After the Palestine Liberation Organization withdrew from Beirut as a result of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the most significant Palestinian film archive, comprising more than 100 documentaries, was nowhere to be found. This article examines Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004), a documentary that ostensibly chronicles the director’s search for the archive, but ultimately explores Palestinians’ recurrent efforts to narrate and visualize their historical reality in the face of archival appropriation and destruction. As El-Hassan travels between Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and occupied Palestine, her journey becomes a quest for Palestinian freedom dreams, generating its own, living archive, uniquely Palestinian in its unauthorized, stateless, and itinerant form. Engaging Palestinian archival imaginaries alongside decolonial feminist critiques of positivist historiography, I propose “reparative fabulation” as an act of the radical narrative imagination that animates unrealized political potentialities glimpsed in the gaps endemic to violated archives.

The history of Palestinian cinema is punctuated by silences and erasures. Once dated to the founding of the Palestine Film Unit (PFU) by Sulafa Jadallah, Mustafa Abu Ali, and Hani Jawhariyyeh in 1968, Palestinian cinema was only traced back to 1935 in the late 1970s. This history had to be recuperated from the Shatila refugee camp, in Beirut, where the Iraqi filmmaker Kassem Hawal met Ibrahim Hassan Sirhan, a Palestinian refugee from Jaffa who chronicled the Saudi Crown Prince’s 1935 tour of Palestine in a twenty-minute documentary. Sirhan is today recognized as one of “the founders of pre-1948 Palestinian cinema,” alongside other Palestinian filmmakers thought to have made documentaries and features prior to the nakba (catastrophe).1 None of these films have survived.

It was only after the June 1967 War, with the rise of Palestinian resistance groups, that resources were directed towards Palestinian cinema. Under the aegis of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in particular its most powerful constituent party, Fatah, cinema for the first time became a significant cultural endeavor for a collectivity in exile. More than 100 documentaries were made by filmmakers associated with the PLO, including through the PFU and its indirect successor, the Palestinian Cinema Institute (PCI), between 1968 and 1982.2 Distinct from the photographs and films produced by humanitarian agencies and foreign journalists to document the Palestinian refugee condition, these documentaries projected to the world an image of Palestinians as revolutionaries, not victims—and to Palestinian refugees, a promise that they were returnees.3 In the wake of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, however, these films were presumed lost.

Figure 1.

Palestine Film Unit co-founders Sulafa Jadallah and Hani Jawhariyyeh in Al-Karameh, Jordan, March 1968. Jadallah has been credited as both the first female Palestinian filmmaker and the first Arab woman cinematographer. Courtesy of Khadijeh Habashneh.

Figure 1.

Palestine Film Unit co-founders Sulafa Jadallah and Hani Jawhariyyeh in Al-Karameh, Jordan, March 1968. Jadallah has been credited as both the first female Palestinian filmmaker and the first Arab woman cinematographer. Courtesy of Khadijeh Habashneh.

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Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (2004) tells the story of Palestinian-Jordanian filmmaker Azza El-Hassan’s search for the PCI archive. At the time of her filming, it was unclear if the archive had been destroyed or looted, or if it remained hidden in Beirut, having been stored in a secret location for protection. Few of the films associated with the PLO had been seen in the two decades since the archive’s disappearance. By now, copies of a number of these films have been found in homes, production studios, and cultural centers around the world. Several have been restored and screened by filmmakers, artists, and scholars, including El-Hassan herself.4 Increasingly, these are appearing in Arab film festivals and screening programs dedicated to engaged documentary and Global South cinema traditions. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the footage once held in the PCI archive appears, for now, to be irretrievable.

In 2017, the Israeli scholar Rona Sela made public new elements of her longstanding research into cultural material looted by Israel, explaining that she had been permitted to view some of the lost films in Israel’s military archives.5 Before leaving Beirut, Sela reports, Israeli forces were ordered to raid PLO-affiliated offices; many if not all of the films were looted then. The mystery of the archive has been diminished, if not entirely dispelled. Stolen and sealed away from their Palestinian makers and primary audiences, most of the films remain inaccessible, robbing Palestinians of a critical media archive that included many of their earliest self-representations in film.

Important though this film archive is to Palestinian image producers, its plunder represents just one instantiation of an enduring structure of settler-colonial dispossession, which includes the appropriation of lands and homes alongside countless acts of looting photographs, films, books, and personal documents. As Mouin Rabbani and Sherene Seikaly write:

Historical evidence is a battleground. Every single Israeli attack on Palestine or the Palestinians has targeted archives. In 1948, this happened en masse. Many family papers and other collections have since resurfaced in various Israeli libraries and archives. In 1982, Israel looted the Palestine Research Center in Beirut and carted off its entire contents. Such plunder did not happen only during major wars. It happens at every intersection of Israeli conquest and settlement, and is part of everyday life.6

The literature on Israel’s theft and destruction of Palestinian archives is already voluminous.7 It is outside the scope of this article to document its extent or its impact on knowledge production. I focus instead on how Palestinians have responded to archival loss, and to questions of memory, representation, and imagination that emerge when a community is robbed of narrative and visual media intended to document their past and present and to enable emancipatory futures.

As the subtitle Digging for a Palestinian Image suggests, the aim of El-Hassan’s film is not to retrieve the missing archive so much as exhume the moving images that animated it. These images, shot by Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon during a period of revolutionary armed struggle, were documentary in genre and propagandistic in intent; however, they were not passively reflective of the landscapes, camps, battles, militants, and refugees they depicted. Rather, they were elements of a collective Palestinian project of worldbuilding: the making of a community and the imagination of a world—inclusive of oppressed peoples beyond Palestine and Arab nations—free from racism and colonialism.8 Their significance lies not only in their historic documentation of Palestinian life in the refugee camps and on the frontlines of guerrilla struggle, but in their nascent and evolving conceptions of how to sculpt a Palestinian image, and a Palestinian narrative, in the wake of the destruction of Palestine.

Kings and Extras remains timely today, after Sela has (partially) revealed the fate of the film archive, and after several filmmakers and artists have made films and projects related to the archive, for a number of reasons.9 First, by reclaiming the freedom dreams embedded in another era’s lost images as she speaks with people connected to the PCI archive, El-Hassan generates her own living archive of images and stories, memories and encounters, rumors and speculations. It is a uniquely Palestinian archive, unauthorized and stateless, produced across the multiple displacements of an exilic community. As such, it provokes questions about the persistence of looted and destroyed Palestinian archives in people’s memories, but also their continual revival and transformation through people’s actions.

