Palestinian literature and film at Shubbak Festival, London, 11-26 July 2015


‘Wave’, Djerbahood, Tunisia, by French Tunisian ‘calligraffiti’ artist eL Seed.

Shubbak Festival is London’s largest festival of contemporary Arab arts and culture, and takes place this year from 11-26 July. I’ve selected a few events which anyone interested in Palestinian history and culture might like to check out. Let me know if there are others I’ve missed! The festival includes many wonderful-sounding screenings, performances and discussions, so do have a read of the whole site.

One highlight of the festival looks to be Disappearing Cities of the Arab World, on 12 July. The full programme of speakers for this day-long event hasn’t been announced yet, but from the description it looks like there will be a strong Israel/Palestine theme:

In the post-colonial age, Arab urban life has often borne witness to destruction through civil wars, foreign invasion and religious conflict. Old customs and architectures have been erased; in their place, a new landscape of globalization has emerged.

Disappearing Cities of the Arab World explores issues of architecture, post-colonialism, globalisation and psycho-geography. It brings together writers, artists, historians, architects and urbanists to explore the complex space that is the contemporary Arab city. Speakers include Ziauddin Sardar on Mecca, Eyal Weizman on the architecture of occupation, Shadia Touqan on the restoration of Jerusalem’s ancient buildings, as well as writers and artists offering dispatches from cities across the Arab region.

Divided into different sessions, the day explores the theme through a focus on architecture and urban planning, literary reflections on cities with guest authors, and visual representations in still and moving images by artists and activists. Sharon Rotbard, architect and author of White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa will give the keynote talk, focusing on modernist architecture and colonisation in Israel.

The festival also includes a series of film screenings curated by celebrated Palestinian director Michel Khleifi, to mark his 65th birthday. These include all three parts of Khleifi’s own Route 181, co-directed with Eyal Sivan, and a discussion with both directors following the screening of the first part on 21 July. Parts two and three will be screened the following night on 22nd July.

Other examples of Khleifi’s work showing during the festival will be Canticle of the Stones (1990) on 13 July, Fertile Memory (1980), the first full-length film to be shot in Palestine, on 16 July, Wedding in Galilee (1987) on 19 July. and Forbidden Marriages in the Holy Land (1990) on 21 July.

On 12 July there will be a three-part screening, as part of Khleifi’s selections, under the heading ‘Visions of Palestine’. I’ve not come across the films before, but they sound fascinating:

Location Hunting in Palestine Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1965 | 55 mins Location Hunting in Palestine is a record of Pasolini’s visit to the Holy Land in 1964 to scout for locations for the Oscar nominated classic The Gospel According to St Matthew (1965) and his explanation of why he decided not to film there.

Description of a Struggle Chris Marker | France | 1960 | 60 mins Using archival material and location footage, the French auteur explores the challenge for Israeli citizens to come to terms with their new identity and the treatment of its Arab minorities. Winner of the 1961 Golden Bear for Best Feature-Length Documentary at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Ma’loul Celebrates its Destruction Michel Khleifi | Palestine/Belgium | 1984 | 30 mins Ma’loul is a Palestinian village in Galilee. In 1948, it was destroyed by the Israeli armed forces and its inhabitants expelled. The former inhabitants are only allowed to visit once a year, on the anniversary of Israel’s independence, and have developed a new tradition: they have a picnic on the very site of the destroyed village.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Khleifi, Tariq Ali, Peter Kosmisky (director of Channel 4 series The Promise) and Ilan Pappe.

The festival ends on 26 July with an event featuring Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, author of many acclaimed works including the Palestinian epic Gate of the Sun, in conversation with Marina Warner.

Many of the panel discussions also sound interesting, such as The Rise of Arabic Literature in English? (note that crucial question mark!) on 25 July, with speakers including British Palestinian novelist Selma Dabbagh, and Marcia Lynx Qualey, owner of the popular blog Arabic Literature (in English). Palestine’s most well-known living poet Mourid Barghouti participates in the discussion at Writing Change: Words in Times of Conflict and Crisis, also on 25 July, while later that day Gazan novelist Atef Abu Saif reads from his latest works, including The Drone Eats With Me, his diary of last summer under siege, as part of an event called Hot Off the Press.

