The Paris Review

Imagining a Free Palestine

An ekphrasis on a fragmented nationalism.

Installation view, Mona Hatoum, Hot Spot, 2006, stainless steel and neon glass tube. Photo: KhaoulaSharjah [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons.

Somewhere in Tel Aviv, Israeli citizens are walking through an art exhibition called “Stolen Arab Art.” The title is not a metaphor—the show features four unattributed video art installations created by Arab artists, without the consent of those Arab artists. Here, the word Arab is a placeholder for Palestinian, but I suppose that goes without saying. In every interview, the curator (an Israeli who is not Palestinian) defends the installation as a comment against the cultural boycott of the Zionist state, claiming the exhibition is a “performative action,” hence all visitors are performers, and everyone—curators, attendees, and artists—is implicated in the theft.

In a way, the curator is correct. At the center of all settler colonial projects is theft. All interactions with the settler colonial project, be they cultural or economic, normalize the existence of the aforementioned settler colonial project, which, again, is contingent upon theft by construction. The premise of the installation is a contradiction, much like the Zionist state: the curator, intending to criticize boycotts of the Zionist state, perpetuates the precise colonial theft being criticized.

“Stolen Arab Art” is not an isolated phenomenon; earlier this year, an Israeli publisher released a translated collection of essays by Arab women without their consent to translate, print, or distribute the text. The publisher, Resling Books, titled the collection , which translates to “freedom” in Arabic. The contradictory metaphor is self-evident, and the trend is unsurprising in a historical sense. Within the walls of an exhibition and the pages of a book, Israelis dare to imagine works of Palestinian imagination as their own. Isn’t that how

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review6 min read
Staff Picks: Monsters, Monkeys, and Maladies
Patti Smith. Photo: © Jesse Dittmar. In her latest memoir, Year of the Monkey, Patti Smith writes of Sandy Pearlman: “We stood on either side of him, promising to mentally hold onto him, keep an open channel, ready to intercept and accept any signal.
The Paris Review10 min read
How To Write A Poem About Noguchi
The Noguchi Museum (Image © NYCGO) When I lived in New York many years ago, I used to go to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. It was his studio, and now is a series of rooms full of sculptures and drawings, short films, the akari lanterns for w
The Paris Review4 min read
A Polyphonic Novel of Midcentury San Francisco
Protesters link arms in front of the International Hotel in San Francisco in an attempt to prevent the police from evicting elderly tenants on August 4, 1977. Photo: Nancy Wong. Via Wikimedia Commons. Imagine that you’re a sullen, sheltered kid from