Highlight of the month

Rajih al-Salfeety, Sheikh of the Palestinian Zajjals

In the middle of a circle of women in the neighbourhood yard, Rajih al-Salfeety stands and performs songs, including special songs known as ahazij. His mother’s eyes go wide with pride whenever the women around her compliment her firstborn’s voice.

Al-Salfeety’s fate was to be born to a poor Palestinian family. It was also to lose his parents at a young age and step up to provide for his six siblings. Once a boy echoing his mother’s lullabies and signing in neighbourhood circles, with his beautiful voice, his joyful soul, and his good presence, he began singing at work, in his village, and at the surrounding villages’ weddings.

Rajih the Zajjal (a traditional oral strophic poet) grew like an olive seedling on the sides of al-Matwi and al-Sha’er valleys near the city of Salfit until he became the area’s best zajjal, even being mentioned in local sayings: ‘A wedding in Salfit is not a wedding unless Rajih is there’. He became known as the Sheikh of Palestinian Zajjals. Salfit, along with its troubles, continued to inspire him and lived within him, leading him to sing:

He who feels the troubles of people

If his emotions are described, becomes a poet

Oh, Paradise between Matwi and Sha’er

I would not trade you for the Heavens above

Al-Salfeety’s poetic conscience grew from the events taking place around him in Palestine, which affected his creations. Amongst those events were the al-Buraq Revolution and the 1929 execution of Muhammad Jamjoum, Atta al-Zeer, and Fouad Hijazi, three young men who participated and have since been immortalised in the famous popular song, Min Sijjin Akka (From Akka Prison). He was influenced by Nuh Ibrahim (to whom Min Sijjin Akka is commonly attributed), Ibrahim Tuqan, and other poets from that period.

Despite his young age and the great responsibilities entrusted to him, Al-Salfeety joined the ranks of the Great Palestinian Rebellion of 1936 and sang for and about it. He also volunteered in the war that broke out during the Nakba until he was severely injured by a bullet near his lungs; he later suffered from chronic lung diseases as a result.

As soon as the Nakba became the reality lived by Palestinians, and with the emergence of national and communist parties in Palestine, al-Salfeety became a part of the National Liberation League as one of its prominent freedom fighters and symbols. He was chased and imprisoned for it, especially since he was in opposition to the Baghdad Pact, as made clear by his derisions of the Pact in several poems.

During the 1950s, al-Salfeety snuck to Damascus and Baghdad and then Czechoslovakia, leaving Salfit and Palestine behind. He only returned to them during the early 1960s. He was made a fugitive again and left for Syria, returning to Palestine, at last, during the 1967 Naksa, never to leave again.

In the shadow of all this, al-Salfeety wrote about defeat, the Naksa, and settlements:

Oh, Naksa, day of misfortune, you will always remain a despicable witness

To the policy of annihilation and displacement

Even foxes roared at you

When no one useful was left standing

Rajih al-Salfeety lived an eventful life. He was arrested more than once, the first time in 1974 due to his patriotic activity, and the last time in 1988. In prison, he wrote several zajal poems, including ones he wrote in Nablus Central Prison, which other prisoners repeated, these words travelling from one prison to the next. Those poems included ‘In Memory of the Battle of Karameh; ‘In the Triumph of the Cambodian People’, ‘To My Son, Ahmad’, ‘In Memory of Ominous June’ and others.

In 1976, al-Salfeety decided to run for the elections of the Municipal Council in Salfit, where he established a national popular bloc with his comrade Khamis al-Hamad and several area notables. The bloc raised the unified slogan of all other national blocs in Palestine, which was ‘No to Civil Administration, Yes to National Unity.’ For the bloc, Rajih sang his chorus:

Oh, our popular masses

Oh, labour forces

Our national bloc

 Aside from the bloc, we have nothing

Aside from the bloc, we have nothing

Rajih al-Salfeety had a notable presence at Birzeit University, where he participated several times in its annual festival and various activities. He sang more than once and made his zajal present in its corridors. When the university was forcibly closed, al-Salfeety sang:

The universities have been closed, where is democracy

The doors were closed, students are scattered

A state with tanks, fleets, and planes

How is it scared of drawings on withering paper?

(From an archived voice recording)

The notebooks written by Rajih al-Salfeety and his daughter Duha are nearly filled to the brim with poems praising stones, shuhada, the Intifada and Land Day. Al-Salfeety wrote tens of poems and chants, and he sang for the Intifada at weddings. His voice resonated loudly until the chorus, echoed by youth before the old mulberry tree in his village square, ‘stopping the awl’ (see poem below) of the Civilian Administration officer when he cornered them there.

He sang, inspired by al-Ashiqeen Ensemble:

Oh world, bear witness to us and the Gaza Strip

Bear witness to the West Bank

Demonstrations immersed deep in the conflict

Against the armies of Zionism

In early 1988, Rajih al-Salfeety wrote and sang one of the most important folkloric poems titled ‘El-Kaf Elly Byekser el-Makhraz’ (The Palm that can Stop an Awl) which spread widely and was popular among Palestinians due to its simplicity and depth of meaning. In it, he says:

Oh, voice, rise and call to those with determination

 And leave those who found comfort in the allure of decadence

The news of massacres has echoed in the ears of nations

To shake their consciences and wake them up

He ended by writing:

We have learned much from our experience

Experiences are guiding beacons

The palm steady in the unity of class and determination

Can not only hit back against the awl of the treacherous

It will break the awl and the neck of its bearer

Al-Salfeety lived a long life of resistance and zajal, leading him to deservedly earn the sobriquet ‘Sheikh of Palestinian Zajjals’. His words resounded in many Palestinian rostrums in Nazareth, Haifa, Yaffa, Akka, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Nablus, with renowned Palestinian writer Emile Habibi saying of him ‘I saw them holding a stone in one hand and the zajal of Rajih al-Salfeety in the other.’

The bullet al-Salfeety was shot with in 1948 haunted him for four decades, continuously affecting his health until he fell severely ill in 1990 and his nights felt longest: ‘Oh night-time, how long you are for those who are ill.’ This was one of the last poems he wrote before he passed away on the 27th of May 1990. His voice made its eternal departure from the world, leaving behind his four children, Yousra, Duha, Andaleeb, and Ahmad.

Al-Salfeety trotted between zajal verses like a stag in the Palestinian wilderness, to sing with a reed pipe player or a drummer; together they would produce a truly Palestinian tone. Behind them, the voices of the Palestinian villages’ youth would repeat the chorus of national unity with enthusiasm, making him stop them and jokingly say: ‘Listen, kids, if you keep jumping around and hurrying everything you will ruin the evening gathering for us. Overenthusiasm is more harmful than a gun.’

Highlight of the month

The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive

Embroidery: From Palestine to the World

Just when the Israeli Occupation intensified its systematic colonial attack to erase, steal and distort our national identity, and with the attempts and endeavors to isolate and seize components of the Palestinian heritage, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization “UNESCO” listed Palestinian Embroidery within the Representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as one of the Palestinian national elements during the sixteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO held on Wednesday, 15 December 2021 in Paris. This serves as an important step to perpetuating and strengthening the presence of Palestine and empowering the united national identity in international and local forums, as well as averting all obliterating and forging attempts against the practices and social rituals of Palestinians and their civilizational and cultural heritage, wherever they are. It also affirms the depth of the connection of Palestinian heritage to its wider scope and its Arab and regional surroundings, extending from Sinai in the south, to Lebanon and southern Syria in the north, and the Jordan Valley in the east.

Since the Palestinian Museum Digital Archive has been concerned, since its launch in 2018, with approaching various patterns of behavior and indigenous practices and accompanying customs and traditions, embroidery has been present therein among many archived models of the daily life of Palestinians and the photographs and documents PMDA documents in support of producing a parallel Palestinian narrative, far from the exclusion imposed by metanarratives, power relations and their elite social and political networks. The Palestinian Museum has also recently succeeded in restoring and retrieving about 245 heritage pieces, including 90 embroidered Palestinian thobes, donated by their owners to the Museum, which worked to collect and settle said pieces within its flanks, forming an important part of the PM’s permanent collection. This monthly highlight constitutes a main and essential component of approaches targeting the need to preserve and protect the contents of Palestinian identity, defend it and pass it on to future generations, and respond to every claim that would target it with obliteration, marginalization, forgery and pollution. The highlight displays a collection of photographs documented by PMDA, showing many models of embroidered thobes that reflect the permanent presence of embroidery in various contexts and occasions.

0001.01.0042 A Photograph from the Ali Kazak Collection, PM’s Collection Room
“We Have Our Heritage and Civilisation”, a Poster Published by GUPPA, 1984

A poster published by the General Union of Palestinian Plastic Artists (GUPPA) in 1984 for the 17th session of the Palestinian National Council, features an artwork by Palestinian artist ‘Abd ar-Rahman al-Muzayyen. The piece depicts a woman, in a thobe bearing names of Palestinian cities, carries a hand-shaped vase over her head engraved, “Palestine” and “al-Quds”.

0159.01.0086 A Photograph from the Musa Allush Collection
Butrus el-Abed and Shafa al-Khoury, 1920

Taken on 20 October 1920, this photograph shows Butrus Issa el-Abed and his wife Shafa Khaleel al-Khoury where el-Abed is seen wearing a Tarbush and the traditional Qubmaz and associated belt, while al-Khoury is seen standing next to him in embroidered Palestinian thobe and headcover. 

0097.01.0018 A Photograph from the Ramallah Friends School Collection
A Studio Portrait of Ellen Audi, 1930

Taken in 1930, this portrait shows Ellen Audi seated at a studio while carrying hay made basket and wearing the Ramallah traditional embroidered Palestinian thobe and associated headcover.

0162.01.0025 A Photograph from the Najeh Burbar Collection
Musa Awwad and Jamila Burbar, Jifna, 1933

Taken in 1933, this photograph shows Musa al-Khoury Odeh Awwad and Jamila Ayoub Hana Burbar from Jifna, where Awwad is seen seated and wearing the traditional Qumbaz and associated belt, while Burbar is seen standing next to him in the embroidered Palestinian thobe and headcover. 

