b. November 3, 1950 – Nazareth, Israel

From his first film, Al Dhakira al Khasba (Fertile Memory, 1980), Michel Khleifi displays the narrative-documentary style – blending realism, fiction, myth, and ritual – that he goes on to develop with such great effect. He also announces some of the major themes that permeate his later work: the centrality of the land to Palestinian identity; the preservation of collective memory and culture; the difficulty of telling the history of the nation; the common humanity of Arabs and Jews; the trauma of defeat, displacement and exile; and his critique of the weakness and paralysis of what he considers to be an archaic Arab society. (1)

Stylistically his films subtly mix reality and fiction – Fertile Memory and the shorter Ma’loul fête sa destruction (Ma’loul Celebrates its Destruction, 1984) fashion fictional spaces from fragments of the political reality of defeat and disorder; the feature Urs al-jalil (Wedding in Galilee, 1987) steers a fictional narrative through the tensions of an incipient uprising against the reality of military occupation; and the formally innovative La cantique des pierres (Canticle of the Stones, 1990) and the dream-like Hikayatul jawahiri thalath (The Tale of the Three Lost Jewels, 1995) create an often uncomfortable tension between fiction, myth, and the actuality of oppression and active resistance.

Though Khleifi is not unique in this respect, his films employ objects – photographs, graves, ruins – and evoke the different senses – sound, smell, touch, and colour – to great effect as subjective markers of memory. His camerawork is noted for creating a sense of unified space out of the fragmentary Palestinian environment, and he uses the physical terrain not just as spectacle or as a backdrop but as a central protagonist in the Palestinian narrative: a narrative in which love of the land is local and personal. (2)

But no discussion of Khleifi’s work can ignore the daunting context of making films about Palestine: the difficulty of obtaining what needs to be international funding for topics not well understood outside the Middle East; the fight against unrelenting anti-Palestinian propaganda; the lack of support in the Arab world; the negligible distribution channels in Palestine and the Middle East; the obstruction of distribution in the West; the lack of technical expertise and training in cinema in Palestine; the distancing effect of his own exile; and, above all, the physical difficulties of filming in constantly changing circumstances of violence, curfews, travel restrictions, and political interference. (3) Though he has always been able to operate with minimal resources – the “cinema of the poor” and the “cinema of resistance” have been driving influences in his stylistic development – making the films he has wanted has been a continual struggle. (4)

Born in Nazareth in 1950, Khleifi worked as a car mechanic for some years before leaving Palestine in 1970 with the intention of moving to Germany to train with Volkswagen. (5) On the way, he visited a cousin in Belgium who encouraged him to stay. Already very interested in the arts Khleifi discovered that he could join the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle (INSAS) in Brussels in the theatre and television section without the baccalaureate. However, he needed to study French and a year or so later, he was admitted to the degree course. He graduated in 1975 with a thesis on forms of cultural expression in Palestine. From there, he joined the Belgian state television company and first returned to Palestine in 1978 to work on a series of more or less conventional documentaries about the Occupied Territories.

Looking back, he elaborates that he was ‘convinced … that culture is the most important commodity for [him] and for every Arab’ and that ‘education is the essential element in [the] struggle and the most significant basis for change’.  This may be a slight gloss on an unformed early idealism; nonetheless a preoccupation with the dual struggle of Palestinians, not only against occupation and denial of their history and culture but also against the constrictions of traditional social structures, has been central to his filmmaking career.


His initial experiences of filming in Palestine drove Khleifi to try and find a different form of cinematic representation. He claims that the resulting film, Fertile Memory, was ‘for – and not about – the women of Palestine … a film for Palestine’. (6) For almost the first time ordinary people, women in this case, were to be heard and the banalities of their everyday lives uncovered. That he was able to imbue these banalities with significance is evidenced by the film’s success at a number of film festivals and the early international critical attention it achieved. (7)

The film gives voice to two very different women: Sahar Khalifeh, a feminist writer and teacher from Nablus in the Occupied Territories, and Khleifi’s aunt, Roumia Farah, an elderly widow living in Galilee, Israel. Khleifi interleaves contrasting portraits of these women conveyed largely in their own terms.

The articulate, urbane, and radical Sahar reveals in conversation, poetry, writing, and music her determination to live an independent life. Despite condemnation by her repressive male-dominated community, she divorces her husband and succeeds in supporting herself and her daughters alone through her work. At the same time, by means of her teaching, Sahar fights against Israeli occupation and the attempt to erase Palestinian history and culture. On the other hand, the largely silent, slow-moving, and conservative Roumia conveys the elemental nature of Palestinian rural existence. She, too, has had to raise her children alone as her husband fled into exile and later died. Through the everyday rituals of communal food preparation, tending to livestock, and singing lullabies to her grandchild she embodies continuity and inner resolve.

Khleifi links glimpses of Roumia’s personal life into a more general vision in a scene where she visits her family’s fields, illegally expropriated by Israeli settlers. A medium close-up shows her sitting on the earth, touching it, scenting it, engulfed in a sea of gently waving grass and the sound of the wind. Rooted in her land like an old gnarled olive tree, quietly weeping, she is the epitome of the particularly Palestinian notion of sumud. (8) In the penultimate sequence, in which Roumia performs the primitive function of teasing wool by beating it with a stick, Khleifi changes tempo from normal speed, through slow-motion, to the final freeze-frame. The film then ends with black and white footage, taken from a documentary of a demonstration against the Israeli occupation forces.

How can we interpret this elliptical ending? Roumia’s unending refusal to let go the past or relinquish her land and Sahar’s resistance to both the restrictions of her society and Israeli oppression, seem to be set against an ineffectual armed struggle. The ending may be taken as suggesting that the innate strength of these women is often more powerful and well directed than their masculine counterparts. Under this interpretation, the film anticipates Khleifi’s subsequent refutation of many elements of traditional Palestinian society and his analysis of its internal contradictions.

Khleifi’s stylistic explorations at this point include his discreet opening up of a “space” in which the women are able freely to express their personalities. This is a space not usually revealed in Arab cinema: it is an inner space of the home, and the ambiguity of the conclusion highlights an essentially feminine vision of resistance. Yet, by alternating between the two stories, comparing their responses to events – one active the other passive – Khleifi expands this to a unified political space that links the personal and the national. (9)

Including material that he filmed during the course of making Fertile Memory, Khleifi released his second film, Ma’loul Celebrates Its Destruction in 1984/5. Ma’loul was a village near Nazareth cleared and virtually destroyed in 1948. On its site, the Jewish National Fund created a forest of remembrance to mark the end of British rule and the creation of the state of Israel. Former Palestinian villagers are allowed to visit the site once a year on Israeli “Independence Day”, and many families take this opportunity to picnic in the ruins.

