The Migratory Cactus

Today we mark the sixty-ninth anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba through the life of an aloe vera plant currently bursting with verdant vitality at Salma Al-Khalidi’s home. Through this plant’s travels out of Palestine and back to it, we retrace the journey of a family displaced by the Nakba, and join them as they embark on their return. This cactus plant not only represents one chapter of a personal history, says Salma, but also narrates the history of an entire generation.

The Palestinian Museum was not the only entity to be granted the opportunity to delve into a story that began at the clinic of a literature and plant loving physician in Jaffa. The threads of the story split and spread out, eventually coming together again in a clay pot on one of the verandas of the family house in Ramallah. Just as Salma shares the story of the cactus plant with every guest visiting her house, she also happily gives whoever of her guests desires it a seedling from it, affirming that that is the very essence of this plant. As the plant propagates and spreads, Salma hopes that the spiritual elements of the story the plant narrates will similarly multiply and propagate its significance. Today we dig into the soil of the cactus plant once again and invite you to enter into the narrative and share the dream.

Salma Khaldi- image

When the [Haganah] gangs intensified their violence and the war became oppressive, Salma’s grandfather had to leave his Jaffa clinic towards the end of 1948. He was keen not to part from his memories and chose to take with him his dearest possessions. He told his wife, who was frantically packing their belongings, to include seedlings of the house and clinic plants. Thus the aloe vera plant reached Nablus. Several years later nostalgia transported it once again, this time with Salma’s uncle, whose desire for a spiritual extension that would intensify the meaning of his existence impelled him to carry a seedling of the plant with him to his new home in Amman. Her father, with his passion for plants, continued this natural legacy and carried a seedling of the plant with him to Kuwait. Years elapsed between one travel destination and the next, with the cactus growing in exile until it was repatriated to Palestine.

In 1990, Salma’s uncle on her mother’s side took 36 cactus plants with him on a journey from Kuwait to Amman, but all the plants perished from heat with the exception of this aloe vera. After five years of residency in Amman, Salma decided to return to Ramallah. She could think of nothing better than this cactus plant to symbolize the strong ties that bound the family together, and to guard its members against the feeling of alienation during their displacement. Thus, she carried the plant with her as she moved back to Palestine.

In the sun, the red strands that adorn its leaves make the cactus glow like a flame, says Salma as she describes the beauty of her aloe vera. She hopes that the plant’s return to Ramallah will be the first step on the road to returning to Jaffa, a return bound with the return of all Palestinians to their homeland.

As the displaced move to their exiles, so this plant moved, and as they return home, so it returned.

Text: Malak Afouneh
Translation: Rania Filfil
Editing: Alexander Baramki
Interview by: Loor Awwad
Photographs: Ihab Jad

‎Palestinian Journeys‬ – رحلات فلسطينية

Palestinian Journeys – An Interactive Timeline from 1850 to the Modern

The interactive historical timeline is designed as a tool to explore the social, economic, cultural and political history of ‪#‎Palestine‬ from the mid-19th century to the present day

Developed in collaboration with the Institute for Palestine Studies and design studio VP-Visualizing Palestine, it will be available online and within the Museum’s building in Birzeit in both Arabic and English.

The ‪#‎FirstIntifada‬ forged an important aspect of the ‪#‎Palestinian‬ awareness, and formed, in its details, a significant revolutionary phase. The Palestinian Museum seeks to find and collect many stories from the First Intifada as part of the ‪#‎Palestinian_Journeys‬ project. We present you with some of these stories about art and the economy in the 1987 Intifada as tools of resistance

رحلات فلسطينية – مسرد زمني تفاعلي من 1850 حتى اليوم

منبر بحثي تفاعلي يسعى لاستكشاف التاريخ ‫#‏الفلسطيني‬ بجوانبه المختلفة منذ منتصف القرن التاسع عشر.

يتم تطويره بالتعاون والشراكة مع مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية وشركة VP Visualising Palestine وسيطلقه المتحف الفلسطيني داخل أروقته وعبر موقعه الإلكتروني باللغتين العربية والإنجليزية خلال الشهور القادمة.

صاغت الانتفاضة الأولى جانباً مهماً من الوعي الفلسطيني وشكلت في تفاصيلها مرحلة ثورية هامة. العديد من قصص ‫#‏الانتفاضة_الأولى‬ يعمل ‫#‏المتحف_الفلسطيني‬ على البحث عنها وتجميعها ضمن مشروع “‫#‏رحلات_فلسطينية‬“. نعرض لكم بعضا من هذه القصص عن الفن والاقتصاد في انتفاضة عام 1987 كأدوات للمقاومة.


photo: Road closure between Nablus and Jenin during the third year of 1936 revolution. Taken in 1938. © Institute for Palestine Studies, Matson Collection – Library of Congress

الصورة: إغلاق الطريق الواصل بين مدينتي نابلس وجنين أثناء أحداث ثورة 1936 خلال عامها الثالث. التقطت عام 1938. © مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية، مجموعة ماتسون – مكتبة الكونغرس.


