From the Interior:
Space, Time and Queer Discursivity in Kamal Aljafari’s The Roof

Peter Limbrick

The Cinema of Me: The Self and Subjectivity in First Person Documentary. Ed. Alisa Lebow, London: Wallflower, 2012. 95–115. Series: Nonfiction, Columbia University Press


        Kamal Aljafari's The Roof (2006) begins in medias res: from a flat, spatially compressed shot of a rain-soaked window, the shallow focus allowing us only the raindrops rather than the view beyond, the film cuts to a dose-up of a woman's face silhouetted flat against the glass, then out further to a dark, static two-shot of two figures on opposite sides of a restaurant booth, and silently back again to the woman. As the shot holds on the woman, an off-screen voice, presumably that of her companion, begins to recall the experience of being in a prison room for six and half months with forty others. Without context or explanation, we learn little details: the layout of the celi, that it was a formative experience, that the speaker made many good friendships, and that this all took place during the first Intifada (1987-93).

        This enigmatic scene operates as a pre-credit prologue to The Roof and it crystallises the film's focus on spatiality and temporality. With its first person voice-off from a briefly glimpsed figure - testimony that takes the viewer back almost twenty years yet refuses context or on-screen synchronisation with its speaker - and its equally ambiguous mise-en-scène which relies on backlit, indistinguishable bodies, an out-of-focus landscape, and a mundane interior setting, this short scene constructs an interiority that is literal (inside this non­-descript hotel or bar), and metaphorical (a man's personal prison narrative brought to conversation). The flattened planes of background, middle-ground, and foreground seen in the opening shot of the window prefigure the many sequences in which Diego Martinez Vignatti's camera tracks along the unfinished walls of a house or the smooth surfaces of the separation wall built by Israel. As a means of setting in place a consistent visual style, then, the scene is formative.

        Crucially, however, the sequence also introduces us to the literal voice of the filmmaker. The Roof, the viewer later learns, is partly the story of the filmmaker's family and their lives as Palestinians living within the 1948 borders of Israel. The film often places its maker within the mise-en-scène and thus builds a first person-ness from the connection between visible body and audible voice. The Roof’s first person mode of address, however, is complex and far-reaching in its implications because of the way it exceeds the person of the filmmaker himself and instead speaks from an ambiguous collective position which refuses normative discourses. I will argue here that the film is characterised by a queer discursivity that is irreducible to notions of sexuality or categories of identity and that instead constitutes a particular response to Palestinian and Israeli constructions of temporality and space. In part, I will suggest, the queerness of the film has to do with its focus on 'the interior”, that part of Palestine that lies within the 1948 borders of lsrael, and all the attendant contradictions of that terrain. But while one can certainly argue that the spatial and temporal anomalies of'1948 Palestine' are both marginal and oppositional to the normativity of the Israeli state, it is the film's particular mix of discursive strategies - among them the long take, the disembodied voice, the muteness of the filmmaker-on-screen, and the focus on the flattened and striated walls of its setting - that cement its particularly queer style. As a poetic first person statement 'from the interior’ The Roof rejects in a single move the hegemony of the Israeli settler state while also refusing the urgent, at-times melodramatic style of the 'roadblock' or 'checkpoint' documentary and the normativity of the Palestinian-family-as-nation equation that is invoked in some Palestinian films1. Aljafari's film instead creates a queer genealogy that is characterised by irony, absurdity, and by the quiet undoing of normative equations between family, nation, diaspora, exile and place2.

        In this essay I wish to approach The Roof's first person-ness as a strategy to negotiate a politics of temporal and spatial disjuncture. Rather than create for himself the position of a speaking subject who controls the narration, Aljafari has rendered a first person subject position that is constructed less through his physical presence or literal voice than through other aspects of the film's discourse. Rather than a literal and singular 'I’, Aljafari's film creates a fragmented 'we' that exists across the movement of the film's slow tracking shots, or just beyond the frame of its static compositions of streets, rooftops or ruined architecture. The Roof maintains a sense throughout that whoever is speaking is doing so through the shards, fragments and sedimented layers of history that make the present a painfully disjunctive moment for Palestinians living within Israel. The film contains relatively few sequences in which peo­ple 'explain' history (such explanations are conventionally rendered in other documentaries through the interactive interview, often with the filmmaker's participation or questions effaced) but many in which the effects and manifestations of history are evoked through a sequence of tableaux vivants, a lengthy tracking shot, or a staged encounter with everyday banalities. Where The Roof offers the director's presence in its mise-en-scène, it tends to in fact disengage him from a position of authority through, far example, a distracted look, a deferral to the other's speech, or a static, mute and passive position within the frame. As viewers, we learn just a little about him, not much more about his family, but a great deal! about the way thai Palestinian history is experienced through spatial and tempora! transformation and control. The Roof’s first person mode is developed in part as a means to reveal histories and pasts that are threatened or partially destroyed; but, as we shall see, it also questions the processes by which thase pasts become spatialised and pathologized in order to offer paths towards newness.


