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Saturday, January 21, 2006


Abu Assad and Abu Sitta: Fighting on the 'Side of Beauty'

Golden Globe winner Hany Abu Assad, director of Paradise Now, was quoted in the January 20 Guardian, "When you are the underdog in the fight, your weak position gives you the opportunity to fight on the side of beauty.

"When you only have beauty to express yourself, to fight with, then you establish a feeling for beauty, for how you create from the ugly side of civilization."

Assad further stated, "I have a lot of pain from the Jewish state. You can't escape it."

This pain that all Palestinians feel motivated Dr. Salman Abu Sitta to create his Atlas of Palestine, a monumental work in which he's painstakingly documented the six hundred and seventy-five Palestinian towns and villages obliterated by the Jewish state.

"All my adult life, I have been trying to reconstruct my birthplace through photos, maps, documents and oral narrative. It was indelible in my memory, gained in the first 10 years of my life before I became a refugee."

Faced with the "ugly side of civilization" represented by David Gruen's (Ben Gurion's) assembly of a group of scholars "to erase all existing Palestinian names and replace them with Hebrew names," Abu Sitta has through the Atlas put them "back on the record" and saved them from "erasure."

"The most obvious and saddest impression is the staggering dimensions of the Nakba," says Abu Sitta. "In every spot you look at, you know there were people with their own local history and geography that sustained them for centuries. Now they are refugees living in exile for over half a century. Numbers alone cannot fully describe this human experience. Life has been snuffed out of 675 towns and villages."

For Assad the remedy is art, "My art is like an aspirin: the pain will stay, but you forget it for a certain moment. Like on Monday when I got the Golden Globe, I forgot it for awhile."

Many of us forgot it for awhile along with Abu Assad, exhilarated that a Palestinian director dealing with a Palestinian theme won a major award.

And many of us, Dr. Abu Sitta's Atlas of Palestine our antidote will forget it for awhile as we leaf through photos showing "gardens, fields, wadis (valleys), clusters of houses, mountains."

These are "immediately recognized by a refugee," says Abu Sitta. "A grandfather can tell his grandchildren to see, not just to imagine, his village. On a personal note, I could see my father’s house, his orchard and my school. Such features cannot be erased from my memory and, now, can be shared with my children."

Dr. Abu Sitta's efforts "will surely secure the future of Palestine and Palestinians no matter long it takes. Leaders disappear, political regimes, however oppressive, dissolve one day but records and the people do not die."

Hany Abu Assad and Dr. Salman Abu Sitta. Palestinians ironically inspired from the ugly side of civilization to create beauty from our collective sadness.



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