Israeli-Palestinian project involves locals

Queen’s and Simon Fraser University team receives $223,000 federal government grant

Queen's professor of film and media Dorit Naaman holds up two maps of Qatamon, one hand drawn by Hala Sakakini.
Queen's professor of film and media Dorit Naaman holds up two maps of Qatamon, one hand drawn by Hala Sakakini.

An ongoing multimedia project hopes to bring to life the diverse histories of homes in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Qatamon.

A team comprised of professors and students from Queen’s and Simon Fraser University (SFU) will work closely with families displaced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dorit Naaman, a professor of film and media at Queen’s, said the project has many steps, including an interactive website, digital media workshops for youth and a video installation.

The video project “Qatamon in Colour” will encourage Qatamon families to recall their memories and experiences. These video installations will then be projected onto the houses.

“I’m very interested in letting people tell their stories about their homes, but in a way letting the houses speak their history,” she said. “The idea of this installation is kind of letting the houses … focalize these different histories.”

In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition British Palestine into the two states of Israeli and Palestine, which was accepted by the former but not by the latter.

When Britain left in May of 1948, a war erupted and by April, Israel had begun taking over Qatamon.

Families involved in the project will include not only those displaced by the conflict in 1948, but also current residents and individuals who have lived in the neighborhood since, including Israelis.

Naaman said the installation will likely be completed by 2014 and will include guided and self-guided tours. Work is set to begin this summer.

Teaching local youth about digital film technology is important, Naaman said.

“It’s become such a critical source of information and analysis in our time that we need to be very savvy in working on both sides of the camera,” she said.

Becoming more technologically skilled will also help youth understand their family’s histories.

“It’s very specifically designed as a multi-generational project,” she said. “To allow youth the connection to these other experiences I think will strengthen their identity.”

Sobhi al Zobaidi, a postdoctoral student from SFU, is a Palestinian filmmaker who will be conducting the filming of families in Jerusalem.

Depending on skill level and relevance in area of study, a variety of other Queen’s students, from undergraduates to PhD students, will take part. Currently, there are no degree requirements and no concrete amount of students who can partake.

Approximately $223,000 of funding has been provided through a federal government Research/Creation grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Dana Olwan, assistant professor at Simon Fraser University, is a co-applicant in the organization of the project with Naaman.

The process of finding the Qatamon families, Olwan told the Journal via email, is complicated and involves intricate local and global networking.

“We are relying on already established contacts but will likely require a use of variety of tools to locate people, including archival research, email, and word of mouth,” Olwan said.

While locating the families is one step, there are other barriers to consider, she said.

“Identifying and locating the Palestinian families does not necessarily mean that they will want to take part in this project,” she said. “The Israeli occupation has had long and lasting damaging effects on our communities and some people may prefer to not participate.”

It’s important to understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn’t ended yet, Olwan said.

“Palestinians are being dispossessed from Jerusalem right now through the building of apartheid walls, the expanding of settlements, and the confiscation of Jerusalem identification cards,” Olwan said. “Understanding and challenging the contemporary nature of the occupation is a key aim of this project.”

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