        After the prologue described above, the film fades to black. A title appears in Arabic (Al Sateh) and is subtitled 'The Raaf'. The same voice we hear in the prologue begins to speak, in Arabic, in a non-diegetic voiceover that is also subtitled into English3: 'It all began in 1948. In May’. When an image appears again, we see a wide shot of the oceanfront at Jaffa with abandoned fishing boats and large blocks of concrete littering the foreshore. The camera is motionless. The voiceover continues:

My grandparents were on a boat on their way to Beirut after their city of Jaffa had been bombed. Over those few days the waves got too big, so they were forced to return... But, when they came back, Pafestine was already gone. Their homes were gone as well. The people who remained were forced to live in one neighborhood and they were given the houses of other Palestinians. This was the case of my mother's family in Jaffa. And the same happened to my father's family in Ramle. In 1948 the owners of this house were still building the second floor. Today the house ìs stil! the same: my parents Iive on the first floor and the past lives above them.

        Thus begins a first person narration that will anchor us to the events that follow. As the filmmaker's voice entwines personal history with Palestinian history, fìnishing with the declaratian abaut the past, the camera has begun to track, left along the gravelly ground, slawly craning up to reveal the ruins afa cemetery, the stillness within the scene broken only by the movement of a stray cat in the middle distance, by the sounds af birds on the soundtrack, and by the movement of the camera itself. Long after the voice finishes, the shot continues until the camera eventually comes to rest with the tower of Al-Masjid al-Abyad (Ramle's 'White Masque') in the background. A tille burns inta the right corner of the frame: 'Ramle'.

        In this long take, remarkable for its qualities of stillness despite the moving camera, the film quietly evokes the destruction of the built Arab environment that was so radically transformed in the events of 1948. As has been care­ fully documented by writers like Walid Khalidi (1992) and Meran Benvenisti (2000), Zionist colonisation of Palestine look place through a process of physical destruction that was not a corollary to buy a condition of settlement. Such an erasure was not only physical but was enacted through language, as Benvenisti argues, by the reinscription of the landscape in a process of remapping and renaming (2000: 17-20). Ramle, originally Al-Ramla, was one of the few places whose Arabic name remained virtually unchanged through the process of Hebraisation, yet a subsequent sequence of shots in The Roof reveals the renaming of individual streets that nevertheless took place - Dr Koch St, Dr Sigmund Freud St, Dr Salk St4. The forced resettlement of Palestinian families in the area around Jaffa and Ramle, alluded to in the voiceover, radi­cally changed the relationship of habitation lo the built Arab environment and resulted in the kind of asychronicity that Aljafari's family experiences in relation to the unfinished second storey.

        After another fade to biade, the film introduces two shots around Ramle's streets that, in the manner of later examples, are reminiscent of tableaux vivants: the figures in the shot seem frozen in time, embalmed in a relationship to place that suggests no movement or vitality and stresses the confining aspects of their surroundings. We move from there to the roof of a house, and to another shot whose style of flattened, compressed planes is by now familiar. Tracking along the half-built wall that we associate now with the voiceover description of an unfinished second storey, the camera moves slowly enough to allow the viewer to linger on details: an empty bird cage perched on a ledge of corrugated iron; coils of electrical wire that sit unused on the concrete blocks that make up the wall; the colour and texture of the walls themselves, tightly framed without context in the foreground, yet with the other walls of the structure visible in the compressed plans of middle and background. The shot is thus evocative not so much of the now-destroyed, pre-1948 built environment, as in the earlier tracking shot, but the built environment as it was frozen in 1948. The shot is the construction of a moment in time whose pastness speaks to the present more directly than does the director; the unfinished storey is really an unfinished 'story' of Palestinian life within the interior.

        From the sequences just described, then, emerges a visual style that must, in the first instance, return us to questions about space and temporality that productively raised in the work of André Bazin. For in The Roof’s slow tracking shots across the rubble of Ramle's cemetery or along the roof of the Aljafari’s house, we can observe the camera's production and recovery of indexi­cal traces of an Arab architecture that is either erased or stalled in time; we see 'all that remains' both in Khalidi's (1992) sense of the only things that are left standing, but also in the sense of all that remains to be finished. These remains are recovered from the invisibility that they have acquired within a Zionist cul­tural narrative and are present in the image as the traces of a Palestinian past.

        The images thus carry not only the pastness of the time in which they were created - the indexicality of the sign - but also the pastness of the actual referents within that sign’s iconicity - the buildings and walls that are represented there. Bazin reminds us that as a result of what he termed our 'obsession with realism', we interpret these signifying images as marking the presence of something in the world whose imprint is now made visible to us again. Thus we have affirmation that the camera was at some moment actually there in front of the rubble; Bazin invokes the example of a death mask to describe this kind of indexicality (1967: 12). But in his astonishingly productive reading of Bazin, Philip Rosen also elaborates on a related problem of the relationship between the image and the preexistence of the concrete objects in the world that it represents, now 'preserved' in the manner of an embalming by the indexical image itself. The crucial and overlooked role of subjectivity in Bazin's writing, argues Rosen, is that it requires a subject ‘obsessed with realism' to not only invest credibility in the images referentiality to something in the world, but also to believe in the pastness of the moment of recording, that something 'took place' for the camera in the moment of shooting and that it was captured in a moment by the intervention of the lens (2001: 20-3).

