Bashing Israel Pays Dividends Abroad: The Case of Ariella Azoulay

15.12.22

Editorial Note

Prof. Ariella Azoulay, formerly of Bar-Ilan and Tel Aviv Universities, is among the most radical Israeli scholar-activists and a supporter of BDS. She worked with her partner Prof. Adi Ophir in the Minerva Center, Tel Aviv University, on the so-called Lexicon for Political Theory that boasted a litany of Israel’s alleged sins of colonialism, apartheid, and such. After leaving Israel, Ophir and Azoulay were invited by the Middle East Center at Brown University by the then Director, Prof. Beshara Doumani, a notorious Israel-basher with a long list of publications demonizing the Jewish state. Azoulay also holds a dual appointment as a Modern Culture and Media professor at the Department of Comparative Literature.  

To fit the tenor of the Middle East Center, Azoulay remade herself into “an Arab Jew” and a “Palestinian Jew of African origin.” To bolster her new identity, she also added the Arabic name of Aisha, as in Ariella Aisha Azoulay. The “Palestinian Jew” conveniently omitted the fact that she was born and lived in Tel Aviv, Israel. But it was her old work in Israel that served as an admission ticket to the Ivy League school. Azoulay describes herself as a photographer, lexicographer, archivist, and curator who adheres to the principle of the “civil contract of photography.” In her view, the “civil contract” is founded on a new political-ontological understanding” of the photographic act. Translated into standard English, this piece of critical, post-modern jargon essentially means that pictures are a way to rehabilitate subjects who are victims of Western imperialism and colonialism. Since Azoulay believes that “imperialist logic pervades our thinking about other people, objects, nature and time itself,” there is a need to “decolonize the past.”

 Azoulay put her “civil contract” idea to good use when working as a Lexicographer at Minerva. At the time, Ophir produced work that claimed that the Nazi evil was on the same ontological plane as Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Azoulay mounted exhibitions in the West that aimed at creating a visual link between the Holocaust, the Nakba, and the subsequent treatment of the Palestinians. In one picture Azouly posted in an exhibition, a group of Palestinians engaged in a scuffle with the IDF.

IMG-3612.jpg

 Azoulay’s caption is very telling: “In this act too, Palestinians are the ones who will be arrested. This time, however, they force the Israeli soldiers to chase them as if they were chasing (Jewish) prisoners under the Nazi regime. The soldiers can insist that these are only Palestinians, but the photographic act preserves the meaning with which Palestinians wanted to imbue the situation.”

The goal is clearly to create a link between the Israeli soldiers and the Nazis. 

 In another case, Azoulay defended Anat Kam, an IDF soldier who copied 2000 or so secret documents and leaked them to the press. Kam was charged with espionage and endangering the state’s security and was sentenced to four years in jail. Azoulay claimed that the IDF files were part of the “public archive” and that the “archivist” Kam was wrongfully imprisoned. 

At Brown, she put her “civil contract” photography to another use. In a 2021 co-edited work, she discussed images from Palestine taken by travelers, claiming that “Those images, in which the beautiful and beloved country of Palestine is captured before its systematic colonial destruction.”  She then invites viewers to become “time travelers in a time machine of sorts, to think what does it mean to look at these images not as hints of a pre-colonial time but rather as hints of the reversibility of the colonial projects, markers of repair?“ Repair, in her eyes, means the erasure of the State of Israel. 

However, she also broadened her mission to include decolonizing into museums, which, in her belief, are major repositories of colonial and capitalist imagery. She also pursued her other task, to focus on marginalized women. In her words, her project wanted to develop a “universal language of citizenship and revolution” in response to the “universal language of power.”  

     It comes thus as a surprise that Azouly did not participate in two events in the Middle East Center devoted to the recent protest in Iran following the killing of Mahsa Amini and the widespread demand to abolish the chador. In the ongoing riots, hundreds were killed and thousands arrested; two were already executed. Certainly, the developments in Iran – where a brutal Islamist theocracy has terrorized its people and marginalized women – do not fit the radical left’s paradigm of Western colonization and oppression. If this is the case, Azoulay would not be the first to close her eyes to the horrendous violations of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. After visiting Tehran in 1979, Michel Foucault, the “founding father” of post-modern, critical theory, wrote that the revolution ushered by Ayatollah Khomeini might signify a new “political spirituality” with the potential to transform the world.

Foucault, a homosexual, never rebuked the regime for executing gays in public. 

The singular obsession with Israel and the refusal to confront brutal regimes like Iran delegitimizes and discredits radical leftist scholarship. 

References:

https://www.palestine-studies.org/en/node/1651518

Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 9 ]
Time Travelers in
Palestine
A Stereoscopic Journey
Issam Nassar and Ariella Aïsha
Azoulay
Guest Editors
Palestine, a small country on the eastern
shore of the Mediterranean, was part
of the Ottoman Empire until 1918.
Like most other parts of the empire, it
witnessed great transformations during
the nineteenth century with major
growth in its economy, population, and
administration. Naturally, such changes
had important implications on its society
and the lived landscape. Various colonial
powers of the time were interested in
Palestine’s strategic location between
Asia and Africa, and its connection with
the biblical narrative often served as a
convenient pretext for different imperial
ambitions. Several schemes to establish a
foothold in the country and surrounding
areas, and to colonize it, had been
afloat by one or the other competing
colonial powers since the Napoleonic
invasion of Egypt. Photography, from its
inception, had been seen as a technology
that could facilitate the extraction and
accumulation of visual wealth from
non-European peoples. The arrival of
photography in Palestine was shaped by
such imperial and colonial desires and
biblical and Oriental imaginations.
France, Britain, and Russia, in
particular, were competing to establish
a presence in Palestine. By the end
of the nineteenth century, the newly
established Zionist movement in Europe
joined in with the efforts to colonize
Palestine, where they wanted to establish
a Jewish homeland. With more and more
cameras in Palestine held by European
photographers and entrepreneurs,
images of Palestine, considered Holy
Land for Christianity and Judaism,
began to take on an important role for
colonial powers. This is not to suggest
that photography was limited to serving
[ 10 ] Time Travelers in Palestine | Issam Nassar and Ariella Aïsha Azoulay
colonial ambitions. Rather, by its construction of Palestine as a biblical heritage,
photography served in the efforts to present the land not as a socially inhabited
place, but rather as a dreamland awaiting to be “redeemed” and “restored.” In other
words, photography participated in the visual colonization of Palestine by helping
to construct it as the Bible land, rather than a country with people and society – a
mission that prevailed through early Euro-American photography. This image, though
predating the Zionist slogan of “a land without a people for a people without a land,”
contributed to the efforts to physically colonize the country and create a system in
which the immigrant Jews are the only legitimate people in Palestine.
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 11 ]
With the invention and popularization of stereoscopic photography – where
two images of the same subject were taken at the same time by a camera with two
lenses – consumers in Europe and the United States could view faraway places using
a special viewer that creates the illusion of a three-dimensional scene and become
familiar with these places. Euro-American commercial companies were quick to
send photographers to take photographs that they could commercialize and sell to
different audiences. These collections of stereoscopic images were often organized
thematically and, accompanied by captions and narratives, presented those different
people to white Euro-American consumers.
The collections were promoted through an emphasis on places in “Bible Lands.”
This is how the collection still features, for example, in the index of the University of
Chicago Library, among other places. While in 1880 the brothers Underwood started
with door-to-door sales of souvenir collections, they quickly became a big company
that was selling “300,000 stereoscopes a year and producing more than 25,000 cards
a day.” They took approximately 600 images in Palestine. Little is known about the
circumstances under which they were taken and by whom. One thing is clear – what
the Western and European viewers saw had little to do with the people from the world
where these images were taken. The commercialized images carry only the brand of
the company and no mention of the Palestinians who guided the photographers and
assisted them in the pursuit of their photographic expeditions.
This issue of the Jerusalem Quarterly is based on the exhibition Time Machine:
Stereoscopic Views of Palestine, 1900 that we curated in 2017.1 We invited around
fifty scholars and artists to select stereoscopic cards from the one hundred images
taken in Palestine around 1900, and to write new captions for them. These images
were originally taken as part of a general imperial attitude toward another’s world:
they were there to be taken (in photographs), to be made a source of profit, and an
object of entertainment for the Euro-American public. The collection of these images
raises a set of questions about photography – distance and proximity, resources and
primitive accumulation, public and private viewing, regime of rights and care for the
world, reproducibility and ownership, photographer/photographed-persons relations,
and the like – as well as political questions about imperialism, colonization, conquest,
destruction, migration, expulsion, memory, legacy, patrimony, and exploitation.. We
invited the contributors to address some of these questions that are absent from the
original captions. We also asked them to propose captions that interact on the one
hand with the original captions of the stereoscopic cards and on the other with the
current state of Palestine.
Our assumption was that these images, taken in 1900 cannot be viewed today
without the imprint of the colonial project of destruction. After all, much of what is
captured in the photographs no longer exists. We invited the contributors to dwell in
this time-space created between 1900, the moment when the images were taken, and
the moment of writing more than a century later, to reflect on what happened, what
[ 12 ] Time Travelers in Palestine | Issam Nassar and Ariella Aïsha Azoulay
should not have happened, and what may still happen. These images of Palestine,
commercialized and widely disseminated at the dawn of the twentieth century,
included images also from Syria and Lebanon as part of a single region. The Sykes-
Picot agreement between imperial powers on how to divide between them other
people’s lands through a regime of mandates, and later, the imposition of partition
and the state of Israel on the area, destroyed this geographical and cultural continuity
of which Palestine was part. It turned the majority of Palestine’s population into
undesired “outsiders” in their homeland, and into refugees in camps that surround it
in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Time Machine: Stereoscopic Views of Palestine, 1900, Pembroke Hall, Brown University, March – May
2017 (design Erin Wells, curators I.N. & A.A.A.).
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 13 ]
We were interested in how this three-dimensional space of stereoscopic images
was used to convey visual information about Palestine. The set of these one hundred
images was printed in a popular edition and sold with a stereoscopic viewer. The
cards show Palestine landscapes and residents. However, with the help of the latest
3D-technology of its time, spectators were encouraged to conflate what they saw
with biblical sights. We noticed this in the form of juxtaposition of daily situations
in a market or a bazaar, in which people are seen busy in their occupations, with
panoramic, often unpopulated landscapes, presented as biblical scenes in which the
natives are captured embodying past figures. Often, the original captions depict the
presence of indigenous people as impeding a more direct gaze into the “Holy Land”
and its surroundings.
The companies responsible for the extraction of these images from Palestine are
also responsible for the cultivation of different gaps between viewers who contemplate
the images in the privacy of their living rooms in the turn-of-the-century United
States or Europe – and the local population, often depicted as guardians of a cherished
past, but who may not be trusted to be its best guardians. This is reflected in the
tension between images and captions. The original captions often highlight explicitly
the distance between the Western observer and the native population, its habits and
customs, and its modes of eating, trading, living, etc. Such is the case with captions
such as: “The native mode of grinding coffee” or “This market, with its throng of
robed and turbaned business men (Arabs, Jews and Turks), its meek donkeys and
dignified camels, is just as Jeremiah and Isaiah and Amos used to know.”
Those images, in which the beautiful and beloved country of Palestine is captured
before its systematic colonial destruction, invite viewers to become “time travelers” in
a time machine of sorts, to think what does it mean to look at these images not as hints
of a pre-colonial time but rather as hints of the reversibility of the colonial projects,
markers of repair?
With the original and revised captions, we invite the readers of this volume to look
at these images from a dual perspective: on the one hand, what could be seen in them
at the time when the destruction of Palestine and the creation of Israel in its place
could not even be feared or imagined, and on the other hand, how they can contribute
today to the struggle to decolonize Palestine.
Issam Nassar is JQ’s consulting editor and professor of History at Illinois State
University.
Ariella Aïsha Azoulay is professor of Modern Culture & Media and Comparative
Literature, author of Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (Verso, 2019).
[ 14 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
It is not surprising that the very first image in this collection depicts the town of
Jaffa as seen from the sea: this was normally the first close-up view of Palestine that
the growing number of foreigners arriving by boat around 1900 would have seen,
since Jaffa was then the country’s most important port. Because it lacked a deepwater
harbor, however, large ships anchored offshore, and passengers and goods were
then transported to land on small boats, one of which is visible in the image. As
the original caption suggests, Jaffa had been an important port since ancient times
and is mentioned in the Bible and in early Christian writings. When this image was
made it was a thriving urban center with some thirty thousand inhabitants (roughly
60 percent Muslim, 30 percent Christian and 10 percent Jewish). Its rapid population
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 15 ]
growth in the later nineteenth century, and the establishment of new neighborhoods
outside the “old city,” had been driven in large part by the dramatic expansion of
citrus cultivation, particularly the famous “Jaffa orange” grown on the coastal plains
surrounding the city and shipped to Europe and beyond through its port. Jaffa had
its own municipal council since 1871 and was connected to Jerusalem by railroad in
1892; it had by then become the country’s de facto economic capital.
In 1909, inspired by Zionism’s program of transforming Palestine into a Jewish
homeland, a group of Jews founded what they envisioned as a new, modern, and
exclusively Jewish neighborhood to the north of Jaffa’s historic center; it came to be
known as Tel Aviv (“Hill of Spring”) and quickly grew into Palestine’s largest Jewish
urban center. By the late 1930s, owing to the large-scale Jewish immigration enabled
by the British who ruled Palestine from 1918 to 1948, Tel Aviv was roughly twice as
populous as Jaffa and encompassed one-third of the country’s Jewish population. In
April–May 1948 Zionist military forces conquered Jaffa, 95 percent of whose Arab
inhabitants became refugees, and the city was subsequently annexed to Tel Aviv. The
eighteen thousand Palestinian citizens of Israel who live in Jaffa today (4 percent of
the population of Tel Aviv) struggle with poverty, discrimination, and displacement
through gentrification.
— Zachary Lockman
Jaffa is at the shore, on top of the hill, drawing the horizon line. She can now clearly
see it. Maybe it was her first arrival into the city port and, full of excitement, she
couldn’t wait. After the almost unbearable sea journey, she was about to land. She
absorbed her surroundings with every breath of salty air, searching for the right angle.
She held her camera between her hands, waiting. Finally, while boarding the small
boat that will take her into the port, she found it. “Hold the boat,” she managed to
shout and before taking a seat, she took a first shot of the city.
