Photographs — Israel Nakba Palestine (Ariella Azoulay)

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I’m still trying to get a handle on Ariella Azoulay, having now read From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950. It’s a book to which I need to come back. Impossible to interpret on their own, the photographs themselves require the careful curating given to them by the author, upon whom we are forced to rely. The photographs are made to think, to intend. In addition to the historical detail, points of view are reconstructed by the author. Thoughts are ascribed to the people shown in the photographs in order to recreate the scene of a crime, to set up a “historical tribunal” (p.16), and to drive home the political-juridical judgment that Azoulay wants us to draw. We are asked to fear for future of the photographed subject, and invited to assume the worst. I’m caught in this book between Azoulay’s critical eye and heavy hand. The analysis in From Palestine to Israel is hermetically sealed into a tight critical lens. We are given to understand that none of this had anything to do with “war” and to believe that prior to this act of “constituent violence,” Jews and Arabs lived a common civic life (pp.7, 21). In a compelling way, the pictures draw me into a world. But I find it almost impossible to come to an independent judgment about the photographs, unable to determine on their basis historical guilt and innocence or a political program for the future, which is what Azoulay wants us to do. Stuck before the photographic image and unable to see past its frame on the page, the one thing I think I can say with relative certainty is that 1948 looked like this, the Nakba looked like this.

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About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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6 Responses to Photographs — Israel Nakba Palestine (Ariella Azoulay)

  1. Michael says:

    “points of view are reconstructed by the author. Thoughts are ascribed to the people” – in other words, the author is creating an imaginary world, in which imaginary ”Jews and Arabs lived a common civic life”. Of course, none of this is even remotely true. This gives away the author’s intention to create (rather than recreate) the scene of a crime, that has not been. While the photographs are real, the context (as you describe it) is false, murking and distorting facts and bringing us further away from the truth.

    • zjb says:

      i think you’re probably right about the construction of an imaginary world, which is then complicated by the reality-effect you get from photography. whatever you think about it, one or the other, i think that makes Azoulay’s work genuinely interesting –not as truth, but as appearance.

  2. efmooney says:

    I can attest from first hand experience that Jews and Arabs lead a common civic life in many places today, West of the Green Line — I encounter it daily; I can also attest from first hand experience that Jews and Arabs don’t lead a common civic life in many places today, both sides of the Green Line. Nothing is gained by categorical, sweeping statements. Reality defies them.

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