There are a number of ways in which the Israelis, desperate to speak dishonestly and evasive, about their immoral, inhumane, anachronistic and hilariously anti-Enlightenment (the Enlightenment whose false claims to universalism the Israelis love to grab hold of when it suits them), speak and represent their country and its military and illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The latter they prefer to evade with references to complex history, nuance, subtlety, a feigned presumption of complexity and sheer blatant obfuscation. When it comes to their own brutality, land-grab, genocidal erasure of another people’s lives, histories and hopes, they are all about being ‘careful’, ‘measured’ and yes, ‘artistic’.
This project, THIS PLACE – one that has been celebrated and continues to be talked about, is a classic case of a cultural propaganda effort that has now revealed it true intents, and the ahistorical, obfuscatory and frankly, hypocritical ideology that underpins it. The tragedy is that otherwise intelligent photographers like Koudelka, Sheikh, Shore and Peress have today become a part of the Israeli propaganda machinery having willingly collaborated and become weapons of violence and repression. Simply listening to Brenner talk in this interview required serious disengagement from the horrifying facts on the ground (see for example just one example here: Robert Wade’s Organized Hypocrisy On A Monumental Scale), and the need to hold one’s composure in the face of the tiresome and discredited myths of Israeli history and society being offered. That Harper’s – an otherwise excellent publication, would allow his responses to stand without challenge was a bit surprising to see.
Brenner’s reading of Israel is so hideous Zionist / colonial that it begs a correction. He claims the classic, and now very much discredited, argument that the Israeli’s are a people who for 2000 years have laid spiritual and emotional claim to this land. This is absolute nonsense and in fact Israeli intellectuals like Shlomo Sand’s directly address in works such as ‘The Invention of the Jewish People’
Furthermore, Brenner retreats into the false narrative of historical inevitability when he argues:
On one side: how, as a people, the Jews have been able to survive with a portable identity, and how history unfolded in such a way during Second World War that it brought the Jews to reclaim sovereignty on a piece of land. After having spent so much time questioning this capacity of becoming the other and still remaining oneself—identity as a journey between the other and the self, back and forth—I love the idea of questioning how, all of a sudden, sovereignty is the compass which redefines the identity of a people who lived for two thousand years with this portable identity.
This is precisely one of the oldest troupes used by Zionist colonial settlers, and it is simply shocking if not disheartening to see Brenner continues to use it today when it has so widely been discredited. Again, this is precisely the false history challenged by Sands. To say nothing about the hideous erasure of centuries of Sephardic Jewish history with its deep roots in Arab society and culture. That erasure by the Azkanazi of any recognition that the Jews were / are an integral part of the broader Middle East and in fact have been for centuries also inherent to its history is part of this ‘revisionist’ and frankly racist denigration of Arab-Jewish narratives and history. But perhaps Brenner plays his most vile trick when he arrogantly, and immorally, erases all fact of Israeli / Zionist colonial settlement as the definitive history of Israel, and attempts to – taking a page right out of the propaganda manuals of the worst and most racist of Zionists and neo-Zionists – that Israel and the conflict there is all and only about religion. I quote Brenner:
And of course, for me, it’s not Jews and Arab-Muslims; it’s really a triangulation. It’s really Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. This is what has been played and replayed for two thousand years.
Ah yes, that infamous attempt to make it all ‘primordial’ or about ‘ancient hatred’. That racist attempt to deny that the Palestinians / Arabs can have a nationalist, secular politics and that they can be involved in a secular resistance to Israeli occupation and colonial settlement. That constant need to evade what in fact millions experience every day because as far as THIS PLACE and as far as Brenner is concerned there is no Zionist / Jewish settlement. There is no war. There is no expulsion. There are no massacres. There is no Zionist strategy to cleanse the land of its inhabitants and claim it as ‘unsettled’, there is no occupation, there is no torture, no murder, no brutality, no walls, no imprisonments, no breaking of bones, no bombardments, no racism, no mass killings, no enclosures, no land confiscations, no settlements, no destruction of Palestinian life, society, culture, family, politics, economy. There are no Palestinians. No, it has to be about religion, and hence ‘primordial’ and ‘ancient’. There is this constant desperate need to erase the singular violent reality of Israel – not just current day, but since its very inception. Perhaps Brenner needs to read further, and I would recommend the following:
These are the tactics of the desperate and the vulgar. These are the words of a man who mired in his own provincialism and racist superiority that not once are the words ‘Palestinian’ even uttered. Notice the way he claims
…for me, it’s not Jews and Arab-Muslims….
As if the Palestinians are Muslims alone, and not Christians or atheists or people simply fighting for their freedom from the hell of Israeli military occupation and colonial settlement. These are the vulgar tactics of immoral madmen – the erasure of those they repress and steal from. To hide any and all political reality that reveals the sickening and violent nature of the colonial settler’s intents and goals.
This desperate attempt to white-wash Israel’s crimes of occupation, mass dispossession and mass murder, crimes that have been going on for decades with the willing collusion of most of the world but in particular the USA and Europe, is pathetic to watch. And to see Peress, Koudelka, Sheikh become collaborators in this ridiculous travesty of a project, this shameless attempt to obfuscate and confuse the viewers, is truly disheartening.
