “The 94 Percent Solution,” Middle East Report 216:‐percent‐solution
  • Michael Sorkin (2005). Against the Wall (intro)
  • Umut Ozguc “Beyond the Panopticon: The Separation Wall and paradoxical nature of Israeli security imagination” Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, Australia
  • Meir Wigoder (2010). “The Blocked Gaze: A User’s Guide to Photographing the Separation Barrier‐Wall” Public Culture 22(2); pp. 292‐308
  •  B’Tselem “Restriction of Movement”
  • Ariel Handel (2009). “Where, Where To, and When in the Occupied Territories: An Introduction to Geography of Disaster” in Adi Ophir et al., eds. The Power of Inclusive Exclusion; pp.179‐222
  • Helga Tawil‐Souri (2009). “New Palestinian Centers: An Ethnography of the ‘Checkpoint Economy’” International Journal of Cultural Studies 12(3); pp. 217‐235
  • Helga Tawil‐Souri (2010). “Qalandia Checkpoint: The Historical Geography of a Non‐ Place” Jerusalem Quarterly 42; pp. 26‐48
  • Sandy Tolan (2011). “Operation Mozart: A Musical Intifada at the Qalandia checkpoint.”‐mozart‐a‐musical‐intifada‐atthe‐ qalandia‐checkpoint.html
  • Gary Fields (2011). “Photo Feature: Landscapes of Occupation in Palestine” Settler Colonial Studies 1; pp. 201‐205
  • “Decode Jerusalem: An Alternative Travel Guide”
  • Machsomwatch, “Endless Checkpoints” http://www.ziv‐
  • Safe Passage video game (Gisha)
  • Lemon Tree (dir. Eran Rilkis, 2008, 106 min.)
  • Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine‐Israel (dirs. Michel Khleifi & Eyal
    Sivan, 2004)

Strange Looking Borders: Identity, Identification & Bureaucracy

“It’s illegal for him to step outside into his garden,” my friend Sahar told me pointing to a photograph she had taken two years ago in Tal Errumaida. Bewildered, I look at the photograph of the house again and ask which section of the garden she meant. “All of it,” she exclaims as she traces the garden surrounding the house in almost perfect square. The house and the annexed garden belonged to an old man and his family located in an area close to an illegal settlement in El Khalil (Hebron) where attacks on Palestinians by settlers is a daily occurrence. Those attacks, taking place under the auspices of Israeli soldiers who stand by idly as stones, include the hauling of rubbish and profanities on Palestinian inhabitants, their homes and their children. In the case of the Tal Errumaida house, the Israeli army was being proactive. In order to extend electricity to the nearby illegal settlement, it had decided that the garden in question, which surrounds the small house would be the best place for electricity poles to be erected thus making the entire garden an area restricted to the Palestinian family; deeming every entry and exit an illegal act of trespass punishable by law. The annexation of the Tal Errumaidah garden is a manifestation of the function of Israeli practice of power vis-à-vis Palestinians, serving as an effective mode by which it, through paperwork and policy, proceeds to, “ kill them; send them to neighboring Arab countries; strangle them geographically, politically, economically, and militarily until they accept their subordination.” (Tawil-Souri)

Far from being an isolated incident, the Tal Errumaida case exemplifies, how in the context of Palestine-Israel: maps are not maps, laws are not laws and borders are certainly not borders. A transmogrification of Torpoy’s exegesis on moderns states’ bureaucratic processes and borders as “legitimate means of movement” to limit freedoms in moving across spaces, Palestine-Israel becomes the epitome of such processes and then some. In Palestine-Israel, every body, person, house or garden for that matter, is a border. The works at hand this week illustrate the futility of borders, ‘defensible’ or not latched onto by hopefuls like the proponents of projects like Peace Now parading the ‘Green Line’ like some utopian solution to the conflict. We all know by now: is not that simple.

“Israeli control over Palestinian space (expansion of settlements and burgeoning settler population, the shifting and growing matrix of bypass roads and checkpoints, military zones and ‘green areas’ deep in the West Bank, the widening buffer zone around the Gaza Strip, the enlarging of Jerusalem’s boundaries.” (Tawil-Souri)

Beyond the physical, the cartographic and geographic, through the works this week, it becomes quickly clear how the Green Line becomes, like the Green cover of the West Bank hawiyyah, a symbol of impotence. Like the electricity poles snaked through and strangled the Tal Errumaida house in Khalil, lines of power in Palestine-Israel take many a shape and form, they are at once geographic, bureaucratic and corporeal. “There may very well be a practice of fragmenting, isolating, transferring, and erasing Palestinians, but they need to be counted, documented, monitored, and controlled first.” (T-S) From a rainbow of identity cards, blunted teeth turnstile teeth, pop-up and permanent checkpoints, forests-worth of documentation and other parlous “borders” we see the many faces of power and its capacity to subjugate, discriminate, survey and “erase”.

By analyzing three case studies in East Jerusalem (Shu‘fat camp, Al Quds University and Fatah), Nigel Parsons and Mark B. Salter use a biopolitical lens to analyze how Israeli regulatory power and authority is exercised over Palestinians, their bodies and mobility.  More specifically, they aim to illustrate how it is that through practices of “differentiating, quantifying, documenting and disciplining” Israel uses a perpetually undefined and permeable definition of borders to police and practice a so-called “governmentality” over aspects of Palestinian life. There is no single border. Physical barriers, despite their material and form, are not ironically set in stone. Rather, they are malleable and pervious. “Policing of the Palestinian population does not simply occur at the Green Line, but throughout Israeli and Palestinian space.”  (P&S) How the self-proclaimed ‘only democracy in the Middle East” extends its use of power beyond borders sanctioned by international law, obscuring not only the borders themselves but the practices of discriminatory control, is also a focus of P&S’s biopolitical survey.

“Israeli-Palestinian territory and territoriality is fragmented, shattered by colonisation and closure. Settlements and the archipelago solution implied by Israeli policies fragment both Palestinian and potential Israeli territory.” (Parsons & Salter)

Made possible through an expanded application of Albert and Brock’s “debordering” process, not limited to border control in terms of “management of flows and norms” and “porosity of control”, P&S’s analysis of Israeli biopolitical control in Palestine spans an analysis that extends and travels, however precariously, beyond borders. “Israel in the OPT is engaged in a territorialisation project: “a matter of marking out a territory in thought and inscribing it in the real, topographizing it, investing it with powers, bounding it by exclusions, defining who or what can rightfully enter.” (P&S)

Through biopolitical analysis of space, identity documents, residency, curfews, permits, anonymous one-time encounters, checkpoints, divided (divisive, rather) infrastructure and surveillance of the Palestinian population, conventional bureaucratic borders are all but relevant. “The Palestinian population is defined, constructed, and policed through Israeli authorities of identification.” (P&S) It is through an “open” abstracted definition of border and control that a forced “closed” application and practice of the same emerges: “Closure” becomes central to Israeli practices on Palestinians.

“Not all cards are created equal” (Tawil-Souri)

Holding P&S’s biopolitical lens close enough to zoom in on identity cards, Tawil-Souri’s examination of identity cards in Palestine-Israel showcases how significant power of control is bestowed upon seemingly benign “things”. A tarot reading of ID cards in Palestine-Israel reveals a camouflaged ‘class system’ concealed by splashes of color. A distinguishing feature of multicultural societies operating under the mantle of democracy, color-blindness in Palestine-Israel is non-existent. “ID cards in Palestine/Israel are instruments of a widespread surveillance mechanism and a principal means for discriminating (positively and negatively) subjects’ privileges and basic rights.” (T-S) Underneath the officialdom of ID cards and permits, a divisive systemic effort to label and brand is at play, drawing lopsided distinctions between Jews and Palestinians.

