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Palestine in Visual Representation: A Visual Semiotic Analysis of the Nakba

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Since its de facto creation, Israel has endeavoured to legitimize its existence and mystify the ethnic cleansing it perpetrated in 1948, systematically working to efface historic Palestine from the Arab and global public memory. Visual discourse plays a constitutive role in the construction and preservation of national themes. This paper, a critical discourse analysis of a corpus of visual representations, aimed to examine how visual representation serves to memorialize and reconstruct national themes, and so how this semiotic mode of representation can act as a form of counter-hegemonic discourse against attempts at the memoricide of the other and mystification of history. Using Kress and van Leeuwen's (2006) grammar of visual design as a framework for visual analysis, this social semiotic research analyzed the visual structure of a number of Nakba images to examine the role of visual representations in the memorialization of key Palestinian national themes, and so the reconstruction and preservation of historic Palestine. The study shows how visually represented national themes, such as ethnic cleansing and Right of Return, serve as a constant reminder of the Nakba, stressing their sociopolitical and emancipatory role in shaping the Palestinian collective consciousness about their past, present and future. Exploration of further visual signs can reveal more the function of visual and multimodal communication in the preservation of important national themes and role in national liberation.
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International Journal of Arabic-English Studies (IJAES) Vol. 21, No.1, 2021
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Palestine in Visual Representation:
A Visual Semiotic Analysis of the Nakba
https://doi.org/10.33806/ijaes2000.21.1.6
Aladdin Assaiqeli
Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, Malaysia
Abstract: Since its de facto creation, Israel has endeavoured to legitimize its existence
and mystify the ethnic cleansing it perpetrated in 1948, systematically working to efface
historic Palestine from the Arab and global public memory. Visual discourse plays a
constitutive role in the construction and preservation of national themes. This paper, a
critical discourse analysis of a corpus of visual representations, aimed to examine how
visual representation serves to memorialize and reconstruct national themes, and so how
this semiotic mode of representation can act as a form of counter-hegemonic discourse
against attempts at the memoricide of the other and mystification of history. Using Kress
and van Leeuwen’s (2006) grammar of visual design as a framework for visual analysis,
this social semiotic research analyzed the visual structure of a number of Nakba images to
examine the role of visual representations in the memorialization of key Palestinian
national themes, and so the reconstruction and preservation of historic Palestine. The
study shows how visually represented national themes, such as ethnic cleansing and Right
of Return, serve as a constant reminder of the Nakba, stressing their sociopolitical and
emancipatory role in shaping the Palestinian collective consciousness about their past,
present and future. Exploration of further visual signs can reveal more the function of
visual and multimodal communication in the preservation of important national themes
and role in national liberation.
Keywords: images, visuals, multimodality, visual communication, visual grammar, CDA,
Nakba
1. Introduction
The Palestine Question is the most intractable contemporary form of colonization,
and the only extant form of settler colonialism in the world today. It is the national
trauma of the Palestinian people. It is the Palestinian refugee problem created in
1948 by Zionist radical procedures against the human geography and demography
of Palestine, further exacerbated by the 1967 Israeli occupation of the rest of
historic Palestine and the resultant displacement and dispossession of many more
Palestinians. The Nakba or ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the extant Israeli
occupation, and Israel’s ongoing attempt at the memoricide of the Nakba
constitute, in essence, what the Palestine Question is about, and underlie much of
the ensuing spillover of regional wars and political unrest in the Middle East and
probably the world at large (Assaiqeli 2019).
To legitimize and sustain its existence given such de facto creation on the
rubble of Palestinian villages, the newly-found state of immigrants Israel
has developed an “ideologically-driven lexicon” (Walsh 2009: 26), which
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100
systematically misrepresents reality where ethnic cleansing becomes “voluntary
exodus” or “transfer” or “War of Independence;” Palestine, “Israel;” the West
Bank, “Judaea and Samaria;” Palestinians, “Israeli Arabs;” occupation,
“settlement;” expansion, “natural growth; colonialism, “historical rights; occupied
territories, “territories that are disputed;” settlements, “outposts;” freedom-
fighters, “terrorists;” the 1967 occupation of the rest of Palestine, “the Six Day
War,” etc. (Assaiqeli 2013).
A systematic, theory-based critical discourse analysis of a corpus of Nakba
icons naturalistic images visually/multimodally representing key Palestinian
national themes this paper aimed to demonstrate the role of Palestinian “visual
language” or Nakba visual semiotics in confronting such Israeli attempts at the
whitewashing of the original landscape and obliteration of the Palestinian
memoryscape, and so their commemorative emancipatory function. The paper
sought to show the role of visual discourse in reconstructing the Nakba or the
ethnic cleansing of Palestine, making the memory of this event alive all the
time. It examined the afterlife effect of images how visual representations
reconstruct national themes, and so how they counteract systematic and
institutionalized attempts at the memoricide of the other and misrepresentation of
reality. This study, in particular, sought to reveal how certain motivated iconic
visual signs have evolved in Palestinian iconography or visual discourse to
capture and represent important Palestinian national themes such as homelessness,
rootedness, tenacity for return, historical and spiritual connection, etc.
The time for this study is ripe as the attempts to obliterate Palestine from
the Arab and global public memory have intensified recently, given the increasing
number of Arab countries or regimes that are normalizing relations with this state
of immigrants. Such attempts to normalize relations with Israel disregard historic
Palestine and the Right of Repatriation of Palestinian refugees; it disregards the
fact that Zionists are colonialists and that Israel is a colonialist settler occupation.
While normalization serves to legitimize Israel’s existence — making it de jure
memorialization and the visual reconstruction of historic Palestine and the Nakba
serve to delegitimize such de facto existence.
This study is hence timely as it serves to demonstrate how visually
represented leitmotivs of the Palestine Question are employed as powerful
evocative tools and “visual stories” for the assimilation of individuals into an
uprooted community not an imagined community and hence the
memorialization and reconstruction of historic Palestine, i.e., pre-1948 Palestine.
Such visual stories can become emotive symbols for national themes and their
memorial function, and so can act as a rallying cry against normalization and a
mobilizing tool for resistance and renaissance.
2. Literature Review
2.1 Visual discourse and the nation
Visual representations are significant means in the construction of the nation.
Amer (2018) holds that in the case of “national liberation movements, images
become cultural tools for communicating nationalist ideas and mobilizing the
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nation behind a national cause” (3). They act as a form of “counter-hegemonic
discourse by portraying daily reality and suffering” (ibid.), demystifying events
and memorializing/reconstructing them.
Visual representations or “representational iconic images,” as shown in this
study, manifest realism, vividness and stark emotiveness, which act to
emotionally involve the viewer and elicit “intense emotional responses” (Cross
2006). Images which become national symbols are thus significant as they
become interpretive cognitive frameworks. They drive national struggle for
liberation of territory, independence and self-determination.
Therefore, visual representations of the nation whether real or imagined
constitute a significant part of nationalist discourses and nationalist imagery. The
purposes of such representations, according to Baron (1997) are obvious
“Images of the nation are meant to reaffirm the unity of the nation and give the
concept of nationhood greater immediacy” (105).