0159.01.0228 A Photograph from the Musa Allush Collection
Musa Sa’d and Hilwa Dawood, Birzeit, 1939

Taken in 1939, this photograph shows Musa Soliman Sa’d and his wife Hilwa Mitry Saleh Shahin from Birzeit, where Sa’d is seen seated and wearing a suit, a necktie, and a Tarbush while Shahin is standing next to him wearing the embroidered Palestinian thobe and headcover while holding a flower bouquet.

0159.01.0127 A Photograph from the Musa Allush Collection
Radi and Aziza Burbar on their Wedding Day, 1944

Taken on 13 August 1944, this studio portrait captures Aziza Bshara Burbar carrying a bouquet and wearing the Palestinian thobe and the traditional headcover standing next to her husband Radi Ibrahim Burbar in a suit and a necktie on their wedding day.

0161.01.0001 A Photograph from the Nadia Qatato Collection
Ibrahim Qatato and Nadia Kayleh in Palestinian Traditional Clothing, 1949

Taken in 1949, this photograph shows Ibrahim Qatato “Abu Issa” and Nadia Kayleh “Umm Issa” from Birzeit in Palestinian traditional clothing on their wedding day, where Kayleh is seen in the Ramallah embroidered thobe and headcover while Qatato is seen in the traditional Qumbaz and the Hatta and Agal.

0096.02.0001 A Photograph from the INAASH Association Collection
A Palestinian Embroidered Piece Handmade by Women of the INAASH Association, Lebanon, the 1970s

This photograph shows a handmade piece embroidered by Palestinian refugee women; members of the INAASH Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps in the 1970s. Following 1968, INAASH has come to the fore at the hands of Huguette Caland el-Khoury; daughter of the Lebanese President Bechara el-Khoury, and other Lebanese women to break the isolation of the Palestinian refugee camps and empower the Palestinian refugee women to help their husbands in the face of the Lebanese law that casts a veto over the Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese labour market. At a later stage, INAASH gained the support of Sirin al-Husseiny and other Palestinian women.

0028.01.0307 A Photograph from the Emile Ashrawy Collection
Fatima Yousef Sewing a Palestinian Thobe, Kobar-Ramallah, the 1970s

Taken in the 1970s by Emile Ashrawi, this photograph captures Fatima Yousef from the village of Kobar- Ramallah, seated on the ground with her back to the wall wearing a Palestinian embroidered thobe while sewing another with two girls standing next to her.

Highlight of the month

The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive

The Muhammad Fahd Hammoudeh Collection


The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive has been, from the outset, responsible for retrieving historical realities and representing the marginalized beyond the social dominance theory, traditional knowledge structures, and metanarratives. All by reexamining the relations of power and control, the system of values ​​and perceptions, the networks of social relations and the interaction between the different groups of society and through allowing the “ordinary” people to contribute to the production and formulation of narratives about Palestine, its culture and society through lived experiences, models of daily life, customs, traditions and self-patterns of behavior- also known as history from below.

Since this approach allows the study of the biographies, events, places and interactions of individuals and groups from the point of view of those whose behavior is not followed by researchers and scholars, and do not have the freedom to define their daily lifestyle and the distinctive and different history of their societies, this blog sheds light on an archival material that includes a report written by Muhammad Fahd Hammoudeh, born in 1927 in the village of Lifta in Jerusalem. In his report, Hammoudeh referenced many features of the social history of the Dayr Dibwan village in Ramallah and their patterns of behavior, all after he returned to the town as an immigrant, where he continued to write until he fell ill and stopped his work on the report until his death in 1980.

Handwritten between the late 1950s and early 1960s, this report follows the financial and social habits and norms of the Dayr Dibwan citizens and their professions during the period of documentation, in addition to their activities and lifestyle in the country side. The report also follows their traditional clothing, such as the Qumbaz, Kufiya and Agal for men and embroidered silk thobes for women. On the other hand, the report examines the new generation where men started wearing suits; and following the close geographical distance to the city of Ramallah, ease of transportation and the widespread of education among girls, the report states that women started wearing dresses and modern garments. As for agriculture, poor families depended on olive trees in their livelihoods along with other kinds of seeds while others survived on bread made with pure wheat and olive oil; baked in the Taboon or ovens, before food varied due to the development of the village.

Families of Dayr Dibwan naturally consisted of the father, mother and children, and either the father or the elder brother is considered the one responsible for fulfilling the duties of the family along with his wife. Women, on the other hand, were second to their husbands in responsibility besides their work in tidying and cleaning the house, and cooking. The report shows that relationships between families were based on blood before the relations of marriage and social integration. It also discusses marriage where most men were satisfied with one wife, but some would “have to” marry a second or a third for familial or infertility reasons. Moreover, the report mentions the habit of “exchange”, where a man would marry off his sister or female relative to a man, who in turn would do the same as a sort of marital exchange. Hammoudeh sees that this habit causes some of the worst issues in the village, where if one of the men had a dispute with his wife and sought a divorce, the second man would have to follow suit and divorce his wife even if they were on good terms.

The report also sheds light on many social habits and behaviors, such as the celebration of Mawlids, considering them spreading widely in the village, specifically when a villager moves into a new house, where he does not move until he invites the “Dervish people” to beat their drums as he sacrifices sheep, makes feasts and celebrates until after midnight, which Hammoudeh detests and wishes it stops. He also mentions that villagers would hold “luxurious” celebrations for the Mawlid and bring sweets, as well as another custom like the Mawlid which involves the fulfillment of vows where if a vow comes true, sheep are sacrificed, and people are invited to feast.

The report details the rituals of funerals and their customs, where when a notable person in the village passes away, the neighboring villagers are invited to the funeral, which is attended by men and women, as the deceased is carried to the mosque for prayer after being washed and shrouded, then the men would walk at the beginning of the funeral march and the women would follow, after the burial, another family prepares the food for the mourning family and those who offer condolences from other villages. After the funeral, women start weeping for a month while wearing black silk clothes. The custom is that the family of the deceased does not cook for one or two weeks, where food is sent to women at home while men are invited to dine at a different house every time. The report clarifies that these rituals only apply to deceased men, but not women, where they would just be buried.

Another custom deemed good is the “Aqd” or “house Aqd”, which is finishing the construction of the house roof, where villagers offer to help the homeowner as some of his relatives sacrifice sheep and help him with food, and the rest of them would offer rice and juice or help with finishing up the work. Usually, a white flag is held on top of the house to signify ending the construction of the roof. The report also mentions that the “construction chief” is served a plate full of bread chunks and meat. Another good custom is the “Qowad”; known in Dayr Dibwan and neighboring villages, which is hospitality, where sheep are sacrificed, and food is served on many occasions including death, Hajj or diasporic return. It also points another good custom known as clan courts, where clans aid in resolving most internal issues.

As for education, the report mentions that there is a school for boys in the village which was built as per modern standards with the financial support from the village’s residents and those abroad. Housing eleven teachers, the school teaches all grades up to the third secondary grade (high school). Hammoudeh also says that there is a school for girls, built one year prior to writing this material, from a loan from the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Restoration (PECDAR). Housing six teachers, the school is surrounded with a big plot of land; of which a block was used as a park and another as a basketball court.

Finally, the report mentions that many poor people acquired their livelihoods, while most of the youth immigrated during the last ten years (prior to writing the report) to the United States of America (USA) along with other neighboring villages. This, the report states, participated in increasing the standards in the village, aided the construction of tall buildings, and led the village to be among the richest In Ramallah. Accordingly, several literary works focused on the financials of immigrants, their impact on the socio-economic changes and urban transformations that the villages and cities of the region have witnessed). It also points out the generosity the village was known for, still up until the writing of these very lines; however, it has been noticeably fading away due to the development and sprawling of the Dayr Dibwan village towards the city.

Highlight of the month

The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive
Vaccination Certificates: The Living Archive

It is certain that the sudden and rampant spread of the emerging coronavirus, since early 2020, has turned the tables and opposed expectations on various levels. Plus, the ambiguity surrounding the management of the pandemic, the acceleration of its transformations, and the uncertainty of its elimination raised many questions, the most urgent and interactive of which are the questions about the nature and origin of the virus, about the feasibility of vaccines, and the extent to which all of this is related to the conspiracy theory and the integrity of the various policies of countries and institutions. All due to the pandemic affecting daily life, penetrating social, economic and cultural boundaries, contributing to the reconfiguration of class structures and affecting many human and institutional practices and behaviours, so much so that vaccination certificates; issued by the competent authorities of any country, became a required necessity for many daily life activities, up to the point that such certificates started to hold control over the freedom of movement, transportation and travel.

Given that the Palestinian Museum Digital Archive, since its inception, has held the responsibility to recovering historical facts and contributing to the production of narratives about Palestine, its culture and society by reviewing lived experiences and retrieving models of daily life, customs, traditions and self-patterns of behavior – known as social history from below, this blog highlights a set of vaccination certificates and cards issued in Palestine, or to Palestinians by different authorities since the Ottoman rule of Palestine.

Ottoman Certificate of Vaccination Against a Contagious Disease, 1911
The Yaffa Cultural Centre Collection

Dated on 1329 Ah, corresponding to 1911, this document shows a certificate of vaccination, against a contagious disease, issued by the Ministry (Nazaret) of Interior and the Department of Royal Medical Affairs and Public Health in Palestine during the Ottoman rule. It is noteworthy that the cholera epidemic had swept the region in that period and caused heavy losses.

Farid Azar’s Vaccination Certificate Issued by ICRC-Nablus, 1949
The Ghassan Abdullah Collection

Issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Nablus on 21 September 1949, this archival material documents a vaccination certificate for Farid Yusef Azar, stating that he is from Haifa and holds a refugee card bearing no. 19011, and that he was vaccinated for Smallpox and Typhoid.

The Abdullah Affaneh Collection
Smallpox International Vaccination Certificate for Abdullah Afaneh, 1953

Issued on 25 August 1953 by the Ministry of Health in Nablus, this document shows an International Health Certificate confirming that Abdullah Abdelqader Affaneh was vaccinated for Smallpox on 17 August 1953. Bearing the Jordan Red Crescent Society stamp and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan import stamps, the certificate states that it is valid for three years.