“In Israel, the issuing of differentiating ID cards stems from a larger strategy of accounting for and controlling different populations differently and unevenly.” (T-S) In Palestine-Israel, there are citizens and there are non-citizens with unequal rights, limits, access, mobility and status. Papers and colors, the most rudimentary of tools, become gatekeepers, economic drivers and traffic lights regulating the flow of life in Palestine. While Palestinians are forced to yield and proceed at the whim of the green, red and orange bulbs, street signs are infinitely blue for Jews in Palestine-Israel. “Identification are bordering mechanisms that the Israeli state apparatus enforces, resulting in uneven im/mobilities based on ethno-national and paradoxical geographic distinctions.” (T-S) Like a house of cards, the “debordered” hypothetical, geographic-territorial borders of Israel-Palestine, quickly come tumbling down.

Duplicity is the natural state of being for the card. On its one side is its ability to dominate, subjugate and discriminate. On its other is its ability to resist, challenge and assert. It is perhaps the force by which each side pushes against the other that renders it flat caught in an infinite state of tension. In Feldman’s exploration of visibility through the ‘monumental, the mundane, the bureaucratic, the symbolic, instrumental and affective’ – the other face of the card is seen. The face, that pushes back, for and against, against injustice and for claims. Through a slightly different variation of lens than that of P&S’s biopolitical, the humanitarian lens is used to examine a way by which claims are asserted. Ranging from the close analysis of keys, flags, camps, deeds, statues, ‘tours’, expired passports, UNRWA refugee cards, the construction of the camps themselves and the resistance against and for them, the ‘special status’ of the Palestinian refugees from other refugee groups in the UN, Ilana Feldman considers the other side of the card.

“For many people, humanitarian documents, specifically ration cards, have been the most crucial form of documented visibility, as well as sometimes a source of shame and control.” (Ilana Feldman)

In their visibility function, such ‘artifacts’ especially the precarious cards demonstrate an ability to be both ‘instrumental’ in obtaining rights (food, housing, aid), make claims of existence beyond the humanitarian function ever foresaw. “To be a refugee, to be in need of a ration card, was to symbolize Palestinian failure,” states Feldman in her confrontation of yet another instance of duality. To that end, the card demonstrates, a constantly tense “thing” that is resisting, asserting, bringing into visibility while simultaneously subjugating, humiliating and sidelining the holder. Only in Palestine-Israeli, can ephemeral objects like cards act as they do, both “used …make themselves (Palestinians) visible on an international stage” and separate them and condemn them to a permanent status of indefinite second-class citizenship and reduction “to a ‘sea of humanity”. Through documentation, bureaucracy, bodies and cards, we witness yet another manifestation of being, once again “pushed them off the map”.

The above is a response to the following cluster of works:

  • John Torpey (1998) “Coming and Going: On the State Monopolization of the
    Legitimate ‘Means of Movement,’ ”Sociological Theory 16
  • Nigel Parsons and Mark Salter (2008). “Israeli Biopolitics: Closure, Territorialization
    and Governmentality in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” Geopolitics 13(4)
  • Helga Tawil‐Souri (2011). “Colored Identity: The Politics and Materiality of ID Cards in
    Palestine/Israel”, Social Text 107
  • Helga Tawil‐Souri (2012). “Uneven Borders, Colored (Im)mobilities: ID Cards in
    Palestine/Israel” Geopolitics 17(2).
  • Ilana Feldman (2008). “Refusing Invisibility: Documentation and Memorialization in
    Palestinian Refugee Claims,” Journal of Refugee Studies 21

Politics of the Everyday: Occupation | Sumud صمود. | Creative Resistance

A response to the following works Joe Sacco (2009). Footnotes in Gaza, Raja Shehadeh (2003). Strangers in the House, David Grossman (1988). The Yellow Wind, Edward Said (1984) “Permission to Narrate”, Julie Peteet (1996). “The Writing on the Wall: Grafitti of the intifada” Cultural Anthropology 11(2), PP.139‐159, Wedding in Galilee, dir. Michel Khleifi, 1987.

We went from, supported to subordinate, can’t afford it, ordered
My motherland smothered and mortared, morbid, at borders
I’m sorted out from beardless cats that boarded the plane as I was boarding,
Then detained, I can’t call it
Mic check when they search my Jordans, it hurts like mourning so…
(Pump pain and oil whillle they muurrdaah)
Somethings I’m unsure of…
Like an Arab man at an airport
When you wonder what he’s there for, therefore
I stand up for lands stuck, near war in tandem

P.H.A.T.W.A. , The Narcicyst

Like mapping, the myth of “objectivity” in journalistic reporting has inundated consumers of news and information with a false belief in a scientific, unadulterated account of events or history for that matter. If cartography is the “science” method of map-making, “objective” journalism is the science of news-making. Over the course of the past few weeks, atlas in and interactive iPhone app out, the fantasy world of cartography and mapping was quickly dispelled.

Just in case the mapmaking disillusionment was not powerful enough to sharpen one’s critical lens on all matters presenting themselves as fact, this week’s cluster of readings are sure to resolve that deficit. Sacco, Said, Peteet and to varying degrees and function, Shahadeh and Grossman, an army of “professional” bubble-bursters stomp over the “green line” of objectivity and scientific narration. Problematizing the outposts of “objectivity”, “history”, “narration” and “speech” – the works at hand zoom through a substantial number of examples that dispel the mythical “scientific” positioning of historical accounts showcasing them as little more than storytelling.

“The graffiti of the intifada represents a microcosm of the affirmation, denial, inspiration, fear and will-to-power, in short, the struggles within the struggle called the Intifada”, explained The Graffiti of the Intifada: A Brief Survey by Paul Steinberg and A. M. Oliver published by Jerusalem-based PASSIA. The report, first published in 1990, preceded Peteet’s The Writing on the Wall: Grafitti of the Intifada while the first Intifada was still underway, was an initial glimpse into the “voice” of the walls as they told the story, history in the making, through temporary bursts of calligraphy, slogans, color and symbolism in one of the loudest forms of paradoxically silent narration. In the tradition of Geertz-inspired cultural anthropology, Peteet helicopters into the field to examine the forms, the conditions and the functions of graffiti as a mode of  “Cultural production deployed as a means of resistance” (Peteet 139) Concerned with graffiti as a stammer of the subaltern, Peteet suggests that the “mere appearance” of graffiti, of the subaltern’s attempt to speak, to themselves, to others, is a way of speaking. The existence of attempted speech, in this case, graffiti positions it as an “agent of power”.

Disrupting the hierarchical power structures and dynamics, Peteet argues that through a multifaceted series of functions, graffiti were at once representations, interventions, information, commentary, assertions and archiving of a voice unheard: that of the Palestinians.  “They were Palestinian voices, archival and interventionist” (Peteet 140 & 142) But one is forced to wonder, given the already subordinated conditions of the graffiti’s temporary status, are Palestinian voices, subaltern voices, equally, all eternally confined to writings on walls waiting to be blackened? Lasting only “as long as the tolerance of the occupier”?

Nowhere is the manifestation of Spivak’s famed question “Can the Subaltern Speak?” more alive than on a small segment of the partition wall. Graffiti, like that which Peteet celebrates as “the voice of the voiceless” is sprawled in opposition on the surface of one of the most hegemonic structures of all time. Does it speak as it lays atop the sterness of the concrete surface looming over the subalterns voicing themselves through image.