I’m personally curious about the panel discussions on emerging literary forms in the Arab world. Drawing Your Attention, on 26 July, examines the rise of graphic novels, and is well-timed, following the publication of the first Palestinian novel, Baddawi by Leila Abdulrazak, this year. Science Fiction in the Arab World, on 25 July, sounds like it should be a fascinating discussion about the possibilities of this form as a means for imagining alternative futures for the Arab world, whether those be hopeful or dystopian.

Hannah Boast

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Larissa Sansour: Palestine, Sci-Fi and Superheroes

An image from Larissa Sansour's Nation Estate project (2012)

An image from Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate project (2012)

Jerusalem-born Larissa Sansour is one of the most well-known Palestinian artists working today, and her films and images have been exhibited around the world.

In this interview with the Institute for Palestine Studies blog, Sansour discusses food, archaeology and myth, and how science fiction can help us to think through Palestinian politics.

One of the works she discusses is her project Nation Estate (2012), an image from which is pictured here. Sansour envisions a dystopian architectural solution to the problem of creating a Palestinian state in an ever-shrinking Palestinian space:

With Israeli settlement activity confiscating more and more Palestinian land, it struck me that for a Palestinian state ever to materialize, one would have to think vertically. This thought was the starting point for the Nation Estate project. In Nation Estate, Palestinians finally have their state in the shape of a single skyscraper housing the entire population. Each city has its own floor: Jerusalem on the third floor, Ramallah on the fourth, Bethlehem on the fifth, and so on. Aiming for a sense of belonging, the lobby areas of each floor reenacts central squares and landmarks, the elevator doors on the Jerusalem floor opening up onto a full-scale version of the Dome of the Rock.

Sansour’s high-rise solution recalls Israeli architect Eyal Weizman’s ‘politics of verticality’ (Hollow Land, 2007), of which he describes Jerusalem as an ‘intense case study’.

While Sansour imagines Jerusalem as one floor in a tower block, Weizman discusses a proposal made by Bill Clinton at Camp David for vertically-divided ownership of the Dome of the Rock, where the area would be partitioned imaginatively into Palestinian, Israeli, and United Nations-run segments.

Sansour’s work confronts her audiences with the question of whether her science fictional scenarios are necessarily more absurd than the Palestinian reality.

‘there’s a third party at the negotiations on the city, and that’s Jerusalem herself’

I’ve been writing recently about the Israeli novelist Meir Shalev, particularly his 1988 novel The Blue Mountain, a magical realist account of the lives of Jewish pioneers in an early twentieth century agricultural settlement. Shalev is also well-known in Israel as a journalist, and has a weekly column in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

In searching for reviews of The Blue Mountain, I came across the following comments on Jerusalem from one of Shalev’s columns, published in September 2000, which reminded me of discussions we’ve had at events and on the blog about personifying Jerusalem, prompted again recently by a post by Laura Sangha.

Shalev criticises the deadly mythology of ‘sacred Jerusalem’, at the same time as producing a version of the city which is perhaps equally romanticised:

Everyone talks of the Palestinians and the Israelis and forgets that there’s a third party at the negotiations on the city, and that’s Jerusalem herself. Although she’s called ‘the eternal city of peace,’ the city has not stopped being the reason for and the arena of wars. Notwithstanding the wonderful words Jeremiah, Isaiah and Jesus spoke there, she has always preferred generals, kings, builders and destroyers over prophets and simple citizens. She has an interesting symbioses with them. Jerusalem demands that they come up to her, pray to her, destroy and build her. In return, she offers them perpetuity on the pages of history. No one would remember Herod and Nehemia had they not built Jerusalem. Titus would have been forgotten if he hadn’t destroyed her. Saladin would not be known in Europe if he hadn’t fought for her. Princess Helena would have vanished a long time ago if she hadn’t, with a fatuous wave of her hand, designated the holy places for which the coming generations’ blood would be spilt. Barak and Arafat are no different from their ancient predecessors. They also throb with a poignant yearning to go down in history. They can go down as the first leaders to tell this city: ‘thus far!’ They can tell her that people will no longer die for the sanctity of her stones and tombs. But neither seems to be made of this stuff. Barak prattles about ‘defending Israel’s holy places’ and Arafat recites ‘Terra Santa’ in fluent Crusader language. And we – – mere Jews and Arabs — will still be placed on the altar of this Moloch called sacred Jerusalem.