The Omar al-Qasem Collection
Smallpox Vaccination Certificate for Omar al-Qasem, 1962

A certificate issued by the Ministry of Health in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan stating that the shaheed Omar al-Qasim; residing in al-Sharaf Neighborhood in Jerusalem, has received the vaccine against smallpox on 27 May 1962 at the age of 21 years. The bottom of the certificate bears a note stating that it is a local certificate- not valid for travel outside the Kingdom.

The Jawad Hiwwary Collection
Cholera International Vaccination Certificate for Jamal Hiwwary, 1966

Issued by the Ministry of Health in Nablus, this document shows a Cholera International Vaccination Certificate for Jamal Abdelaziz Yasin Hiwwary, stating that he received two shots of the vaccine on 24 and 31 August 1966. Bearing the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan import stamps, the certificate states that it is valid for six months.

The Nakhleh Qare Collection
International Certificates of Vaccination for Khamis al-Qare, 1969

Issued by the Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM), in accordance with the sanitary regulations of the World Health Organization, this international certificate of vaccination shows that Khamis Nakhleh al-Qare, a resident of Ramallah, was vaccinated against Smallpox on 16 October 1969, at the Ramallah Central Health Department at the age of 23. 

The Deya Misyef Collection
International Certificate of Vaccination Against Cholera and Yellow Fever for Jamal Misyef, 1970

Stamped by the Health Directorate of Health in Jericho and printed on 19 August 1970 in English and French and filled in with Arabic, this document shows an international certificate of vaccination or revaccination against Cholera and Yellow Fever in the name of 32 years old Jamal Hasan Misyef.

The Abdelhamid al-Hiwwary Collection
A Vaccination Card for Jihad al-Hiwwary, 1970

Issued by the Ministry of Health in Nablus 1970, this document shows a vaccination card against communicable and infectious diseases, including Smallpox, Poliomyelitis and Measles for Jihad Abbas Yasin Muhammad al-Hiwwary; born in Sebastia-Nablus on 1 December 1969.

The Jawad Hiwwary Collection
International Vaccination Certificates Against Smallpox for Fatima Hiwwary, 1972

Issued by the World Health Organization on 10 December 1972, this document shows international vaccination certificates against contagious diseases including Smallpox and Cholera for Fatima Rafiq Hiwwary.

The Arab Development Society Collection
International Certificates of Vaccination for Mousa al-Alami, 1978

Issued by the Deutsche Lufthansa, in accordance with the sanitary regulations of the World Health Organization, these international certificates of vaccination show that Musa al-Alami was vaccinated against Smallpox at Palestine Hospital on 1 June 1978. 

Highlight of the month

The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive
Prison Notebooks and Movement’s Archive

When colonizers exclude the colonized indigenous memory from the historical record, it is inevitable that other fields of inquiry are affected, causing a gap between the hegemonic authority and knowledge production, which enables colonial powers to dominate and loot the archives of colonized countries, consolidate control, and obliterate the identity and historical narratives of the indigenous.

In this context, this blog post highlights the experience of the Palestinian Prisoners Movement by manifesting its presence in the archive as one of the most prominent components of the Palestinian historical narrative and its emancipatory content, apart from contexts of theoretical coercion.

The colonial authority persists in suffocating Palestinian prisoners in various ways, such as by denying them family visits and preventing them from taking souvenir photographs with their families. However, prisoners managed to obtain this right after conducting numerous strikes in the mid-nineties, whereby they became authorized to take photographs with their relatives once every five years after they reached the age of fifty. In 2019 however, the Israel Prison Service withdrew this right in response to pressure from some Zionist organizations following the publication of a photo showing prisoner Omar al-Abed; accused of murdering three settlers, smiling with his mother on a prison visit. Photographs were then taken by the Israel Prison Service photographer and were restricted to relatives suffering from terminal diseases, provided that the prisoner pays for them and that they are kept with prisoners inside the prison.

Zakaria Zubeidi and Yasser Arafat in Jenin, 2002
Joss Dray Collection

Taken in 2002, this photograph shows Zakaria Zubeidi with Yaser Arafat at the Jenin Municipality during Arafat’s first visit to the city after the end of the Israeli siege of the Presidential Headquarters in Ramallah, the ” Mukata’a”. 

Clippings from ash-Shaab Newspaper on the Arrest of Bassam Shakaa, his trial, and hunger strike, 1979
Bassam Shakaa Collection

This archival item shows a paper with three glued clippings from ash-Shaab Newspaper, two of which are dated 21 November 1979. The first mentions Bassam Shakaa, the former Mayor of Nablus, continuing his hunger strike at Ramla Prison, while the second mentions the Israeli Occupation Forces imposing restrictions on the movements of resigned mayors. Dated 29 November 1979, the third clipping included a title pointing out the beginning of Shakaa’s trial. 

Prisoners Abdel-Alim Daana, Ribhi Haddad and Badran Jaber before the Supreme Court of Israel, 1989
Abdel-Alim Daana Collection

Taken in 1989, this photograph shows three leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Abdel-Alim Daana to the right, Badran Jaber to the left and behind them in the middle is Ribhi Haddad, while two Israeli soldiers walk behind them in front of the Supreme Court of Israel during one of their court sessions. 

A Letter from prisoner Nael al-Barghouthi to “Umm Assef”; wife of his brother Omar, 1998
 Omar and Nael al-Barghouthi Collection

Handwritten on 4 April 1998 AD corresponding to 7 Dhu al-Hijjah 1418 AH, this decorated card shows an Eid greetings letter from prisoner Nael al-Barghouthi to “Umm Assef”: wife of his brother Omar, and her children, during his imprisonment in room 9 of section 2 in Askalan Prison. 

Brothers and Prisoners Omar and Nael al-Barghouthi at Askalan Prison, 2004
Omar and Nael al-Barghouthi Collection

Taken at Askalan Prison in 2004, this photograph shows prisoner Nael al-Barghouthi from Kaubar village in Ramallah with his brother prisoner Omar al-Barghouthi. They were jailed as a result of an operation they conducted that ended with the killing of an Israeli soldier, through a military cell they formed with Fakhri al-Barghouthi in 1978. Omar was released within the prisoner exchange deal carried out by the General Command of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1985, after which he was re-arrested multiple times. Nael was released in 2011 within the prisoner exchange deal known as the “Gilad Shalit Exchange” to be re-arrested in 2014. 

A Clipping from al-Quds Newspaper Documenting Palestinian Prisoners Led to the Courtroom, 1998
Omar and Nael al-Barghouthi Collection

Issued on Wednesday 16 September 1998 AD corresponding to 25 Jumada I 1418 AH, this document shows a clipping from al-Quds Newspaper featuring a photograph of Israeli soldiers leading Palestinian prisoners; of the Abu Mousa Group dissident faction (from Fatah,) to the courtroom in the Bet El settlement. The group members were arrested in Hebron in July 1998 on charges of conducting operations against Israelis. 

Prisoners Marwan al-Barghouthi and Ahmad Sa’adat at Hadarim Prison
Marwan al-Barghouthi

Undated, this photograph shows prisoners Marwan al-Barghouthi, a Fatah leader, and Ahmad Sa’adat, Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), during their imprisonment at Hadarim Prison, where al-Barghouthi was arrested on 15 April 2002 and sentenced to five life sentences and 40 years.  Sa’adat was arrested on 14 March 2006 and sentenced to 30 years. 

Prisoners Nasr Jarrar and Omar al-Barghouthi with Cellmates at Megiddo Prison
Omar and Nael al-Barghouthi Collection

Undated, this archival item documents a photograph; the top right corner of which was cut. Likely taken between 1994 and 1998, this photo shows Nasr Jarrar, killed on 14 August 2002; to the right, and Omar al-Barghouthi, who passed away on 25 March 2021 of Covid-19, seated on the ground and having a meal with their cellmates at Megiddo Prison. 

A Wreath from the Askalan Prison Prisoners Raised at the Funeral of the Shaheed Omar al-Qasem, 1989
Omar al-Qasem Collection

A wreath from the “Prisoners of the Palestinian Revolution at Askalan Prison” raised at the funeral of the shaheed Omar al-Qasem who was killed on June 4th, 1989.

Highlight of the month

The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive
Poet Abdulrahim Mahmoud Collection

Since its launch in 2018, the Palestinian Museum Digital Archive continues to discover personal and familial archives and put together the pieces of the Palestinian archive in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. The project deals with different archival items including photographs, documents, and audio-visual records which shed light on personal experiences, behavioral patterns and social practices during the last two decades.

This blog highlights the Abdulrahim Mahmoud Collection, which the PMDA team succeeded in finding and acquiring – in addition to the many diverse archival collections of Palestinian poets, writers and artists. Work is currently underway to complete the digitization, archival and translation of the collection, so that at a later stage it will be displayed and made available to the public of researchers and those interested on the PMDA website, to complete the material published on the “Palestine Journeys” website – a joint project of the Palestinian Museum and the Institute for Palestine Studies.

Abdulrahim Mahmoud was born in 1913 in Anabta-Tulkarm where he completed his elementary school at the al-Fadiliyah School before moving to an-Najah National School in Nablus where he completed his secondary education and met poet Ibrahim Tuqan. He then worked at the same School as a teacher of Arabic Literature, up until his resignation in 1936 to join the ranks of the freedom fighters before emigrating to Iraq, where he joined the Iraqi Military Academy, graduating with the rank of lieutenant, then returned to Anabta and resumed work at an-Najah School.

In 1947, Mahmoud joined the Arab Liberation Army and fought several engagements against the Zionist forces before he died a martyr in the Battle of the Tree on 13 July 1948. Buried in the city of Nazareth, Mahmoud is considered one of the most prominent Palestinian poets and a pillar of Palestinian resistance literature. Mahmoud left a massive legacy of patriotic poems, of which is a poem titled “The Shaheed (The Martyr)”, starting with one of his most celebrated verses that read “I shall carry my soul on the palm of my hand and toss it into the pits of death”.

