The Injured Body: Palestine, Mizrahi Jews, and the Imperial Politics of Color


A convo about documentary film, colonialism, racism, and the body at Hofstra University on Nov 9th, 4:30-5:45 pm. It’s a free event but you need to register. More info below.

Join us for a conversation between Shirly Bahar and Mara Ahmed about their recent scholarly and creative work related to oppression and the body. Bahar’s recent book, “Documentary Cinema in Israel-Palestine: Performance, the Body, the Home,” and Ahmed’s upcoming film, “The Injured Body,” both explore how colonialism, marginalization, and daily mental and emotional stresses from racism and othering impact the body. The conversation will spotlight documentary language that makes embodied oppression visible in comparative and global perspectives (in the context of settler colonialism and imperialism), touching on the pain of Palestinians, Mizrahi Jews and people of color, especially women, in the United States. The idea is to shift conventional paradigms of war, conflict and segregated geographies by focusing on (and politicizing) lived experiences of pain and understanding their interrelatedness. The evening will also feature film excerpts.

This ‘Issues in Judaism’ lecture is presented by Hofstra Cultural Center and the Dept of Religion and Jewish Studies, in collab with the depts of History, Global Studies & Geography, Comparative Literature, Languages, & Linguistics, and the Women’s Studies and European Studies Programs.

Thank you to the wonderful Santiago Slabodsky for putting this event together.

Venue: Leo Guthart Cultural CenterTheater, Joan and Donald Axinn Library, First Floor, South Campus. To register go here or call 516.463.5669.

My questions for Shirly:

1) Being a filmmaker, I am fascinated by how you use documentary film, as a lens to unpack so much.

You say that although oppression and racialization have impacted Palestinians and Mizrahim differently, the documentaries you discuss in the book share a political commitment and performative affinities.

They defy the removal of the pain of Israel’s marginalized people from public visibility.

You discuss how documentary performances of pain by Palestinians and Mizrahim, when seen together (side by side), invite us to contest the segregation of pain, and consider reconnection.

I am particularly interested in the word ‘performance’ as it applies to the documentary form, which is supposed to be objective, almost an outgrowth of journalism. Could you elaborate on that?

2) There is one sentence in your book which hit me hard. It is the commonly-held notion that ‘the trauma of witnessing destruction directly harms the usage of language.’

To me this means that the credibility of language (and therefore people’s testimony) is damaged by violence.

Meaning that those who are occupied (on whose minds and bodies violence is constantly enacted) are never seen as credible witnesses of their own pain, of their own lived experiences, based on dominant codes of credibility.

It’s like the gaslighting I was talking about in the context of microaggressions. You take issue with this notion. Could you tell us more?

3) Since we are talking about language and violence, I also wanted to bring up the constant threat of violence. You talk about Palestinian children experiencing ‘withheld violence,’ and lingering on the threshold of death long before they die.

Your words reminded me of Fanon of course, and the muscular contraction of the colonized body, the constant expectation of an assault.

Could you explain what this implies in the Palestine/Israel context?

4) I would like to end with something you say in the book, that ‘it takes perpetual learning and training to try and relate to the pain of others in a politically informed and committed manner.’

You also say: ‘More often than not, those who care for the pain of others are found in relative vulnerability themselves—political, physical, mental—thus chancing their becoming further undone.’

Meaning that many times, those who feel the pain of others most deeply are themselves living precarious, at-risk lives.

I think of the BLM movement and its principled support for justice in Palestine.

I would love for you to expand on this important point.


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