Secondly, by culling testimonies and images from various Palestinian diasporic positions, El-Hassan refuses the idea that Israeli institutions can narrate the meaning of Palestinian archives by classifying, sorting, labeling, and restricting access to plundered material. Away from a colonial center of knowledge production, she and other members of an exilic community narrate a structure of dispossession in many voices. El-Hassan thereby builds a body of subjugated and situated knowledges, rejecting an imperial “gaze from nowhere” in favor of a dissensual assemblage of distinct perspectives from particular Palestinian localities.10 These places themselves emerge as constitutive elements of exilic Palestinian archives in formation, rooting Palestine not only in its historic land but also in the character that Palestinians give to the cities and camps where they reside: Amman, Beirut, Qalandia (Palestine), Yarmouk (Syria).

Figure 2.

A war-torn building in Beirut. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

Figure 2.

A war-torn building in Beirut. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

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Finally, with her self-reflexive and fable-like documentary, El-Hassan contests the meaning of evidence and widens the scope of what is admissible to archives. Historians have often excluded Palestinian experiences from their narratives of Israel’s creation by deeming oral testimony unreliable, a bias that evidently works against Palestinians dispossessed of papers.11 El-Hassan has written of Kings and Extras, “My protagonists’ pasts were hijacked, so I could not place my characters in a visual historical context, and the proof of the authenticity of their narratives was gone.”12 Rather than seek to furnish incontrovertible evidence of her characters’ stories, however, she creates a dissonant archive that animates their narratives outside the framework of proof. El-Hassan renounces basic documentary conventions that authorize the reality of profilmic events, such as captions identifying speakers or intertitles providing historical context, and function as cinematic equivalents to the classificatory systems of archives.

El-Hassan’s documentary, I argue, is less concerned with gathering counter-evidence to correct the historical record than it is suggestive of how various fictions shape reality—and become naturalized as fact. “It was in factual stories that the colonial archive affirmed its fictions to itself,” writes Ann Laura Stoler.13 Her incisive statement aptly describes the Israeli documents that record Palestinians crossing newly established borders to return to the homes they were forced to leave just months prior as “infiltrators,” or laws that render absurd fictions such as the moniker “present absentees”—displaced Palestinians prohibited from reclaiming their property, even as they remained within what became Israel—into accepted facts.14 A documentary that critically reflects on the making and mediation of evidence, and at times disturbs the line between fact and fiction, Kings and Extras challenges the positivism common to orthodox historiography, colonial archives, and more rigid forms of documentary realism as it exemplifies a cinematic mode of fabulation.

In what follows, I explore reparative fabulation as a mode of narrating suppressed histories amid archival absences, drawing from Saidiya Hartman’s model of “critical fabulation” and Ariella Aïsha Azoulay’s notion of “potential history.”15 Engaging these and other decolonial feminist critiques of positivist historiography, I identify fabulation as an act of the radical narrative imagination that animates unrealized political potentialities glimpsed in the gaps endemic to archives subjected to colonial violations. I posit fabulation as a response to archival loss that refuses to expose and counter dispossession with documentary evidence aimed at asserting, often through images of suffering, a colonized people’s humanity. To fabulate, in my conception, is at once to narrate and to imagine, to speculate and to theorize, to conjure counter-histories and decolonized futures from within ongoing catastrophe.

Etymologically rooted in the Latin fabula, meaning “story” (and giving English the fable), the concept of fabulation carries a range of connotations drawn from distinct aesthetic and philosophical genealogies. Within Palestinian and other Arab cultures, it is important to note the significance of storytelling and the folktale (or hikaye, a word that stems from the root verb “to speak,” highlighting the importance of oral tradition). In Gilles Deleuze’s film theory, meanwhile, fabulation is a form of cinematic narrative associated with the “powers of the false,” which enable a process of becoming otherwise and the emergence of a reality not rooted in the visual evidence of a world captured by the camera.16 Deleuze figures this emergence as a subaltern rebellion against the colonial policing of a distinction between fiction and reality: “What is opposed to fiction is not the real; it is not the truth which is always that of the masters or colonizers; it is the story-telling function [fonction fabulatrice] of the poor, in so far as it gives the false the power which makes it into a memory, a legend, a monster.”17 Fabulation is the practice of the minoritarian artist, for whom “truth is not to be achieved, formed, or reproduced; it has to be created.”18 Together with “parafiction,” the term has been used similarly to describe Lebanese artistic and literary works by Walid Raad, Rabih Mroué, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Elias Khoury, and others of the “war generation” that narrate Lebanon’s civil war(s) by interpolating fictional characters and events within otherwise factual histories.19 As in the case of Walid Raad’s imaginary institution The Atlas Group, these cultural practitioners often invent ostensibly documentary material, and appropriate the documentarian’s authority, on the one hand supplementing and animating fragmentary archives, and on the other, foregrounding the fallacies and fantasies of memory as constitutive of emergent truths.

Archival erasure spurs a desire not only to bear witness to suppressed histories, but also to speculate about those lives and narratives conspicuously absent from the colonial archive and to interrogate the possibility of their recovery. A lasting effect of archival dispossession is to erode the distinction between witnessing and speculating, as memory and imagination become equally necessary to conjure a suppressed past that nonetheless structures the present. These tensions animate Saidiya Hartman’s concept of critical fabulation, a mode of writing “counter-history at the intersection of the fictive and the historical,” which Hartman describes in relation to the archival violence that has mystified and erased Black women’s experiences of enslavement. If all the documents pertaining to the lives of enslaved Black women record them only as sexualized property, Hartman asks, then how can one tell their story without reiterating their dehumanization? To expose and critique their erasure, while drawing on historiographic methods shaped by this archival violence, would fail to acknowledge the enduring “afterlife of slavery.”20 But in her view, neither can one narrate a counterfactual history that symbolically restores what has been lost. Wary of redemptive moves, Hartman warns against symbolic repair in the absence of reparations that might materially transform—and curtail—slavery’s afterlives. She rejects the possibility of a fully restorative representation, but insists, “The necessity of trying to represent what we cannot, rather than leading to pessimism or despair must be embraced as the impossibility that conditions our knowledge of the past and animates our desire for a liberated future.”21 I regard Hartman’s stance not as a denial of fabulation’s reparative potential, but as a sobering reminder that critical faculties must guide reparative processes, or else repair will remain symbolic, and hence, unfulfilled.

