British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library


The Sansur Building on Zion Square, one of the busiest triangles in downtown Jerusalem, bordered by Jaffa Road and Ben Yehuda Street.

If you’re interested in Jerusalem’s early twentieth century history and haven’t yet liked British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library on Facebook, I highly recommend that you do. The page has been a welcome addition to my newsfeed since I discovered it earlier this year, popping evocative black and white images of a vastly different city from the one we know today in amongst the usual pictures of food, and other people’s cats (ok, I enjoy the cats).

I’ve particularly appreciated it since the start of the summer, when its intriguing photographs have helped to balance out friends’ seemingly endless holiday snaps, which I gaze at enviously while stuck in the library, writing up my thesis…

The page’s author, Mona, is conducting research for a book she hopes to publish about her mother’s life in Jerusalem, through black and white photographs of members of the city’s community during the British Mandate period. She intends to include short essays describing the photographs, as well as their historic significance, and their meaning in her mother’s life. It’s one of the most committed family history projects I’ve seen!

Mona has an essay on photographs of schoolgirls in British Mandate Palestine in a special issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies, which you can read here. You can also read the Editorial by Issam Nassar, another a scholar of photography in this period, on the journal’s website. In her article, Mona describes trying to identify the girls in an album she inherited, and feeling as if she was in a ‘”race against time” to rescue the past from oblivion’.

There are fascinating conversations in the comments beneath photographs, as followers of the page manage – amazingly – to identify the people included, and sometimes, the far-reaching places to which they and their families were scattered after 1948. Some followers of this blog with knowledge of the Mandate period may be able to join in. Others might just like to appreciate the bittersweet images of a lost, and often forgotten, era of Palestine’s history.

Here are a few more pictures from recent posts on the page:


Helen & Georgette Abusharr, Sumaya & Samira Matar, Adele Hannoun, Aida Mistkawi and Salwa Morcos (whose father owned several hotels in Jerusalem), at the Rosary School in Jerusalem, 1947.

Bread seller on Wad St. in the Old City of Jerusalem, 1939.

Bread seller on Wad St. in the Old City of Jerusalem, 1939.

Katingo Hanania Deeb, with her women friends, preparing to demonstrate by car at the onset of the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine, which was a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs against British colonial rule, as a demand for independence and opposition to mass Jewish immigration, Jerusalem, 1936.

Katingo Hanania Deeb, with her women friends, preparing to demonstrate by car at the onset of the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine, which was a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs against British colonial rule, as a demand for independence and opposition to mass Jewish immigration, Jerusalem, 1936.

A wonderful caption on the above photograph:

‘This photograph speaks a thousand words about these dignified and politically committed women, but it also provides us with a glimpse of their style and sophistication, the way they dressed, the hats, the scarves, the sunglasses. A little gem of a photo that makes me proud to be a Palestinian woman, walking in the footsteps of such giants.

Hannah Boast

3 thoughts on “British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library

  1. I checked the British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library facebook page and saw that the very vibrant and cultured JEWISH community in Jerusalem is totally missing from it. The Jews were a very important part of British mandate Jerusalem, bringing a lot of development and modernization in all spheres of life and were, among other things, behind the commercial and cultural development of the new city (the triangle of Ben Yehuda, Jaffa street and King George street) with its new coffee shops, cinemas etc.
    The Arabs in Palestine in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa etc. were very much influenced by the new style of living, culture, dress code, gardens, architecture, educational institutes etc. brought to Palestine by mainly European Jews. It’s a pity that facebook page seems to eqaute British Mandate Jerusalemites with Arabs (or at least with non Jews). There were also Jews living in mandatory Jerusalem and their presence in it was very significant.

    • Hi ‘me’, thanks for your comment. I agree, the page is largely about Arab history in Mandate Jerusalem. I suppose that might be because it’s put together by a Palestinian woman researching her family history, and perhaps that personal history has more links to Palestine’s Arab community than its Jewish one. It will be interesting to see how these different communities figure in the eventual book which the author is planning to put together from her research. I still think the page does a worthwhile job in bringing together images of Arab life and culture in a period which isn’t widely known about, and still not very widely researched, in spite of a recent flourishing of scholarship by people like Salim Tamari, Roberto Mazza, Jacob Norris, and others. It sounds like you know about this history already, but there are plenty of book-length works which expand on the history of Jewish and Arab communities in early twentieth century Palestine, in more detail than a Facebook page mainly made up of images allows. Tom Segev, Menachem Klein, and I suppose Zachary Lockman’s work too are about those parallel and connecting histories – our network members would no doubt be able to name many more texts on this than I can.

      • I read some of the comments on that facebook page from people who seem to be Arabs in general and Arabs who are descendants of those Arabs who lived in mandatory Palestine (I gather they are Arabs by their names and from what they wrote), and from these comments and other things I read from Arab people commentating on Youtube videos etc. you get the feeling that the descendants of the Palestinian Arabs built a false story about who they are or who were the Arabs in Palestine before 1948.
        Palestine before 1948 was a mixed country, it was not an arab Palestinian country and as I wrote the Arabs in it were greatly influenced by the rich and vibrant culture and various institutes that the Jews in palestine have established in the country since the 1880s and before.
        My impression from their comments was that the story they tell themselves is – look how these Palestinian Arabs used to dress, look at their houses, at their lifesyle etc., that sophisticated and modern and educated population is a reflection of the AUTHENTIC Palestinian heritage. In my opinion this is a false narrative because again, the arab society in Palestine, particularly the minority of it which lived in mixed cities did not develop by itself to be what it was. It was influenced greatly by 2 forces which were not Arab or “Palestinians” – the Zionist Jews and the Brits. And in addition it did not reflect the majority and indeed authentic Arab Palestinian population which was mostly rural and uneducated.

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