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Historical Palestinian Photographs by Hanna Safief

American Premier of Historical Palestinian Photographs by Hanna Safieh on Display during Palestinian Film Festival October 1 - 3

By Genevieve Cora Fraser

The work of Hanna Safieh, a Jerusalem landscape and ethnographic photographer whose pioneering work illustrated the life of Palestinians from the British Mandate (1917-1948) to Israeli occupation (from 1967) will be on display for the first time in America. The exhibit will be presented in conjunction with a three day international festival of award-winning films depicting the lives of ordinary Palestinians. "Aqoolu Lakum - Let Me Tell You: The Western Massachusetts Palestinian Film Festival" will take place on October 1-3 in Northampton on the campus of Smith College and at the Media Education Foundation, at the Martin Luther King Center in Springfield and at the Holyoke Public Library.

"Although photography arrived in Palestine only a few months after Daguerre officially publicized his invention, it did not become a profession practiced by Palestinians until the last two decades or so of the nineteenth century," according to Issam Nassar, author of A Jerusalem Photographer: The Life and Work of Hanna Safieh. "Born in 1910 to a Palestinian Arab family from Jerusalem, Hanna Safieh was one of the few Palestinians at the time to take up photography as a profession. Safieh saw his country ruled by many conquerors. At the time of his birth, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire; he subsequently saw it fall under British rule, Jordanian rule, and Israeli occupation." Safieh's photographs were published abroad in a number of newspapers and journals. "The National Geographic Magazine, the Readers Digest, the London News and the Associated Press Services were among his many customers," Nassar stated. "A photograph that he took in the 1930s even made it to the British Parliament. It showed a group of Palestinian women in a demonstration near the New Gate of the Old City, taking off their shoes to fend against the British troops who were trying to stop them. Following the publication of the photograph in question, the Parliament ordered an investigation into the entire affair."

"Looking for Palestine: Historical Images by Hanna Safieh" will be displayed as a series of images projected at deliberately paced intervals, according to exhibition organizers John Fiscella and Anna Sloan. "Presented as such, the exhibition will ask viewers to engage in a protracted act of exploration, drawing the photographs into conversation with filmic images presented concurrently in the festival and with individual dreams and memories of the landscape." The exhibit, which was developed in cooperation with Raffi Safieh-Garabedian, Bared Safieh-Garabedian, Lucien Samaha and the Arab Image Foundation, Nigol Bezjian, Issam Nassar, and Barbara Latttanzi, will be on display at Smith College, Northampton at the Oresman Gallery, located outside of Graham Hall in the Brown Fine Arts Center.

In addition to the Safieh exhibit, "Aqoolu Lakum - Let Me Tell You" will feature twenty-six films, a mix of feature length, shorts, documentaries and fiction films made primarily by Palestinian filmmakers with a small number made by Israelis and other international directors. The festival will also include panel discussions and audience dialogue sessions chaired and presented by experts, filmmakers and activists who work for Middle East peace with justice.

The films include "The Tale of Three Jewels," winner of the 1995 Golden Butterfly Award at Cannes, "Divine Intervention," winner of the 2002 Jury Prize at Cannes, "Rana's Wedding," an Official Selection of the 2002 Cannes Festival and winner of the 2003 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, "Four Songs for Palestine," competition selection at the 2001 Winterthur Short Film Festival, "Children of Fire," winner of the Award of Public at the 1990 Freminin Pluriel Festival, and "The Dupes," one of the first Arab films to address the Palestinian predicament.

The festival organizers are a diverse group of Western Massachusetts residents concerned with the situation in Israel and Palestine. They include Jews, Christians and Muslims; Americans, Arabs and Israelis; students and teachers; activists, artists, social workers and scholars. "We want to tell human stories, to show how the tragic situation in Israel/Palestine affects children, women, families," festival spokesperson Lisa Lieberman explained. "Most of what we hear about Palestinians on the news is about radical extremists and suicide bombers. This is not an accurate picture."

"Aqoolu Lakum - Let Me Tell You: The Western Massachusetts Palestinian Film Festival" is free and open to the public. For further information, please visit the website:

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