The film mixes static images of demolished buildings; sequences of the displaced villagers returning to the ruined buildings with their children, searching for their former homes; archival footage of the general destruction of villages in 1948; and scenes of a schoolteacher recounting the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict to his pupils. (10)

These are interspersed with scenes where a group of refugees discuss a mural depicting the village as it was nearly 40 years earlier. They “revisit” the village as a grave and recount its frozen image as if tracing out the profile of a lost loved one. But, these villagers do not mourn in a normal way: there is no sense of closure. Typical of many Palestinians of their generation, mourning cannot be completed: the very personal loss of home is inextricably linked to the larger and more profound loss of homeland. The fact that their “loved one” still lives yet is unattainable induces a deep and apparently irresolvable melancholia. (11)

Khleifi’s innovations here are to explore the uncertainty and unreliability of memory – the former villagers retracing their steps cannot quite be sure of their discoveries; the refugees argue over where a particular home should be on the mural – and to relate individual memories to the collective memory. He not only affirms Palestinian presence on the land with his elegiac evocation of the past, but, for the first time in Palestinian film, he also exposes the stultifying effect on memory and on action induced by the trauma of defeat and occupation.


Until the late 1970s virtually the sole cinematic representation of a Palestinian narrative were the films produced under the auspices of the PLO. (12) Though these did not reach a wide audience in either the Arab world or in the West, they achieved an almost mythical status for many Palestinians and were instrumental in refuting Israel’s denial of Palestinian identity. However, by perpetuating nostalgic images of an idyllic past life before 1948, blaming defeat on others, and portraying failure as triumph, they avoided any critique of the shortcomings of Palestinian society. At the same time, Western and Israeli cinema continued to pour out overwhelmingly negative images of Palestinians and Arabs. (13) It was not until Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 that media coverage began ‘to halt if not to reverse the process of stereotyping and dehumanizing the Arabs’ by ‘personalizing and humanizing the victims.’

The importance of Khleifi’s first two films is that they represent a significant breakthrough in Palestinian filmmaking. Khleifi had been searching for a new way of representing Palestinians, one that focused on individual lives and exposed the injustices of their situation. In contrast to the ubiquitous images of Palestinians as violent terrorists, he argues, ‘[w]e had to provide the world with another way of talking about us.’ (14) But he also insisted on showing different facets of Palestinian society and its many flaws and faults. Thus, in his next three films, as he attempts to explore the traumatic affects of defeat, he argues for the necessity of accepting responsibility for that defeat. He lays bare the stifling effect of traditional patriarchal power structures on women and the younger generation. And he investigates different forms of resistance to oppression including the preservation of memory and culture.


Despite his early success with Fertile Memory, and though his next film was set to be the first feature ever made by a Palestinian inside historical Palestine, Khleifi encountered major funding difficulties that delayed production until 1986/7. Ultimately, Wedding in Galilee has become Khleifi’s most respected film to date, winning many awards and widespread critical approval and academic attention. (15) It has achieved significant theatrical, video, and DVD distribution as well as frequent showings at international film festivals, even though it is considered to be deeply provocative in certain parts of the Arab world. (16)

The film revolves around the fictional story of a village in Galilee under curfew imposed by the Israeli military. The mayor (mukhtar) is forced to seek permission from the governor for his son, Adel, to be married in a ceremony that tradition demands would last well into the night. The governor reluctantly agrees on condition that he and his staff are invited, seeing this as an opportunity to gain intelligence on the unrest in the area. At one level, the film proceeds as a brilliant ‘portrait of a people, a celebration of their memories’ where the village is a ‘storehouse of tradition.’ (17) But Khleifi’s film is far more complex: concerned with examining power structures both within the community and between Palestinians and Israelis, and revealing their inherent tensions.

In the opening interview the camera is placed behind the mukhtar, facing the governor whose aggressive body movements and jabbing fingers forcefully dictate his power over the (implied) Palestinian audience. But, through the film, Khleifi questions this hierarchy. In a subsequent scene set in the communal village meeting room he contrasts the governor’s uneasy authority, sustained by military force, with that of the mukhtar. The camera gives each speaker equal weight as he expresses his points of view, suggesting that the mukhtar’s power – symbolised only by his shepherd’s staff – grows out of consensus.

On returning to the village, the mukhtar is quickly established as master of his household through Khleifi’s subtle geometrical design of circling figures and camera movements. As he enters the family courtyard, Adel, his daughter Sumaya, and youngest son Hassan are drawn inexorably and perhaps unwillingly into his visual field. The camera slowly tracks forward with him and circles as he greets his wife, Umm Adel, and family, enfolding them all.

This circular motif is repeated in the unhurried circling shot that follows Umm Adel as she supervises the preparation by neighbouring women of food for the wedding. Her connection to each of them accentuates the communal nature of their activities. Neighbours deliver gifts for the family, accompanied by rhythmic singing and circular dancing of the dabke. Then an intricate sequence begins, showing the ritual washing of bride and groom for the wedding inter-cut with inserts of an old woman making bread. Alternating between the two scenes of preparation of the bride and groom, the pace quickens in anticipation of their union.

These sequences, with their elaborating symbols of food preparation, marriage, and fertility, imply unity, regeneration, and permanence in the Palestinian community. But this is gradually subverted as tensions within the family and village are exposed: the mukhtar’s brother refuses to attend the wedding, seeing the Israeli presence as a humiliation. A group of young men, led by the fiery Ziad, reject political compromise with the Israeli authorities and make plans to attack the Israelis. Sumaya disdains tradition, refuses to be subservient to the male villagers, and mocks the power of her father. In this way, Khleifi explores the struggle between modernity and traditional power relationships and the ceremonies that sustain them. On the one hand he acknowledges the important role of tradition in sustaining national identity, on the other he maintains that it holds back development of the nation. His metaphorical circles may be interpreted as cultural boundaries, defining who is included and who excluded, but they also create an “enclosure” signifying the binding (and stifling) force of tradition and the family. Sumaya’s unsettling, uncontrollable energy evoked by her direct and linear movements always threatens to break out of the confines imposed by these circles.

Thus, Wedding in Galilee challenges traditional ideas of a unified patriarchal society – the mukhtar’s power in the village and family is shown to be limited. And masculinity itself is questioned: the mukhtar has had to allow the Israelis to enter or ‘penetrate’ the village; as a result of which Adel is unable to consummate the marriage; and Ziad’s plot against their presence peters out in farce. In contrast, Sumaya playfully assumes authority by trying on her father’s headdress (kaffiya), and the bride, Samia, takes over the male role when faced with her husband’s impotence. Where Fertile Memory disclosed the innate strength of women in Palestinian society, here Khleifi seems to argue that a shift has taken place in the locus of power from male to female. He thus affirms Shohat’s assertion that in women’s central but difficult position in nation building, they frequently have to assume both male and female identities. (18)

Yet Khleifi is also responsible for perpetuating the common stereotypical idea of the nation as female: idealised as virgin, as mother and as the beloved. (19) The ritual washing of the virgin bride evokes the continuity of the nation untarnished by ‘alien’ influences and of the home as an uncontaminated ‘sanctuary’ in which traditional national values are safeguarded. Woman as mother of the nation is exemplified by the central position of Umm Adel, tracing out the circles that define her community. And woman as beloved, which reifies the homeland in the female body so that it becomes an object of yearning, is invoked by Adel gazing impotently at Samia.

