Guest post by David A. McDonald.
With the recent release of the award-winning Israeli feature film, Junction 48 (2016), acclaimed Director and Activist Udi Aloni has made a significant intervention into the ongoing discussion of vulnerability, popular culture, and Palestinian activism in Israel. Starring DAM frontman and Godfather of Arab hip-hop, Tamer Nafar, Junction 48 tells the story of Kareem (Nafar), an aspiring Palestinian rap artist trying desperately to break into the Tel-Aviv hip-hop scene. Through a coming-of-age romance between Kareem and Manar (Samar Qupti), the film depicts the struggles of a new generation of Palestinian youth caught between multiple worlds: Palestinian citizens of Israel negotiating the colonial state politics of erasure as well as the demands of Arab nationalism and Islamic patriarchy.
As Kareem attempts to navigate the political obstacles of the Israeli music scene, he is confronted with a series of crises. His friends are targeted by street violence and police harassment. His girlfriend’s cousins have forbidden her to date. His friend’s family home is targeted for demolition. And after a family tragedy his mother begins working as an indigenous “healer.” Each of these moments presents Kareem with an existential crisis, wherein he must redefine himself in relation to his surroundings. In the process Kareem undergoes a profound transformation.
As the title of the film suggests, Kareem and his cohort live at the junction of competing social, political, and cultural discourses. Kareem’s struggles to balance his career ambitions with his loyalty to his Palestinian community, and to reconcile his secular cosmopolitan lifestyle with “traditional” customs and beliefs, reflect many of the themes Tamer Nafar has been rapping about for years. However, inasmuch as the film focuses on the structural violence of the Israeli state, it also addresses forces of oppression within Palestinian society as well. Much like Nafar and Aloni’s previous collaborations, Junction 48 explores intersectional experiences of oppression endemic to Palestinian life in Israel.
Throughout the film director Udi Aloni delves deeply into the dynamics of state violence, religious patriarchy, and gendered violence. The storyline is nuanced, presenting multiple subject positions and experiences. While certainly manipulated for dramatic effect, the threat of violence presents unique opportunities for character development, dialogue, and engagement. Throughout, we witness the responses of various characters: male and female, religious and secular, old and young. These responses are complex, eschewing simplistic interpretations of good and bad, right and wrong. And in its final resolution, the viewer is left with a more textured understanding of how, and under what circumstances, violence occurs, as well as the various means through which individuals might collaborate in response.
The greatest contributions of this film, however, are not in its nuanced storytelling, but rather in its humanization of Palestinian lifestyles and experiences. Through heartfelt dialogue and plot lines that reflect contemporary social and political issues, Aloni creates unique spaces for Palestinians to be seen and heard. In Junction 48’s climactic scene where a friend’s family home is demolished so as to build a National Museum of Co-Existence, we witness the cruel ways in which Palestinians are forcibly removed from public space.
As an act of counter-visibility, Junction 48 creates significant spaces for seeing and hearing Palestinians outside and beyond Israeli efforts of erasure. Insofar as Kareem and his cohort hold a very public music performance on top of his friend’s demolished home to raise awareness of Israeli state-violence, the film itself seeks to mobilize popular culture forms and practices so as to render Palestinians visible, legible, knowable both as Israeli citizens as well as “persons worthy of personhood.” In each of these acts of intervention the artists involved seek to bridge the visible and the invisible, the familiar and the unfamiliar. Popular cultural forms and practices such as these (hip-hop performances, feature films, fashion, food, etc.) are all acts of counter-visibility as well as the infrastructural means through which invisible communities might begin to appear. As both an act of, and means to, disseminate appearance, Junction 48 thus offers significant potential for political intervention.
Feature films and popular music carry significant representational potential, but they also create important spaces within which new forms of appearance may be imagined and enacted. As the only Israeli feature film in history with an entirely Palestinian cast, Junction 48 affords opportunities for Palestinians to represent themselves in transgressive ways: as thinking, creative, fallible subjects. Such a move unseats the conventional Israeli logic of separation between Jews and non-Jews, creating transgressive possibilities for re-thinking state discourse. Junction 48 does more than raise awareness, however, it intervenes into how audiences see Palestinian precarity. At face value this is an intervention against the demolition of Palestinian homes and the displacement of their inhabitants, and beyond that, the larger project of Palestinian self-determination. However, throughout Junction 48 there is a latent unconventional activism that is more about unraveling the certainties of identity and difference.
Delivered in the form of a feature film, Junction 48 further demonstrates the potentials of popular culture as a terrain upon which counter-visibilities form and circulate. Drawing from the familiarity of hip-hop, Junction 48 actively bridges the divides that have historically foreclosed Palestinians from public appearance. This is accomplished not so much through confrontational, aggressive critique, but rather through familiar counter-narrative and storytelling. In Kareem’s efforts to confront Palestinian precarity; in his efforts to confront his own political biases and weaknesses; and in his efforts to reimagine a more vulnerable Palestinian masculinity, the audience is given the opportunity to see and hear Palestinian experience as “human” experience. These interventions create a possible world where the privileged are solicited to see the colonized in a new light. In this way Junction 48 does not simply make the plight of Palestinians visible to its audiences. Rather, the film brings into visibility a situation in which the colonized are not merely those who suffer, but also those who create and endure.
Junction 48 will be screened at the IU Cinema on April 14. Director Udi Aloni is scheduled to be present.
This film is sponsored by Center for the Study of the Middle East; the departments of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance; Islamic Studies Program; and IU Cinema. This partnership is supported through IU Cinema’s Creative Collaborations program.
David A. McDonald is Chair of the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. Since 2002 he has worked closely with Palestinian refugee communities in Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank. He is the author of the award-winning book My Voice is My Weapon (2013).