In developing the notion of reparative fabulation, I join Hartman’s model of critical fabulation with the reparative approach to extinguished ontologies and destroyed worlds that Azoulay calls “potential history.” Employing potential history as a method of “unlearning imperialism,” Azoulay seeks to reconstruct models of being in a shared world that imperialism has all but destroyed since European settlers imposed the colonial order of a “new world” in 1492. Potential history refuses the idea that imperial violence can be relegated to the past as well as the notion that the past need be retrieved through institutional archives and the discipline of history. Equally, it rejects progressive and utopian visions of a world invented anew, as “the new,” seeking to undo the conceptual separation of past, present, and future by engaging in a continuous present of world repair and reparations. Potential history is “a form of being with others, both living and dead, across time,” a mode of community and care that unsettles archival authority, expanding the political imaginary through a collective process of unlearning.22

I choose the term reparative fabulation not to shear fabulation of criticality, negativity, or dissensus, but to emphasize that a radical (narrative) imagination is integral to material processes of repair, as Robin D.G. Kelley has argued with respect to grassroots struggles for reparations.23 Reparative fabulations are not panaceas, but they can inaugurate and nourish restorative processes; such stories affirm the possibility of collectively engaging in practices of world-repair and worldbuilding aimed at healing the wounds of ongoing catastrophes and rehabilitating potential histories.

Kings and Extras opens with an oblique view of an unnamed refugee camp, providing neither a caption to identify and locate the camp nor an establishing shot of the camp’s entrance or its inhabitants. Instead, a long shot reveals a maze of rooftops dotted with rusty satellite dishes, antennas, and water tanks, from the camera’s level. A clapboard with the words “Iranian film” (written in Arabic) is moved in front of the camera and clapped, as El-Hassan explains that she began her search here, in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, where an Iranian film crew had just passed through. This self-reflexive opening scene announces the film’s interest in the mediation of Palestinian life, while refusing ethnographic representations that might comfort Western viewers’ desires to consume a knowable and mappable other. El-Hassan’s renunciation is a gesture of playful intimacy that continues as the filmmaker cuts to a shaky, street-level perspective and strikes up conversations with camp residents that are equally comic and tragic.

Figure 3.

A rooftop view from a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, in the opening scene of Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

Figure 3.

A rooftop view from a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, in the opening scene of Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

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Figure 4.

A Palestinian child recounts what she witnessed of an Iranian film shot in the adjacent refugee camp. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

Figure 4.

A Palestinian child recounts what she witnessed of an Iranian film shot in the adjacent refugee camp. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

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Walking through the camp’s narrow streets with a handheld camera, surrounded by children excited to see this visitor and her device, El-Hassan asks a young man about the Iranian film, which employed local refugees as extras. “What was the film about?” she inquires. “Palestine,” he responds. She approaches him, zooming in on his face, and presses him to elaborate. “A war film about Palestine,” he explains with a shrug. Teasingly, El-Hassan asks again, “What’s it about?” The man replies with a nervous laugh, “It’s about the resistance and the occupation,” as if this were self-evident.24 What else could a film about Palestine be about? Why even ask?

El-Hassan cuts to her conversations with a young girl who watched the film shoot and a middle-aged woman who acted in it. “What did you see?” the filmmaker asks the child, who responds with striking concision: “I saw Israel killing Palestine and Palestine killing Israel. The Israelis were shooting bullets, the Palestinians were throwing stones, and Israel was killing the Palestinians.” Encountering the middle-aged woman, El-Hassan asks her to demonstrate how she fought while acting in the film. The woman raises her arms and clenches her fists as if to beat a combatant, but instead laughs and covers her mouth with embarrassment. “What part did you play?” El-Hassan asks. She replies, “I lay on the ground and they destroyed a house around me.” “So you played a Palestinian,” concludes El-Hassan. The woman smiles and explains how she took cover, surrounded by blood, as planes flew above. An off-screen voice chides her, “Don’t smile!” She calls back, “I’m not smiling,” and turns to El-Hassan with the request, “Don’t film me smiling.”

In El-Hassan’s conversations with camp residents, the reality represented by the Iranian film is summed up as a narrative so familiar and overdetermined it hardly need be restated. The Palestinian refugees who perform as extras seem to laugh at their limited and limiting roles, but also, to feel ashamed about publicly making light of even this representation of their plight. These opening scenes suggest that the victim/militant binary that circumscribes Palestinians’ mediated appearance before a global audience, however reductive, nonetheless provides them with a chance to show the world their real-life dispossession and struggle for survival. The unidentified Iranian film within El-Hassan’s film, simplistic as it appears in this context, is composed of imagery and narrative elements that the refugees are likely to associate with themselves and their oppressors, particularly during the second intifada.25 As the aforementioned young man continues to show the film’s setting to El-Hassan, he points a finger towards rubble and burnt tires and imitates the sound of bombs, embodying the role played by witnesses of Israeli aggression in so many documentaries about Palestine. Literally indexical, his gesture, which El-Hassan emphasizes by following his arm’s motion with her camera, troubles the association of documentary film with visual evidence; the refugee is pointing to material proof not of destruction, but its simulation. As El-Hassan presses him to relate more details of the film, he balks and tells her, “You know what Israelis are like…Destruction and smoke, that’s what they usually leave behind.” El-Hassan asks him, now over the non-diegetic sound of film being projected, “In fiction or in reality?” His response: “Both.”

Figure 5.

A young Palestinian man points his finger towards burnt cars and rubble, embodying the role of witness. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

Figure 5.

A young Palestinian man points his finger towards burnt cars and rubble, embodying the role of witness. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

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Figure 6.

Literally indexical, the young man’s gesture troubles the association of documentary film with visual evidence, as he points to signs of destruction enacted for a fiction film. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

Figure 6.