As such, visual representations of a nation constitute a major weapon in the
struggle for national liberation. They help mobilize the people behind a nationalist
goal and shape their collective identity. “Their influence is deemed powerful as
they contribute to the formation of ideologically-based political and cognitive
models of the national “in-group” and in solidifying a national narrative that
continues to be enacted [and invoked], especially in times of crisis and war”
(Amer 2018:2). They also have “socio-cognitive functions in that they underlie a
process of shaping collective consciousness and reconstructing the collective
experience of uprooting and displacement” (ibid. p. 21).
In addition, images can transmit “the idea of nationalism beyond literate
circles” (Baron 1997:122) and so ensuring the involvement of a larger audience,
appealing and reaching out to the literate as well as the illiterate; and so they
could be more powerful or effective than verbal signs. Nationalist iconography
(Baron 1997) is, therefore, instrumental in the construction of a coherent
collective, and so national identity and the process of national self-determination.
2.2 Palestine in visual discourse
Since its de facto creation, Israelis have persistently endeavoured to efface
Palestine from the global public memory. They have discursively and non-
discursively attempted to erase the physical geography and human demography of
Palestine, creating through various methods of ethnic cleansing a metamorphosis
of historic/mandatory Palestine.
This new reality or the wiping of Palestine off the map and the constant and
systematic attempts of the newly-found state “to delete the Palestinian presence in
Palestine” (Walsh 2009: 24) has resulted in the emergence of certain predominant
Palestinian national themes. Thus “Palestinian nationalism is driven by the
intimate intertwining of the present reality and experiences of dispossession,
dispersion and statelessness of most Palestinians since Israel’s creation in 1948”
on their soil (Amer 2020: 6).
Such nostalgic national themes encoded verbally (verbal semiosis), visually
(visual semiosis) and sometimes multimodally or intersemiotically (verbal-visual
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intersemiosis) (Economou 2009) with other semiotic signs or systems of
signification first by Palestinian and Arab nationalist artists, and then by
international sign makers are central to the Palestinian national narrative,
identity or national self-identification and future aspirations and resolve for return.
Such national themes, visually and in many cases multi-modally represented, have
become (part-for-whole) metonyms and then symbols of the Nakba, serving to
perpetuate in the collective Palestinian consciousness and the world memories of
loss and dispossession, the Right of Return, and resistance and steadfastness,
amongst others.
Over the years, the construction of visuals that represent various facets of
the Palestine Question has doubled, leading to a rich repertoire of iconography of
the Nakba. This plethora in visual representations, however, has not been
accompanied by a proliferation of visual studies that systematically analyze such
iconography. While there has been a huge corpus of studies that analyze verbal
discourse on the Palestine Question, studies that analyze visual discourse remain
skimpy and patchy.
As for the particular theme of national reconstruction, though there have
been some studies on some aspects of the visual representation of the
Israel/Palestine Question in general (e.g. Amer 2018; Abu Hatoum 2016;
Ramamurthy 2016; Alloul 2016; Abu Hashhash 2006; Bartelt 1998), this topic, in
particular, has remained unresearched as there are no studies that deal with visual
representations and the reconstruction of historic Palestine. A look at the literature
can quickly reveal such dearth in visual studies pertaining to this topic. This
dearth in visual studies on the role of visual discourse in the reconstruction of the
Nakba or the ethnic cleansing of Palestine the role of visual representation in
reconstructing the Palestine Question as the plight of a people who have been
driven out of their homeland provided the impetus for the present study.
2.3 Historical background: Genesis of the Palestinian Nakba
In the aftermath of the First World War, “Palestine came under the British
occupation” (Farrah and Halahlah 2020: 204) and remained under British
domination until 1948. In May 1948, the State of Israel, a country of immigrants,
was founded, in the heart of Mandatory Palestine (1917-1948), as envisaged and
initiated by the carefully worded Balfour Declaration (1917) the foundational
stone for modern-day Israel. This was Britain’s pledge of “a national home for the
Jewish people” in Palestine. This pledge or hegemonic act the ultimate
establishment of a Jewish State in Mandate Palestine as contemplated by the
British Crown took place following militarized Zionist immigrants’
constructed later as ‘Israel Defense Forces’ — launch of a premeditated campaign
to drive out the native population of Palestine from their homeland a crime of
ethnic cleansing (Pappe 2006) that has led to the mass expulsion of the
Palestinians form their villages and the onset of their ongoing dispossession and
suffering. “From close to one million Palestinians only around 150,000 remained
in the newly created state. From 500 villages, only 100 remained undestroyed by
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the Zionist Israeli troops, and all major cities were emptied of most of their
Palestinian residents” (Shihade 2012: 109).
This robbing of the Palestinian people of their homeland and the sociocide
and politicide of Palestine as a nation and as a state, perpetrated through Zionist-
British cooperation (Gutwein 2016) as envisioned in 1917 by the British
government, and then the systematic memoricide by the new settler state of such
genocide referred to by Palestinians and Arabs as The Nakba (of 1948),
constitute, along with the 1967 Israeli occupation of the rest of historic Palestine
and the resultant displacement and dispossession of many more Palestinians, what
in essence, the Palestine Question is all about, and underlie much of the ensuing
spillover of regional wars and political unrest in the Middle East and probably the
world at large.
2.4 Theoretical background: Visual discourse and the representation of
reality
A major semiotic development in the early 20th century was the “linguistic turn”
the recognition that language is not a neutral means for the transmission and
communication of knowledge but rather a constructor and shaper of knowledge
where power is knowledge and knowledge is power (Foucault 1976; quoted in
Clarke 2005). This realization about the role representation plays in the perception
and construction of knowledge has led since the early 1990s to what has come to
be known as the “critical turn” —the realization or zeitgeist consciousness that
language can be employed for purposes other than those of the telementation of
ideas from the mind of one individual to another to that of action, power and
social control. This is the realization that social realities are
linguistically/discursively constructed, and that discourse reproduces society as
well as being reproduced by it (Titscher, Meyer, Wodak and Vetter 2000;
Fairclough 2001; van Dijk 2008; Young 2009; Wodak and Meyer 2009,
Krzyżanowski 2016, etc.). Yet, a third significant turn in the semiotic landscape
(Kress and van Leeuwen 2006) arrived especially at the beginning of the 21st
century the “visual turn” (Jay 2002).
This is the realization that communication is rarely monomodal and that, for
example, a mode such as writing, “often conceptualized and analysed as if
monomodal, has, in fact, a visual and material presence, and that the meaning of
‘writing’ cannot be separated from such factors” (Ravelli, Adami, Boeriis, Veloso
and Wildfeuer 2018:398). This realization has drawn attention, as Kress and van
Leeuwen (2006) state, to “the inherent multimodality of all communication.
