Soup Over Bethlehem
Soup Over Bethlehem (2006) depicts an ordinary Palestinian family, Sansour’s own, around a dinner table on a rooftop overlooking the West Bank city of Bethlehem. What starts as a culinary discussion about the national dish mloukhieh being served from a soup bowl soon evolves into a personal and engaging conversation about politics – thereby emphasizing the symbiosis of food and politics so indicative of the Palestinian experience.
The sheer flow and integrity of the dialogue poses questions as to the staged nature of what easily passes for unedited. The handheld cameras and the intimate sounds of cutlery against china support the illusion of a one to one relation between video and reality. Yet, by being composed of multiple unrelated fragments of dialogue, Soup Over Bethlehem actually marks a break-away from the very narrative it feigns. Thus, the video addresses the fictional foundation of documentary and draws attention to the mediating faculty often overlooked in the assessment of visual reports passed off as unbiased depictions of reality – a mediating faculty to a large extent responsible for the reductive stereotyping often shaping our understanding of the other.
Rather than offering a portrait of a national identity as an invitation to renegotiate stereotypes, Soup Over Bethlehem presents a stereotype already renegotiated. The Arabic spoken around the dinner table is interrupted by English, and family members hold a variety of international passports, jobs and academic degrees. The diasporic traits present in every Palestinian family history lends a globalized quality even to life under the restraints of occupation. In turn, the mloukhieh in the soup bowl represents the shared national heritage – a single constant amid nothing but fluctuation. And the meal itself becomes a gastronomic anchoring of a Palestinian identity in eternal flux.