British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library

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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:

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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

3,000 photos of Middle East from 1867-1914 now online

Stereoscopic view of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem.

Stereoscopic view of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem.

The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) has recently digitised 3,000 photographs of the Middle East from the Maison Bonfils collection, dating from 1867-1914.

The collection includes many images of Jerusalem and Palestine, including the photograph of Al-Aqsa Mosque featured above.

As the project overview explains, these photographs are a small selection from a vast archive of 40,000 photographs produced by the French Bonfils family, who in 1867 established the first photographic studio in Beirut, which they named ‘Maison Bonfils’.

The archive is currently under threat, given that it is not housed in an institution which will secure its future, while its contents are not catalogued, and difficult to navigate.

The creation of a database of the photographs by the EAP will provide a useful resource for scholars, while preserving this valuable heritage from the Ottoman Middle East. It’s also a fascinating archive to browse through, for a glimpse of a familiar region at a very different time.

Via Cathy Collins of the EAP, on Twitter.