Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Palestine Suspended Between Old & New

500 Dunam On the Moon is a short and affecting documentary (by an American) about the Palestinian village Ayn Hawd, south of Haifa, ethnically cleansed of its native Arab community by Zionist terrorist militias in the 1948 Israeli war on Palestine (Ayn Hawd is located in the territory demarcated for the Jewish state in the proposed United Nations partition plan). Ignoring a United Nations General Assembly, nearly unanimously renewed every year since, calling for the right of return of Palestinian refugees forcibly evicted or compelled to flight by the war (and direct Zionist threats) from their homes, Israel has refused to allow the original inhabits to resettle on their land.

Instead in 1953, the Israel state expropriated the land and help set up an artist colony on stolen Palestinian land - an illustrative example of the deceptive and fraudulent nature of Israel's incessant self-admiration as some sort of enlightened island in a sea of jungle Arabs. A nation that builds and markets its 'humanitarianism' on the ruins of another people.

But unlike many other Palestinians, the residents of Ayn Hawd did not end up outside the borders of Palestine. Their eviction did not throw them into, say, Lebanon but - to borrow jargon - down the block. Ayn Hawd became the Hebrew Ein Hod (a common theme in Israel is the renaming, or Arabic to Hebrew modification, of violently depopulated Arab villages) and Ayn Hawd resurfaced as a refugee suburb of its former home and its residents made into Israeli citizens.

The residents are entitled to the basics of Israeli citizenship law (to be distinguished - and this is crucial - from nationalism which is only afforded to Jewish subjects with all its commensurate privileges) but their new home isn't recognized by Israel. Placing them in legal limbo and without access to state services, such as paved roads. Housing permits are similarly denied. Palestinians may build anyway, but Israel may then cite the construction as illegal and demolish. Why doesn't Israel just recognize this new Arab community, especially as its inhabitants have effectively given up returning to their old homes? No specific reason is given and this case isn't unique. Many Arab villages remain unrecognized. Perhaps Israeli authorities do not want to provide services that would come with recognition. More likely a future eviction is in the works. The new Ayn Hawd, like the old, is located on prime real estate: the lush coast with mountain views and the Mediterranean Sea as backdrop. Israel may one day decide to build Jewish housing here and recognizing the current Arab village would make the current residents - even in Israel - harder to force out once again.

There is a lot to unravel in this short, but of great depth, film. But I want to concentrate on a few notes I took while watching:

- There is the case of the Palestinian (and hereinafter all Palestinians referenced are residents of the new Ayn Hawd descendent from the original town) who spent his years renovating old houses in the old town, now occupied by Israelis, alongside building the new housing to accomodate the growing - exclusively Jewish - settlers. The renovation of homes is clearly a deeply painful experience: Here is a Palestinian appearing perhaps old enough to have been a child at the time of eviction partaking in the architectural rebirth of his former town not for its rightful inhabitants longing to return but for individuals with no attachment beyond having found land advertised as deserted by the Israeli state. He resignes, and justifies, his conduct by stating that he needed to work. Today Palestinians on the West Bank build illegal Israeli settlements on the same premise.

Our Palestinian renovator recaps how the Israelis sought to convey friendship - but it was a phony hand. He later discovered that they were not his friends, he says, and he was only courted provided he worked for the Israelis and kept silent. Bringing up your grandfather's home, he relates, would cause anxiety among town residents who fear that the Palestinians may begin to demand the returning of their property. If only they'd recognize, at a minium, that they (the Israelis) took the land by force, but even this solace is denied him. One thing that is really bothersome, and this is me speaking, about Zionists is the refusal to even recognize past injustices. Put aside the debate as to whether those wrongs should be amended through compensation for Palestinians, return of property, and right of return of refugees - but even the acknowledgement that Israel has committed a historic injustice against the indigenous population is denied. This is akin to refusing to hand back Manhattan to the Indians (that's well understood), but denying that they were ever thrown off the land. 

- One incredibly striking scene was the fire that broke out in the mountains surrounding Ayn Hawd/Ein Hod and that enveloped the town itself. The documentary slices together news clips from Israel that (unbeknownst to them) tell the Palestinian story through contemporary events: Israeli anchors speak about how the fire has 'forced people out' and how they 'cannot return to their homes' and wonders whether this was a 'natural cause or crime'. In the end, Arabs - without evidence - were suspected but the residents of new Ayn Hawd strongly denied the charge. The town, even inhabited by occupiers, is their longed for home. Why would they want to burn it? It is, as one says, "our national home". 

In an amusing anecdote, the Israeli-occupied Ayn Hawd is apparently more threatened by the fire then the Ayn Hawd reestablished by Arabs due to the former having being surrounded by a ring of trees recently laid by the state. Trees described by Palestinians as "artificial". These trees may be the product of the Jewish National Fund which plants trees on razed Palestinian villages in an act of cruel beautification meant to erase the footprints of Palestine - some may call this "greenwashing" Israeli occupation. 

- Lastly, there is the artist whose paintings of Ayn Hawd represent neither old nor new Ayn Hawd; speaking to that suspended nature of Palestinian existence between a lost home and an indistinct future neither of which can be strictly captured by the brush. 

Palestinians show their humanity in these vulnerable moments of a state of exception - not recognized as a refugee nor resettled - in the state itself constructed as a state of exception. 

The paintings cannot resemble the old Ayn Hawd for remembrance is now deeply interwoven with the present tragedy. The town is now no longer the town as previously known because it can only be seen  through a rear view mirror; so the immemorial image is amended through memory - writing history, but, rather, here memory, backwards.

The painter cannot draw the past as past because its very existence is denied by the occupying state. It is as if the artist in refusing to draw the old Ayn Hawd but still labeling it as "old" is crying out for the nostalgia for nostalgia. 

And the "new" cannot just be a realist painting since that would accept the Zionist mythology and hegemony of discourse. Instead even though the colonizers may not recognize it (although they belie it in their fear, their inner knowledge, that Palestinians will give life and claim to their past existence and aspire to one day return), the Palestinian cannot draw the artifice of Zionist architecture without weaving through the history of dispossession and displacement that breaths - as it were - throughout the land. Thus the "new" Ayn Hawd is not painted as Israel imagines it since it invariably contains the old lost village. Like the Palestinian cause, that ancient Ayn Hawd cannot be extinguished. May it rise again. 

I highly recommend this film. 

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