Interrogating the “bulletin board” function of graffiti, Peteet identifies the “internal communications” role it plays showcasing a mystery: the subaltern can speak! But amongst themselves “they were self-reflective and self-critical” While recognizing this “internal voice”, Peteet also treads the simplistic waters of attributing too much agency to the speaking rocks. “While censorship distorted Palestinian potential for the construction of narrative, graffiti linked Palestinians under occupation” (Peteet 142) While there is bound to be a disparity in communication under circumstances as one would imagine as those of the Intifada to be, there is a sense of naiveté in implying that those gaps were resolved and reconciled through the walls “The process of producing graffiti contained the capacity to transform internal relations and harness them to resistance actions… The act of making the stones speak was simultaneously an aspect of acquiring revolutionary credentials and entering the realm of political membership or affiliation” (Peteet 144)

In statements bordering on celebratory self-applause, Peteet’s exhaustive survey of the cultural production that is the resistance symbolism of graffiti at some instances approaches the “borders” voyeurism. Peteet, knowingly or not, falls into a trap many before her had; classic case of cultural anthropologists positing themselves as saviors of the subaltern voice. “Fixed in a permanent imprint these fleeting images and narratives of resistance. We have given them longevity and taken them on journeys for others to read.” (P 144) By suggesting that the immortality of the Intifada’s graffiti joined the ranks of other cultural production due to the elixir of international media circulation, Peteet renders impotent their capacity at effective, powerful and meaningful resistence. “The narrative had been fixed and circulated in the global information network and media. In this sense, graffiti took their place among other forms of resistance. Graffiti constituted a voice for those who felt voiceless in the international arena.”

Moreover, while graffiti may have served the functions of cohesiveness, communication, intervention and commemoration, those very meanings take a very different turn placed inside the corner screen above the right shoulder of a CNN news anchor.  Between a graffito of a Hamas logo, a martyr’s memorial graffito – these image present equal opportunity to quickly become associated to chaos, hopelessness and violence and to a greater extreme: terrorism. Perhaps for the reason that Peteet identified: “Circulations of sentiment and experience could lead to enticement” (P 146) From a “voice for those who felt voiceless” – placed on the international newswires, these images are sentenced to the darkest pits of archival doom, alongside many a resistance image before it, from Handala to the kuffiyeh.

To rain on Peteet’s parade, repetition and circulation in the mass media context prove to be less immortalizing than they are desensitizing through visual noise. I am reminded of the vibrant, powerful and bold signage and protest banners in Egypt’s Tahrir Square in early January 2011, originally produced as images of liberation and courage, as internal communication, defiance and “intervention” – circulated enough times, alongside carefully crafted headlines for the remainder of the year, they quickly and easily became a peepshow for liberty exotica: a voyeur’s fantasy of a display of disarrayed heroism taking place far, far away. So no, just because the documentation of Intifada graffiti allowed it to swim the rivers AP and Reuters, does not mean it was in anyway baptized into acceptance or sacredness.

Sifting through Peteet’s survey, page by page, wall by wall, I search for a voice. A Palestinian voice, perhaps a voice of a given artist or a commissioner, a party leader or creative conceiver, people who engaged in the “repertoire of actions of civil disobedience”. But save the selectively transcribed voices of the nameless, faceless “schoolteacher”, “student in a village” and a “friend who worked in a grassroots community group” on page 144, 145 and 151 I find none but Peteet’s and am forced to deem the view from Beit Hanina as accurate and “factual” interpretations of meaning. Save the “footnotes”, the walls seal off an area of no negotiation. Is the stone and wall behind the graffiti precisely that which makes it appealing to the onlooker and to the storyfinder, the Fulbright researcher equally? Insofar as its capacity to speak, stone, unlike those who inscribe it, allows for much interpretation, juxtaposition and liberties in analysis.  Joe Sacco, as we will see, will beg to differ.
Peteet’s conversation with stone emerges as more a monologue than a spoken exchange of egalitarian quality. It pails in comparison with the photojournalistic essay of Mia Gröndahl’s Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics? which instead of claiming to speak for the subaltern, for the graffiti and immortalize “copies without an original” it asks questions of those who create them and focuses instead on the quality of voice, in turn uncompromisingly recognizing the voice of what Peteet deems voiceless. For instance, Gröndahl analyzes the aesthetic differences between those produced by different political factions – understands the reasons why Hamas’s graffiti, which looked more like artworks of Arabic calligraphy were executed with far more care for the beautification of the inscriptions than those of Fatah.
Exhaustive as it was in attempting to identify the functions of graffiti in the context of the Intifada The content of graffiti directed, warned, informed, commemorated, provided critical commentary and could be a diagnostic of occupation tactics” and as well-intentioned as it was in attempting to promote grafitti to the ranks of plausible “factual” cultural production, Peteet’s proclamation of the powerfulness of the same was at once its demise. “Graffiti proclaimed place as one’s own and asserted one’s power in it” (Peteer 148) It traps the onlooker in the Spivakian vicious cycle of the inevitability that is subaltern voicelessness.
“Where are the facts if not embedded in history, and then reconstructed and recovered by human agents stirred by some perceived or desired or hoped-for historical narrative whose future aim is to restore justice to the disposed?” (Said 46)

Making no bones about his aversion to “objectivity” and historical “purity of arms” – Said tackles the issue of voice and subaltern speech head on. Leading with the McBride report as the epitome of “factual” manipulation, underrepresentation and muting – Said illustrates how such patterns are still with us today.  “The findings (of the McBride report) are horrifying – and almost as much because they are forgotten or routinely denied in press reports as because they occurred.” If the eternal optimist could attribute this sidelining of the McBride report to the then press’s limited access to this information, how then do we make sense of the same forgetfulness and denials we see today on a day-to-day basis when information, video, proof, testimonials, articles, reports are generated in massive scale and made accessible to all? How is it that today that the “inadmissible existence of the Palestinian people whose history, actuality and aspirations, as possessed of a coherent narrative direction pointed towards self-determination” (Said 29) that Said states as the object of the ’82 war on Lebanon perseveres?

The audacity of Said is that he calls it like he sees it. Perhaps it is also that which has earned him as many followers as it did critics. With the memory of Israeli Apartheid Week, the AIPAC meeting and the attacks on Harvard Kennedy’s One-State Conference fresh in mind, Edward Said’s Permission to Narrate is once again testament to his deserving of the Robert Fisk-granted title “Palestine’s most powerful political voice”.

“A disciplinary communications apparatus exists in the West both for overlooking most of the basic things that might present Israel in a bad light and for punishing those who try to tell the truth”

Gil Lainer’s hummus-making talk show segment hardly even makes it to the bottom of the hierarchical narrative-setting apparatus as AIPAC and the ADL are addressed by Said. I cannot help but think of this video segment on AIPAC’s soft diplomacy tactics:

If like, the sheep raiser story Said quotes from the Kol Ha’ir journal, this can be dismissed as conspiracy theory or reading too much into things, Yoav Shamir’s film Defamation can tell a more convincing tale of the ADL. It is striking the even today, bar the “rebels” like Shamir and more recently Liza Bernherdt of Jewish Voice for Peace who stood up in protest at this week’s AIPAC meeting, the “system of possessive exclusivism which has been imposed upon reality by central forces in Israeli society…” is alive and very much “rarely discussed in the West”.