Khleifi also creates differently sexualised spaces in Wedding in Galilee: the exterior, masculine world of political conflict in which all is noise, action, and movement; the transitional world of the wedding couple in which sexual tension drains colour and sound and leaves the pair in a sterile, white setting; and the mysterious, warmly coloured interior world of the women’s quarter. Over the course of the film, Khleifi cuts between the action in these strikingly contrasting spaces, exploring the different senses (sound, smell, touch, and colour) for their male and female attributes.

One defence against the charge of stereotyping, and an interpretation of these juxtapositions between the male and female worlds, is that they represent an exploration of the dialectic between strength and weakness. Khleifi argues that the failure of traditional male-dominated Arab society is due to its rigid and archaic structures and its disregard for women’s rights. (20) As in Fertile Memory, he implies that the feminine side of Arab society is much stronger and more purposeful than the masculine, and he claims that he opens up a political space in which women are seen to contribute significantly to the expression of national identity. In general, these justifications are substantiated throughout Khleifi’s work.

Wedding in Galilee also initiates another shift in rhetoric: now it is the Israelis who are shown to be outsiders in Palestine. (21) The grandfather mockingly places the Israeli presence in the context of previous transitory colonial occupations by the Turkish and British; soldiers are left speechless in the village; (22) and, Khleifi challenges Israeli claims to the land. Whereas the soldiers travel in jeeps, camouflaged by their dark glasses and uniforms, seemingly unconcerned with land or landscape, the villagers display a profound bond with the land.

Despite conjuring rising tensions between the villagers and soldiers, Khleifi displays optimism at this point about coexistence between the two communities if only the military presence were to be removed. Sumaya provocatively tells one of the soldiers ‘you will have to take off your uniform if you want to dance’. Another, female, soldier who faints is swept off by the village women to their quarters, where she is treated with scented oils and rose petals. In a mysterious, transformational sequence her uniform is removed and she is dressed in soft Arab clothes. And, the mukhtar, cooperating with the soldiers, rescues his prize mare from a minefield, gaining their respect in the process. Khleifi’s explanation is that he “wanted to have a go at the Manichean rigidity” on both sides of the Arab-Israeli divide and to show that cooperation was possible. (23)

Even so, the film concludes in uncertainty as the villagers signal an uprising against military rule by contemptuously throwing gifts into the path of the departing Israeli governor and his soldiers. Released in 1987, this ending pre-figures the first Intifada. (24) It also anticipates a new responsibility for the young as they are precipitated into the heart of the conflict with Israel. (25)

Stylistically, Wedding in Galilee represented a significant breakthrough in Palestinian film. The fluid camerawork, the ineluctable rise in suspense in the different plot lines, and the merging of fiction and realism, showed to the world a different face of Palestine and the Palestinians. The film’s technical sophistication and beauty raised hopes that the struggle for freedom from oppression could be advanced through cultural exposure.


Under normal circumstances the success of Wedding in Galilee would have been expected to open up new opportunities for Khleifi. However, the coincidence of its release with the onset of the Intifada altered the context entirely. Filmmaking in the region generally became extremely difficult as a result of the disruption, (26) and, though international media attention was at last drawn to the area, at best its coverage of events was superficial and reductive.(27) Khleifi, whose dual Israeli-Belgian citizenship enabled him to travel to Palestine, felt it was imperative to find a better way to narrate the suffering of the Palestinians, ‘above all, children who were dying under the army’s bullets.’ (28)

He wrote the scenario for a film about an unnamed Woman who returns from exile to research the concept of sacrifice, especially as it applied to the deaths of such children. In Jerusalem she meets a former lover, a writer recently released from prison. Canticle of the Stones, released in 1989/90, once again interleaves different threads: this time poetic staged scenes between the Man and Woman with documentary sequences and interviews. Though the main concern of the film is the suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli repression, the form that Khleifi chose – a ‘poetic, impressionistic’ portrait – also supports reiteration of many of the themes that run through his work.

The opening, consisting of a harmonious sequence of images in counterpoint with bleak statements delivered in formal Arabic, reflect on the fractured nature of Palestinian identity. The sequence moving from confinement, through freedom represented by the sky and sea, to the permanence of rocks and the resistance of stones thrown at the Israeli army, to the tree of steadfastness, and, finally, hope for a future in the children, echoes Darwish’s poem in which the elegy of his homeland is shattered into splinters of sound. (29)

The use of formal Arabic make the text highly ‘accented’, in Hamid Naficy’s terms, (30) emphasising both protagonists’ liminal position in this society. (31) And, as Livia Alexander perceptively points out, the continuing, intermittent dialogue between the lovers ‘mirrors a dialogue Khleifi himself conducts with Palestinian society as both a native of Palestine and an exile returning to his homeland.’ (32) As the film progresses Khleifi makes us aware that the documentary sequences, ostensibly the Woman’s “field-work”, are observed through the eyes of an outsider. She is confined to angled views, views through car windows, views through doorways and from gardens. Though she is the motivating force for many of the scenes, Khleifi does not quite hide the fact that it is he who conducts the interviews – occasionally his voice appears on the soundtrack – while the Woman is always outside the frame. Thus, he creates a doubled awareness of separation – of the isolation of the exile from both the outside world and the homeland – a more powerful and direct statement than he had achieved before.

His themes of memory and the bond between Palestinians and the land, continue with a sequence of an old woman who tells the story of her family’s dispossession in 1948 and their subsequent move to the West Bank. Her house on the edge of an encroaching Jewish settlement is a vivid articulation of her memories. Every bit of space is taken up with old photographs, paintings, furniture from her previous life, a framed calendar, relics, ornaments, and rugs. The very act of crowding her possessions into an inappropriate space serves to emphasise the fracturing of her life and her loss and displacement. (33) But her home is intimately connected to its immediate landscape – the “home-land” becomes an extension of the home. Thus, the old woman’s expression of love for her home and for the surrounding land transmutes into love for the land of Palestine. Again, this intrinsic, intimate love that we saw in the earlier films, is set against the Israeli idea of the house as a commodity, subsidised to encourage immigration.

Khleifi also reflects on the trauma of the destruction of homes in his filming of a story told by the Man, and the desperate image he retains ‘of a chair thrown into the sky. Of my little brother’s socks floating in the air’. Tight framing, dark colours and subdued lighting, a static camera, and the absence of music, lend the scene an aura of confession, of personalised anger and deeply felt pain. His suffering is repressed and internalised because it can have no other method of release. In a parallel documentary sequence, Khleifi films the destruction by the Israeli army of a house: constructing charged images of a pair of child’s slippers lying in the ruins, as its mother’s cries echo on the soundtrack. The personal loss of a home is linked to the devastation of the Palestinian people.

Finally, the concept of failed masculinity, encountered in Wedding in Galilee, is taken further in the shape of the Man: an elusive figure, appearing and disappearing and frequently filmed against the light so that his features are weakened. Juxtaposition of his story with stories of school closures, of children being shot, of soldiers breaking the arms of women and children, and of bullet injuries incurred during the Intifada, implies his failure to prevent these things happening. The children, on the other hand, have become knowing in the artefacts of war, something that will come to the forefront later on in The Tale of the Three Lost Jewels.

