LYD IN EXILE, a creative documentary, unearths a contested history and uses the language of speculative fiction to reimagine life in modern-day Palestine a heal historic traumas.
Lyd was once a thriving Palestinian city with an important geographic location that allowed it to develop as an economical and cultural hub. In the Middle East, Lyd was a big deal. At one point, it was even the capital of the Muslim empire! In 1948, Lyd became an Israeli city, and under Israeli rule, became known as, “the drug capital of the Middle East.” In 1948, hundreds of Lyd’s residents were massacred by Israeli forces and most of the city’s 50,000 Palestinians were sent into exile. Today, the city has a Jewish Israeli majority and is disinvested and divided by racism and violence. For Palestinians, Lyd’s story is a painful and tragic fall from grace, which is why our film dares to ask the question: what would the city be like had the Israeli occupation never happened? LYD IN EXILE, a hybrid documentary feature, imagines answers to this question by telling two parallel stories: the documented story of the city and its remaining Palestinian people, and an animated, imagined reality in which the city was never occupied.Through vignettes with a chorus of characters, the story of the city of Lyd unfolds but with a twist: the city, Lyd, is our main character and she has a lot to say. In a raspy voice, she explains that the massacre created a fracture in reality and now there are two Lyds, one occupied and one free. As she explains, dazzling animations reveal the liberated version of Lyd where the documentary’s characters live free from the trauma of the past and the violence of the present.
Manar Meme, an educator in Lyd who is committed to passing on Palestinian identity to the next generation.
Eissa Fanous, a survivor of the Nakba who is a poet and artist.
Jehad Baba, a metal worker who has lived in Balata refugee camp his whole life following the expulsion of his family from Lyd over 70 years ago.
Palmach Soldiers, Archival footage introduces the audience to the Palmach soldiers who committed the massacre and expulsion in Lyd.
LYD IN EXILE is set in a place whose people have not been able narrate their own history or determine their own fate. Palestinians, like many indigenous peoples, have often been defined externally by their inability to survive, culturally, economically, or politically. Therefore, the pervasive narrative surrounding Palestine, especially in the West, is dominated by tragedy and violence. LYD IN EXILE uproots this narrative by painting a nuanced portrait of one Palestinian city’s cultural legacy and current survival. In so doing, we imagine new possibilities for the present and, by implication, the future.
Lyd, located 15 miles from Tel Aviv, was the first capital of Palestine and, like all Palestinian cities, has a rich cultural, economic, and political legacy. When Israel was founded in 1948, much of the rich history of Palestinian cities was destroyed, denying the world an understanding of Palestine’s cultural significance in the region and on the world stage. In Lyd, this destruction was particularly painful. In a massacre carried out by proto-Israeli soldiers, hundreds of Palestinians were killed and thousands were permanently exiled from the city that had been their home for generations. Palestinians went from being the dominant culture in Lyd, to a disenfranchised minority in a matter of weeks. However, despite forced displacement and marginalization, over seventy years later, Palestinian culture has persisted and continues to innovate in Lyd and throughout Palestine. This is what our film is about –– the way Palestinians see themselves, their history, and their present. And most importantly, it asks the question: what could have been?
Lyd is currently within the State of Israel, not in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, and the “Palestinian Citizens of Israel” who make up 20% of Israel are seen by the Israeli State as a “demographic bomb” who need to be contained. The lives of Palestinian Citizens of Israel are rarely portrayed on screen and LYD IN EXILE is a nuanced depiction of this hyphenated identity. As Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote, “Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room.” This is the experience of Palestinian Citizens of Israel, exiled in their own home. Similar to the experience of Black Americans, Palestinian Citizens of Israel live in a segregated reality that is codified by law. Mayor Yair Revivo, Lyd’s Mayor, espouses unity and togetherness in speeches while regularly ordering the demolition of Palestinian homes and providing less funding for Palestinian children in the segregated school system. These inequities are written on the landscape of the city itself. For example, the plaza where the massacre took place is named after the soldiers who committed the massacre, not for the massacre’s victims. The remaining architectural treasures of centuries old Palestinian structures, remnants of Lyd’s cultural legacy, stand crumbling and neglected by the municipality. However, through small acts of daily resistance and large acts of protest, our characters challenge attempts at their erasure and refuse to let go of their future or their past. Manar continues to teach Palestinian children about their identity. Orwa eloquently communicates the value of Palestinian urban space. And every time a Palestinian house is demolished by the municipality, it is rebuilt by a resilient and loving community. In a world coming to terms with the legacy of colonialism, slavery and forced migration, Lyd’s heroic story of cultural survival and resistance is universal. Similar to the fight over Confederate monuments across the U.S., the story asks: Who do we commemorate? Whose history – or version of history – do we value? And whose safety and existence do we prioritize?
Much like the Black Audio Film Collective’s Last Angel of History understands the displacement of Black culture through Afrofuturism, Palestinians have also used speculative narratives to reconsider their reality. The films of Larrisa Sarsour and the recent +972 essay series “New Futures” are great examples of the speculative tradition within which LYD IN EXILE is firmly located. In the speculative scenes, the city – our narrator – imagines another version of herself that has a different past and a different future. Through these scenes we allow ourselves to ask the taboo question, what if? What if the occupation of 1948 had never happened? What if Lyd had been allowed to flourish as a Palestinian city? What challenges would it have faced? How would Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust have been received by a sovereign, pluralistic Palestine? How would Palestine relate to neighboring counties? How would the lives of our characters be different? These scenes allow us to further uproot the pervasive narrative of Palestine as a place marred by tragedy and violence in favor of a complex and nuanced depiction of a place that could have been.
Although unorthodox in documentary, we view these speculative fiction scenes as essential to our film and to understanding the cultural context of Palestine. With the increased alienation of Palestine by its neighbors (as fostered by the Trump administration), the continued settlement of the West Bank and the suffocation of Gaza by Netanyahu’s Israel, and the continued marginalization of Palestinian Citizens of Israel through laws modeled on South African apartheid, one of the ways Palestine perseveres is through its imagination and cultural resistance. William Blake wrote, “What is now proved was once only imagined.” When one’s existence is kept within confines, it is essential to imagine other realities in order to make room for change in the present reality. Through this fantastical, playful, and cinematic take on documentary filmmaking, we are excited to elevate Lyd’s heroic story of cultural survival by showing the resilience of its residents in spite of the confines they live under, and by providing the space to imagine even more. LYD IN EXILE is a metaphor for Palestine as a whole, but its approach is also enormously relevant throughout the globe, with so many countries and communities poised between reckoning with the brutality of their pasts and repeating them.