Images from
Like Twenty Impossibles

Kalandia checkpoint 2002.

It is going to become a border.

Shit, soldiers.

Soundman arrested.

I thought a lot about you...

...but you have not asked me to act on anything yet.

Images from Be Quiet

How did my uncle die?

He had heart problems

What is going on?

Israeli army are shooting at people

Is that your car with Israeli plates?

His uncle's blood on the kuffiyah.

Son confronts father.

Images from
Diary of a Male Whore

I masturbate with the old man looking

my body pleasures made me forget my hunger

The war began, my father was killed.

I heard my mother's screams.

A soldier raped my mother.

I walk aimlessly.

All he remembers is he slept with a woman when he first arrived in TelAviv.

I roam aimlessly all night.

In Like Twenty Impossibles (2003), Annemarie Jacir, an American-Palestinian woman comes to Palestine to make a film. With her are three men, a sound person, driver and an actor, Rami. On their way to Jerusalem from Ramallah, they find that Kalandia checkpoint is closed (this part of the film is filmed at the actual checkpoint), so they take one of the "Tora Bora" routes, and this becomes the location of the film. As their Ford makes its way through the Tora Bora, the filmmaker and Rami talk about the first time they saw each other four years ago, and his pleasure to be acting in her film now:

“When you came back this time I was so happy, and now that you are making a film and I am in the film. I feel that you are helping me to be in front of the camera doing something I like. It is important to me, I love to act.”

He goes silent for seconds then continues:

“But why did you chose me to act with you?”

Jacir responds, laughing:

“Because you are good looking.”

Rami comments,

"But until today you didn’t ask me to do anything. You didn’t ask me to act.”

Suddenly the crew comes face to face with the force of the Israeli army (now at a staged checkpoint). The trip is aborted, movement is arrested, and unlike Nabil’s private Tora Bora, this real and physical one turns out lethal. At this staged checkpoint with Palestinian actors playing Israeli soldiers, the soundman in the film is arrested and so the film crew retreats from Tora Bora, without sound. The last few minutes of the film are not silent but deaf and mute. This is how it feels when one experiences a collapse, loses orientation; one sheds one’s senses as one flees. To flee is to break as Deleuze points out:

“A clean break is something you cannot come back from; that is irretrievable because it makes the past cease to exist.“(Dialogues II: 38)

To flee is not a voyage, for in a voyage, one is coming back to a point of origin. In flight, you don’t come back, or you don’t know if you will come back; you just go, you take a step, a leap. The crew retreating back without their friend is not really their returning to where they were or where they started, it is not the same space. The sky that gathered them until that point — the vehicle, the jokes, the intimacy and the memories they were able to share — that was a last sky.

As I mentioned earlier, in Tora Bora anything can happen. Like graveyards in horror films, there are no

"legal, causal and logical connections" (Cinema 2, 127).

Continuity and discontinuity depend on what may suddenly appear in the way:

"… spaces reduced to their own descriptions …" (136).

Where Nabil in the Fourth Room was able to survive by constructing a "hidden" last sky, in Like Twenty Impossibles the last sky is lost; the characters get swallowed by a black hole; they disappear in the graveyard. In comparison to the "any-spaces-whatever"which, Deleuze suggest as the spaces of ruin and disuse that dominated European cities and films after World War II, this Tora Bora is a "no-space-whatever"; it is the last space before completely disappearing. "Any-space-whatever" are spaces that we no longer know how to describe, spaces that are  “deserted but inhabited, disused warehouses, waste ground, cities in the course of demolition or reconstruction”(Cinema 2: xi), where “characters are not actors but seers.” In a no-space-whatever, the characters are not actors and not seers. They are delirious, they are in flight, their spaces are totally striated, the experiences of smooth space and intensive space are impossible. All space is extensive and striated, by watchtowers, electric gates, electronic fences, surveillance cameras, and dogs. Even the air is striated: the Palestinian Authority could not claim to use the air space between Gaza and the West Bank to broadcast radio and TV.