Canticle of the Stones was first shown at Cannes in 1990 where it received a mixed response. (34) Part of the reason for this may be attributed to the formal approach selected by Khleifi. As Lisbeth Malkmus and Roy Armes rightly stress, ‘a fragment of reality does not really register unless it is placed in the story, the diegetic context.’ (35) Unless the protagonists of a film are involved with a documentary sequence, the latter has no real meaning. Whereas Wedding in Galilee, for example, is motivated by the viewpoint of various individuals, Canticle of the Stones is particularly problematic in this respect. Though it is a powerful film, the lovers scant relationship to events in the refugee camps – which may be interpreted as an expression of their impotence before the tragedy of the uprising – exposes its seams too obviously, lessening the effect of what it has to say about Palestinian society.


Khleifi’s patent concerns with his position as an exile, of being between two worlds, were exacerbated after the release of his next film, L’Ordre du Jour, in 1992. Described as an ‘anthropological look’ at the bureaucracy of Brussels, the film was not a success. This response, together with Arab responses to his earlier films, seems to have affected Khleifi quite badly; he states he was left feeling like an intruder in Europe as well as being regarded as an agent of Western culture in the Arab world. (36)

Nevertheless, he returned to Palestine for his next project, The Tale of the Three Lost Jewels, the first feature to be shot entirely in the Gaza Strip. Originally commissioned by the BBC and the One World Group of Broadcasters as a 50 minute television film, a full 35mm version was funded by French television ARTE, the Belgian Ministry of the French Community, and the production company Sindibad Films. (37) The film was made under extreme conditions as the Intifada continued and violence increased. However, the film crew remained loyal and filming was completed in less than two months of the bitterly cold winter of 1994. (38)

As Khleifi recounts, the challenge he set himself was to ‘produce a modern tale using the traditional form of an oriental tale.’ (39) Thus, it tells of the innocent love between two twelve-year olds, Youssef from a Gaza refugee camp and a mysterious gypsy girl Aida, and develops into a fantastical quest for three jewels missing from a necklace. Youssef must find the jewels in order to win the love of Aida. This fable is interspersed with sequences depicting the daily reality of life in Gaza under occupation: poverty, violence, confinement, limited opportunities, and despair. In particular, Khleifi tries to illustrate the traumatic effects of violence against children and the sorrow of lost childhood.

While breaking new ground by moving into dreams and fantasy, many of Khleifi’s earlier concerns are again evident. The camerawork cloaking the landscape in a loving embrace, and Aida’s rapt scrutiny of insects, birds, plants and the weather, underline the intense connection of Palestinians to the land and nature. Loss of power and defeat are signalled by the deranged figure of Youssef’s father, the blindness of an old neighbour, and his brother’s position as a fugitive. And, as in other Khleifi films, the young “learn” history from their elders. (40) Fairy-tales, dreams, and fantasies make up Youssef’s world. He is assailed by the memories of his neighbour, the stories of his mother, his sister’s account of Palestinian history, and an old grandmother’s tales of Jaffa before the war; and he dreams of the warrior-hero Saladin on a white horse, riding on the beach and handing him a gun with which to fight.

The richness, plenty, and fertility of Palestine is symbolised by the repeated flashes of colour from golden oranges, especially in the scene where Youssef hides in a crate in a desperate attempt to escape and follow his quest for the jewels. In a poetic dream sequence, his old neighbour regains his sight and becomes a prophet, the jewels are transformed into three drops of blood, symbolising ‘time, space, and the flesh’, or as we might say, “history, land, and the people”, which Youssef, the Palestinian child, clasps in his hand, uniting them. In this way, Khleifi asserts the Palestinians’ right to be remembered, and their right to record their tenure of the land.

In another ambiguous ending, Youssef awakes from his dream and finds himself still in the orange crate in the orchard after curfew. As he emerges and runs home, he is shot and apparently killed by soldiers but then recovers as his mother and Aida come to find him. Of all the readings of this ending, perhaps the most convincing comes from Gertz and Khleifi who argue that it is a reassertion of Palestinian identity in the face of whatever force and repression brought to bear against the people. (41)

From the seemingly unified space occupied by the two women in Fertile Memory, Khleifi has been concerned with constructing an unrestricted space out of fragments of Palestinian life. The sequence of the mukhtar in Wedding in Galilee steering his prized horse, simply by means of cries and calls, out of an Israeli minefield is, perhaps, the peak of his accomplishment. But here, he tackles a more direct case: the prison of Gaza and the liminal space of the refugee camps. In these confined spaces, the camera, while recording the soldiers, the barbed wire and watchtowers, seems to be able to float. As Gertz and Khleifi note,

the camera and poetic editing of the film hurdle the obstacles, burst into open nature, and construct a large space in lieu of the cloistered and cramped one where the characters live. (42)

Youssef escapes into his dreams and the stories told him by Aida, his birds fly freely, the sky is open and unrestricted. (43) Style rather than just simple narrative elements achieve the rendition of a space that can be called Palestine.

The Tale of the Three Lost Jewels has had much positive coverage by critics in the years since its release; however its reception at Cannes in 1995 was subdued. As Al-Qattan perceptively points out, this may be partly explained by the context of the peace talks initiated under the Oslo Accords of 1993. (44) Though these dragged on intermittently without reaching a conclusion, the mere fact that negotiations were underway created a new paradox for Palestinian filmmaking. On the one hand there was greater international awareness of the situation in Palestine and, perhaps, a wave of euphoria and goodwill towards the people. On the other, there was an apparent wish to avoid acknowledging the continuing conflict and to hide behind the comforting veil of an elusive “peace process”.


Khleifi’s vision in Wedding in Galilee of the possibility of cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian communities in Israel, and his construction of a “virtual” national space to include the Occupied Territories and Gaza was seen by some other filmmakers to be over-optimistic. (45) In most Palestinian films after 1987 there are virtually no direct encounters between the two communities. The Jewish presence is impersonalised in summarising symbols: the Israeli flag, uniformed soldiers hiding behind dark glasses, barbed wire, tanks, bulldozers, helicopters and jet fighters. Palestinian physical space is characterised by both visible and invisible barriers, and the sound-space experienced by Palestinians is represented as insecure. Films are studded with diegetic rural sounds: goat-bells, wedding songs, the songs of village women and children, ululation; or urban sounds of street vendors, popular music, groups of musicians. Yet the alien is inescapably present in the noise of helicopters, fighter jet-planes screeching overhead, sirens, loudspeakers shouting commands, and Israeli radio and television programs.

However, Khleifi continued to explore the possibility of coexistence in his next film, a documentary, Forbidden Marriages in the Holy Land (1995). In this, he interviews a number of inter-faith couples, questioning how they have addressed religious or cultural differences in their marriages. Some have seen signs of hope in these marriages and the way the different communities have dealt with them. Others are more pessimistic, observing that Arab society appears to remain rigid while Israeli society has become ever more conservative. Though well received at various film festivals and retrospectives of Khleifi’s work, the film has not been widely screened.