Jaffa, one of the oldest city ports in the world, thanks to its natural harbor, was
always a place where people arrived: merchants, pilgrims, and immigrants. They
arrived from Europe, the Far and Middle East, bringing spices and goods, prayers and
hopes. The port, the gate entrance to the Holy Land, marked also the cosmopolitanism
of the city in which, I imagine, a mixture of languages could be heard. This is the
reason why Jaffa was not only known as ‘Urus al-Bahr (Bride of the Sea) but also as
Um al-Gharib (Mother of the Stranger). Today, nobody arrives to Jaffa from the sea.
A photograph taken now from one of the few fishing boats that still harbors in the
port will show a line of fancy restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, and trendy cafes
designed mainly for Jewish Israelis, as part of an effort to boost the “judaization” of
Jaffa. As happened in similar Palestinian sites that were not destroyed by the Tel Aviv
Municipality, the port has been “renovated” and turned into a touristic “attraction.”
Thus, the government has erased the site’s history in favor of a high-cost entertainment
complex that operates entirely in Hebrew and remains most of the time empty.
— Norma Muslih
[ 16 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 17 ]
Jaffa, 1 July 1905
I have your hat. I had hung it next to my other childhood collections, on the wall,
on top of my desk, a French old-fashioned piece of furniture I inherited from my
older sister. It’s at the same height as the prophet Ibrahim; a stitched drawing of him,
looking back to the sky, in one hand Ismael, and in the other a knife. The angel Gabriel
is calling him with a sheep between his arms.
It is a beautiful desk. She had hidden her writings in its little drawers. There I
found lost little comments about you. She liked to watch you observing us, curious
about what things you thought were relevant, and about other daily encounters that
had just passed by you without your attention.
She said that you tried to keep a scientific appearance, to look like somebody who
knows how things work, and how they would work better. There were many of you at
that time. She said she had noticed your fears, your distance from people and inward
spaces.
Remember that day when the coffee boy bumped against you in the middle of the
bazaar and spilled some coffee on you? It was not an accident. She paid him to do so.
Then she asked me and the other boys dressed in our white jalabiyyas to surround you
and to move in a circle. She asked us to sing you an Eid al-Adha song and to smile at
you. She said that she wanted to blur your memories by flashing upon you some of
ours. It was then when you lost your hat, escaping from us.
She saw you leaving on a ship to Egypt, people talked about something that was
going to happen there. She wanted to ask you for a magazine that was being distributed
in the region but she said she couldn’t – you didn’t know she existed.
— Zahiye Kundos
[ 18 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
The Anemone coronaria commonly grows wild about Smyrna and in Asia
Minor, spreading far And wide as the most beautiful of spring blossoms,
growing on chalk soil along the edges of shrubbery. We cannot wonder that it
was already in ancient times a favorite of the inhabitants and excited in poetic
minds sensations such as can only be excited by surprising beauty. “I am the
Rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys,” sings the first verse of the second
charter of Solomon’s Song, and there can be no doubt today what is here meant
by the rose of Sharon. It was an American, Fiske P. Brewer, who decided
this question, Narcissus tazetta, which likewise grows in Palestine, having
previously been considered the biblical flower. This gentleman, according to
the Edinburgh Review of 1886, while traveling in the year 1859 from Jaffa
to Ramleh, came upon a place where a considerable expanse of ground was
half covered with brilliant red flowers. At the sight of them some of his native
companions immediately exclaimed “Roses of Sharon,” and, when he inquired
about the name, he was told that the anemone was there Universally so called.
In truth, it would not be easy otherwise to speak of a rose in Palestine, for native
roses do not exist there – at least not where they would justify the association of
the Plain of Sharon with their name. Wild roses are found in Palestine only on
Lebanon, or where here and there R. centifolia is cultivated for the production
of attar, as in the Wadi-el-Werd [sic] (Rose Valley), near Hebron. According to
Ebers and Guthe in their “Palestine,” the translations of the Bible often use the
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 19 ]
word rose where there is no warrant for understanding by it a true rose. The roses
of Persia and Media were not introduced into Palestine before the Grecian period.
— Yazid Anani
Text selected from New York Times, 1 February 1891,
originally published in Illustrirte Garten-Zeitung, Vienna.
These stereoscopic images remind me of the double vision of a myopic man like
myself! It is true that the photographs are crisp and clear, that they are generally
taken from well-positioned angles, that the light is resplendent if a little garish and
overexposed at times. But reading the captions, then looking at the images again, it
became clear to me that the photographer “caught” his images but did not really see
them. He has gone looking for something other than what he has seen in front of him.
Instead of observing, therefore, as an artist should, he has created the crude fantasy of
an ideologist, a biblical geography that is not there, a land empty of its people because
they, with a few tolerated exceptions, might have been in excess, a disruptive element
to an otherwise perfect construction.
Yet this particular image felt like a spurning to that project, a retort to the fantasist
photographer. The flowers are vibrant, but dust is imminent. Nature asserting its
withering truth over fantasy. In the meantime, the two trees and the distant village in
the background evoke life persisting. Not a fantasy but indigenous life.
— Omar Al-Qattan
Grown to provide
And for no other task,
That was the might,
Of those roses
On a shared soil,
They grew,
Just, and no more than,
To service life as roses
And when the spells changed,
Their house,
Forced by trade,
It was made barren.
Barren of a vile craving,
That sent you without regret,
Making the land a castle,
By giving harvest a name.
Of your tears and cries, barren,
Of your pain,
Barren, until your return…
— Marcelo Svirsky
[ 20 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 21 ]
In the town where I grew up, a church and a mosque share a wall. The minaret
is towering high by the belfry. On the western part of the church, a mosque was
constructed in the thirteenth century. Entering the mosque’s square, one notices the
remains of the Byzantine basilica, including hewn stones, granite and marble columns
with capitals from the ruined church. Using the southern wall of the church, the
mosque’s northern façade overlooks the courtyard. On the eastern side of the prayer
hall, a Byzantine apse has survived. Underneath the mosque, there are subterranean
halls built by the Crusaders as water reservoirs for the church and the town dwellers.
The photograph in front of you shows a church and a mosque at the heart of a
lively Palestinian town. In the foreground of the photograph, men, boys, and women
are looking at the camera. One of the men is wearing a Turkish turban. Three children
shade their eyes with their hands to better see the photographer. Two children have
their backs turned to the camera, walking hand in hand alongside a woman shrouded
in black and white. A man stands on the threshold of his shingled home looking at the
photographer. The western flank of St. George’s Church is seen against the horizon
to the left. In the middle, between the holy edifices in the photograph’s background
and the people in its foreground, lie the buildings of the town of Lydda. Stone houses,
palm trees, white domes, arches.
Similar to the complex relations between photograph as an object of documentation
and one’s personal experience, this photograph is also part of an illusory consciousness.
From the town where I grew up, nothing has remained except for a church and a
mosque sharing a common wall. On a hot summer day in the month of July 1948,
the townspeople were ordered by the military to leave. A few hundred remained in
the town, hidden in the church’s cellars, among them my grandparents. This is a
photograph that presents a place I’ve never been to, but which is nonetheless etched
in my visual DNA.
— Dor Guez
[ 22 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 23 ]
In 1859, the writer Oliver Wendell Holmes rhapsodized in the newly-founded
Atlantic Monthly about the possibilities of the photograph, including stereographs. He
especially liked the presence of detail that was incidental to the scene, the visual clue
that French critic Roland Barthes would later call the punctum. While Barthes saw the
punctum as a “wound,” creating an unexpected sensory association between a chance
sight in the photograph and remembered experience, Holmes saw such moments as
comic relief: “Stretching across the court-yards as you look into them from above the
clay-plastered roofs of Damascus, wherever man lives with any of the decencies of
civilization, you will find the clothes-line.” Photography, in other words, may have
had pretensions to the grandeurs of biblical or historical painting but was inexorably
mundane.
Half a century after his essay, this stereograph captured the quotidian experience of
some Syrians traveling near what is now Lod. The accompanying text also highlighted
an inconsequential detail: “The children with their slippered feet might easily be taken
for American or English children.” The slippers – like Barthes’s fascination with
strapped pumps in a James van der Zee photograph – cut across the local detail like
the cacti, the palm trees, and the mosque to create a sense of identification. Looking at
this little scene in 2015, I cannot help but see that Syrian child as well. Only now what
is in my mind is the drowned body of Alan Kurdi and so many others whose names
have not become known to us. Alan washed up on the Turkish coast. Palestinian
children fleeing from their exile in Syria to a second exile that never took place were
found drowned on the Libyan coast. Their photographs were censored by Facebook,
the stereoscope of the present day, until an outcry had the media corporation change
its mind. No Syrian or Palestinian child could happily ride down a street in Lod today,
unless their vehicle had the necessary yellow license plates. For Palestinians must
drive on different roads, using green license plates. Detail has become data. Wounds
remain.
— Nicholas Mirzoeff
[ 24 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
The Latrun valley cuts across the Armistice Line of 1948. After the majority of the
villages were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and half of the valley fell within the No
Man’s Land between Jordanian and Israeli held territory, three villages remained.
They were Yalu, Bayt Nuba, and ‘Imwas (Emmaus), the biblical town where Jesus
dined with two disciplines after he had risen. Although much of the population of the
village of ‘Imwas (Amwas in the Underwood and Underwood photograph) had fled
in 1948, two thousand residents remained in the village until 1967, when in June, the
remaining inhabitants of ‘Imwas, Yalu, and Bayt Nuba were expelled in Operation
Dani, and Yitzak Rabin, then commanding general of the Harel Brigade, ordered the
villages to be demolished.2
In line with the standard process by which the land of expelled Palestinians was
“legally” confiscated by the Israeli state (namely the Absentee Landlord Act, Land
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 25 ]
Acquisition Law, the Abandoned Areas Ordinance, etc.), the Jewish National Fund
acquired ‘Imwas and its surroundings. With the financing of the Canadian branch
of the Jewish National Fund, the “Canada Park” was established on the site of the
destroyed villages, funded almost exclusively by donations from Canadian Jews.
This photograph is not of “time travel,” but rather time compression. It layers
the imprint of a turn-of-the-century village over biblical fantasy, overlapped by the
presence of an absent Palestinian village on today’s map. The stereoscopic image
compresses the documentary evidence of a crime, stashed away under a verdant bed
of a triumphalist rewriting of history and redrawing of geography, into the ghostly
figures of women, who stand as a metonym for “the Village of Amwas.”