This multimodality has become more obvious and been made highly
possible by “digital technologies” (Ravelli et al., 2018), by the “technology of
visualization” (Campbell 2012), of “visual and multimodal phenomena, of
“visual and multimodal communication, where the visual has become a
“fundamental aspect of communication” (Ravelli et al, 2018: 399).
Indeed, the role of the visual in our social and political world has become
more complex and more significant. Texts nowadays “are becoming increasingly
multimodal they communicate to us through graphics, pictures, layout
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techniques as well through words” (Thuy 2017:164). In the words of Kress and
van Leeuwen (2006), “representation is always multiple.” This is a “rapidly
growing realization” (ibid).Visual communication is then a hallmark of
technologically-driven modern literacy where visual symbols are increasingly
intertwined intersemiotically with verbal symbols and other complexities that go
far beyond traditional definitions of literacy.
Now like linguistic structures, visual/multimodal structures point to
particular interpretations of experience and [enact] forms of social (inter)action.
Visual elements are thus ideological. In the words of Kress and van Leeuwen
(2006):
Visual structures do not simply reproduce the structures of
‘reality’. On the contrary, they produce images of reality which are
bound up with the interests of the social institutions within which
the images are produced, circulated and read. They are ideological
(p.47).
Thus visual discourse is equally ideologically biased and politically
motivated. The presence of images or other visual signs in a piece of discourse is
thus not an embellishment. It is subjective and intricately linked to the image
maker’s personal, political and ideological interest and affiliation. They are meant
to either reproduce the status quo or resist it.
Therefore, Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) observe that visual
representation is motivated by the sign maker’s interest, and so always partial. It
serves particular cognitive purposes. It allows producers to encode in the visual
mode their mental picture of reality and how they account for their experience of
the world” (Simpson 1993: 89). They are, according to Kress and van Leeuwen
(ibid.) a “means — always for the articulation of ideological positions”(14).
3. Methods: Social semiotic analysis
Following Halliday’s functional socio-semiotic theory of language (1975, 1978,
1994, 2004), Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) propose that visual texts, like
language, are “resources for encoding interpretations of experience and [enacting]
forms of social (inter)action,” (p.1); and so similarly serve, as a semiotic mode of
communication, three functions or levels of meaning where “three strands of
grammar operate simultaneously:” representation, interaction, and composition
synonymous with Halliday’s ideational, interpersonal, and textual
metafunctions, respectively. In light of this “social semiotic, metafunctional view
of communication” (Royce 1998: 25) as expressed by Halliday in his Systemic
Functional Grammar (SFG) model, Kress and van Leeuwen (1990, 1996, 2006)
have developed a tripartite “grammar of visual design” for “reading” or
interpreting these three layers or types of meaning interwoven in a visual text:
representational meaning, interactional meaning, and compositional meaning.
Below is a concise but pithy description of each of these meanings or three
accounts of the visual system of representation.
First, the representational meaning (ideational metafunction) deals with
who or what is in the visual frame (represented participants, whether animate or
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inanimate, and interactive participants); and what action is taking place; and
where, who with and by what means. The representational meaning of a visual
text deals with patterns of representation. This can be either narrative patterns or
conceptual patterns. Narrative patterns or representations create (through
represented participants and actional vectors that indicate action) social action,
and so serve to “present unfolding actions, processes of change, transitory spatial
arrangements (Kress & van Leeuwen 2006:59).” These are categorized into a set
of four transactional structures described by Kress & van Leeuwen (ibid.) as
narrative processes. These are (1) action processes; (2) reactional processes; (3)
speech processes and mental processes; and (4) conversion processes. On the
other hand, conceptual patterns/representations, design social constructs; they
represent participants “in terms of their class, structure or meaning, in other
words, in terms of their generalized and more or less stable and timeless essence”
(ibid.). Like narrative patterns, they are also categorized into a set of (three)
transactional structures or processes: (1) classificational (where participants are
related to each other “in terms of a ‘kind of’ relation, a taxonomy”), (2) analytical
(where participants are related to each other “in terms of a part-whole structure” –
Carrier vs. Possessive Attributes) and (3) symbolical (where “processes are about
what a participant means or is Carrier vs. Symbolic Attributes) (ibid., Chapter
3). It should be stated here that unlike visuals of conceptual representation, the
hallmark of visuals of narrative representation is “the presence of a vector:
narrative structures always have one, conceptual structures never do” (Kress &
van Leeuwen 2006:59). “In pictures, these vectors are formed by depicted
elements that form an oblique line, often a quite strong, diagonal line” (ibid.). It is
equally important to state here that “the categories of visual grammar do not have
clear-cut edges, and specific representations can merge two or more structures
for instance, the narrative and the analytical” or the narrative and the symbolical
(ibid. p. 95). And so like language, images can embed more than one structure or
process an embedding process in their visual syntax, resulting in complex
structures where minor processes are embedded in major processes.
Second, the interactional meaning (interpersonal metafunction) of an image
text deals with patterns of interaction or in the words of Kress and van Leeuwen
(2006) “with the things we can do to, or for, each other with visual
communication, and with the relations between the makers and viewers of visual
‘texts’ which this entails” (p.15). In other words, the interactive meaning deals
with two kinds of participants represented participants and interactive
participants that images (and other visual genres) involve, and the relations
between them. Represented participants are “the people, the places and things
depicted in images.” Interactive participants, on the other hand, are the real
“people who communicate with each other through images, the producers and
viewers of images” (p. 114).
Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) propose three ways or interactional
“simultaneous systems” to examine the interactive meanings of images how
relations between represented and interactive participants are visually formed.
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These are (1) the visual system of gaze or contact (demand or offer); (2) the visual
system of size of frame or social distance (intimate/personal, social, or
impersonal), realized respectively in close-up, medium or long shots of
represented participants; and (3) the visual system of point of view or attitude
which refers to the camera angles used in an image the horizontal angle and
involvement, and the vertical angle and power (Chapter 4). And so the visual
“systems of ‘image act’, ‘social distance’ and ‘attitude’” (Kress and van Leeuwen
2006:152) as realized in the “direction of the look, the gaze of represented
participant, the size of frame, and the viewing angle all play important roles in
identifying the relation between the represented participants and the interactive
participants” (Thuy 2017:166).
Third, the compositional meaning (textual metafunction) of an image deals
with the visual features that make a visual text complexes of signs “cohere
both internally with each other and externally with the context in and for which
they were produced” (Kress & van Leeuwen 2006: 43), thus bringing together
representational and interactional meanings. An examination of these features or
resources of visual structuring involves an “examination of those features of
the layout or composition of the spatially integrated text which allow the elements
on the page to be viewed as coherent parts of the one composite text” (Royce
1998:41). Such examination, according to Kress and van Leeuwen (2006), can be
built through three interrelated visual systems of composition: (1) information
value (the intra-visual placement of pictorial elements in the various ‘zones’ of the
image: left and right, top and bottom, centre and margin), (2) salience or visual
weight (perspective or foregrounding vs. backgrounding, relative sizing, contrasts
in colours, differences in sharpness of focus, placement of elements in the visual
field, cultural symbols, etc.); and (3) framing (or its absence), signifying and
stressing “group identity,” or “individuality and differentiation” (ibid. p. 203).
