Born in Jaffa, 1981. Lives and works in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Raafat Hattab's video piece, Untitled, presents the artist drawing water with a bucket, lengthily watering an olive tree as he rubs its leaves and softly caresses its trunk. Lebanese singer Ahmad Kaabour's song Hob (Love) is heard in the background. The song came out in 1976 in a record called Unadikom (I'm Calling You), expressing the need for Palestinian solidarity. The song likewise turns to the sense of belonging of a collective Palestinian audience: "For you I return // with bleeding hands / in the corner of my room / the smells of crying for thousands of eyes // for you, if my clothes are torn // I shall become a temple / for you, if I have forgotten a word that could have saved me from death / for you, my suffering […] I love you. For you I leave the place."
"I leave the place" is the refrain. The camera follows the artist's hands, gently holding a handful of olive leaves. For a split second it appears as though the work deals with memory, with the image of the olive tree in Palestinian culture as a national lyrical sign of the Palestinian village, as a sign of the Lost Paradise before the Nakba. But the metaphor of "the right of return" is forthwith undermined when the camera zooms out, revealing that the olive tree next to which Hattab is standing is planted at the heart of the tiled concourse of Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, and that the source of the water for the tree's irrigation is the fountain pool adjacent to City Hall. The olive tree is demarcated within a small square between the tiles of the concourse at the heart of the square, a place identified with political demonstrations, with celebrations of Israel's Independence Day, and with the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The tree is indeed planted on the land of Palestine, but it looks detached and foreign in the concrete frame threatening to choke and isolate it at the heart of the country's largest Zionist metropolis.
The Arabic title of the work, Bidun Unwaan means 'untitled,' but also 'devoid of mailing address,' while the meaning of the Arabic word for title (عُنْوَان) is also embodiment, essence. The soundtrack for the video is the crux of the matter for Hattab as far as the question of localism is concerned. Hattab is a performance artist whose works always combine Arabic singing and music as a sphere of language and culture, as the sphere of an imagined community which deviates from clear-cut geographical borders. It is an ideological political poetry written from afar, marking a space of rootedness, feelings, and longing. "I leave the place," the song turns to the refugees and exiles, the absent-present, the homeless, and those with addresses. The discrepancy between the sense of collective identity arising from Kaabour's song and Hattab's consciousness of the place introduces the question: how can one return to a place he has never left?