A Studio Portrait of Abdulrahim Mahmoud, 1943
Taken in 1943 by Studio Rashid in Tulkarm, this studio portrait shows Abdulrahim Mahmoud wearing a Tarbush, a suit, and a necktie.

Abdulrahim Mahmoud with the Anabta Sports Club Football Team, 1928
Taken in 1928 by Cairo Studio in Nablus, this photograph shows Abdulrahim Mahmoud with his colleagues at the Anabta Sports Club Football Team in their uniforms which represent the Palestinian flag. Mahmoud is seen (second to the right; first row) laying on the ground with the ball next to him.

Abdulrahim Mahmoud with His Teacher and Colleagues at an-Najah National School, Nablus, 1931
Taken in 1931, this photograph shows Abdulrahim Mahmoud with his teacher and poetry enthusiast colleagues in the Arabic Language Club at an-Najah National School. Seen in the photograph in the first row, seated right to left, are Tayeb Bennouna from Morocco; as it was common for students to come from Morocco to study at an-Najah School, Abdulrahim Mahmoud, Nuweihid-al-Hout; High school Arabic language teacher following Ibrahim Tuqan, seen in a Tarbush and seated on a different chair, Dawood abu Ghazaleh, and Burhan ed-Din al-Aboushi from Jenin. Standing in the second row, right to left, are Wasif as-Saliby, unknown, Rouhy al-Ahmad, unknown, Muhammad Sa’ed as-Santarisy, Muhammad al-Fasi, Hamad Benjelloun from Morocco, and Shaher ad-Damin from Nablus.

Abdulrahim Mahmoud with His Teacher and Colleagues at an-Najah National School, Nablus, 1931
Taken in 1931, this photograph shows Abdulrahim Mahmoud with his teacher and colleagues at an-Najah National School in Nablus. Signed by Dr. Saeb Erekat; Director of the Public Relations Department at an-Najah National University for four years between 1982-86, the photograph was gifted to the family of Mahmoud as a souvenir from the ANNU. Seen in the photograph in the first row, right to left, are Musa al-Khammash, Jawdat Tuffaha, Qadri Tuqan; the mathematics and physics teacher at the School, Thabet ad-Dabbagh, Nasuh Haidar, and Jawad abu Rabah. Standing in the second row behind the table are, right to left, Poet Abdulrahim Mahmoud, Muhammad al-Adham, Hussein Khoury, Adel Abatha, Taj ed-Din Arafat, Samih an-Nabulsi, As’ad Hashem, Subhi al-Azzouni, Burhan ed-Din al-Aboushi, unknown, Muhammad Sa’ed as-Santarisi, Sadeq Bushnaq, a man from the al-Budairy Family, and Dawood abu Ghazaleh.

A Letter from Abdulrahim Hanoun to Abdulrahim Mahmoud, 11 March 1933
Handwritten in Arabic on 11 March 1933, this archival document shows a letter from Abdulrahim Hanoun to Abdulrahim Mahmoud addressing his gratitide upon receiving a previous warm-hearted letter from Mahmoud. In the letter, Hanoun wishes Mahmoud success and safety from the envious, as well as reporting brief familial news from Anabta and Tulkarm. He also clarifies that the letter was written in a hurry and that a detailed letter will follow.

“The Shaheed”, a Poem by Abdulrahim Mahmoud, al-Amali Magazine, 1939
Printed in Arabic, this archival document shows a poem by Abdulrahim Mahmoud titled “The Shaheed (The Martyr)” that read “I shall carry my soul on the palm of my hand and toss it into the pits of death” published in the Okaz Column of the 21st issue of al-Amali Magazine; a weekly culture magazine. Published in Beirut on Friday 20 January 1939 corresponding 29 Dhu al-Qidah 1357 AH, the issue sold at five Syrian piastre and featured another poem titled “Qalbi (My Heart)” by Abdelqader Hasan from Marrakesh.

Abdulrahim Mahmoud with Students and Colleagues at an-Najah National School, Nablus, 1942-43
Taken at an-Najah National School in Nablus, this photograph shows students with their teachers, including Abdulrahim Mahmoud during the school year 1942-43. The teachers seen seated right to left in the second row, behind the students seated on the ground, are Aladdin an-Nimry, Abdelwadood Ramadan, Muhammad Ali al-Khayyat, Adel Tuffaha, Sheikh Zaki abu al-Huda, Adib Mihyaar; seated on a different chair as the Principal of the School, As’ad Sharaf, Khalil al-Khammash, Abdulrahim Mahmoud, Muhammad Bushnaq, and Qadri Tuqan. The teacher seen in a Tarbush standing to the far right is Muhammad Rushdi al-Khayyat, while the one on the far left in a Tarbush, a suit and a necktie is Muhammad Sa’id as-Santarisi.

“Palestine Poetry Festival”, an Invitation, 14 November 1946
Printed in Arabic, this archival document shows an invitation to the biggest poetry festival titled “Palestine Poetry Festival” held by the Dajani Scientific Committee and sponsored by Judge Aziz Bek ad-Dawody; Dean of the Dajani Family Council. Held at 04:00 PM on Thursday 14 November 1946 corresponding 19 Dhu al-Qidah 1365 AH at the Young Men’s Christian Association in Jerusalem, the Festival featured teachers; the names of which are either printed or handwritten on the invitation, including Sa’ed al-Isa, Kamal Naser, Meneh Khoury, Muhammad Hasan Aladdin from Jerusalem, Muhammad al-Adnani and Ahmad Yousef from Yafa, Hasan al-Buhairy from Haifa, Seif ed-Din Zaid al-Kilany, Abdulrahim Mahmoud, Waheeb al-Bitar, and Abdelqader as-Saleh from Nablus.

The Palestine Poetry Festival, Jerusalem, 14 November 1946
A photograph taken during the Palestine Poetry Festival held on 14 November 1946 by the Dajani Scientific Committee at the Young Men’s Christian Association in Jerusalem. Featuring Palestinian poets, the festival was broadcasted live by al-Quds and the Near East radio stations. Seen seated to the right are Amin Hafeth ad-Dajani; Secretary of the Dajani Club Cultural Committee, Hasan al-Buhairy, Abdulrahim Mahmoud, Waheeb al-Bitar, Abdelqader as-Saleh, Ahmad Yousef, Mustafa ad-Dabbagh, Muhammad al-Adnani, Sa’ed al-Isa, Seif ed-Din Zaid al-Kilany, Meneh Khoury, Muhammad Hasan Aladdin, Kamal Naser, and Musa ad-Dajani; compere of said Festival. Aziz ad-Dawody is also seen in the photograph delivering a speech on behalf of the Dajani Family Council. Appearing in the background is the Flag of Syria with the flags of Lebanon, Kingdom of Iraq, Kingdom of Egypt, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Kingdom of Syria to its left.

The Nablus Municipality Official Letter to Name a Street After Abdulrahim Mahmoud, 12 August 1976
Printed in Arabic on 12 August 1976, this document shows an official letter from Bassam Shak’a, Mayor of Nablus, to the Nablus Municipality engineer requesting that he abides by the Municipal Council’s resolution no. 6 put forward during the 10 August 1976 session regarding naming the offramp street leading to the Hamzeh Toqan’s house through Rafedia Main Street after the shaheed Abdulrahim Mahmoud.

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

الصّبرة المهاجرة

 اليوم نُحصي عام النّكبة التّاسع والسّتين من خلال عمر نبتة الألوفيرا الّتي “تتفجّر” الآن حيويّةً وخضارًا في بيت سلمى الخالدي. ومن خلال سفرها من فلسطين وإليها، نتتبّع رحلة عائلة هُجّرت مع النّكبة، وبدأت مسيرتها نحو العودة. لا تكتفي نبتةُ الصبّار هذه بتمثيل مجرّد جزءٍ من تاريخٍ شخصيّ لفرد، تقول سلمى، ولكنّها تعبّر عن تاريخ جيلٍ بأكمله.

لم يكن المتحف الفلسطينيّ وحده من حظي بفرصة التّغلغل في متن الحكاية الّتي بدأت من عيادة طبيبٍ شغوفٍ بالأدب والنّباتات في حيفا، وتفرّقت وتشعّبت لتلقي خيوطها في إصّيصٍ فخّاريّ على إحدى شرفاتِ منزل العائلة في رام الله. فكما تشارك سلمى قصّةَ نبتة الصبّار كلَّ من يزور منزلها، ترحّب أيضًا بمشاركة النّبة ذاتها مع كلّ من يرغب، وتقول أنّ هذا هو جوهرها. ومع انتشار فسائل النّبتة، تأمل سلمى أن تتكاثرَ أرواحُ القصّة الّتي تنقُلها، والمعاني الّتي تحملُها. واليوم ننبشُ تربة الصّبارة مرّة أخرى وندعوكم للدّخول إلى السّرد، والمشاركة في الحلم.

Salma Khaldi- image

حين اشتدّت أزمة العصابات وضيّقت الحرب خناقها، اضطرّ جدّ سلمى لمغادرة عيادته في يافا أواخر عام 1948، كان الجدّ آنذاك حريصًا على ألّا يفارق ذكرياته، فاختار أن يحمل معه تفاصيله الحميمة، وأوصى زوجته المنهمكة في توضيب متاع الرّحيل أن تأخذ معها أشتالًا من نباتات المنزل والعيادة، وهكذا وصلت الألوفيرا إلى نابلس، لينقلها الحنينُ مرّة أخرى، بعد أعوام عديدة، برفقة عمّها الّذي دفعته رغبته بإقامة امتداد روحيّ يكثّف معنى وجوده لاصطحابِ شتلة منها إلى محطّة إقامته الجديدة في عمّان. والدها الشّغوف بالنباتات أيضًا استكمل هذا الإرث العفويّ واقتطع جزءًا من النّبتة في طريقه إلى الكويت. سنواتٌ تفصلٍ بين كلٍّ محطّةِ سفرٍ وأخرى، وها هي الصّبارّة الّتي كبرت في المنفى تعود إلى فلسطين مرّة أخرى.