        What we cannot access in our apprehension of such images, however, is their 'when-ness' or context, so while we understand them to be evidence of some kind of past-ness, Rosen argues that we must infer or 'fill in the gaps' that are raised by the ambiguity of the image (2001: 23). It is this gap between what the image shows (the thing-ness of the ruins or the physical texture of the wall) and the context for its existence as an object that isso productively rendered in this film as a collective first person position. Later sequences on the roof more closely investigate the texture of the concrete in the wall, with its aggregate of shells and stone; another sequence at Jaffa's coast providesa montage of stili shots that reveal the fill pushed into the sea to 'reclaim' the coast, fill that is comprised of the remains of Palestinian homes - a beam visible here,a door lintel there. Rather than relying upon an expositional description and definitive explanation of these traces, the film instead allows space for the activity of the documentary spectator, 'obsessed with realism; to invest in the image a pastness that carries not just a sense of history but a sense of agency: a ‘we’ for whom this past exists.

        In its photographic rendering of architectural remains and physical structures, The Roof might thus be compared to the work of The Arab Image Foundation's project to gather collections of photographs by Arab photographers. In the Foundation's archiving of studio photographers lilce Hashem El Madani, we see a concern for the recirculation of photographic 'embalmings of time’ from across the Arab world, destined to invisibility or deterioration without the intervention of the archivist. Some of El Madani's portraits, which often document exterior settings and backgrounds as much as they do their human subjects, are collected in the volume Mapping Sitting (Bassil et al., 2005). Like Aljafari's film, this volume refuses a comprehensive textual explication of what it presents, instead leaving the reader only captions, mere hints of context. Working from memory during the project's curation, El Madani recorded captions for the photographs such as 'A Palestinian coffeemaker, 1950’ or, even more simply, 'A Palestinian, 1951'. Presenting the photographs as if on a contact sheet, grouped only into themes like 'riding' (for images of people with bicycles), 'boxing' and so on, the editor-curators reject an explanatory rhetoric, throwing the burden back to the viewing subject to provide a when, a how, or even a 'what' to the images. Thus conceived as a text where the form of the book replicates the accretive and elusive meanings of El Madani's vast archive of pho­tographs, Mapping Sitting produces an editorial voice that speaks in the third person - 'here is the archive, here are its subjects’ - thus 'mapping' the posi­tions and performances held within it and allowing for its readers the prospect of 'selective - if not fetishistic - appropriations' (Bassil et al., 2005: 0.002). Yet as the book's title suggests, these are also records of ‘sitting' for the camera and in the myriad of poses and props chosen by the photographic subjects emerge hints of first person narratives of identity and history5.


        The Roof constructs a first person discursive position that is not organised around a definitive or self-evident identity. Despite its references to the body, voice, family and friends of the filmmaker, the film's speaking position cannot be reduced to that of its director, nor does it inscribe a singular or straightfor­ ward politics of Palestinian resistance. Indeed, what I find most compelling about The Roof’s its anti-normative approach to nation, family and politics, an approach that resists the supposed self-evidence of all those constructions. Put another way, the film's first person speaking position is queer. I am aware that 'queer' may seem like the wrong word to use, since the film at first glance seems not to develop any explicit concern with sexuality or gender. But it is precisely the non-equivalence of its first person position to any explicit directorial statements or representational literalism that helps the film speak, queerly. Some of the most startling and productive work in queer studies is that which has refused to organise itself around a notion of queerness as a category of sexual exceptionalism and has instead revealed the ways that queer and non-queer bodies and subjects are implicateci within formations of race, gender, class and nation that cannot be wished away by the assertion of a transgressive queer identity. Jasbir Puar, for example, has exposed the nationalist normativities and violences that are produced by some US rhetorics of queerness-as-exception by paying special attention to the cleavages created when queerness becomes an identity of white privilege that relies for its coherence on the figure of the Muslim as other to homo-national secular discourses of freedom. In thus moving queer interventions 'beyond narrowly conceptualised frames that foreground sexual identity and sexual acts' (2008: 10), Puar forcefully argues for the relevance of queer theory to issues of racialisation and state violence and extends the task of queer studies to consider US empire and even Israeli constructions of queer citizenship (2008: 16- 1,8)6.

