"I Come from There.And Remember": A Photo Exhibition of Pre-1948 Palestine

By Benevento, Gina | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2008 | Go to article overview

"I Come from There.And Remember": A Photo Exhibition of Pre-1948 Palestine


Benevento, Gina, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


IT'S A COLD AND WET Jerusalem winter afternoon, and already my desk is awash in requests for photographs. As chief of public information for UNRWA-the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the U.N. agency which has provided humanitarian and development services to Palestine refugees since 1950-my office is the port of call for anyone tracking down photographs of Palestine refugees. And while May 15, 2008, the 60th anniversary of al-Nakba, is still months away, there seems no end to the appetite for images of the 1948 refugee exodus. This morning, requests from two European newspapers; yesterday requests from an American NGO and Al-Jazeera.

Looking over the photographs which Amani Shaltout, our dedicated archivist, sends out in response, my eyes linger on the faces. What happened to the old man being helped aboard a departing boat? Where is the young woman staring out at us from the back of a Haganah truck? There is almost a uniformity to these images. The faces inevitably express fear, confusion, sadness. The bodies are in flight-walking, running, being carried-helped by trucks and boats. And always there are tents-single tents, then rows, opening up to reveal fields of tents as far as the camera and eye can see.

But one photograph makes me stop. It is a photograph of two young girls pushing carts stuffed with bedding. I've seen the frightened, sad faces before. But it is what is behind the young girls which stops me: two large stone buildings, built in a popular early 20th century European style. Palestinian refugee iconography (refugee iconography in general) focuses on that which is temporal-tents, trucks, boats, mattresses slung over shoulders-all symbols of dispersion. But these buildings are permanent-homes and shops-part of what was once a stable and thriving Palestinian community. Only minutes earlier these young girls were not refugees. …

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