The camera is like a magic lantern that we embrace to make our dreams come true. It is the tool we use to reclaim our existence, memory, and humanity.
Mai Masri (Palestinian movie maker), 2008
1In 2011 we organized a cinema and debate cycle entitled ‘Palestinian Women and Cinema’ in Lisbon and Coimbra, Portugal. We wanted to bring to the public a cinematography that is practically unknown, but mostly we were interested in promoting a discussion about cinema, feminism and Palestine.
2This initiative made us realize the extent to which cinema is able not only to project a home for Palestinians living in exile, but also to be a space where “the other” meets with Palestinian memory, history, identity, and, above all, Palestinian resistance and struggle for existence. Through a broad variety of aesthetic approaches and different political positions, the screened films addressed and reflected on the double resistance of Palestinian women, not only against the colonial and patriarchal Israeli occupation, but also against oppression within their own society. While Western media tends to portray Palestinian women through simplistic and redundant forms of representation, Palestinian women’s cinematic lenses and words have become their own tools to tell and to resist images imposed on them. In other words, cinema has become a political story-telling device to narrate personal and collective stories of resistance.
- 1 Such as: Divine Intervention (2002) and The Time that Remains (2009), by Elia Suleiman, and Paradis (...)
- 2 Miral (2010), by North-American director Julian Schnabel with a screenplay by Palestinian writer Ru (...)
3For us, holding the cycle in Portugal was even more imperative because there has been very little access to this cinematography. So far only a very small number of Palestinian films have had commercial distribution in Portugal.1 Most of these films do not address feminist issues and none of them are directed by women.2
- 3 The director was murdered by a masked man in front of the Theater for Freedom, which he had co-foun (...)
- 4 She was a member of Palmach, the Zionist militia that participated in the ethnic cleansing of Pales (...)
4The cycle was hence a brief moment when the public from Coimbra and Lisbon had access to films about Palestine not previously screened in Portugal. Among them there were films by Palestinian female directors, like Annemarie Jacir’s Salt of this Sea (2008) and Buthina Canaan Khoury’s documentaries Women in Struggle (2004) and Maria’s Grotto (2007). Films based on screenplays by Palestinians women were also screened: Eran Riklis’ Lemon Tree (2008; screenplay by Suha Arraf) and Hany Abu-Assad's Rana’s Wedding (2002; screenplay by Liana Badr and Ihab Lamey). The director of one of the films selected, Juliano Mer-Khamis, was murdered while we were preparing the cycle.3 His documentary Arna's Children (2003) is about a woman who was a settler in 19484 and who later embraced the Palestinian cause becoming, in a way, Palestinian. Therefore all the films that were screened in the cycle have something in common: they say Palestine through the body and the experiences of women.
- 5 Nakba is an Arab word that means “catastrophe”. It is used to refer the Palestinian exodus in the c (...)
- 6 The report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (UNRWA – The United Nations Relief and W (...)
- 7 Palestinians who live inside Israel suffer from racially discriminatory policies that treat any per (...)
- 8 We thank our guests: Adriana Bebiano, professor and coordinator of the PhD program in Feminist Stud (...)
5These films triggered debates about issues related to the Palestinian people, especially Palestinian to women, that tend to be ignored by the media coverage of the Israeli occupation of Palestine: the memory of Nakba,5 the separation wall, the situation of refugees,6 the brutality of the Israeli military occupation and oppression, the seizure and colonization of Palestinian land, the sieges and blockages that prevent freedom of movement, the situation of Palestinians citizens of Israel,7 women's participation in the armed struggle, female political prisoners and their experiences of torture. The guests for the debates were journalists who had visited the region, activists, academics, artists, and politicians.8
6The richness of the debates made us consider organizing a publication. Following the idea behind the cycle, this volume of e-cadernos ces intends to be a Palestinian feminist screen that projects reflections on Palestinian women and cinema. We believe that the terms “Palestine”, “women”, and “cinema” are always in construction and open to different interpretations. We therefore invited contributions related to Palestinian women and cinema, including reflections on film portrayals of Palestinian women, critiques on films directed by Palestinian women or, more broadly, about the place and the impact of Palestinian women on cinema. This volume of e-cadernos ces was hence intended as an open space for sharing stories, narratives, essays, interviews, film analyses, or other reflections on Palestinian women and cinema.
7We assembled a group of six studies by scholars from several origins and who have very different approaches. Colleen Jankovic’s, Shahd Wadi’s and Teresa Cunha's articles discuss cinema directed by Palestinian women and are also about Palestinian women. Colleen Jankovic examines the representations of home in several films to address the notions of belonging, nation, privacy and family in a context of dispossession and occupation. By analyzing the films Salt of this Sea (2008) and Amreeka (2009), Shahd Wadi also tries to redefine the concept of borders in Palestinian exile through the body in the cinematic experience of Palestinian women. Teresa Cunha adopts a post-colonial feminist approach to read, watch and listen to Maria’s Grotto (2007), a documentary about “honor crimes” in which women “interrupt the unbearable noise” of a patriarchal culture in the context of occupation.
- 9 This global campaign began in 2005 with the aim of isolating Israel and was inspired by the campaig (...)
8The other three contributions are about cinematographic representations of Palestinian women in films by male directors. Fabrice Schurmans analyzes the female protagonist of Divine Intervention (2002) as an allegory of the Palestinian struggle. Schurmans uses a post-colonial approach to examine the cinematographic representation of a context that he describes as colonial. Leah Soroko’s and Júlia Garraio’s texts about the Israeli films Lemon Tree (2008) and Strangers (2007) may look bizarre in a volume whose organizers support the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.9 The fact that a Palestinian woman with Israeli citizenship wrote the script for Lemon Tree “complicates” the film’s identity; while Strangers is an Israeli cultural product with no Palestinian participation at all. In addition, the latter is paradigmatic of orientalist discourses about Arab women as victims of their own culture, an image adopted in accordance with Israeli propaganda. In Europe, in general, as in Portugal, the image of Palestinian people is usually produced by the “other”, often in agreement with the voice of the occupier. Our decision was due to the conviction of the need to discuss these films from a critical point of view, an option which supports the goals of BDS and resists the images imposed on Palestinian women.
9When we organized the cycle, the austerity measures that have been so devastating for cultural activities in Portugal were already felt. The event would not have been possible without the help of several institutions that provided us with logistic support, including the Center for Social Studies in Coimbra, Cine-club Fila K, the Center for Feminist Intervention and Culture - UMAR, as well as the generosity of directors and some entities that had the copyrights and, in some cases, renounced their fees or changed only symbolic amounts. We may also count in the help of the Centro de Documentación: Cine Palestino (Madrid), which promptly provided us with film copies.10 Finally, Zein Qattan offered a generous support to the cycle. We express our deep gratitude to all these people and institutions.
10We believe in a feminist Palestinian cause that also takes place in cinema screens. For us, the cycle, as well as this volume of e-cadernos ces, “Reflections on Palestinian Women and Cinema”, is, above all, a political act. It is a challenge to see and read these women through their own gaze. Basically, it is an invitation to use with us and with them the magic lantern called Palestinian cinema.