In 1976, Jean-Luc Godard and Anne Marie Miéville released a strange film called Here and Elsewhere. The film is in fact a series of unfinished shots stitched together from an earlier film that was never finished, Till Final Victory, alongside political critique from the filmmakers. In 1970, Godard and the Dziga Vertov Group had traveled to Jordan to document the training of PLO militants to “make propaganda for the Palestinian cause.” Godard filmed the militants reading Mao, discussing politics, and training for war with the oppressor – a sequence of images, the unfinished film suggests, that can only end in final victory. At one point, Godard interviews a pregnant woman who proudly declares she is carrying the next generation of the resistance.
But the woman, Godard admits in the Here and Elsewhere commentary, was never pregnant. In another sequence, a Palestinian woman speaks directly to the camera, while Miéville admonishes that Godard likely only interviewed her because she was attractive. And the “final victory” became the brutal massacre of the Palestinian Fedayeen by Jordanian security forces during the Black September conflict, which broke out just a few months after filming. What seemed an irrevocable march towards victory instead ended in horror.
In Here and Elsewhere, Godard confesses his real interest in visiting PLO militants: to see and experience a political form of armed struggle against imperialism which has long disappeared in the West. Till Final Victory was never truly made for Palestinians but for French radicals to, through an inadvertent colonial gaze, project their own hopes for revolution onto a foreign Other.
In one sequence, a young Palestinian girl stands amidst rubble and recites a poem to the camera, gesturing dramatically as she does so. This, Godard admits, is a form of theater, nominally for the Palestinian Revolution, but actually is something meaningfully distinct: the historical memory of the 1789 French Revolution, acted out for the benefit of the Till Final Victory filmmakers. The young girl recites her poem, as a French family passively watches her perform on the TV. This girl is innocent, Godard says, but perhaps this form of theater is not.
The theater of Palestinians performing for Westerners is something we should all be familiar with. One form this takes is the turning of Palestinians into passive victims of a perpetual tragedy in which nothing can be done. Here Palestinians are no more than a therapeutic tool for liberals to lament the necessary suffering of colonized people for what they call civilization, and for leftists to process our own grief at the seemingly dim prospects for liberation in our own countries. Writer Rayan El-Amine, in a reflection on the massive pro-Palestinian march in DC, wrote that “any instance of mass international Palestinian solidarity always reflected an instance of equal and opposite Palestinian tragedy.”
Another more insidious form of tragic theater is the voyeuristic acting out of a discourse of armed struggle on social media amongst radicals in the West. This takes the form of advocacy for immediate armed insurrection, political action that prioritizes adoption of radical slogans on Twitter instead of concrete acts of solidarity, and farcical meme politics which fantasize about spontaneous revolutionary violence towards one’s domestic political rivals. This is not to discount the role of revolutionary violence in the anti-colonial resistance or to suggest that western radicals should be silent, but rather to recognize the colonial theater in which Palestinians can only be props for other struggles. Miéville tells us, “we should learn how to see ‘here’ in order to hear ‘elsewhere’- learn how to hear yourself speaking in order to see what the others are doing.”
The first images of the Al-Aqsa flood galvanized leftists around the world. Several comrades on social media compared the breaching of Israel’s Iron Wall to the burning of the 3rd Precinct in Minneapolis during the 2020 uprisings- hated symbols of a seemingly invincible oppressor destroyed and thus proving the Enemy to be truly vulnerable. That such militancy would come with brutal Zionist reprisal was of no surprise, most of all to the Palestinian militants themselves.
Still, the sheer devastation of Israel’s most recent attempt at genocide, the open contempt for Palestinian life shown by Israeli officials, and the blatant targeting of civilians on this scale came as a shock. Many of us on the Left, despite our best intentions, have not given up on the idea that just maybe the arc of history does indeed point towards justice. But we, like Godard, must reckon with our hopes for “final victory” alongside the reality of violent repression.
In the West, the persistent online discourse is about whether one is allowed to “disconnect” from the news and social media to protect one’s mental health. This debate misses a vital point: that many of us have the choice to disconnect in the first place, whether we do so or not. In Here and Elsewhere, Godard and Miéville repeatedly contrast the horrifying images of repression with a French family consuming them on the TV as spectacle. Despite a desire to speak in generic internationalist platitudes that the working class has no country, there is clearly a “here” and an “elsewhere.” This is not meant as a disempowering liberal ritual of acknowledging privilege to relinquish personal guilt, but rather as a recognition of profoundly different contexts, from which we can construct a political alternative to the present situation.
Despite the necessary distinction, the interconnectedness of global imperialism means that the racist colonial violence of “elsewhere” also extends into “here”, for example in the horrific Islamophobic murder of 6-year old Wadea Al-Fayoume in Illinois by his landlord. This explains what baffles the inane pro-Zionist media of the West, specifically why so many social movement formations boldly call for a Free Palestine, and why hundreds of thousands across the world demonstrate for Palestinian liberation, even when facing state repression themselves. A cynical take would extend the logic of Godard’s personal confession: shows of solidarity, especially from the West, are just the projection of revolutionary hopes onto Palestinians by a privileged intellectual milieu and thus can only be superficial. Such an analysis misses the interrelation between colonial violence in the imperial core and periphery, how empire shapes and reifies class society, the genuine enthusiasm of oppressed people around the world for Palestinian liberation, and perhaps most importantly, discounts any possibility of mass action, even as hundreds of thousands take to the streets.
Still, the problem of the colonial gaze of the radical western intellectual, or the more modern leftist social media influencer, is not one we can easily handwave. The struggle for a Free Palestine, from the river to the sea, resonates deeply across the world, and yet, importantly, it is also geographically bound. The distinction between “here” and “elsewhere” cannot be abolished by righteous social media posts or by pretending such differentiation does not exist. Instead, we must commit to treating Palestinians as the protagonists of their own struggle rather than as passive victims or as a means to voyeuristically act out a discourse of armed struggle. Otherwise, as Miéville reminds us, we will never be able to hear them. The project of building a truly popular internationalist force in the heart of empire will require being fearless and intransigent in our support for a Palestinian liberation not just to other leftists on the internet but also in our everyday lives, to commit to seriously studying shifting conditions on the ground in the occupied territories without resorting to easy platitudes, struggling through difficult conversations and contradictions, and most importantly, building mass organizations of workers and oppressed people that can meaningfully intervene against apartheid.
Tiffany Berruti is a writer, organizer and a rank-and-file union member