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Postcards From Palestine

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It has been more than two months since Israel declared war on Hamas, after the bloody attack on Israeli citizens on October 7. I was traveling in Jordan at the time, having arrived just two days earlier. On October 8, at a tea shop with views over Wadi Araba and Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a group of tourists asked the Bedouin owner how close the border was. Seven miles as the crow flies and 75 more to Gaza. “Israel and Palestine will fight until everyone is dead,” he said matter-of-factly. “There will never be peace.” 

A few days later and further south in Aqaba, I was just one mile from the Israeli port town of Eilat. A couple of days after that, driving north along the Jordan Valley Highway that hugs the eastern Israeli border all the way to the Dead Sea, the West Bank was just across the water. 

Upon arriving back in the US on October 15, I received an email update from Dar Jacir for Art and Research, an artist-run space in the West Bank. Palestinian artist Emily Jacir and her family founded Dar Jacir in their 127-year-old family home in Bethlehem through a Kickstarter campaign that I supported in 2017. 

 

The situation in the West Bank remains under lockdown, with Israeli incursions nightly, and settlers roaming around armed and killing innocent people.
Emily Jacir

“We evacuated Dar Jacir on Saturday the 7th of October and have been under lockdown since. Dar Jacir and our neighborhood remains unsafe and volatile. Vigils, marches and protests are taking place on our street on a daily basis which are met with violent aggression incurred by Israel’s army and their war machines. Our space has sustained damages as a result of this. We have secured Dar Jacir for the time being and remain off-site. The situation in the West Bank remains under lockdown, with Israeli incursions nightly, and settlers roaming around armed and killing innocent people,” Jacir wrote. 

Three Films by Emily Jacir, which was streaming on Alchemy Film & Arts’ website from November 7-16, provide some context on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Made in 1999, 15 Palestinian Minutes in Palestine is a montage of low-quality footage from everyday life in the Palestinian territories. It begins with a blue Volkswagen truck seen through cables and wires at an elevated perspective, perhaps from a second floor window. A man speaks over a loudspeaker as the video zooms in and out until the truck turns the corner and you can see into the truck bed: watermelons, a stand-in for the Palestinian flagred, white, green and blackwhen it is illegal to fly in Israel. The sound cuts out slightly before the visual disappears to black, as well. The next scene: a bride and groom dancing on top of a table, their friends and family standing and sitting around them clapping and rearranging the tablecloth under their feet. Again, the video zooms in and out as the music plays, the easy joy on the couples’ faces so incongruous with the current moment. 

Cut to black. Then: a kite flying so far away, so zoomed in that it looks like some kind of protozoa. Black again, then schoolgirls sitting in a circle singing and clapping. Rocky desert landscape as seen passing by outside a car window, zooming in to trees on the horizon. Men jumping off a rock into the ocean, a barrier topped with barbed wire visible just beside it, something about the way in which they run and fling their bodies off the rock, the absolute abandon in this behavior alongside that which sits in the other direction. Black again. A shaded passageway lined with barriers and barbed wire, Palestinians carrying their goods in bags they drag behind them or push on carts, a dog trotting freely through the tan land on the other side. Silence and black again. An image of Mary hangs suspended in front of a window with birds chirping outside, reflecting the light as it twists in the gentle breeze. 

The last scene in the film is of a photograph of a bride and groom surrounded by a group of people in front of Dar Jacir in 1911, which I recognized as the limited-edition postcard I received as a reward for supporting the Kickstarter campaign. The video zooms in on individual faces, the focus going in and out, while an English-language movie plays in the background. Zooming out from the photograph, the video pans to a living room with who I can only assume to be Jacir’s grandparents, the television in the corner. Jacir zooms in to survey the locks on the front door from bottom to top: five in all.

 

I’ve received occasional updates from Dar Jacir since its founding. In January 2018 there were confrontations outside of Dar Jacir in response to Trump declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel in December 2017. The newsletter showed images of excessive tear gas, images which can also be seen in Jacir’s 2019 film letter to a friend, which is presented in the form of a letter written on April 11, 2019.

“Dear Eyal,” Jacir reads as she films her bare feet walking across stones, slowly counting her steps. “I hope this letter finds you well. Thus far, things are calm on our street, but I am not sure how long that’s going to last given the recent Israeli aggressions.” Jacir is asking Eyal to investigate a future incident at her family home in Bethlehem, using the film as a means to gather information for future legal proceedings.

Jacir goes on to state that a study by UC Berkeley Law found that her neighborhood is the most tear gassed place on earth, which comes to life at the beginning of the film when she shows some of the thousands of tear gas canisters found in her garden in Bethlehem. 

letter to a friend doesn’t use as much visual zooming in and out as 15 Palestinian Minutes in Palestine, but instead zooms in and out from Jacir’s personal observations from inside Dar Jacir to footage from international journalists that depict Dar Jacir from the street; from her family history to the larger historical context of Dar Jacir in the moment in which the film was made.

She shows maps depicting the location of nearby refugee camps using the location of Dar Jacir along the historic Jerusalem-Hebron road and Rachel’s tomb as reference pointsthe latter a site revered by both Jewish and Muslim women for its association with fertility. Beginning in 2002, Israel began constructing a 25-foot wall that zigzags incomprehensibly through Bethlehem, creating a maze out of Jacir’s neighborhood.

“The wall does not separate us from Israel, but rather separates us from ourselves, from each other. It is in the very heart of our neighborhood,” she says in her letter in the film. “There are so many different maps to send you, but somehow it never seems like they can capture the reality of the situation on the ground.” 

About halfway through the film, she refers to filming every inch of her family house and every street of Bethlehem in 1999; twenty years transpired between 15 Palestinian Minutes in Palestine and this film, and she is still trying to capture what she fears she will lose. Jacir says that there are 18 illegal Israeli settlements encircling Bethlehem with over 100,000 settlers living in them in violation of international law as stipulated by the Fourth Geneva convention.

There is a montage of videos of these settlements with the moon shining over them, the footage shaky and out of focus, while Jacir’s words are clear and methodical, speaking matter-of-factly to the threat of disappearance. She shows us the incongruity of the everyday and the unimaginable as she walks her dog along the graffitied wall, as her friends are shot by snipers, as vineyards are destroyed, as young newlyweds celebrate at Jacir Palace, “a hotel jammed with pilgrims who have come to see the Holy Land.” Lit up at night “like Las Vegas,” the celebration is shown upside down, as if it can’t quite be viewed in the same way as daily life. 

letter to a friend ends with Jacir counting her footsteps as she walks toward the wall. “I hope this is enough information for now for you to begin the investigation, before our house is occupied by settlers. Please send me a list of the kind of information and documentation I should start collecting before they come,” she says, passing the supermarket around footstep 100 and ending with the towering wall in view. 

In May 2018, I received an update from Dar Jacir that they had planted trees in their garden, another part of their initial Kickstarter campaign rewards. In June 2019, they had their inaugural exhibition. In May 2021, Israeli forces broke into and raided Dar Jacir. Their offices were ransacked, their phones, computers, and cameras taken. Earlier that week, the urban farm had been burnt to the ground. Then, on December 6 of this year, Dar Jacir posted pictures on Instagram of their team and volunteers cleaning one of their terraces and planting some crops, a continuation of their work caring for and preserving their ancestral land.

 

Three Films by Emily Jacir was streaming on Alchemy Film & Arts’ website from November 7-16, 2023.

You can view the Dar Jacir Kickstarter campaign here. 
 

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