Influencing many works that defeat the impossibility of subaltern narration, in this case Palestinian narration, Edward Said’s Permission to Narrate inspired one of the most important alternative news resources, which now sits amongst many on the digital narration spectrum: The Electronic Intifada. “The Palestinian narrative has never been officially admitted to Israeli history except as that of “non-Jews” whose inert presence in Palestine was a nuisance to be ignored or expelled.” (pg 33) No longer accepting the narrative of Palestinians as a Non-People or “an invented people” in the words of Newt Gingrich and Golda Meir before him, projects like EI not only attempt to create a space for the subaltern to speak, but tell a history of their own. Of the founders of EI, Said says

“I find copies of e-mail sent by a young Palestinian to radio stations, TV reporters, and newspaper editors, commenting on their coverage of the Palestinian issue. In his effective, electronic way, this man, Ali Abunimah, is writing his own history every day.” (Said at Bethlehem University speech in 1997)

It is not to say, by any stretch of the imagination that platforms like EI, Jadaliyya and others are the answer to the subaltern’s prayers, but they are certainly important insofar as constructing a wall on which graffiti could be permanently placed, defined, discussed, recorded and voiced, without temporality or the danger, the threat of being “blacked out”. Even if the subaltern cannot speak on these walls, neither can the rogue apparatus of the ADL and other such bodies with their labels of “anti-Semitism”, the “T” word (terrorism), which are highly problematized by Said and even “self-hating Jew” run wild. (Said 35-37)

“No funds for ignorant student rhetoric” read the headline of an article by the Editorial Board of the The Chronicle, a publication of Duke University.  This campaign, launched by unnamed authors under the obscurity of an umbrella by-line was targeted at a poster was created by Palestinian artist Nidal El Khairy for Israel Apartheid Week to be used by various clubs and associations to promote their awareness events. The posters, the writers claimed, “appear to depict an old Jewish woman—gargantuanly proportioned, crudely drawn and invoking, whether purposefully or not, old Jewish stereotypes—whimsically lifting and peering inquisitively at a miniature Palestinian soldier… At best, the poster is distasteful, needlessly caricaturing a historically malicious form of representation; at worst it can be regarded as anti-Semitic”.  Had this article appeared in the same era as the McBride report with no room for response, rebuttal or even questioning it would have been just another reinforcement of that which Said problematizes as part of a larger apparatus that demonizes, rightfully or not, that which stands to tarnish the image of Israel. But this is 2012 and baseless labels can no longer roam recklessly “my name is Nidal El Khairy.. i made the poster.. its a Palestinian woman. We never had tanks so how can it be a Palestinian soldier?” read one of the comments on the website. There were 4 other comments pages defending the poster. 4 pages refusing to surrender to false accusations. 4 pages of the subaltern, in some shape way or form, speaking.

“There is something deeply moving about a mind of such noble ideals repeatedly stirred on behalf of human suffering and injustice” There is something cryptic and equally genius about the way in which Said addresses the question whether or not the subaltern can speak. Herein lies the kind of nuance that can only be his: he refuses time and time again to subscribe to a given pole or conclusion without rigorous critique. Following a rigorous interrogation of works by John Bulloch, David Gilmour, Randal, Tony Clifton, Jacob Timerman, Salim Nasib & Caroline Tisdall and even Chomsky on whom he spends a significant amount of time, Said differentiates between empathy, and problematizes emotional impetus that often offers the most vigilant critique of the oppressor and vehement defense of the subaltern. It is a surprise, quite a refreshing one at that, that following such cautious treading amongst such a wide array of narrative that, Said does not submit to the fatalistic ending which he critiques Chomsky for adopting. “The struggle between Zionism in its present form and the Palestinians is very far from over; Palestinian nationalism has had and will continue to have, an integral reality of its own” Said leaves the prospect for hope or the door to the subaltern’s ability to speak, still, despite all skepticism, ajar.

“Facts do not speak for themselves, but require a socially acceptable narrative to absorb, sustain and circulate them” (Said 34)

Being as it were, Electronic Intifada was not the only project inspired by this new idea of setting the narrative. Sacco’s book, Footnotes in Gaza like Palestine before it, subscribing to the idea that it is futile to even feign “objectivity” and instead, adopts a voice of its own making no apologies for the austerity that is inherent not only its methodology but in its black and white crosshatched pages.

By casting himself an observer, an outsider, Sacco instead attempts to let the characters he meets along the way, throughout the investigation, those who perhaps may have touched him the most, tell the story. Refusing to share the “forgotten or routinely denied” fate of the McBride report on Lebanon, Sacco takes the viewer on a graphical journey of the most peculiar persuasion.

At first glancing over the skillfully, but comically stylized storyboards of Sacco’s account, it is hard to imagine oneself taking seriously, let alone emotionally, in any “historical” facts presented by the narrative. However, by placing the “footnotes” at the forefront and “memory” the protagonist, Sacco points to the elephant in the room and proceeds with no apology: he has no intention of playing along the myths of “objectivity” and perceived modes of neutrality. With that disclaimer out of the way, Sacco proceeds to tell the story to those willing to come along anyway.

Through recollections, memories and stories of Palestinian witnesses of the Rafah and Khan Younis massacres in Gaza, Sacco allows his own memories illustrate the historical events that he investigates. As early as the first row of frames on the storyboard, it is easy to forget the medium and the illustrative technique by which you are being informed. Instead you hear voices, see faces, live experiences, fears and memories. Much like Ella Shohat argues in her critique of Wedding in Galilee, “the central tale is Palestinian and the Israelis are merely its “visitors” This presentation undermines a Zionist master-narrative which privileges the “original” i.e. Jewish inhabitants of the land versus its present day Arab “guests””, we see a similar setup in Sacco’s book which privileges the Palestinian recounts with punctuations of Israeli accounts that are almost positioned at the backdrop with Mordechai Bar-On and other fleeting commentary. As the witnesses tell Sacco of their experiences, insisting on recounting certain events and ignoring his investigation into others, an accessible, human experience is extended to the reader, the onlooker to understand not only the trajectory, but the outcomes of having lived through “history”. Through his illustrations, he is able to juxtapose past and present, memory and first-hand experience and several dichotomies all at once. However, throughout the experiences and encounters, he positions himself, as an outsider, an observer, and perhaps more than anything: a guest.

In choosing to “illustrate” history, Sacco is able to depict, dramatized, amplified, imagined, recounted and sometimes timid images that would never make it in a “realistic” medium, especially not in film or photography. The scenes, drawn on pages 72, 91, 98, 236, 265, horrific displays of dead children with their skulls bleeding out, would certainly not escape a publisher’s radar without rigorous editing and scrutiny. Instead, he can shift the perspective to what he calls “human debris and social outcasts” (Sacco 80)

Interwoven into the narrative his Sacco’s complicates and implicates the role of “foreign reporters” and the way by which they go about reporting. Showcasing scenes of them partying and living it up in West Jerusalem while, on between, sourcing quotes and “getting the job done”. In those select pages, Sacco takes a stance against the myth of objective journalism by showcasing that which he chose to semi-partake in: the day-to-day proceedings of field journalism, something that Yvonne shed light on through the video showcasing the shortfalls of photojournalism.