عام 1990، حمل خال سلمى 36 نبتةَ صبّارٍ من الكويت إلى عمّان، لتهلك جميعًا في حرّ الطريق إلّا هذه الألوفيرا. بعد خمسة أعوام من إقامتها في عمّان، وحين قرَّرَت سلمى العودة إلى رام الله، لم تجد ما هو أفضل من نبتة الصبّار هذه لتعبّر عن ارتباط أفراد العائلة، ولتحمي أبناءَها من الشّعور بالغربة عند الانتقال، فكانت من بين الأغراض الّتي نقلتها معها إلى فلسطين.

في الشّمس تبدو الصّبّارة بالخصل الحمراء الّتي توشّح أوراقها كما لو أنّها شعلة من النّار، تقول سلمى وهي تصف جمال الألوفيرا، آملةً أن يكون وجودها في رام الله خطوةً في سبيل عودتها إلى يافا، عودةً مرهونةً برجوع الفلسطينيّين إلى بلادهم.  

وكما يسير المهجّرون إلى منافيهم سارت هذه النّبتة، وكما يعودون إلى أوطانهم عادت.

نص: ملك عفونة
أجرى المقابلة: لور عواد
تصوير: إيهاب جاد

UNRWA Photographs 1950-1978: A View on History or Shaped by History?

Stéphanie Latte Abdallah, Researcher at IREMAM (CNRS) Aix-en-Provence

Published in Issam Nassar and Rasha Salti (ed.), I would have Smiled. Photographing the Palestinian Refugee Experience (a tribute to Myrtle Winter-Chaumeny), Institute for Palestine Studies, 2009, p. 43-65.


Naher al-Bared refugee camp, near Tripoli (Lebanon), 1952. Photo by Myrtle Winter-Chaumeny.

The establishment and the content of the photographic archive of UNRWA, and more broadly, of the audiovisual branch, are to be understood within the historical and political constraints that have shaped the Palestinian and refugee issues and UNRWA’s role, programs and activities since 1950. History and images are here more than ever inextricably linked, as the former has also been determined, to an extent, by the latter (1). At the same time, recent Palestinian history has also been the story of an ongoing struggle for historical visibility starting from a void, an absence (following the 1948 war and the creation of only one of the two states provided for in the 1947 United Nations Partition plan). From the denial of belonging to the land of Palestine of the first two decades—as expressed by the Zionist slogan “a land without people for a people without land” or Golda Meir’s statement in the 60’s, “Palestinians, who are they? They do not exist”—the Palestinians have gone through a slow process of presence within history. UNRWA’s humanitarian images display the specificity of the Palestinian refugee history, for they are the place and in a sense already the result of a political, cultural and historical confrontation on an international level.

UNRWA refugee images were firstly geared to document and publicize the programs of a humanitarian agency so as to increase donations (2) and, from this perspective, to record and document the refugees’ situations and events. They were first geared towards its financial backers—international organizations and the donor countries (and above all towards the major ones, which have been slightly changing over time but remained North American and European (3); and secondly, towards the UN, the local and international press, governments of the host countries of the refugees, refugees and UNRWA staff. Reception has thus been key in shaping the images.

Mia Mia camp, near Sidon (Lebanon), 1952

Mia Mia camp, near Sidon (Lebanon), 1952.

Institutional documents, photos and films made by UNRWA since its creation, in 1950, have indeed been submitted to a tight array of limitations especially until 1974, when the PLO was recognized as the representative of the Palestinian people, by the UN and by most countries around the world. From this point on, the PLO became an official interlocutor of the UNRWA, and began to have a say in its activities and public relations policy. With the 1967 war and the second exodus, UNRWA had started to widen its services to the overall Palestinian community. In the course of time, UNRWA was also progressively invested with the mission of protecting the Palestinian people during conflicts (e.g. at the beginning of Lebanese war in 1975 and later of the first Intifada in 1987), within the frame of international law. All this gradually and radically affected its images and public relations policy.

Mieh Mieh Camp, near Sidon, Lebanon, 1952

From Wadi Seer to Amman new camp (Jordan), 1959.

In this paper, I will focus on the first decades, and follow the first steps and moves of the Agency’s photographic and film production (1950-1978). If the 70’s and the 80’s are outstanding moments of change in UNRWA’s images and representations of the refugee issue, 1978 is an adequate year to mark a first period for the purpose of this paper: it corresponds to Myrtle’s winter retirement and to the relocation of the Agency in Vienna following the turmoil of the Lebanese civil war. UNRWA’s historical stills (4) are at the core of this short article but the main aim of the article is to give a few insights to understand them within a broader context—i.e., in relation with the constitution of the Agency’s audiovisual branch and in comparison with the films—and, above all, to discuss how they have mirrored the political struggle for visibility and/or documented refugee History.

Photography aan Act oReality: Buildingthe Photo and AudiovisuaBranch

Up until 1967‭, ‬UNRWA’s stills‭, ‬and above all‭, ‬films were strongly shaped by the initial international will of isolating relief from politics—as it was instituted by the UN in December 1948‭ ‬with the creation of the Conciliation Commission‭, ‬on the one side‭, ‬and of the UNRPR‭ (‬a relief umbrella‭) ‬on the other (5)‭. ‬Until 1950‭, ‬the UNRPR coordinated the work of the Red Cross—the ICRC (6‭) ‬in what was called Arab Palestine‭ (‬West Bank‭) ‬and the League of the National Societies of the Red Cross in Jordan‭, ‬Syria and Lebanon—and of the Quakers‭ (‬American Friends Service Committee‭) ‬in the Gaza strip‭. ‬The Quakers had from the beginning a different role and a mediating and political mission‭. ‬They did not comply with this separation‭, ‬as shown on the images they produced—their unique mute film and their stills‭. ‬Such images contrast sharply with the images of the Red Cross and later of UNRWA—until 1967—which taken all together display coherent and recurrent representations on the land of Palestine and on the refugees‭.‬

Soon after the 1948‭ ‬exodus‭, ‬in 1949‭ ‬and 1950‭, ‬it was almost impossible to film or to take pictures of the situation in Palestine‭ ‬and even to document the plight of those who were then called the‭ ‬“Arab refugees”‭. ‬A UN film maker‭, ‬Mr Wagg‭, ‬asked to come to Gaza by the Quakers to record their action faced great difficulties in this mission‭:‬

“He‭ [‬Mr Wagg‭] ‬reports that he is encountering very considerable resistance in the film division of the UN to his project because‭ ‬they are closely allied with groups particularly sympathetic to Israel‭, ‬who are not very anxious to‭ ‬have the needs of the Arab refugees presented” (7)‭.‬

This resistance implied a strong emphasis on isolating humanitarian images from what could be political or historical images‭. ‬Writing to Stanton Griffis‭, ‬head of UNRPR‭, ‬Mr Evans‭, ‬in charge of the Quaker mission‭, ‬insisted on that point concerning a UN photographic report on the refugees’‭ ‬conditions in the Gaza strip aimed at fundraising‭. ‬The fighting was then still going on‭: ‬“He also photographed bomb damage in the town‭. ‬I made a point of avoiding all photography and activity indicating interest in the‭ ‬military aspects of the affair‭, ‬since my permission had been obtained on the basis of the refugee story only”‭, ‬i.e‭. ‬on photographs only showing the‭ ‬“need”‭ ‬and‭ ‬“relief operations” (8)‭. ‬As shown in the Red Cross and UNRWA films and pictures‭, ‬politics was understood in a very broad sense because of the innate political nature of territorial belonging‭. ‬These representations were indeed all together masking‭, ‬or silencing‭, ‬the historical conditions and the reality of a land conflict‭, ‬its belligerents and stakes‭, ‬and the social identity of the refugees prior to their exodus (9)‭.

Refugee Camp in Gaza.

Refugee Camp in Gaza.

This position has been reiterated throughout the 50’s and the 60’s‭: ‬“During the 60’s”‭ ‬explains M‭. ‬Z‭. ‬in charge of one of the Public Information Office of UNRWA‭, ‬“the political environment did not allow to call things by their names” (10‭). ‬“We could not say”‭ ‬mentions M‭. ‬N‭., ‬a former UNRWA photographer‭, ‬“for instance the Allenby bridge or the Karameh camp has been shelled by the Israelis”‭, ‬we had to say‭ ‬“it has been bombed”‭. ‬Because we were UN and a humanitarian agency‭. ‬We were supposed to help the refugees not say who did that” (11‭). ‬And this has been the case till Giorgio Giacomelli became Commissioner general‭ (‬1985-1991‭), ‬when UNRWA‭ ‬’s mandate and the international political environment had changed and when the head of the Agency was giving an increased attention to film and photo production‭:‬

“In the 80’s it was a great period‭. ‬We cannot say that there was a real policy or a communication concerted line and consciousness but Giorgio Giacomelli was supporting film production‭, [‬he‭] ‬wanted things to be called by their names and was more committed‭. ‬It has to‭ ‬be said that it was the time of the violent invasion of Lebanon by the Israelis‭. ‬It is a turning point in UNRWA films‭.‬” (12)

Until that time‭, ‬though many breakthroughs in the former representations and policy had already been made from within triggering‭ ‬the slow process of change‭, ‬the main concern was material limitations and the necessity to find the means to‭ ‬“maintain the audiovisual department alive‭, ‬which was already not an easy thing‭. ‬We had scarce means‭. ‬Nobody like[d‭] ‬UNRWA‭. ‬It was set up to keep Palestinians calm‭, ‬so there is a real and big battle around UNRWA and its films‭.‬” (13)


Building from scratch a photo section and an audiovisual branch‭, ‬which could later on subvert its initial limitations to document historical events more accurately‭, ‬was a major challenge‭, ‬an innovative project and a political action‭. ‬This enterprise owes a‭ ‬lot to Myrtle Winter who‭, ‬since 1954‭, ‬headed the small photo section—part of the Education Department—created by Alexander Shaw from UNESCO in 1950‭, ‬in UNRWA HQ‭, ‬in Beirut‭. ‬He selected a group of talented Palestinian refugees young men and sent them to Cairo for a few months to be trained as film makers and script writers‭. ‬Aside from the pictures‭, ‬the photo section produced few documentaries and educational film strips‭. ‬From 1954‭ ‬onwards‭, ‬the photo section’s staff started to grow and reached more than 20‭ ‬persons in 1978‭.  ‬“She‭ [‬Myrtle Winter‭] ‬had power within UNRWA‭, ‬she was very strong”‭, ‬remembers S‭. ‬H‭. ‬former script writer‭, ‬“she knew how to make projects succeed‭. ‬It is thanks to her that there had been money to make cinema and develop the audiovisual‭ ‬at UNRWA‭. ‬She started it all‭.‬” (14)

