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In Photos:
UNRWA digitizes Palestinian refugee experience

Nov. 29, 2013 8:00 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 6, 2014 9:37 A.M.)

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees this week unveiled a newly digitized archive documenting the mass displacement of Palestinians from 1948 to the present day.

The archive consists of over half a million negatives, prints, slides, films and videocassettes, covering all aspects of the lives and history of Palestinian refugees since 1948, UNRWA said in a statement.

The first group of photographs were shown on Thursday in an exhibition entitled "The Long Journey" at the Al-Ma'mel Center in East Jerusalem's Old City.

(All photos taken by George Nehmeh/UNRWA.)

"Collective memory is a vital element of communal identity and this rich archive documents one element of Palestinian identity, the refugee experience," UNRWA's Commissioner General, Filippo Grandi, said.

"But for us it was an urgent technical matter as we needed to do something with our rich collection that was literally decaying. Digitization was the only option for preservation and I am grateful to the Welfare Association, Bank of Palestine, PADICO, Wataniyah and PalTel as well as to the Governments of France and Denmark for making this possible."

George Nehmeh, one of UNRWA's leading early photographers, made a short documentary on the digitization process and revisited people and sites he photographed.

"Through over six decades, in times of war and peace, through hope and despair, UNRWA’s photographers were there to capture individual emotions and communal dynamics. Each frame is a snapshot of a history that is indelibly part of the Middle East."

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Ma'an that the message of the exihbition was clear: "This is a population who exist, who have a history and is deserving of a future in which they and their children can live in dignity and enjoy full rights."

"At the moment, many are trying to airbrush Palestinian refugees out of the narrative. But the fact that this archive is digitized and in a sense indestructible, means that this narrative is now indelibly part of the intellectual landscape of the Middle East."

1,948 images are available to media, academics, and writers on a newly launched website.

More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants -- were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict surrounding Israel's creation in 1948.

They have been prevented from returning ever since.

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