“The dynamic of “a fateful triangle” would make more sense if included in it here would be some account of political, social and economic trends in the Arab world – or if it were changed to the figure of a circle or square” (Said 44) What Said criticized Chomsky for leaving out, Sacco makes up for in drawing. By showcasing a historical lens that takes in the greater context of the Arab world, Sacco’s illustrations extend the frame of reference beyond the Palestinians and Israelis. Instead we are confronted with Jamal Abdulnasser, George Bush, King Hussein, Moshe Dayan, Ben Gurion, and other political figures. However, instead of placing them at the forefront of the narrative, he chooses to draw the “circle and square” through the eyes of the witnesses with whom he spends his nights and days.  Immediately, unlike the poetic accounts of Grossman and Shehadeh, Sacco’s illustrations, which may at first glance seem further away from the “truth” tell an accessible story – it brings the events, with all their intricacies to life, through his own lens working with secondary sources, telling the narrative the only way he knows how. Much like Edward Said asks at the end of Permission to Narrate in questioning Noam Chomsky’s book – you cannot separate the current situation from that of the past. Instead, Sacco attempts to draw connections between 1948 and current events of today – the death of Rachel Corrie, the hunger strike of Khader Adnan, the arrest of Fadi Quran. Without stating it, Sacco necessitates an understanding of 1948 as the prerequisite for any discussion, understanding or narrative relating the Palestinian cause today.

Reading his book reminded me of the uncommon experience of watching the events of The Promise, a 4 part UK Channel 4 series by Peter Kosminsky unfold. In a similar fashion to Sacco’s book, the series, which many lobby groups attempted to shut down and take off air, was a result of 7 years of research across Palestine and Israel. In a similar diversion from the approved narrative, The Promise offered a very different historical account, also shifting back and forth in time and space through the eyes of a seemingly “neutral” protagonist.

If Tim Burton were ever to venture into creating a film about Palestine / Israel, Grossman’s Yellow Winds would prove to be a useful reference. Ghost-like features, harsh, jarring imagery are used to depict his charitable interactions with the Palestinian refugees in the camps. His sympathetic narration of his desire to understand their condition and their plight is barely palpable as he coasts and glosses over the Palestinians as a homogenous lot – villagers and peasants, descriptions of, “the exotic wild gypsy girl” and other essentialist depictions – Grossman’s romanticized depiction of “the other” is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of what Slymovics described as a “search for the other in order to encounter oneself”. In Grossman’s account, the subaltern are not only silence, but they are objectified – with the occasional name here and there (Hadija etc), they are nothing but the other, in the eyes of the onlooker. Contrastingly to the human the reader encounters in Saccos pages, in Grossman’s account, subaltern is a non-person, at best a descriptor to be sympathized with and at worst a tainted creature protecting itself, attacking when provoked – because it is its nature to do so. If pity and sorrow is what Palestine begs, then that perhaps would have been an easier conundrum to resolve…and Grossman would emerge victorious. It is the fact that victory, dignity and recognition is what is at stake that problematizes and upsets the equation, giving Sacco a much better shot at the mantle of “subaltern” voice-box.

Reminding me of, an aggregation of loosely compiled meaning-laden symbols of “Palestine”, Shehadeh’s depiction of a personal narrative, his admittedly romanticized relationship with Jaffa and the memories of a place he never knew as his, although intriguing in its style and while closer to a subaltern stance, doesn’t quite escape the realm of Shehadeh’s own personal story and conflicts, a discovery of oneself. As Daniel Gilberg points out, “neither of these instances can be called giving a voice to the subaltern.” In his own way, however, what Shehadeh almost blatantly resists and does so successfully for the Palestinian narrative is dispel the image of Palestinians through the popular Zionist slogan of “a land without people”, the Grossman image of pitiful refugees and even Khleifi’s chosen emphasis on Palestian village life. In Shehadeh’s account, the Palestine he speaks of is that which has been successfully, arguably even more successfully than the Palestine of the oppressed, is the Palestine of the victorious, the proud the sophisticated: in other words, a real Palestine. Through the descriptions of the coastal city of Jaffa, to his grandfather’s hotel – this was a Palestine rarely depicted: a Palestine of oil paintings, law firms and vacation homes in Ramallah. In that way, Shehadeh’s account takes closer steps than Grossman towards not necessarily letting the subaltern speak, but speaking for a now subaltern who was not a subaltern.

Browsing through the Nakba Archives, I see a different manifestation of the Shehadeh project that emerges a more convincing more encompassing voice. Through a collection of personal stories from over 650 Shehadehs, personal stories and accounts emerge as a experiment in the speaking of the subaltern. More like a Sacco-Shehadeh hybrid – the Nakba Archives showcase but one of the possibilities of keeping the Saidian dream alive: Palestinians setting the Palestinian narrative.

So, can the subaltern speak? Not to pick a bone with Gayathri Spivak, but I am tempted by a similar visceral aversion much like Said’s response to Chomsky’s Triangle: a refusal to surrender to fatalism. Perhaps the subaltern can speak, but it may not be a single voice that will sound their utterances. In speaking, being spoken for, asking to speak, questioned on their capacity to speak, the subaltern may very well speak – in a language of their own. The subaltern will speak.

Between the digital “liberation”, graffiti, hiphop, protests, popular resistance, hunger strikes, cultural production, mainstream news, conferences, through the pandemonium of voices from self-proclaimed ‘experts’, to sympathetic civil society groups, to university student groups, to supporters of the BDS movement to the characters of Carlos Latuff, to the audacity of Harvard Kennedy’s One-State Conference, to Khader Adnan’s hunger strike, to Palestineremembered, to Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate, to DAM’s Meen Erhabi, to the Gaza flotilla, to Visualizing Palestine, to the Palestine Space Agency and the UNESCO seat, through the hullabaloo…perhaps a voice will be found.

Maybe, just maybe, if we, as Tyler Zang suggests, “actively read, view, listen to narratives while never forgetting that despite the seductive idealism of “digital diaspora” and “objective” journalism these accounts are never divorced fully from the hegemonic power structure.” Amidst the attempts at speaking, of being spoken for, of the speaking of the ‘question of speaking’, the censorship of the speaking, and the speaking in response to the censorship of speaking…a new language will emerge. And like the rocks that Peteet has breathed life into, the cracks in the hegemonic colossus will, little, by little, start to widen and behind the cracks, the voices behind the wall will emerge and speak, for themselves.

The Peripheries of Palestine / Israel

A response to the following cluster of works: Singing the Homeland and The Homeland & Nationalism by Oren Yiftachel and Mapping Israel–Palestine: Review Essay of Atlas of the Arab–Israeli Conflict, Gilbert Martin, 1st ed. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. (1974). /The Routledge Atlas of the Arab–Israeli Conflict, Martin Gilbert. 9th ed. Routledge (2008). Atlas of the Conflict: Israel–Palestine, Shoshan Malkit. 010 Publishers, Rotterdam (2010). Subjective Atlas of Palestine, Edited Annelys de Vet (Ed.). 010 Publishers, Rotterdam (2007) by Helga Tawil-Souri in Journal of Political Geography.

If Milkat Shoshan’s “entire exercise becomes a fetishized one that does not overcome the fundamental problem of “writing geography” and the seeming neutrality and authority of cartography” (Tawil-Souri) and Gilberg’s is an exercise of “pushing Palestinians off the map” one is left to wonder whether neutrality in the “science” of cartography is ever possible. Between a satellite image from Google Maps slicing up Israel-Palestine with an unratified border and atlases that depict their own ideology and questions, isn’t the scientific “objectivity” of cartography trumped by an overwhelming unavoidable subjectivity laden with ideological significance? If indeed as Shoshan exhibits in the “critical cartography” of her atlas “no “right” way to “write-territory”, is the only way out the route of Dutch designer Annelys de Vet of the the International Academy of Arts in Palestine, in the shape of jigsaw puzzles: through the eyes of the beholder looking from the bottom up?