This Office held three sections‭ (‬Still photo‭, ‬Filming and Art Design‭) ‬and‭, ‬in the 60’s‭, ‬became a wider Audiovisual Branch Office‭ (‬one of the three sections of the Public Information Office which comprised also the‭ ‬Publication Branch and the Translation Branch‭) ‬when the film production started developing rapidly‭. ‬In a context of historical invisibility of the refugees and mythification of the 1948‭ ‬war history by the Israeli official historiography of that period (15‭), ‬the numerous stills taken by Myrtle Winter and the photographers of the UNRWA Photo section were strong‭ ‬“certificate[s‭] ‬of presence” (16‭). ‬The specificity of photography is indeed‭, ‬if we follow Roland Barthes‭, ‬to‭ ‬“ratify what it represents” (17‭). ‬It is not to remember the past but to be an‭ ‬“emanation of a past reality” (18‭). ‬It poses‭, ‬more than any other art‭, ‬“an immediate presence to the world—a co-presence”‭. ‬It poses a presence which is‭ ‬“not only political‭ (‬‘to participate by the image in contemporary events’‭)‬”‭ ‬but‭ ‬“is also metaphysical‭.‬” (19)

On the Photographs Seen through the Films

Up until 1967‭, ‬most of the humanitarian images show recurrent representations which display what I will call‭, ‬using Roland Barthes’‭ ‬words‭, ‬a naturalization of refugee history (20)‭. ‬I will only mention some of them briefly here‭ (‬21‭). ‬Les errants de Palestine‭ (‬22‭)‬‭, ‬Sands of Sorrow (23‭) ‬or the UNRWA films of the 60’s display a total rupture between the ongoing situation of the refugees and their previous life‭. ‬Humanitarian agencies seem to be intervening as if the exodus was the starting point of the history of the persons‭, ‬on a tabula rasa‭. ‬Refugees are thus presented as eternal wanderers‭, ‬without roots‭, ‬as poor people‭, ‬passive and sometimes even idle‭. ‬A refugee identity is thus created which takes the place of any other social identity‭ (‬such as that of a peasant‭, ‬or a person with a home‭, ‬engaging in social and economic activities‭, ‬etc‭.) ‬as doing otherwise would have immediately been construed as a political act‭, ‬in so far as it is related to‭ ‬the land‭. ‬The conflict having been silenced‭, ‬the refugees are represented as victims of an unknown disaster‭, ‬which could even be a natural one‭. ‬The view on the land of Palestine‭, ‬as the Holy Land‭, ‬serves just too well this negation of history‭. ‬A land‭, ‬where Christian traces and references are dominant‭, ‬but not exclusive as most of the films insist on a syncretic image of the land‭ ‬of Palestine‭, ‬the birthplace of the three monotheisms‭. ‬The land is then presented as saturated with monuments and archeological‭ ‬vestiges‭, ‬and also as a place of recurrent‭, ‬though unexplained‭, ‬conflicts among which 1948‭ ‬has no specific history‭ (‬24‭). ‬The historical narration is erased and replaced by a mythic representation of time‭. ‬In most of these productions‭, ‬the subject’s presentation is similar‭: ‬biblical times come first‭, ‬then ancient civilizations or archeology‭, ‬and sometimes the Crusades‭. ‬These pre-67‭ ‬UNRWA films seemingly go‭, ‬from showing a number of monuments‭, ‬to showing the consequences of the last conflict‭; ‬the plight of the‭ ‬“Arab refugees”‭. ‬Constant backs and forth leaps are made between a mythical time and the contemporary daily life of the refugees (25‭). ‬At the beginning of the 60’s‭, ‬the new education programs of UNRWA—more consensual than previous ones in that they were mostly oriented towards resettlement in the host countries‭)‬—stimulated investment in film production‭, ‬in order for the institution to market a new and positive image of the refugees‭. ‬Most‭ ‬of the films of the 60’s then centered around the education and training of the refugees‭, ‬so that the inactivity of refugees stopped being essentialized‭. ‬Rather‭, ‬it becomes the result of a situation‭, ‬which remains unexplained‭. ‬The target is the second generation of Palestinian refugees born in the camps‭, ‬whom UNRWA wants to offer the opportunity to change their own existence‭. ‬Hence‭, ‬the focus of the UNRWA films of the 60’s is put more on a positive representation of the refugees’‭ ‬potential and on individual trajectories (26)‭.‬

Mar Elias refugee camp in Beirut (Lebanon), 1966. Photograph by Jack Madvo

Mar Elias refugee camp in Beirut (Lebanon), 1966. Photograph by Jack Madvo.

Interestingly enough‭, ‬the political and material constraints that shaped these productions had less of an impact on the stills than on the films‭. ‬Aside from the Quakers’‭ ‬images which are all contrasting with the main representations of the land of Palestine and of the refugees displayed by the pre-67‭ ‬Red cross and UNRWA images‭ (‬even their mute film‭) (‬27‭), ‬the pictures of the Red Cross and of UNRWA offer a greater diversity than their films‭. ‬The Red Cross stills even have an outstanding historical perspective as they documented events at an early period‭. ‬Indeed‭, ‬the Red Cross photographs widely show the 1948‭ ‬mass exodus of the Palestinians on foot and by buses‭, ‬and the places left‭. ‬They also show population transfers between the Jewish and Arab zones during the war‭, ‬bombings and exchanges of war prisoners‭. ‬They clearly identify the belligerents and the progress of the conflict‭. ‬Some pictures of the Deir Yassin massacre‭, ‬forgotten in the written archives of the ICRC‭, ‬were even taken and kept with the report of Jacques de Reynier in charge of the ICRC‭.‬‭ ‬They stand as early proofs and evidence testimonies on some war practices‭.‬

Khan Yunis camp (Gaza Strip)

Khan Yunis camp (Gaza Strip).

This last example partly explains why films and stills contrast‭: ‬because of their different purposes‭. ‬Not all photos‭, ‬and notably not the ICRC ones‭, ‬were meant‭, ‬as films were‭, ‬as communication tools targeting an international audience for the purposes of fundraising‭. ‬UNRWA films were made under close supervision and a strict protocol‭, ‬where the director or the person shooting and producing the images was often not directly involved in the conception of the films‭ ( ‬though this changed overtime‭). ‬Usually‭, ‬the‭ ‬script would be written by a person especially appointed for that purpose and would have to be approved by the head of the audiovisual branch and by the Commissioner General’s Office‭ (‬whose approval also had to be obtained for the final version of the film and its diffusion‭). ‬The result is completely‭ ‬“controlled”‭ ‬documentaries which lack originality and/or creativity in their writing and shooting‭. ‬As Jean-Paul Colleyn has stated‭, ‬in most‭ ‬institutional films‭, ‬attention is indeed concentrated more on content than on form‭:‬

“The cameraman seems to have the mission of shooting images meant to accompany a documentary text: most of the time, he films wide shots and the close-ups are either anecdotic either ‘sentimental’, as for example still shots portraits of children or elderly. In this mode of documentary production, (…), the image operator ignores the final editing his images will be submitted to. The cameraman’s role is coverage, he is not supposed to look for interactions or to shoot sequences.” (28)

This was certainly the case in UNRWA productions—all the more as many shots were used in different films, to illustrate distinct texts.

Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, Jericho (West Bank)

Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, Jericho (West Bank).

Moreover‭, ‬up until the 80’s‭, ‬the protagonists—the Palestinian refugees—are never interviewed‭, ‬and either a voice over‭, ‬that of the Agency‭, ‬or that of the speaker’s—as is the case in A Journey to Understanding‭ (‬1961‭)‬—is covering any other individuality‭. ‬The gradual change in the representations of the refugees and of their history‭, ‬which started in 1967‭, ‬is reflected in the form of the productions‭. ‬In Aftermath‭, ‬for instance‭, ‬a film on the 1967‭ ‬exodus‭, ‬displacements and conditions of the war are shown‭, ‬and for the first time a Palestinian‭, ‬an UNRWA employee‭, ‬gives his views on the situation created by the arrival of the displaced in Amman‭. ‬Since that time‭, ‬the tragic consequences of the conflicts are recorded‭, ‬starting‭ ‬with the Lebanese civil war‭ (‬since 1975‭) ‬and then the first Intifada‭ (‬since 1987‭). ‬Though the neutral position of the Agency implied striking a sharp balance and many redlines‭, ‬refugee History and Palestinian people rights are at last mentioned‭ (‬29‭). ‬So are the UN resolutions and the evolution of the debate on the Palestinian issue at the UN or at the international level‭. ‬Palestinian social and cultural identity (30)‭, ‬and Palestinian cultural traditions and heritage are widely displayed in line with the image‭ ‬driven by the national movement‭ (‬31‭). ‬But it is only with the first Intifada‭, ‬as stated by the former film director at UNRWA‭, ‬G‭.‬N‭., ‬that‭

‬“I could have in my films more critical interviews‭, ‬which were talking of Israeli practices and of the exodus of 1948‭ ‬and 1967‭. ‬I‭ ‬wanted to make interviews of persons‭, ‬in their language‭, ‬and not only add this voiceover which spoke in their place through a text that we wrote‭. ‬They accepted that Palestinian refugees speak of their own experience‭, ‬that we see things from their view‭. ‬Giacomelli even urged us to go further‭. ‬The first film I showed him‭, ‬he told me‭ ‬‘it is too shy‭, ‬if people suffer then we have to see it on screen’‭. ‬And at last‭, ‬we had Betacam material‭.‬”‭ (‬32‭)‬

Jericho 1967

Jericho 1967.

