The launch of a digital archive for Palestinian families. Photo by amira noshokaty
One of the organizers of the event, Maysoun Mahfouz, read an old letter from Palestine: "But if you decided to have the wedding in Gaza, it will be incredible. We will rejoice and let everybody celebrate with us. We will slaughter a calf and we will make a banquet for the men, and we will invite all of Gaza. Abu Sami and Dr. Sebahi are willing to provide room for the men, and the women will stay at our place. When you are in your homeland, all the houses are yours."
Under the slogan "A Memory that Resists Forgetfulness," this Palestinian/Egyptian initiative aims to create a digital archive for Palestinian families' personal, social, economic, and cultural life in Palestine pre-1967.
"May 2023 marks 75 years of Nakba, so picking this month for the launch of the website and the exhibition has a very important meaning," explained professor Emad Abu Ghazy, former minister of culture and founding director of the Cultural Development Diploma in Cairo University, during his opening speech at the event.
"The exhibition and website are an insurance that Palestine will always be alive in our memory through such letters, memories, and photographs which will tell the whole world that there are people who will always be dedicated to their cause until they manage to build their state on all of their homeland," he added, noting that such memories are as significant as the old house keys that Palestinian families still keep.
The founder of the initiative, researcher and writer Samar Dewidar, started implementing her idea after completing her studies at the Cultural Development Diploma in Cairo University. "It all started four years ago when I decided to research the idea of belonging and how identity is created," explained Dewidar.
"I looked at the third generation of mixed weddings of Palestinians. I came across a lot of women whose life is a struggle to raise their children and defend Palestine. So, at first, I wanted to write a novel inspired by the women I met in my research. The turning point was when my mother shared with me one of the letters of my mother's cousins that dated to 10 May 1948, only five days before the invasion," she added.
From then on, she became more focused on the letters, such as those written by her grandfather Ali Rashid Shaath, who had to leave Gaza in the 1950s and work in another country, leaving his family behind. He would narrate his news and how he met someone who reminded him of his homeland and started the flashbacks.
"In the media, Palestinians are either portrayed as heroes, martyrs, or fanatics, but the Palestinian that I saw in my grandfather's letters was a human being. So I wanted the Palestinians to represent themselves, their own voice, through the personal letters, photographs, and memories, before the 1967 invasion," she added.
The website has a dedicated section that targets third-generation Palestinians who express themselves through art, such as photography, painting, and Palestinian needlework. The section exhibits and sells such artwork. Finally, the website has a third section dedicated to the private personal archives of Palestinian families that are not accessible to the public.
"The idea of depending on personal archives for documentation is a very important one, and people started to take notice of it a few years back in academia around the world. Perhaps we are a little bit behind in applying it to our own personal archives that document an important part of our memory and how to preserve it. The family and personal archives that families keep and hand from one generation to another are very rich data to write our history and to preserve our memory, especially in the absence of official archives, like in the case of Palestine," Abu Ghazi concluded.