If the publishing world does continue on its current path and ink-on-paper renditions of biased takes on Palestine-Israel cease to exist, it is the way of technological determinism and those who subscribe to the dream of the digital utopia to assume that digital, web-based, technologically-aided, possibly crowd-sourced versions of the atlases may resuscitate the promise of a “neutral” atlas. Such an assumption, as compelling as it may be, will deliver perhaps even more detrimental blows to the scientific impartiality of cartography than the atlas-makers’ print editions. At the base level, it is expected that a crowd-sourced Google maps mutation may allow for people to tell their own stories and Palestine-Israel to be mapped by the voices that de Vet attempted to amplify in her Atlas and more. However, the digital divide, access to the Internet, broadband penetration, literacy, language barriers and other factors may prove to be an extension to the print edition of “pushing Palestinians off the map” this time by the perceived democracy of user-generated participation and not that of an agenda-driven atlas maker.

In Singing the Homeland, Oren Yiftachel raises important questions about the notion of “homeland” as quoted in many a song played in the opening sequence to the Zionist project. By laying out a trajectory of “homeland” conceptions and depictions, tangible or qualitative, through cultural symbols, Hebrew popular music namely, juxtaposed with the changes and the process of building a nation state, Yiftachel sets the stage for an understanding of Israel’s political culture. In a striking resemblance to Joseph Massad’s reading on the Arab resistance, revolution songs, what Yiftachel effectively does, is analyze the “etching tools” used to engrave, inscribe a picture, landscape, song and prose onto memory and aspiration in the face of all challenges, in this case, a “colonized homeland”.

Hebrew popular music has aided Zionism to claim the Israeli/Palestinian landscape as a sole Jewish property, and as a malleable territorial basis for realizing the goals of expanding Jewish nationalism” (Yiftachel) Zionism, aided by Hebrew popular music gained its momentum, according to Yiftachel, not by simply offering a limitless dream of a “Jewish homeland” through its poetic geographic reconfiguration but by showing up where it mattered most. By pushing onto the public stage performers and popular music that sung its praises so to speak, Zionism was deemed legitimate through the presence and repetition of the “normalizing” tunes to where the audiences, the publics, congregated most frequently.
“Hebrew popular music and communal singing served to implant Zionist values through the emotional musical experience. This was affected, in a ‘soft’ form, by a daily performance of these values in the Jewish-Zionist community in general and, more specifically, in sites such as youth movements, community centers and radio programs” (Yiftachel 17) In the context of Israel, combine the composed fluidity of the “Homeland’s” spatial bounds with the “normalizing” effect of the “expansionist” rhetoric repeated day in and day out over wavelengths and in concert halls, and you will start to hear a melody of the most sinister persuasion. By deeming the “homeland” exclusive to Jews, the music, like many a map or an atlas before it “pushed Palestinians off the map”. “the image of an exclusive Jewish homeland renders virtually impossible the meaningful inclusion of Arab citizens into the Israeli political community. Expansionist Jewish identity in Israel has created the infrastructure for an ethnocratic state that ‘belongs’ to the whole of world Jewry, but excludes local Arabs from the cultural locus of their own state” (Yiftachel).

Our sun will yet rise
On Jordan and Sharon
Where Arabs camp.
This land will be ours!
And you among the builders!
(Shaul Tchernichovsky, Shadows Stretch)

“Israeli curriculum, leisure time activities, political speeches, public rhetoric, literature and even military language all entrenched the sentiment that the and belonged to the Jewish people and to no one else” (Yiftachel The Homeland & Nationalism 20)

An atlas of sorts, Yiftachel’s The Homeland & Nationalism look at the concept of “homeland”,  is handy lexicon to be used by any prospective inquirer into issues of nationalism, homeland and specifically in the context of Palestine-Israel. Problematizing the “homeland” notion, Yiftachel introduces his coined term “ethnonationalism” to take an analytical lens to the way in which a “homeland” is constructed and centered around the idea of ethnicity. Examining the ways in which homeland “ethnonationalism” functions vis-a-vis self-determination and nation-state politics, Yiftachel argues that “an ethnic homeland” as the foundation for the modern nation state’s political spectrum and moral base, is the basis upon which ethnic and national groups are mobilized.  In Yiftachel’s broader more seemingly universal analysis, which spans the globe from Kurdistan to South Africa, the Palestine-Israel map emerges once again to illustrate the workings of homeland “ethnonationalism” in relation to its dealings with ethnic minorities and diasporas. Putting the three atlases, the music CDs and the encyclopedias back on the shelf, the Palestine-Israel map remains, unresolved, subjective and once again: in the eye of the beholder. I pull out my Sharpie and sketch, once again, this time attempting to humor the Google Maps, the PeaceNow group, Shoshan and all those fixated on the idea that “respecting” the green line would be the be all and end all of peace in Palestine-Israel. What would this “new” Palestine look like dangling from a chain around a newly activated patriot’s neck? Immersed in “respecting” the green line, I step back look to my imagined pendant, or two, rather and decide against presenting it to my patriot. Looking at the pieces before me, I fail to see and share the vision of many who hang their hopes on maps stroked with green lines claiming them to be the route to peace. In the images I see before me, I see the two alleged pendants for peace; one which requires a squint of the eyes to locate and the other sits there, an aborted fetus helpless at the hands of the surgeon.

Israeli Apartheid Week 2012: Books to read, films to watch, people to hear

Israeli Apartheid Week 2012: Reading List & Films

This week is Israeli Apartheid Week 2012. At New York University Students for Justice in Palestine aka. SJP@NYU several events are being held to raise awareness about Israeli Apartheid. Earlier today, a group of over 30 students and activists chanted solidarity slogans in support of freedom in Palestine and to celebrate a successful year-long divestment campaign from TIAA-CREF’s Investments in Companies that Profit from the Occupation of Palestinian Territories.

For this year’s IAW, I have compiled a suggested reading list and several films to help understand what the chants and signatures are calling for:

The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid
by Roane Carey, Noam Chomsky, Gila Svirsky, Alison Weir

Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine
by William Parry

Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide
by Ben White

Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, discrimination and democracy
by Ben White

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights
by Omar Barghouti

Jewish Identity & Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel

by David Landy

The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel
by Gabriel Piterberg

Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation

by David Cronin

Israel’s Dead Soul
by Steven Salaita

Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel
edited by Abeer Baker and Anat Matar.

One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
by Ali Abunima

Films to watch: [Trailers]

Gazastrophe – The Day After
By Samir Abdalla and Kheredine Mabrouk

Avenge But One Of My Two Eyes

by Avi Mograbi

HipHop is Bigger Than the Occupation
by  Existence is Resistance & Nana Dankwa

For your viewing pleasure, the following films, winners of the It Is Apartheid Video Contest, are available (full-length) below:

Road map to Israeli apartheid

Ali Wall

Confronting the Wall

A Land By Any Other Name: Geography. Mapping. Ethnic Cleansing. Ethnocracy. Spatiality. Borders. Cartography.