The treatment of The Tale of the Three Lost Jewels and Forbidden Marriages by broadcasters and film-festivals, the general climate of avoidance of the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, and his disaffection with the artistic direction of cinema in general and Palestinian cinema in particular, led to a fallow period for Khleifi from the mid-1990s. (46) However, he continued teaching at INSAS, lecturing on Palestinian cinema, and training Palestinian film-makers,

A sense of reality did not return until the Oslo peace process foundered at the Camp David Summit of 2000. The subsequent rise in tension, exacerbated by provocative Israeli activities at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, exploded into the second Intifada that quickly spread to the Occupied Territories and Gaza. (47) One consequence of the ensuing violence is that both sides have been driven further apart. Gaza is caged off, the separation barrier and wall cuts off Israel from the Occupied Territories, and roadblocks and checkpoints for Palestinians have proliferated. This is a time when Palestinian filmmakers have turned to produce what Gertz and Khleifi call ‘roadblock movies’; films limited to ‘blocked areas and border zones.’ (48)

These events brought Khleifi back into active filmmaking with Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel (2004), made in collaboration with Jewish-Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan. (49) This is a film that explores the liminal space between Arab and Jew in Israel and, as a consequence, exposes tensions that cannot be papered over by the one-sided peace process.

The filmmakers set out in 2002 to retrace the route of the partition line between notional Israeli and Palestinian states that was established by UN Resolution 181 of 1947. Travelling from South to North they interviewed and filmed Arabs and Jews living in close and not always comfortable proximity. The unhurried pace of the resulting film, extending over 4½ hours, enables them to reveal the nuanced complexity of these communities.

Though we meet a variety of people, choice of the route dictates to a certain extent the fact that the majority are Jewish-Israelis, living often on what once was Arab land and in former Arab villages. Their proximity to Arab-Israeli neighbours increases friction, and some Jewish interviewees reveal their racism, intolerance, rage and fear, making clear their view that Arabs are not wanted in Israel. Khleifi has argued that the intention of the film is not to poison the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue by exposing these harsh truths but to get both sides to recognise their faults and responsibilities.

On release in 2004 the film received negative reviews in the US and has failed to achieve distribution there; (50) one of two scheduled screenings at the Festival du Cinéma du Réel in Paris was cancelled as the film was said to encourage “anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish statements and acts in France”; (51) and the film-makers came under direct attack from various French and American intellectuals. However, there was also strong support from others, including Jacques Derrida and Etienne Balibar, and numerous more constructive reviews and analysis have also appeared. (52) The DVD package has enabled the film to be fairly widely disseminated.

Route 181 is an important film, but as an oral history of a particular place and time it leaves little room for the subtle construction of political space that is the trademark of Khleifi’s earlier work. The relentless progress from one stop to the next is episodic and only connected through the device of looking back momentarily before moving on. But, as Bashir Abu-Manneh rightly observes, ‘Khleifi and Sivan record on film their search for elements of future society already immanent in the present’. The aim of their journey is not to expose to our shocked eyes the seemingly irreconcilable distance between these two societies, but rather to suggest that reconciliation can be achieved through ‘a joint journey of discovery and exposition’ of the past. (53)


Khleifi returned to narrative filmmaking with his latest film, Zindeeq, a self-referential story released in 2009. Here, Mohammad Bakri plays an unnamed Palestinian filmmaker who goes back to his homeland from Europe to document testimonies from witnesses of the 1948 expulsion. (54) A young local woman, Racha, accompanies him as his sound engineer.

Filming in Ramallah is interrupted by news that one of his nephews has killed a neighbour thus instigating a vendetta against his family in Nazareth. Despite his sister’s pleas for him to stay away, he decides to return to see what he can do to help. The rest of the film, shot mainly at night, follows him on his journey and through the dangerous back streets of his hometown where he is denied shelter and is constantly in danger. Much of the time he is alone in his car except for the images on his camcorder, his dreams, fantasies, and ghosts.

Behind these bare bones of a plot lies a valiant attempt by Khleifi at finding a new way of recounting Palestinian history. Despite Racha’s comment that ‘the story has been told, what more is there to tell?’, Khleifi’s intricate film shows that history is not one story but a multitude of stories that cannot be folded into a single or a personal narrative.

Through the film we see fragments of interviews – ‘live’, on the viewfinder of his camera, or as re-played on screen – always interrupted, they cannot be pieced together into a whole. These are leavened with idyllic scenes of an almost prelapsarian Palestine – a golden harvest being brought in by women in beautiful peasant costumes, (55) and interspersed with scenes of destruction and the looming Wall.

Bakri and his sister wander through the graveyard in Nazareth searching for the graves of their parents – this calls to mind a vision of his mother searching in turn for the graves of her parents. He is tormented by a desire to know why his mother would not tell him what happened to the family in 1948. Finding the key to his old home, he goes inside and finds old family photos and papers and a broken cross all of which he burns for warmth. He is visited by an apparition of his mother and, in an inversion of the usual question, he asks ‘Why did you stay? Why didn’t they expel you?’ Again the reply is subverted by a mother’s concern whether he has eaten. Finally, he leaves the house, dropping the keys into the ashes of his fire. (56)

Within this complex narration of histories, Khleifi weaves the threads of Bakri’s denial of belonging to Palestine and his infatuation with Racha. Many times he says ‘I am not from here’ or he is told ‘You are not from here’. He complains about the violent, divided society that Palestine has become. Many times he fantasises about Racha, only to betray her with other women. These threads come together at the end where he is finally recognised as being a local by the owner of a café who makes him coffee; and then a vision of Racha, veiled and robed in white, beckons to him from the sea. The juxtaposition of the ordinary and the fantasy hints at a reconciliation not only between different factions in Palestinian society but also between the filmmaker and his country. Racha is the Palestine that has rejected him many times and that he has loved but also fatally betrayed.

Zindeeq won the Muhr Arab prize at the Dubai Film Festival in 2009 but has yet to receive the critical and academic attention it deserves. It is a rich film that warrants more detailed analysis. It shows Khleifi has lost none of his desire to explicate the trauma of the Palestinian people in their continued half-life, ‘outside time’. And it shows him prepared to explore new ways of trying to tell the Palestinian story.


The term “resistance literature” was first applied by Ghassan Kanafani to describe Palestinian literature written under occupation. (57) By extension, graffiti scribbled nightly on the walls of occupied Palestinian towns, artworks and photographic essays displayed in exhibitions, Palestinian flags hoisted on telegraph wires, postcards and stamps sent around the world depicting symbols of the Palestinian nation, defiant murals, political posters, and of course film, are part of a “discourse of resistance” that, perhaps more than anything else, has come to define the Palestinian nation and hold it together. (58)

Palestinian filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s were largely concerned with encouraging resistance. Yet, even during that time of extreme turmoil, there was also an awareness of the need to preserve Palestinian culture and resist Western (and Israeli) hegemony – to create narratives of cultural resistance. From the early 1980s film-makers tackled this problem in a number of important ways: competing with the dominant negative view of the Palestinian nation; looking for alternative cinematic forms and symbolism to enable distinct Palestinian voices to emerge; and documenting stories and recording memories, so creating works of art that resist the threat of cultural erasure.

Michel Khleifi was the first of this younger generation of filmmakers to contest the stereotyping of Palestinians, by means of revealing the humanity of the people and giving them a voice with which to express themselves. In this respect, his position as the originator of a “new Palestinian cinema” is unassailable.

