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Ezzedin Al Qassam Martyrs Brigade
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Martyred Qassami warrior
Abd Al Hakeem Ali Al Munaama
General of mortar missiles
FLATTENED OUT SPACE AND TIME
Formally, in the standard regularity of their design, posters implied the ho- mogeneity of martyrdom as a general category, and the democracy of death. The poster designs generally included a montage consisting of a photo portrait of the person who was killed, the logo and name of their political party affiliation or the poster’s sponsor, and any of various nationalist symbols, such as the al-Aqsa dome, the black and white checkered pattern of the Palestinian kuffiyah, the national colors, as well as text from the Qur’an. The date of death, residence, and promises to not forget the martyr were also typical elements of poster design. (See martyr posters, Figures 1–3.) With each new death, fresh posters were pasted over the tattered remains of older ones, proclaiming with a Qur’anic verse that the martyr is not dead, but lives on: “Do not regard those who have died for the sake of God as being deceased, for they live on and will receive their reward from God.”
Posters were a blanketing feature of the intifada cityscape. As representations of death, no more what Barthes would call a “punctum” in either the visual culture or quotidian routine under occupation, the posters formed a visual backdrop that mirrored the emotional tenor of mundane life that made death “normal” (ady) during the uprising. Just as with each new invasion, explosion, and death,
Palestinians shrugged their shoulders and said, “we’re used to it,” and “it’s normal,” the predictable repetitiveness of the posters, visually subsuming each individual death into the common stream of intifada martyrdom, only added to their normalcy.
The routinizing effect of the poster was also apparent in its relation to notions of national historical time and the place of unique events and individual deaths within it. Beyond the edges of each poster, there is always another poster. Together they create a kaleidoscope of simulacra, each martyr face reflecting and reiterating that of another. They do not tell a linear narrative history, but capture instance after instance collapsed into one generic moment—martyrdom—that has been made meaningful by nationalist symbols and values, the person and the sacrifice they represent. The wallpaper aspect of the posters was an effect of their multiplicity and constancy of appearance. The flatness and regularity of form groups together into one super symbol what was a series of moments of death and people who have passed through it. Although the faces may change every week as the violence continues, those differences are just a small turn of the kaleidoscope’s wheel. Individual deaths are only temporarily noted events, quickly subsumed into the broader genre of martyrdom. Perhaps there is a distinction in the refraction of colors, the angles of the shapes contract or widen a few degrees, but the general form of faces on faces of death remains.
Through the sheer number of martyr posters and their mimetic reproduction, as well as through other images produced on TV and in human rights publications, a kind of presentist nonhistorical notion of time is being expressed in these visual forms. The aesthetic forms of martyr representations effected a constant reminder of a decontextualized, dehistoricized, nationalized present. In the intifada-montage sequences that were broadcast as fillers between news programs on television, for example, images from the first intifada (1987–93) and from 1948 (the Nakba) were interspersed into footage from clashes of the current intifada.
Pictures from the first intifada were used as illustrations in reports on the second, just as posters of young people martyred during the first intifada were redisplayed during commemorative events during the second. In this nonlinear, nondiscursive practiced poetic mode of image creation a historical consciousness, and rhetorical argument, is enacted (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992:158–159). The commonly repeated observation that “we are living an ongoing Nakba” was not just a figure of speech. It was an expression of an experience of time, of a sense of the history and expected future that made violence unsurprising.
Walking through the alleys of a Bethlehem refugee camp, a guide pointed out the graffiti painting on the house of a family that had lost two sons. Israeli forces killed one son during the second intifada, and the other son during “the prisoner’s intifada” in 1998. Painted on the house were three candles, the first two with the names of the brothers written underneath, and the third labeled with question marks, asking the question, “Who is next?” Ongoing catastrophe was the norm and the predicted.
Although nationalist commemorations fill a significant portion of the Palestinian national calendar (Martyr’s Day, Nakba Day), new memorializations appeared in numerous forms each day. Walk through any town in the West Bank, and martyr representations are everywhere. Martyr posters framing the faces of dead women, men, and children are pasted on any surface. Some are torn or partially covered over, with each new wave of Israeli attacks reflected in a fresh layer of posters.
Look up from these eye level commemorations and you may see a looming banner announcing the martyrdom of a famous political personality or person whose death was remarkable in some way. One such sign depicting the assassinated PFLP leader Abu `Ali Mustafa hung in Ramallah for a time, streaming from the highest billboard.30 Other banners, like those of Ayat al-Ikhris, a young female suicide bomber, were hung from the third floor of office buildings in the center of town; smaller versions were pasted on the hoods of cars that became mobile memorials sometimes festooned with wreaths of flowers and handwritten signs.
Immediately after the assassination of PFLP head Abu `Ali Mustafa, graffiti appeared across walls throughout the town of Ramallah promising the revenge for his death that would come at the hands of the “Abu `Ali Mustafa Brigades,” a newly named cell. The memorial ceremony that the PFLP organized on the 40th day after Israel assassinated its leader wrapped this man’s death in a cocoon of national significance, extending his memory and presence even further. Salih Ra’fat, the General Secretary of FIDA (Democratic Union of Palestine), constructed Abu `Ali’s significance in a poetic eulogy:
“My brother, comrade, my dear friend. You left us physically but you are still alive in us and among us. Your precious spirit flutters above our heads. Every day we see you in every moment, in our society, in the progress of the popular marches and martyr funerals. We hear your voice that is so fundamentally true around the Minara [the central square in Ramallah], in festivals and celebrations. We meet you always in our visits to the families of martyrs and the injured in hospitals.”
In speeches like these, in funeral-march slogans, in memorial graffiti and posters, the martyr is addressed directly, and in so doing, his or her sustained presence is pragmatically enacted. Space and life are filled with the density of remembered death.
Source: Getting By the Occupation, by Lori Allen