A response to the following cluster of works: Ghazi Falah (1996). “The 1948 Israeli-Palestinian War and Its Aftermath: The Transformation and De-Signification of Palestine’s Cultural Landscape”, AAG 86(2), pp.256-285, James Ron (2003). Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel, Derek Gregory (2004). The Colonial Present, Oren Yiftachel (2002). “Territory as the Kernel of the Nation: Space, Time and Nationalism in Israel/Palestine” Geopolitics 7(2); 215-248, Shari Motro (2005). “Lessons from the Swiss Cheese Map” Legal Affairs, pp.46-50

In 2010, en route to Dammam in the Eastern province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a day of shopping and family visits, I was denied entry at the Saudi-Bahrain border on the King Fahad Causeway and asked to turn back to Bahrain. The cause of my entry refusal: my UAE National Identity Card. According to a recent GCC agreement, citizens of GCC countries can travel within the GCC using their ID cards without the need for their passport. In the summer of 2009, the UAE-KSA situation became the exception. The Director General of Passports Major General Salim bin Muhammad Al-Bulaihid issued the following statement to the Saudi Press Agency: “The Kingdom has taken the step because the map appearing on the ID cards of UAE citizens is not in line with the border agreement between the two countries signed on Aug. 21, 1974.”

The UAE-KSA dispute revolving around a strip of land, 25 km long, eastwards from Khawr al Udayd, which gives KSA access to the Arabian Gulf on the Eastern side of Qatar, has to date, not been resolved. Give the UAE kangaroo a tail or chop it off, like the hands of a thief? This tail-like corridor is sure to leave any mapmaker bewildered, and quite likely, afraid. In addition to the KSA border, the UAE finds itself in two other unresolved mapping conundrums with neighboring Oman over the Buraimi Oasis to the South and an “occupation” of its three islands (Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa) by Iran to the North. Now, considering the fact that the UAE is a politically stable, young and economically prosperous country, its mapping process drafts a rather somber more convoluted picture.

Zooming southeast from the Gulf to Azad Kashmir (Pakistan / India) then northwest to Nagorno Karabakh (Azerbaijan / Armenia), maps have time and time again been consistently implicated in disputes and conflicts across varying scales of violence and instability or the lack there of. Maps are used as a visual medium to assert, arguably most powerfully nations’ ideas of who owns what. As Shari Motro puts it: “Every map reflects a set of judgments that influence the viewer’s impression of the underlying data. The choice of colors and labels, the cropping, and the process of selecting what gets included and what gets left out all combine to form a visual gestalt.” (Motro) Maps tend to speak in a matter-of-factly fashion that makes their interpretation much more assertive and emphatic that that of the word. To unapologetically evoke a cliche, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what then is a picture with a thousand words worth?

And then there’s Palestine. In all its glory, its perseverance, it endures there; a shard jabbing the side of the world, reminding it to never forget.  Confronted with a sprawl of maps of Palestine and its several mutations, ranging from the untouched dagger of pre-1948 to the fragmented ceviche some call a map, I begin to sketch.


Palestine in the cartographic world order has been represented or misrepresented, like beauty, truly in the eye of the beholder. I, on the other hand, refuse to partake in that system and begin to sketch out a map of Palestine that tries to address the question “How do you map what is lost, contested, forgotten, erased, controversial? Why would you want to map it?”

Mapping Palestine to me is a dagger held firmly in place by a powerful hand. Whose hand? What hand? Once again, she is in the eye of the beholder. Is the hand the Palestinian diaspora holding a strong Palestine in place pledging her reclamation through resistance? Is it a Zionist dagger into the South bleeding into the Gulf of Aqaba? Or a torch of liberty blazing her flames, Lebanon and Syria, like a fire in the North? Are the fingers, the stubborn fingers of the West Bank and Gaza, holding Israel from its unified dream? Or are they the West Bank and Gaza holding the dagger from its stabbing instinct by remaining locked in position, not advancing or retracting? Are dagger and fingers engaged in a peaceful embrace to find harmony in an unlikely visual unity? Is the dagger not a dagger, but a prehistoric knife carving its name in history? Or a pen oozing ink that seeping into the post-colonial, Pan Arab paper? Or a flagpole thrust in place by hand proclaiming undeniable ownership? Once again, a map, however abstracted, remains multifaceted and obscure. But perhaps like all maps, it remains so, intentionally.

Reading Shari Motro as a graphic designer by training, I enthusiastically devoured the material, which was to me, unique in its approach and critique and waited. Alas, the moment of revelation never came. A detailed and thorough critique of the map-making process in the negotiations surrounding the Oslo II talks which sliced the West Bank into alphabetized segments, Motro’s utopian notion of good mapmaking as a leap towards peace and reconciliation, stops at that: a critique of aesthetic shortcoming. Nowhere does Motro question whether the poor visual representation is in fact an extension of the obscurity of the language used in the Oslo drafts, which “reflected the skewed balance of power between Zionists and Palestinians: the latter recognized the state of Israel (and hence, abdicated their claim for 78% of historic Palestine), but received in return only a vague ‘recognition’, and a concrete plan for a three-phase Israeli withdrawal from unspecified parts of the occupied territories” (Yiftachel) In the glimpses of ideological interrogation, Motro hides behind the words of notorious critic Edward Said “a humiliating capitulation to Israeli expansionism” choosing instead to focus all attention on the design application steering the discussion towards technique not tactic. In what is termed the Swiss Cheese Map, the issue of “a vision of Palestinian sovereignty punctured by holes” is not simply a question of color, shape and outline, but an issue of ideology – of belief and of intention. The map was designed that way for a reason; it looked that way not for the lack of graphic designers or cartographers in Israel or the lack of emphasis placed on the mapmaking process. But those questions are barely evoked and reading through the text, the process is presented as though the map was simply an afterthought, an oversight. What becomes of the people in the alphabetized areas, namely area C, effectively occupied areas? What becomes of the people living in those lands? If augmented, unlike the rendered map, what becomes of them? Does this obscurity of such areas point to the dehumanization that Gregory speaks of, allowing the military to “erase or freeze” them over time? (Gregory) Is its lack of representation intentional to decrease the state’s “bureaucratic, moral, and political sense of responsibility” for the inhabitants of those areas as Ron argues?


“A skilled designer can make peace seem inevitable or impossible, reassuring or terrifying, logical or jumbled”

(Motro) What the statement assumes here is not atypical of a design professional: that if we could only make better maps, things would be so much better, so much easier. Having started my career as a designer, having lived, slept, ate worked with designers for upwards of 5 years of my life – I am very aware of the design-world, or design-bubble that can envelop those who work closely in it. Considering the fact that Motro works for Empax, which looks at the role of info graphics in diplomacy, I can understand the intrinsic belief she seems to have of the power and agency of design as she fervently states: “Israelis and Palestinians who support a two-state solution desperately need a positive picture that captures and bolsters their fragile conviction that peace is possible.” (Motro) Positive images, or pictures for that matter, as many like Ella Shohat and Rober Stam have argued, do not always, as we have learned from the aesthetics of representation hold positive outcomes, intentions and meanings in mind. What is meant by “positive” here? Whose interpretation of “positive”? If by positive, we mean prettier, we are presented with the eternal conundrum of design. Practically speaking, from an institutional operation perspective, it is also important to remember that designers often remove themselves from the content, taking orders from the art or creative director, whose job it is to translate the work into a piece that communicates their “vision” or the vision of the client. Designers working behind the computer screen on Adobe Illustrator, AutoCAD, Photoshop or other software, busy themselves instead with the eternal hunt for the perfect typeface, the specific PANTONE swatch color and the perfect alignment of that vector shape to the carefully defined ruler. They are liberated from political responsibility. If the function of “Good mapmaking” is to simply capture a superficial pleasant and “positive” aesthetic that assuages the fears and agitations of the party being persuaded, then by all means, let the powers of typography, color palette, juxtaposition, illustration, photography and visual hierarchy reign over the peace process and sell a prettier, more digestible version of displacement, fragmentation and compromise, whereby form takes precedence over function. But if the function of “good mapmaking” is to generate, as Motro states “new maps capture a vision that Israelis and Palestinians can live with,” then function should be prioritized, and design with its communication agency and power should work to represent, notwithstanding creative direction, the realities of the proposed geographic distribution. It should lay it out on the table, and then see, if it truly does “capture a vision that Israelis and Palestinians can live with,” If the maps were in fact created to accurately tell the story of the Accords without a sales pitch in mind, will it still be the harbinger of all things good, will it still “tip the balance in favor of peace.” As I seek an answer to that question, I am reminded of the words of David Scadding, award-winning Registered Graphic Designer, typographer, instructor and speaker: “Good design never makes up for bad content.”

