Sa’ed Atshan

Swarthmore College
Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies

Media, Film, and the Politics of Queer Palestinian Representation

This chapter examines the relationship between the global queer Palestinian solidarity movement and representations of queer Palestinians in film and journalism. Significant mistrust has arisen among movement leaders with respect to the global mainstream media. Activists concerned with the politics of representation have demanded that media discourse on Queer Palestine reinforce a radical purist viewpoint. Recognizing the difference between journalistic and cinematic representation, the first part of this chapter is devoted to the former and the second to the latter. It opens with a description of how the mainstream Western press tends to privilege the most sensational stories about queer Palestinians. Although media occasionally moves in the direction of more nuanced representation, I nonetheless underscore movement leaders’ enduring mistrust of the news media when it comes to narrating queer Palestinian experiences and subjectivities. The second half of the chapter outlines the movement’s critique of pinkwashing films produced by Israelis and internationals and the movement’s attendant calls to boycott those films. It is important to note that what constitutes a pinkwashing film is contentious. This chapter delineates examples of cinematic tropes that clearly reinforce pinkwashing. It also analyzes films that feature queer love between Israelis and Palestinians. In addition, I discuss a number of queer Palestinian films, highlighting their importance and controversy. The chapter concludes with the story of an as-yet-unreleased documentary on the first U.S. LGBTQ delegation to Palestine.

Anna Ball

Nottingham Trent University
Associate Professor of Postcolonial Feminisms, Literatures and Cultures

Embarrassing Relations? Unmaking ‘the Palestinian Wedding’ in Wajib and Villa Touma

The trope of ‘the Palestinian wedding’ has operated as a powerful vehicle for the articulation of national desire and ethnic pride within twentieth and twenty-first century Palestinian cinema. Highly gendered in their construction, weddings – such as those featured in Michel Khleifi’s Wedding in Galilee (1987), or Hany Abu-Assad’s Rana’s Wedding (2003) – have tended to allegorize the Palestinian struggle through the portrayal of celebrations that emerge as triumphs out of national adversity, working through processes of gendered transgression in order to achieve, ultimately, a reinstatement of securely patriarchal order.
In two recent works of Palestinian cinema, however – Annemarie Jacir’s Wajib (2018) and Suha Arraf’s Villa Touma (2014) – we witness the unmaking of the wedding as restorative symbolic device and, indeed, patriarchal trope. Reformulated beneath the (often humorous) gaze of twenty-first century female directors, weddings instead emerge as devices that expose the complexities, disjunctions and indeed embarrassments circulating around national and ethnic identifications in contemporary Palestinian societies – particularly as spatial and ideological divisions emerge across generations, leading to a reconfiguration of gender roles and expectations. In the figures of both Shadi, the diasporic, metrosexual son in Wajib and Badia, the orphan niece taken in by three retrograde sisters wedded firmly to the 1960s in Villa Touma, we find the traditions of an older Palestinian generation met with frustration, resistance and even embarrassment by a younger generation holding alternative attitudes towards love, desire, honour and union. In its ‘unmaking’ of the wedding trope, then, this most recent wave of ‘Palestinian wedding’ films invite us to consider the ‘remaking’ of gendered social relations in contemporary Palestine. In so doing, they ultimately present new ways of imagining Palestine’s own relationship to the tropes to which has it most traditionally been ‘wed’: its senses of national pride and ethnic honour, revisioned here with gently feminist humour and affection.

Greg Burris

American University of Beirut
Assistant Professor of Media Studies

Our African Palestine: Intersectional Specters in the House of Zion

In response to the growing number of refugees that have arrived in Israel in recent years from countries like Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan, then-Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared in 2012, “This country belongs to us, to the white man.” Seldom have the identity claims of the Zionist project been so frankly spoken. While the racial and gendered hierarchies of Israel have been thoroughly examined with respect to both intra-Jewish tensions (Ashkenazi supremacy) and the Palestinian issue (white settler-colonialism), rarely have such analyses foregrounded the presence of African asylum-seekers. Moreover, how such an analysis would situate the Africans with respect to the Palestinian question is also a touchy subject, and if their plight has generated little discussion in pro-Palestinian quarters,  conversations about the Africans often ignore the Palestinians altogether. What goes unacknowledged is how both of these entities—Palestine and Africa—have shaped the Zionist treatment of the other. That is, whereas the figure of Africa has haunted the Zionist colonization of Palestine from its inception, the specter of the Palestinians continues to haunt the Israeli treatment of the Africans. Both of these specters have their racial and gendered consequences. After discussing these different connections, I will turn to several Israeli films and documentaries about African asylum-seekers—namely, James’ Journey to Jerusalem (dir. Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, 2003), Sound of Torture (dir. Keren Shayo, 2013), African Exodus (dir. Brad Rothschild, 2014), Ethnocracy: Israel’s African Refugees (dirs. Lia Tarachansky and Jesse Freeston, 2015), Hotline (dir. Silvina Landesman, 2015), and Between Fences (dir. Avi Mograbi, 2016). All of these films openly demonstrate solidarity with the African asylum- seekers, but they do so in different ways, and if these films sometimes leave the racial and gendered hierarchies of Zionism intact, at other times they completely shatter them.