Working from representation of these women, then, we see history synchronically,
generations on generations of women who were the village itself. This is not to gaze
upon them as a metaphor for loss, a time lost, a village lost, or a nation lost. Rather,
their figures recall the social relations of ‘Imwas; social relations between villagers
and villages that form a social and historic chain that led to Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa,
Nablus, and, perhaps, even Beirut and Damascus. Time is compressed because the
representation of the women of ‘Imwas invokes social relations that predate the
imprint of this photograph and survive to this day.
— Stephen Sheehi
Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, who wrote the book of captions for these stereoscopic cards,
describes this image as “Village of Amwas (Emmaus).” One could receive the
impression that the name in the parentheses is incidental, aimed at helping the readers
understand that the Arab village of Amwas (‘Imwas in transliterated Arabic) is the
same as a place called Emmaus. For those who are familiar with the New Testament,
the story of Jesus’ resurrection and his surprising visit to Emmaus creates a sense of
familiarity with the photograph. But the full caption that accompanies the photograph
shows us that the writer is completely aware of the gap between Amwas and Emmaus.
Amwas is, in the nineteenth century, the contemporaneous village, while Emmaus
is, according to tradition, the same place almost two thousand years earlier. The text
vacillates between descriptions of the poverty of village life and a vivid description of
the meeting between two local residents and Jesus, who appeared and then disappeared
again. None of this is surprising since the writer, Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, is a biblical
scholar.
This stereoscopic writing, which beautifully illustrates the stereoscopic photograph,
disappeared from the explanatory signs that the Jewish National Fund set up here in
the late twentieth century, when it established a park on the ruins of ‘Imwas, destroyed
by Israel in the 1967 war. Emmaus Nicopolis of the Roman Period appears repeatedly
in the explanatory signs throughout the park, whereas life in the village of ‘Imwas,
as well as in the also destroyed neighboring villages of Yalu and Bayt Nuba, has
completely disappeared from the narrative describing the place.
The struggle that I led, to return ‘Imwas to the narrative that appears on the signs,
reached a climax with the petition we filed to Israel’s High Court of Justice. The court
[ 26 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
ordered the JNF to add ‘Imwas to the area’s history. The posting of the new signs led
an unidentified person to take them down, but the JNF was forced to re-post them. At
the time of writing, the sign with both narratives still stands.
— Eitan Bronstein
Translated from Hebrew by Tom Pessah
On 17 March 1986, the residents of the Latrun area, including the villagers of ‘Imwas,
addressed a letter to the Israeli authorities, in which they wrote: “Our houses were
completely demolished and there is nothing left of our village. We were forced
to leave our land and houses, and all was destroyed along with our furniture, our
livestock and all our possessions, but we still hope to be able to return ….”3 They
never received a reply, and their right to return remains denied until this day. About
ten thousand residents were forcefully expelled by the Israeli army from Latrun on
6 June 1967. Their houses, as then Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan recalled in his
memoirs, were destroyed “not in battle, but as punishment … in order to chase away
the inhabitants.”4 Just a decade later the Jewish National Fund tried to cover up the
war crime by establishing on the site of the villages a forest and recreation site, the
“Canada Park.”
Today, the houses depicted in the image are rubble, their inhabitants “chased away,”
and the landscape obliterated by a planted forest. The “elimination of the native,” as
Patrick Wolfe5 understood the settler-colonial project, attacks and erases all – the land,
the people, the houses, the trees – that can question the settlers’ claim to ownership.
Everything we see in the picture has been erased.
While the image indeed captures the moment before settler-colonial destruction
in Palestine, it implies a similar claim to ownership and priority on the land. The
three women remain unidentified, folklorized, silenced, and frozen in time as mere
ethnographic objects in the biblical narrative of the Holy Land. It is a depiction of
Palestine without its people.
The letter by the Latrun residents, however, is different. Here people are speaking
about their relations and lived experiences on and with the land. Residents of Latrun
continued to write letters to the Israeli authorities demanding their right to return,
and they have also embarked on return visits to their land, called for their rights to
bury family members in the village cemetery, and requested signs to be erected that
acknowledge their villages of origin. Their return narratives and practices counter
the colonizer’s material and epistemic project of elimination, and, instead, present an
ongoing and living – not erased or silenced – voice of the people and their relations
to the land.
— Sophie Richter-Devroe
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 27 ]
Holy Land stereographs offered their
audience a way of looking at a contemporary
landscape so as to transpose a different time
onto it. The text accompanying this view
turns to the city skyline, inviting the viewer
to travel to the time of biblical events that the
buildings would have witnessed millennia
ago. It also describes a history of attempts
to recapture the land for Christendom.
What might seem peculiar from our current
perspective is how the caption cannot but
help remark on the scaffolding around a
Crusader era tower, which the reader is told
was claimed by the German government,
bringing the viewer back into the realm
of secular political matters and current
events. The inclusion of the tower helps the
image on a technical level – to establish the
three-dimensional effect. Yet it is also the
inevitable fly-in-the-ointment of the dream
of seeing the past directly, instead becoming
part of the desire to see the past city through
the present. Presumably, the traveler in the
foreground would have also contended with
this wrinkle while gazing at the city and
landscape beyond.
— Hatim El-Hibri
[ 28 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 29 ]
The men and livestock gathered here in “the Lower Pool of Gihon,” the spring-fed
pools of Silwan, are evidence of the intimate relationship between Jerusalem and its
rural hinterlands. On market days, the rural intruded upon the urban, and the sublime
city reached out beyond its walls to draw sustenance from the human and animal labor
of its surrounding villages. Today, Israel’s separation barrier – which snakes around
Silwan – severs these networks, pulverizing the vital ecosystem that linked Jerusalem
with its villages, the urban with the rural, the human with the animal. Moreover, for the
past three decades in particular, Silwan has been the site of intensive Israeli settlement
efforts. Jewish settlers (aided by Israeli police and the pro-settlement Ir David
Foundation) have invaded Palestinian homes and evicted their inhabitants. The Israeli
government, meanwhile, has refused to grant building permits to Palestinians living
in Silwan and announced plans, a number of which it carried out, to demolish dozens
of Palestinian homes. In the past decade, even as settlers have torched Palestinian
olive groves in Wadi al-Rababa, the same “Valley of Hinnon” pictured here, Israeli
authorities proposed plans to build a park, called the King’s Garden, by demolishing
Palestinian homes in Silwan’s al-Bustan neighborhood – a perversion of the kind of
organic relationship between urban Jerusalem and the natural environment pictured
here. With such measures, the Valley of Hinnon, the analogue of hell better known in
English as Gehenna or in the Qur’an as Jahannam, has increasingly become a literal
hell on earth for its Palestinian residents.
— Alex Winder
[ 30 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 31 ]
The pool in Silwan encapsulates the irrational and unique features of the conflict in
Palestine. The pool is an archaeological dig which began in the nineteenth century
by Christians who were eager to support the “return” of the Jews to Palestine (both
for anti-Semitic and ecclesiastical reasons) and continued by Zionist archaeologists
in order to sustain “scientifically” the bizarre claim of ownership of a land after two
thousand years of “exile.” The pool in Silwan may or may not be from King David’s
biblical times (quite a few archaeologists are not even confident of a David’s era);
however, only a huge and complex project of fabrication and manipulation can turn
such a pool into one of many “proofs” that justify the colonization of Palestine in
modern times and the dispossession of its people.
The pool also represented the human tragedy of that colonization project that began
in 1882. For hundreds of years, ‘Ayn Silwan provided water for a beautiful, picturesque
village on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem. The village was fortunate not to be
ethnically cleansed by the Zionist movement in 1948. It was in a way protected by the
tacit agreement between Jordan and Israel who partitioned Jerusalem between them,
leading to the villages west of Jerusalem being destroyed and those east of it saved.
However, after 1967, the ongoing Nakba reached Silwan as well, as it did the West
Bank as a whole. The village is now under the same danger of annihilation as were the
pre-1948 villages. Its survival or destruction will indicate the fate of the country and
its people as a whole.
— Ilan Pappé
[ 32 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 33 ]
Messianisms battle in this photo. For one, the caption depicts a latent promise,
awaiting exploitation by the Zionist project: a promise of redemption that seeks to
tie Messianic progress to the return of the Jewish people – who, at the time of this
photo are not natives but “from every land of earth” – to Israel. And yet, there is a
different Messianic redemption, one that seeks to renew a tradition that is described in
the caption: pelting the tomb of Absalom with stones. Absalom, guilty of fratricide, is
stoned on the basis of an ethical injunction: never to kill brothers and sisters.
We might read in this photo a bifurcated echo of Benjamin’s injunction: It could
have been otherwise; it can be otherwise. In the years following this photo, when
a claim was made upon the land, there were some who resisted – who refused to
commit fratricide. And today, the same call echoes: one must seek out alternate forms
of political life, recognize those alternative, transgressive forms that did exist, and
halt the historical onslaught masquerading as progress. If not, the dead are doomed,
unredeemed by a Messianic moment, and will have passed in vain.
— Peter Makhlouf
[ 34 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 35 ]
We are on the main shopping drag in the Old City. The open-air Mamilla Shopping
Mall is only a few minutes from here. Between the two, you can feast your eyes and
wallets on kitchy souvenirs and diamonds, stop in at the Gap and international chains
or peruse the antiquities robbed from the hills nearby (but worry not, they are stamped
by the Israeli Antiquities Authority).
Walking through the alleyways or the multimillion-dollar pedestrian shopping
area, you will be sure to enjoy the pause from the noise and pollution of cars. The Old
City merchants’ interactions with tourists from all over the world make this stretch
one of the safest areas in the country to spot Palestinians and marvel at the merchants’
ability to say a few words in an array of languages. Keep your eyes open for a rare
encounter with a covered Palestinian Muslim woman. It is not recommended that
you wander through the Muslim Quarter, where inhabitants are grumpier, and most
of what they sell are cheap plastics made in China and some local foodstuffs – these
are available, in any case, at “dollar stores” and at supermarkets across Israel, where
you will find similar products more hygienically packaged for your bland taste and
xenophobic well-being.
Unlike the welcomes you may get in Marrakesh – where Arabs still live in their
traditional ways – the “hellos” you get here are uttered more from desperation than
hospitality, which means that bartering will be favorable for you. Palestinian residents
