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09 Nov

Events of Interest and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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From Palestine to Israel: A photographic record of destruction and state

Formation is an assembly of photographs taken from various Israeli state archives, documenting the period between 1947-50. The images have been reorganised in an attempt to detach them from the national assumptions that previously lead the photograph’s meaning. Instead, they disclose the reality of the events they document.

A re-write of the captions accompanying the 214 photographs in the exhibition is instrumental to achieving this alternative ‘civil’ archive. Replacing the former IDF denotations are descriptions by the project’s curator – Ariella Azoulay, an Israeli Jew and director of Photo-Lexic, an International Research Centre at Tel Aviv University.

The newly written captions now emphasise what the image contains, not the ideologies it has been used to propagate, or the false significations created to justify occupation and State formation. As a corollary, muted emergency claims nullified by the dominant Zionist narrative that has manipulated the photograph’s reading for the past 60 years, come to the fore. The IDF captions are ‘inadequate to describe what they show, they usually also serve to make what appears in them look like something else,’ according to Azoulay. When the military perspective is shed the catastrophe documented within the image becomes evident.

One photograph titled ‘Afula’ was previously described to depict ‘Arab citizens harvesting crops in the fields; Haganah members guarding them,’ by the IDF. Azoulay here re-writes the past to describe what really happened. The Arab citizens are not gathering crops in ‘Afula’, she holds that they are digging a hole to bury those murdered during fighting or massacre. ‘The generality imposed on this photograph enables it to illustrate accurately repetitive Palestinian testimonies about the general recurrent procedure: a number of village men are taken under threat to bury those who has previously been shot…in secret or before their eyes,’ the caption asserts.

The reality of the event at ‘Afula’ exists visibly within the image; the guards are equipped with guns and are wearing masks to shield against the stench of rotting flesh that surrounds them – unlikely garb for the protectors of farmers. Yet, the dominance of the previous IDF narrative has diverted attention away from what is apparent.

Another image within the archive documents ‘Election Day in Nazareth’. An Arab woman holds an identification card to the camera and smiles. It is an image so entrenched within the Zionist ideology it has become a celebratory image within the Israeli archive. Yet, in the civil archive,where the Palestinians are not placed within a discourse where they are an existential threat, this perspective is perverse. Catastrophe here is that citizenship is a gift that the Jewish state apparatus believed to be theirs to grant the Arabs. It is only when the image is read against the backdrop of the multiple injustices done to the Arab people that it is possible to see the catastrophe the image really contains.

In the Mosaic Rooms’ exhibition these injustices are explicit. However, as much the archive deconstructs the language of the Zionist regime it would be wrong to position Azoulay’s narrative as entrenched in the parallel reading of ‘nabka’ – the Palestinian story. The prerogative of the photographic project is to establish ‘a civil viewpoint, one encompassing all the inhabitants of the country – both Jews and Arabs – that allows us to reconstruct the segregation of the two sides and the collision between them as a product if the war, which created its form and structure.’

What Azoulay reveals through questioning the information within the image is how photographs were created and disseminated by the State to foster hostility between people who were divided to carry out State formation successfully. This occurred through the constituent violence the camera documented, exemplified in ‘Afula’ and the very act of documenting; seen in the false proposition of empathetic power the image of Election Day disseminates.

In every image of a victim there is a perpetrator. However, when the whole population is taken into consideration the events of 1947-1950 cannot be justified. From this perspective, civil society as a whole is attacked and the perpetrator that emerges is the sovereign. What Azoulay seeks to attain through narrating the past through such an archive is to recognise, imagine or invent the unavoidable seeds of a future ‘where forgiveness can be asked as an invitation to restore together a universal threshold of what is unbearable, of what should not be done, what should not be violated.’

The show runs at The Mosaic Rooms until 25 November

 

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