Thus, “these compositional aspects are basically concerned with where the visuals
are placed spatially on the page…the relative size of the visual… and how the
visuals interact with each other” (Royce 1998).
This study employs this now established framework for the analysis of a
number of salient images and posters that are used as metonyms and symbols for
the Nakba or the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
4. Data collection: Memorialisation of the Nakba
To this end, and in light of this model descriptive analytical framework of
three accounts for “reading”/interpreting “visual texts” or visual discourse where
images are viewed and treated as socially-situated, politically-motivated and
visually-constituted, “structured messages, amenable to constituent analysis”
(Kress and van Leeuwen 2006: 24) this study sought to analyze such systems of
visual design encoded in six popular iconic Palestinian visual
representations/images. These are conventional metonyms that have become
symbols of the Nakba. Hence the selection of these images/posters, in particular,
was justified by their symbolic and metonymic nature, on the one hand, and the
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centrality of the themes key/predominant Palestinian national themes they
represent to the Israel/Palestine problem, on the other.
This visual data was taken from the The Palestine Poster Project Archives
website1. The researcher was not interested in the representativeness of those
visual texts, for this is simply unfeasible given the huge corpus of images, but
rather in seeing their iconological significance and the socio-political role they
play as a socially-constructed mode of discourse in memorializing and
reconstructing important national themes such as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine
and amplifying discourse about it. The reason why the researcher collected such
visual “data” from these Archives is the encyclopaedic nature and international
character of the Archives.
Three out of the six images selected are produced by Palestinian artists,
while the other three are by international ones, hence creating a balance of views.
While one image is entirely composed of visual syntax, the other are multimodal.
They have verbal elements in them. Different languages Arabic, English,
French are used in the accompanying verbal texts. This emphasizes, as noted in
section, 2 “the inherent multimodality of all communication” and that monomodal
communication is rare.
5. Data analysis and findings
The study employed Kress and van Leeuwen’s model or framework for
visual analysisbecause it can be effectively used as a tool for breaking down
images into “observable tiny pieces to comprehend their meanings” (Thuy
2017:167). The study sought to analyze and describe the structures of visual
“data” selected to realize the kinds of meanings they communicate and how.
Some of the images selected aremultimodal representations images that
embody other semiotic elements such as verbal signs. Those other elements or
semiotic signs were also analyzed.
5.1 Handala: Icon of homelessness, injustice, and steadfastness
Handala a cartoon (a genre within the visual semiotic mode) by the Palestinian
artist/cartoonist Naji Al-Ali (1937-1987) of a ten-year-old barefooted, raggedly-
dressed homeless Palestinian refugee camp child is an icon of resistance and a
symbol of homelessness and injustice.
As seen in figure 1 below an image produced in 2018 by the French
artist/designer, David Abry, in France Handala has become a national symbol,
metonymically representing the indigenous Palestinian people as “a community of
victims;” immortalizing their bitter sense and experience of Nakba; and
epitomizing their national consciousness, struggle for self-determination; and
rejection of normalization and solutions designed the “American” way.
Born in 1937, i.e., the Palestinian cartoonist’s year of birth, Handalawas
ten years of age when Zionists/Israelisperpetratedthe ethnic cleansing of his
homeland, i.e., 1948. His age froze at that point in time. Hehas always been ten
years of age and will always be ten until he returns to his homeland in which he
Assaiqeli Palestine in Visual Representation
108
and his fathers and forefathers were born generation after another; only then will
he begin to grow up like normal children.
Figure 1. Palestine enVue 4 (Palestine in View)
A conceptual representation encoding a symbolic process, this image is an
icon of the Nakba. The image does not depict action, hence is the symbolism of
the image. The representational meaning of this visual of conceptual structure is
embodied iconographically in Handala, the only human represented participant in
the image. The image embeds a reaction process; of looking at the buildings in
the distance realized by an invisible eyeline vector. Feeling distressed at the
conditions of exile, poverty as a refugee living in a refugee camp, Handala has
decidedto take this posture turn his back as long as his homeland is settled and
marauded by foreigners.
He has adopted this posture as a reaction to the existential crisis and as a
sign of his rejection of solutions designed the “American” way. He is a refugee;
he leads a threadbare existence as is the case of children living in refugee
camps.This inexorable rejectionist attitude, symbolized by Handala’s turning back
(and in many other depictions, in his clasped hands behind his back) makes the
dream of return the focus and the raison d’être of the Palestinian refugee not a
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mere quixotic image that tantalizes one’s imagination. He is steadfast and he is
willing to sacrifice his life and all that he has for the sake of Palestine and his
return to it. He is willing to forsake the world for Palestine. There is no intimacy
here. He is unwilling to talk or negotiate. He is haunted by memories of a wartime
childhood as could be construed from the secondary participant, the unrolling
film reel a circumstance of accompaniment as would be described in the
grammar of visual design. He seems to be locked in a silent nostalgic communion
with his “stolen” homelandwhich though visible from afar, he cannot or is not
allowed to enjoy its warmth and protection.
This is further intersemiotically expressed by the verbal heading Palestine
in View, which makes viewers see Handala as Palestine and see Palestine through
Handala. He rejects to succumb to this bitter reality. He wants dignity which can
only be achieved by returning to his homeland the only salvation for the
existential crises of the Palestinian people. But as the actor is a child who is
obviously poor, we as viewers cannot help but be drawn vicariously to him and
the conditions that have made him adopt this sombre, defying posture.
In the visual frame we also find other represented participants the
inanimate old trunk of a tree on which Handala is perched, the barbed wire, the
bare landscape, and the buildings in the distance. These are highly symbolic. The
trunk, for example, represents through a symbolic process Palestinian rootedness
and primordial organic attachment to the land. Handala, perched this way in front
of his denied homeland, conjures up the poignant image of homelessness. The
barbed wire surrounding a distant Jerusalem a metonym for historic Palestine
emphasizes its status as a dream.
From the point of view of the interactive meaning, the image, given the
complete absence of gaze, is an ‘offer’ picture. It is a visual offer rather than a
demand. The participant is visually offering us information. Such information,
however, invites rather than demands the viewer of the visualto sympathize
with him and probably indirectly dig into his life to find out about the causes
behind this asocial aloof stance. In terms of the other interactive systems, this is
afrontal, low-angle,full shot image, empowering the powerless, and allowing for a
greater view of the represented participant. The full shot allows Handala to be
viewed from head to toe his clothes or absence of clothes, his innocence, his
position, etc. The interactive participants, given the absence of gaze or eye
contact, are made to wonder why he is turning his back. This questioning leads to
the tragedy he and his nation are living the conditions of exile and
homelessness as the result of the ethnic cleaning of Palestine. But despite this
absence of gaze, the image, being frontal though with a back view
engenders involvement with the represented participant. It makes what we see,
willy-nilly, part of our world not someone else’s.
