The August issue of This Week in Palestine (TWiP) is dedicated to West Jerusalem with the caption: ‘We Too Shall Never Forget.’ The term West Jerusalem refers to those neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, outside the walls, that were occupied by the new state of Israel in 1948 and as a result were cut off from the rest of the city (which was occupied by Jordan until 1967 and became known as East Jerusalem). German Colony, Katamon, Baq’a, Talbiyeh, Greek Colony were neighbourhoods of Palestinian middle classes of all stripes: Christian, Muslim, Arab, Greek, Armenian… ‘In May 1948, an entire educated, cultured, cosmopolitan, and vibrant community of Palestinians was decimated. True, many moved on and rebuilt what they had lost, but the scar remains and the injustice continues. Somehow, this scar is genetic and is passed on from one generation to another,’ writes Sani Meo, publisher of TWiP, in The Last Word of the issue.Read more
“In My Mother’s Footsteps: A Palestinian Refugree Returns Home” is the title of a new memoir by Mona Hajjar Halaby, published today by Thread Books.
Mona is one of the key collaborators of Jerusalem, We Are Here. We are thrilled for this new accomplishment of hers, offer our warm congratulations – and look forward to reading her book.Read more
“Hearing Arabic in these streets and hearing about the people who lived here gives me double vision,” an Israeli woman told me emphatically. “I grew up in Katamon, and the Palestinian past of this neighborhood was never part of my landscape. I can promise you that I will never walk these streets in the same way!” she proclaimed. The woman was attending a guided walk, one of half-a-dozen public walks I guided or co-guided while doing research for, and production and dissemination of, Jerusalem, We Are Here, an online project designed with Palestinian and international audiences in mind. But as an Israeli engaged with uncovering a buried Palestinian past, I wanted to reach Israeli audiences as well. The engagement in the space had various manifestations, with public guided tours being an evolving core. The design of the tours was organic and intuitive, but my goal was to use them as an experiential and structured vehicle for considering not only the Palestinian past, but also the future, and Israeli responsibilities towards that future.
In a fraught political space with active and continuous forms of erasure and exile, walking, by itself, does not have the capacity to reveal entanglements or remake place. I first started learning the Palestinian history of the neighborhood from Ghada Karmi’s memoir “In Search of Fatima” and Khalil al Sakakini’s diaries. But as I physically walked Katamon, I had no anchors to any of the landmarks mentioned in the books. Even former public institutions do not have plaques identifying them, let alone individual houses. While most Israelis know they are walking in a former middle-class Palestinian neighborhood, the large Israeli flags, welded iron Star of David or Menorahs on gates and fences, and the street names, all work to suppress the Palestinian history. As a tour guide, if I wanted to activate not only an expanded understanding of the past, but also an implied present and imagined future, I would have to first unravel Israelis’ well-knitted narratives. In effect, I was working – gently – to “unsettle” Israelis.Read more
“Come on, let’s knock at the door,” urged my Israeli friend, Dan*, “it looks like someone’s in the garden.”
I was in Jerusalem working on our interactive documentary, Jerusalem, We Are Here. That day Dan and I were strolling down a public trail, which used to be the original Jaffa–Jerusalem railroad tracks. He had requested that I show him my mother’s house in Lower Baq’a, a West Jerusalem neighborhood.
Then I saw the blue gate and walled-in garden of my mother’s house. I had seen the house from the outside many times before, always with a tightening in my heart. Once I even toured the garden while the current owners were on vacation, thanks to the upstairs neighbor, who had a key to the garden gate.
“But Dan, what if they don’t let us in?” I asked, hesitating about going further, worrying that my request would be turned down, anticipating the same pain of rejection many Palestinians have experienced at the front door of their ancestral homes.
“But Mona, you won’t know unless you try.” And Dan was right.Read more
In 2007 I rented an apartment in Katamon for a six-month sabbatical from my university in Canada. I grew up in a different part of Israeli Jerusalem, but my parents had moved to a new development in Katamon (over the old soccer field), and as I had a one-year old baby, I wanted to be close to them. When I arrived, I could tell that the house I rented had been built before 1948 in the International architectural style common in the 1930s-40s. The staircase exuded spaciousness, but the apartment itself was small and entirely remodelled. In fact, what was once a two-family duplex, was now subdivided into seven or eight apartments.
I knew very little about Katamon, but I did know that it was Palestinian before 1948. A few years earlier I read Ghada Karmi’s memoir In Search of Fatima and while the book left a deep impression on me, her Katamon and the one I was wandering with a stroller in tow did not quite align. For one thing, there were no markers for any of the landmarks, such as the Semiramis or Bellevue family-owned hotels, the Lebanese and Iraqi consulates, or the perimeters of security zone A, which the British set up when the “troubles” (to use an imperial euphemism) started. How could I find out where those places were?Read more