Contrary to what Barthes writes about cinema in general‭, ‬UNRWA productions were so closed and monitored until 1967‭ ‬that no off-camera‭, ‬or‭ ‬“champ aveugle”‭ (‬33‭) ‬as he names it‭, ‬could be imagined or perceived‭. ‬A‭ ‬“champ aveugle”‭ ‬that‭, ‬according to him‭, ‬exist in photography only when a detail‭ (‬called punctum‭) ‬comes to break‭, ‬contradicts‭, ‬captures the attention from what is seen as the main subject‭. ‬Some UNRWA stills do indeed leave more freedom of interpretation to the viewer‭, ‬do‭ ‬not assign meanings as heavily as the films and have more evocative power‭. ‬Some of them‭, ‬even the ones that are similar to some‭ ‬shots of the films—as if they had been taken out of them—do carry the view and the viewer outside the frame‭. ‬The themes of the pictures are‭, ‬though‭, ‬recurrent‭ : ‬the camps’‭ ‬infrastructures and the tents ; ‬the people‭, ‬who are mainly elderly man or women‭, ‬women and children‭; ‬schools and health consultations, ‬etc‭. ‬They do not document historical‭ ‬events and‭, ‬in some cases‭, ‬even seem to blur history by erasing the context of the image‭, ‬as I will consider in more details further on‭. ‬Some of the photographs even look like engravings and give the impression of being inscribed in an eternal past‭.‬

Jisr el Basha Refugee Camp, Near Beirut, Lebanon, 1952

Jisr el Basha Refugee Camp in the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon, 1952. Photograph by Myrtle Winter-Chaumeny.

Up until 1967‭, ‬the photos tend to‭ ‬“universalize”‭ ‬the refugees (34)‭ ‬in a way common to most humanitarian iconography‭, ‬as described by Liisa Malkki‭. ‬This representation of refugees‭ ‬is built on the‭ ‬“common assumption that‭ ‬‘the refugee’—apparently stripped of the specificity of culture‭, ‬place and history—is human in the most basic‭, ‬elementary sense”‭ (‬35‭). ‬The numerous photos of women and children are archetypal of humanitarian images‭, ‬where the figures embody the notion of displacement and the pure humanity that refugees are supposed to incarnate‭ (‬36‭). ‬Pictures of the elderly constitute a similar representation‭, ‬all the more as they imply the quasi-absence of young or mature men on UNRWA photographs‭. ‬Taken all together‭, ‬most‭ ‬of UNRWA old photos shape the universal representation of a‭ ‬“human-victim”‭ (‬37‭) ‬deprived of any specific identity‭. ‬This change in the representation of refugees‭, ‬in relation to the overall perception of‭ ‬the same‭, ‬took place during the 20th century‭. ‬Indeed‭, ‬this century witnessed a transformation from the European refugees of the‭ ‬first decades and of the beginning of the cold war period that were considered‭ ‬“political”‭ ‬refugees to a strictly humanitarian and universal understanding of the refugees from the constitution of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees‭ (‬UNHCR‭) ‬in 1950‭ ‬onwards‭. ‬The effect of the change for the refugees that followed‭, ‬most of whom originated from the South‭, ‬has been an insistence on their destitution‭. ‬Palestinians became refugees at this historical turning point‭ ‬of the creation of the UNHCR though they had not been included in its mandate‭.‬

Exodus from the West Bank, across the river Jordan, 1967


In spite of this‭, ‬some of UNRWA’s photos defied the constraints by a certain artistic manner that expressed something more than what was on the frame‭, ‬and that‭ ‬might have something to do with a view of time ‬a representation of‭ ‬time‭, ‬which Roland Barthes reads in some pictures and even more acutely in some historical photographs‭, ‬which he calls‭ ‬“a pure representation of time”‭. ‬He sees it as‭ ‬“another‭ ‬‘punctum’‭ (‬another‭ ‬‘stigmate’‭) ‬beside the‭ ‬‘detail’‭. ‬This new punctum‭, ‬is not one of form but of intensity‭.‬”‭ (‬38‭)‬

History Blurred and Reinvented

What makes a photograph historical is, aside from the image itself, the date and title and/or caption which contribute to situate it and contextualize it. According to Barthes, for any picture, “the date is part of the photo: not because it conveys a style but because one cannot but notice the date, one can imagine life, death, the inexorable passing out of generations” (39). The name of the photographer could also be an important, though not a necessary, indication.


Continuing exodus (Jordan Valley).

Many photos taken before 1967‭ ‬and even later do not carry any date‭, ‬do not picture a historic event or do not carry a caption that could help determine its time and location. ‭This is probably the result of UNRWA’s initial temporary mandate‭, ‬added to a general political environment‭. ‬During those years‭, ‬there was hardly any awareness of the‭ ‬archives being built‭. ‬From the key 1967‭ ‬event onwards‭, ‬a change can be noted‭: ‬in contrast to the previous period‭, ‬few photos are without date or appear blurring history insofar as events do enter into the frame and make the subject of numerous pictures‭. ‬This is particularly clear in the many photographs of the 1967‭ ‬exodus and the effects of the Lebanese civil war on Palestinian refugees and camps. ‬Thanks to the captions—which are generally useful even if a few of them are inaccurate or too general—there is a way to figure out roughly when the photo was taken‭. ‬Oftentimes‭, ‬the dating is done in terms of historical periods defined by key historical events‭: ‬the years following the 1948‭ ‬exodus‬‭; ‬before‭, ‬during or after 1967—as the camps of Jericho were almost emptied after the second exodus‭; ‬between 1967‭ ‬and 1975—beginning of the Lebanese war and after‭, ‬etc‭. ‬The issue of date is also key as far as the films are concerned‭: ‬indeed‭, ‬some of them only carry the indication 1948-1950‭, ‬pre-1967‭ ‬or post-1967‭ ‬and sometimes 1960’s‭, ‬1970’s‭, ‬mid‭- ‬1970’s‭, ‬or even 1980’s‭ (‬40‭).‬

Dekwaneh Camp in Beirut (Lebanon), 1975-1976. Photo by Myrtle Winter-Chaumeny

Dekwaneh Camp in Beirut (Lebanon), 1975-1976. Photo by Myrtle Winter-Chaumeny.

As shown in the UNRWA Photo Catalogue made at the beginning of the 80’s‭ (‬41‭), ‬the way the photos were classified in the archives—at least until the 1990’s—also tends to prevent a historical reading of the pictures and of the refugees’‭ ‬situations‭. ‬Indeed‭, ‬the classification is closely linked to UNRWA‭ ‬’s organizational division between the Relief and Social Services Department‭, ‬the Education and the Health Department as they are‭ ‬grouped under four headings‭: ‬Refugee living conditions‭ (‬in which‭, ‬amongst others‭, ‬are pictures documenting the events of the exodus‭; ‬the Lebanese civil war‭; ‬and one of its more terrible moment for the Palestinians‭, ‬the Sabra and Chatila massacre‭), ‬Education for refugee children‭, ‬Health Care and Arts and Crafts‭. ‬In the 1990’s a complete reorganization of the audiovisual archives‭, ‬and notably of the pictures‭, ‬took place‭. ‬Such reorganization implied a‭ ‬search for ways to date the photographs precisely‭, ‬a new classification of the same‭, ‬and the inclusion of the photographers’‭ ‬name in most of them‭. ‬This archive has gone through a process of contextualisation‭, ‬re-inscription of history‭, ‬a kind of reinvention‭.‬

Wadi Seer, Jordan, 1958

Victims of the Lebanese civil war in Beirut (Lebanon), 1975-6. Photograph by Myrtle Winter-Chaumeny.

The organization of the website mirrors this new conception of the archives and of the role that photographs can play‭. ‬So do the‭ ‬two big photo exhibitions put together on the occasion of the 45‭ ‬and 50‭ ‬years’‭ ‬anniversaries of UNRWA‭ (‬the former one called‭ ‬“The Long Journey”‭ ‬and the second one held in 2000‭). ‬In‭ ‬“The Long Journey”‭, ‬the main events of Palestinian and refugee history since 1922‭, (‬the starting date of the British mandate in Palestine‭) ‬are recorded through photography using‭, ‬from 1950‭ ‬onwards‭, ‬UNRWA photographs which are accurately dated‭, ‬titled‭, ‬and situated‭. ‬The pictures presented in the website are also clearly contextualized‭, ‬identified and dated and very often carry the name of their author‭. ‬They are classified around three main sections‭ (‬Photo archives‭, ‬Recent photos and Fresh photos‭). ‬As far as the archives ones‭ ‬are concerned‭, ‬the new setting has added historical files‭, ‬even though it is still linked to UNRWA’s evolving organizational structure‭ (‬which now includes new key programs such as Micro-finance and Micro-enterprise‭). ‬This new setting is thus divided into seven files‭: ‬Refugee conditions‭; ‬Exodus‭; ‬Destruction‭; ‬Education‭; ‬Health‭; ‬Micro-finance and Micro-enterprise‭; ‬Geographical‭ (‬mainly ancient history and archeological sites of the region‭). ‬Some of these files are‭, ‬in turn‭, ‬subdivided into sub-files according to the different zones of operations‭ (‬Jordan‭, ‬Lebanon‭, ‬Syria‭, ‬West Bank and Gaza‭). ‬This reclassification has gone hand in hand with an increased interest in the audiovisual archives and in the place they occupy in Palestinian national history and memory‭. ‬Symptomatic of this renewed interest is‭, ‬for instance‭, ‬the project to digitalize and store all the film material in good conditions‭.‬

