The Palestinian uprising, along with its other achievements, has enabled Palestinian voices finally to reach the United States. Among the most eloquent of these voices are the many different expressions of Palestinian culture. In theater, film, music, art and literature, Palestinian cultural productions have achieved new and revealing syntheses of politics and aesthetics, and many artists in the United States have responded by inscribing the question of Palestine on their own agendas.
The international “new song” movement, which fuses traditional and innovative musical forms and instrumentation along with politically engaged lyrics, grew primarily out of struggles in Central and Latin America. Some strikingly original Palestinian “new song” ensembles are the groups Sabrin and Rahali. An early Sabrin cassette, for instance, features a very moving song adaptation of a Mahmoud Darwish poem, “‘An al-Insan” (On Human Beings), a poem committed to popular memory in Darwish’s native Galilee to circumvent Israeli censorship but now transformed by a new generation of Palestinian artists and brought even to the US. Sabrin toured several US cities last fall, and will be part of the international program at the Smithsonian’s annual Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC from June 27 to July 8, 1990. From Washington, Sabrin will travel to an international music festival in Quebec. Michel Khleifi’s latest film, Canticles of Stone, premiered this May at the 1990 Cannes festival. A love story set against the backdrop of the intifada, which includes some strong documentary footage Khleifi shot in the Occupied Territories, Canticles will have its US premiere at an Arab film festival hosted by the Goodwill Arts Festival in Seattle this summer. The sponsors are presently making tour arrangements for Canticles and other films.
The intifada is the theme of several current exhibits in the US. Canadian poet Heather Spears is showing her drawings of Palestinian children to groups around the country. The Alternative Museum in New York City opened a show entitled “Occupation and Resistance” in May 1990, featuring works by Americans who have visited the Occupied Territories over the past two years. A touring exhibit, “In Celebration of the State of Palestine,” includes works by 50 different US artists commemorating the November 15, 1988 Palestinian declaration of independence. It has had a number of showings in New York and in Colorado, and is presently heading back home to the Bay Area. Doug Minkler, a silkscreen artist living in Oakland and one of the originators of the exhibition, told MERIP that he considers the readiness of US artists to identify with the struggle for Palestinian self-determination a very encouraging development. On the discouraging side, he says, is that exhibitors, including those who generally support progressive causes, remain reluctant to provide public space for political art when it supports the Palestinians.
There have been more than a few instances of blatant censorship, particularly in theatrical and literary productions. When al-Hakawati, the Jerusalem-based Palestinian theater company, came on a US tour last year, New York impresario Joseph Papp canceled their scheduled appearances at his Public Theater. After Red Bass, a New Orleans-based literary magazine, did a special issue entitled “For Palestine,” the National Endowment for the Arts responded to complaints from the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League by forcing the editors to publish a statement asserting that none of the general support funds provided by NEA had been used to produce that particular issue. The literary journal Delos devoted a special issue to Palestinian writing, but only after dedicating a previous issue to Israeli authors. To keep the Palestinian issue within acceptable bounds, Delos selected as guest editors not Palestinians but Israeli “experts.” The English translations, moreover, were done from Hebrew versions of the Arabic originals.
Despite these regrettable instances, the overall trend is that Palestinians are gaining more space in which to represent themselves, unfettered by the frames of Israeli or Western Orientalist conceptions. This freedom to represent themselves and their case in the West, especially in the United States, is in many respects a prior necessity to achieving their political goals. Only through the struggle for self-representation can Palestinians establish their claim to self-determination.