JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Images from Yasmin

I want to marry the one I love.

In Jericho, lover's despair.

Where are you?

Can you hear me?

Yasmin!

The wall between them.

Images from
The Fourth Room

Nabil

I used to take many photos.

Look at Nabil when he was young.

This is my red car.

I used to drive it to Gaza.

I have some films to show you.

Why shall I fix it? So they come back and destroy it again?

Palestinian Tora Boras are different from Ben Laden’s. Ours are on the surface. We hide inside our bodies and not inside the earth. And we weave our space as we go, constantly reconstituting ourselves in relation to changing geographies. In a way, one can describe the Zionist project in its entirety as a geographical invention which, for Palestinians, translates into the destruction and appropriation of their space, the destruction of memory and the appropriation of geography. The Palestinians have an ever diminishing space, especially after the construction of the apartheid wall and ghettoizing of Palestine. Palestinians are constantly driven out of their land, their places, and their practiced spaces into exiles, prisons, graveyards, anywhere, whence they don’t return. Erased from the surface, not seen, this is how Israelis want to see Palestinians. Sari Hanafi, a Palestinian researcher at the American University of Beirut, describes the Zionist project in Palestine as “not genocidal but a 'spacio-cidal' one.”

I use space here in terms made familiar by Giles Deleuze, Michel de Certeau, Edward Saïd and W.J.T. Mitchell, for whom space is always a mixture of the objective and subjective, intensive and extensive, smooth and striated. These distinctions correspond to two fundamental experiences or senses or perceptions of space. One experiences space as discourse, as organizer, a master plan, a war machine. The other experiences space as an extension of the body, where movement, motion, and repetition are made possible and so subjectivities are formed and a sense of identity is born. For Deleuze, our “sensory-motor schemata is concretely located in a hodological space” (1989, 127), where hodological space (as developed by Kurt Lewin) is a space that corresponds to paths traveled rather than distances measured. This concept of space differs from mathematical space in that it corresponds to the factual (physical, psychological) human experience, where, when crossing from point A to point B, one knows the way back to point A. It is within this hodological space that we make our voyages, our well planned trips, vacations, daily commutes to work, etc.

In Cinema 2, Deleuze points to cinematic instances, situations, and images that correspond to a collapse of sensory-motor schemata, i.e. one’s inability to orient oneself in hodological space (one cannot move from point A to point B, or one cannot move back to point A after crossing to point B.) This collapse gives birth to a new regime of images; what Deleuze calls the crystalline regime (127) The collapse of hodological space corresponds to fleeing as opposed to traveling, where each road becomes a one-way road and each trip is in fact a departure with no return ticket. The road forks and keeps on forking, and there is no trace any more of a point of origin or of where we came from.

In the essay “Invention, Memory, Place,” Edward Saïd illustrates how space can be made up of an overlapping of geographies and memories, both of which can be invented:

“geography as I want to use the word as a socially constructed and maintained sense of place.” (180)

No better example than Palestine can serve Saïd’s sense of geography here, with the Zionist imaging of Palestine as an empty land, an empty space that can be filled:

"the Zionist memory had succeeded in emptying Palestine of its inhabitants and history, turning its landscape instead into an empty space.” (Invention, 188)

Notice how Saïd here refers to "memory" as the active part through which the project is carried out, it is "their memory" that succeeded in displacing ours, that is ultimately the site of struggle. Worth noting also is Saïd’s use of "landscape" as the visual verifier for this operation: landscape as an act of erasure, of taking places into leaps of time bypassing all consequences. Following upon Saïd, W.J.T. Mitchell in his essay "Holy Landscape, Israel, Palestine and the American Wilderness" provides compelling insights into the process of this geographical invention / destruction through "landscape." Palestine has been reduced to the status of a landscape: framed, hedged about, shaped, controlled and surveilled from every possible perspective (207). Mitchell writes:

“It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the landscape perspective is one way of grasping the totality of what Saïd calls 'the question of Palestine.'"

As an example for the power of "holy landscape," Mitchell presents us an image he found on the Internet after random search under "Israel Landscape." It is an image of "Neot Kedumim"[6][open endnotes in new window] a "Biblical landscape reserve" in Israel.

The entry in the website explains further the image or this invented archeological site:

“Neot Kedumim — the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is a unique endeavor to re-create the physical setting of the Bible in all its depth and detail … The Bible conveys its ideas not in abstract terms, but through a clear and vivid record of long human interaction with the land of Israel. Neot Kedumim draws on a variety of disciplines — such as Bible scholarship, botany, zoology, geography, history, and archaeology — to bring the Bible and its commentaries to life.”[7]

To all of these disciplines that are collaborating in this discourse, I would add, the Israeli army, the bulldozers, expulsions, deportation, house demolitions, confiscation of lands and the uprooting of trees … Because after all, the Zionist project is not an abstract one and Neot Kedumim, as Mitchell comments, is

“a window into one fantastic realization of Zionism. Zion is not just an abstract concept: it is a place, a land, and a landscape.” (213)

Neot Kedumin

imagined landscape

Carrying out a random search, like Mitchell, I found an imaginary map of Jerusalem in the first century posted in the "Bible History Online" website[8] that serves as another fantastic holy landscape, where Jerusalem is emptied of all but Jewish signs. No signs of Christians and Muslims can be seen anywhere, and the perspective from where it is seen — from the Mount of Olives — is where we usually see Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa Mosque — at least for the last millennia. It is here replaced with the second temple. And Jerusalem as we know it is a crowded place, crowded with people and buildings, signs and narratives, memories and images, but here it looks empty, more like a small pastoral one-layered village. This map works to "purify" the city in the way of expelling what "does not belong" to this imagined geography and reinvented memory. A striation that renders it impossible for any smooth space to be practiced by another, be it Muslim or Christian.