of Jerusalem will sell merchandise at indescribably despondent low prices, because
apartheid policies enforced on them make for great shopping bargains!
It is hard to tell from the streets below, but Jewish-Israeli settlers have taken over
some of these homes, making Palestinians even more desperate. When you look up
along these streets and see barbed wire, it is usually because a settler and his family
throw garbage – or worse – onto the Palestinians below, in the hope that these Arabs
will voluntarily give up their homes and make the city Holy to Jews, and Jews only.
You might assume that Palestinians would emigrate, leave their homeland, and move
to a place where they are even less welcomed, but they like to make the most of their
victimization.
Through a street not unlike this, before becoming prime minister of Israel, Ariel
Sharon walked to the Temple Mount in 2000 and set off the Second Intifada (he first
encountered Jerusalem as member of Haganah, 1947–48; died 2014). It was in a street
as this that Palestinians picked up rocks and even their shoes, to throw at Sharon’s
bodyguards and hundreds of policemen accompanying him, hoping – foolishly –
that a new Salah al-Din would come to “liberate” Jerusalem from the grips of Israeli
occupation (first capture of Jerusalem, 1187; died 1193).
— Helga Tawil-Souri
[ 36 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 37 ]
Where is Jesus buried? For many centuries, most of Christendom has accepted the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre as marking the site of both his crucifixion and burial.
The first church on the site was built in 330 by Constantine I; by the time this picture
was taken, it was a massive structure divided into six sections, each run by a different
Christian Orthodox or Catholic denomination. The people who gather in front of the
church are here for the Holy Thursday ritual of foot washing. This is likely the Greek
Orthodox ceremony – other denominations commemorated Jesus’s washing of his
disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, but their rituals were in other locations. Here, then,
are Palestinian members of the Orthodox church, gathering, climbing, watching,
worshipping.
Those who viewed these images in the United States or Europe likely had mixed
feelings about such rituals. Clearly, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a source
of fascination and awe – it is beautiful and historic and peopled. The interior of
the church is dark and rich with incense, its walls covered by images of Mary and
Jesus. Many Protestants found this decorated and ritualized space to be foreign and
excessive. One nineteenth-century visitor had dismissed the church as one of the
“puerile inventions of monkly credulity.” By the late nineteenth century, Protestants
had begun to claim their own alternative sites: Skull Hill and the Garden Tomb. These
were quieter spaces, and the U.S. and European tourists who traveled to the Holy
Land found them more congenial – a garden, a tomb, no churches or decoration.
This choice suited the habits of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Protestant tourists,
who based their religious reverence in an idealized landscape unencumbered by the
modern inhabitants of Palestine. This image of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
represented a place that would have been both fascinating and vaguely repulsive to
those who held the stereoscope. The ceremony and its people were a reminder that the
land of the Bible was also a land of modern Christians, Muslims, and Jews, with their
own claims to both the land and religious tradition.
— Melani McAlister
[ 38 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 39 ]
We have before us the prospect of
the road to Damascus. But look for a
moment on that rounded grassy knoll,
with two caverns yawning under it.
I never liked the song about the
green hill. Why spoil the image of
a nice green hill with an execution?
British grammar school gothic pastoral.
Can you make yourself feel that it
was all real? (No) And that it was for us
He hung and suffered there? (No)
Try again.
We are standing on a beautiful
balcony. Look, Tamim al-Barghouti says
to me, look deeper, there is a massacre
going over there. See the gathering
on the horizon. The bodies, standing,
sitting, in-between? The people you
thought were going? They were enroute.
They’ve just come back.
Can’t you make yourself feel that it
is all real?
They are looking east across a space.
They have before them the prospect
north of Jerusalem. They shut their
eyes.
But if I keep my right eye open, I
find that it’s OK to move nearer to the
wild gap; and that I don’t need to fear
the stones.
— Lyndsey Stonebridge
I look. I stare, trying to find the voice
in the picture. I find colours; dilapidated,
dual and never plural— with shades and
slants that are neither black nor white
completely. I return to the faces in the
picture, to the man and woman sitting on
the roof, to the young boy dangling his
legs, to the (wo)man wrapped in white
from head to toe. I look again and see
almost static bodies leaning on the
landscape. I look at the picture once
more— while enlarging it, I distort the
nuances of the face and the things placed
— at once in order and in a hurry — here
and there. The unclear in the picture
becomes more unclear; perhaps the
unclear and the disquieting of tomorrow.
I try again to dwell on the intricate
lines of the rug, the borders of things,
the bodies — standing, sitting or inbetween
—, the faces, the heads —
partly or completely covered — and the
silhouettes of rocks and houses in the
background. I spot beings of trace and
traces of being scattered everywhere.
As if everything were (and remains) en
route. I spot the Palestine that was— a
“was” whose tense has metamorphosed
itself into a being with multiple tenses—
tense tenses—wherein surviving pictures
and murmurs will always (re)turn to the
origins whenever the shutter drops…
— Yousif M. Qasmiyeh
[ 40 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 41 ]
Bab al-‘Amud is referred to by many Palestinians today as Bab al-Shuhada’ (to bear
witness).
Just as the occupation varies from space to space in Palestine, so does apartheid,
and this gate has its own mechanisms of settler colonialism that appear and disappear.
The gate is the passageway to al-Aqsa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the
Wailing Wall. It branches afterwards to reveal a bustling marketplace encompassing a
variety of shops, from bakeries, and restaurants, to souvenirs shops, perfumeries and
electronic stores. It is also the path taken home by many Palestinians who live in the
Old City.
Among the daily bustle of life, the occupation is a constant via military presence,
surveillance cameras, frequent searches, and execution of Palestinians. Here, on 19
February 2016, Israeli soldiers riddled Mohammed Abu Khalaf’s twenty-year-old
body with fifty-plus bullets. Killing and maiming constitute the ultimate form of
erasure after the erasure of history and language and culture. Just in the span of ten
months, ten Palestinians were murdered here. This is part of collective punishment.
Bab al-‘Amud has witnessed endless Palestinian resistance against the occupation,
which prompts a complete shutdown of the area followed by the threatening swarm
of the Israeli army into the streets to terrorize Palestinians. Bedouin communities like
those seen in the photo have been mostly eradicated from Palestine. Those that remain
are repeatedly demolished by the occupation, and rebuilt in defiance by the Bedouins
to be demolished again – some over one hundred times – Susiya, Jabal al-Baba, Um
al-Hiran to name a few – are at the forefront of resisting settler colonialism.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me … and I forgot, like you, to die.
Mahmoud Darwish, “In Jerusalem,” in The Butterfly’s Burden.
Copyright © 2008 by Mahmoud Darwish, trans. Fady Joudah,
Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted by permission.
— Amin Husain and Nitasha Dhillon
[ 42 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 43 ]
This is a stereoscopic photograph about vantage points. One can photograph some
of the other stereoscopes in the collection from this slope on the Mount of Olives
in al-‘Ayzariya. Stereoscopy feels like theater in agony. It creates an impression of
reality by misleading the mind into a third dimension when there was none to start
with – simply by altering a millimeter in the same perspective. In many ways Yasser
Arafat’s final independence project did precisely that. And the unfinished Palestinian
Parliament, not far from where this stereoscope was shot, was in fact architecturally
designed in this vein.6 Jerusalem was to collapse into a two-dimensional space framed
by the windows of the privileged few typing away a future Palestinian state.
Ironically the vantage point of the photographer looking onto the firmly standing
“native” who is in turn looking outward, is in line with the gaze of the Jewish settler
colony today: a towering top-down view cut by starkly decisive geometric lines in all
their kinds. Here, they are roads protecting the monastery and its insertion of pine into
the landscape. Though Underwood and Underwood’s colonial gaze seemingly adored
sameness, class structures nevertheless unfold; the caravan versus the walker, the
horse-rider versus the donkey-rider. The scene reminds me of the Lumiere brothers’
1896 tracking shot of “Leaving Jerusalem by Railway,” where class structures unfold
in zones of difference in dress codes across the platform.
But al-‘Ayzariya still walks. Every Friday at noon scores of youth walk to, into,
over, and under the Wall in protest. And every Sunday at dawn a handful of its elderly
try and jump over the Wall to open their vegetable shops on the other side of Jerusalem
and save wrinkled fruit.
— Oraib Toukan
[ 44 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Fearing contagion, the governing of leprosy was fundamentally based on exclusion
and segregation. Today in Jerusalem the “wretched lepers” stigma is extended to an
entire “infected population” banned from Jerusalem and kept outside of its newly
extended walls.
— Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 45 ]
A man and a woman pass in front of the camera, in movement through the hills above al-
‘Ayzariya, a town just east of Jerusalem. In their original title for the photo, Underwood
and Underwood tell us that this is “Bethany, where Our Lord was anointed by Mary,”
sweeping away the town’s Arabic name (and its inhabitants) in favor of its biblical
ones: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Likewise, the clergyman Jesse Lyman Hurlbut,
in the text from which Underwood and Underwood excerpted their description, all
but commands the viewer to erase the photograph’s degraded, impoverished present
in favor of its legendary biblical past. “What a squalid, miserable place it is!” he
exclaims. “We must sweep away the present and build in our thought another Bethany
on that hillside; for the Palestine of to-day is only the shadow and ruin of the Palestine
two thousand years ago.”
Writing in 1913, Hurlbut had no idea just how completely the Palestine of this
[ 46 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
image would be “swept away” in 1948, to clear space for other narratives, peoples,
houses, and realities – how much the state of Israel would rely, like Hurlbut, on the
glory of the biblical past and the detestable “squalor” of the Ottoman present to
justify its establishment. Reading this original caption today, it is almost as if Hurlbut
were presaging the Nakba, sanctioning the destruction it would ultimately enact (and
indeed, continues to enact) on Palestinian lives and livelihoods. And yet contemporary
viewers of this image may, despite their best efforts, find themselves doing precisely
as Hurlbut commands: they too must “sweep away” their own, post-Nakba present –
which is indeed a present of “ruins” – to imagine walking alongside this man and this
woman, through a Palestinian past equally as distant to us now as the biblical one was
to Hurlbut, Underwood, and Underwood.
Yet as Hurlbut is quick to remind us, as the site of Lazarus’ tomb (still a major
Christian pilgrimage site), al-‘Ayzariya is steeped in legends of resurrection and
rebirth. “There are other questions that haunt us concerning Lazarus after his return
to life here,” Hurlbut writes. “What became of him? What kind of a man would
he be who has come back from the other world?” The very questions that “haunt”
Hurlbut’s knowledge of Lazarus’ tale also haunt contemporary Palestinians’ present,