Literally indexical, the young man’s gesture troubles the association of documentary film with visual evidence, as he points to signs of destruction enacted for a fiction film. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

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In a well-known scene from Notre musique (2004), director Jean-Luc Godard is seen from behind, holding a black-and-white photograph of Palestinians fleeing their homeland in boats and a color photo of European Jews arriving by water to a land they will claim as home. “Shot and counter-shot,” Godard labels the two images, proposing that “after 1948, the Jews become the stuff of fiction. The Palestinians, of documentary.” This provocative axiom has been widely scrutinized since the film’s release, perhaps equally for its kernel of truth and its reductive binarism.26 On the one hand, both their abrupt dispossession and slowly actualized need to counter a hegemonic narrative have rendered Palestinians the objects of humanitarian documentary and the subjects of a film oeuvre disproportionately composed of documentaries aimed at consciousness-raising.27 It is likely this history to which Godard refers in Notre musique, having watched the PFU’s militant documentaries and filmed guerrilla fighters in Jordan (at Fatah’s invitation) in 1970, for a never-completed Dziga Vertov Group film, Jusqu’à la victoire (Until Victory). On the other, recognizing this predicament, many Palestinian filmmakers have rejected their relegation to the realm of documentary, through turns to speculation, fantasy, humor, and hybrid modes that refuse the fiction-documentary binary. Hany Abu Assad (Paradise Now, Omar), for example, memorably labeled his 2002 film Ford Transit, criticized by some for staging scenes amid its factual exposure of restricted Palestinian mobility, “both one hundred percent documentary and one hundred percent fiction.”28 Godard seems to have overlooked such tendencies, though they were central to Ici et ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere, 1976), his and Anne-Marie Miéville’s essay-film about global mediations of the Palestinian struggle and of Israel that used footage he shot in Jordan for Jusqu’à la victoire.

In his landmark essay “Permission to Narrate,” Edward Said examines the media censorship and stereotyping that prevents Palestinian narratives from taking hold in the West, particularly the United States. Said’s discussion of the limits of empirical evidence in persuading publics and mobilizing solidarity are especially significant for critical analyses of documentary and archives. Written in the wake of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, his article cites human rights reports that condemned Israel’s reckless bombing of civilian areas, labeled its destruction of schools and hospitals deliberate, and found it directly responsible for overseeing the Sabra and Shatila massacre executed by right-wing Lebanese Christian militias it had trained. “The facts speak for themselves,” one international commission noted.29 This cliché offers Said an opportunity to distinguish between facts that are muted—censored or merely downplayed—and facts that are amplified by media outlets and supported by familiar tropes. “Facts do not at all speak for themselves,” he writes, “but require a socially acceptable narrative to absorb, sustain, and circulate them.”30 Said examines the ideological and geopolitical factors that render a Zionist narrative “socially acceptable,” and laments that Palestinians’ ongoing dispossession makes it difficult for them to construct a convincing counter-narrative. (A Palestinian narrative was strongest, he notes, in the years when a well-resourced PLO acquired a position of global prominence from Beirut.) He does not discuss aesthetic and social elements of storytelling, but these contributions to the power of narrative—particularly in documentary film, so central to Palestine solidarity activism and education—should be considered in light of his comments on the rhetorical inadequacy of facts.31

Scholarship on Palestinian cinema has often overrepresented the aim of furnishing visual evidence of human rights abuses as it highlights the need to combat a hegemonic Zionist narrative. Hamid Dabashi, in his editorial introduction to the first English-language book on Palestinian cinema, Dreams of a Nation, characterizes the entire corpus of Palestinian cinema with the label “traumatic realism,” calling it “an alternative record of a silenced crime.”32 While this role is undoubtedly important, to belabor its significance is to overlook the many elements of Palestinian cinema that are not merely responses to Israeli claims or appeals to an international community, but rather autonomous refractions of Palestinian social practices, aesthetics, imaginaries, memories, and affects. Extending Said’s insights about the limits of “counter-evidence,” I argue that to fabulate, in the Palestinian context, is to claim narrative sovereignty, which consists partly in refusing the pressure to represent Palestinian history in a sober and transparently empirical manner.33 It is to scramble the aesthetic-political division posited by Godard and enact a permission to fabulate that Palestinians are often denied by their advocates and foes alike.

To be clear, Palestinians have long asserted a right to fabulation in their political narratives. In literature, one need look no further than the novel Said labeled Palestine’s “national epic,” Emile Habibi’s fantastical 1974 satire, Waqa’i al-gharibah fi ikhtifa’ Sa’id Abi al-Nahs al-Mutasha’il (The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist).34 And while the development of Palestinian cinema has been hindered due to the costs and logistical requirements of filmmaking, it is not only recent, transnational Palestinian film production that has challenged conventional documentary approaches. Straightforwardly agitprop as some of the PFU films were, it would be inaccurate to present only a later, “auteurist” period of Palestinian cinema as formally complex or self-reflexive. Many films of the revolutionary period were highly experimental, reflecting techniques of critical montage similar to those employed by Soviet filmmakers, the European avant-garde, and the Third Cinema movement.35 PFU filmmakers debated the politics of cinematic form as they experimented with rhythmic and disjunctive editing, jolts of sound and silence, and techniques of détournement, pantomime, and Brechtian estrangement.36 Ultimately, however, they were most interested in the pedagogical impact of films for their primary audience: Palestinian refugees. The PFU submitted their stylistic choices to popular survey, distributing questionnaires to their Palestinian audiences and opting for more “realist” or “experimental” methods based on post-screening responses.37 While this abdication of creative autonomy may appear to contradict a commitment to aesthetic innovation, a more apt characterization would be that film form both reflected and cultivated Palestinian visions of the historical reality they were actively shaping as a community. “I think they wanted to reorganize their world with a camera,” El-Hassan states of the PFU filmmakers, early in Kings and Extras. In this context, her profilmic conversations with Palestinian refugees on representations of Palestine and Israel, and their experiences acting as extras in a film about violence linked to their own families’ dispossession, act as a portal to a time of vigorous popular debate about Palestinian self-representation and agency.

The film projector heard as the camp scene closes heralds archival footage of Palestinians recovering personal items strewn about in the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of the Allenby Bridge during the 1967 war.38 El-Hassan announces her film’s main subject as she explains the provenance of the footage: “What you see here is from the Israel Film Service. The Israelis could not tell us who filmed it. The archive which these men and women made about themselves is still missing to this day.” What follows is El-Hassan’s narrative of her search for the Palestinian film archive, though this is arguably not the film’s main subject, but its MacGuffin. More than a documentary about the archive, Kings and Extras is a searching meditation on how Palestinians have sought to build identities, narratives, and worlds for themselves through moving images. Showing many such images that have survived within her film, El-Hassan reconstructs the potential inherent in a revolutionary Palestinian image, in the kinds of Palestinian images that animate an archive that today exists in a virtual state, lost and yet remembered.

Figure 7.

An image of the bombed Allenby Bridge in 1967, shot by the late filmmaker Hani Jawhariyyeh and narrated by his daughter, Hiba, a childhood friend of the filmmaker. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

Figure 7.