        In a different context, Amy Villarejo has also addressed the problem of trans­posing 'queer' to apparently inappropriate contexts by provocatively arguing that queer theory is precisely most useful:

to the degree to which 'queer' is deployed as a catachresis, as a metaphor without an adequate referent. To put it differently, queer theory seems tome most equipped to 'tarry with the normative' when it forsakes its claims to the literal and makes for the more dangerous - but also more commodious - compl/cations of relationality and variegation, Oueer is but one name, hurled back with pride, for social abjection, exclusion, marginalisation and degradation; it provides, by this logiec, but one open­ing toward freedom. (2005: 70)

        Villarejo's essay, an extended reflection on Rod Ferguson's brilliant Aberrations in Black (2003), uses Ferguson's work to ask a series of questions about cinema and, in particular, the potential for queer theory to uncouple the pathologies of symptom from the potential for queer agency (whereas, she argues, Ferguson colfapses the two [2005: 74]). While it has become customary to find scholarly readings of queerness that attend to a literal presence of non-normative figur­ings of gender or sexuality or sex in the text, especially those embodied by a self-identified queer subject, Villarejo suggests that such readings can nar­rowly delimit or overlook the ways in which queer theory has the potential to unsettle our understandings of normative nationalisms, racialisations, tempo­ rahties and their sexualised and gendered logics.

        The Roof, I will argue, offers such an 'opening to freedom’, as Villarejo calls it, through its refusal to abide by the logics of marginalisation even while asserting a politics of difference. Here I wish to affirm the way in which the film resists the Zionist colonial logics of the Israeli state with respect to Arabs in the interior. Such a logic, as others have pointed out with respect to cinematic and other cultural forms, has racialised Palestinians and other Arabs within Israel in terms that suggest pathology and perversion (see Shohat 2010). But I wish to also recognise the queer agency of the film itself: its active undermin­ing of such pathologising and racialising discourses together with its refusal to counter them with a normative identity-oriented Palestinian nationalism of its own. Rather, the film replies to the processes of radical othering by opening up cracks or ruptures within the Israeli state's logic of exclusion, offering fault lines from which different social relations and political possibilities might emerge. Through discursive strategies mentioned already and those that are delineated further below, Aljafari's film fashions a queer response to the his­torical situation of 1948 Palestinians.

        Because of its attention to racialisation, nationalism and their imbrication with sexuality and gender, 'queer of color' critique (as Ferguson and others' work has become known) is potentially very revealing of the ways in which The Roof’s organised7. Palestinians within the 1948 borders of lsrael exist as a pop­ulation that is paradoxically rendered as 'out of place' (paradoxical since their roots in Palestine are long established) and culturally illegible to the normative space of nation: Palestinians register fundamentally in terms of their deviancy from the Zionist national norm and in their potential to 'unsettle' the colonial settler state, most dramatically in their perceived affinity for terrorism, a rep­resentational trope attaching to Arabs that also continues to resonate within a post-9/11 United States (see Puar 2008). Like the Mizrahim or Arab Jew, Palestinians are culturally marked within Zionist discourses by associations to that which Ferguson {2003), speaking of African Americans in US racialised discourse, has described as the 'aberrations' of deviancy, perversion, pathol­ogy or (more generally) non-heteronormativity. Palestinians, in other words, may constitute a recognised minority within the lsraeli state but, as non-Jews, are simultaneously expunged from the ideal of nation which the state constructs and, indeed, from many of its actual mechanisms, as Saree Makdisi points out {2008: 144- 5)8. Nationality in Israel, therefore, is not only organised around normative expressions of race, gender and sexuality, but is definition­ally Jewish.

        The discourses of the Israeli state thus organise Palestine's marginalised and 'perverse' subjects in ways that cut across nationality and that place them within racialised logics of gender and sexuality. Arab-ne,ss in general, rather than Palestinian-ness alone, is made deviant. As Ella Shohat {1988) incisively argued some years ago now, the historical role of 'victim' to Zionism's racialising and nationalising frame is one that has been shared - albeit not in identical ways - by Palestinians and Mizrahim, those Sephardic or Arab Jews whose presence was solicited for the structural and demographic efficacy of the fledgling Jewish state. More recently, Raz Yosef's Beyond Flesh (2004) has detailed the way that Mizrahi masculinities are feminised and racialised within lsraeli cinema and culture in a manner that resembles an Ashkenazic colonial fantasy. In referencing theories of colonial discourse in the work of writers such as Frantz Fanon (1966) and Edward Said (1978), Shohat and Yosef reveal Zionism's operation as a colonia! discourse which racialises Palestinians and other Arabs while reserving the mantle of nationality only for Jews, thus admitting the Arab who is a Jew but not the Arab who is a Palestinian.

        As The Roof demonstrates, Palestinian life within the interior is organised through connected practices of spatialised marginality that construe Palestinian zones or neighborhoods as aberrant, when they are not already invisible. Such spatial disjunctures within the state are acknowledged in multiple ways by the film. Early on, for example, two Arab men on the streets of Ramle approach the camera and one begins to speak of the differing status of Palestinians before and after 1948. Noting the economie centrality of Ramle to Palestinian society prior to 1948, he bemoans the fact that now Jewish immigrants of any other nationality have become Israeli nationals, controlling the everyday economy while the Palestinians, as he puts it, 'became useless': 'This is our country and we became its tail’. He gestures to the spatial transformation that has occurred as Russian and other immigrant Jews supplanted Arabs and took over the businesses and the interview is followed by the sequence of three shots mentioned above in which we see the Ashkenazi Jewish street names that have supplanted the Arabic names.

