Saturday, January 17, 2009

Emily Jacir, Artist

I discovered this brave and remarkable Palestinian artist last night.

One of her works is titled Material for a Film.

An extract from the article about her large and exciting body of work, talks about the specific project: Palestinian artists and intellectuals were living dangerous times in the 1970s, in part, perhaps, because their activities were bound up in the political question of Palestine. “Since the June War of 1967, the situation has become more alarming,” says a 1970 memorandum issued by the Beirut-based Institute for Palestine Studies. “Progressive intellectuals have been persecuted [and] the campaign of intimidation and encroaching on personal freedom has increased.” The memorandum goes on to cite the “deplorable” circumstances under which Palestinian men of letters were living. It details the house arrest, imprisonment and deportation of numerous writers and poets, including Mahmoud Darwish, Kamal Nasser and Samih al-Kassem.

In July 1972, the novelist Ghassan Kanafani was assassinated in a car-bomb blast on the streets of Beirut. A few months later, the poet and translator Wael Zuaiter was gunned down inside the entrance to his apartment building in Rome. Within a year, a dozen more Palestinians living in Europe were dead. Most of them were artists and intellectuals. All of them were killed by Israeli agents as part of the “Wrath of God” campaign, which was carried out in response to the Olympic games massacre in Munich but seemed to miss its target (the militants who organised, kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes) by a rather wide margin (cutting down bibliophiles, cafe dwellers and bona fide diplomats who were, to gauge by most criminal and scholarly inquiries since, innocent of all but intellect and charisma).

Young officers who were climbing up the ranks of Palestinian political organisations were killed as well, and some of them were situated quite far from intellectual life. Others, including Kanafani, who was also a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were arguably positioned somewhere in between political and more literary pursuits. “In truth, [the Israelis] were trying to sever [the] heads of a nascent organisation that was beginning to branch out in Europe, and to claim excellent young officers,” explains the Beirut-based curator Rasha Salti. “Wael [Zuaiter] was not an officer, but a promising figure who was winning sympathy among Italian intellectuals.”

“The killings went on for at least two decades,” writes Simon Reeve, the author of One Day in September: The Story of the Munich Olympics Massacre. Though Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, argued that the assassinations were directly linked to Munich, explains Reeve, “the dead were mainly Palestinian intellectuals, politicians and poets. And the consequences of these so-called targeted killings for Israel have been appalling.”

For Palestine, the consequences have been arguably even worse. The persecution of artists and intellectuals is as old as ancient Greece. Throughout modern political history, it was typically used as a tactic of authoritarian regimes intent on stifling internal dissent. But across the volatile fault lines of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it became a pernicious strategy in a low-grade war to cripple a culture. Bombing power stations, closing borders and cutting off fuel supplies may wreck a population’s body, but killing thinkers is like blasting the synapses of a society’s brain.

“I had always known these stories growing up,” says Jacir. “These stories haunt us. And I had always known I wanted to do a piece on the 13 artists and intellectuals who were killed in Europe between 1972 and 1973.”

You can continue reading here.

No comments: