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Bar Ilan, Ariella Azoulay, The Black Box of the Occupation Revisited: Photography, Responsibility, and the Israeli Occupation

Ariella Azoulay, academic director of the Camera Obscura School of Art  and teaches visual culture and critical theory at Bar-Ilan University



The Black Box of the Occupation Revisited: Photography, Responsibility, and the Israeli Occupation


By Faulkner, Simon

This article considers two exhibitions organized by Israeli writer Ariella Azoulay1, "Everything Could Be seen," held at the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery in 2004 and "Act of State: 1967-2007 [An historical exhibition]," held at the Minshar Art Gallery in Tel Aviv in June 2007. Both exhibitions raised questions about the relationship between photography, spectatorship, and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The latter exhibition also explored the value of photography as a means of
understanding the historical processes and structures of the occupation. Azoulay's curatorial projects provide new understandings of how
photography can contribute to the development of a broader opposition to the occupation within Israeli society. Central to such concerns is the visibility of the occupation for Israelis. Nicholas Mirzoeff recently called for the establishment of general "visual rights" for people in the context of globalization, primary among which are "the right to look at the obfuscated and concealed operations of globalization" and "the right to be seen by the common as a counter to the possibility of being
disappeared by governments."2 These visual rights can be usefully adapted to the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians in the occupied territories. In this context, most Israelis cannot or do not want to see the plight of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, while the Palestinians have consistently struggled to bring their condition into the Israeli (and international) field of vision. The following will explore the ways that Azoulay has used photography in attempts to make the occupation visible. RESPONSIBILITY AND VISIBILITY

In 1994, Azoulay wrote an article entided "The Black Box of the Occupation (Who will acclaim the heroisms of Israel?)" in which she described the press photographs upon which the Israeli artist David Reeb based certain paintings produced during the 1980s, as "'eyeprints' of Israel as an occupying society." She continued: "David Reeb's paintings interpreted these eye-prints as though they were remnants of inscriptions from the 'black box' of the Occupation."3 Here Azoulay uses the informal name for an aircraft flight recorder to suggest that photographs of the occupation can be collectively treated as a means of understanding its structures and its evidence on the basis of which political actions can be taken. As Azoulay observes in a later text, locating the images in the "black box" is the first step in enabling the occupation to "appear in full view on the occupier's side."4 But for these images to contribute to the process of making the occupation visible, they must be viewed in ways distinct from their standard presentation in the print media. As part of this reframing process, these images need to be relocated within what the Israeli media critic Daniel Dor calls the "discourse of responsibility": a discourse that "understands that Israel, and Israelis, have to assume responsibility for the solution of the conflict, because at present, in reality, the Palestinians are under Israeli occupation and not the other way around."5 Within this discourse the mechanisms of the occupation, already familiar to Israelis through media imagery, would no longer be viewed as acceptable actions on the part of the Israeli state. To this end, Azoulay organized the exhibition "Everything Could Be seen" in 2004 as a means of providing Israelis with the opportunity for a "fresh gaze at what apparendy has already been seen" in the media, with the objective of persuading viewers that the situation of the Palestinians is a
manufactured "state of emergency" toward which they should take
responsibility.6 Azoulay thus brought together a range of visual
representations, some of which were similar to those in the mainstream press while other pieces made reference to conventional media images of the occupation. For example, Reeb's 2002 series of paintings, "Garbage Dump" were worked from a Miki Kratsman photograph of Palestinian boys lifting their shirts in response to being surprised by Israeli Border Police at Um el-Fahem in 2000. The paintings transform aspects of the photographic image into flattened areas of color in line with formal considerations particular to the history of modernist painting, perhaps allowing for the reconsideration of how press images frame the occupation. Similarly, Sharif Waked's 2003 film Chic Point re-presents the checkpoint scenario as a fashion show involving models dressed in clothing designed to reveal the parts of the male anatomy deemed suspect by the Israeli military gaze. By adopting a satirical approach, Waked creates a new frame for viewing the photographs of Palestinian men in humiliating states of undress at checkpoints that he includes at the end of his film.

There is no guarantee that this kind of artistic reworking of media images will have the desired effect. Relocating press images within the space of art is just as likely to mute their political meanings, as it is to radicalize them. Yet Azoulay's project is also concerned with using any possible cultural space from which to complicate the ways that most Israelis see the occupation. Despite its practical limitations, Azoulay holds that the "[r]enewed contemplation of what has already been seen," enabled by the works collected in her exhibition, "reveals ways of fighting which are partially formulated by the photographed themselves."8 This means that efforts to make visible the horrifying content of already existing images of the occupation, on the Israeli side, form a counterpart to the Palestinian struggles pictured within them. Thus she proceeds from the assumption that the fight for a just solution to the occupation "is a common civilian struggle against a ruling power that abandons some of those under its rule."9 Making the occupation visible is therefore a combined effort between Palestinians and Israelis, but it requires a "special intention" on the part of Israelis, which is "manifested by the responsibility of an addressee towards what is seen."'0 Without this intention, the "horrific meaning" of the occupation would not "succeed in becoming visible."" This suggests the need not only for ongoing work to retrieve and reframe the visual record of the occupation contained within Azoulay's "black box," but also continuous critical work to redefine Israeli spectatorship.


In the summer of 2005, the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman took part in a discussion with Palestinian planners about how to reuse the setdements in Gaza that were to be abandoned by the Israelis in August that year. One suggestion was that buildings in the Netzarim setdement would house an archive of "documents, testimonies, films and photographs" related to the occupation.12 This idea emphasizes the political importance placed upon an archival record of the occupation by the Palestinians, while the inclusion of photographs in this proposed archive emphasizes the significance of photography as a documentary record. The fact that this archival project was not fulfilled because of the destruction of the Gaza setdements also underlines the significance of Azoulay's recent efforts to transform the inchoate contents of the "black box" into a visible archive. This archive took the form of the exhibition, "Act of State," for which she collected six hundred photographs taken by some seventy- seven photographers between 1967 and 2007. Azoulay's aim was to use photography to show "the daily lives of Palestinians subjected to the rule of the state of Israel" in "an attempt to narrate history through the pictures themselves."13 But her concern was also to interrogate the relationship between the "acts of state" that have constituted Israeli rule in the occupied territories and the visual framing of these actions. As she observes, "the term 'Act of State' represents a legal doctrine granting impunity to people sent by their state to commit actions that would otherwise be defined as
crimes."14 This impunity is not just a matter of the representatives of the Israeli state being beyond the law, but also the public discourse that legitimizes the repression of the Palestinians as a "security" necessity. If the occupation has failed to become fully visible, despite all its visualization, then this is because the visual record of the occupation in the "black box" is not yet viewed as evidence of criminality.

To make these acts visible as crimes, Azoulay organized the photographs into a chronology, while also arranging some photographs thematically so that she could explore specific aspects of the history of the occupation. The chronology is arranged horizontally along the gallery walls (with a painted time-line beneath the photographs). The themes are arranged vertically, meaning that a photograph from 1969, for example, can be brought into a relationship with photographs from later periods that are presented above it. Aldiough Azoulay did not want the exhibition to look like an ordinary art exhibition,15 this arrangement resembles certain archival displays by contemporary artists and particular examples of photo-Conceptualism from the late 1960s and early 1970s.'6 Yet the intention and overall experience of "Act of State" is far removed from the idiosyncrasies of artistic archiving. In contrast to such artistic practices, Azoulay's archive is resolutely systematic and purposeful in its representation of the history of the occupation. Azoulay also wrote accompanying texts in Hebrew that explain the conditions under which pictures were taken and interpret them in relation to the practices and power relations of the occupation." The mass of photographs presented in "Act of State," combined with these texts, allows the viewer to gain a sense of the enormity of the occupation. As one moves around the
exhibition, injustice after injustice is revealed as a photographic record of the occupation is elaborated over four decades. What the exhibition impresses upon the viewer is the omnipresence, not only of oppression, but also of resistance. So many aspects of the occupation recorded in these photographs are military reactions to the Palestinian refusal to accept Israeli rule: photographs of Israeli army patrols and arrests; pictures of checkpoints and the Separation Barrier; images of the Israeli army training area in the Negev Desert called Chicago, where solthers train to combat the Palestinian military struggle in a mock refugee camp; Roi Kuper's art photographs of the Ansar detention center (first shown in the Herzliya Museum of Art in 2006) that was opened to imprison Palestinians during the first Intifada, subsequendy mothballed, and then reopened again in 2003 during the second Intifada. In the context of the exhibition, such images shift from being framed by the dominant Israeli discourse of "security" to an "occupation" frame that explains them in relation to the subjection of the Palestinians in the occupied territories to a regime that denies them citizenship and self-determination.


"Act of State" also addresses the ways in which visibility mattered for those suffering under the occupation. It is in this sense that the exhibition is about the political func'tions of photography, rather than just an attempt to produce a history of the occupation told through photographs. One of the vertical themes of the exhibition, entailing four images and spanning the period 1969 to 2001, deals with the subject of the Palestinian gaze under occupation. In these pictures Palestinians are, for example, shown looking at an Israeli settlment and at a fireworks display for Israeli Independence Day from a position of enclosure in Bethlehem imposed by the Israeli army. The most striking of the four pictures in this theme is a photograph of the Jenin-based Fatah militant Zakariye Zbeide taken by Kratsman in 2001. The photograph is a close- up portrait in which Zbeide looks straight at the camera. Kratsman has explained that, in this photograph, Zbeide consciously revealed himself for the first time to Israeli military intelligence:

I wanted a clean portrait of him. I wanted it because it was clear that he was a marked man, it was obvious that he was being exposed, and I wanted a picture that would be his identity card ... he was a man who knew that he was a target for elimination and was willing to reveal himself. It was the first time he was exposed, and I told him that I wanted to take a close-up of him and that I wanted him to look at me, I felt that he wasn't looking at the camera. He was looking at other addresses of the photograph. He was looking at the people who'll cut his picture out of the paper and put it in an album, or those ... you know ... who might have him on a sight of a gun tomorrow.18

We can thus understand the photograph as a means by which Zbeide, by cooperating with the photographer, was able to project his gaze at Israeli viewers. The photograph fun'ctions here as a space, or "territory," to use Azoulay's term," of mediation between people. The way that Zbeide's gaze addresses the viewer establishes his status as a political subject. He is frozen and made mute by the photograph, yet he is able to assert a degree of political agency through the way he looks at the spectator. In a period when the Israeli military was increasingly using targeted assassination as a means of destroying the Palestinian leadership20 and when Zbeide was himself a target of this policy, this gaze speaks of resoluteness in struggle against the occupation and bravery in the face of possible death. The photograph literally provides the Israeli military with their target, but because this is a voluntary action on Zbeide's part, his status as a target is inextricable from his position as a resistor.

This discussion of photography as a form of political address directs us to one of Azoulay's principle concerns in "Act of State": to understand how photography has fu'nctioned as a kind of court of appeal for
Palestinians under occupation. She asks in the press release: "When did the Palestinians begin to view photography as an alternative court of law for conveying their plaint?"2' In a photograph from 1982, a Palestinian shopkeeper holds a broken padlock toward the camera as evidence of the Israeli Army's attempt to break the strike in which he was participating Another photograph by Kratsman from 1988 shows a middle-aged Palestinian woman in the Balata refugee camp who has pulled down her undergarments and raised her robe to reveal massive bruises on her legs. Here the photograph is not just evidential as a consequence of its indexical nature, but also because it fu'nctions as a space for the presentation of evidence of the brutality of the occupation. Again photography fun'ctions as a kind of address, though this time one that involves an appeal to justice. The forms of appeal in these pictures are also political gestures that allow us to understand that the photographic process entails a political relationship that is more complex than longstanding assumptions about the objectifying effects of the camera and the "pornography" of photographic representations of human suffering would suggest.22 As for the picture of Zbeide, Israeli viewers might, in certain contexts, read this photograph as a straightforward portrait of a "terrorist" whereas, in the context of "Act of State," the photograph fun'ctions as a means of scrutinizing Zbeide as a thinking and motivated human being rather than defining him as an irrational violent force, as is often the case when it comes to Israeli representations of Palestinian political violence. The archival
arrangement of the photographs in the exhibition, amounting as it does to a mass of visual evidence about the brutalities of the occupation, makes it more difficult to fall back upon familiar political positions,
requiring that viewers consider the reasons why particular Palestinians have chosen the path of violence. This is a potentially significant move toward recognizing the humanity of the other and towards the development of responsible spectatorship. Such developments are of particular
importance in the aftermath of the second Intifada when the ethnic- national binary of Israelis against Palestinians became even more
difficult to contest.23 Recognizing the humanity of Zbeide in particular landed the Israeli Tali Fahima in jail after she met with him injenin in 2003. Although Israeli intelligence accused her of working with the militants, as she states, her real crime was "seeing the Palestinians."24

As Jacques Derrida has observed, "archivization produces as much as it records the event."25 In this sense, "Act of State" generates a
representation of the Israeli occupation that is made up of photographs that have an analogical relationship to the places and events they picture and fu'nction as metonyms of aspects of the occupation; yet, their
organization as an archive results from a systematic act of production. This last point is obvious but it is worth making because it focuses on the forms of agency involved in the generation of the archive. Most prominent in this process is Azoulay's agency as the archivist. The photographs out of which the archive was assembled are also structured by the agency of the photographers (albeit framed by the institutions of the press in most cases). These photographers mediated the reality of the occupation prior to the larger mediation of the archival process. Yet this understanding of "Act of State" as an archiving project misses out on the agency of the Palestinians. Part of Azoulay's point is that archiving the occupation can retrieve the moments in which Palestinians also asserted a pressure on how and what things could be photographed. Kratsman provides us with an example of this kind of pressure in an interview with Azoulay, involving the photographing of a Palestinian militant during die
withdrawal of the Israeli Army from Nablus in 1995, whom he describes as asserting a power over the photographic relationship. Kratsman states: "At a certain moment his gaze registered impatience, the fact that he was sick of it. After that look I couldn't go on photographing. I had to put down the camera. His gaze was more powerful than mine."26 This is not the usual encounter between the photographer and the photographed, even under the conditions of the occupation, but it is one instance of the many ways that the subject of photography shapes and has agency within the photographic process. Similarly, Eldad Rafaeli has discussed a picture he took in 1995 of a group of Palestinian women clapping to celebrate the Israeli
withdrawal from Tulkarem under the principles of the Oslo Agreement. At the center of this photograph is a girl in a school uniform who stares balefully at the photographer while holding a stone in her hand. Rafaeli states:

Even though many Israelis associate press photographers with leftist views, this girl wasn't buying it: "You can't fool me with your lies. You're a soldier and to me you'll always be a soldier. What you're doing now doesn't matter." The feeling her gaze sent through me stayed with me a long time and I couldn't get over it. So much so, mat I took the
photograph and went looking for her again four years later.27 This comment suggests not only that it was the girl's look that was "taking [the] ... picture and not the other way around,"28 as Meir Wigoder observes in conversation with Rafaeli, but also that this gaze prompted the
photographer to take subsequent actions.

In reference to such examples, the archive constructed by Azoulay's "Act of State" is a history of Palestinian political agency and resistance through photography, not simply in the sense of photojournalistic cliches of keffiyeh-wearing youths throwing rocks or through the Israeli military reactions to resistance discussed above, but also through the complex organization of bodies and gazes within photographic space that is to differing degrees often a matter of negotiation. The job of the spectator is to see this resistance for what it is and at the same time recognize the occupation in its true light, and from there, call for the occupation to end. It will take more than these exhibitions to bring this about on any significant scale, but they are one beginning of this process among many, for as Wim Wenders has observed, "the most political decision you make is where you direct people's eyes."29


Installation shot from "Act of State: 1967-2007 [An historical
exhibition]" with Eldad Rafaeli's Withdrawal from TuUcarem (1995).


Installation shot from 'Act of State: 1967-2007 [An historical


Installation shot from "Act of State: 1967-2007 [An historical
exhibition]" with Mild Kratsman's portrait of Zakariye Zbeide (2001)


Installation shot from "Act of State: 1967-2007 [An historical
exhibition]" with two of Roi Kuper's Ansar photographs (2003)

NOTES 1. Azoulay teaches visual culture and philosophy at Bar- Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, and is the author of Death's Showcase: The Power of Image in Contemporary Democracy (Boston: MIT Press, 2001) and The Civil Contract of Photography (forthcoming from Zone Books). 2. Mcholas Mirzoeff, "Invisible Empire: Visual Culture, Embodied Spectacle, and Abu Ghraib," Radical History Review, No. 95 (Spring 2006), 40. 3. Ariella Azoulay, "The Black Box of the Occupation (Wiu) will accLiim the heroisms of Israel?)" in David Reeb: Paintings, 1982-1994 (Til Aviv: Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 1994), 124. 4. Ariella Azoulay, "Let's Have Another War," in Let's Have Another War: David Reeb (TelAvw:MPublishers, 1997). 5. DanielDor, The Suppression of Guilt: The Israeli Media and the
Reoccupation of the West Bank (London: Pluto Press, 2005), 7 (emphasis original). 6. Ariella Azoulay, "Everything Could Be seen" (2004),
unpaginated text provided by Mam Leshem (emphasis original). 7. see Sharif Waked, Chic Point: Fashion for the Israeli Checkpoints (Tel Aviv: Andalus Publishing, 2007). 8. Ariella Azoulay, "Everything Could Be seen"
(emphasis original). 9. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 12. Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation (London and New York: Verso, 2007), 234. 13. Ariella Azoulay, Press Release for "Act of State:
1967-2007 [An historical exhibition],"June 2007. 14. Ibid. 15.
Conversation between the author and Ariella Azoulay, Tel Aviv, June 22, 2007. 16. For example, Hans Haacke's Gallery-Goers Birthplace and
Residence Profile (1969-70). see Jordana Moore Saggese, "The Myth of Neutrality: Re-Considering Conceptual Art Photography;, Exposure, Vol 40, no. 1 (Spring 2007), 33~42. 17. It is necessary to note at this point that as a non-Hebrew speaker my experience of 'Act of State" was limited to the photographs themselves and to comments made about the images by Azoulay and by David Reeb, who accompanied me on my first visit to the exhibition. In light of Azoulay's emphasis upon the importance of the texts for an understanding of the photographs, my appreciation of the exhibition cannot be more than partial Conversation between the author and Ariella Azoulay, Tel Aviv, June 22, 2007. 18. Control. Miki Kratsman and David Reeb: Photographs and Paintings (Tel Aviv: Amit Goren Productions, 2003) (DVD). 19. Commotion between the author and Ariella Azoulay, Tel Aviv, June 22, 2007. 29. For a discussion of targeted assassinations, see Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land, Chapter 9: "Targeted Assassinations: The Airborne
Occupation," 237-258. 21. Ariella Azoulay, Press Release for 'Act of State: 1967- 2007 (An historical exhibition),"June 2007. 22. For a discussion of this issue, see Mark Reinhardt, "Picturing Violence: Aesthetics and Ike Anxiety of Critique," Mark Reinhardt, hotly Edwards, and Erina Duganne, eds., Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 13-36. 23. see Gadi Wolfsfeld, Media and the Path to Peace (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press, 2004), 215-219. 24. see Canal Urquhart, "My crime was seeing the Palestinians," The Guardian Qanuary 5, 2007), 19. 25. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), 17. 2$. Ariella Azoulay, DeauYs Showcase: The Power of Image in Contemporary Democracy (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2001), 234. 27. Mar Wigoder, "Straight in the Eyes: A Conversation with Eldad Rafaeli," Eldad Rafaeli-Photographs (Tel Hoi, Israel- Eli Lamberger Israeli Museum of Photography, Tel Hoi Industrial Park, 2003), 56 28. Ibid. 29. David Levi Strauss, Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics (New York: Aperture, 2003), 101.

SIMON FAULKNER is an art historian teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom.

Copyright Visual Studies Workshop, Inc. Nov/Dec 2007

(c) 2007 Afterimage. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.



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