        Shortly afterwards is a sequence in which the filmmaker takes a driving lesson, one that might be better thought of as a lesson in spatial segregation. With the camera situated outside the vehicle at ground level, we follow a brand­ new-looking Volkswagen as the filmmaker stutters and starts along suburban, tree-lined Ramie streets. As the car takes a left turn towards a derelict-looking open lot with houses in the distance, we hear on the soundtrack the instructor caution that 'We're on a rough street with lots of holes ... this street leads to the Arab neighborhood of Ramle. We've seen how easy it is to drive on normal street. Here it is more difficult because the car could be damaged: In extreme long shots, we see the car negotiate buildings that are surrounded by demolition debris, navigate unpaved potholed streets, and traverse a railway crossing that is neither signed nor signaled. Here, then, the film reveals the way that Palestinian space is segregated from the logic of 'the normal street'; the literal ghettoisation of Palestinian life in Ramle is brought into the filmic discourse as a moment of spatial and cognitive disjuncture.

        The starkest example from the film, however, of the state's spatialising logic of deviancy and non-normativity is found in the ongoing references to Palestinian imprisonment. Indeed, the film makes of this a consistent theme, evoked through the first person testimony of the filmmaker in the opening scene of the film, then visualised through the shots of barred windows and flat walls that follow later. In fact, the audience's most direct contact with the fìrst person subject of the film is found in a sequence in which Aljafari stages a phone call with Nabieh Awada, a prison-mate of whom he has spoken in the fìlm's first scene. Tue spatial fragmentation of Palestinian lives is articulated here through the contradictory logics of states (Nabieh, as a Palestinian-in­ exile now living in Beirut has more movement around the Levant than has Aljfari as a citizen of Israel) and the ever-present suspicion of being a terror st is made apparent through Nabieh's story of border detention at Jordan while attempting to travel to a rock concert. Significantly, the audience in fact never Iearns what it was that led to Aljafari's earlier imprisonment. That ambiguity, in keeping with the way in which a collective and queer first person address is deployed in the film, directs our attention to the generalised confinement and criminalisation of a population rather to any trauma confined to the personal circumstance of the filmmaker9.

        The film graphically realises this theme of criminalisation and walled impris­onment in the later sequences in which the filmmaker and his sister drive around the separation wall in East Jerusalem. Stopped by an Arab soldier in Israeli Defence Force uniform, they are eventually allowed to pass and in long, almost silent takes, the film takes us along the twisted route of the separation wall as it carves out an unauthorised border between Israel and the Occupied West Bank10. The sequence rhymes with others in which we study the surface and texture of various walls, and in this sense builds on the film's emphasis on Israel as a space of ideologically organised destruction and re-construction of built environments11. Yet it also seems to signify the other sense in which these walls, all of them, register: as the enclosing surfaces of a prison that incar­cerates those Palestinians within Israel, exiled not without but within their own country, made into the other of a Jewish majority and then rendered as a queer population associated with backwardness and the threat of terrorism (as the filmmaker's sister affirms when she relates that, if she speaks Arabic in Jerusalem, 'people react is if they don't know Palestinians live in this country; as if they were afraid'.)


        The temporal associations of Palestinians with 'backwardness' are something that the film exposes throughout. This is its second function with respect to pastness: not only does it attempt to reconstruct or recover Palestinian his­ tories that are made invisible to the state, as we have seen with respect to its visual style, but it also addresses the pathologising temporal shifts that confine Palestinians to a time of backwardness or premodernity. The Roof suggests that the spatialising colonial logie that organises Palestinians within Israel is also temporalin its practice, and that it queers Palestinians in relation to the nor­ mative time of the state. Elizabeth Freeman has argued for the necessity of understanding the 'chronopolitics of development' as a normative and violent discourse within state formations, one that queer theory and politics must rec­ognise and challenge. Chronopolitics, she suggests,

extends beyond local conflicts to the management of entire populations: both the state and the market produce biopolitical status relations not only through borders, the establishment of private and public zones, and other strategies of spatial containment, but also and crucially through temporal mechanisms. Some groups have their needs and freedoms deferred or snatched away, and some don't. Some cultural practices are given the means to continue; others are squelched or allowed to die on the vine. (2005: 57)

        Freeman crucially identifies such vulnerable populations as those who are 'forced to wait or startled by violence, whose activities do not show up on the officiai time line, whose own time lines do not synchronise with it' and recog­ nises the ways in which a chronopolitics of development, 'at once racialised, gendered and sexualised; has set Western rnodernity in relation to a 'slower premodernity figured as brown-skinned, feminine and erotically perverse' (2005: 58).

