Jerusalem24 – Lives, properties, futures, freedoms, geographical spaces. All of these things and others were lost to Palestinians in the Nakba of 1948.
It might be a challenge to visually render the scope of this collective loss – but this is a challenge to which Ahmad Al-Bazz has risen to in a powerful way.
Al-Bazz, an independent journalist, photojournalist, and documentary filmmaker based in Palestine, has taken to documenting the remnants that stand as witness and evidence to the existence of the almost half of native Palestinian towns that were disappeared and erased, either during or in the years since the creation of Israel.
He has made the resulting project, Nakba 75: A Photographic documentation of depopulated Palestinian villages, available for all to share and disseminate.
He has exhibited the works himself in 18 refugee camps across the occupied West Bank. Some friends have already promised to also arrange exhibitions in camps in Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.
“Two years ago, I started touring, which was mainly to educate myself,” Al-Bazz tells Jerusalem24. “I ended up having a lot of photos that I like to share with people.”
But the project wasn’t borne simply out of an abundance of photographs: Al-Bazz’s mother is from the depopulated town of Beisan in the Jordan Valley, which was erased from the map in 1948.
And so Al-Bazz began compiling his work, transforming it into something more than a simple collection – “especially when I realized that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Nakba.”
In 2020, Al-Bazz visited visited for the first time a depopulated village, and decided to start systematically touring these lost locations.
“It has been a dream for me to move within the ’48 lands [Israel as it is known to Palestinians]. I’m a traveler myself and I managed to travel outside of Palestine. So why do I travel around the world and not in my own country?”
“It’s like an addiction,” he adds. “Once you visit one village, you want to see them all. Everywhere you learn something new. Everywhere you feel an interesting story and case.”
Al-Bazz describes the multiple challenges involved in reaching some of his 500 destinations: “The journey is not easy. You are not allowed to drive as a Palestinian to get there; you have to go through multiple checkpoints and transportation… Many of these places are located in the middle of nowhere.”
“For a Palestinian to get that permit [into Israel] you need to be eligible. How do you become eligible? It could be by a hospital permit to go to hospital appointment, or as a worker in a settlement,” he enumerates. “I got it based on a contract for NGOs.”
And there were challenges of another nature as well. Documenting these aspects and outcomes of the Nakba, and experiencing them in part himself, has left Al-Bazz reflecting on the ongoing nature of the catastrophe. “[There are] zero Palestinians living there. Their residents [are] living in refugee camps. It’s really hard.”
And there is the further, compounding emotional toll of the tragedy not even being acknowledged by many. “Some [Israeli] settlers don’t even know the meaning of depopulated villages or the concept of it.”
“I am not someone who is interested in teaching these people, because we live in 2023. They can just use google.”
But the breadth of his project, and the pains to which he went to make his high-quality photographs available for anyone anywhere to download, print, and exhibit, belies his professed lack of patience in “educating” people.
Each photograph is individually captioned in both Arabic and English.
First and foremost, however, Al-Bazz wanted to prioritize reaching the refugees who were expelled from the towns in his photographs.
“I wanted to put these photos in their spaces, especially for the young generation,” he says. “Now we have the fourth generation of Al-Nakba: we’re talking about kids who have never been to their villages.”
Al-Bazz rejoices in the fact that he is not alone is his effort of documentation and, ultimately, remembrance. “The fact that there are many people who still visit these villages is a really good thing. You feel like you are not alone, there are other people interested in the same field, people who are trying to do their best.”
And for him, “maybe that was the only source of hope within these depopulated spaces.”
Listen to the full interview on Vibes.