An image of the bombed Allenby Bridge in 1967, shot by the late filmmaker Hani Jawhariyyeh and narrated by his daughter, Hiba, a childhood friend of the filmmaker. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

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Whether conceptualized as an institution or, in a Foucauldian sense, as a discourse, the archive is typically understood to emanate from and reproduce the sovereignty of states and empires. In much critical theory, the Derridean image of archons guarding the written documents held captive by a state institution overdetermines representations of the archive, rendering it an abstract moniker of authority. Palestinian archives unsettle these and other conceptions of the archive, first because there is no sovereign Palestinian state to contain them, and second, because the constitutive condition of Palestinian archives—recurrently plundered and destroyed by Israel—is dispossession. Palestinian archives actively unsettle statist notions of the archive, but they also remain unsettled, extraterritorial, as Zionist settler colonialism has operated through the fragmentation and dispersion of the Palestinian people.39

Scholars who take Palestine and other sites of colonial dispossession as primary case studies necessarily theorize archives beyond the walls that contain them. Achille Mbembe, for example, memorably names the archive an “instituting imaginary.”40 Since the archive is “fundamentally a matter of discrimination and of selection,” it grants a privileged status to certain documentary objects, a status that is both material and imaginary, legal and ideological, “the status of proof” and “the illusion of totality and continuity.”41 Similarly shifting emphasis away from the archive as a concrete institution, Azoulay underscores an underlying archival regime, which comprises “a variety of archival procedures, such as looting, classifying, and stealing time.”42 She foregrounds methods for unlearning the temporality imposed by the archival regime, in order to reclaim a “continuous present.”43 The present tense potentializes events, movements, practices, and hopes forcibly confined to the past, but it also reflects the persistent colonial reality. As Beshara Doumani notes, the urgency of archiving Palestinian life is demonstrated by “the continued and accelerating erasure of the two greatest archives of all: the physical landscape, and the bonds of daily life that constitute an organic social formation.”44 A paradox emerges here: ongoing colonial erasure is precisely what enables Palestinian archives to be understood more capaciously, to exist beyond the walls of the archival institution, and to encompass not only documentary objects but also what is still living, still becoming.

Palestinian oral history, folklore, and popular commemorative objects such as village books and maps have been central to reshaping and redefining archives, in the work of such scholars as Nafez Nazzal, Rosemary Sayigh, Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana, Susan Slyomovics, Laleh Khalili Rochelle Davis, and Diana Allan. In addition to contesting Israel’s erasure and appropriation of Palestinian cultural heritage, these often-denigrated sources—many of them generated, shared, and interpreted by women—are valuable for the ways they unsettle patriarchal, nationalist narratives within Palestinian society. As Sayigh has written, referring to her interviews with Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon, “the life stories of refugee women from low-income strata do not merely ‘reflect’ national history; they offer the materials for a more complete, more ‘real’ national history—one not narrowly focused on men, political parties, and the national elite, but taking in women, home, families, nonelite classes, and varied diaspora locales.”45 Similarly, Muhawi and Kanaana, through their extraordinary labor of compiling, contextualizing, and translating Palestinian folktales, have reanimated—and transmitted to the diaspora—a tradition of communal storytelling that was a binding force, upheld by the recognized ability and social authority of older women, for a predominantly peasant population.46 The 1990s witnessed the emergence of a number of Palestinian oral history projects, as activists and scholars perceived the importance of recording cultural memory before those with firsthand memories of the nakba passed away. Today, numerous Palestinian archives in exile gather oral histories of nakba survivors in various material and digital repositories.47

In 2017, El-Hassan was given three cans of 16 mm film reels by her childhood friend Hiba Jawhariyyeh, daughter of PFU cofounder Hani Jawhariyyeh. Unbeknownst to Hiba when El-Hassan interviewed her for Kings and Extras, her mother Hind had carried these cans from Beirut prior to Israel’s invasion and stored them in their Amman home for decades. One can contained Filastin fi al-’Ayn (Palestine in the Eye), a 1977 short by Mustafa Abu Ali that commemorates the life of his friend, Hani Jawhariyyeh, who recorded the moment of his death while filming a battle in Lebanon. Another held Al-Quds, Zahrat al-Mada’en (Jerusalem, Flower of All Cities), a brief 1968 documentary about Israel’s 1967 occupation of Jerusalem directed by Ali Siam, with Jawhariyyeh (a Jerusalem native) as his cinematographer. The third was empty, having contained the film he was using when killed. El-Hassan restored and digitized the two completed films, initiating what she calls “The Void Project,” an ongoing effort to recuperate Palestinian cinema. In 2019, she restored films by Layali Badr and Arab Loutfi, for a collaboration with the London Palestine Film Festival, “Women of the Revolution.” Nonetheless, El-Hassan distinguishes The Void Project from an archival undertaking centered on retrieving and preserving a lost past, because “it’s about the void, it’s about what this empty space in our narrative does to us.”48 Similarly, focusing on Kings and Extras, I emphasize the PCI archive’s persistence as a phantom archive—an absence felt as a presence, like a severed limb that won’t stop aching. Mbembe observes that the destruction of an archive does not bring about its loss so much as its transmutation into “fantasy…allowing space for all manner of imaginary thoughts,” its transfiguration into “a spectre…the receptacle of all utopian ideals and of all anger.”49 It is in this sense, I would suggest, that the PCI archive remains present for El-Hassan and her interlocutors in Kings and Extras. Rather than seek to restore what was lost, El-Hassan’s film stays with the phantoms as it generates a living, unresolved archive.

Kings and Extras features myriad conversations with Palestinians about loss, in general, and the loss of the film archive in particular. El-Hassan speaks with people she encounters on the streets of Beirut or Damascus, including the refugee camps within and adjacent to these cities. She also seeks people out for their connections to the PCI archive. One of the film’s most poignant elements is its itinerancy, which mirrors the forced migrations of Palestinians. Equipped with a Jordanian passport, El-Hassan journeys along many of the same routes traveled by Palestinian exiles, including her own family, from the occupied West Bank to the nearby camps and capitals of Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.50 This embodied movement additionally suggests an extraterritorial Palestinian archive, distinct from the looted film archive that lies dormant as the reclassified property of Israel’s military archives. For Palestine, as Said and many others have suggested, is irreducible to territory.51 “If Palestine is both a way of being in the world as well as a place, if it includes an intentional community spread far and wide and a diasporic set of sites and communities, then this archiving of Palestine can,” Stoler argues, help topple “colonial cartographies.”52 In this way, El-Hassan’s search for the archive generates something distinctly valuable from Sela’s act of finding the archive in the guarded institution of its plunderers. She sidesteps the archival regime to create a vibrant archive of Palestinian longing, memory, creativity, humor, melancholy, hope, and sumud.53 At the same time, she does not hesitate to reveal diasporic dissensus, a quality Stoler discerns in Palestinian archives, but one which is often repressed in nationalist narratives like that of the Iranian film within El-Hassan’s film. Without explicitly naming sociological distinctions, Kings and Extras shows how the conditions for Palestinian life differ drastically across borders and along other, sometimes less visible divides, including class, gender, and citizenship status.54 The substance of these realities surface as they are lived, in the relationship of her characters to their settings.