Like Twenty Impossibles starts at an actual checkpoint —  Kalandia checkpoint at the time of shooting — which we learn is closed, so they try a Tora Bora, and there the film proceeds with a staged checkpoint. What I find interesting in this part is its transparency in terms of the difference between fiction and documentary, similar to Ford Transit by Abu Asaad. By transparency I mean what others might call opacity: there is no difference between what is "real" and what is "staged" in the mind of a Palestinian filmmaker. Staging a checkpoint or a beating, a shooting, the demolition of a house, etc., is not the stuff of fiction. It is real life, reenacted, performed, and remembered. In Looking Awry, I weave a fictitious story around real checkpoints and real events, that footage of the checkpoints and of the clashes between demonstrators and police in the mosque is footage of documentary value. What is "staged" is life itself, life unfolding. This is why I think that Palestinian filmmakers do not hesitate to mix real with staged events.

The notions of fiction and documentary do not apply here. Elia Suleiman’s work in general is a good example of a free-floating exchange between staged and actual events. Hanna Elias does this as well in his film Olive Harvest (2003) by filming staged scenes in Arafat’s headquarters while the leader's helicopters are landing and officials are waiting to receive him. I did this in my first film, My Very Private Map (1998) by mixing poetry and archive. Najwa Najjar does the same thing in Yasmin’s Song, (2005) where she stages a love story between a young woman and the man she loves, when she is forced to marry someone else. On the day of her wedding she runs away in search of her lover, only to come face-to-face with the monstrous Israeli wall that bars her from him. All that is fictitious about the story ends up face-to-face with a very real thing, the wall. Fiction in these films is memory coexisting with the real object, the way Deleuze explains memory in the "The Actual and the Virtual."

“Bergson shows, memory is not an actual image which forms after the object has been perceived, but a virtual image coexisting with the actual perception of the object. Memory is a virtual image, contemporary with the actual object, its double, its ‘mirror image.’”(Dialogues II, 151)

The bridal white dress in Yasmin’s Song, the intimacy in Like Twenty Impossibles, Nabil’s car and his film projector, are but objects of memory, crystallized memory that can be replayed any time in order to relive times past. And whenever such times are acted out, reenacted, remembered, recollected, retold, it is about the reality of the virtual, the power of the "false."

Be Quiet by Sameh Zu’bi is a film takes place traveling from Jenin to Nazareth, first in a taxi, then a in a private car. Father and son are going back to Nazareth from Jenin after attending the funeral of the mother’s brother. From the very first few shots we learn that the boy needs to piss, but the father tells him to hold it. "We’ll be home soon,”he keeps telling the boy. The father has only one aim, which is to cross from point A, to point B, he wants only to get home. The taxi reaches a point where it stops and is ordered to turn back; the father gets out of the car and he is told to go back because Israeli snipers are shooting at Palestinian cars.

But then they ask him if the red car with yellow plates is his? He drives through only to reach another checkpoint where an Israeli force orders him out of the car. This whole thing happen while at the same time the young boy is struggling to contain his anger at his father because the father lied when he told him that his uncle has died of a heart attack, when in fact the uncle was killed by the Israelis.

The young boy ask his father about the color of the car’s license plates:

“Why are they different? Father?"

"So they can tell who is Palestinian and who is Israeli.”

“So who can tell?”


— a moment of silence

“I don’t understand, but we are Palestinians.

Why are our car plates yellow...

... and my uncle's car plates green?

No journey is a smooth one.

Son sees father being searched.

When Israeli soldiers search the father and the boy’s bag, the father notices the uncle’s bloody kuffiya in his son’s bag, and he blames him for carrying it:

“You could’ve got us arrested. Who gave you this kuffiya? Did you steal it?”

And we see in the son’s big eyes certain contempt for the father, he distances himself from the father. And this is after they cross the roadblock, which, becomes so insignificant when compared to the more fundamental checkpoint that resides in the very fabric of father-son relation as well as inside each one of them.

