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> Ashira Ramadan, journalist
> Kamel Al-Mughani: Resistance Artist
> Tawfik Zayyad, politician and poet
> Mervat Essa, artist
> Makbula Nassar, photographer
> Palestinian artist Emily Jacir awarded top prize
> Dahoud Tawfiq Nasser, tile designer
> Fawzy Jiries Nastas, sculpturer
> Nadia Abu-Ghattas, silver designer
> Ibrahim Haddad, industrialist
> Rania Elias-Khoury, cultural entrepreneur
> Mohammed Omer, journalist
> Jowan Qupty: a Palestinian Swimming Champion
> Sadeq Damrah, swimmer and swimming trainer
> Rimon Najib Salim Zabaneh, sports leader
> Rafat Al Aydeh, actor and drama teacher
> Abou Radwan family of Jaffa city
> Notable Palestinians in the Recent History of Lebanon
> Yousef Katalo, painter
By Hazem Jamjoum
I had seen her photographs of Saffuriyya long before seeing her there. Poetically performing her role as master of ceremonies for last year’s March of Return from Nazareth to Saffuriyya, she addressed the 20,000 participants, and in eloquent classical Arabic she said, “This place has an identity and a spirit that continues to live in us and in which we will continue to live.” Makbula Nassar, a young Palestinian photographer, activist, feminist, and notorious radio host is someone whom we can all learn from.
Makbula is the tenth of eleven children born to a farmer from the Arrabeh and an internally displaced mother from the destroyed and depopulated historic Palestinian village of Hittin, the site of Salah-al-Din’s victory over European Crusaders. Her first form of political activity came in the third grade when her school’s administration banned her class from participating in a field trip, so they organised a demonstration in protest. “The teachers punished us the next day, but we had to fight for what was our right.”
That same year, the Israeli military besieged and occupied Beirut, allowing and supporting fascist militants to massacre, rape, and mutilate thousands of unarmed Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra and Shatila. “Arrabeh, my town, is a very politicised place; it was one of the sites of the major demonstrations of the original Land Day demonstrations in 1976. So even though I was only eight years old and didn’t know the details of what was happening in Lebanon, I saw the black flags atop the homes and heard people talking about how Palestinians were killed because of the Israeli army. The 1982 Land Day demonstration was one of the most intense that I’ve seen, and it was the first time I participated in a demonstration for Palestine.”
Palestinian history is not taught in Israeli schools, so Makbula had to piece together for herself her Palestinian identity and its meaning. “No one ever sat me down to tell me what it means to be Palestinian, but the stories of the people around me - my father losing his livelihood because of Israel’s discriminatory water policies, my mother telling me how her family was displaced in 1948, my brothers being arrested - these were all pieces of a puzzle that I put together.”
University was an important turning point for the social work graduate of Hebrew University. It is where she met Palestinians from various parts of the country and realised that not all Palestinians know who they are or realise the implications of going to a dance party at an Israeli West Bank settlement. “I started university just as the Oslo Agreement became public. The Palestinian student movement in Israeli universities was only just starting again, and most of its work involved changing the Palestinian perception of themselves and mobilising them to push for their rights as Palestinian students in the university. The Palestinian student movement is extremely important; it is where most Palestinian political and civil society leaders in Israel emerged.”
Throughout her university days, Makbula was politically active in her hometown, engaging in activities that continued after her graduation. She was the first Palestinian woman on an electoral candidacy list for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), the only legal Palestinian party before the 1990s. “I wanted Palestinian citizens in Israel to see a woman on the stage talking about social and political issues. Although the party itself espoused gender equality, it was not really ready to challenge patriarchy within its ranks. This was one of the reasons that I broke with them in 2000.” Makbula continued to campaign for women’s rights both as a social worker as well as through the Equality in Marital Rights Action Committee, which campaigned for the adoption of laws granting Palestinian women equal access to family courts.