In Lebanon, the film’s primary setting, the vast majority of Palestinians cannot acquire citizenship, are barred from most white-collar professions, and reside in camps with wretched conditions. A young studio photographer who lives in one of Beirut’s camps, Monaf, conceals his Palestinian accent and identity when a passerby on Beirut’s corniche, seeing El-Hassan’s camera pointed at him, asks if he is a Lebanese actor. Even back in the camp, he is withholding and quiet, having seemingly internalized an instinct to survive by remaining in the shadows. When Azza asks Monaf, in his studio, “We’re ghosts in this country?” he replies, “Not ghosts. We’re not even of this century here. We’re not living.” But this intra-Palestinian “we” is more multifarious than Monaf’s comments suggest. By contrast, when El-Hassan interviews PFU filmmakers (and former spouses) Mustafa Abu Ali and Khadijeh Habashneh in their comfortable if modest Beirut apartments, they speak freely about past traumas and the lost archive. So too does El-Hassan’s friend Hiba, from her pleasant home in Jordan, as she encourages the filmmaker to continue her search. Three women El-Hassan interviews on a street somewhere in the occupied West Bank, meanwhile, sound perplexed by the filmmaker’s questions. When she asks if they believe her search is worthwhile, one of the women tells her bluntly, “No. Now is not the time to think about cinema…If you want drama, go to the checkpoint. Go and watch men being tied up.”

Figure 8.

Three women in the occupied West Bank share their opinion of the filmmaker’s search for the lost archive. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

Figure 8.

Three women in the occupied West Bank share their opinion of the filmmaker’s search for the lost archive. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

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Essential here is not only the diversity of opinion and circumstance El-Hassan reveals, but also the folkloric and fabulous qualities of the search for a lost history that she illuminates as she depicts her characters—for they are treated as characters, not talking heads or vox pops. Abu Ali, the most prolific of PFU directors, and Habashneh, a notable filmmaker and the PCI archive’s founder, are figures of immense significance.55 But they are not introduced as such, through captions or voiceover. They are simply “The Believers” (the title appears on screen during their first interview). El-Hassan’s friend Hiba is “The Child,” and each interlocutor who plays a significant role in the search is designated like a character in a folktale: The Ghost, The Guardian, The Pessimist, The Optimist, The Thinker.

As I have suggested, Kings and Extras exemplifies a narrative mode of fabulation through its critical stance towards visual and archival evidence. Like a fable, too, the film offers a simpler story—a synecdochical search for a particular archive, among so many that have been looted, destroyed, or lost—to allegorically impart a moral or, here, an ethical practice. It is a practice rooted in the assumption that archives belong to all the people who have been dispossessed of them, that is, not to experts or specialists, but to Palestinians who can speculate about the archive’s status, function, and fate because they maintain a living archive of stories that they transmit to their communities and descendants. It is an ethics of the reparative imagination, a collective effort of reconstructing images and narratives of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination that correspond to the breadth and complexity of Palestinians’ experiences, beyond their restrictive roles as victims or militants, as extras or kings.

In Kings and Extras’ penultimate scene, El-Hassan narrates what we see and what she imagines as she runs the rushes of an incomplete, unknown film from the Palestinian revolutionary period that one of her interlocutors, Mousa Maragha (“The Optimist”), gave her in Syria. She explains, “It’d been in the camera for 22 years: I found nothing but faded images.” The images are blurry and nondescript to the point of abstraction: fuzzy figures—humans, a car, a fence—in unidentifiable spaces. But El-Hassan’s narration shifts to a speculation of what lies within or beyond these images. “I imagined that inside the film was another film,” she says, as she interpolates her own dreamlike images within this indeterminate footage from the past, momentarily bringing into view a living room and some of its objects, including a few framed photographs of women that flash on screen, illuminated within a hazy hue. “I imagined that for a few seconds, defeat ends and the victims win. And their image is transformed. The exiled return home.” The fleeting images of a sunlit if hauntingly chiaroscuric salon seem to announce this virtual return home. But El-Hassan does not rest with the exiled in a symbolic plane of return to the homes from which they were expelled. She shows some more obscured images from the decayed film, and faced with this opacity, she continues her fable: “Then they tour the world and change it into a world without victims.”

Figure 9.

El-Hassan narrates a film of her own imagination as she plays blurry images from a decayed, 22-year-old film and interpolates her own dreamlike images among them. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

Figure 9.

El-Hassan narrates a film of her own imagination as she plays blurry images from a decayed, 22-year-old film and interpolates her own dreamlike images among them. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

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A world without victims, created by Palestinians who are no longer refugees, but returnees, no longer undocumented people confined to their camps but voyagers on a world tour. Is this a parable of repair with too messianic an ending? A fabulation in which reparation arrives like a gift, in which there is no need for the collective labor of repairing? It might be if the film ended there. But El-Hassan’s speculative act of envisioning a repaired world from within wounded images—material witnesses of a world in violent disrepair—does not mark the conclusion to Kings and Extras. She returns to the narrow streets of a refugee camp, where she introduces viewers to a middle-aged man as he fastens a child’s drawing of a butterfly to a wall and tells El-Hassan, or the world at large, “You have to learn to see as a butterfly does.” Boys from the camp gather nearby and watch the man who appears to be their eccentric educator. He writes the phrase “Visitores internationales” on the wall to which he affixed the symbol of migration, explaining that he traveled across Latin America in 1981, fleeing Israeli aggression. His comments to El-Hassan stray from the anecdotal to the philosophical in fragmented speech split between his native Arabic, broken English, and a single word of Spanish. He speaks poignantly of the dolor that burdened Jews long before Palestinians, and exclaims, “We have no pain. We are kings!” while raising a pumped fist, as if hyperbolically rejecting the representational strictures that seek to govern Palestinians as pitiful victims, as extras.