In 1988, Israel arrested three Palestinian ‪#‎artists‬: ‪#‎Writer‬ Wasim Al-Kurdi, ‪#‎musician‬ Suheil Khoury, and ‪#‎Dabkeh‬ dancer, Muhammad Ata. Being in separate detention centers could not stop them from creating an artistic project. Waseem Al-Kurdi wrote the lyrics of a song for the “Marj Ibn Amer” show and had it smuggled, which was later delivered to Suheil Khoury, who composed the music for the song in his detention, and Muhammad Ata followed suit with mentally-choreographed dance movements. The following year the work became one of the best of El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe performances/shows.

عام 1988 اعتقلت إسرائيل ثلاثة من وجوه الثقافة الفلسطينية في تلك الفترة وهم الكاتب وسيم كردي والموسيقي سهيل خوري وراقص الدبكة محمد عطا. وجودهم في معتقلات متباعدة لم يكن حاجزاً لكي يصنعوا مشروعاً فنياً. قام وسيم كردي بتهريب كلمات أغنية لمشروع “مرج ابن عامر” الفني والتي تم نقلها لاحقاً لسهيل خوري ليلحنها في سجنه، لتصل بعدها إلى محمد عطا والذي رسم الرقصات في رأسه، ليكون هذا العمل بعد عام أحد أهم أعمال فرقة الفنون الشعبية.

#‎Palestinian‬ plastic ‪#‎artists‬ contrived to find alternatives as part of the economic boycott movement due to the scarcity of ‪#‎art‬ supplies and their reliance on Israeli products. Artist ‪#‎SlimanMansour‬ recounts that artists resorted to the use of raw materials in the creation of their works: Artist ‪#‎NabilAnani‬ introduced the use of leather and henna, Sliman Mansour employed the use of mud and hay, ‪#‎TayseerBarakat‬ used natural pigments extracted from pomegranate peel, and ‪#‎JawadIbrahim‬ used local stone to create various sculptures. Sliman Mansour claims that this impacted the creation of art all over the Arab world.

Photo: a group of Fine Artists ” towards trying and innovating”. from the right: Sliman Mansour, Tayseer Barakat, Nabil Anani, Vera Tamari.

The group was established in 1987 following the start of Al-Intifada after a decision by the group members to boycott Israeli,American and European artistic products.

The group used raw materials including goat skin, Henna, clay and hay. The group lasted ten years. 1988. From the family album of Nabil Anani. © The Palestinian Museum

أبدع الفنانون التشكيليون ‫#‏الفلسطينيون‬ في البدائل التي أوجدوها في سياق حركة ‫#‏المقاطعة_الاقتصادية‬ في ظل شح المواد الفنية المستخدمة واضطرارهم الاعتماد على المواد الإسرائيلية. يروي الفنان ‫#‏سليمان_منصور‬ أن الفنانين لجأوا للمواد الخام في إنتاج أعمالهم، فاستحدث الفنان ‫#‏نبيل_عناني‬ استخدام الجلد والحناء، فيما استحدث سليمان منصور استعمال الطين والتبن، أما الفنان ‫#‏تيسير_بركات‬ فقد استعمل الأصباغ الطبيعية المستخدمة من قشر الرمان، كما استعمل الفنان ‫#‏جواد_إبراهيم‬ الحجارة المحلية لإنتاج تماثيل فنية مختلفة وهو ما أثّر كما يقول سليمان منصور على إنتاج الفن على مستوى العالم العربي كله.

الصورة: مجموعة من ‫#‏الفنانين_التشكيليين‬ “نحو التجريب والإبداع” (من اليمين): سليمان منصور، تيسير بركات، نبيل عناني، ‫#‏فيرا_تماري‬. تأسست المجموعة عام 1987 بعد بدء الانتفاضة إثر قرار بمقاطعة المنتجات الفنية الإسرائيلية والأميريكية والأوروبية لدى اعضاءها والتجريب بخامات محلية مثل جلود الأغنام، والحنة، والطين، والقش. استمرت المجموعة لمدة 10 سنوات. 1988. من ألبوم نبيل عناني.


The ‪#‎BeitSahur‬ experience constituted an almost integrated model for ‪#‎economic‬ ‪#‎resistance‬ that the Palestinians had pursued in the 1987 ‪#‎Intifada‬.

In January 1988, Jad Ishaq and Issa Al-Taweel, residents of Beit Sahour, procured 500 vegetable saplings and distributed them to neighbors and relatives, to encourage their return to tending the earth. However, they soon needed to procure thousands of saplings and seeds due to the high demand. They proceeded to establishing a cooperative consisting of 14 persons, opened a sales point, and bought a tractor.