Hannah Boast, Network Coordinator

Dr Anna Bernard, ‘Resources for International Solidarity’, University of York, 25 February

Our very own co-investigator Dr Anna Bernard will be speaking at the University of York on Wednesday 25th February, on the topic of ‘Resources for International Solidarity: Palestine and South Africa on Camera’.

Anna is now based at King’s College London, but was previously a member of York’s Department of English and Related Literature, and we’re very pleased to welcome her back.

The talk is being hosted by York’s ‘Resistant Resources’ research strand, which developed from the Postcolonial Studies Association Postgraduate Conference held at York in July 2014.

Anna’s talk takes place in the Bowland Auditorium at 6pm. Attendance is free and all are welcome.

Her abstract is below:

Resources for International Solidarity: Palestine and South Africa on Camera

This paper compares the consciousness-raising strategies of anti-apartheid and Palestine solidarity documentaries released in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, including Some of the Palestinians (1976), You Have Struck a Rock! (1981), Occupied Palestine (1981), Who Are the Palestinians? (1983), and Witness to Apartheid (1986). These films emerge at a crucial juncture in the general shift, from the 1970s onward, from third-worldist and liberationist ideas of solidarity to civil society and humanitarian approaches. I argue that these films respond to the organizational needs of their particular moment by negotiating between these conflicting notions of what it means to be in solidarity, a strategy that remains in evidence in contemporary forms of international solidarity activism. They thus have important resonances with, and lessons for, cultural activism in our present moment.

If you’re unable to travel to York, Anna will be speaking on related themes at the University of Edinburgh Department of Islamic and Middle East Studies on Monday 2nd March, as part of their Lectures on Palestine 2015. The abstract for that talk can be found here.

Thanks to our network member Sarah Irving, who is part of a team curating the lectures, for this info.

Dana Hercbergs on the ‘Davidization of Jerusalem’

Tower of David, Jerusalem. Shared from Wikipedia under a Creative Commons Licence.

Dana Hercbergs, who spoke at our November 2014 conference Remembering Jerusalem, has written a piece based on her paper for +972 Magazine.

The article discusses the recent proliferation of images of the Tower of David as a symbol of Jerusalem.

The Tower, Dana writes, has appeared on everything from phone books to votive candles, to real estate adverts. It has reached such a level of popularity that it now seems to be replacing landmarks such as the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.

But why is this the case? Dana’s piece puts forward a number of possibilities, ranging from the increased visibility of settlers in the occupied City of David, to the potential of the Tower to replace the Dome of the Rock/Western Wall image with one which is on the surface (but barely, in reality) less politically charged.

You can read Dana’s article here.

BBC drama ‘The Honourable Woman’ screens on Israeli TV

I blogged about Hugo Blick’s BBC drama The Honourable Woman, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, here, when it screened in the UK last year.

Personally, I enjoyed the series for its pace, style, and complex female characters, even if I found it ultimately unenlightening on questions of Middle East politics, and was less than impressed by its uniformly negative representations of Palestinians.

That review is here.

Since then, the series has been widely exported around the world (perhaps notably, the press release doesn’t list sales to any Arab countries) and is about to be shown on Israeli television.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has published a pre-review of the series, and it’s interesting to read a perspective on Blick’s drama ‘from the eye of the storm’, as the reviewer, Michael Handelzalts, puts it.

The review includes a fascinating biographical tidbit about the Israeli actor Yigal Naor, who plays the shrewd but kindly character Shlomo. Apparently, Naor previously played Saddam Hussein in a BBC drama called House of Saddam (which I’ve not seen).

The casting of an Israeli actor as Iraq’s former dictator seems telling about the attitudes of BBC producers, and western audiences, towards the Middle East. While I wouldn’t deny that an actor can play outside their nationality – the ability to inhabit different roles is, after all, the basis of acting – this casting suggests that Middle Eastern ‘appearances’, accents, and cultures are viewed in the west as essentially interchangeable.

You can read Haaretz‘s take on The Honourable Woman here.

Hannah Boast, Network Coordinator.

Demolition of conference presenter Dr Mutasem Adileh’s house, East Jerusalem

Dr Mutasem Adileh, of Al Quds University, has informed us that he will be unable to attend our November conference due to the demolition of his house by the Jerusalem municipality.

Dr Adileh is an ethnomusicologist, and was to present a paper at ‘Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City’ on Palestinian music and national identity.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq monitor Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes. You can read more about this on their websites.