as generations dispersed in Jordanian, Lebanese, Syrian, and Iraqi camps, and in cities
and towns around the world, try to imagine what it would mean to “return,” Lazaruslike,
to a land and a time they have known only in memory, in imagination. Echoing
Hurlbut’s references to literary invocations of Lazarus – including Tennyson’s queries
in “In Memoriam” and Browning’s tale of a doctor examining the “madman” Lazarus
thirty years after his resurrection – we might here, today, invoke the Lazarus-like
speaker of Mahmoud Darwish’s “In Jerusalem:”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me … and I forgot, like you, to die.
So too the man and woman in this photograph, walking, forgetting (like Lazarus)
to die, silently refuse to be swept away, and invite us to imagine other Palestinian
Lazaruses, returning from other worlds.
— Emily Drumsta
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 47 ]
A distance in time separates us from this image,
but the place it depicts is very familiar. Men
trying to sell their harvest of wheat, or barley.
It must have been in the early summer, when
the harvest season is usually at its peak. The
sellers’ faces are darkened from the sun, and
their attire attests to the distance in time. In
this familiar, yet distant place, the two sellers
in the foreground of the image gaze toward
what became, a few decades later, the police
station. During the Israeli army presence in
the middle of Bethlehem, the station was
also an interrogation center. Speaking Arabic
and using Arabic pseudonyms, such as the
infamous “Abu al-Nimr,” Israeli security
services interrogated many Palestinians in that
station.
The Nativity Church in the background is
also a familiar place. In 2002, it was the site
of deadly events when Israeli tanks filled the
square and besieged the church. They killed eight Palestinians and an Armenian
priest. With the end of the siege, thirteen Palestinian fighters left the church and went
into exile. The siege of the church took place in early summer of 2002, very likely
around the same time of year when the image was taken, more than a century before.
During the siege, no sellers were seen in the vicinity. Perhaps it was the result of the
curfew imposed by the Israeli army, or maybe because in that year, no wheat harvest
was reported in Bethlehem.
— Issam Nassar
[ 48 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Two nuns with white umbrellas herd
school-aged girls, heads bent down
and some holding books, into a long
queue making its way to the Church
of Nativity. The photographer stands
on the roof, his camera focused on
the complex architecture of bodies in
the expansive square below. Most are
on the left side of the queue, packed
close together in bunches that hug the
receding curtain of shade, as the late
morning sun gathers strength on a
hot summer day. One can almost hear
the din of numerous conversations
echoing off the walls. It is harvest
season, after all! A horse-pulled
carriage is also heading towards the
church. What is the occasion?
The rest of the square is sprinkled
with men, women, and children
going to and from with receding
purpose, taking little interest in the
goats, sheep, and three mounds of
grain for sale. The early morning
shopping rush has dissipated and the
square is in a more contemplative
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 49 ]
mood. Like the family and friends congregated on the bottom right of the queue, it is
time to take stock and regroup before heading home for the main meal. What are they
talking about? Further down on the right, a lone figure in a smart jacket with one hand
bent into his pants’ pocket, stands at the foot of a flight of stairs casting a gaze at the
theater before him.
This lively photograph of Bethlehem is accompanied by a long text, written in
London or New York, that ignores the people in the square and dismisses the built
environment surrounding it as typical of the “dull, ugly, architecture of … the indolent
East.” It privileges, instead, the distant spire of the Greek church and the monastery
on the right of the square as platforms for the Christian redemption of Palestine. Much
has been said about the scientific arrogance, religious bigotry, and imperial ambitions
of biblical geography of the Holy Land, a genre to which this collection belongs. Most
of its pictures are lifeless portraits of landscapes presumably touched by the feet of
Jesus; ruthless staging of shepherds, tillers, wheat grinders, and lepers as icons of an
unchanging world; and claustrophobic snapshots of crowds in tight spaces participating
in exotic rituals. The discursive violence of erasure and racism of this genre primed
Palestine for British rule and Zionist colonization with catastrophic consequences.
But the people in the square have not gone away. This unique image tears through
the ideological straightjacket of the writer and invites counter imaginations about the
pasts and the futures of Palestine and the Palestinians.
— Beshara Doumani
[ 50 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 51 ]
Despite the landscape bearing no immediately identifiable sign, it is not very difficult to
locate the cameras’ cone of vision in the contemporary landscape. The maps prepared
by Underwood and Underwood mark the perspective of each stereoscopic pair on top
of a relatively precise topographical rendering. Such marks anticipate the creation of
“before and after” images. Simply locate your stereoscopic camera (or today a 3D
scanner) at the edge of Mishor Adumim – an industrial zone east of one of the West
Bank’s largest settlements – and take an image looking east-southeast. The pairing
of “before and after” photographs complete the task of stereoscopic pairing. While
the latter’s simultaneous but different perspectives springs out the third dimension,
the former juxtaposition gives rise to the fourth. Before and after photographs tend
to depict, celebrate, or scandalize, the passage of time as a story of radical change:
development (here a city where there was none) or destruction (here a ruin where
there once was a city) with the change in either direction being the result of violence
to people and place. However, in the mountain of the scapegoat, your contemporary
“after” images would show the very same barren mountains as in the 19xx “befores.”
Freezing out time takes its violent toll too: squeezed between a live-fire range and a
nature reserve it is the site of the continuous eviction-return-and eviction of al-Jahalin
– a Bedouin group that settled there after being expelled from the Naqab in 1948.
— Eyal Weizman
[ 52 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Once upon a time the River Jordan had plenty of water. It was enough to provide the
farmers along its banks with all the water they needed. The river poured an ample
amount into the Dead Sea, sustaining this unique body of water. It provided its visitors
with space for sports and attractive picnic areas along its banks. But then its waters
were diverted, its banks were closed to visitors by barbed wire, and the ground on
either side was mined. From a river providing sustenance, connectivity, and pleasure,
it was transformed into a noose that closed in those living on its western bank.
One day all this will change. The river will flow again in the vast open, liberated,
and united Great Rift Valley that stretches from northern Syria through the Dead Sea
to Lake Tiberius. The Dead Sea waters will rise again and the unique sea will be saved.
No more sink holes will form along its shore. Sporting events will resume again. The
mines will be cleared and parks will be built where bombs were once planted. And it
will become possible again to picnic and enjoy what the river has to offer. Then more
photos would be taken of happy people rowing down the beautiful River Jordan.
— Raja Shehadeh
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 53 ]
Workers from a nearby-gated housing community collecting water from a spring for
the front lawns of five of its estate houses located near the US-EU funded Palestinian
Academy for Security Studies.
— Hanan Toukan
[ 54 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 55 ]
The information could have merely clarified where this photograph was taken.
However, the reference to “ancient Jericho” adds a biblical touch to the image and
dictates the way we view the photograph. Traditional dress fulfills the text’s promise
and adds a touch of sanctity, or at least some ceremonial atmosphere to the situation
itself – a father and son, or perhaps grandfather and grandson sitting at a strategic spot,
ignoring the landscape. The conversation seems more important.
Or maybe the landscape is so habitually obvious that there is no need to regard it?
As far as I understand, the landscape in this region has never been obvious, and this
adds weight to the substance of their conversation, or lesson, or promise of sorts.
The question arising from the photograph is why there? Why at this vantage point
overlooking the landscape, why is this occasion taking place at a site of power and
control? No doubt this is part of the text, that non-textual part, like a “presentation,”
perhaps that which the text cannot explain. And perhaps their presence at the cliff
symbolizes precisely the possible danger and loss hovering over any landscape by
force of its demand for ownership or belonging.
However, a camera and a photographer are present. The event of photography
empties the photograph of any speculation as to the event itself – it is a planned
occasion and technically even demanding. This is no mere snapshot. Much time is
needed to operate the heavy, clumsy camera that must have required glass plates.
Whose choice is it to show the child’s face, while the adult (perhaps his grandfather
or father) is unidentifiable? Perhaps the site was chosen for its light, or the body
posture it enabled? Does the photographer produce a kind of homage to the work
of painter and master-etching artist Gustave Doré, whose works are identified with
biblical imagery? In both cases this is a dialogue between an image and an object.
Holding a Bible in one’s hand while viewing Gustave Doré’s illustrations changes
one’s regard of the image. I presume a similar thing happens when one holds the
platform on which the photograph is shown with the information in its caption – traces
of time that change its patina or volume dictated by the technology.
And there still remain unanswered questions about the event itself.
— Miki Kratsman
[ 56 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 57 ]
Despite their confusion about the exact location of the biblical town of Ramah, upon
reaching this street, the travelers confidently declared that they had arrived. For the
purposes of their exploration of this “typical street in an Oriental city,” the actual
name of the city was of little importance. The street’s narrowness and irregularity
suggested to the travelers a primitive disorder that transcended city boundaries. An
almost identically defined disorder was diagnosed by the travelers’ contemporaries
from Mumbai to Cairo. Architecture itself became medicalized: colonial discourse
turned the dirty, crowded streets into a source of plagues and chaotic street patterns
into a symptom of the peoples’ lawlessness.
Orientalist travelers’ denigration of the built environment came into contradiction
with their simultaneous admiration of the architecture’s simplicity and harmony with
its landscape. As it turned out, though, a foolproof architectural analysis was not
necessary to achieve the ultimate end of Orientalist discourse: the construction of a
totalizing knowledge that asserted authority over the region and the people in it.
When these travelers arrived in Palestine, there were no plans to alter the cities
and towns they visited. Yet the discursive need to bring order out of the chaos of the
Oriental city was already taking on physical dimensions in cities like French Algiers
and British Calcutta. As colonial aspirations shifted from knowing to dominating,
Oriental architecture was no longer a mysterious relic but a military threat. Narrow
streets were difficult for the army to penetrate; local public spaces were a locus of
resistance. Across the colonial world, architects and planners considered themselves
to be at war with the built environment. In Palestine, the travelers’ representation
of the Oriental city reflected, predicted, and justified the physical destruction of the
existing architecture and its replacement with the European-style public squares and
modernist gridiron patterns essential to much of Israel’s architecture today.
— Sophie Kasakove
[ 58 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 59 ]
