Palestine Poster Project: Nakba

Dan Walsh has spent decades amassing the largest archive of Palestine posters, all of which have been scanned and made available online at the Palestine Poster Project Archives. Walsh’s collection includes the earliest known Palestine poster – a 1898 French tourism poster of Bethlehem – all the way to the recent posters produced by supporters of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Already numbering over 10,000, the collection grows every year with posters donated from around the world: any poster in any language from any time period and any source with the word Palestine is added whether Zionist posters produced by the Yishuv or the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Over the following months, Palestine Square will focus on many of these posters as they relate to the history of Palestine since 1948. This week we look at the history and contemporary adaptation as the most well-known poster of Palestine: “Visit Palestine”.

Nakba 

No event is more pivotal in contemporary Palestinian history than the expulsion and dispossession of most Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces in 1948-49: the Nakba (Catastrophe). The Nakba dispersed and fractured the Palestinians across several countries and has left them stateless to this very day. Israel’s Original Sin has metastasized into the 1967 occupation. Thus the Nakba is both the starting point of ongoing Palestinian subjugation under Israeli rule and often the central reference for Palestinians aspiring to justice and self-determination.

National Commemorative Committee of the Nakba, Palestine - 2008
National Commemorative Committee of the Nakba, Ashraf Ghrayeb, Palestine – 2008
Riyad Hamad, Palestine - 2011. The Arabic within the fingerprint lists all the villages razed or expropriated (re-branded with Hebrew bames) by Israel.
Riyad Hamad, Palestine – 2011. The Arabic within the fingerprint lists all the villages razed or expropriated (re-branded with Hebrew names) by Israel.

Along with its people, land, culture, and history, Palestine underwent a catastrophe (al-nakba) in 1948 and in the subsquent years. From its humanitarian, social, and political perspectives, the nakba has received relatively widespread attention, yet its cultural ramifications have not gained as much interest.19 In any case, during the initial years of the Israeli occupation of 1948, bulldozers erased the traces of more than 400 Palestinian villages, towns, and cities, wiping out their historical centers with their mosques, churches, shrines, and all their material cultural heritage, including, in many cases, their cemeteries.

Architecture as a Source for Historical Documentation: The Use of Palestine’s Built Heritage as a Research Tool, Nazmi Al-Ju’beh – Jerusalem Quarterly

Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU), USA - 2015.
Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU), USA – 2015.
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Vassia Alaykova, USA - 2008.
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Vassia Alaykova, USA – 2008.

In 1948, much of the wealthy and formally educated Palestinian population was concentrated in Jerusalem and other urban centers. The [Israeli] soldiers raiding these neighborhoods were closely followed by teams of librarians from the Jewish National and University Library at Hebrew University. They gathered approximately 30,000 books from private Palestinian libraries and, according to testimonies from those involved in the project, began to catalog books by subject and often by owners’ names. In the early 1960s, however, close to 6,000 of the books were revisited and labeled with the letters “AP” for “abandoned property”. The library catalog shows no information on provenance, or former ownership. If that information had formerly been recorded, it seems to have been erased or at least carefully concealed.

Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s “Abandoned Property” of 1948. Hannah Mermelstein – Jerusalem Quarterly 

Mahmoud Bassam, Palestine - 2010.
Mahmoud Bassam, Palestine – 2010.
Bashir Sinwar, Palestine - c. 1985.
Bashir Sinwar, Palestine – c. 1985.

The village of Lifta is situated at the entrance to Jerusalem, on a steep slope below the road that ascends from the coast. This impressive village was emptied of its Palestinian residents during the 1948 war. The residents of Lifta, like the 710,000-780,000 other Palestinians who were expelled or fled in 1948, were not permitted to return to their homes after the war and became refugees. However, unlike more than four hundred Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948, Lifta was not left totally in ruins. Of the village’s four hundred and fifty original houses, fifty-five are still standing today. Today the threat of demolition hovers over Lifta: the Israel Land Administration has approved a plan to sell land in the village to private entrepreneurs who intend to build high-end luxury housing for Jews.

Lifta and the Regime of Forgetting: Memory Work and Conservation, Daphna Golan, Zvika Orr, Sami Ershied – Jerusalem Quarterly 

BADIL Resource Center, Natasha Al Maani, Palestine - 1998.
BADIL Resource Center, Natasha Al Maani, Palestine – 1998.
BADIL Resource Center, Ahmed J. Shameia, Palestine - 2011.
BADIL Resource Center, Ahmed J. Shameia, Palestine – 2011.

The Return Key

Most Palestinians hastily left their homes in the wake of attacks by Zionist forces or after hearing of massacres committed in Palestinian villages, news of which was often spread by the culprits in order to encourage Palestinians to flee in fear. The Israeli myth that Palestinians voluntarily left at the behest Arab leaders in order to make way for Arab forces determined to ‘throw the Jews into the sea’ has long been discredited as a complete fabrication invented after-the-fact by Israel to whitewash its ethnic cleansing. Most Palestinians took what they could carry in the hopes of returning to their homes, a right of return recognized by the United Nations. The home key has become a symbol for refugees aspiring to return.

BADIL Resource Center, Nabeela Khaleel, Palestine - 2015.
BADIL Resource Center, Nabeela Khaleel, Palestine – 2015.
BADIL Resource Center, Mohammad Adel Al Hajj, Palestine - 2015.
BADIL Resource Center, Mohammad Adel Al Hajj, Palestine – 2015.