Both Saïd and Mitchell in their respective essays reach the same gloomy political conclusion, that peace between Palestinians and Zionists is difficult if not impossible, based on this fundamental conflict.

“Only by understanding that special mix of geography generally and landscape in particular with historical memory and, as I said, an arresting form of invention can we begin to grasp the persistence of conflict and the difficulty of resolving it, a difficulty that is far too complex and grand than the current peace process could possibly envisage, let alone resolve.” (Saïd, 183)

Mitchell sees no way out, not even through a binational state (an idea which Saïd himself entertained as a solution):

"the long-range future of Israel/Palestine must be a way out of this wilderness to a land that is not merely binational or bi-anything else but a holy landscape of reconciliation among all the contended parties.” (Mitchell, 222).

Of course, one would ask, "But what is a landscape of reconciliation?"

In short, the Zionist project in Palestine is, from the position of Palestinians, spacio-cidal, in that it annihilates places that are the sources of Palestinians’ orientation in the world, of movement and repetition, of memory. Disorientation, loss of senses, paranoia, madness, and sexual perversion are recurring images in new Palestinian films:

  • Diary of a Male Whore (2001), a short fiction by Tawfik Abu Wael,
  • The Fourth Room (2004), a documentary by Nahed Awwad,
  • Like Twenty Impossibles (2003) a short fiction by Annemarie Jacir,
  • Looking Awry (2001) by Sobhi al-Zobaidi,
  • May It Be for the Best (2004) a documentary by Raed Elhilo,
  • Be Quiet (2005), a short fiction by Sameh Zubi
  • the feature-length Ford Transit (2002) by Hani Abu Asaad
  • the feature-length Divine Intervention (2002) by Elia Suleiman
  • Yasmin’s Song (2005), a short fiction work by Najwa Najjar.

These films are not about what Israelis have done to the Palestinians, but about what has been done, regardless. In these films, as I will explain, there are no stories but rather there are ghosts. The story collapses and suddenly the "agent" is turned into "a seer."[9] When there is a story, as in Yasmin’s Song, it is stopped, broken, arrested, incarcerated. In these films, space is very often reduced to the body, where everything outside of the body is hostile, and thus the body becomes the vessel, the smuggler, a Tora Bora.

In the documentary The Fourth Room, Nabil, the main character, a store owner tells us of his four or five secret rooms, which, he says, are locked and no one but he can enter. We are shown one room in the film but we can sense all the others. Nabil’s internalized practice of space, a practice that ultimately gives up on geography, is the achievement of a lifelong displacement. Originally from Ramleh, southeast of Yafa, he and his family fled in 1948 to Dir Ghassane, a village in the West Bank, and then moved to Ramallah. In the only room the camera is allowed to enter, we see a crystallized image of an Israeli raid some time ago when Israeli soldiers came in and searched the house. They wrecked the room and broke things, but Nabil refuses to fix the damage:

"Why? Shall I move them so they break again? No, just leave them like this.”

Nabil keeps film and slide projectors and he mounts them both to share memories with us. The super-8 footage is of a family trip to the sea, and we hear his wife’s comments, remembering names and jokes. In one of the slides we see a picture of a small red Fiat car he used to drive. Nabil smiles when he remembers all the trips he made in the car —which he refuses to get rid of despite the fact that it doesn’t run anymore. He adores the car and also his camera, which he refused to sell to the Israeli captain who searched his house. His stationary shop, a former bookstore, is cluttered with objects, leaving very minimal space to move around, piles of objects everywhere. He can barely move, but he moves nonetheless.

An image from his former village.

His room after it was invaded.

One soldier wanted to buy my camera.

A day trip to sea, images from the past.

Nabil lives not only in an actual place but also in spaces where he can demand that memory stand still. He has his own time projector working just like his film projecter, his most cherished object. It is here that we may speak most precisely of crystalline image:

“the coalescence of an actual image and its virtual image, the indiscernibility of two distinct images.” (Deleuze, Cinema 2, 127)

Nabil’s "imaginary" or "real" rooms are his own private Tora Bora, with passages, secret rooms and secret routes, hidden deep inside away from the surface. They are virtuals that only Nabil can actualize.

I don't come in this room any more.

I started my life in this room.

You see how it looks now.

I don't want to fix anything.

There is yet another room.

Would you like to stop here?

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