His approach to this issue has, of course, not been without its critics. It is argued that he has failed to engage sufficiently with ‘the discursive colonial language’ responsible for generating stereotypes in the first place. For Alexander, it is insufficient simply to ignore stereotypes, it is necessary to displace them, to speak using a ‘deconstructive language that is yet comprehensible to [a foreign] audience.’ (59) Jayce Salloum and Molly Hankwitz are also distinctly critical of Khleifi’s type of filmmaking, arguing that it can only lead to a kind of empathy, never an understanding of the other culture. They see such attempts at proving a people’s humanity as ‘a paternalistic gesture at best, dehumanizing at worst.’ (60) Khleifi has also been censured for creating a utopian vision of rural life. (61)

While some of this criticism may be valid, Khleifi’s vision is far from utopian. He not only lays bare the extreme conditions under which Palestinian life continues, he reveals the tensions and contradictions within this society. And, I would argue that rather than presenting his subjects as mere specimens, Khleifi provides both documentary and fictional insight into the lives and concerns of men, women, and children, making visible the complexity and richness of Palestinian society.

Certainly, Khleifi has been less concerned with radical experiments in cinematic form and style than with trying to find a new means of representing the fragmented places available to Palestinians and constructing a political space in which Palestinian identity may be expressed. Even so, by weaving together political stories, newsreels, and documentary footage, with details of real and fictional everyday life, he has created a ‘cinematic syncretism’, an artistic strategy of resistance that appropriates from but is not subordinate to dominant forms. (62) His work has a distinctive voice and demonstrates an integrity of vision that belies its seeming simplicity.

Film, which plays directly into the mind of the viewer and mimics the way our own memories are formed through half-remembered images, voices, and sounds, is a powerful means of recording memory. Whether real or fictional, and whether told through interviews, reminiscences, or autobiography, cinematic representations are imbued with a gloss of authenticity. Khleifi’s film includes many examples of these forms of individual memory and he has contributed to the struggle to reclaim the identity of the Palestinian people by telling their stories, re-imagining their communities, and helping to preserve the memories of the nation.

Michel Khleifi continues to be an important figure in Palestinian cinema, not only because of his own films, but also for his teaching and his work with the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s efforts to promote Palestinian films in Palestine and the diaspora. His films bear witness to events such as the demolition of houses, appropriation of land, arrests and imposition of curfews, checkpoints, encroachment of settlements, police activity, restrictions and harassment, and ensure they will not go unrecorded. Unafraid of exploring fractures in Palestinian society, revealing its heterogeneity, while at the same time expressing the essential unity of the community, he has sought and found different ways of affirming to the outside world the existence of a unique Palestinian cultural identity.

Khleifi’s films are marked by resistance: resistance to homogenisation – a determination to represent the different political and social spaces occupied by Palestinians and the effect this has on their national identity; resistance to being absorbed into other cultures; and, above all, resistance to erasure. His strategies of cultural resistance in the cinema are a bedrock in affirming the legitimacy of Palestinian rights and realities. (63)