The father’s sole aim is to reach point A from point B. He doesn’t think about the movement back to point B (Jenin in this case), he mentally erases it, while the son does the opposite. The boy is carrying his sense of orientation in his bag: his private map, his own striation, his way back to Jenin. The father is disoriented: you can see it in his face, in his vague answers, and in his "submissiveness" to the soldiers. The father has no memory, he keeps none, or so he constantly erases his memory in order to deal with the actual division that he lives, while the son seem more oriented, more determined and with his eyes wide open, seems to know more about the future. The son carries memories with him in his bag, memories of his uncle and of Jenin, and in Nazareth he will nurture these memories in order to be able to go back.

Who gave you the kuffiyah?

I don't like them.

I'll keep this kuffiyah with me.

I'll take you to McDonalds.

The father lives an extensive space while the son lives an intensive one. Space for father is measured, calculated; the right license plates, the right form of identification card, and the right exchange of words with the soldiers and you can cross. There is no need to remember more than what lets you pass through hostile space. The father has no smooth moments, his sense of space is optical, he is on the lookout all the time, surveying and spotting obstacles, while the son is having his haptic moment clutching on the bag.

This sort of "loss" of memory that befell the father in his way of adapting to the real objectified space, and the resulting identity crisis is very apparent in films by Israeli-Palestinian filmmakers such as Elia Suleiman, Hani Abu Asaad, Nizar Hasan, Tawfik Abu Wael and Sameh Zubi. This work deals with the portion of Palestinians who remained living in historical Palestine (over a million in 2006) and who became Israeli citizen with rights to vote and all that. They have been subjugated to an intense process of de-memorializing, and deterritorializing, while not allowed total assimilation because they are not Jewish. So on the one hand, an Israeli-Palestinian is requested to forget, but on the other hand, is not allowed to forge a new memory. This kind of emptiness is felt in films by Suleiman such as Divine Intervention and Chronicle of a Disappearance and in the films Diary of a Male Whore and Atash by Abu Wael. Yasmin and Istiklal, two documentaries by Nizar Hasan, are made from the same material. In these films what you sense most of all is a disorientation that is now related directly not to the loss of space, but to the loss of memory.

In Diary of a Male Whore it is the body that remains, only the body and its forces trapped within itself, fluctuating in the form of sexual perversions. This amounts to zero memory, the loss of it completely. This is the body as a sexual maze fluctuating in a sexual maze. A Tora Bora made of flesh, of smells and touches that turn the body mobile only in the way of reliving, replaying, reenacting the same memory over and over again, the memory of the mother being raped by an Israeli soldier. It is with this memory that Abu Wael registers the 1948 Jewish occupation of Palestine. This memory, this crystallized virtual, mirrors all other acts of becoming; it replaces and displaces the actual.

as a child

I'd watch her

Suad was very beautiful

she knew I watched her

her father used to beat her

run, run Jews are attacking

A time image, a crystalline moment, a collapse in coherence occurs. There is no sense in the space that surrounds the main character; the only sense is through his body which moves him, carries him from one place to another without having to have any of the coherence that’s usually endowed in one’s practices of space such as one’s home, office, homeland: “I roam aimlessly all night, during the day I sleep at any street corner,”as the frame below reads. The film begins and ends with the main character inside the car of an Israeli elder, who is old enough to be from the time of the mother's rape, i.e. 1948. The Palestinian man performs a sex act, masturbating, only for the perverted pleasures of the old Israeli man. This is where his body takes him to places of the primal scene, the first displacement, as an ever-occurring thing; it is all whatever happens, all whatever is. It's a loss of "hodoglical space" where ones goes aimless, mad, demonic, anything but normal.

The main character in Diary of a Male Whore and the father in Be Quiet are two people with no memory. There is a vacuum there, some kind of collapse, a disorientation that forces them to go only where their bodies can take them. This ambiguity in their sense of identity as it relates to space and memory can be related to the fact that from 1948 until 1967, Israeli Palestinians had no contact whatsoever with Palestinians or Arabs anywhere. Only after 1967 when Israel occupied the rest of Palestine did they start to contact other Palestinians. So on the one hand they were not allowed to identify with Arabs and Palestinians and on the other they have not been allowed to become equal Israelis because they are not Jewish, and they still live this dilemma. Zu’bi in Be Quiet reinvents this lost memory through the young boy.

