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

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