  1. With the exception of L’Ordre du Jour (1992), a satire on Brussels’ bureaucracy, all of Khleifi’s films are concerned with Palestine.
  2. Barbara McKean Parmenter notes that Palestinians were strongly identified with their local town or village and with all elements of the natural landscape such as its trees, rocks, stones, and rivers: ‘The landscape of Palestine was alive with meaning and value for its inhabitants.’ Barbara McKean Parmenter, Giving Voice to Stones: Place and Identity in Palestinian Literature. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
  3. For a detailed discussion of the problems of making films in Israel and the Occupied Territories, see: Omar Al-Qattan,“The Challenges of Palestinian Filmmaking (1990-2003)”. In Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema, edited by H. Dabashi. London: Verso, 2006.
  4. For Khleifi’s own account of early influences in his filmmaking and the various difficulties he has encountered with financing his work, see: Michel Khleifi, “From Reality to Fiction: From Poverty to Expression,” In Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema, edited by H. Dabashi. London: Verso, 2006.
  5. For more detailed information about Khleifi’s early years and the circumstances of his departure from Palestine, see: Nurith Gertz and George Khleifi. Palestinian Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008; Sindibad, “Michel Khleifi – Palestine’s Film Poet”. This Week in Palestine (117), 2008.  http://www.thisweekinpalestine.com/searchresult.php?opt=1&key=Khleifi, accessed March 31, 2011.
  6. Khleifi, (op cit 2006, p. 49)
  7. Awards for Fertile Memory  include: the ‘Prix de la Critique’, Carthage 1980; and the Semaine de La Critique award, Cannes 1981.
  8. Sumud has the meaning of defiance, staying put, refusing to leave the land – it is a passive form of resistance often signified by the olive tree. See, for example, On the Trunk of an Olive Tree, reproduced in Barbara McKean Parmenter (1994) and for cinematic examples see Nurith Gertz and George Khleifi. Palestinian Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.
  9. May Telmissany, “Displacement and Memory: Visual Narratives of al-Shatat in Michel Khleifi’s Films”. Comparative Studies of South Asia Africa and the Middle East 30 (1), 2010:69-84. For a more detailed discussion on the construction of political space see Gertz and Khleifi (op cit, 2008), and Tim Kennedy, “Cinema Regarding Nations: Re-imagining Armenian, Kurdish, and Palestinian national identity in film”. PhD thesis, Department of Film, Theatre & Television, University of Reading, Reading, U.K, 2007.
  10. A fuller description of the film is available elsewhere; see for example, Gertz and Khleifi (op cit 2008).
  11. For the distinction between mourning and melancholia see, for example, Haim Bresheeth, “The Continuity of Trauma and Struggle”. In Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, edited by A. H. Sa’di and L. Abu-Lughod. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007; Anahid Kassabian and David Kazanjian, “Melancholic Memories and Manic Politics: Feminism, Documentary, and the Armenian Diaspora”. In Feminism and Documentary, edited by D. Waldman and J. Walker. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999; and Kennedy (op cit, 2007).
  12. The film movement, sponsored mainly by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, is detailed in Gertz and Khleifi (0p cit, 2008); Kennedy (op cit, 2007); and Helga Tawil, “Coming Into Being and Flowing Into Exile: History and Trends in Palestinian Film-Making”. Nebula 2 (2), 2005:113-140.
  13. The “battlefield” of public discourse on Israel and Palestine is discussed in, for example, Lina Khatib, Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006; Yosefa Loshitzky, Identity Politics on the Israeli Screen. Austin, Texas.: University of Texas Press, 2001; Jack G. Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture. Northampton, Mass: Interlink, 2001; and Kennedy (op cit, 2007)
  14. Khleifi, op cit 2006 p.46
  15. Awards include: the International Federation of Film Critics Award, Cannes 1987; the Golden Shell, San Sebastian 1987; and Tanit d’Or, Carthage 1988. For critical analyses see, for example, Gertz and Khleifi (op cit, 2008), Frédéric Sabouraud and Serge Toubiana, “La Force du faible: ‘Noce en Galilée’, entretien avec Michel Khleifi”. Cahiers du cinéma 401:111. 1987; Tim Kennedy, “Wedding in Galilee”. Film Quarterly 59 (4) 2006:40-46; Viola Shafik, Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. Cairo: University of Cairo Press, 1998; Ella Shohat, “Wedding in Galilee”. Middle East Report 154:44-46, 1988.
  16. The film’s display of female nudity, its themes of male impotence, and its contestation of traditional gender roles caused extensive anger and dismay in Egypt and Morocco for example.
  17. Miriam Rosen, “Wedding in Galilee”. Cineaste 16 (4) 1988:50-51.
  18. Ella Shohat, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. London: Routledge, 1994.
  19. Striking examples of the metaphor of woman as mother of the nation may be found in Palestinian art (see, for example, Sliman Mansour at www.art.net/~samia/page/pagetwo/mansour2bl.jpg), poetry, music and dance. Warnock also uncovers a more complex ‘cluster of interlocking images’ of women who are expected to be ‘life-giver, nourisher, sufferer, defender of the home, source of love, identity and continuity’ (1990).
  20. See Khleifi’s interviews with Sabouraud and Toubiana (op cit, 1987) and Howard Feinstein, “Arab Films at Pesaro Festival”. Cineaste 20 (2) 1993:42-3.
  21. This of course challenges the Zionist rhetoric of Palestine as an empty land awaiting the return of the Jews to redeem it from neglect.
  22. Khleifi here reverses a trope common to colonial cinema and literature, where the colonised are dehumanised by being deprived of language. See: Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, “The Cinema after Babel: Language, Difference, Power”. Screen 26 (3-4) 1985:35-58.
  23. Khleifi, op cit 2006, p.50
  24. The first Intifada began in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza as a popular uprising against Israeli military rule. It quickly spread to the whole of the Gaza strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
  25. The image of young, unprofessional fighters, ready to confront Israeli soldiers openly and head-on, began to dominate news of the conflict. See: Baruch Kimmerling and Joel Migdal. The Palestinian People: a history. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.
  26. See Al-Qattan, op cit 2006.
  27. For an analysis of media coverage see, for example, Marda Dunsky,  “Missing: The Bias Implicit in the Absent”. Arab Studies Quarterly 23 (3) 2001:1-30.
  28. Khleifi, op cit 2006, p.53
  29. Reproduced in Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri, “The Palestinian Wedding: Major Themes of Contemporary Palestinian Resistance Poetry”. Journal of Palestine Studies 10 (3) 1981:77-99.
  30. Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  31. Khleifi  (op cit, 2006) acknowledges cinematic similarities with Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, mon amour in these dialogues and argues that the physical and psychological devastation in Palestine bears some resemblance to that caused by WWII.
  32. Livia Alexander,  “Let Me In, Let Me Out, Going Places and Going Back”. Framework 43 (2)2002:170-171.
  33. Edward Said remarks on the obsession among displaced Palestinians with re-creating the interior of their former homes, an obsession which ‘inadvertently highlights and preserves the rift or break fundamental to our lives.’ See, After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives. London: Faber and Faber, 1986, p. 58.
  34. Press reviews were generally cold or hostile and critics were more puzzled than engaged. See Al-Qattan, op cit 2006, for a discussion on the problems with screening the film.
  35. Lizbeth Malkmus and Roy Armes,  Arab and African Filmmaking. London: Zed Books, 1991.
  36. Khleifi, op cit 2006
  37. Sindibad Films is the production company for the films of Michel Khleifi and Omar Al-Qattan.
  38. For more detail about the difficulties of filming at this time, see Lisa Johnson,  “Imagination in the Shadow of the Intifada”. Review The Bulletin, April 12, 1996, 24-29; and Al-Qattan, op cit 2006.
  39. Khleifi, op cit 2006, p. 57
  40. Filmmaker Mai Masri argues that Palestinian children, in the absence of visible evidence of their history, attempt to construct an identity. In her films, she uses loss of memory as a metaphor for the erasure of the past and explores the reconstruction of a homeland through their imaginings of Palestine.
  41. See Gertz and Khleifi, op cit 2008 and also Khatib, op cit 2006, for a more extensive analysis of the film.
  42. Gertz and Khleifi,2008, p. 94
  43. Echoing Darwish’s poem After the Last Sky (1984).
  44. Al-Qattan, op cit 2006, p
  45. Any number of Palestinian films could be cited at this point, but for examples, see the work of Rashid Masharawi and Elia Suleiman.
  46. See Al-Qattan, (op cit, 2006) and Khleifi (op cit, 2006) for a discussion of distribution issues and their views on cinema during this period.
  47. For a reasonably balanced account of events leading up to the Intifada, see George J. Mitchell, “Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee Report”  http://eeas.europa.eu/mepp/docs/mitchell_report_2001_en.pdf, accessed April, 2011.
  48. Gertz and Khleifi, op cit 2008.
  49. Sivan, who left Israel in 1985, has made a number of documentaries that deal with the social and political structure of Israeli society.
  50. See Richard Porton (2006) for a review of the film and its reception.
  51. For the filmmakers’ reaction to this withdrawal, see Sindibad (2004).
  52. See, for example, Richard Porton, “Roads to Somewhere: Paradise Now and Route 181”. Cinema Scope 7, 2006, p. 3; Clare Maureen Murphy, 2004. “Review: Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel”. The Electronic Intifada  http://electronicintifada.net/content/review-route-181-fragments-journey-palestine-israel/3464
  53. Bashir Abu-Manneh, 2004. “Journey Towards a Route in Common ”, Middle East Research and Information Project  http://www.merip.org/mer/mer231/journey-towards-route-common, accessed March, 2011.
  54. Bakri is one of the most celebrated Palestinian-Israeli actors and filmmakers.
  55. Archive images from Khleifi’s earlier documentaries.
  56. The significance to Palestinian history of the key to the house is discussed in more detail in Patricia Seed, “The Key to the House”. In Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place. London: Routledge, 1999.
  57. Barbara Harlow, Resistance Literature. New York: Methuen, 1987.
  58. See Khatib’s (op cit 2006) for a discussion on the discourse of resistance.
  59. Livia Alexander, “Palestinians in Film: Representing and Being represented in the Cinematic Struggle for National Identity”. Visual Anthropology 10 (2-4) 1998:319-33.
  60. Jayce Salloum, and Molly Hankwitz. “Occupied Territories: Mapping the Transgressions of Cultural Terrain”. Framework 43 (2) 2002:85-103.
  61. See, for example, Suleiman in Richard Porton, “Notes from the Palestinian Diaspora: An Interview with Elia Suleiman”. Cineaste 28 (3) 2003:24-27; Jared Rapfogel, 2003. A Report of Dreams of a Nation – A Palestinian Film Festival  http://www.dreamsofanation.org; Shohat, op cit 1988.
  62. See Shohat and Stam (op cit 1994) on this mode of representation in anti-colonial cinemas.
  63. See Hanan Ashrawi’s conception of culture in “The Politics of Cultural Revival”. In The Palestinians: New Directions, edited by M. C. Hudson. Washington, DC: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University.



