Behind the Lens:
Our history in our Palestine
When it comes to our lived experiences, we are the sum of our ancestors.
Our familial archives can reveal the history behind everyday occurrences, hopes and fears that have shaped our identity.
Miilkiina opens its platform for our Palestinian community to explore their family archives in Historic Palestine. Our community opens up on their history, and what it means for their life today.
My family is from Beit Hanina, in what is now considered “east Jerusalem” and is nestled on the road between Al Quds and Ramallah. Like many, my grandfather was a farmer who owned his own land, which mainly consisted of olive trees, amongst a variety of other fruits. He was also a skilled horseman and some of my first memories of him was him riding his beautifully ornamented horse. He was also known in the village for dressing really well. He took pride in what he wore. Unlike some men at the time, he refused to wear a suit and wanted to keep the tradition alive by wearing a Kumbaz, a traditional Palestinian thobe with the belt and head dress. My grandfather also loved to sing and play the Rebaba, which was an old stringed instrument popular at the time. While we visited him in 1989, we rode his horse, picked olives and figs from his trees and he also sang to us. Thinking of it now, it seems almost surreal. In the video, he was singing to my mom, wishing her a safe flight back to the states while playing the Rebaba. Aside from singing, he would recite famous lines of poetry he committed to memory, while playing the Rebaba. These are the beautiful Palestinian traditions we need to continue to uphold.
My mom is about six years-old here and it instantly makes me think of a memory she shared from around this age where she had to evacuate her home with her mom, her two younger brothers, and her baby sister (photographed here). She recalls her mom removing her gold bangles and giving them to her baby sister to keep her quiet, and my mom’s youngest brother at the time asking her to carry him because he was afraid of the dead bodies on the streets as they tried to run away. My mom said she will never forget all the dead bodies on the streets.
My uncle, my mom, my late aunt, my uncle, 1954, Gaza.
My dad is photographed here with a group of friends at an orange orchard. Gaza was rich in citrus orchards for centuries, and these orchards had been passed down by generations of Palestinian families. Unfortunately due to Israel destroying and bulldozing Palestinian citrus groves, citriculture has essentially been wiped from Gaza.
My mom is around 21 years-old in this photo, a true Palestinian beauty.
Mom, 1969, Gaza.
Like many other Palestinian stories, my family history has gone through displacement and confiscation of land but I would like to talk about a different aspect of it. I come from a lineage of devoted fellaheen and workers, who have extremely vibrant personalities and a vision of life that extended geography and the boundaries of reality. My paternal grandparents were obsessed with farming and wondering in the landscapes of central Palestine, my grandfather Abdullah was a chunky Arab man who knew everything about every single plant that had ever existed on Palestinian lands, he loved his traditions and cherished what his father and uncles taught him. He would occasionally speak badly of women and how malicious they are in order to irritate my grandmother, yet swoon and blush whenever an Egyptian actress or belly dancer appeared on the pixelated screen. Everyone loved him and cared for his opinion, but no one, especially Teta Samira, ever shied away from telling him that he can be a pesky goon. My maternal grandparents were exceptional working-class intellectuals, especially my grandmother May, who would engage in long never-ending conversations about Arabic literature, cinema, how much she hated men, and cooking traditions in Nazareth (where her mother was from). She was amongst the very first women in my hometown of Taybie to open a kindergarten with a transportation service that extended outside of Taybie, because she wanted everyone to have access to her funny and marvelous education.
My father and mother, Fakher and Rania, are dreamers. He wanted to be a theatre actor but ended up an electrician because my grandfather insisted that art will not put bread on the table, and my mother worked briefly as a radio station host in Radio al-Quds, and from time to time modeled for local shoe shops. Nowadays she works as an educator and Arabic teacher.
They were very much in love and everyone was aware of that, to the point where each time one of my teachers at school knew I was their son, they would tell me “You’re Fakher and Rania’s son? Your parents married each other because they were madly in love.” Growing up and being raised by my parents and elders really shaped my perception of reality and informed my work, beliefs, and practices. They have shown me the multiplicity and diversity of Palestinian experiences and the beauty of indigenity, resistance, and community and I will forever be indebted to them.
I don’t know much about my grandmother Matilda’s life before she walked to Jordan during the 1948 Nakba, as a new mother, firstborn son in tow. She came from the Zabaneh family, which seemed to be a well-to-do family in Palestine. Here she is as a child, in the centre.
She married my grandfather, George Dahdah, who came from a successful family that owned a taxi company. They first arrived in Al Salt in Jordan, where a lot of the Palestinians were arriving. The architecture of the town is now very similar to that of Nablus, from the plethora of refugees that arrived from there decades ago (my family was from Ramle). Here, she raised 4 boys. They started from scratch, leaving the majority of their belongings and family businesses behind.
My Great Grandfather Anton Lawrence founded Jerusalem’s ‘Modern Printing Press’ in 1930. He produced publications in the city through the duality of disappearance and emergence. During the 1948 Nakba, Zionist Haganah groups bombed the Semiramis Hotel co-owned by my family and the Abu Suwan family in Jerusalem, taking away the lives of members of both families and around 26 other victims belonging to other families, such as Mesed, Khoury… etc. After 1948, my family fled to Lebanon (where my grandfather met my grandmother) and came back to Jerusalem in 1953 to a lost home in Bakaa (Part of today’s West Jerusalem). They eventually bought a house in East Jerusalem near the old city, and later on, my grandfather Shukry, built a hotel and a tourist agency on top of the building. My grandfather taught me so much about Jerusalem, he shared his love for the city with me as much as he did with the tourists he brought from around the world.
My grandparents from my Mother’s side are Armenian. In 1915, they fled to Iraq on foot during the Armenian genocide. They gave birth to my Mother and uncles in Baghdad. My grandfather was the photographer of King Faisal the second until the Iraqi army officers overthrew the monarchy. Eventually Saddam shut down my grandfather’s photo studio. After experiencing the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq, my Mother came to Palestine to her cousins through the help of her uncle, Torkom Manoogian, the 96th Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter. She eventually met my Father and got married in 1997 in Jerusalem. The Nakba had Armenians living in Palestine looking for refuge for a second time. In Jerusalem, several hundred Armenian families also lost their homes and businesses. They all flocked to the Armenian Quarter.
I’m sharing the stories of my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents through my work in fashion, to make sure their journeys and history are not forgotten
My grandparents fled their home in 1967, living through the aftermath of the 6 day war. My father only 3 at the time, still remembers the view from the plane. The following years, they slowly adapted to life in the states. My grandfather came to the US with only a few dollars to his name but worked hard to make a living, my grandmother working hard to raise a family, with three young boys at home. They both worked hard to live, but they saved for when they go back home. For years they bought and saved, packed things away for when they go back home. But the years went on, my father married and started to have children of his own, but we were still going back home. Even 30 years on, my sisters and I, raised in the 90s and early 2000, knew we were American, but home was not here. Home was in the fragments of our culture that was handed down, it was my grandmother’s stories, and her folk songs. Home was in my father’s history lessons and stories about our ancestors. We belong to a land that we are not allowed to go back to, but that land is still home. It is home even though they revoked my grandmother her IDs. My grandmother goes back to the home she owns, on three month visas. It took me 15 years to see with my own eyes, where my father was born. For years I never felt at home, but since that first visit, and every time I am privileged enough to step foot into Palestine since, once I pass through the border crossing and an average of 5+ hours of interrogation, I’ve made it back home.