        Freeman's insights beautifully elucidate the ways in which The Roof, through the quiet accumulation of shots and through the uncanniness of its first person address, makes evident the shape of the chronopolitics that binds Palestinians in the interior. The image above recalls one moment in the film where that occurs. Marking 1948 as a definitive moment, the voiceover articulates the way in which henceforth his people will be 'too late’, backward, or stuck within a 'dead time’, rendered fully out of step with the national project of Zionism and its claims to modernity, futurity and progress. The shots that follow, of the ruins of the masque and cemetery, stand in eerie contrast to the modern­ looking Tel Aviv that appears in a later scene and that will be discussed below. The driving lesson, described above in terms of its spatialising aspects, evokes temporally opposed qualities as well: driving the most modern and European of vehicles, the filmmaker subject makes halting, broken progress through the gears and, as the lesson turns towards the Palestinian quarter of Ramle, there is the sense of travelling not just into a spatially segregated and mar­ginal area, but one that is temporally backward too with its unpaved streets and inadequate technologies. Things seem stalled, frozen, embalmed, like the unfinished roof which cannot be restored or continued within the present - the filmmaker suggests at the end of the film that it should not be finished since the house really belongs to someone else; his mother replies somewhat elliptically that 'they've all left'.

        The 'chronopolitics of development’, as Freeman refers to it, becomes the particular focus of those scenes in the film that are set in and around Jaffa. These scenes are remarkable for their invocation of first person intimacies of embodied subjecthood as the filmmaker appears, again mutely, on screen, while they simultaneously historicise and queerly politicise the destruction and 'development' of the Jaffa/Tel Aviv area. In a key sequence, Aljafari and his uncle sit on a sea-wall at Jaffa in a two-shot while the uncle, Salim, describes in detail how the family was stalled in Jaffa while attempting to flee. He then continues to describe the way in which Arab homes in Jaffa were later demolished and used as fill for the foreshore. Tue destruction of Arab architecture and dwelling places in Jaffa and the Tel Aviv area is well documented12 and the practices of displacement and redevelopment there continue into the present andare the focus of Aljfari's next film, Port of Memory (2009) and other work13. The Roof visualises for viewers the way in which the temporalising logic of the nation-state functions to ignore or, more drastically, erase the present and past realities of Palestinian lives within the bounded space of the interior.

        Such visualisation is done within the terms that the film establishes early on: through long takes in which the focus is architectural remains, rubble, or the dissonance of a demolished dwelling condemned to exist only in a suspended past. Following Salim, we discover a stately Arab home that has had its front wall removed 'by mistake' by an allegedly errant lsraeli bulldozer, and there is a shot in which the untouched interior of the house is revealed within a frame of demolished walls, constructing a visual image that resembles a doll­ house. The house's owner, her furniture, her keepsakes and photographs, and the very details of her domestic design and furnishing are framed as if now transformed into a miniaturised past, something of curiosity rather than vitality. The sequence, with its explicit questioning of terms like 'redevelopment' by those Palestinians who arrive to marvel at the site, signals the way that the developmental chronopolitics of Israeli gentrification construct a timeline in which Arab homes and families are 'premodern' or backwards in relation to the dictates of the market. A subsequent sequence of traveling shots taken inside a car cements the point: Salim drives, silent, as the sound of Souad Massi's music creates a smooth and evocative frame through which to observe the movement across the changing landscape of Jaffa, littered with construction trucks, piles of earth on empty lots, and signs of new building14.

        It is within the next scene, however, that the extent of the film's first person critique of normative Israeli temporality is perhaps clearest. This section of the film, in fact comprised of three scenes, begins with a close-up shot of a preface of a book, revealed in the next shot to be a page from How to Make Jewish Movie (Shavelson 1971). The book is held by a pair of hands that do not 'belong' to anyone in the frame but that suggest themselves as the filmmaker subject's. There is a cut to a new Iocation, and here the filmmaker stands in the empty observation floor of a tall Tel Aviv tower, framed in Iong shot and silhouetted as the camera takes in the view beyond him. A voiceover begins, which we quickly realise is an audio tour in American-accented English, introducing 'the city which some refer to as the cultural centre of Israel - Tel Aviv'. Over the strains of a classical string concerto, this voice points out the 'ancient city of Jaffa' and proceeds to narrate a history that situates it as a Hebrew city that 'fell into the hands' of a long list of people, a list that incidentally includes 'the Philistines' and Arabs, and wraps up by recounting the arrival of ‘the British conquest and, finally, the Israelis. What a history!' Such a packaged history corresponds to LeVine's description of a twinned mythology that is central to Zionist constructions of Palestinian and Israeli history, namely 'that Jaffa, like the rest of Paiestine, was mired in a period of stagnation and backwardness until the "arrival" of Europeans at the end of the nineteenth century. The second, related myth is that its daughter city, Tel Aviv, was born literally out of the sands, a parturition that denied Jaffa any role in the construction or rapid development of "the fìrst modem Hebrew city in the world"' (2005: 124---5). Thus obsessed with Tel Aviv and its municipal spaces, turning to Jaffa only as an 'ancient' example that neatly omits any specific reference to Palestinian Arabs, the audio tour is recontextualised by a shot of a silent, expressionless Aljfari who listens on headphones while surveying the primitive/modem dichotomy of Jaffa-Tel Aviv.