Nava Dushi

Lynn University
Associate Professor, Film and Media Studies

In Between or The Ethics of the Aesthetics of Absence

In a joint interview, shortly after the release of In Between (2016), writer director Maysaloun Hamoud and lead actress Mouna Hawa proclaimed that the primary aim behind the production of the film was to render visible the otherwise invisible lives of young Palestinian women residing in Tel Aviv-Jaffa — an unclassifiable group which forms a minority within a minority within a minority. Beyond the immediate relevance that Hamoud and Hawa’s observations present for a cultural reading of the minoritarian disposition of the film’s narrative, the disparity between the Hebrew (לא פה, לא שם/Not Here, Not There) and English (In Between) translations of the original Arabic title (بار بحر/Land Sea), foregrounds the ontological dilemma of space and place, and as such, calls for the elaboration of a minor critique, one which engages the very materiality of the text.

By what means can a minority relegated to an existence that is not here and not there be represented? And, what is the ethical import of representations which seek to grapple with the overdetermined givenness of despotic images, such as those of nationalism, patriarchy, and religious belief? These challenges take center stage in recent works of both Israeli and Palestinian women filmmakers. While circumstances and contexts vary, the undercurrents which populate the aesthetic fabric of such films point to the emergence of previously unthought collective assemblages of enunciation.

Shai Ginsburg

Duke University
Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Write Down, I am an Arab, a Palestinian, and an Israeli, and a Woman, and …

In the nine documentaries she made and the one she produced for another filmmaker, Ibtisam Mara’ana has established herself as a foremost voice among filmmakers working in Israel. Simultaneously, she also has raised insistently the question of how to tag her. For all of her films explore the intersections of identities that are becoming ever harder to reconcile in today’s political climate, in Israel obviously, but also across the world: a Palestinian, Arab, Israeli, woman, secular. Her films are all grounded in a feminist critique that is directed against the chauvinism of both patriarchal Palestinian-Muslim society and ethnically-obsessed Israeli-Jewish society, both of which endeavor hard to pigeonhole Mara’ana and her likes. Indeed, in her films she explores how male-chauvinism is interlaced with national-chauvinism, as each is reinforcing the other. Her films are by no means abstract, but personal stories that study the emotional mechanism of the endeavor to disempower Palestinian woman in Israel, mechanisms that are no the product of state apparatuses only, but also inform the family structure and, indeed, the lives of “private” individuals, who become agents of such disempowerment. In this paper, I will explore the cinematic and narrative strategies Mara’ana employs in her films to impart this radical critique of Israeli—both Jewish and Palestinian—society.

Gil Hochberg

Columbia University
Ransford Professor of Hebrew and Visual Studies, Comparative Literature, and Middle East Studies

Queer as Can Be: “Blessed Blessed Oblivion” and “The White Elephant”

My talk is an exercise in reading two short films as “queer films” without prefacing their status as “Palestinian”. What does it mean to always already first classify a work as part of a national collectivity? Should queer readings do away with the national framework? and do these films specifically invite us to ask these questions? My talk asks more than answers as I suggest that queer readings also demand that we replace our exclamation marks with question marks.

Kamran Rastegar

Tufts University
Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature

Chronicles of Disappearance: Masculinity in the Cinema of Elia Suleiman

Perhaps more so than any other Palestinian film director, Elia Suleiman has, over the course of his four feature length films and several shorts, developed a film language that is recursive and consistent, an aesthetic system that is remarkably self-referential and yet also deeply socially rooted to the history and memory of Palestinian post-Nakba experience. This paper examines the place of gender, and in particular masculinity, in the cinematic imagination of Elia Suleiman. Suleiman’s work is generally viewed as exhibiting a complex and somewhat self-critical perspective on Palestinian identity, particularly as it is formed by a nationalist imaginary. Through his recurring protagonist ES, generally performed by Suleiman himself, these films idealize not only forms of Palestinianness, but also forms of Palestinian masculinity, that are at odds with both the nationalist project as well as with Zionist reproductions of Palestinian masculinity.

