Time and Remains – of Palestine
Part I That still remains
The origins of these photographs lie in a pine forest, walked through at the start of my first visit to Israel where, by a stream, I came across the unexplained crumbling walls of seemingly ancient structures. A plaque erected in 2004 by the Jewish National Fund of Canada declared this “an oasis, a recreation area, a place of water, of hope, of peace, of vision”. Later I saw a film online depicting a recent visit to the same setting by Israeli Palestinian citizens. Elderly men recalled that as children those walls had been their village, the terraces their fields, the water their spring; they had been expelled in the ‘Nakba’ (disaster) of 1948, the village flattened, their right of return refused, the planned forest of imported pines slowly obscuring their former world; traces of their presence cleansed. Such divergent responses to one place seemed a striking allegory for the broader discordance in this land.
With my curiosity for history and topography roused I started to look for the remains in Israel’s landscape of the former British Mandate of Palestine; promised as a homeland to such different peoples. As in that first forest, crumbling remains became evident. But despite the preponderance for memorials and information boards through out the country expressing biblical, crusader and modern Israeli history, there were few explanations of these places. That history appeared obscured, their story little known.
That still remains (Part I) probes the now historic Palestinian presence in much of Israel and reflects on the sense of ‘Nakba’; documenting the remains of some of the 400 or so villages that were depopulated and then demolished as a consequence of the 1948 war, and later conflicts. Each picture records the location of a former Palestinian village or town; accompanying captions present brief village histories, recording the occasion and consequence of conquest. The name and district given is that current during the mandate period. Though the landscape is now renamed and reinterpreted these now historical places remain pertinent in the consciousness of the diaspora.
When the time comes (Part II ) moves forward to explore the contemporary landscape of the labyrinthine West Bank, a would be ‘Palestine’ as concieved by the Oslo peace accords, but which has failed to materialise in any meaningful form; documenting the fabric of conflict in a land zoned into multiple and convoluted ‘areas’, divided by walls and fences, halted by checkpoints and road blocks, reduced by settlements.
Each of the parts stand alone, separated both by time and location – together they work as bookends of the period of time since the foundation of Israel, encapsulating something of the story of Palestine. Comprehending the history evident in part I helps understand how the landscape of the contemporary West Bank has evolved. They are perhaps as two small pieces in a complex puzzle, joined in the need to see more of the picture.
Research for the captions in part I was drawn primarily from the writings of Israeli ‘new’ historians who methodically analysed military and state archives, and soldier testimonies. In part II the captions reflect the convoluted settlement that evolved from the Oslo Peace Accords, zoning the land into alphabetical ‘areas’, intended as a step towards nationhood that has proved faltering and inconclusive.
In contemplating the enduring notion of ‘Palestine’ the intent is not just to chronicle history and landscape; also to comprehend in part that which evolved and reverberates still.
Time and Remains – of Palestine is published by Kehrer Verlag (March 2016) with an introduction by Raja Shehadeh (192 pages, 30 x 24cm, 95 colour plates).