Visões Palestinas
Joana Rafael
March 24, 2024

The unequal application of legal standards, under the supervision of Kafkaesque authorities, has played a crucial role in the creation and maintenance of a clear imbalance of power between Israel and Palestine. This is evident in Israel’s ongoing actions, including the expansion of settlements and the violation of Palestinian lives, property and political rights following the 1948 expulsions and the formulation of the Zionist colonisation plan, as well as the ongoing Nakba (since 1948) — Absentees' Property Law (1950); Prevention of Infiltration Law (1954); etc. Such practices have resulted in territorial fragmentation, the confinement of the Palestinian population to ever more restricted areas, and a series of massacres including Israel’s current genocide in Gaza, which cannot be justified by preceding acts of violence.

Despite these conflicts, there persists an aspiration to define the territorial borders of a Palestinian nation state, underscoring the resilience of a people steadfast in their pursuit of self-determination. This reality is portrayed with subtlety in the films Nation Estate (2012), by Larissa Sansour, and In The Future They Ate From The Finest Porcelain (2016), with Søren Lind, as well as in Foragers (2022), by Jumana Manna.

These films, by female directors born in Palestine or with Palestinian ancestry, feature women’s voices and meditative experiences that explore political debates surrounding Palestinian liberation and the Israeli state. In their own way, they put forward contrived yet deliberate and powerful reflections on the complexity of life under occupation and the slow violence (material and immaterial) of militarisation and capitalism within a colonial context. They highlight how the law props up cultural, social and psychological destruction, with plots that are fictional but characters and dialogues that show real situations and facts — even when projected into the future.

The films are also united by their sonic, spatial and conceptual contrasts, which serve as elements that transcend cinematic boundaries, drawing attention to the importance not only of visual narrative but also of the sensorial experience as a whole.

The film Nation Estate, by Larissa Sansour, was made at the time that Palestine sought State recognition from the United Nations in 2011, a crucial moment in the pursuit of concrete, fair and lasting solutions to security concerns in the region. In the film, Sansour offers a satirical, dystopian vision of a future definition of borders, still unresolved, through an architectural and spatial lens. Represented by the fictional colossal building named in the film’s title, fortified yet almost empty of inhabitants, this vision subverts the vertical antagonism and superiority of Israeli power, and questions the imbalance between the extension (physical and temporal) of the territorial occupation and the contraction of Palestinian space, now forced to develop upwards.

From the interiority of the Nation Estate and the tunnels and checkpoints that control access to it, the camera moves to the exteriority of the world planned by Israel. A world that In The Future They Ate From The Finest Porcelain, another science-fiction short film directed by Sansour in collaboration with the Danish author Søren Lind, portrays in equally dystopian fashion, though here it is populated by conscious subjects, who are both the objects and authors of oppressive narratives. Using computer images (CGI), the work is visually bleak with scenes that recall horror films or surrealist English animation, acting as a platform for telling the story of repressed voices.

The programme culminates with Foragers, a film about the Israeli Parks and Wildlife Authority and its persecution of those foraging for wild edible plants that fall under Wildlife Protection Laws (since 1977): akkoub (similar to artichoke) and za’atar (a kind of thyme). Making use of documentary archival images and reconstructed events, it depicts the impact of criminalizing practices that predate agricultural farming and the sovereign commercial interests imposed by the Israeli state. Jumana Manna, the director, follows plants from Bat Shlomo, an old British colony, from the field to the table, along the legal paths that seek to legislate nature based on paradigms of extinction, to the interrogation rooms, where the law is enacted as a tool that conflicts with the basic sustenance needs of Palestinians, Syrians and Arabs wishing to maintain their customs and preserve their connection to the land. Manna’s camera holds a mirror up to the power dynamics of colonial ideologies, mimicking the gaze of the Israeli state machinery, while also, in essence, capturing love, life and (the harvest of) wild plants, which themselves are a testament to resilience.

Taken individually and together, these films intertwine the political and the aesthetic, using the devices of cartographical fiction shot through with an unwavering demand for justice and dignity, on which so many families, lives and liberties depend, while casting a light on an uncertain future.

Joana Rafael

Joana Rafael is an architect and researcher. She focusses on (questions of) ecology, human geography and natural sciences, encompassing contemporary culture, media studies, art and technology, and reflecting on the limits of infrastructure in relation to the functioning of terrestrial systems. She completed a PhD in Visual Culture and a master’s in Research Architecture, both at Goldsmiths (London), and a master’s in Urban Architecture and Culture, from the partnership between Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. She provides consultancy to architecture firms and teaches at Escola Superior Artística do Porto.

Batalha Centro de Cinema

Praça da Batalha, 47
4000-101 Porto

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