During the 1947-1949 war for Palestine (al-Nakba), Zionist military forces managed to expel the vast majority of Palestinians (roughly 28,000) who lived in West Jerusalem (or what became West Jerusalem after the war).

There were approximately forty Palestinian villages and hamlets in the (West) Jerusalem sub-district, prior to the war. Only two, Beit Safafa and Abu Ghosh, were spared total eviction. As for the Palestinians who lived in the more affluent suburbs and quarters of West Jerusalem, only a few hundred people managed to remain in their homes.

Historical narratives on the development of West Jerusalem and the “New City” (Jerusalem outside the Old City walls) from the mid-nineteenth century onwards tend to privilege the efforts and activities of European Jewish immigrants. But, Palestinians (Arab, Greek, and Armenian) built and lived in some of West Jerusalem’s more prominent neighborhoods, such as Talbiya, Baq‘a, Musrara, Qatamon, the Greek Colony, and Mamillah.

Jerusalem, We Are Here is an interactive documentary that attempts to “bring to life” the city’s pre-1948 (Palestinian) history. It does so by exploring one neighborhood, Qatamon, through the memories of former residents and their descendants. The documentary is made up of a series of short films and audio snippets embedded into a virtual walking tour. It also includes photos, documents, video clips, and an interactive map (or counter-map) retracing the material and social history of pre-1948 Qatamon.

Qatamon, a residential area just west of the German Colony, was a “quintessential” Arab middle class neighborhood that embodied the sweeping social and political changes of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. By the 1930s, it was an affluent, predominately Christian-Palestinian neighborhood with well over one hundred buildings, including hotels, the Iraqi Consulate, the Egyptian Embassy, and the mayoral residence of Mustafa al-Khalidi, who served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1938-1944. Qatamon fell to Zionist forces in the spring of 1948. The properties were subsequently expropriated by the state and re-populated with Israeli Jews.

The documentary was directed and developed by Dorit Naaman, an associate professor of film and media studies at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario), with the help of her colleagues, Anwar Ben Badis and Mona Halaby. The purpose of the film is to “uncover the lost stories” of Qatamon and give a voice to expelled families. The idea is not, however, simply to conjure up the ghosts of the past, but to use the past to challenge contemporary injustices and “gesture towards the future.” It is hoped by all those involved in the project that a “digital” return to Qatamon will forge a path for physical return and reclamation of the expelled Palestinian population.

Jerusalem, We Are Here had its Canadian premiere in November 2016. It is premiering in select cities in the United States over the next several months.

The interactive documentary can be seen and explored here.

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