May 14 2021

Artists Document Violent Israeli Attacks Across Palestine

by HG Masters

MOHAMMED ZAANOUN captured people gathering amid the rubble of Al-Sharouk tower, which collapsed after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on May 12. Image via Mohammed Zaanoun’s Facebook.

For Palestinians living in Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, the incitement and escalation of violence by Jewish extremist groups and Israeli security and armed services over the last week—beginning with impending evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and attacks on Al Aqsa Mosque during prayers—has brought violence, fear, and grief to the final days of the holy month of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Artists and activists, using social media and encouraged by transnational activist networks, have recorded and shared a wide scope of the military assaults and racist mob attacks on Palestinian businesses and homes in cities across Israel as well as the massive devastation now being wrought on Gaza by branches of the Israeli Defense Forces.

A narrow strip of land to which more than 2 million Palestinians are confined, Gaza has been subjected to a massive bombardment campaign from Israeli naval ships, aerial drones, and American-supplied fighter planes in response to barrages of rockets fired by Hamas militants beginning on May 10. The photojournalist Mohammed Zaanoun, whose photograph of a child sitting on the rumble of the Al-Sharouk tower in Gaza City on May 12 is seen above, is documenting the humanitarian crisis of the Israeli assault, portraying collapsed buildings, funerals for families killed in airstrikes on their apartment buildings, and bodies of the injured and the dead in the hospital, posting his images to social media. The structures that the Israeli military has targeted in initial waves of bombings include three buildings that housed a dozen local and international media agencies including the independent Palestinian photojournalism agency APA Images. Additionally, two photographers for Turkey’s Anadolu Agency and their driver were injured in northern Gaza by Israeli shelling.

Meanwhile, within Israel, members of Palestinian communities and their businesses in cities from Haifa to Lod, Akka, and Bat Yam, have become the targets of rampaging Israeli lynch mobs chanting “death to Arabs” and tagging homes and businesses for future attacks. Artist Inas Halabi has been documenting the crackdown by Israeli police on Palestinian street protests in Haifa, including the injury of a woman by a sound bomb, on her Instagram account. Lebanese artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan, whose work frequently involves analyzing the sonic elements of violent encounters, then reprised some of Halabi’s footage to offer commentary about the mechanics of these weapons and the injuries it can cause. Hamdan has also shared and analyzed footage recorded by Zeina Dajani from Jerusalem, showing assaults by Israeli security officials on crowds of Palestinian protesters, including footage from the previous week of Israeli snipers on rooftops surrounding Al Aqsa Mosque shooting at protesting crowds.

As Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim, and allied communities worldwide reacted in anger and horror at Israel’s violent aggressions across the territory it occupies and controls, international solidarity networks have kicked back into gear, as seen in the large outpourings of support on social media by curators, artists, and other cultural workers, as well as mass demonstrations in cities including London, New York, and Chicago. Yet, beginning May 6, many artists and cultural groups experienced Instagram’s mass censorship of posts supporting Palestinians—including Habibi Collective, which shared a 1974 film directed by Mustafa Abu Ali, They Do Not Exist, based on the insidious comment by Israeli prime minister Golda Meir about Palestinians. Instagram claimed the film violated its community standards. Regarding the thousands of posts related to Sheikh Jarrah that simply disappeared from people’s feeds, Instagram claimed in a statement on May 11 that it was an error and not an “intentional suppression.”

Cultural groups are pushing ahead, particularly in response to the portrayal of events in American and British mainstream media, which routinely focus on Palestinian militants’ violence. Bethlehem- and Ramallah-based internet radio station Radio Alhara interrupted its programming for several days earlier this week to raise awareness of what was happening in Palestine, but returned on Thursday with an open call for sounds and audio materials about recent events. The Beirut Art Center posted a statement to its Instagram account denouncing the “dehumanizing system of apartheid in Palestine,” tracing its roots to the ethnic cleansing that began with the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel and subsequent annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Forensic Architecture announced it was “documenting the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah as part of the ongoing Nakba,” as the 73rd anniversary of Al-Nakba—the annual day when Palestinians commemorate their displacement by the establishment of the state of Israel—approaches on May 15. From Amman, the MMAG Foundation has used its Instagram account to aggregrate and share information on Palestinian resistance campaigns. The Funambulist magazine opened the archives of its 27th issue, titled “Learning with Palestine,” a collaboration with the Palestine Festival of Literature on the subject of “how to reclaim what colonialism stole.” The political projection collective the Illuminator, in collaboration with Decolonize This Place and Palestinian-led community group Within Our Life Time, lit up the side of a Brooklyn building with the recent numbers of those killed in Gaza so far, including 28 children—a post of which disappeared from its Instagram account during the process of writing this story.

H.G. Masters is deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific. 

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SAM ACAW 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art Massimo de Carlo Opera Gallery RossiRossi