In the early hours of 18 January 2017 Keren Manor was filming a raid on the unrecognised Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran in the Naqab desert, just metres away from where one of its residents, Yaqoub Abu Al-Qi’an, was bleeding to death. How he came to be here would soon become the centre of a debate between Israeli policemen and members of the community.
As part of the Activestills collective, which documents resistance against Israel’s colonial project, that morning Manor was answering a call for human rights workers to stand in solidarity with residents – plans had been made public to demolish the village so that an Israeli settlement could be built on its ruins.
Manor’s footage has become the central component of “The Long Duration of a Split Second”, one of four art installations which competed for a £25,000 cash trophy as part of this year’s Turner Prize at the Tate Britain in London. The entry was submitted by the independent research agency Forensic Architecture, which uses the built environment to explore human rights abuses.
Using Manor’s film Forensic Architecture disprove the allegation made by the Israeli establishment at the time: that during the demolition Abu Al-Qi’an got into his car, switched his headlights off, and charged at a group of policemen, killing one of them in what was widely purported to be a terror attack, before being shot dead.
Few populations on earth have been subject to more intense cycles of destruction, displacement, marginalisation and police brutality than the Arab Bedouin who reside in the Naqab (Negev) desert. Prior to that fatal night the roughly 1,000 residents of Umm Al-Hiran lived within 150 homes in the Wadi Atir area of southern Israel in one of 46 unrecognised Bedouin villages. Not only have successive governments refused to acknowledge Umm Al-Hiran, but they have classified the homes as illegal.
Around this time the government had been trying to forcibly relocate thousands of Bedouin from their villages under legislation previously known as the Prawer Plan, which supports the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community on the basis that they are trespassers on state land. They are denied access to water, electricity, sewage, education and healthcare.
If this is the build-up to eviction, Manor’s film captures its culmination. It is a cacophony of headlights in the dark, shouting – “half-moon them”, orders one policeman – gun shots, and the constant sound of a car horn beeping, as though a body has fallen and rested upon it. It is a noise which will prove to be incredibly stressful as it lasts for over an hour.
Whilst the raw footage is played in the first room of the exhibition, in the second Forensic Architecture has synchronised it with thermal footage captured by Israeli police from a helicopter and released on the day of the raid, edited with annotations to support the official version of events. Whilst Manor’s film is with audio, the police footage is without.
Using the two films Forensic Architecture were able to determine that Abu Al-Qi’an’s vehicle was actually moving slowly before the gunshots begin, after which the car begins to gain speed. It then collides with six policemen who surround it and on Meron’s video we hear unexplained gunshots.
Using video and reproduced tweets and media coverage the exhibition goes on not only to contradict the official police narrative – that this was a car-ramming attack – but also to determine that Abu Al-Qi’an need not have died if only he had been given medical attention immediately rather than being left to bleed to death for the 30 minutes police refused the ambulance access to him. Later, an autopsy carried out on Abu Al-Qi’an found that a bullet hit his right knee and smashed it, which may have caused it to lock onto the accelerator of the car.
Forensic Architecture did not win first prize this year, a shame because it would have attracted a lot of attention both for their work and for Israel’s Palestinian citizens. The Turner Prize is the most prominent art prize in the world and courts a lot of publicity, mostly through pushing a conceptual aesthetic. The work “The Long Duration of a Split Second” seems a long way from one of the first ever recipients of the prize in 1985, the abstract painter Howard Hodgkin, but one of the strengths of the piece is that it is transformative in that it takes our view of art and challenges it.
Whilst “The Long Duration of a Split Second” is not necessarily conventional it is massively resourceful. It embodies what it claims to be – forensic – unlike a lot of conceptual art which tells us yet does not show us. In this case it shows us Abu Al-Qi’an’s story and how, exhausted and frustrated with no tangible means of stopping armed policemen bulldoze his home, a maths teacher from the village of Umm Al-Hiran packed what valuables he could salvage into his car, got behind the wheel and left his house behind so that he did not have to watch it suffer its impending fate. Along the way, he was shot dead by a policeman.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.