What questions Motro leaves unasked become the crux of Oren Yiftachel’s investigate in Territory as the Kernel of the Nation: Space, Time and Nationalism in Israel/Palestine. Less concerned with the lines, the colors and the visuals of mapmaking, Yiftachel maps out how “the when? And where?” become the pivotal points in the context of expansionist, what he calls “ethnocratic socities” and argues that in the context of Israel/Palestine – the “where”, the land, rather, becomes the main source of contestation in the conflict. “If early Zionism was indeed a colonial movement of the displaced seeking survival, its later version became a case of state colonialism.” (Yiftachel 236) Unlike Motro, Yiftachel raises questions about what got the mapmaking process to where it was by analyzing the territorial-centricity of the conflict and raises questions about the incentives the meanings behind the borders Motro is seeking to map out, effectively laying out the complexity of the Palestine / Israel mapmaking process and of why it cannot be resolved through a simplistic technocratic perspective. “‘Ethnocratic’ and settler societies, which can never be treated as static political communities, but rather as arenas of constant struggles over the very geography of the polity in question.” Nowhere is his problematizing of the “mapping” territorial process more clearly asserted than in his analysis of what is presented as an almost “un-mapable” territory: Jerusalem. Surely, simply good design will not solve this one.

In an attempt to illustrate the significance of the “land” of Jerusalem in equal proportions, Yiftachel diverts from his historical approach to an analysis of poetic meaning, which may have been the Achilles heel of the argument. Through a comparison of Jerusalem of Gold and Flower of All Cities, Yiftachel seeks to emphasize the equally land-centric, exclusionist premise held by the both Palestinian and Israeli peoples. “Both poems display the denial and exclusion of the Other – Jerusalem/al-Quds are purely Jewish/Arab. The Other is a present absentee, casting a shadow over the city, but is never allowed a voice, a name, or a rightful place in this bi-national, multi-communal city.” (Yiftachel 235)

The poetic reference does little to augment his critical analysis of the territorial-kernal because it does not differentiate in the definition of the all-encompassing “Arabness”, which weakens the absentee argument of the Other that he presents. While Jerusalem of Gold speaks to an exclusively Jewish audience “the Shofar calls on Temple Mount..And in the rocky caves, A thousands suns are shining, We shall descend again to the Dead Sea On the Jericho Road” Zahrat Al Madaen, Flower of All Cities speaks to a multi-communal city in its first line: “For you, the city of prayers, I shall pray” it does not distinguish the prayer types. In other instances in the song, the song references specifics of both Muslim and Christian sacred symbols simultaneously: “Maria…The Night of Isra’a…Churches…Masjids etc”. Further analysis of Palestinian poetry questions the exclusionist terriorital focus. For instance, the Other, is also reinforced in the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish in several instrances but especially in the poem In Jerusalem as translated by Fady Joudah:

In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy . . . ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t believe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Mohammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me . . . and I forgot, like you, to die.

While, as Yiftachel argues, land has in fact been a significant part of the national Palestinian discourse, it cannot be held to equal weightage as it has in the Zionist nation-building project. The notion of sumud cannot be solely attributed to the attachment to the land in and of itself; it is “sumud” for (the land) but “sumud” against (repression, dispossession, cleansing, expulsion) as well.

While land and territory may have had different meanings and leverage amongst the Israeli Palestinian mobilization and identity-building process in the past, it is interesting to see the different manifestations of the land-centric angle over time. Land has become increasingly exhibited in contemporary projects that revive the land-centric notion of Palestinian identity. I am reminded here of Tabo طابو (colloquial Palestinian-Arabic for Title Deed), a Ramallah-based project initiated by a Palestinian-Canadian engineer. states:

To Palestinians worldwide, owning land in Palestine is priceless. Land represents a Palestinian’s identity, his roots, and his proof of existence. It is his ancestry, his forefather’s legacy and children’s birthright. It is the place from which he came, and to which he shall return. Now UCI makes it possible for Palestinians to reclaim their legacy, reconnect with the land of their ancestors, and own a piece of the homeland, for them, for their children, and for generations to come.”


Using a digital mapping system of previously unmapped agricultural land, the site allows Palestinians living in the diaspora to, in a three-step online process, select, view images and details of and buy land in the West Bank. In its Why Buy in Palestine? section the site emphasizes an ethical angle in relation to the land, making it less territorial and material, more visceral and symbolic:

The principal tool used by the occupation is to confiscate unregistered lands in Palestine and declare them as “state land”. According to the World Bank, only a third of land in the West Bank is registered. Buying and registering land in Palestine can protect it from illegal confiscation and settlement, and promotes ownership and control of Palestinian land by Palestinians”

Other contemporary projects like Zochrot and Palestine Remembered bring to life Yiftachel’s notion of land-centricity, but go a step further and challenge the isolation of land-as-kernal by exhibiting the missing link in the meaning of “sumud” in the against context. Browsing through the site one is met with a rich and peculiar marriage between Falah, Gregory and Yiftachel as land becomes a navigational blueprint to bring to trial the implication of geographic annexation in the dispossession of Palestinian and prevention of return. Evocative of Mark Levine’s “From Bride of the Sea to Disneyland: the Role of Architecture in the Battle for Tel Aviv’s Arab Neighborhood” which highlights the usurping of the Palestinian city of Jaffa by Tel Aviv through several “restoration” architectural projects, Palestinerememebred, is the Swiss Cheese map brought to life, in the colors of a kufiyeh – black and white, laying out facts without the flourishes, challenging the Motro-ian imagination of peace through design.

Conflict Media and Public Diplomacy in Israel & Palestine [a Storify story]

Originally posted on Tuesday 15th February 2012

My Storify story from a lecture titled Conflict Media and Public Diplomacy in Israel & Palestine held at New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development’s Media, Culture and Communication Department.

Featured talks by:


Dov Shinar – Professor and Graduate Studies Coordinator, School of Communication and Head, FAIR MEDIA: Center for the Study of Conflict, War and Peace Coverage, Netanya Academic College.

Professor Emeritus, Concordia University, Montreal; and Ben-Gurion University, Israel. Founding Dean, School of Media Studies, College of Management , Tel Aviv. Academic Director, Research Project on Israeli Public Diplomacy, Neeman Institute, Technion, Haifa. Advisory Committee Chair, Peace Journalism Working Group, International Peace Research Association (IPRA); member. Executive Boards of Keshev, The Center for Protection of Democracy in Israel; the Israel Association for Canadian Studies; Editorial Boards, Conflict and Communication Online, International Communications Gazette, and Intercom Journal of the Brazilian Media Research Association. Interested in the evolving impact of the media on identity, society, political culture, and peace processes.

Gil Lainer – Consul for Public Diplomacy, Consulate General of Israel, New York


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