From that static vantage point, the ironies of the 'found' soundtrack resonating against the long take of filmmaker and city, the film cuts to an unusual dose-up shot of a white cup and saucer, full of milky coffee, on a nondescript faux-wood laminate table. An arm breaches the frame and at its end, a hand holds a sugar sachet imprinted with a picture of former Israeli president Golda Meir. Throwing it on the table, the arm reaches for another sachet, then another, each imprinted with the face of an historically significant Israeli or Zionist leader, such as former presidents Chaim Weizmann and Yìtzhak Ben­ Zvi. As the El Avram Group's 'I Believe' plays over, the Zionist sugar packets cover the table and there is a cut to a long shot of the filmmaker slumped in a hotel lobby chair as the singer intones 'I exist, I exist, l'm the son of lsrael' Building on the scene before it, this one seems to ironically juxtapose the body of the filmmaker within a commodified mise-en-scène of Jewish nationality that here exceeds its own limits and tips into self-parody. But the function of each sequence is not simply to undermine through ironie humour; in fact each emerges as a profound articulation of a first person subjectivity in the film, a subjectivity that sound and image here construct as muted and dis-articulated from an Israeli spatial environment. The passivity and relative silence of the subject's disposition throughout might suggest that the film succumbs to a kind of quietism in which loss of agency is treated only as a symptom of dispossession. However the film’s queer discursivity lies in the parradoxical way that it turns the pathologies and chronopolitics of dispossession and marginality into a position of politicalenergy and agency.


        That The Roof’s discourse is not like that of some other Palestinian documen­taries was a fact not lost on the film's German television producers, who rejected the director's fìrst cut of the film because it lacked conflict; they wanted an explanatory voiceover throughout, thought that Aljafari's family looked 'too ltalian' and spoke too softly, and that the film would be better if it presented conflict. In short, says Aljafari, they believed that 'you can't make a film about Palestine/Israel without having the Israelis shooting [... ] and Palestinians falling down and crying and being the victims' (Aljafari 2008). In rejecting such histrionics, Aljafari also rejects an equally essentialising national narrative of Palestinian identity that could be counterposed to the spatial and temporal pathologies of Israeli state and market formations. Far example, drawing on Marcia Landy's work on the melodrama of the national narrative and its typical functioning through discourses of the family and normative gender constructions (1995: 175-6), and referring to films by Rashid Masharawi and Michel Khleifi, Livia Alexander notes that some Palestinian films resista a Zionist national narrative of Palestine by invoking the unity of family asa collective farce standing far the Palestinian nation in the face of the violence inflicted on it by the lsraeli state and its disruption or betrayal by exilic Palestinians (2005:158-9). The Roof, however, resists the potential normativity of such strategies.

        Despite the presence of the filmmaker and his family in many scenes, the film does not make of them a heroically national collectivity that might offer a nar­rative of resistance to the state - productive though that tendency has been for the films that Alexander describes15. lnstead, the family is presented in this film as if stalled or imprisoned within the logic of pastness and backwardness that the state has ascribed to it: a father and son in a tyre shop, not speaking over the constant drone of the TV; a mother seated passively at home in the house with no roof; an uncle and great aunt caught between the remembered realities of the pre-Zionist past and the present of under- and unemployment. The fractures are further exploited by one daughter's apparent class mobility and, of course, by the extradiegetic fact of the filmmaker's own diasporic situation. The Roof makes of its family the grounds for an agency that lies elsewhere: not wholly within the diegesis, nor outside of the text, but within the discourse itself. That is, its first person discursivity as described throughout this essay is the vehicle far creating rupture within what could appear solely as an elaboration of a symptom: Palestinians as anachronistic to the modern state of Israel. In detailing the many ways in which that pathology is elaborated temporally and spatially within Israel, The Roof offers a way of seeing and knowing that generates its own, contradictory, ambiguous and anti-normative form of resistance. Seizing the possibility for rupture within the fabric of 'the interior’ the film creates new possibilities for what Villarejo terms 'relationality and varie­gation’ for meaningful relations of difference that are not yoked to a national counter-narrative or to the familiar slogans or icons of Palestinian nationality, but rather to gestures and hints of other lines of connection that might serve to produce newness for Palestinians within Israel. As points of rupture in the film, these might include such things as the experience of prison and its formative role on political consciousness and social intimacy for the narrator, or the dislocating productive possibilities of migration and return in which the film, through its director's own transnational training and production strategy, had its beginnings16.

