By chance, two outstanding works that were linked to one another were sent to me in the same week, a connection that should be maintained.
The first, a volume in Arabic by Elias Khoury entitled “Children of the Ghetto – My Name is Adam,” is the author’s latest novel. The second is about the hidden life story of Tamer Nafar, as presented in Udi Aloni’s film “Junction 48,” currently playing at Israeli cinemas.
The first story centers around the horrible events of the “year of the junction,” meaning 1948, and presents a detailed account of destruction sowed by the millstone that began turning that year.
The events of the story take place in a godforsaken place that has gone by a variety of names through history: Lod, Al-Lyd and Lydda – the place where the protagonists of Khoury lived and from which they were expelled, a city scattered in all directions like its other sisters, the daughters of the mother whom they used to call Palestine.
The storyteller reconstructs portions of the picture of that mother whose children were torn from her, so that she exists in our memories and so we can perhaps witness the brilliance of the moment of redemption, if it comes.
In the process, Saladin Street, from its northern end, near the Jindas Bridge (also known as Baybars Bridge), to the south, where it meets King Faisal Street, is recreated.
Saladin Street comes to life not so that we can see its grocery store, but rather so that we can take in the stench and foul odor of the corpses which are its lot.
And this nightmare continues on the street that we used to walk down and in the courtyards where we spent our childhood. The severed organs of the city that contained us were bleeding.
Only the Dahmash mosque dared emit a few sounds when it was reopened, after having been closed for more than 50 years.
We were children at the time that the mosque opened its mouth. Perhaps it was the hint of a sound of hope that had misled us and hid the truth behind a smokescreen that has still been arising here since ’48.
Within this nothingness and the clutch of refugees whose exploits are told in “Children of the Ghetto” stood a new city on the corpse of the murdered mother.
And like any parasite that grows without roots or resilience, this city or something resembling a city, became an unbalanced entity hosting outsiders whom the locale cannot identify – locals who were left like present absentees, and refugees who chose it for themselves as their city.
And it is from this bizarre hybrid mix that Tamer Nafar, the star of “Junction 48,” and his rap group DAM grew up.
Tamer creates the miracle of Arabic rap for us, a beat for listeners seeking to forgot the past and that still takes place in a world on the margins, which is repressed and transparent.
It’s a rhythm that forces us to remember against our will – words bursting through the ceiling that was built above us, traversing continents and spreading the story of the city.
They are words that at times dare to leave the ruins behind them and to move ahead to plant hope among those whom hope had long abandoned. It’s a hope against which Khoury correctly fought its right to exist, but we are left with nothing but to cling to it.
For Tamer and his friends, a new generation from Al-Lyd, no one was spared the crack of the whip in that Tamer understands that our catastrophe is not only the result of what Elias Khoury has described, but so are the catastrophes inherent in our own society.
The film successfully translates the lashings that Tamer experiences into a picture and there is nothing more powerful that a picture that begins to move.
The railroad tracks and the boy who crosses them while endangering his life cannot be depicted without movement. Nor can the split-second weapons fire that turns the city’s young people into bleeding bodies.
But “Junction 48” enables us miraculously to imagine the power to momentarily suspend the picture of our lives, to stop the killing that spreads in the city every Monday and Tuesday, market days, where the price of a radish is dearer that the lives of the young people.
Life in our vicinity attempts to force itself on our rationality to choose between hope and its absence, but it’s reasonable for the soul to learn how to live with both at the same time.
It is in the tension between the two that “Children of the Ghetto” takes place and in which the plot of “Junction 48” takes place.
“Junction 48” was created under the direction of Udi Aloni, who belongs to a disappearing breed who returns man to his natural state in that he strips him of all of all the baggage and symbols and language and ideologies that make him up, and invites us to do what he does until there is nearly no difference between us.
It is from here that the hope that Aloni is purveying comes, but it is also waning because Aloni belongs to a breed that is close to extinction. But who knows? Maybe that too is for appearances’ sake.
In the meantime, we’ve left out the present, as poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote, and we have no one to lament that Abu Ayman’s voice is still emitted from the mosque in Lod and that there is no exclusive yoga class on its roof, as takes place every Friday a few minutes after sunrise on the roof of its stolen brother-mosque in Jerusalem’s Ein Karem neighborhood.
The writer is an art historian and archaeologist specializing in Islamic culture.
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