The ambivalent back view triggers by virtue of being frontal deep
attachment. But this is mixed with a desire to distance himself from the world
which he views as unjust; and will remain turning his back so long as he continues
to be denied the Right of Return to his homeland. “But to expose one’s back to
someone,” Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) observe “is also to make oneself
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vulnerable, and so despite this apparent indifference and aloofness this posture
signifies, the fact is that this is an abandoned child that the world has forsaken.
And sothe apparent aloofness caused by the back view is not only being offset by
the frontal shot which creates attachment but also by the conditions of
deracination the represented participant has undergone and the sense of bitter
injustice he is feeling; and with which the interactive participants are drawn
accordingly to experience and feel.
This harsh reality is accentuated in the compositional structures of the
visual text how the representational and interactional elements are arrayed or
woven together in the visual text so as to make a coherent image. This is first
realized first in the position of Handala being foregrounded (what is given or
known to us) vis-à-vis the buildings in the background as the focus of his gaze
(the new). This is validated by the left/right balance of the image, and also by the
(broken) wall in line with the tree, which suggests a kind of before/after or
here/there relation. Being foregrounded is a primary position in terms of
information value. Second in the visual salience of Handala again being
foregrounded and the fact that he is a potent cultural symbol, which makes him
not only conspicuous but also of a high visual weight the first visual element to
be noticed; and third in the monochrome image of Handala, which, given the
colour saturation of the rest of the elements in the visual field, further accentuates
the salience of the represented participant a metonym for the Nakba/the
Palestinian diaspora.
Furthermore, given the amount of light or illumination Handala receives, he
is being, comparatively, in sharper focus. Such focus and centrality in terms of
information valuation (central placement) and visual salience (prominent size,
foregrounding and sharpness of focus) perceptually draws, if not forces, the
viewer into the world or harsh reality of the represented participant the most
important or stressed ‘item of information’ in the whole, “the Big Idea of the
story” (White 1982:127; cited in Royce 1998: 43) Handala/Palestine or the
Palestine Question.
The harsh reality of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the ensuing
homelessness of the Palestinian people are further reflected in the monochrome
image of Handala, being mere black and white, which accentuates, along with the
cold bareness of his feet, the stark harshness of homelessness or statelessness as
opposed to the warmth of the “homeland.” It is a concentration camp just like a
prison camp, no fun, no Ferris Wheels, no fairy lights, no charismas, no Santa
Claus, no parks nothing but tattered clothes, and a heavy heart. The black and
white induce some sort of sobering realism.
There is further compositional structuring in the image, as far as framing
the third key element in composition is concerned. The poster can be viewed as
a vertical triptych: ideal: the words on the top, expressing the promise of
tomorrow; centre: the image mediating the ideal and real; and real: the dates at
the bottom, representing the status quo, the ongoing harsh and bitter reality of
homelessness/statelessness/diaspora/occupation/apartheid 1948 until the present
day.
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A portrait of atrocity, Handala’s ragged clothes, hedgehog-like hair and
barefeetall serve as a reminder of Palestinian dispossession, underscoring the
horrible conditions of refugee camps, and the wrench at being driven out of one’s
homeland. However, this austere image with the thorny hair he uses as a weapon
is meant at the same time to reflect steadfastness and resistance.
Further, Handala’s name is suggestive of bitterness in Arabic. This
bitterness a consequence of injustice is a daily reality lived by millions of
homesick Palestinian refugees cantonized in squalid poor camps; and so
metonymically, Handala represents the experience of millions of downtrodden
refugeesmade to languish in diaspora. Nevertheless, despite this bleak reality and
the absence of justice, Handala is unwilling to normalize with colonizers as
represented by his rejectionist attitude.
5.2 The tent, the tree, the key, and the Stone: Symbols of Nakba,
survivability, resistance and tenacity for return
5.2.1 The tent and the tree
Acrimonious recollections of the depopulation and mass expulsion of the
Palestinian people from their homeland at the hands of the Zionist gangs of the
Hagana, Stern Gangs, and Irgun predecessor of Israel ‘Defence’ Forces to
create a “national home” for the immigrant Zionist Jews (Assaiqeli 2013) are
oftentimes represented in Palestinian literature and imagery in the form of the tent
and the key. A central theme in the Palestinian struggle for national liberation and
self-determination is then return and the Right of Return. There is a plethora of
images representing this major national leitmotif. It is actually the core of the
Palestine Question—the question of “a homeland denied. Figure 2 below
represents this 1948 eventa date etched on the collective memory of the natives
of Palestine.
Figure 2. Fifty Years under the Tent
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A conceptual representation encodinga symbolic process, this image is
iconic when it comes to the Palestine Question and what happened in 1948.
Constructed in 1997 by the Palestinian artist/designer Adnan Al Zubaidy (1951-
2007), the image a “visual gestalt” of the Nakba — first reconstructs the
atrocity of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine the expulsion of “around a million
people” (Pappe 2006) from their homeland or the areas that became the state of
Israel, which is in terms of the representational meaning communicated
symbolically through the tattered tent and stump of an olive tree. The image let
the ethnic cleansing of Palestine continue to reverberate through ongoing
Palestinian generations. Second, the image represents the rootedness of Palestine
in the Palestinian consciousness and the relentless perennial resolve to return as
communicated by the young shoots victoriously forcing their way through the old
tent. Third, the image represents a long Palestinian cultural connection with the
land of Palestine as communicated by the embrace between the keffiyah a
symbol of Palestinian cultural costume and the deep-rooted stump. Fourth, it
also pictures the perpetrators responsible for the ethnic cleansing. In terms of the
representational meaning, this is communicated through the flags of each of
France, Germany, the UK, and the USA found in the form of a mat in front of the
entrance to the tent. Fifth, the image marks two milestone dates significant inthe
evolution and history of political Zionism or the settler Zionist enterprise in
Palestine: 1897 as the year ofHerzl’s proposed “scheme” of a Jewish state in
Palestinewhich also significantly points to the recent history or origination of
Zionism as opposed to the Zionist claims of long historical connection, and
1947 as the year of the UN Partition Plan or UN Resolution 181. This is
communicated through the dates engraved on the stakes in front ofthe tent’s
entrance on the right and the left. A third date engraved in the bark at the top of
the stump 1997 marks 50 years, i.e., 1947-1997 of dispossession and
suffering.
In terms of the representational element, there are no animate participants as
such in the image. All represented participants are non-human. Human agency,
however, is metonymically and metaphorically represented using a symbolic
process through inanimate represented participants such as the stump of a tree,
the tent, flags, etc. Thus, the deep-rooted stump of the olive tree is symbolic of the
Palestinian people and their deep-rooted presence and ongoing perennial
attachment to the land of Palestine as opposed to the recent history of Zionism as
noted. Since there is no physical activity, then in terms of processes, these
meanings are then communicated existentially/symbolically, which is also
applicable to figure 3 below.