It is the teacher’s next enigmatic lesson that establishes the political impasse that a narrative imaginary of repair must grapple with if repair is to be meaningful. “How long have you lived here? All your life?” El-Hassan asks. He replies, “You can learn from this,” then dips a small bowl into a bucket and throws water onto a child’s t-shirt, scrubbing it on the street with a bar of soap and a brush. Complaining that she doesn’t understand his response, El-Hassan zooms in to a medium-close shot of the teacher’s sandaled feet stepping on the shirt and captures his right hand sweeping across its surface in slow motion. “It suddenly dawned on me,” she explains, as the teacher swipes his hand across the phrase “since 1948,” printed beneath the t-shirt’s logo, “Abu Nashid was trying to wash away the year that changed his life and mine.” El-Hassan cuts to Abu Nashid washing the back of the shirt, and gradually zooms in to the film’s final image, the shirt’s team number: 48. Whether the middle-aged man has in fact lived in the camp since ’48, or was brought into it later by migration or birth, his gesture embodies the Palestinian narrative he wishes to assert: the centrality of the nakba to his present circumstances and the importance of remembering and repairing from this position.

The recognition of Palestinians’ right to return to the homes from which they were forcibly displaced in 1948 remains the sine qua non of decolonization, though it is dismissed as unrealistic or threatening, even by many critics of Israeli apartheid who prefer to focus on the state’s occupation of additional Arab territories in 1967.56 Kings and Extras does not mobilize evidentiary claims of Palestinian suffering, as if the world needed any more, towards a political goal of return. Neither is El-Hassan’s aim to retrieve the missing film archive. Her profilmic search, however, reanimates a revolutionary Palestinian project of constructing a narrative, shaping an identity, and imagining the paths to a liberated homeland. This renewed project entails the construction of a living archive from the very places to which Palestinians have been scattered, an archive that is necessarily fragmented, dissensual, and evolving. El-Hassan’s search crystallizes a pursuit at the heart of Palestinian identity: how to narrate a world lost and how to imagine returns, not to the world that was, prior to 1948, but to a Palestine built from the potentialities of Palestinian freedom dreams. Such a return, to another Palestine, one that names the land as well as an extraterritorial set of cultural practices, memories, and convictions, is continually reimagined by Palestinians, without resolution.

Figure 10.

An eccentric educator in a Palestinian refugee camp washes a t-shirt with the words “Since 1948,” sharing the narrative he wishes to assert with the filmmaker. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

Figure 10.

An eccentric educator in a Palestinian refugee camp washes a t-shirt with the words “Since 1948,” sharing the narrative he wishes to assert with the filmmaker. Still from Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image (dir. Azza El-Hassan, 2004). Courtesy of Azza El-Hassan.

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Nurith Gertz and George Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma, and Memory (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2008), 11–14. The word nakba, first introduced by the Syrian intellectual Constantine Zurayk, names the destruction of Palestine and creation of Israel in 1948, which resulted in the forcible displacement of some 750,000 Palestinians. More broadly, nakba refers to an enduring structure of dispossession—often called al-nakba al-mustamirra, or the ongoing catastrophe—that includes slower, more bureaucratic processes of ethnic cleansing such as those unfolding in and around Jerusalem today.


The PFU evolved out of a photography unit in Amman established by Sulafa Jadallah, a filmmaker and photographer trained in Cairo, whom Fatah commissioned to produce images of guerrilla fighters before their operations. Her photographs have since been lost. Mustafa Abu Ali and Hani Jawhariyyeh joined Jadallah in founding the PFU, and Khadijeh Habashneh became a leading figure in the PFU soon after. Nadia Yaqub, Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018), 53–54. On the PFU’s evolution into the PCI, see ibid., 65–67.


On the shift from humanitarian to revolutionary representations, see Chapter 1 of Yaqub, Palestinian Cinema.


Azza El-Hassan, “By Retrieving and Restoring These Films at This Time, We Are Saying, ‘We Exist,’” Boston Palestine Film Fest site, October 2018. Accessed March 23, 2021. Also see Annemarie Jacir, “Coming Home: Palestinian Cinema,” The Electronic Intifada, February 27, 2007.; Emily Jacir, “Letter from Roma,” Creative Time Reports, 3 September 2013.; and Yaqub, Palestinian Cinema, 199–200.


Rona Sela, “Seized in Beirut: The Plundered Archives of the Palestinian Cinema Institution and Cultural Arts Section,” Anthropology of the Middle East 12:1 (Summer 2017), 83–114.


Mouin Rabbani and Sherene Seikaly, “Archive Documents: The Kahan Commission and the 1982 Sabra-Shatila Massacre,” Jadaliyya, February 28, 2019.


A thorough account is given in Chapter 4 of Nur Masalha, Decolonizing History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory (London: Zed Books, 2012), 135–147.


On Palestinian filmmakers’ Third World solidarity, see Chapter 4 of Yaqub, Palestinian Cinema.


Notable film and video works using footage from the Palestinian revolutionary films include Basma Alsharif’s experimental video O, Persecuted (2014), Mohanad Yaqubi’s documentary Off Frame aka Revolution Until Victory (2015), Reem Shilleh’s short Perpetual Recurrences (2016), and an essay-film by Sela herself, Looted and Hidden (2017). Annemarie Jacir, Emily Jacir, Monica Maurer, and Mohanad Yaqubi, among others, have undertaken considerable labor to restore Palestinian revolutionary films.


Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14:3 (Autumn 1988), 575–599.


A nuanced overview of this archival disparity and its effect on historiography is provided by Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Oxford: Oneworld Books, 2006), xxxii-xxxviii.


El-Hassan, “By Retrieving and Restoring These Films.”


Ann Laura Stoler, “Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance,” Archival Science 2 (2002), 97.


See Shira Robinson, Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the Birth of Israel’s Liberal Settler State (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2013).


See Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” small axe 26 (12:2), June 2008, 1–14, and Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (New York: Verso Books, 2019).


Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, tr. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989). See Chapter 6, “The Powers of the False,” 126–155.


Deleuze, Cinema 2, 150. Deleuze’s use of the French fabulation and its adjectival and verbal variants are rendered in Tomlinson and Galeta’s English translation as “story-telling function.” See Gilles Deleuze, Cinéma 2: L’Image-Temps (Paris: Les Éditions de minuit, 1985), 196.


Deleuze, Cinema 2, 146.


See Chad Elias, Posthumous Images: Contemporary Art and Memory Politics in Post-Civil War Lebanon (Chapel Hill, NC: Duke UP, 2018) and Carrie Lambert-Beatty, “Make-Believe: Parafiction and Plausibility,” October 129 (Summer 2009), 51–84.


Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: FSG, 2008), 6.


Ibid., 13. In Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Hartman takes considerably more liberty in reclaiming subversive agency for the subjects of a dehumanizing archive with her speculative narratives of young Black women who rejected white heteronormativity and cultivated queer sociality around the turn of the twentieth century.


Azoulay, Potential History, 43.


Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002). See Chapter 4, “‘A Day of Reckoning’: Dreams of Reparations.”


I quote the film’s English subtitles throughout this article. They are inexact and often truncated, but suffice in this context.


For an incisive reading of such desires and dilemmas around visibility during the Second Intifada, see Lori Allen, “Martyr Bodies in the Media: Human Rights, Aesthetics, and the Politics of Immediation in the Palestinian Intifada,” American Ethnologist 36:1 (Feb. 2009), 161–180.


See, for example, Laura U. Marks, Hanan al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015), 12, and Kamran Rastegar, Surviving Images: Cinema, War, and Cultural Memory in the Middle East (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015), 93–97.


Although I hesitate to narrate firsts in Palestinian film history, for reasons suggested in this article’s introduction, the first post-1948 Palestinian fiction film did not appear until at least 1982 with Returning to Haifa, an adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s famous novella directed by the Iraqi filmmaker Kassem Hawal and funded by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). If one defines a film’s national provenance by the identity of its director, then the first post-’48 Palestinian feature is instead Wedding in Galilee (dir. Michel Khleifi, 1987).


Gertz and Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema, 49.


Edward Said, “Permission to Narrate,” Journal of Palestine Studies 13:3 (Spring 1984), 29.


Said, “Permission to Narrate,” 34.


An excellent account of activist pedagogy and the politics of aesthetics in Palestine solidarity films is Terri Ginsberg, Visualizing the Palestinian Struggle: Towards a Critical Analytic of Palestine Solidarity Film (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).


Hamid Dabashi (ed.), Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema (New York: Verso Books, 2006), 11.


Said uses the term “counter-evidence” in relation to Noam Chomsky’s rebuttals of Zionist narratives, which he praises for their righteousness and rigor, but criticizes for mistaking facts for “reality” and ignoring Palestinian aspirations. “Permission to Narrate,” 42–47.


See Anjuli Raza Kolb, “Pessoptimism of the Will,” Boston Review, February 14, 2017. Said’s phrase appears in After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), 26.


See Chapter 2 of Yaqub, Palestinian Cinema.


Ibid., 68. Also see Nick Denes, “Between Form and Function: Experimentation in the Early Works of the Palestine Film Unit, 1968–1974,” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 7 (2014), 219–241.


Joseph Massad, “The Weapon of Culture: Cinema in the Palestinian Liberation Struggle,” in Dreams of a Nation, ed. Dabashi, 36.


The Allenby Bridge connects the occupied Palestinian West Bank of the Jordan River to the east bank, in Jordan. Between 1948 and 1967, Jordan ruled the West Bank (and East Jerusalem). Since the June 1967 War, when Israel occupied the West Bank, the Allenby Bridge has marked the border between Israeli and Jordanian sovereignty; Palestinians must navigate an Israeli military checkpoint to travel into or return to the West Bank.


In this respect, Palestinian archives both resemble and presage many recent examples of (digital) archiving from below, such as the non-state digital archive (Public Access Digital Media Archive), which gathers diverse vernacular video from Mumbai and Bangalore; the Syrian Archive, a digital platform that assembles visual evidence of human rights violations in Syria; and Mosireen’s online archive of video from the 2011 Egyptian revolution. In addition to these archives’ websites, see Donatella Della Ratta et al. (eds.), The Arab Archive: Mediated Memories and Digital Flows (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2020).


Achille Mbembe, “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits,” in Carolyn Hamilton et al. eds., Refiguring the Archive (Dordrecht, 2002), 19.


Mbembe, “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits,” 20–21.


Azoulay, Potential History, 204.


Ibid., 164.


Beshara Doumani, “Archiving Palestine and the Palestinians: The Patrimony of Ihsan Nimr,” Jerusalem Quarterly 36 (Winter 2009), 4.


Rosemary Sayigh, “Palestinian Camp Women as Tellers of History,” Journal of Palestine Studies 27:2 (Winter 1998), 43.


Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana, Speak Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales (Berkeley: University of California Press), 1989.


For an overview of several of these important projects, particularly the Palestinian Oral History Archive, see Hana Sleiman and Kaoukab Chebaro, “Narrating Palestine: The Palestinian Oral History Archive Project,” Journal of Palestine Studies 47:2 (Winter 2018), 63–76.


Azza El-Hassan, “Archiving Palestine,” Other Cinemas, July 25, 2020, video, 29:49,


Mbembe, “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits,” 23–24.


Born to displaced Palestinians in Amman in 1971, El-Hassan was soon after taken to Beirut by her mother, to rejoin her father, who had left in the wake of Black September (also known as the Jordanian Civil War). She grew up in Beirut until the age of eleven, when her family returned to Amman after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. After studying in England, El-Hassan moved to Amman then Ramallah in the late 1990s, and there began to make films. Conversation with the filmmaker, April 26, 2021.


Said writes, “The fact of the matter is that today Palestine does not exist, except as a memory or, more importantly, as an idea, a political and human experience, and an act of sustained will.” The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 5.


Ann Stoler, “Archiving as Dissensus,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 38:1 (2018), 50.


Typically translated into English as “steadfastness,” “resilience,” or “perseverance,” sumud encompasses a range of Palestinian actions that evince a collective will to remain on the land in the face of settler-colonial violence.


For an analysis of these differences, and valuable theoretical distinctions among related terms such as exile, diaspora, refugee, see Julie Peteet, “Problematizing the Palestinian Diaspora,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 39:4 (Nov. 2007), 627–646.


A leading figure for both Palestinian cinema and women’s rights, Habashneh not only created and directed the PCI archive, but also founded an accompanying cinematheque that screened liberationist Third World cinema together with Palestinian films. She has written widely on Palestinian women’s issues and recently published a book on Palestinian revolutionary cinema, Fursan Al-Cinema, the English translation of which is forthcoming.


Nasser Abourahme, “Boycott, Decolonization, Return: BDS and the Limits of Political Solidarity,” in Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Boycott, eds. Kareem Estefan, Carin Kuoni, Laura Raicovich (New York: OR Books, 2017), 113–122.