Return of the Soul: The Nakba Project

Jane Frere  Sculptural Installation with Video  2008

Today we remember the 750,000 Palestinians who were either forcibly removed by  military or fled in fear from their homes in 1948.  Palestinians living on their ancestral lands of centuries were suddenly living in the new state of Israel.  They had no choice but to lock their doors and leave.  Many of these people believed this would be temporary.

Surely the world would not let a group of people essentially colonize an area that was populated.  After all, this was modern times.  It was 31 years after the Balfour Declaration, 26 years after the Mandate.  Although Israel had only just become an official state, a small number of Zionists immigrated thirty years ago.  A larger number sought refuge while fleeing Nazi Germany (although for the most part the Passfield White Paper restricted the numbers).

A group of people started drawing borders on a map.  Suddenly your land and your house were not your own.  Suddenly your history and your rights didn’t exist.

Most interesting, and probably most important, is that there were Palestinians and Jews already living side by side in peace.  This was most successful in Hebron.  It’s believed that some of these families had lived here, together, since the Israelite exodus.  How long ago was that?  Oh, just about 2,500 years.

750,000 men, women, and children became refugees.  This was 80% of the Palestinian population that was living in what was now Israel.  When you add in the generations of Palestinians that were then born as refugees, the number is somewhere around five million people.

These people are still registered refugees living in camps run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  Many still carry the keys to their homes with the hope of return.  The key is often seen as a symbol of resistance and serves as a reminder of their history.

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 194 (III), resolving that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”  Israel does not recognize the resolution.  The UN does not enforce it.

Jane Frere is a Scottish artist that started her journey to learn about the Palestinian exodus at a concentration camp in Poland.  She started visiting refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and beyond.  She collaborated with the UNRWA on her multi-media piece, Return of the Soul. 

Over 3,000 individual sculptures were made to represent those fleeing their own homes in Palestine.  Most were made by people in the refugee camps during workshops run by the artist.  During this time she conducted interviews of the refugees, which are also part of the installation.

You can see a video with some of the music and many more pictures of the installation here.  Return of the Soul

Each of these small sculptures have a story.  Although the technique of some of the individual figures is lacking, the sheer quantity certainly makes up for it, especially upon learning that these were not artists, but people sharing their story.  The impact of this installation is enormous just by photo and video.  I’m sure seeing it in person would be incredible.

Today we remember those who were forced out of their homes or fled their countries in fear.  Not just the Palestinians during the Nakba, but the Jews under Nazi Germany, the Somalians, the Coptic Christians, the Bosnians, the Vietnamese, and of course the Syrians.  War torn countries continue to force people to flee their homes, often to unwelcome lands.

It saddens me to say that America seems to be one of those unwelcoming places.  Even if it is just for one day, one moment, one thought, open your minds and hearts.  People don’t just leave their homes, lands, families behind for fun.  They are looking for a better life, and oftentimes have no choice.




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