Significantly, the image draws the viewer’s attention to two things: the
origin of the Palestine Question, and the steadfastness in the face of such national
distress as revealed in the still alive stump, and the new sprouts and branches
sprouting out of the tent, making the dream of return an inevitable destiny as one
generation passes on the keys to the next until the Right of Return is fulfilled and
return to the homeland is achieved. Interestingly, this theme is also communicated
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and reinforced visually in the year 50 being carved in the doormat in front of the
tent. The orthographic text (Royce 1998:42) Fifty Years Under The Tent
crafted in Arabic and English accentuates “intersemiotically” the suffering
engendered by the Nakba. Here the visual message elements are being translated
or ratified verbally; they are being reinforced intersemiotically through a
collocational sense relationby the verbal text, resulting in what Royce (1988)
calls “an intersemiotically consistent and coherent message.
In terms of the interactional meaning, the image is a full shotof a tent a
token of the Nakba. Other represented participants are also the stump of a tree and
four flags. This full view makes the scene quite visible and memorable. In terms
of the horizontal angle, this is a frontal shot designed to maximize involvement of
the viewer. As for the vertical camera angle, this is an eye-level angle, which
coupled with the frontal point of view encoded in the horizontal angle, is meant to
involve rather than detach the interactive participants (viewers and the image
producer). It is meant to set the stage for a discourse on the origins of the
Palestine Question. Framed as such, the shot imparts the tent with power that
withstands the ravages of time and passage of years a token of Palestinian
creative suffering and survivability; and a memorial against the forgetfulness of
history and distortion of facts.
In terms of the compositional meaning, the bright and vivid colours, the
central position of the stump of tree, representing the geographic aspect of
Palestine, and the nature of the symbols represented the stump of a tree, the
tent being potent cultural symbolsall intensify the themes communicated in the
image.
5.2.2 The key
As shown in figure 3 below, the key has emerged since the first days of the
Palestinian mass expulsion and dispossession. It has emerged as a main “witness”
that those refugees had their homes in idyllic pre-1948 Palestine. Though most of
their actual homes have been erased through a Zionist process of “renaming”and
“green-washing” of Palestine’s originallandscape, they havenever left their keys,
which have become a symbol of their expulsion and a goal of their return and the
Right of Return, no matter how long it may take, for they the keys being a
symbol and a witness are being transmitted by the fathers or ancestors to the
descendants, generation after another, defying the passage of time and Israel’s
systematic pursuit of Palestinian memoricide.
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Figure 3. We Have an Appointment with Return
Produced by the Palestinian artist/designer Waleed Idrees in 2012 and
published in Palestine, this image commemorates as seen in the accompanying
or intersemiotic verbal text in Arabic the 64th Anniversary of the ethnic
cleansing of Palestine the Nakba.
A conceptual representation encoding a symbolic process, this conceptual
visual is another conventional metonym that has become a symbol of the Nakba.
In terms of the representational meaning, no human represented participants are
there in the visual frame. However, just as in figure 2 above, human agency is
visually realized in the key, the key here being a symbol of the Palestinian people
the de jure or rightful owners of the land and their plight. It is only a key, one
key, but it metonymically symbolizes the plight of the Palestinian people the
Palestinian refugees, their man-made Nakba, and their tenacity for return despite
the passage of years. The key has been and will ever be inherited as an heirloom
and passed on down from generation to another, defying oblivion, serving as a
constant reminder of the home that once was “ours” and to which “we” shall
return as translated or ratified intersemiotically through a collocational
relationship by the Arabic orthographic texts: We Have an Appointment with
Return, and To Palestine we shall return. This multimodal message is an
“intersemiotic presentation of certainty that makes the end of the colonialist
Apartheid regime in Palestine and return of the Palestinian people to their denied
homeland a promise divine.
In terms of the interactive resources of the visual, this is a frontal
(horizontal angle) eye-level (vertical angle) full shot image meant for complete
visibility, symbolically linking the key with the homeland. The long shot of the
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key is being foregrounded against the map of historic Palestine, thus bringing
alive a history of 64 years as verbally represented 64 years since the ethnic
cleansing of Palestine of diaspora, with the goal of returning being a matter of
time. The frontal angle draws the interactive participants to the world of the
represented participants, almost letting them share the same world. The image is
not meant as an object for dispassionate reflection or contemplation. Rather the
message communicated is: ‘what I see is part of my world; it concerns me.’
In terms of the compositional elements, the map of Palestine and the Key
are placed in the centre of the image, a position that accords to such represented
participants a high information value. Such valuation is being further enhanced by
the big size of the foregrounded saturated key which is made to encompass the
whole of historic Palestine and not just part of it. Further, framing the key this
way alongside historic Palestine signals a highly significant message that
Palestine the whole of Mandate Palestine and not just the territories occupied
in 1967 for example is an indivisible whole, not subject to partitions or two-
state ‘solutions.
The same national themes or visual symbols symbolizing the Nakba,
rootedness and organic perennial connection with the land, survivability, and
tenacity for return can also be seen in figure 4.
Figure 4. The Nakba at 70
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Gravid with connotative meanings carried out largely through symbolic
attributes (e.g. the key as being passed down from a generation to another, the V
sign, the keffiyah, the deeply-rooted tree-shape of the represented participants,
etc.) the image a “visual gestalt” of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine —
emphasizes the age-long rootedness of the Palestinian family roots in the land of
Palestine. The old grandmother, and her son and grandson all spring from the
same soil to which they are perennially and genetically attached and determined to
return despite the via dolorosa that the Palestinian people have to take in their
course for return as represented in the woman’s wrinkled face and distressed
closed eyes.
Produced by the Palestinian artist/designer Wael Rabei in 2018 and
published in Palestine, this composite text commemorates as seen in the
accompanying intersemiotic verbal caption in Arabic and English the 70th
Anniversary of the Nakba.
A conceptual representation encoding a symbolic process, this image is
another conventional visual representation of the Nakba.The representational
meaning here is made visually through an extended Palestinian family represented
as the trunk of a tree, firmly rooted in the land like an olive tree, with their
offspring sprouting and rising like a phoenix risen from the ashes of Palestine
with the V sign, holding the key the symbol of and “witness” tothe Nakba and
the Right of Return.
Represented or framed this way, the image underscores the organic
inseparability or social cohesion of the Palestinian society across generations. The
imagethus also represents survivability and the tenacity for return represented in
the key being passed down from the Nakba generation to their descendants. The
visually salient key a circumstance of means here becomes the hope, the
straw at which the drowning clutches, the elixir of life, and so theraison d’être of
the Palestinian; it is the witness to the Nakba it is the key to his/her“Paradise
Lost.”
The cultural national costumes worn by the old woman and the keffiyah by
her son accentuate the Palestinian depth and primordial attachment to the land.
These visual message elements are being also reinforced multimodally in the
intersemiotic verbal texts: From generation to another, no alternative to return
and Jerusalem, andThe Nakba at 70.
This brings the extreme long, low-angle shot of Jerusalem a secondary
participant analyzed as a circumstance of accompaniment into the picture. The
extreme long shot indicates the distance that has to be travelled to reach Jerusalem
and so this is symbolic of the uphill struggle needed to retrieve or free Jerusalem.