1980 – Al-Dhakira al-Khisba (Fertile Memory) [Switzerland: 99 minutes, Arabic, with English sub-titles]

1985 – Ma’loul fête sa destruction (Ma’loul Celebrates Its Destruction) [Belgium: 30 minutes, Arabic, with English sub-titles]

1987 – Urs al-Jalil (Wedding in Galilee ) [Israel: 113 minutes, Arabic, Hebrew, with English sub-titles]

1990 –Nashid al-Hajjar (Canticle of the Stones) [Israel, France, Palestine, Belgium, U.K.: 110 minutes, Arabic, with English sub-titles]

1993 –L’ordre du jour [Belgium: 115 minutes, French]

1994 – Hikayatul jawahiri thalath (Tale of the Three Lost Jewels) [Belgium, Spain, Palestine, U.K.: 107 minutes, Arabic, with English sub-titles]

1995 – Forbidden Marriages in the Holy Land [Palestine, Belgium, U.K.: 66 minutes, Arabic, Hebrew, with English sub-titles]

2003 – Route 181  (co-director Eyal Sivan) [Belgium, France, Germany, U.K.: 272 minutes, Arabic, Hebrew, with English sub-titles]

2009 – Zindeeq [Palestine, Belgium, UAE: 85 minutes]


Select Bibliography

Al-Qattan, Omar. 2006. “The Challenges of Palestinian Filmmaking (1990-2003)”. In Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema, edited by H. Dabashi. London: Verso.

Alexander, Livia. 1998. “Palestinians in Film: Representing and Being represented in the Cinematic Struggle for National Identity”. Visual Anthropology 10 (2-4):319-33.

———. 2002. “Let Me In, Let Me Out, Going Places and Going Back”. Framework 43 (2):157-177.

Ashrawi, Hanan Mikhail. 1990.“The Politics of Cultural Revival”. In The Palestinians: New Directions, edited by M. C. Hudson. Washington, DC: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University.

Bresheeth, Haim. 2007. “The Continuity of Trauma and Struggle”. In Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, edited by A. H. Sa’di and L. Abu-Lughod. New York: Columbia University Press.

Darwish, Mahmoud. 1984. Victims of a Map. Translated by A. al-Udhari. London: al-Saqi Books.

Dunsky, Marda. 2001. “Missing: The Bias Implicit in the Absent”. Arab Studies Quarterly 23 (3):1-30.

Elmessiri, Abdelwahab M. 1981. “The Palestinian Wedding: Major Themes of Contemporary Palestinian Resistance Poetry”. Journal of Palestine Studies 10 (3):77-99.

Feinstein, Howard. 1993.“Arab Films at Pesaro Festival”. Cineaste 20 (2):42-3.

Gertz, Nurith, and George Khleifi. 2008. Palestinian Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Harlow, Barbara. 1987. Resistance Literature. New York: Methuen.

Johnson, Lisa. 1996. “Imagination in the Shadow of the Intifada”. Review The Bulletin, April 12, 1996, 24-29.

Kassabian, Anahid, and David Kazanjian. 1999. “Melancholic Memories and Manic Politics: Feminism, Documentary, and the Armenian Diaspora”. In Feminism and Documentary, edited by D. Waldman and J. Walker. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Kennedy, Tim. 2006. “Wedding in Galilee”. Film Quarterly 59 (4):40-46.

———. 2007. “Cinema Regarding Nations: Re-imagining Armenian, Kurdish, and Palestinian national identity in film”. PhD thesis, Department of Film, Theatre & Television, University of Reading, Reading, U.K.

Khatib, Lina. 2006. Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World. London: I.B. Tauris.

Khleifi, Michel. 2006. “From Reality to Fiction – From Poverty to Expression”. In Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema, edited by H. Dabashi. London: Verso.

Kimmerling, Baruch, and Joel Migdal. 2003. The Palestinian People: a history. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Loshitzky, Yosefa. 2001. Identity Politics on the Israeli Screen. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press.

Malkmus, Lizbeth, and Roy Armes. 1991. Arab and African Filmmaking. London: Zed Books.

Naficy, Hamid. 2001. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Parmenter, Barbara McKean. 1994. Giving Voice to Stones: Place and Identity in Palestinian Literature. Austin, Tex: University of Texas Press.

Porton, Richard. 2003. “Notes from the Palestinian Diaspora: An Interview with Elia Suleiman”. Cineaste 28 (3):24-27.

———. 2006. “Roads to Somewhere: Paradise Now and Route 181”. Cinema Scope 7 (3).

Rosen, Miriam. 1988. “Wedding in Galilee”. Cineaste 16 (4):50-51.

Sabouraud, Frédéric, and Serge Toubiana. 1987. “La Force du faible: ‘Noce en Galilée’, entretien avec Michel Khleifi”. Cahiers du cinéma 401:111.

Said, Edward. 1986. After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives. London: Faber and Faber.

Salloum, Jayce, and Molly Hankwitz. 2002. “Occupied Territories: Mapping the Transgressions of Cultural Terrain”. Framework 43 (2):85-103.

Seed, Patricia. 1999. “The Key to the House”. In Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place. London: Routledge.

Shafik, Viola. 1998. Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. Cairo: University of Cairo Press.

Shaheen, Jack G. 2001. Reel Bad Arabs: Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture. Northampton, Mass: Interlink.

Shohat, Ella. 1988. “Wedding in Galilee”. Middle East Report 154:44-46.

Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam. 1985. “The Cinema after Babel:Language, Difference, Power”. Screen 26 (3-4):35-58.

———. 1994. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. London: Routledge.

Tawil, Helga. 2005. “Coming Into Being and Flowing Into Exile: History and Trends in Palestinian Film-Making”. Nebula 2 (2):113-140.

Telmissany, May. 2010. “Displacement and Memory: Visual Narratives of al-Shatat in Michel Khleifi’s Films”. Comparative Studies of South Asia Africa and the Middle East 30 (1):69-84.

Warnock, Kitty. 1990. Land Before Honour: Palestine Women in the Occupied Territories. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Web Resources

Abu-Manneh, Bashir. 2004. “Journey Towards a Route in Common ”. Middle East Research and Information Project.

http://www.merip.org/mer/mer231/journey-towards-route-common, accessed March, 2011.

Mitchell, George J. 2001 “Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee Report.”

http://eeas.europa.eu/mepp/docs/mitchell_report_2001_en.pdf, accessed April, 2011.

Murphy, Maureen Clare. 2004. “Review: Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel”. The Electronic Intifada http://electronicintifada.net/content/review-route-181-fragments-journey-palestine-israel/3464

Rapfogel, Jared. 2003. A Report of Dreams of a Nation – A Palestinian Film Festival  http://www.dreamsofanation.org

Sindibad. 2004.“Film Route 181 censored by French Culture Ministry”. The Electronic Intifada  http://electronicintifada.net/content/film-route-181-censored-french-culture-ministry/5017

Sindibad. 2008. “Michel Khleifi – Palestine’s Film Poet”. This Week in Palestine (117) http://www.thisweekinpalestine.com/searchresult.php?opt=1&key=Khleifi, accessed March 31, 2011.

About The Author

Tim Kennedy is an independent scholar living in Oxford, U.K. He has published on Armenian, Kurdish, and Palestinian cinema. In particular, he has written about the films of Michel Khleifi for Film Quarterly; and The Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television.

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