When it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflicts and their representations in cinema, most of it can be found in documentaries. The history of Palestinian cinema has been characterised by censorship and erasure, but a handful of brave filmmakers have been fighting back. One of them is the extremely talented Elia Suleiman.
Suleiman’s oeuvre is a unique presence within the context of Palestinian cinema because it uses comic lenses to make sense of the overwhelming tragedy of the Israeli occupation. Drawing comparisons to cinema’s greatest comedians, such as Buster Keaton, Suleiman has delivered thoughtful critiques of the West’s flawed perception of Palestine throughout his career.
Born in Nazareth, Suleiman is one of the leading figures of contemporary Palestinian cinema. Starting with his 1996 drama Chronicle of a Disappearance which became the first Palestinian to have a national release in the US, Suleiman’s examinations of the sociopolitical climate of Palestine have managed to reach wider audiences around the world.
In an interview with Little White Lies, Suleiman said: “I was rejected non-stop when I was trying to set up my first feature. At that time in the mid-’90s, there weren’t a lot of Palestinian filmmakers per se, and the lefties in the occidental film world were very patronising about Palestine. They wanted to speak about it and not let you speak about it, so they were affronted by the comedy in the script.”
The filmmaker added: “They knew that Palestinians never laughed because they were far too busy being tortured and tormented by the Israelis. This was not reality, so one French producer was convinced I was a fake Palestinian. I’d been living in New York, so I was told, ‘Go back to your America!’ That’s the hypocrisy of the French left: they have all this anger towards America, but, of course, they love it really.”
One of the most interesting additions to Suleiman’s filmography is Cyber Palestine, a fascinating parable that re-contextualises the origin of Jesus Christ within modern Palestine. Filled with volatile political anger and an innovative sense of humour, Cyber Palestine is the perfect example to prove that Suleiman is an incredibly necessary voice for his country.
An incisive attack against the Israeli occupation’s control over Palestinian subjects, Cyber Palestine shows just how difficult it would be for Mary and Joseph to deliver Jesus in modern-day Palestine, where they would never have made it past the checkpoints. Suleiman insists that the idea of Palestine has almost been transformed into a virtual space now in a commentary that is simultaneously powerful and tragicomic.
Watch the film below.