In February 1988, the city of Beit Sahour refused to pay taxes [to the Israel occupation administration in the West Bank]. All residents abided by the decision, and after five months, the occupation army responded with punitive measures, including fines and double taxes. The citizens of Beit Sahour refused to pay, and declared total ‪#‎civil‬ disobedience by collecting over 1000 identity cards [issued by the Israel occupier] and handing them over to the military commander of the area. The ‪#‎tax‬ #resistance ‪#‎campaign‬ continued for over a year thereafter.

photos: a delegation from US – organized by the National office of the Palestine Solidarity Committee – visiting West Bank to bear witness to the organized collective tax resistance of Biet Sahour. 1989, Beit Sahour. From Daniel Hughes Album. © The Palestinian Museum

شكلت تجربة ‫#‏بيت_ساحور‬ نموذج شبه متكامل ‫#‏للمقاومة‬ ‫#‏الاقتصادية‬ التي اتبعها الفلسطينيون في #انتفاضة ١٩٨٧.في كانون الثاني ١٩٨٨ قام كل من جاد اسحاق وعيسى الطويل من بيت ساحور بإحضار ٥٠٠ شتلة من الخضراوات وتوزيعها على الجيران والأقارب للتشجيع على العودة إلى الأرض، ولكن سرعان ما اضطروا لإحضار آلاف الأشتال والبذور نظراً للإقبال الشديد عليها، فقاموا بتشكيل جمعية تعاونية من ١٤ شخص، ثم قاموا بافتتاح نقطة بيع وشراء جرار زراعي.

وفي شباط ١٩٨٨ قامت بيت ساحور بالامتناع عن دفع الضرائب وكان الالتزام كاملاً مما دفع جيش الاحتلال بعد ٥ شهور إلى اتخاذ إجراءات عقابية عبر فرض غرامات وفواتير مضاعفة على الأهالي، أما رد أهالي بيت ساحور فكان برفضهم الدفع وإعلان ‫#‏العصيان_المدني‬ الكامل عبر جمع أكثر من ألف هوية وتسليمها للحاكم العسكري للمنطقة، لتستمر حملة رفض دفع ‫#‏الضرائب‬ أكثر من سنة.

الصورة: وفد من الولايات المتحدة – والذي تم تشكيله من قبل المكتب العام للجنة التضامن مع ‫#‏فلسطين‬ – يزورون ‫#‏الضفة_الغريبة‬ ليشهدوا مقاومة مشروع الضريبة في بلدة بيت ساحور. 1989. بيت ساحور. من ألبوم دانيال هيوز. ©المتحف الفلسطيني

Palestine in Comics

Books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and modern Palestinian history abound, appearing in various languages and covering various topics, angles and perspectives. Recently, three works have appeared that have looked at Palestinian life under occupation through the visually rich and textured comics form.

Despite the label, comics (or “graphic novels” as its book-length iteration is called) offer serious and sophisticated analyses and depictions of daily life through a creative combination of black-and-white line drawings and accompanying text. Here, we’ll look at three graphic novels that are celebrated both for their incisive commentaries on politics in Palestine as well as for being brilliant comics in their own right.


“Palestine”, by Joe Sacco 

Maltese-American reporter-cartoonist Joe Sacco spent a few months in 1991 and 1992 visiting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. At that time, the first Intifada was still raging in Palestinian towns and refugee camps. The pages of “Palestine” follow Sacco as he makes his way through Nablus, Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah and Gaza during a rainy, muddy winter, drawing and writing about the people he meets and the stories he hears. Whether it’s a crowded road at a refugee camp or a family dinner with a recently released prisoner, Joe Sacco’s meticulously rendered drawings reflect his keen observer’s eye for detail and subtlety.

With Sacco, it is clear who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed; yet his grasp of the political situation in Palestine does not lead to romanticized portrayals of Palestinians under occupation. He shows the gritty side of life, the hardened edges of men and women defined by an oppressive apparatus of occupation which they fight against constantly, armed by little more than “their sheer indomitability, their unspoken will to go on, and their willingness to cling to their story, to retell it, and to resist designs to sweep them away altogether.”

Originally published as a series of nine comics beginning in 1993, “Palestine” won the American Book Award in 1996. A collected edition of the comics series was published in 2001 by Fantagraphics Books.


“Footnotes in Gaza”, by Joe Sacco 

Another work by Joe Sacco, “Footnotes in Gaza,” was published in 2009. In this work, Sacco returns to Gaza to investigate two massacres that took place in Rafah and Khan Younis by the Israeli army during the Tripartite Aggression of 1956, which was launched by Britain, France and Israel against Egypt in response to the Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. At that time, the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian administration.

In “Footnotes,” Sacco combines his skills as an investigative journalist of the highest caliber with his unique style of drawing and composition to create a work of visual journalism that succeeds in salvaging the tragic story of those events of 1956 from the margins of history and memory. Sacco won the Ridenhour Book Prize for “Footnotes in Gaza” in 2010.


“Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City”, by Guy Delisle 

Canadian comics artist Guy Delisle spent a year living in East Jerusalem between 2008 and 2009, which is the subject of his 2012 book, “Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City.” Accompanying his wife, who works for Médecins sans Frontières, Delisle is the primary caretaker of his two young children. Not only is he trying to negotiate daycare and grocery shopping in Beit Hanina, he is also trying to make sense of a political situation that is at once absurd, tragicomic, and ironic. Delisle’s uncomplicated drawings and terse prose are a stark contrast to Joe Sacco’s richly detailed and researched comics, yet the simplicity of his style succeeds in making his conclusions all the more powerful and clear.

“Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City” won the Fauve d’Or at the Angouleme Comic Festival in 2012.