The Presence of Palestinian Absence in Narrating the Zionist Nation into Being

Annie Pfingst


In 2005, the 38th year of the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and the year that saw the construction of an eight metre high concrete Wall of Separation through the Occupied West Bank, an exhibition, 'The New Hebrews: A Century of Israeli Art', was held at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin.


The exhibition can be read as the narration of the Zionist nation coming into being – a narration in which the Palestinian people do not figure, though the reconfiguration of the land does. Only in the room on Conflict are Palestinian refugees, the Occupation and the Wall represented by Israeli photographers and media artists, making a slight dent into a historiography and landscape devoid of Palestinian agency and presence.


From a Jewish feminist engagement with the discourses on Palestinian Right of Return, the essay addresses a set of questions about the field of vision posed by Ariella Azoulay in Death’s Showcase: The Power of Image in Contemporary Democracy (2001) when she asks: Who sees? Who is capable of seeing, what, and from where? Who is authorised to look? How is this authorization given or acquired? In whose name does one look?


What can be seen outside the narrative of redemption and the frame set by the Temple Scroll and the Jug of Tears? Are the photographs of the Intifada and the portraits from the refugee camps in effect inserting the presence of the spectral other, as described by Judith Butler? This essay will consider the ways in which we might read these Israeli photographic insertions in the circumstance where representation and representational space is such a contested feature of the conflict.


Palestine; Israeli art; photography;

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