The slow breakthrough of History in UNRWA photos‭, ‬as well as in films‭, ‬involved several steps‭: ‬change of subjects‭, ‬change of formal techniques and new‭, ‬contextualized readings of the same images‭. ‬Indeed‭, ‬for the films‭, ‬old material and shots were used in later films with a complete different purpose and often‭, ‬this time‭, ‬to serve a historical narration‭ (‬e.g‭. ‬Prelude to Peace‭, ‬1987‭)‬‭. ‬This move has been accompanied by the will to individualize the work of image and film makers‭. ‬Up until the 1980’s‭, ‬almost all films lacked detailed credits‭. ‬As a result‭, ‬it was impossible to know who wrote‭, ‬filmed or directed them‭. ‬We do know‭, ‬however‭, ‬that‭, ‬at the time‭, ‬Myrtle Winter was orchestrating the process and was behind the work of the team of the audiovisual Branch on these productions‭. ‬Afterwards‭, ‬filmmakers such as Georges Nehmeh began to be identified and so were the different key technicians‭. ‬The recognition of the work of different photographers led to a greater sense of professionalism‭. ‬Testimonies of‭ ‬this change were the clips made for CNN’s World Report‭ (‬between 1989‭ ‬and 1997‭) ‬which reached a significantly larger audience‭. ‬It also led to question the photographs in‭ ‬a more artistic way‭: ‬not only as documents but also as individual testimonies on refugee History‭.‬

Here‭, ‬the discrepancy between the photos and their intention is striking‭. ‬Indeed‭, ‬in most cases the aim was to give an account on living conditions‭, ‬on habitat‭, ‬infrastructures‭, ‬services‭. ‬The camps—with its tents‭, ‬prefabricated structure‭, ‬and its various shelters and houses—were central in these images‭. ‬So was the way people coped‭, ‬with the help of UNRWA‭, ‬with their harsh environment and surroundings‭. ‬In most of the images‭, ‬though‭, ‬the view remains distant‭, ‬as if the people were completely alien to their place of living or to‭ ‬the landscape‭. ‬This sense of distance stands in sharp contrast to the‭ ‬“territorial intimacy”‭ ‬described by Jean-François Chevrier‭ (‬42‭) ‬in Marc Pataut’s photographs of the inhabitants of Le Cornillon‭ (‬the wasteland on which the Stade de France was built in St Denis‭, ‬near Paris‭).‬‭ ‬Like Palestinian refugees in the camps‭, ‬these people did not choose to be living in this improvised slum‭, ‬but from the pictures‭ ‬their daily life in the wasteland can be felt which is in general not the case with UNRWA stills‭. ‬In UNRWA photos‭, ‬the separation and estrangement of the people from the places together with the lack of interaction between people or between them and the place conveys the impression of an absence of personal histories‭, ‬of a disincarnated reality‭. ‬This absence can be considered partly as an inner limit of photos taken under such political‭, ‬institutional and material constraints by photographers who were beginning in the 50’s and 60’s as‭, ‬for most of them‭, ‬they learned their job taking pictures for UNRWA‭. ‬It might also be partly understood as marks‭, ‬traces of‭ ‬exile or as the perceptions of Palestinian exile that these photographers had‭ (‬some being Palestinian refugees‭, ‬some Lebanese or Europeans‭) ‬and wanted to convey‭.‬

(1) See Latte Abdallah, S., 2007, «Regards, visibilité historique et politique des images sur les réfugiés palestiniens depuis 1948», in Le Mouvement social n°219-220, Spring-Summer, p. 65-91.
(2) UNRWA does not have a proper budget and depends on contributions renewed annually. This structural weakness gives a greater role to its communication.
(3) The USA has been giving since 1950 more than 60% of its budget followed by the UK, and today by the European Community which became its second main contributor. The Arab countries are also key financial backers. In the 50’s and the 60’s, the US and Great Britain were providing the Agency with 90% of its budget.
(4) We worked mainly on a sample of these pictures and on the UNRWA Photo Catalogue made at the beginning of the 80’s (it is not precisely dated) by the UNRWA Public Information Division in Vienna. This paper is more broadly based on UNRWA audiovisual archives and on interviews with former photographers, filmmakers and employees of the public information office.
(5) United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees.
(6) International Committee of the Red Cross.
(7) Letter from Charles R. Read, Field Director, to Bronson Clark, Palestine Desk, 4th November, 1949/AFSC Archives.
(8) Letter from Mr. Evans to Mr. Stanton Griffis, 26th December 1948/AFSC Archives.
(9) For a detailed study on the representations of the Palestinian refugees through humanitarian images (those of the Quakers, the Red Cross and the UNRWA). See Latte Abdallah, S., 2005, “La part des absents. Les images en creux des réfugiés palestiniens”, in Latte Abdallah, S. (ed.), 2005, Images aux frontières. Représentations et constructions sociales et politiques. Palestine, Jordanie 1948-2000, Beyrouth, IFPO, p. 67-102 ; Latte abdallah, S., 2007, op. cit.
(10) Interview, Amman, 15th   February 2004.
(11) Interview, Beirut, 1st March 2004.
(12) Interview, R.W., former deputy director (1979-1998) of the Press Information Department of UNRWA, Amman, 18th February 2004.
(13) Idem.
(14) Beirut, 3rd March 2004.
(15) Till the new writing of the 1948 foundation war by the “new Israeli historians” since the 1980’s, namely Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé, and Tom Segev and others.
(16) Ibid., p. 135.
(17) Barthes, R., 1980, La chambre Claire. Note sur la Photographie, Éditions de l’Étoile/Gallimard/Seuil, p. 133.
(18) Ibid., p. 138.
(19) Ibid., p. 131.
(20) Barthes, R., 1957, Mythologies, Paris, Gallimard.
(21) For more details, see Latte Abdallah, S., 2005, op. cit.
(22) ICRC, 1950.
(23) UN, 1950.
(24) See for instance UNRWA, Tomorrow Begins Today, pre-1967. These representations are also spread by the National Geographic Magazine between 1948 and 1967 as Annelies Moors has studied it. See 2005, “Framing the ‘Refugee Question’: the National Geographic Magazine 1948-1967”, in Latte Abdallah, S. (ed.), op. cit., p. 43-59.
(25) See as an example UNRWA, The Silver Lining, 1964.
(26) See UNRWA, A Journey to Understanding, 1961; UNRWA, Tomorrow Begins Today, pre-1967; UNRWA, The Silver Lining, 1964 or UNRWA, Flowers of Ramallah, 1963.
(27)  See Latte Abdallah, S., 2005, “La part des absents. Les images en creux des réfugiés palestiniens”, in Latte Abdallah, S. (ed.), op. cit., p. 67-102.
(28)  Colleyn, J.-P., 2005, “L’analyse des images d’archives : point de vue théorique et étude d’un cas”, in Latte Abdallah, S. (ed.), op. cit., p. 31.
(29) See The Palestinians, 1973-74; The Palestinians do have rights. The Question of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People1979; Refugee Visiting Abandoned Home in 1948, 1987.
(30) Like for instance Palestinian Portraits, 1987.
(31) See Culture/heritage, 1990; Palestinian Embroidery, 1990.
(32) G. N., Vienna, 27th April 2004.
(33) Barthes, R., op. cit., p. 90.
(34) Malkki, L., 1995, Purity and Exile. Violence, Memory and National Cosmology  among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania, Chicago/London, The University of Chicago Press, p. 9.
(35) Malkki L, op. cit., p. 12.
(36) Malkki L., op. cit., p. 11-12.
(37) Badiou, A., 1993, L’éthique. Essai sur la conscience du mal, Paris, Hatier.
(38) Barthes, R., p. 148-150.
(39) Ibid., p. 131.
(40) According to the listing of UNRWA films made by the UNRWA HQ in Gaza.
(41) UNRWA, 1983/1984 (not precisely dated), UNRWA Photo Catalogue, UNRWA Public Information Division, Vienna.
(42) Chevrier, J.-F., 1997, “L’intimité territoriale”, in Ceux du terrain, Ne pas plier, Ivry-sur-Seine, p. 33-51.

*Audiovisual archives:
– Photographic archives of the American Friends Service Committee Palestine 1948-1950
– Photographic archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross Palestine 1948-1950
– Photographic archives of the League of the National Societies of the Red Cross Palestine 1948-1950
– Audiovisual archives (stills and films) of UNRWA 1950-1998
– UNRWA, 1983/1984 (not precisely dated), UNRWA Photo Catalogue, UNRWA Public Information Division, Vienna.
– United Nations, Sands of Sorrow, 1950.
– ICRC, Les errants de Palestine, 1950.
– UNRWA, Tomorrow Begins Today, pre-1967.
– UNRWA, A Journey to Understanding, 1961.
– UNRWA, Beneath the Bells of Bethlehem, pre-1967
– UNRWA, Flowers of Ramallah, 1963.
– UNRWA, The Silver Lining, 1964.
– UNRWA, Aftermath, 1967.
– UNRWA, Peace is More than A Dream, 1973.
– UNRWA, Prelude to Peace, 1987.

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Chevrier, J.-F., 1997, “L’intimité territoriale”, in Ceux du terrain, Ne pas plier, Ivry-sur- Seine, p. 33-51.
Colleyn, J.-P., 2005, “L’analyse des images d’archives : point de vue théorique et étude d’un  cas”,  in  Latte  Abdallah,  S.  (ed.),  2005,  Images  aux  frontières.  Représentations  et constructions sociales et politiques. Palestine, Jordanie 1948-2000, Beyrouth, IFPO , p. 25-36.
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Latte  Abdallah,  S.,  2005,  “La  part  des  absents.  Les  images  en  creux  des  réfugiés palestiniens”, in Latte Abdallah, S. (ed.), 2005,  Images aux frontières. Représentations et constructions sociales et politiques. Palestine, Jordanie 1948-2000, Beyrouth, IFPO, p. 67-102. Latte Abdallah, S., 2006, Femmes réfugiées palestiniennes, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France (translated in arabic : Lajiat min Falestin. Shakhsiat tabhath laha can tarikh, 2006, Beyrouth, Arab Scientific Publishers, Inc.)
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Malkki, L., 1995, Purity and Exile. Violence, Memory and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania, Chicago/London, The University of Chicago Press.
Moors, A., 2005, “Framing the ‘Refugee Question’: the National Geographic Magazine 1948-1967”,  in  Latte  Abdallah,  S.  (ed.),  2005,  Images  aux  frontières.  Représentations  et constructions sociales et politiques. Palestine, Jordanie 1948-2000, Beyrouth, IFPO, p. 43-59. Zobeidi, S., 1999, My very Private Map of Palestine, documentary film.