In 2004, Makbula was invited as a guest on a talk-show on Radio-al-Shams, and her eloquence and character prompted the station’s owner to offer her the unexpected job of being a radio host. For the past four years she has hosted Kalam Mubashir (straight talk) and later Shababik (windows), both of which have unabashedly challenged chauvinism and racism in Palestinian and Israeli society, with topics ranging from Palestinian rights to headscarves to sexuality rights. “There is no such thing as unbiased journalism, and when hosting my show, I am definitely biased towards justice and the rights of women, marginalised communities, and the oppressed even if that means angering the sexists, capitalists, and Zionists who are listening.” She stresses the importance of reclaiming the Arabic language for Palestinian citizens in Israel, many of whom have difficulty communicating in their mother tongue as a result of Israeli education policies.
In 2003, Makbula attended a conference in Cyprus attended by Palestinian refugees from various countries. Upon her return, and remembering her new friends’ requests for something from Palestine, she decided to photograph the villages from which they and their families were displaced. Little did she know that these photographs that were meant as personal gifts would change her life. One day she decided to upload onto the Palestine Remembered website the twenty or so photos that she had taken; within a few hours she was receiving thank-you e-mails from the refugees of those villages, and within a few days she began to receive requests from refugees all over the world for photos of their villages.
Makbula’s mother, now 71 years old, began doing the research on the location and remains of the villages by interviewing other internally displaced Nakba survivors and delving into her own encyclopaedic memory. The mother-daughter duo began to traverse the country, armed with a digital camera and capturing both the destruction wrought by the establishment of Israel and the beauty of Palestine. “I wanted to back up the stories that Nakba survivors tell their children and grandchildren which often revolve around how their towns and villages were beautiful places filled with joy.”
“David Ben-Gurion once said about the Palestinians’ struggle to return to their homeland that ‘the old will die and the young will forget.’ I say to him: those who wish to forget history are the perpetrators of the crime, not those who stand side by side with Justice.” Makbula Nassar, 9 May 2008 - March of Return to Saffuriyya.
The response was overwhelming. The Haifa-based newspaper al-Ittihad began to publish one of her pictures almost daily; refugees in Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere printed the photographs as posters, postcards, and on their websites. “Some of the women I had met in Cyprus who lived in Lebanon’s Nahr el-Bared Refugee Camp [before its destruction in 2007] organised a photo gallery in the camp. Before the gallery opened, camp residents came to check whether photos of their villages were included, and since many were not, there was an uproar, and I had to spend the last few days before the exhibit opened running around to photograph these villages to make sure that they were included.” More than five thousand people attended the week-long exhibit.
Makbula’s pioneering work, with no funding or institutional backing, inspired many more Palestinians, and even Jewish Israelis, to begin locating and photographing what remains of depopulated Palestinian towns and villages. “The upside of the individual nature of my work is that I don’t have to worry about bureaucracy and getting funding; the low profile helps me to get into places more easily than those who have photographed more public activities to reclaim destroyed villages, which has often elicited violent responses from the Israeli government: the police get involved or one of the few buildings still standing in the village is demolished. One village I photographed is controlled by a heavily guarded kibbutz; I parked my car and waited for one of the kibbutz residents to enter and followed them as if I were their guest. I left the same way.”
It is not all positive though; “I can’t afford to keep doing this on my own, and the work does need to be institutionalised in some way; villages that I photographed in 2003 have been further vandalised since then. It doesn’t help that many Jewish settlers have found it fashionable to steal old stones from destroyed Palestinian homes to use in building their own homes as a way of giving these new homes a feeling of authenticity.”
For Makbula, these are not just photographs taken for their aesthetic value. “There is a core issue that my work revolves around and that is the return of the refugees,” Makbula tells me. “For the refugees themselves, the photos have strengthened their connection with their homeland by providing a material idea of what ‘home’ looks like. For us Palestinian citizens of Israel, it has helped reopen the issue of the refugees and their right to return as a central part of our understanding of ourselves, above and beyond just looking at ourselves as a minority that faces discrimination.” Makbula Nassar is definitely someone we should all learn from.
Some of Makbula Nassar’s photographs can be found at www.palestineremembered.com and www.nakbaonline.org. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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