Submitted to the conference:
Israel 2008: Sixty Years after 1948: Are the Narratives Converging?
New York University, May 19-21, 2008.
By: Mati Shemoelof, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Hebrew Literature, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
The Band’s Visit tells the story of a police musical band from Alexandria, as it arrives from Egypt to Israel, following an invitation to participate in the opening ceremonies of an Arab cultural center in the city of Petach-Tikvah (Hebrew for “Gate of Hope”). A receptionist at Tel-Aviv’s new central bus station mistakenly directs the group to Beith-HaTikvah (“The House of Hope”, in Hebrew), a fictional peripheral development-town in southern Israel. The plot focuses on the supposedly random encounter between the Egyptian-Arab band and the inhabitants of the town, who are Mizrahi (Hebrew for ‘Eastern’ or ‘Oriental’), descendants of the Arab-Jews.
The film can be perceived of as being realistic or surrealistic. While aware of the ‘Genre’ complexity, I choose to discuss its socio-political aspects, and my argument refers to the ethno-national division it portrays. I claim that Arab and Mizrahi characters in the film signify purified and hybrid categories. They do not represent “The Mizrahi” or “The Arab” sociologically, rather re-posits them on the screen, in a way described by Spivak as a passage between representation and re-presentation (Spivak, 2004).
Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern (1993) contains two main principles – Hybridization and Purification – which serve as sort of a code in Modernism. Following Latour, the model proposed by Shenhav (2005:82) enables a new, dynamic discourse, denouncing the customary essentialist, binary use of the terms ‘East’ and ‘West’, and regarding them as simultaneously hybridized and purified categories. Shenhav has implemented Latour’s model when researching the Zionist discourse on religion, and pointed out to a simultaneous hybridization and purification processes:
“Through simultaneous processes of hybridization and purification, Nationalism forms the religious as a signifier of the non-Modern (The Mizrahi, the political right, the other or the Orient), and the secular as a signifier of the Modern (the modern ‘Us’ or the West). This double signification enables Zionist nationalism to speak in two voices at the same time: the religious/primordial voice and the secular/modern voice. The first hybridizes old with new; it legitimizes, for the rest of the world, the national-Zionist project, for it creates an impression of continuity with a religious past (hybridization). The modern voice is directed both ways – to the external world as well as inside society. It seeks to modernize Zionism by turning its back on the past (purification (and distinguishing the new Jew from the old Jew, the productive Jew from the unproductive (religious) Jew” (Shenhav, 2005: 82, self translation emphasis added).