While conducting research about the history of northern Israel, an Israeli friend of mine stumbled across the story of a mosque whose remains were situated on the grounds of her father’s childhood kibbutz. She learned that the mosque’s structure had remained relatively intact long after its Palestinian client population had fled or been expelled during the course of the 1948-1949 war. She called her father at his Tel Aviv home to confirm the discovery. Did he remember the mosque, she asked? No, he responded, he did not. She pressed him a bit. But he was certain, reminding her that he knew every inch of kibbutz territory, having spent his childhood hiking its environs. His denial was categorical and there the conversation ended. A few days later, he called her back with a set of belated memories. It seemed that in discussion with his sisters who had also grown up on this kibbutz, a forgotten landscape had slowly come into view. Yes, the mosque was there, he confirmed. Indeed, he recalled watching Palestinians harvesting fruit from its adjacent fields when he was a young boy. This memory process disturbed him. How could such an intimate knowledge of one’s homeland simply vanish only to come suddenly and vividly back into view? 

Israeli Routes Through Nakba Landscapes: An Ethnographic Meditation, Rebecca L. Stein – Jerusalem Quarterly

BADIL Resource Center, Abdul Qader Dar Hamed, Palestine - 2015.
BADIL Resource Center, Abdul Qader Dar Hamed, Palestine – 2015.
BADIL Resource Center, Abdulrahman Abu Shqair, Palestine - 2013.
BADIL Resource Center, Abdulrahman Abu Shqair, Palestine – 2013.

Nakba Day – May 15

Palestinians commemorate Nakba Day on May 15. The date marks the independence declaration of the State of Israel the day after the end of the British Mandate. The British purposely shunned their obligations under the League of Nations to enable democratic institutions in Palestine. Since representatives institutions would have reflected Palestine’s majority Arab character, the obligation was ignored in the service of British Zionism: the creation of a “Jewish homeland,” which was always meant to transform Palestine from an Arab country into a Jewish state. The nation that today boasts that it’s “the only democracy in the Middle East” [sic] only came into existence through the complete abrogation of democratic institutions and processes. The State of Israel’s declaration made the loss of Palestine a fait accompli as Zionist forces had already launched their war on Palestinian cities and villages months prior, which forced of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of the country before 1948.

Farah Filasteen - 2013.
Farah Filasteen – 2013.

Majd al-Kroum was one of the larger villages, to which hundreds of displaced refugees from nearby villages such as Birwe, Sha’ab, Damun and others came. Rumours were reaching the villagers about the massacres being carried out in ‘Elaboun and other villages that had been recently occupied in the central and upper Galilee. Less than a week after the village surrendered and handed over its weapons, another Israeli military unit arrived from the east. Its members were responsible for the massacres in ‘ Elaboun, Nahaf, Deir al-Asad, al-Bi’ana and other villages. This military unit surrounded the village and carried out a massacre in the courtyard of the village spring. The first of its victims was Abu Ma’yuf. The soldiers made him watch as they dynamited his home before shooting him in front of the townspeople.

From Seferberlik to the Nakba A Personal Account of the Life of Zahra al-Ja’uniyya, Adel Manna’ – Jerusalem Quarterly

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Marc Rudin – c. 1984.

The Union Jack over Government House came down after thirty years of British administration, and the British High Commissioner with his staff left Jerusalem on the morning of 14 May 1948. This infamous era began in 1920 with unfulfilled promises and broken pledges given to the Arabs in 1915 of freedom, liberty, and independence from the 400-year-old yoke of the Ottoman Regime,2 and ended with the British Government forsaking the responsibilities it freely assumed under the Mandate of the League of Nations to safeguard and uphold the rights and further the welfare and interests of all its wards without fear or favor. Now it was leaving the country in utter chaos, distress, and bloodshed.

Catastrophe Overtakes the Palestinians: Memoirs, Part II, Sami Hadawi – Jerusalem Quarterly

OSPAAAL - Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America, Berta Abelenda, Cuba - c. 1980.
OSPAAAL – Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America, Berta Abelenda, Cuba – c. 1980.

15 of May.
Day of solidarity with Palestine.

Israeli Posters 

Some right-wing Israelis have decided to gleefully get in on the act:

Five Minutes for Israel, David Guy - 2011. Countess Palestinian homes were handed over to Israeli Jews.
Five Minutes for Israel, David Guy, Israel – 2011. Countess Palestinian homes were handed over to Israeli Jews.
Im Tirtzu, Israel - 2011.
Im Tirtzu, Israel – 2011.

Nakba bullshit.

They instigated, they abandoned, they expelled, they lost.They should rage only against themselves.

* * *

I have written about our Talbiyeh home, and about about a very dear Jewish Israeli man, who once lived in our home, and who had the strength to step forward and apologize to me for the taking of Villa Harun ar-Rashid. These writings appeared in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Reader reactions were alternately sobering and inspiring, ranging from crude racism and “Get ready for Nakba II”, to heartfelt expressions of sympathy and respect. A recurrent theme, however–even among the most compassionate–was the assertion that “we cannot go back to the past”, and indeed, that we must forget the past.

It struck me as deeply ironic that such an admonition could issue from people whose claimed attachment to Palestine goes back 2,000 years, and who apparently see no contradiction between this insistence on our amnesia and their seeking reparations from the Nazi Holocaust. What this all points to, of course, is that who can remember, and who can be made to forget, is fundamentally an outgrowth, and an enactment, of power. Viewed in this way, our remembering is a form of continuing resistance to the defamation and erasure of our people and our history.

Talbiyeh Days: At Villa Harun ar-Rashid, George Bisharat – Jerusalem Quarterly

Not all Israelis are keen to forget. Many, in fact, are determined to raise consciousness of the Nakba among the Israeli public and express solidarity with expelled Palestinians:

Artist and organization unknown, Israel - 2011.
Artist and organization unknown, Israel – 2011.

To the Palestinian people here and in the diaspora, we join you in your mourning of the Nakba, for the expulsion, killing, denial and the purposeful forgetting. In the return of the refugees we will be consoled.