In the late 1970s, Hasan Khater was the first inhabitant of the Jawlan (Golan Heights), a Syrian land occupied by Israel since 1967, to cross the militarised border and travel to Damascus to study fine arts. Despite his ambition to become a sculptor, Khater was forced to train as a painter, as Israeli security restrictions did not permit him to cross the border with hard materials. Today, despite the ongoing occupation, Khater’s sculptures couch main squares and public spaces in the remaining Syrian villages of the Jawlān, commemorating five decades of relentless political resistance of the native population.
The Jawlan today is home to around 20,000 people, most of them Druze by religion, who live on a land that is dominated by almost equal number of Jewish-Israeli settlers. However, not long ago, this land and its Druze inhabitants were simply Syrian. They were part of a larger Syrian Jawlani community that counted more than 150,000 people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, including Sunnis, Kurds, Armenians and Alawites, among others. Soon after the Israeli occupation, the Jawlan transformed into a borderland; it was cut off from its Syrian continuity, and re-oriented to face Israel.
The Jawlani community offers an important perspective on anticolonial world-making, particularly because of its stubborn refusal of colonial integration and its rejection of repeated impositions of Israeli citizenship. However, refusal is not enough to reconstruct a creative sense of liberated being. For this to happen, self-realisation of a capable independent existence is essential to disengagement from colonial mental violence. Many local artists in the Jawlan have been the main social force in creatively imagining new horizons of freedom. This research project began in the summer of 2018, as an attempt to examine not simply how art reflects reality, but how it transforms it.
In our Identities article, ‘On fleeing colonial captivity: fugitive arts in the occupied Jawlan’, we analyse the ongoing endeavors and challenges of local artists to formulate modes of defiant political imagination in such a militarised space as Jawlan is. In taking our entry point the Jawlani’s tenacious refusal to integrate in the official Israeli state systems as they question the legitimacy of those in position of recognising, this article joins a recent theoretical turn toward indigeneity in the context of Israeli settler colonialism. Borrowing from Black and Indigenous scholarship, we examine art production in the Jawlan as a practice of metaphoric 'fugitivity' that aims to establish existential alternatives away from colonial captivity. In this sense, although refusal is about stillness, consistency and steadfastness, it must be complemented by actual or conceptual movement that embodies fugitivity as an insurgent practice in the face of fixity.
In our analysis of Jawlani critical thought and cultural production, we then turn to the poetry of Yasser Khanger and the music of the band Toot Ard, as two modes of fugitive movement. In Khanger’s work we trace mainly a mental mobility toward disengagement from the settler-colonial state while physically staying put. It is a circular movement of a released political prisoner who evades subjugation by redefining confinement as a tool for staging poetic insurgency. On the other hand, Toot Ard’s fugitivity is based on physical nomadic movement of a music band that tours in an international space while embracing a stateless condition. Fugitivity here becomes a movement that forces the Indigenous stateless self into the outside world, to realize the possibility of decolonisation by transgressing nation-state borders.
Both journeys demonstrate how fugitivity becomes a self-rerouting away from Israeli structural domination and a rerooting of Jawlani indigeneity as a point of departure toward decolonisation.
Blog post by Nadeem Karkabi, University of Haifa, Israel and Aamer Ibraheem, Columbia University, USA
Read the full article: Karkabi, Nadeem & Ibraheem, Aamer. On fleeing colonial captivity: fugitive arts in the occupied Jawlan. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1851006