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Palestinian archives: A reflection of a rich history

February 7, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Documenting Palestinian events is essential for enriching the virtual historical archive. This is a process, which goes in parallel with resisting the military occupation in its different forms. Concealing and distorting the narrative by colonisers is a technique often practised in order to deny people the tools to communicate their own history.

Prior to the creation of Israel on historic Palestine in 1948, Palestinians lived in a diverse society, in coexistence and harmony with the followers of all faiths. Trade and agriculture thrived, urban life prospered. A vibrant life prevailed, where simplicity met modernity. Palestine like other courtiers in the Middle East passed through historical events, from the Ottoman Empire to the British rule up to the current Israeli military occupation.

The new generations are grateful for their ancestors’ documentation of their lives. To this end, “online archiving” has started to emerge recently in Palestine with a number of volunteers carrying out this work, as a hobby that reflects their love of the homeland.

READ: ‘The conflict in Palestine has always galvanised people’ 

Thirty-year-old Montaser Tarazi, a Palestinian in Gaza, started an initiative to preserve Palestinian history and heritage through creating digital archives and publishing old photographs, documents and video clips, free of charge.

Despite studying accountancy, researching Palestinian history has taken over his time and career.

Tarazi, who was born to a Christian family in Gaza, started his personal voluntary project in 2013.

He conducted research in modern Palestinian history and gathered records of daily life, official documents, personal photographs and videos from ordinary individuals and institutions.

He told TRT World that his idea started to emerge following the Israeli war on Gaza in 2012, as he felt the need to maintain the Palestinian narrative and take part in crafting Palestinian history.

“When I first started this project I created a Facebook page called Gaza in the old days. As I continued publishing photographers, video and audio materials the number of followers reached around 70,000. Later, I created a new page called Montaser Tarazi’s Archive, on which I now have more followers.”

Iconic handshake between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli president Shimon Peres during the Oslo accords [File photo]

Iconic handshake between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli President Shimon Peres during the Oslo accords [File photo]

Many of the published photographs date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries even prior to the creation of Israel in historic Palestine in 1948. Many of the photographs were hidden in family albums and given to Tarazi.

By making these photographs available to the public he hope to revive the collective memories of Palestinians. An effort he thinks will make them proud of their rich cultural heritage and remind them of the good old days.

“I spent quite a significant amount of time searching the archives of local universities and newspapers in Gaza, as well as international news agencies such as Reuters and AP.”

Seeing the rich collection of the published photographs takes you back, giving you the ultimate freedom to imagine the hustle and bustle of the time. The pictures were taken by locals and foreigners who had visited the region in the 1950s-90s. Amongst them are pictures of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser with teachers in the Gaza Strip, others documented life at the time.

Palestinians rely on the internet for information. Priceless photographers and vintage rare clips of the Palestinian struggle can be a source of pride and inspiration for the youth.

Social media expert, Khalid Safi says that the published materials are a true treasure which can be used to incentivise the young to stick to the national inalienable rights.

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“We are witnessing a growing interest amongst the new generations to know more about the life of their ancestors and what they lived through. Such initiatives are positive and we hope Facebook pages such as Montaser’s won’t be targeted and closed down by Israel under its collaboration with Facebook’s management. In recent years, Palestinian online content, such as websites, personal and official accounts were closed down simply for reporting on Palestinian issues.”

A small number of projects to create an online archive on Palestinian history took place in recent years in Palestine, Lebanon and elsewhere. The aim was to create a multi-media database. The projects involved collecting oral history testimonies surrounding the Nakba, as well as documenting photographs of different events and making them available to the public in order to serve academics, students, artists, activists and anyone interested in the Palestinian cause.

However many records of Palestinian history were looted by the Israeli army and are now hidden in Israeli archives.

A view of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem on July 23, 2017. Israeli authorities installed metal detectors on two gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound to restrict access [Mostafa Alkharouf/ Anadolu Agency]

A view of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem on July 23, 2017 [Mostafa Alkharouf/ Anadolu Agency]

According to Israeli historian Rona Sela, who spent 20 years uncovering Palestinian visual history, the looting of Palestinian history and archive started in the 1930s in a systematic and organised manner at the hands of Haganah Zionist militias. She found that materials were later appropriated and sized at numerous historical events in 1948, 1967, 1982, 1991 and until this day.

Adnan Abu Amer, the head of the political science and media department at Al-Ummah University in Gaza, said that the largest seizure of Palestinian archives took place during the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982.

“The Palestinian leadership – namely the Palestinian Authority – should play a greater role in preserving the national archive. Youth initiatives are appreciated but need the endorsement and support of officials. It’s ironic that much of our archive is buried and hidden at Israeli institutions, universities and the defence ministry.”

The virtual online exhibition provides a platform for various media outlets and personal account holders on social media to share what they call “treasure troves”.

Montaser’s hobby isn’t just keeping him busy, it’s documenting the suffering and struggle of a nation under a decades-long occupation and the Palestinian steadfastness which is keeping the country live.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.