By Marina Parisinou
In 2007 Dorit Naaman, a Jewish Israeli film theorist and documentarist teaching at Queen’s University in Canada, rented an apartment in Qatamon for her six-month sabbatical. As she walked around the neighborhood, she wondered where all the houses she had read about in Ghada Karmi’s memoir, In Search of Fatima, might be. The answer came in another memoir, Hala Sakakini’s Jerusalem and I, and specifically in the hand-drawn map folded inside the book, showing the names Hala recalled.
“With map in hand, and a few more memoirs read, my vision of the neighborhood shifted. I would imagine recent building additions and temporary structures removed and I could name the people whose gardens and houses I was walking by,” she wrote.
Thus, the idea was born to find the residents of Qatamon and their descendants and make short films about their homes. Dorit’s initial plan was to project the films on the corresponding houses. But the people she met along the way and her experiences with them led her through a circuitous journey to a different destination altogether.
Her collaboration with the various participants produced short films, each telling a story from a different perspective, all of them filled with nostalgia, and eventually embedded into three virtual tours. An incident while filming with Nahla Assali (see Assali on the Red tour) made Dorit realize that for the project to be accessible to all Palestinians, wherever they may be, it needed to be online instead. My own participation in the project resulted not only in a tour stop at my grandfather’s house (see Kassotis on the Yellow tour) but also in the only archival film the project has – that of my great-uncle Nando Schtakleff. Nando, a film buff, owned the Regent Cinema in the German Colony in the 1940s. The Regent became the starting point of all three tours of the project.
When Dorit met Mona Halaby, a Palestinian-American amateur social historian, she was impressed not only by her knowledge but particularly by the Google map on which Mona tracked Jerusalemites’ houses. This inspired Dorit to incorporate an interactive map in the project (Remapping Jerusalem) in which all of Mona’s knowledge would be captured along with that of Anwar Ben Badis, a Palestinian intellectual, Arabic teacher, and researcher of Jerusalem’s Palestinian past who lives and leads tours in Jerusalem. The map is a living document. It is an ongoing organic collaboration with community members who contribute photographs, documents, and memories – or reach out for help in locating their families’ houses. It has grown to cover most of the neighborhoods of what today is known as West Jerusalem, and is poised to expand even further.
And so Jerusalem, We Are Here (JWRH) was launched in November 2016 as an interactive documentary that digitally brings Palestinians back to the Jerusalem neighborhoods from which they were expelled in 1948. It is essentially a register of Jerusalemites’ homes and an archive of their pre-Nakba stories.
JWRH has been presented in over 30 festivals, conferences, and other public and private fora. On the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, it was screened in the Regent Cinema itself (today’s Lev Smadar). It has won a couple of awards and has been mentioned in several academic works and other media.
But more importantly, it continues to gather and tell stories, to educate and inform, and to keep memories alive for generations to come.
To experience the stories of JWRH, take a tour – in English or Arabic – at JerusalemWeAreHere.com or explore the ever-expanding map at map.JerusalemWeAreHere.com. And if you can identify a house on the map or can share photos, or audio or video recordings, click on the link of the house in question to send them to us. For more information on the project, visit info.JerusalemWeAreHere.com.