Suheir Hammad on "Salt of This Sea"

October 27, 2008

Suheir Hammad, poet and star of "Salt of This Sea" Speaks on the movie, which premiers at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. She talks on the various worlds within Israel/Palestine and on the experience of access, segregation, and privilege.

Suheir Hammad, poet and star of "Salt of This Sea" Speaks on the movie, which premiers at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. She talks on the various worlds within Israel/Palestine and on the experience of access, segregation, and privilege.



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Suheir Hammad on ‘Salt of This Sea’

Lia Tarachansky

LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: The city of Toronto is hosting its very first Palestine Film Festival. The festival will run from October 25 to November 1, screening over 30 films. In the studio with us is Suheir Hammad, poet and star of the festival’s opening film, Salt of This Sea. Salt of This Sea is the first film ever to be written and directed by a Palestinian woman. Welcome, Suheir. Can you tell us a little bit about the movie?

SUHEIR HAMMAD, POET AND ACTRESS: Salt of This Sea follows my character, Soraya, she enters Ben Gurion Airport with her American passport and travels into Ramallah for the first time. She’s 28 years old, from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and has never really been out of the country, from what I can tell. And she goes to the West Bank. Her family is originally from Jaffa, which is part of the 1948 historical Palestine. And Soraya�. It’s a road movie in a lot of ways. She’s looking for herself as a woman, and she has an idea that she comes from this place, and she wants to kind of experience it for the first time in her life. In the movie, we follow Soraya sort of trying everything possible to get back what she feels is rightfully hers, what has been taken by the 1948 ethnic cleansing. And, eventually, after going through every means possible, she decides to take it back by force. Do you feel that this is sort of a metaphor for the intifadas?

HAMMAD: Well, you know, Soraya actually is confronted with a lot of bureaucracy. She’s confronted with the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy, which denies her a Palestinian citizenship because she’s not from 1967 or occupied territories. She deals with the Israeli bureaucracy of being an American who should have free access into the different parts of Israel, and she doesn’t because she has an Arab and Muslim name. So I think Soraya actually goes up against all of these establishments�not just the occupational forces and not just the idea of a nation state, but the limitations that are put on movement, and not reclaiming as much as the opportunity to experience. Because Soraya was born in Brooklyn, raised in Brooklyn, she never had that Palestinian earth under her feet. You know, she didn’t grow her own olives; you know, her olives came from the supermarket like everybody else. But the idea that she’s not allowed to experience life there because she is a Palestinian is really what she’s getting at. It’s not the sense of "You took something from me"; it’s "I have the right to this," because you don’t really see Soraya trying to take anything from anyone. And I think that’s the other part of it is not that she wants these things; it’s that her human right to experience them should not be negated by the fact that she’s originally from there.

TARACHANSKY: And that sort of separation is a major theme in the movie. We follow the character through all these different worlds, through the segregation of what’s currently modern Israel/Palestine. I was wondering if you can walk us a little bit through the various worlds of Palestine and Israel. And even within Palestine you’ll see a very strong class separation.

HAMMAD: Oh, for real. I mean, Soraya gets to Palestine, and, you know, she’s a waitress, and she’s looking for a job as a waiter, really, in Palestine. And the first time she goes out to dinner, she goes to this kind of fancy restaurant in Ramallah, and everyone there works for the UN or kind of posh NGOs, which�not all NGOs are posh, I know this. And then she’s sitting at a table with Palestinians who laugh at her for even thinking that she would want to come and live in the West Bank, and they look at her like she’s this naive�I don’t want to say hood rat, but definitely the class separation of, you know, what people think of struggle, what people think of settling, what people think of as success is very much class-related. So one of the things I think we’re really happy with about the film is that you see a spectrum of Palestinian life. Soraya falls in love with a man from the camps. She has to recognize her own privilege as a person of the Diaspora in love with a man who is from the refugee camps, which means he’s not from Ramallah or from a city or from Bir Zeit. He’s from the camps. It’s a different reality and it’s a different horizon that they have there. She’s confronted with her privileges.

TARACHANSKY: And at one point in the movie, Soraya is talking to Emad, and we just want to show a short clip.

~~~

Courtesy: Pyramide International

EMAD (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): You come from here. Your family comes from here. But they’ll never let you live here. You’ll only ever be a tourist. So give them what they want. Confess all if you think it will help.

SORAYA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): All we have is the truth. I’m not giving that up.

EMAD: Think the truth helped anyone here? Wake up. Look around. They won.

~~~

TARACHANSKY: So what does Emad mean by "wake up, they won"?

HAMMAD: In that scene, all the way in the far horizon is a settlement, and you would never know, like, looking at the geography of that particular frame, that Ahmad is actually pointing to a settlement and pointing to American tax dollars that have gone into the land that he has grown up with as occupied Palestine. This is land that is not in�what’s the word I’m looking for? It’s not in consideration. It’s occupied. It’s not like, you know, 1948, any conversation like that. And he doesn’t believe that she can come to the West Bank and not deal with this, like, not deal with the powerlessness that he feels. Emad, in the story, you know, he wants to come to Canada, which I think is hilarious, that we’re in Toronto. And I hope people in Toronto, like, really appreciate that Canada becomes, for him, the promised land. And Soraya can’t understand that; she can’t understand why you would want to leave something that completely affirms you, that, you know, he never has to question his identity or his rights as a Palestinian there. And he actually teaches her that because he is poor, because he comes from the camps, because his family doesn’t articulate themselves in a larger kind of power world, that he lives a version of Palestine that she doesn’t have access to. And it’s like any love affair: you fall in love with someone, they come from a different mother and a different house and a different land. All of us do.

TARACHANSKY: Alright. And just to finish up, a very big theme in the movie is erasing Palestine and erasing the history of the Palestinian people, and I was wondering, looking into the future, do you see possible a one- or a two-state solution in a land, in a place where Palestine does not actually exist anymore?

HAMMAD: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I’m a poet, so I don’t really have a lot of political strategy around what peace would mean, but I believe a one-state solution is the only real human evolution. And I actually think that the case of Palestine and Israel gives us in the world an opportunity to really study the nation state, really study what a state is supposed to be and who it’s supposed to serve, and really question all our ideas of nationalism. So the world that I envision includes a free Palestine, where everyone lives with equal rights. And I think that there are people who hold onto this dream. Edward Said had this dream when everyone was against the idea of a one-state. And now it’s like, even as a Palestinian, if you’re told that your friends and the people who support you and who are pro-Palestinian, these people, they’re all two-state people. If you go to the West Bank�I’ve never been inside the Gaza Strip�we’ve already stratified any notion of a Palestinian state. Yeah, it’s going to have to open up. Israel’s going to have to open itself up. And what it means to be an Israeli is going to have to be confronted. And I hope I’m able to do that as a Palestinian, help that conversation, just like I need Israeli help in the conversation about what my nation, my national identity would be. Two states is�and, again, I’m not�you know, maybe someone can educate me.

TARACHANSKY: Thank you for joining us. And thank you for joining us. Please join us back for the second segment of this interview.

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