Sela, Rona. “Rethinking National Archives in Colonial Countries and Zones of Conflict: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Israel’s National Photography Archives as a Case Study.” In Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Competing Narratives in the Middle East (ed. Anthony Downey; London: Tauris, 2015), 79-91.
My research over the years has dealt with the question of tyranny that characterizes the activities of Israel’s national institutional photography archives. I discussed the power relations that shaped them and the significant role they played in determining the perception and writing of history. Derrida points to violence as one of the main features inherent in the archive, embodying governmental information/power relations. These aggressive relationships are intensified in a country where two peoples—occupiers and occupied—live in a national conflict and are present, for example, in the way institutional archives control both the national treasures of the vanquished and the knowledge of their history and culture. Pointing out the overt and covert mechanisms in these national institutional archives by stripping away and exposing their inherent national bias, lays the foundation for building an alternative, layered database, different from the one-sided worldview that characterizes them. This enables the original purpose of the archives to be undermined and, in the words of McEvan, put through a process of democratization. However, while in South Africa civil organizations and government are aware of the importance of establishing post-colonial (post-apartheid) archives, in Israel the situation is different. Although in recent years additional studies have started to breach this national cover, exposing excluded areas of knowledge and research, in Israel they still exist on the margins and there is ample room to read archives in a way that penetrates their façade of physical violence.
It is also necessary to deconstruct the archive’s structure, and to propose alternative mechanisms of reading, interpretation and criticism in addition to those discussed in this essay.
The voice of the subjugated is not entirely absent from national, insti-tutional archives in Israel, but exists in an emasculated and misleading form. In this essay, I wanted to raise the possibility of hearing these voices that are seemingly missing from the archives. Freeing the national archives from their chains, and the construction of an independent memory and history—by challenging the national database and providing a platform for Palestinian voices and the return of their looted and seized materials—are the first steps in establishing alternative national archives in Israel. However, stripping away their outer-wrapping does not replace the importance of hearing the voices of the oppressed, learning their history and restoring their ownership and rights.