        The final shot of this film is its longest tracking shot as the camera moves along the still-fascinating surfaces of the unfinished second floor, revealing every scrap of debris and detail along the way, while end credits burn into the image. In its perverse and excessive attention to these flat, overinscribed surfaces the film finally offers the viewer a queer discourse that is not about explicitly articulated sexual or gendered identity - not of the fìlmmaker, of its subjects, or of a nation. Rather, the film's queer discursivity emerges from its radical, first person response 'from the interior' to the complex political and social density of Palestinian life within lsrael.

1        As Janet Walker has generously reminded me, this should not be the place to signal a rejection of melodrama as a politically subversive mode, nor do I mean to suggest that the roadblock or checkpoint film must by definition lack in subtlety or politica! nuance. What I do wish to argue, however, is that The Roof articulates its politics in a manner that fully exploits - rather than attempting to contain - the ambivalent position of Palestinians within the borders of a settler colonial! state. By necessity, then, this film will adopt different discursive strategies for articulating that position, especially as it concerns a nation, than might a film located in the West Bank.
2        On the potential for queer theory to unsettle normative constructions of nation and diaspora, see Gopinath (2005).
3        Since, at the time of writing, my spoken Arabic is not yet strong enough, my 'reading' of the film here is accomplished partly through a literal reading of subtitles. While such a reliance always renders the text differently, in ways that can be problematic, here subtitles add another layer to a film that is constructed within a polyglossia of Arabic, Hebrew and English (see Shohat 2010: 263) and that is composed throughout of images of layers and over-inscriptions. For this reason the first two frame enlargements I present here become especially interesting for the way they embed the title as another layer of meaning upon the image.
4        On 'Hebraisation' and the politica! intent of renaming, see Benvenisti (2000: 18); on the survival of some Arabic village names, see Benvenisti (2000: 36).
5        A later publication from this longer project (Le Feuvre and Zaatari (eds) 2004) tacitly acknowledges the reader's desire for contextualization and presents considerably more material about El Madanì and the photographs themselves, including an essay by Lawrence Wright (Wright 2004) framing that particular collection of portraits in terms of their frequently transgressive gender codes.
6        See also 'Queer Politics and the Question of Palestine/Israel,' a special issue of GLQ, 16,4 (201O); many of its essays interrogate neoliberal constructions of gay identity and nationalism and ask how queer politics might challenge our understandings of cultura! production and activism in Palestine/lsrael.
7        For an introduction to some of this work, see some of the essays included in the special issue of Socia/ Text, 'What's Queer About Queer Studies Now?', edited by Eng et al. (2005), along with as the books, already cited, by Puar (2008) and Ferguson (2003).
8        Makdisi argues that by withholding nationality to Jews alone, while allowing citizenship for Palestinians within the 1948 borders, lsrael is able to say that al! its citizens are treated equally while in practice discriminating heavily against anyone who is nota national (2008: 144-5), For other work on Palestinians within lsrael with respect to social conditions and colonial contrai, see, for example, EI-Asmar (1975), Zureik (1979), Lustick (1980), Davis (2003), among many others.
9        Makdisi argues that by withholding nationality to Jews alone, while allowing citizenship for Palestinians within the 1948 borders, lsrael is able to say that allits citizens are treated equally while in practice discriminating heavi ly against anyone who is nota national (2008: 144-5), For other work on Palestinians within lsraelwith respect to social conditions and colonial contrai, see, for example, EI-Asmar (1975), Zureik (1979), Lustick (1980), Davis (2003), among many others.
10      This could be a place to reveal how trivial was the pretext that put him in prison during the Intifada. In a Q&A with my students in 2008, the filmmaker explained the situation that led to his imprisonment and contextualised it within the logic of lsraeli state control and criminalisation of Palestinians; yet to repeat that story here seems to me to work against the power of the film's own rhetoric of openness and ambiguity. I am aware that to even suggest that there is an explanation, and that it confirms my point about the criminalising of a population, may perhaps function to reassure the anxious viewer/reader that Aljafari 'is really not a terrorist'.
11      On the wall and Israel's architecture of control, see Weizman (2007).
12      For a compelling history of Jaffa in relation to modernities, colonialism and nationalism, see LeVine (2005). A more intimate and immediate impression of the politics of everyday life in one of Jaffa's old neighborhoods is found in the blog 'Occupied' (see 'Yudit').
13      Port of Memory takes up the story of Salim and his sister and their imminent eviction from their home in Jaffa. His video installation AI-Bum, for the Home Works IV programme in Beirut in Aprii 2008, consisted of static shots of unfinished balconies on Palestinian homes in Jaffa.
Aljafari returns to this home in Port of Memory. Far an extended analysis of that film and his other work, see Limbrick (2012).
15      For an excellent discussion of the shifting discourses of nationalism in Israeli and Palestinian cinema, see Shohat's 'Postscript' in the new edition of her book Israeli Cinema (2010: 249-325).
16      Aljafari produced this film from a German production base. Far more on his German-based work, and a fuller account of the production controversies of The Roof described above, see Limbrick (2012).
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Kamal Aljafari
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