"We Are All Fedayeen": Palestinian and Jordanian Representations of the Battle of Karameh

By Rory Sykes
Submitted to Session P4533 (Creating Jordan: Artistic Production in a Divided Nation, 2016 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
Jordan; Palestine;
Arab-Israeli Conflict; Media;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In March of 1968, Israeli forces attacked militant fighters from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) camped out in the Jordanian town of Karameh. Despite the ultimate destruction of the camp, the Jordanian Army provided vital assistance to the PLO and pushed the Israeli forces back. Subsequently, the PLO transformed this military defeat into a moral and political victory, one that proliferated in visual media and highlighted the cooperation between Palestinians and Jordanians. Emphasizing this solidarity, King Hussein of Jordan declared, “We are all fedayeen.” However, this sentiment would soon turn sour as tensions between the PLO and the Jordanians increased, leading to a total rupture of relations in 1970 with long-lasting effects. This paper seeks to recuperate that moment of Palestinian-Jordanian camaraderie by examining the representations of Karameh produced in the battle’s immediate wake. I contend that the new, revolutionary Palestinian image promoted by the PLO after 1967 was critically informed by a close, dynamic relationship with Jordanian cultural workers during these formative years. This paper will shed light on the unexamined circuits of artistic interaction between the PLO and Jordanian state and media apparati in order to challenge narratives that solely focus on the subsequent political conflict between the two parties, and instead offer an alternative analysis that allows us to rethink the power and potential of visual culture as a site for negotiation, solidarity, and possibility.

In its move to reorient the public image of Palestinians from beseeching refugees to empowered fedayeen, the PLO heavily relied upon the deployment of documentary and journalistic tropes in its posters, illustrated pamphlets, and lens-based media. For example, three of the PLO’s Film and Photo Unit founding members—Mustafa Abu Ali, Sulafa Jadallah, and Hani Jawharia—all initially worked on productions for the Jordanian Ministry of Culture. This experience exerted a lasting stylistic impact demonstrated by similarities in film structure, narrative voice, and visual framing. More broadly, I argue that the PLO’s Arts and National Culture division incorporated elements of the official tone modeled by Jordanian cultural authorities in order to produce and promote a unified vision of an independent Palestinian national identity. This paper will fill in the institutional history of collaboration to support an aesthetic analysis of how the Battle of Karameh in particular came to hold such symbolic importance across national lines and stood as a rallying cry for fedayeen solidarity, brief though that moment may have been.