Brenner is nothing but a crass modern day colonial racist using photography to create confusion and to avoid truths. His own countrymen have courageously and with great risk to their lives and careers stood up to the horrifying ugliness of Israeli occupation and a society now so crass and violently racist that it is hard to even hide it (see Blumenthal’s excellent book ‘Goliath’ or read any one of Jonathan Cook’s excellent works on Israel, its society and politics. ). Brenner’s project erases the violent reality of Israel, and tries to claim it as a triumph of the spirit, a completion of a story foretold. Again, quoting him:
Israel as the locus of paradox, ambivalence, a place that gave birth to three major narratives that have been in conflict for the past two thousand years—why has nobody thought of that?” That was really the inspiration for THIS PLACE.
But Israel’s story is not so pristine, and nor can it ever erase the blood and the screams upon which it exists on a daily basis. Nearly 6 millions such screams today that are silenced through projects precisely such as this. I have already severely mocked and criticized Kouldelka for his cowardice when working on this project (see here: http://www.asimrafiqui.com/…/the-moral-and-intellectual-co…/) and i find it incredible that more people have not spoken out against this yet-another effort to use culture, and cultural products, to veil Israel with a modicum of civility when it fact it needs to be the center of public censure and overt sanctions.
Not Gilles Peress, not Koudelka, not Sheikh or Shore or another ‘fine’ picture makers can avoid facing the fact that their work has become a part of the massively well funded machine of Israeli lies that are designed to erase its violent and racist foundations and claim a superior place in our world. This project colonizes all of Palestine as ‘Israel’ – and presents the Palestinans as a people who are just carrying on an ‘ancient’ conflict with the Jews.
The fact is that Brenner and this project never offers a political equality or a human equality to the Palestinians, while hiding and veiling Israeli’s violent occupation, current and historical, behind all sorts pretensions posturings and discourse to confuse the viewer, seems to be its real goal. It goes a long way towards erasing the daily resistance of the Palestinians, their constant confrontation of the military regime, the daily non-violent resistance and dissent against their humiliation and subjugation, their dealing with Israeli racist laws and social practices, and then creates a false historical continuity of conflict, while never acknowledge that actual lived reality of Israel today, and Israel at its birth, is just sheer arrogance of a monumental scale. It is as if Israel is simply the land imagined by a group of image makers and fiction writers, and the ugliness that marks its daily reality which is in fact simply to unpalatable, and unpleasant to depict and speak about. These pretty pictures, this lovely language, this intellectual gibberish, these fabulous photographs are all designed to appease, to comfort, to calm the anxious and guilt-ridden soul of the outsiders in Europe and the USA, that what is taking place in Israel is complex, inevitable, and unresolvable. Move on, there is nothing to see here. They are part of a process of lulling the world into believing that Israel is a normal nation of normal, secular, democratic, and European people when it is in fact nothing of the sort. It takes very little to realize the vile, violent and deviant nature of what Israel has become today, and that this present was written in the history of its colonial settler birth.
Projects such as THIS PLACE do nothing to further a political commitment to the liberation of Palestine, to the dismantling of Israel’s racist practices and policies inside Israel itself and in the Occupied Territories, ending its military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, dismantling each and every illegal settlement and full and complete reparations for Palestinians displaced and dispossessed. The incorporation of the West Bank settlements, and Hebron and some pictures of Palestinians in this project is nothing more than a cultural colonialism as they never confront the politics and violence that underpins the history of these realities, and never once confronts a regime of repression and colonialism as it ought to be. Worse, they leave the impression that the Occupied Territories are pretty much just nothing more than a ‘problematic’ part of Israel, and that the Palestinians are just a bunch of primordial troublemakers, and since it has been going on for 2000 years, why bother to think more about it. This is simply nonsense and its shameful to see these major photojournalists become such mindless fodder for such well planned and constructed tripe.
Israel, thanks to our fear of our own racist demons, has become the rogue nation that can trample all civil laws and rights of another people and repeatedly get away with it. It can kill them with impunity – how sickening it is to read Brenner’s pseudo-intellectual discourse knowing that just a few weeks earlier his ‘experiment’ led to the cold-blooded murder of nearly 500 Palestinian children in Gaza – and then blame them for having to kill them.
THIS PLACE is obfuscation, and at worst, a set of carefully constructed lies around a language and a history that is misleading and meant to confuse. That was Brenner’s intent all along. He, mired and blind to his own provincialism, his clan, ethnic and religious allegiances that never allow him to find a simple human ground with the suffering others, is nothing more than a classic European colonialist who may feel pity for the repressed ‘natives’, but can never feel or recognize their full and equal humanity. This project is meant to convince the ignorant that the situation in region is too complicated, when in fact it is clear and quite simple but we just do not have the courage to face Israel’s repeated violations of another people’s rights, dignity and claims to nationhood and equality. THIS PLACE is meant to simply help cleanse the madness and hideousness of the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian people, and to continue to remain the bigoted, violent, murderous and frankly shamefully barbaric place that it is.