Lema Malek Salem

Independent Scholar

Silence… No More

Palestinian cinema has captured many aspects of the most turbulent periods of Palestine.  This  paper  seeks  to  focus  on  contemporary  Palestinian  cinema  that  undeniably witnessed a dynamic development, mostly with the increase of Palestinian women filmmakers and their themes. Palestinian women filmmakers’ films  interweave  and  reflect  on  the  complex  and  often  contradictory  contemporary, historical and socio-­‐cultural differences in a complex geopolitical space.  Like  other  Arab  cinemas,  Palestinian  women’s  films  deconstruct  taboos,  while simultaneously reconstructing concepts of contemporary socio-­‐cultural norms. I argue that Palestinian women filmmakers are instrumental in steering their  way  into  the  mainstream  cinema  while  addressing  new  issues  in  the  historical contemporary Palestine. In short, Palestinians have different levels of attachment and inclination to cultural traditions or/and patriarchal ideology in Palestine. In the early 21st century Palestinian women’s cinematic transgressions can  be  seen  as  a  foundation  for  transformation  and  challenge  of  what  is  considered taboo. Filmmakers here act out their desires, fantasies, frustrations, and creativity in their films. They have been featuring tabooed characters such as:  gay,  bisexual,  physical  and  sexual  dominance  and  violence  (socially  and  politically), and those rejecting cultural conventions. Hitherto, these Palestinian women have allowed space for liberation. The bulk of interest and attention has been  limited  to  few  well-­‐known  filmmakers,  thus  this  paper  will  introduce  a  glimpse of an exotic corpus of Palestinian women films.

Karen E. H. Skinazi

University of Bristol
Senior Lecturer

The Reluctant Feminism of Rama Burshtein’s Religious Romances

“If a man or woman is not loved by someone from the opposite sex, they are not whole,” declared auteur Rama Burshtein after the release of her second film, The Wedding Plan. “Marriage isn’t secondary to life. It is life. It’s not a side dish. It’s a main dish.”

In this talk, I want to focus on the ways that auteur Rama Burshtein puts forward trailblazing representations of empowered religious women, representations that shatter preconceptions and stereotypes of religious women as mere victims of patriarchy. In Fill the Void (2012) and later The Wedding Plan (2016), Burshtein creates stories about women’s autonomy, their fundamental ability to choose their partners—and more importantly, their life narratives. Although she clings doggedly to the conservative heteronormative “marriage plot” and adamantly refuses the term “feminism” to describe her ideological stance, Burshtein, significantly, normalizes Orthodox Jewish women’s ability to define and direct their lives.

Of course, mainstream (or what is often called “white”) feminism in turn rejects many of the tenets Burshtein appears to embrace; the rejection, in other words, is mutual. Yet this kind of mutual rejection is to the detriment of the entire project and premise of feminism. It is what leads to June Eric-Udori, Sara Ahmed and other scholars to investigate the question “Can we all be feminists?” and develop Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectional feminism.

Burshtein’s films broaden the tent of feminism. At the same time, the religious/women intersectionality of the films acts to obscure other power dynamics and systems of oppression adjacent to the stories being told, and I want to conclude by interrogating Burshtein’s choice to insulate the communities she represents. In a 2018 interview, Burshtein explained that she would not make a film including Palestinians because “that conflict is another world.” This choice is not unusual in contemporary cinematic and televised representations of Orthodoxy, with filmmaker Avi Nesher offering a nominal depiction of Palestinians in The Other Story (2019), and more dramatically, the dystopic series Autonomiot (2018) presents Palestine as an elision (the West Bank barrier is visible, but in the fantastic universe of the series, it is a wall that separates the autonomous Haredi state from secular Israel). Without engaging shared and even antagonistic struggles amongst Haredi and Palestinian women, what opportunities for insights into the power of intersectional feminism do we lose?

Yael Zerubavel

Rutgers University
Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies & History; and founding director, The Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life

Identity (Ex)Changes, Gender, and Family Ties:Cinematic Representations of Israeli Jews and Palestinians 

The talk addresses three films that feature the theme of identity (ex)changes between Israeli Jews and Palestinians within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether these films feature an identity change that results from a deliberate action, incidental circumstances or a human error, they explore the possibility of malleable identities that challenges the tendency to essentialize these identities as inherently oppositional. The films share a profound interest in exploring the constraints involved in moving across the national and religious divide in a conflict situation and the role of gender and family ties in this process. They critically portray the prejudice, social stereotypes, hostility, and violence that their lead characters face and raise questions about the challenge of sustaining human bonds across the national divide within a conflict situation. The discussion will focus on the films Fictitious Marriage [Nisu’im Fictivim] (1988), directed by Haim Bouzaglo; A Borrowed Identity [Aravim Rokdim, zehut she’ula] (2014), based on the writing of Sayed Kashua and directed by Eran Riklis; and The Other’s Son [Un Fils de l’autre]  (2012), directed by the Jewish French director Lorraine Lévy.