The photographer reassures himself that from the spot where he is positioning himself
to take the picture, no one will pay attention to the fact that the “Arab with a gun, on
that heap of stones,” is only a young kid, probably the son of one of the women in
the set. The author of the original caption would even call him “a guard watching for
robbers.” The photographer could not anticipate that over a century later, the visual
data he is capturing could be zoomed in so that the expression of the young guy will
reveal the joy he felt when he was offered the role of a guard. The photographer
seems confident in the legibility of the image he was staging, as well as in the role
distribution among the protagonists: an overseer, women (“the weaker sex”) “scattered
in the field” as “servants,” and a “householder” who can be distinguished by his “dress
and dignity of carriage.”
Indeed, the author who viewed the stereoscopic cards sometime later, though he was
possibly more attuned to the “Biblical scene” than the photographer, saw everything
eye to eye with him. He even didn’t forget to reassure the viewers and readers, with
whom he associates through the familiarity of a “we,” that “in our country we should
devise some machine to screen them apart [the tares and the wheat], but here labor
is cheap, not over six to ten per day, and everything is done by hand.” The gaze of
both, however, was colonized by the opposition of backwardness with modernity as
capturing the human condition. Therefore, they could not anticipate that those women
in the field could be gleaners, collecting leftovers after the harvest, that surplus
purposefully left by the field’s owner to the poor and the stranger. These women were
protected by a local custom, whose abolishment is anticipated by the gaze of a modern
imperial overseer. Against this gaze, we may even see these women as prophets of
sorts. Working in the shadow of an invading colonial gaze they dimly envisage the
threat to their very ability to use their own best seeds and collect them for the coming
years.
— Ariella Aïsha Azoulay
[ 60 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
She stepped out of her village, ‘Askar. One day it would be a refuge. But not yet. Her
feet met the cracked road in an awkward, familiar embrace. The sun was relentless
and the air dry and hot. The mountains stood imposing. One promised blessings. The
other threatened curses.
How much fruit would the fields yield? How much fruit would her body birth?
One mountain was the highest, the oldest, the most central, the most sacred, the
site of annual pilgrimage. The other stored living remains: corals, skeletons, waste,
and shells. The sediment of stories glittered in their beauty. Their ugliness screeched.
Descending the steps, the cool air of the well was always an awakening. The
piercing touch of the silver on flesh was a reminder of the heat above. The summer
had not reached the depths of the well. In her descent she reveled that here too, there
were sediments of stories: of thirst, and salvation, of life and death.
She lived for the water. It was the deepest source of comfort and inspiration. It was
grounded in this place and its layers but a refuge from it.
Between the past and the present, the claims and the promises, the blessings and
the curses, she rested on the cool stone, full of longing for this place and the relentless
desire to escape it.
— Sherene Seikaly
The gloomy light in the cave somehow mitigated the blistering sun outside. Esther
stepped silently into the well, where she encounters a woman who strikes her as the
young Rachel. The woman’s eyes were attracted to her reflection in the water, as if she
hoped to grasp something of the hellish nightmare that haunted her last night.
Esther was unsettled by the icons posed on the cave’s walls. She sat nearby her,
asking for her name and offering some dates and a lukewarm tea.
They tasted the dates and drank the tea.
Esther broke the silence and asked: “Are you here to contemplate?”
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 61 ]
Her question awakened a
ghost from the bottom of the
well. Through his voice they
knew that without knowing
each other, they were hit by the
same vision.
The voice wanes off, but the
well remains seeped with horror.
The women’s bewilderment
and shock were interrupted by
the entrance of a tall European
man with a camera on his back.
The young woman
whispered to Esther: “I know
this guy. I have guided him to
this place, looking for the event
of photography to take place.”
“Shall we start?” the
photographer asked sternly.
The young woman nodded
in compliance.
Without saying a word,
Esther held tightly the woman’s
hand, and walked out.
When the sound of the flash
puffed, she was already on her
way, on the back of a donkey
praying that the flashing light
will magically exorcise the
horrific vision from the young
women’s eyes.
Years after Esther’s death, and the death of her daughter Malka, her grandson,
Joshua, my grandfather, sat on 16 November in his armchair not far away from the
city of Yaffa and read in the newspaper, with some pride mixed with compassion,
though not without repulsion, about a man with quite ordinary ideas, who entered
Jacob’s Well, and smashed with an axe the skull of a Hegumen. In the name of god.
— Hagar Ophir
[ 62 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 63 ]
This is my hometown.
The birthplace of my ancestors
Where my parents lived, played, worked, worshipped,
and died
Mother… passionate artist, radical activist
Father… community leader, elected official
I grew up in that big house with the large dome
A courtyard covered by a jasmine tree and the sky This was my playground
I made long jasmine garlands for Mommy
Oh…. I can still smell the jasmine.
At home, Mom sang as Dad played the oud
My fondest memory is of walking back from the bakery with my oldest brother
eating the fresh hot bread, skipping and singing. We would stop by my grandfathers’
shop…
He would give us some money, or sukar faddi (rock
candy crystals) from the store.
Everything around me was colorful and beautiful.
Then, in June 1967, things took a different turn. “War is imminent” we were told…
and we have
to prepare.
Mom, a very resilient and resolute woman, led
the efforts.
Next morning, backpack prepared with nametags
and contact information for all of the children.
The bags had some money, food, and water Mom placed some of her most valuable
golden
bracelets around mine and my sisters’ upper arms and we were instructed to wear
long-sleeved tops to hide the bracelets.
The oud became silent and Mom stopped singing.
Tears drop on Mom’s cheek as she sews Palestinian flags and writes songs of
resistance.
My sisters and I carry the flags and chant Mom’s songs in huge demonstrations
Nablus ya Jabal al-Nar, thawra ala al-isti‛mar.
Each protest is followed by funerals. This became everyday life
This is where I lived, loved, and resisted.
Where I broke all the rules, and became defiant… Where I endured the pain of
burying my best friend
Lina and many other martyrs…
The earth is still the same, olive oil and blood. This is my hometown
This is Nablus.
— Issmat Atteereh
[ 64 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Hurlbut invites us to look on
Nazareth as “home of the child
Jesus,” using the sweeping
landscapes and exteriors of the
photograph to paradoxically
reconstruct the interior of Jesus’
home, based on evidence from
the parables about him in the
books of Matthew, Luke, and
James. “There was a lamp on its
stand; a measure, used also as a
receptacle for food; a bed of a
roll of matting,” Hurlbut writes.
“The only chimney may have
been a hole in the roof.” This list
paints an intimate portrait of a
humble, homey interior, yet the
very intimacy of Hurlbut’s tone
contrasts with the composition
of the photograph. In the
foreground, a woman at work
carrying hay pauses to look out
over the city below. Her back is
turned to the viewer and to the
eye of the camera, and it is as
though this turning has compelled
the photographer to look up and
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 65 ]
beyond her, to the city below and, further out, to the hills and sky in the distance.
Maybe she, like the viewer, is looking out over the city – or maybe she has paused
to talk to the two men on horses down below, one of whom has his head turned toward
her, and toward the viewer. Instead of recreating the interior of Jesus’ home, we might
recreate the kind of social life that once took place between the residents of Nazareth,
the kind of conversation these three might have been having in 1913. Or, building off
Hurlbut’s assertion that “everybody naturally uses for illustrations the facts that he is
most familiar with,” we might ask with what facts contemporary Nazarenes are most
familiar, and what kinds of worlds and interiors they might imagine looking at this
photograph. They might think of the city’s many poets, such as Taha Muhammad Ali
and Tawfiq Zayyad, or the comfortable, familial interiors of Elia Suleiman’s films.
They might remember one particularly famous poem by Zayyad, “On an Olive Tree
in the Courtyard of My Home:”
Because I don’t weave wool
Because every day I am subject to detention
and my house is subject to the police
who come to search and “sweep”
Because I cannot buy paper to write on
I will carve what I say
I will carve my secrets
on the olive tree
in the courtyard of my house.
In this way we exchange one interior for another, one household for another. We
might also simply “remain for some time on this hill,” as Hurlbut invites us to do
in the first sentence of his description. But instead of “looking down upon the view
that our Lord must have seen hundreds of times,” we might remain with the woman
carrying hay and the men down below, recreating a social life – with its everyday
encounters and pleasantries – that today is marked, like the tree in Zayyad’s poem, by
narratives of detention, police searches, and checkpoints.
— Emily Drumsta
[ 66 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Although not mentioned in
the Gospels, the Fountain
of the Virgin in Nazareth,
known locally as St. Mary’s
Well, is where believers
place Mary drawing water
for her everyday needs
accompanied by the child
Jesus. Wells are public
sociable spaces, watering
spots where men and women
mingle, animals and children
meet, news is exchanged
and rumors circulate. “How
much do you suppose that
jar of water will weigh?”
the caption writer asks,
foregrounding an enduring
association between the
Virgin Mary and water. Cults
to imbibe her waters, famed
for their healing properties
to cure eye afflictions and
female infertility, became
the foundation of Marian
pilgrimages throughout the
Mediterranean. Affinities
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 67 ]
between fecundity and water are represented by the female uterus imagined as a
curvilinear earthenware jar or upside-down jug that mixes male and female elements.
Thus, a circum-Mediterranean corporeal metaphor of oppositions germinating
productively within the uterus (a human is created) continues its transposition
emblematically upward outside the body to the woman’s water jug (nourishing a
household) and outward as ever-flowing well water (quenching a people).
The 1900 caption and image explicitly connect this sacred site and “the present
life of this land directly with the events of nineteen hundred years ago.” Once pure
water streamed from the hills and mountains in the north, a source for the inhabitants’
drinking water flowing downward to the Virgin’s Fountain, a central Christian holy
site located at the heart of the main square of Nazareth, a city that is Israel’s largest
Palestinian Arab urban center. Since the late 1990s, the well is dry. There is no water.
Such states of enforced dryness are hallmarks of the post-1948 catastrophic realities
that created two Nazareths, bifurcating place into a Jewish Israeli Upper Nazareth that
rises above to encircle and hydrologically strangle the Palestinian Arab city below.
— Susan Slyomovics
[ 68 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 69 ]
The cover of Nitza Ben Ari’s Hebrew book Suppression of the Erotic in Modern
Hebrew Literature shows a framed photograph of two women in lesbian pornographic
imagery. A red tape covers their breasts, their waists down are outside the frame of the
picture. In the localization process of the book to the American market, not only was
the language translated, but the book’s cover was transformed as well. The English
translation shows a painting with biblical resonances of a woman holding a clay jar
on her shoulder. She is naked: the book’s title hides her breasts. Through this act of