Similarly, in Atash (2003) by Abu Wael, the son kills the father in order to liberate himself and his family from the father’s tyranny. The mise-en-scene of that film is brilliant in depicting a landscape of misery, in a grim, un-homely, “unheimlich,” cold, distant, disconnected, and hostile former Israeli military training post. The father’s space almost obliterates orientation  for the rest of the family(the girl looks pale and aimless all the time). Like the father in Be Quiet, the patriarch of Atash lives an objectified space, a space where he has to smuggle himself through all the time, where he cannot be visible. He has no point of origin, he just wants to go from point A (the village) to point B (outside of the village). The father doesn’t represent anything from the past; he is completely the product of the moment and that is what is scary about him. Here too the father’s sense of space is only optical — hiding, surveying, stealing. He too is living an extensive space, space that is not his, a space where he is always foreign. In his way of living he is subjecting his family to live with him this "loss of space and of memory," but the others have a different sense of space and so they feel alienated by their father. He is the source of their pain and disorientation and so they kill him; they eliminate the source of their misery; they want to be visible where the father wanted to keep them invisible.

This visibility / invisibility split is at the core of Palestinian cinema, as Hamid Dabashi writes in his introduction to the newly published collection on Palestinian cinema:

“At the core of the Palestinian historical presence is thus a geographical absence. The overriding presence of an absence is at the creative core of Palestinian cinema, what has made it thematically in/coherent and aesthetically im/possible.”

Edward Saïd makes a related observation in his preface to the same collection:

“In fact, the whole history of the Palestinian struggle has to do with the desire to be visible.”(Dabashi: 2)

This visibility entails as a condition one’s ability to practice space, smooth space, a space that is filled by “events or haecceities”as Deleuze writes.

“It is a space of affects, more than one of properties. It is haptic rather than optical perception … it is one of distance not of measures and properties”(1989, 479).

Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation do not have this space, while Palestinians who live in Israel have the space, but they struggle with their memories as whether to conceal or to practice those memories. Palestinians in exile have neither space nor memory. What they have is a virtual image of Palestine as a "lost paradise," a fixation of some sort through which they live and relive their “postponed drama of return”as Saïd described it in After the Last Sky. In exile, Palestine is a hallucinatory space that is malleable but that can only accommodate memories of things past and not of things present. Palestinians in exile can only live in the past when it comes to Palestine, while Palestinians in Palestine can only live in the present moment.

The difference can better be articulated by contrasting Tora Bora cinema, with concepts of intercultural and accented cinemas, as developed by Laura Marks and Hamid Naficy. Marks’ book The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses and Naficy’s An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking offer rich perspectives and complex readings into cinematic works made by people who immigrated, or where uprooted, displaced or sent into exile.

Where "intercultural" cinemas “attempt to represent the experience of living between two or more cultural regimes of knowledge”(Marks, 2000. 1),"accented" cinemas

“signify upon exile and diaspora by expressing, allegorizing, commenting upon, and critiquing the home and host societies and cultures and the deterritorialized conditions of the filmmakers.

Thus both intercultural and accented cinemas are made in the margins of cultural encounters between those who left their homelands and those who received them. In relation to these, then, Tora Bora cinema is that of those who did not leave, could not leave, do not want to leave, but are made to disappear. If the new “hybrid race of mutant immigrants”possess a “third eye” (Rony, quoted by Marks) “which allows them to perceive the dominant culture from both inside and outside” (Marks, 2000, 28), then I propose to think of "Tora Bora cinema" as that of a "mutant race" that sees with just one eye and can only see from inside. If intercultural cinema "indicates a context that cannot be confined to a single cultureand suggests movement between one culture and another” (Marks, 2000, 6), then Tora Bora cinema is not contextual but singular. In Tora Bora cinema there is always an actualization of the virtual but without ever there being an actual, no fruits fall from the plane.[10][open endnotes in new window] These films do not aim at breaching or teaching, or victimizing or accusing, or even revealing. These are pure moments of life, as if the cinematic projection apparatus has momentarily but totally taken over the “projector of life itself":

“whether it is a matter of thinking becoming, or expressing it, or even perceiving it, we scarcely do anything other than activate a sort of internal cinema projector.” [11]

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