But this worm’s eye view of Jerusalem fills the viewers with a sense of awe as it
accentuates the elevated position of Jerusalem in the hearts of the Palestinians on
the one hand, and the mystical or spiritual power it has over them, on the other
hand. This elevated grand position, realized interactionally by a low-angle shot as
noted, grants Jerusalem the grandeur and splendour it deserves, thus making it a
focal point for the aspirations of the Palestinians.
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The image is profound and highly symbolic. In terms of the interactional
meaning, the image is a medium close-up as far as the social distance or subject
size is concerned. Framed this way, it lets the represented participants’ emotions
dominate the scene, engendering a strong attachment and a kind of strong
personal engagement and involvement with interactive participants. The
interactive participants are drawn into the world of the represented participants.
This narrows the social distance between the represented participants and the
viewer(s). In terms of the camera angle, this is a frontal low shot image, lending
the represented participants despite their vulnerability being a child, an old
woman and an unarmed young manpower and resolve.
In terms of textuality, the representation of details (as can be seen for
example in the wrinkles of the old Nakba survivor’s anguished visage the
woman), the saturated, differentiated colours,and the size of the image all accord
the image with realism, thus attracting the interactive participant(s) to deeply
identify with the themes of this trans-generational atrocity image.Placing
Jerusalem with its holy sites at the highly valued top section of the image
bespeaks of the kind of significance this holy city means to the Palestinian people
in their struggle against exogenous domination.
In terms of visual salience, the fact that the child is made to occupy the top
section of the main element of the image a highly valued section in terms of
information value draws attention to the survivability of the Palestine Question
and the tenacity of the Palestinian refugees to return to their denied homeland. If
the Nakba generation cannot due to the current power imbalance make it,
then the younger generations will make it as long as the key is being held on
tenaciously and passed down from one generation to another as revealed and
enhanced by this image.
As far as framing is concerned, we get the impression that this visual
composition has two sections or spaces weakly separated by the horizon and
emphasized by the darker lower space and lighter upper space, where the Nakba
survivors and their immediate descendants the old woebegone woman and her
adult son occupy the lower section, synonymous with the harsh realities of
diaspora and exile, and the deep rootedness of the Palestinians to their homeland;
and the upper section of the image, occupied by a shot of Jerusalem a metonym
for Palestine positioned further up in the distant horizon, along with the third
offspring or generation of the Nakba the grandson a shoot from the womb of
suffering,forming a bridge between Nakba survivors and the generations to come.
He is penetrating with the key the lifebuoy/the elixir of life the present
clouds of darkness into the promise of tomorrow the inevitable return to free
Palestine. The tenuous boundary there is no sharp demarcation between the
dismal reality atpresent and the promising ideal future in this polarized
composition expresses the nearness of this tomorrow.2
5.3 Jerusalem: Symbol of spiritual and historical connection to Palestine
The spiritual and historical connection with Palestine is epitomized in Jerusalem
seat of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Church of the Holy Sepulcher; and so the focal point
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of not only Palestinian Muslims and Christians alike, but also the whole of the
Muslim Umma as well as Christendom worldwide.
The position and significance of Jerusalemforthe worldis clearly and
strikingly demonstrated in figure 5 below a conceptual representation
encodinga symbolic process. A moving picture, the image represents the centrality
of Jerusalem for the Palestinians and free citizens, and consequently the kind of
responsibility and onus they have towards its liberation from present colonizers
and protection and safety against new invaders.
A cursory look at this image can reveal the significance of Jerusalem to the
world at large. The image visually reflects this in such a way that no words can
probably be as or more expressive the epitome of the old adage: “A picture is
worth a thousand words.”
Figure 5. Oh Jerusalem, All the World is Coming to You!
Constructed in 2012 by an international artist/agencywhose identity
according to the Archives website is still unknown, and published by Global
March to Jerusalem (GMJ), this image makes a loud statement about the position
of Jerusalem to the whole world as can be seen in the visual elements of the image
(see analysis below) and the accompanying verbal text in English.
From the point of view of representation, the image depicts a patriot or a
freedom fighter with his orher face and shoulders except for the eyes wrapped
completely in the Palestinian cultural headgear, the keffiyah, with his/her eyes
being depicted as Jerusalem.
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The structure/pattern of the image is conceptual, symbolic rather than
narrative. The meaning is communicated conceptually through a symbolic
process. This works in two ways. On the one hand, holy places of worship such as
Al-Aqsa Mosque the third holiest shrine in the entire Muslim World after those
in Mecca and Medina and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre scared to
Christians make Jerusalem a city that transcends a specific ethnicity, religion
or nationality. They afford or accord Jerusalem the position of an international
cosmopolitan metropolis. This global character of Jerusalem is further accentuated
in the panoramic view of the world flags, making Jerusalem the cynosure of all
eyes rather than those of Jews alone.
On the other hand, the actor’seyes are further being foregrounded by
depicting Jerusalem through them. Representing Jerusalem as the eyes and
through the eyes of the represented participant is highly symbolic and highly
significant.
Placing something or someone in one’s eyes signifiesthe epitome of
affection and endearment, protection and love. The closest verbalidiomatic
expression here would be “the apple of one’s eyes.” Making someone the apple of
your eyes and keeping an eye on someone or something signifies solicitude and
concern, custody and responsibility, attachment and attentiveness, support and
importance. Thinking of someone or something this way would mean that nothing
is dearer or closer. This clearly communicates the level of attachment, the kind of
love, and the degree to which a Palestinian, in particular, and a free citizen, in
general, is willing to go and sacrifice in defense of Jerusalem the centre of their
spiritual attachment.
The keffiyah has as part of its colourful embroidery the flags of the nations
of the world. This makes Jerusalem the cynosure of all eyes and so communicates
the centrality of Jerusalem to the entire world.
From the point of view of interactive meaning, this is a tight close shot
taken from an oblique angle (horizontal angle) at eye level (vertical angle), thus
positioning the represented participant closer to the viewer with no power
differences. The oblique angle makes the viewers to view the content of the image
in a relatively detached way in an objective manner. The represented
participant’s eyes are metaphorically represented as Jerusalem. This underscores
the symbolic significance of the object of the gaze. The represented participant is
not only eying Jerusalem but also Jerusalem is his/her eyes. Such strong
attachmentis also communicated by the frontal rather than oblique point of view
of Jerusalem, with its cosmopolitan holy sites. We are therefore automatically
drawn to view what the represented participant is viewing; to focus on what
he/she is focusing; to share them their emotions and concerns. We are centrally
involved with what the represented participant is viewing. This has an effect
ofunifying us towards one destination Jerusalem!
