Ali La Pointe and Zena’s words on the New York streets

Zena’s words written on a wall in New York by Lauren Macdonald. (Emily Jacir)

Ali la Pointe

I was teaching students at a workshop yesterday. In the evening I showed them The Battle of Algiers. Remember Ali la Pointe’s head butt at the begining of the film, when the French racist tripped him? Oh, it seems so so far away now Zidane Zidane Zidane. Zizou and that magnificant, elegant, animalistic, brilliant, poem of a headbutt. What a strange prelude to this madness. By sheer coincidence an Irish friend sent me an email about a “Belfast Kiss” yesterday. Love the Irish!

I have been feeling like I have my own war room going on, a headquarters of sorts, with phone and email and SMS, etc. Recently I have started receiving messages in my inbox which start by saying, “Dear Sirs,” and then I am asked to find loved ones in Lebanon … can you help me find so and so or so and so … Last I heard from the American consulate was such and such. Here is the most recent from one hour ago:

“Sirs; can you give me any advice on where to get info about US citizens (Lebanese born) in ad D’way near Nabitayah. The US embassy is dealing with no. Lebanon only. I don’t have my friend’s passport no. or birthdate, but I have managed to get a registration through to the embassy. The State Dept is giving the same ‘guidance’ to So. Lebanese US citizens as it has for a week: register with embassy; listen to radio.”

My inbox is also filled to the brim with endless petitions and “letters of condemnation” and in the midst of it all, Anjali K writes to me and says:
“— i was struck a few days ago by something Alex Cockburn said on Counterpunch about the left holed up in dark rooms on their computers — mistaking a medium for a movement. It’s hard —”

The subversive “lost dog” poster inspired by Zena’s emails (Jennifer Delos Reyes)

Zena’s words

Harrell Fletcher is the Artistic Director for a three-week, intensive summer program focusing on expanded ideas of art-making and creativity in relation to collaboration, community involvement, and activism. He invited me to teach there, so yesterday I went. I gave a lecture in the morning and then in the afternoon I was asked to give the students an assignment that they could do in two hours. I decided to print emails from my inbox from the last two weeks. I also printed out the article about the Americans rushing bombs to Israel and spoke about the absurdity of the question Americans ask about wether to get involved or not when they are 100 percent involved! I gave each student a different email, and a copy of the article, and told them to go out into the streets and do something in the public sphere based on their interaction, (or reaction) or whatever with the emails.

I wanted to share a few of the projects with you of the students who got Zena’s emails.

Jennifer was struck by Zena’s description of her dog. Jennifer also had noticed how people in the Chelsea district all have dogs and LOVE their dogs so she subverted “lost dog” posters. She made a bunch of posters and underneath the dog she put Zena’s description of her dog and how dogs can’t be evacuated — on another poster was the description Zena gave us about her friend’s dog. I think I loved this so much because it reminded me of what we used to say in Palestine whenever we were attacked by Israel: “I wish we were animals, then at least the animal rights activists would do something to help us!” The contact number on Jennifer’s lost dog posters was to a site that is taking donations to help Lebanese civilians that Zena wrote about in her email.

Lauren Macdonald took excerpts from Zena’s email and wrote them all over Chelsea, for example, “Last night was probably the most frightful night of my entire life - Zena”, and then she wrote the blogspot address.

Putting up the lost dog poster (Jennifer Delos Reyes)

Another girl re-wrote Zena’s email over and over and over on white lined paper and then folded each one up and “accidentely” dropped them on the street. She did change the words on the first page; every time Zena said “Beirut” she changed it to “you” so that it would sound even more like a love letter. But on the second page it said “Beirut” and had the blogspot address. Capitalizing on peoples’ curiosity and nosiness on finding such a private letter in public on the street, she subverted love letters to suck people in.

Elena walked around reading her email out loud in a pitch reminiscent of hysteria but with control, intensity and force. I actually can’t describe how strong and powerful it was, how completely focused she was. Even while an African-American fellow was yelling about how he hoped more bombs would drop, and that he loved Christian Zionists, etc., she just kept it up. She was unrelenting.

But the scariest of all — oh god, my stomach hurts when I think of it. One of the students was sitting outside, and he was focusing on the information about the Americans expediting the ordering of bombs. He saw a postal worker and asked him if it was possible to mail a bomb! Struck by the idea that the US could mail bombs to people, he thought, why can’t he? He then went around the neighborhood interviewing other postal workers about this possiblity! And at the peak of this, he actually went INTO the post office (now with another student who had a camera hidden in his bag to record everything) to ask them directly! And might I mention that neither one of them is American - one is from Puerto Rico and the other from Croatia. How the hell he didn’t get arrested is beyond me. This could have gone down so so SO BADLY! I can just see them getting arrested, and saying that their Palestinian teacher gave them these emails from Beirut and Gaza and and and … oh god! We would have all been locked up. And folks it is serious. Had I known he was going to do that I would have stopped him!

And as you know, the FBI is stepping up “visits” to my people … well, of course, we Palestinians are used to this, we been recorded, taped, watched, “visited” since ‘72 … only after 9/11 a whole bunch of other folks ended up joining our plight … other Arabs, South Asians … welcome to our world, babes …

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Emily Jacir is a Palestinain-born, internationally acclaimed artist.