image translation, the erotic charge and promise of the Woman-with-a-Clay-Jar image
becomes manifest.
When I first saw this Woman-with-a-Clay-Jar image, I thought, “This woman is
posing.” I went back to look at the other photos, to search for other acts of posing. I
imagined the interaction. “Stand like this,” “stand like that,” “no, there, in the light.”
There must have been a translator there, and a guide, a dragoman.
I too was once hired to be a dragoman. A European photographer came to
photograph places with histories connecting them to the Nakba. He needed someone
to show him around and talk to the people for him; I needed the money. The first place
we went was Lydda. He had a very big, slow functioning camera. He had to put it
on a tripod, and make long light and distance measures. Each photo took him about
fifteen minutes to take. I had to stop people in the street and tell them this man wants
to take a picture of you. The people were polite and said yes. Only after a minute or
two they realized what they had gotten themselves into. With each, the photographer
adjusted his gear and then for long moments told the person how to stand, adjusting
their bodies to his visual need. I translated. The women, I thought, were much more
trained in this art of bodily satisfying the masculine demand. In the car, I asked the
photographer why he used such a slow camera and stopped people in the middle of
their day for such a long time. He explained to me that that was exactly why he liked
to work with that camera; it takes a long time and then he can get to meet the people
whose portrait he takes.
— Tomer Gardi
[ 70 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 71 ]
Stereographs produce the illusion of depth and solidity, the mysterious sense of being
there. Left eye conspires with right to find in the convergence of lines, light, and
shadow a third dimension. Rationalizing the small discrepancies, the mind burrows
into shadow and glides over illuminated surfaces to form a single image. To look at
this stereograph and read its caption – “Western end of the plain of Esdraelon and Mt.
Carmel, from Sheikh Barak, Palestine” – is to experience another doubling of vision,
where difference is not so easily reconciled. Who are the unnamed people? What is
the woman looking at from the vantage of her roof? What is the man saying to the boy
– perhaps his son? The receding biblical landscape seems to swallow them, leaving
no trace.
We look at such scenes expecting them to reveal something, to make visible an
underlying coherence that has been lost. Incidental details take hold in our imagination.
The texture of the surfaces – jagged rock, hard hand-smoothed clay, and the dry rushes
on the roof that crackle underfoot. These minor revelations delineate the modes and
materials of construction. I hear the sound of work. A song, perhaps “Dal ‘Uwna,” is
sung to encourage collective effort, the refrain mimicking the sound of stamping feet
compacting clay and straw underfoot, or a scythe cutting grass. Its echoes are still
heard in south Lebanon, where Sada Kayed, a refugee from Balad al-Shaykh – who
might well be related to those pictured – sings a variation on it:
The beloved has left without bidding us farewell.
Oh birds, fly together,
Let us exchange sad times for happy ones.
I wish I were a garden planted with date palms,
Let my parents not give me to anyone by you!
… I have two kilos and a box of songs,
Those that are on my lips are different from those in my heart.
— Diana Allan
[ 72 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
We are taught that the stereoscopic image gave an added dimension to the flat, twodimensional
photograph. In the process, it forced the viewer to acknowledge the
medium in the viewing experience. The stereo photograph presents the foreground
as its focus, its subject, and its text. The background provides its depth, its receding
points of view, its backdrop and its context. Despite its illusions of unity and depth,
the stereoscopic image is bifurcated, cut in half, stacked, and layered within and
upon itself. Without the prosthetic stereoscope to aid, the image is doubled; locked
in a partnership of adjacency, it reveals the seams within its own composition and
complicity in the act of viewing.
Haifa lays low, kissing the Mediterranean, disconnected from Mt. Carmel to the
southeast. The image is almost abstract, line segments cutting from upper right to
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 73 ]
bottom left corners by the diagonal of the mountain edge, the line of the trees, and the
stark narrow band of the white wall. The diagonal that bisects the image is the bar of
history, the bar of 1948. Haifa was a lost city before Operation Bi’ur Hametz or the
“Passover Cleansing” by the Haganah’s Carmeli Brigade. The United Nations assigned
it to the Yishuv and its slow degeneration in Zionist control was an eventuality.
With this in mind, the biblical passage that accompanies the image (1 Kings xviii,
42–46) seems as prescient as it is ironic. The verse tells us that the prophet Elijah, on
Mt. Carmel, commanded his servant to go up and look at the sea. Seven times, he does
not see anything but then sees a small cloud rising like a hand over the water. It will
turn into a storm to break a drought over Palestine. It will be a cleansing rain. Elijah
sends the servant to tell the king to prepare for the storm.
The abstract photograph of Haifa – it is of Haifa, after all, and not of the foreground
of Mt. Carmel – offers us a text like scripture. It is read like a prophecy of acts that have
eventually transpired. The stereo image is folded upon itself, the back and foreground,
1900 and 1948. Two almost identical images locked in adjacency, both split by the
diagonal that folds Haifa under Mt. Carmel. The Palestinian man and his horse look
over the wall, over the diagonal lines. With him and at him, we look through the bar
of history but, indeed, we can only now detect the storm coming after it has already
passed.
— Stephen Sheehi
I really love this photographic view of a peaceful Haifa as seen from Mount Carmel,
and of the coastal road between Haifa and ‘Akka (now the Israeli city of Akko). The
road was once one of the major commercial arteries of Ottoman Palestine, and the
photograph evokes a time when the coastal cities of Haifa and ‘Akka were major
stops on Ottoman trading routes from the interior provinces of the empire to the
sea. The accompanying text alludes to the modernity that had “arrived at Haifa” due
to its location and its frequent trading visitors from Europe; it also alludes to the
large group of German settlers who comprised the once-thriving German colony that
settled in Haifa in the late nineteenth century. The photograph evokes a nostalgia in
the viewer for a vibrant commercial and economic past that is now no more: though
Haifa remains home to an energetic Palestinian population, it is no longer a vital stop
on a Palestinian trade route; no Palestinian goods can enter or leave now through the
port of Haifa; and there is now no real Palestinian economy to speak of.
— Sreemati Mitter
[ 74 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 75 ]
In Doris Lessing’s short story, “The Old Chief Mshlanga,” the protagonist is a young
white girl on a settler farm in southern Africa. Walking through the veld she “could
not see a msasa tree, or the thorn, for what they were” because her “books held tales
of alien fairies, her rivers ran slow and peaceful, and she knew the shape of the
leaves of an ash or an oak…” Standing on an ancient jutting rock, her eyes were
“sightless for anything but a pale willowed river, a pale gleaming castle.”7
Like this girl, the traveler in the Holy Land who describes the view from the “Mount
of Beatitudes” (where Jesus may have given his famous sermon, writes Hurlbut,
though most Christians today agree that it was elsewhere) sees in the distance the
Sea of Galilee and beyond that the Plain of Gennesaret where the people brought
their sick to Jesus to be restored. He sees the looming gap of the “Valley of the
Pigeons” as that place where robbers hid from Herod’s warriors and then slew each
other. Here too, the last battle of the Crusades. “Every place on which our eyes now
rest has its memories, sacred and historical.”
Yet the frame is filled with the unmistakable regular lines of field boundaries across
a wide stretch of intensely cultivated land. Who was plowing and planting this land?
Our traveler does not see them.
What do these tilled fields tell us about the land of Palestine just before European
Zionist settlers would begin to arrive, armed with arguments about redeeming the
undeveloped land of Palestine? Was their labor needed to make productive these
fields of the fertile plains of Hittin, long cultivated with cereals, summer crops, and
even cotton by Palestinian Arabs?
These fields attracted the Jewish National Fund that purchased a small number of
dunums in 1904, just a few years after our American Christian pilgrim stood here.
Now the plain lies thick with the sprawling buildings and dense trees of an Israeli
Jewish settlement called Arbel. Founded by demobilized soldiers in 1949, it erased
from view and existence after the Nakba, the Palestinian village of Hittin. Who
farms the fertile plain now?
— Lila Abu-Lughod and Omar Imseeh Tesdell
[ 76 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Jerusalem Quarterly 86 [ 77 ]
What is she doing there? Native Mohammedan school in Bireh, 1905 (George Griffith,
Publisher). This image of the local kuttab (primary school) in al-Bireh was taken by
an unidentified photographer in 1905. It is similar in size and format to another kuttab
image taken in 1903 by Carlton Graves. The kuttab were local village primary schools
aimed at teaching children reading, writing, grammar, and arithmetic.
The kuttab were immortalized by Taha Hussein in his autobiographical al-Ayyam.
His portrayal of the kuttab was as a system of mindless rote learning, with the teacher
portrayed either as an idiot or blind, or both. Since Hussein was himself blind, his
reference to the blind teaching the blind was both affectionate and sardonic.
But the kuttabs were the core instrument of establishing literacy for the rural
population, where – for the most part – government or missionary schools were either
non-existent, or not accessible. It prepared those students who were deemed able to
continue their studies at the nizamiyya i‛dadi (intermediate) or rushdi (secondary)
schools.
Village kuttab schools were located in the village madafeh (guesthouse), or in the
vicinity of the local masjid. In the city, the kuttab were attached to the mosques or the
zawiya. This photograph was taken in al-Bireh on the eve of the establishment of the
Quaker mission for boys (The Friends School) in al-Bireh, and was probably intended
by the photographer to contrast the primitiveness of native schooling with modern
education provided by the mission schools. Kuttabs were normally segregated and
girls were taught separately in their own kuttab, often by the same shaykh, or Qur’anic
reader. In many villages, however, there were not enough girls to necessitate having
a separate kuttab and the girls in this case would join the boys’ circle. In the case of
the al-Bireh stereoscopic image above, we find a lone girl in the upper right corner
(of the photo) holding her notebook and listening intently to the shaykh. In contrast
to her male companions, she is relaxed, sitting straight, head uncovered, and striking
a defiant pose.
— Salim Tamari
[ 78 ] Time Travelers in Palestine
Endnotes
1 Exhibition, March 2017 at Brown University,
Center for Middle East Studies, see online
at watson.brown.edu/cmes/events/2017/
exhibition-time-machine-stereoscopicviews-
palestine-1900 (accessed 22 June
2021).
2 Freda Gutman, “Imwas 1967, 1978, and
1988 Canada Park: Two Family Albums,” in
Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 13, no.
1 (2005): 49–54.
3 See the letter reprinted in John Reynolds,
Where the Villages Stood: Israel’s Continuing
Violations of International Law in Occupied
Latroun, 1967–2007 (Ramallah: al-Haq,
2007), 88.
4 Quoted in Rich Wiles, Behind the Wall: Life,
Love, and Struggle in Palestine (Washington:
Potomac Books, 2010), 21.
5 Patrick Wolfe, Settler Colonialism and
the Transformation of Anthropology: The
Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic
Event (London: Cassell, 1999).
6 Both al-‘Ayzariya and Abu Dis are
neighborhoods in Jerusalem but have been
chopped off from Jerusalem by the erection
of Israel’s Separation Barrier.
7 Doris Lessing, African Stories (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1965), 47–58.

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