It is important to note while discussing this parameter of the interactive
meaning the gaze that this is an “offer” picture where the represented
participant is seen as an item of information or an object of contemplationand
dispassionate reflection for us the viewers/interactive participants to contemplate,
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study and appreciate. This type of gaze applies to all the images that have human
represented participants in this study, i.e. figures 1, 4, 5, and 6. It should also be
observed here that this type of look or indirect form of address the offer is
meant, through the sense of disengagement rather than connection it imparts
between the represented participants and the viewers, to maximize the objectivity
of the images where such images are like diagrams, maps and charts to be
construed as “offering” information or communicating knowledge in an
impersonal, objective, dispassionate manner. Emotive personal involvement of the
viewer is signaled, however, by other semiotic systems or subsystems of visual
configuration such as social distance and camera angle.
In terms of social distance or shot type, and camera angle, this, as noted, is a
tight close shot taken at eye-level angle, therefore, eradicating all barriers and
distances and creating a close almost personal rapport between the actor the
main represented participant and what he/she is eying, on the one hand; and
drawing in the process the interactive participants you and me and the producer
into this long nostalgic silent dialogue, on the other, emphasizing personal
connection and attachment. The effect of this is a sense of identification with the
represented participant, and so the unity of purpose and destiny. As noted above,
the viewers are drawn to view what the represented participant is viewing; to
focus on what he/she is focusing; to share him/her his or her emotions and
concerns, ambitions and aspirations. This has an effect of marshaling them and
marching them towards one goal Jerusalem!
A number of elements bring the compositional meaning into place. A close-
up, the head almost takes up the whole frame, with the eyes/Jerusalem being
foregrounded. This framing emphasizes the message and draws viewers towards
the represented participant, creating intimacy. Further, the colours accentuate this
message. Being largely black, and grey dark colours with the exception of the
top part of the head/keffiyah representing unity in diversity, the colours are meant
to call a spade a spade, to act as a reality check, as a wake-up call: Hey! This is
not a dream. This is reality, bleak stark reality. Jerusalem is fettered and we have
to do something about it!
The image memorializes the religious and historical significance of
Jerusalem to the world, and in so doing counteract the ongoing Israeli attempts at
Judaizing it.
5.4 The stone: Symbol of Intifada and resistance
Aconceptual representation encoding a symbolic process where the stone-thrower
in figure 6 the only represented participant symbolizes Palestinian
resistance to Israeli occupation. It can also be said that the image depicts a
narrative representation encoding a non-transactional action process. It is non-
transactional because the goal is not seen. But here the missing participant is
understood to be the Israeli occupation.
This composite visual was produced in 2012 by an anonymous international
artist/designer. A symbol of the “stone revolution,” of a “home denied,” and
“Palestine indestructible” — as intersemiotically stated in these three hashtags
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this frontal eye-level medium shot visual of the stone-thrower is designed to stress
the theme of resistance as symbolized by stone-throwing as being equal to one’s
existence image subtitle.
From the point of view of composition, the represented participant the
Palestine flag-clad stone-thrower is perceived as important given his central
placement in the visual. Such importance is further accentuated through
foregrounding. This draws attention to the importance of resistance in the process
of liberation from colonial powers. The presence of framing in this composite
visual which virtually divides the image into three parts stresses the theme of this
multimodal text resistance!
A celebration of resistance and the stone revolution, the image motivates
not only Palestinians but also free citizens everywhere to “stand up” and “speak
out” — as the textual element in the image indicates against the ongoing Israeli
campaign of ethnic cleansing, as the top heading or verbal element at top of the
image states: SUPPORT PALESTINE, OPPOSE MASSACRE AT GAZA,
GAZA NEED OUR VOICE NOW. Through equating resistance with existence,
the image reconstructs the Israeli racial elimination of the indigenous population,
which has never ceased. It began in 1948 and has continued ever since that first
genocidal crime.
Figure 6. Stand up, Speak out!
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6. Conclusions
An important semiotic resource that involves social construction of reality along
certain lines and hence identity, ideology and power, visual semiosis such as
images can become emotive symbols for national themesand their memorial
function, and so can act as a rallying cry or a mobilizing tool for resistance and
renaissance. In the Palestinian context that of ethnic cleansing, dispossession
and forced displacement the study has shown that such semiotic monumentsact
as potent symbols of the national struggle of the Palestinian people for justice,
liberation and self-determination. Thethemes represented in the analyzed visual
representations in this social semiotic studycollectively shape the Palestinian
consciousness and identity as they serve to reconstruct the ethnic cleansing of
Palestine. They are a monument to the man-made Nakba or Israel’s ethnic
cleansing of Palestine.
These Nakba icons have pictured the atrocities of 1948 and so served in
immortalizing and reconstructingthe Palestine Question as the plight of a people
who have been driven out of their homeland. They have servedto keep the
memory or trauma of ethnic cleansing afresh in the Palestinian collective
consciousness. They have helped counteract Israeli attempts to abolish Palestine
geographically, culturally, socially and politically from the Palestinian memory.
These metonymic symbols have helped counteract such Israeli attempts at
distortion, mystification and obliteration of the origins of the status quo. They
have helped preserve the Palestinian national identity and the resurgence of
Palestinian nationalism or national consciousness, making it difficult for Israelis
to have the Palestinians’ national, political and cultural identity and primordial,
organic attachment to the land erased. They have defied the passage of time or
that the Palestinians “may perhaps forget in one or two generations’ time,” as
observed by Ben Gurion one of the architects of Israel and the first Prime
Minister and Minister of War.They have helped recreate historic Palestine through
memory, thus making the prospect of return a living dream, and a political
statement against the constant Israeli attempts at the Palestinian memoricide of the
Nakba and erasure of historic Palestine from the global public memory.
In a word, the study showed how certain visually represented themes and
motifs such as the Nakba, the Right of Return, and resistance serve as a constant
reminder of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and so play a central and significant
sociopolitical role in shaping the Palestinian collective consciousness whether in
diaspora or under occupation about a common past, present and future. It has
shown how these visual representations metonyms that have become symbols
work to visually encode, solidify and perpetuate the Palestinian experience of
deracination at the hands of Zionists (later Israelis) and the consequent and
ongoing suffering, thus creating ongoing freshness to this protracted national
trauma and social injustice. They lend the Palestine Question depth and solidity
that defy oblivion and the settler colonialist systematic attempts at
misrepresentation and memoricide. This serves to let this “Paradise Lost” and the
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increasing nostalgia for it remain engraved in the hearts, minds and memories of
the Palestinian collective.
But most importantly, the study showed that through reconstructing the
man-made “Nakba”— as an act of resistance against Israel’s systematic attempts
at memoricide and against the forgetfulness of historyvisual resistance or visual
activismcan help make Palestine-as-vision (as it exists today) Palestine-as-reality
(tomorrow) the afterlife effect of atrocity images.
Aladdin Asseiqali, PhD
Sultan Idris Education University (UPSI), Malaysia.
ORCID Number: 0000-0002-7687-5079
Email: assaiqeli@gmail.com
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Endnote
1https://www.palestineposterproject.org/
2 There is actually a significant Quranic study by Bassam Jarrar in the early 1990s
that predicts that the year 2022 could be the year of the liberation of Palestine and
the end of Zionism/Israel.
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