Darwish Mural - Beirut

Analysis / Interpretation / Press

How Art, Literature and Film Inspired A Global Palestinian Consciousness

by: Hamid Dabashi


How do we measure the rise of the Palestinian cause from a mere national liberation movement to a larger-than-life global consciousness with far-reaching moral and political resonance?

In my presentation, I revisited some major iconic moments in Palestinian and Arab film, fiction, the arts, and critical thinking in the aftermath of Beirut in 1982, which have over the last four decades radically relocated the Palestinian cause on a global scale. They are by no means exhaustive or encyclopedic, but they represent something larger than their collective summations.  

The historic trauma of the August 1982 exit from Beirut arguably had a catalytic impact on the Palestinian national consciousness, with obvious social and political consequences. But this sublimation was not limited to Palestinians’ own self-awareness, and had far-reaching global implications in terms of the texture and disposition of the Palestinian cause.

Landmark traumas

The continuing Palestinian drama consists of multiple landmark traumas, including the Nakba of 1948, the Naksa of 1967, Black September in 1970, the October War of 1973, the PLO’s departure from Beirut in 1982, the Sabra and Shatila massacre just weeks later, and the two intifadas that erupted in 1987 and 2000. 

These crucial events can be seen as both successive defeats and consecutive expansions of the Palestinian cause. Without these traumas, one can imagine a scenario where Palestine would have emerged as one among many other nations in its neighbourhood from the demise of the Ottoman Empire. With these traumas, however, Palestine has emerged as both a gushing wound and an expansive metaphor for broader global struggles against colonial occupation and injustice.  

A few crucial indices over the last four decades mark the transformation of the Palestinian cause into a universal metaphor, which is both a blessing and a predicament. These events have helped to universalise the Palestinian cause, but by the same token, they have delayed its final and decisive liberation.  

Consider, for example, Edward Said’s iconic essay, Permission to Narrate (1984), which begins with a report of the international commission of six jurists headed by Sean MacBride investigating allegations of Israeli violations of international law during the 1982 Lebanon invasion, and concludes with a farsighted plea for the Palestinian and Jewish narratives to come together into a tertiary space that transcends tribal identities.