“The facts are that men, women, old people and babies were murdered, villages were destroyed and burned, without justification […]. There will only be atonement when those guilty of murder will be judged and when the houses and the lands of the people of Saliha will be returned to them […] but who but us, sitting upon skulls and ruins and eating from the “abandoned land”, who like us knows that none of this will ever come to pass?”—“Death in Saliha – Life in Yiron”, published in the second issue of the kibbutz newsletter in late 1949, quoted by Noga Kadman in Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948 (2015)
Since 2003 I’ve visited Palestine-Israel, photographing on a variety of themes—water, youth, occupation, siege, resistance, and women, among them, throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.
In 1948, Israel expelled some 750,000 indigenous Palestinians from over 500 villages and towns to clear the land for Jewish settlement, leading to the foundation of the state of Israel. Thus the Nakba (in Arabic), or Catastrophe. Some 6 million Palestinians now live in the West Bank and Gaza—the “internally expelled.” Since 2018, I meet the refugees, often living in refugee camps in the Occupied West Bank of Palestine, interview and photograph them, and return to their ancestral homes (now in Israel) to photograph. I include photos of where and how they live currently in internal diaspora to contrast with their earlier, often pastoral lives, in destroyed villages and towns—in contrast to how Israelis are privileged to live. Eventually, I’ll add archival photos of their regions before the expulsion.
Major questions: what happened during the expulsions? What were the lives of the refugees before the Nakba? How did people travel to sites of refuge, what could they bring with them, have they ever returned to visit? How do people forced from their homelands presently live compared with Israelis in those former Palestinian homelands? How are the stories transmitted thru the generations? Do people wish to return, under what conditions? Generally, how might the right of return for Palestinians work? And most importantly, how do they look now, thru my lens?
With continuing gratitude to those who’ve generously funded my Nakba photographic project and those Palestinians who’ve guided me to and helped me interview Nakba survivors of 4 generations (listed below), I continue my project, “The Ongoing and Relentless Nakba, photographs of internally expelled Palestinians in the West Bank.” In the spring of 2022, after two years of waiting because of the pandemic, I plan to return for another two-month trip to locate key survivors and sites, like people who lived in Deir Yassin, the site of a massacre, and Lifta, one of the few original villages still reasonably intact (altho threatened by Jewish Israelis with luxury development). I will again need to hire colleagues to help me locate survivors and their destroyed villages.
In the fall of 2018, I photographed 15 Palestinians, most first-generation refugees, some second, third, and fourth generation. In the spring and summer of 2019, I photographed another 24 Nakba survivors. I’ve also photographed many of their ancestral homelands—destroyed villages and towns, sites of expulsion where many had provably lived for multiple generations, now in Israel.
The project has 4 parts: black and white portraits of people now living in internal diaspora, color photos of their current environment, altered color photos of their former villages and towns, and black and white historic photos.
My eventual goal is what I call a multi-platform book, meaning a traditional photographic book with links thru QR codes to the videos and audios I’ve made, plus resources like maps, timelines, analyses, etc. An example of this in exhibit form is “The Promised Land,” info here: promisedlandmuseum.org.
As far as I know, I am the first to attempt a photographic project about this theme.
My overarching goal is to draw attention and activism to this particular issue in the larger struggle for a just peace and full human rights for Palestinians.
“What is the name of this place? A few years ago there was a place and it had a name. the place is lost, and the name is lost. What is left? At first, a name torn out of a place. Soon, that, too, is erased. Neither place nor name…“—S. Yizhar, “The silence of the villages,” Stories of a Plain
- Fareed Taamallah, Ramallah (West Bank)
- Nidal Al-Azraq, Boston MA
- Ayed Al-Azzeh, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem (West Bank)
- Eman Wawi, Hebron (West Bank)
- Amos Gvirtz, kibbutz Shefayim (Israel)
- Mohammed Al-Azzeh (Musa), Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem (West Bank)
- Murad Matar, Bethlehem (West Bank)
- Meras Al-Azza, Bethlehem (West Bank)
- Angela Godfrey, Jerusalem (Israel)
- Inas Margieh, Jerusalem (Israel)
- Adnan Torokman, Jenin (West Bank)
- Mohammed Mouwia, Jenin (West Bank)
- Linda Dittmar, Cambridge MA
Records for this project
Quick Facts: The Palestinian Nakba, by the Institute for Middle East Understanding
Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: Zionism, Settler Colonialism, and the Case for One Democratic State, by Jeff Halper (January 2021)
Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, by Omar Barghouti (2011)