New video art evokes “yearning to return” of Palestinian refugees

A new Palestinian artistic video production commemorates the sixty-sixth anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Kufr Birim, a Palestinian village hugging the border of Lebanon.

According to a press release, the video — “In Your Absence” — aims to “recover the spirit and life” of Kufr Birim, where young Palestinian activists with ancestral ties to the village returned and began camping in August 2013.

Palestinians commemorate the ethnic cleansing of their homeland — known as the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”) — each year on 15 May, the day in 1948 when the State of Israel was formally established.

Yet Zionist militias did not occupy and depopulate Kufr Birim and other Palestinian communities in the Galilee region of the country until later that year on 13 November. Its indigenous Palestinian Christians were promised that they would be allowed to return after a few weeks.

Internally displaced

That promise was never fulfilled. In 1951, the Israeli military used warplanes to bomb the homes and buildings in Kufr Birim, leaving only a graveyard and a historical church standing.

Those who had been forced to leave their homes eventually accepted Israeli citizenship and became internally displaced persons prevented from returning to the village.

Today, they are part of the estimated 1.7 million Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Druze who live in cities, towns and villages across the country. Despite their Israeli citizenship, they face more than fifty discriminatory laws that limit their access to state resources and repress political expression, according to Adalah, a Haifa-based legal center.

Since returning to the village nearly a year and a half ago, activists in Kufr Birim have faced constant harassment from the Israeli land authorities and police.

The video is directed by Mohammad Khalil, produced by Samara Hawa and funded by Elika Bar and Art, a Palestinian art gallery and café in Haifa. The idea of filming the music video in Kufr Birim was first conceived by Palestinian artist and musician Yazid Sadi.

According to an Arabic-language press release, the video art draws on “a mix of Palestinian and international culture” in order to convey “the longing of Palestinian refugees in the diaspora [including those internally displaced]  as the result of the occupation of their land and their displacement from their homes.”

It expresses Palestinian refugees’ “yearning to return” to their lands, as well as how Palestinian citizens of Israel are “waiting for the refugees to come home.”

Using concepts from Sufi Islamic philosophy, the video includes acting and modern Sufi dance to depict “the moment when two lovers touch one another, despite the checkpoints and long distances” standing between them.

It shows a young woman and man dancing through the ruins of Kufr Birim, among the destroyed homes and buildings, although they cannot touch one another. Saeed Tarabeh, an acclaimed Palestinian vocalist from Sakhnin (also in the Galilee), sings Arabic poetry as Pauline Laidet reads French-language spoken word poetry in the background. 

“Declare my return”

“They cannot touch each other because of the checkpoints and borders imposed on them,” the press release adds.

The video “expresses the right of return in a creative way” and seeks to open a dialogue on “Palestinian refugees in their homeland and the diaspora.”

The press release states that “it is important to bear in mind that the Palestinian village of Kufr Birim was occupied by the Zionist militias” like hundreds of other villages occupied in 1948.

“In August 2013,” it adds, “Kufr Birim’s [refugees still living] in their homeland returned and announced to the world: ‘I declare my return.’”

Dozens of artists and activists took part in the production of “In Your Absence.”

The descendants of Palestinian refugees from Iqrit, another Galilee village depopulated in 1948 and destroyed in 1951, also returned to their ancestral lands in the summer of 2013. 


Patrick Strickland

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Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor at The Electronic Intifada. He is presently working on his first book for the London-based publishing house Zed Books. See his in-depth coverage for EI.