Impasse: A Collective Refusal of Memory
This body of work was born of extreme frustration with the futility of the word (or the Word) as a means of communication about the Israel/Palestine question. In January of 2009 I read an op-ed piece in the L.A. Times written by the propaganda minister of Hamas. It stated: “Without debating here the fictive, existential right of the Zionist state, which Israel, precisely, would the West have us recognize?… Is it the Israel that illegally settles its citizens on other peoples’ land, seizes water sources and uproots olive trees?…”
Something in the sentence structure made me feel like I was being waterboarded. Unable to find words, other than “No, No, and NO!”, I began to make digital collage, using my original monotypes as backgrounds, and incorporating historical maps, text from newspaper articles, and altered family photographs, in particular a childhood photo of my uncle Fritz, holding a toy gun, circa 1916, but last recorded alive at Bergen-Belsen in early 1945.
The Hamas challenge to identify the Israel that I need to have recognized became the foundational question of this series, beginning with “Chomsky’s Wet Dream”, the title a bitter nod to the linguistic skills of the writer of the aforementioned op-ed piece. As the images asserted themselves, my investigation expanded to include the notions of Exile and Return as affected by space, time and memory. I was surprised, for example, that my first response to the ‘which Israel’ question was to produce a map of Palestine in the reign of King Saul, ca.1000 B.C.E, [“The Kingdom of Israel Colored Thus”], and to hear in my head a two thousand year old psalm that I never learned to recite: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…” Hence, the image in “Psalm 137”, coupled with a Hamas assertion that the Jewish temples never existed, printed on a tablet looking much like a gravestone in the old Jewish cemetery in Prague, the birthplace from which I was exiled. No surprise, however, were my reactions to the Hamas claim that teaching the Holocaust to children in Gaza would be a war crime. [Teach your Children Well, The Grand Mufti]
It took the post-Holocaust remnant of the refugees from Zion 2000 years to return en masse to Palestine, but our inherited memory of the founding of the State of Israel ignores some inconvenient facts about those other Semites then unhappily sharing the land with the Palestinian Jews. [A Land with No People for a People with No Land, I and II.] Yet, the stories of those advocating for Palestinian statehood and a right to return, despite their relative nearness in time to the initial shock of dispossession, are not dissimilar in their essential psychic truths (and ambiguities) to the Jewish story throughout history. [The Power to Remember, Nakba I and II, Winner Takes All, Our Olive Tree] In the end, there are harsh truths to be faced on both sides of this conflict, and perhaps the greatest obstacle to moving forward is the fact that the political agenda of each people depends on continuing to deny the narrative, experience, and memory of the Other. This work suggests some of the ways this denial manifests. How to create acceptance is another project.