by Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi
Memory informs our understanding of the present and defines us as a people. So that the Palestinian memory remains a conscious and living story shared and maintained with pride and confidence we paint here a landscape of Palestine that combines the scenery and the experience. The mountains and valleys, the plains, the river and the sea, the towns, villages and rural areas are all here. But so too are the accounts of what this land has witnessed including the challenges and changes wrought by the invaders, the geography of the occupation, and the division of the land, the siege and the closure.
Maps tell but a piece of the story. The scenery of life in Palestine, the “homeland" and all its meanings and symbols, in terms of identity, culture and civilization is also recorded in novels, poems, editorials and biographies. Here PASSIA has brought together sketches of the lives of Palestinians as a way to record and to reveal and share the collective memory of a people.
Some of those included here are well known figures. Others remained in the shadows even if their names kept appearing in the media.
We did not look for names but examples. Included is the Palestinian who was a pioneer and founder of the Arab Renaissance Movement at the beginning of the 19th Century. So too is the Palestinian who was an active and leading member of the national and the pan-Arab movement in the 20th Century.
Also here is the Palestinian who established the associations and political parties; who organized national conferences to affirm Palestinian identity, consolidate Palestinian "citizenship" and self-determination. Here are the Palestinians who defended the future amid the upsurge of anger and rage and the Great Revolution in the 1930s and 1940s; all those who worked in construction and built Arab states believing in a sense of pan-Arab belonging; who worked in the fields of health, education, engineering and politics; who crossed the threshold of the Arab political system as an effective part of it and succeeded in implanting Palestine in the Arab consciousness
There are also the Palestinians who were transformed into wretched, unemployed refugees, who later became revolutionaries, freedom fighters in the 1960s and 1970s and then led the Intifada from the late 1980s, challenging the “others” for “negotiations towards a two-state solution.”
There are those who became prisoners of war, detainees without recourse to law, prisoners without charge, and those who became fugitives, wounded, and martyred.
These pages also record the unrecorded, the unregistered, the unrecognized Palestinian who has no official birth certificate or standard passport from any government or state with sovereignty; who lived through the large-scale social and physical upheaval on his own land, to end up over the borders somewhere, “hosted” by another state, yet never lost hope in the “right of return” to Palestine and to live in freedom.
Here are the Palestinian who emigrated of their own free will, looking for work or education; or those who were evicted, collectively and individually, as the aggression escalated and because they wanted to survive. There are the Palestinians who carried the documents of others but maintained their identity without fear and kept their “door keys” to their homes in the hope of return.
The Palestinian experience, unparalleled and not well understood, has forced each individual to reaffirm, over and over, his and her presence, prove his and her identity and defend his and her rights. Each was forced to develop the self within the collective identity in spite of, rather than because of, circumstances of division, dispersion and exile.
Thus, as a way to look into and bring alive the Palestinian "memory", we decided at PASSIA to record the biographies of around 1,000 Palestinians from different political eras. They are men and women with special characteristics. They are people who agreed or differed but together form this Palestinian "memory" of the homeland and its identity.
It was not easy to select, gather and study the biographies of so many from 100 years of the Palestinian national movement. However, the task proved to be exciting and enjoyable. These biographies represent a major source for the study and understanding of Palestinian society and its development, but not only for researchers in sociology or political history, also for those interested in the cause of Palestine in the past, the present and the future, and for all those who believe in the justice of that cause.
I personally had the chance to follow with great interest the lives of many of these people. I knew some of them very well and others only from a distance. I consider myself lucky to have been able to study their characters, without passing judgment. I gained information about many of them from the Arab Palestinian library, from political documents, from personal diaries and from direct and indirect personal interviews. Much has also been gained from what was recorded by those of our predecessors who engaged in a similar task, without which our’s could well have become an impossible mission.
It was not difficult to convince others of the importance of recording accurate information on each of the individuals included. The research team at Passia created a standard form that enabled us to record the basic details - the full name, date of birth, education, work history, and main achievements - of each person in chronological order without attempting to highlight the virtues or conceal any negative aspects. The methodology ruled out any possibility of honoring or praising one above another and in the interests of completing the task to schedule brevity was essential.
The result is both a feast of information and a valuable record. It has been a collective endeavor and the whole team at PASSIA deserves recognition for their hard work and commitment, in particular researcher Ms. Elise Aghazarian for her devotion and intellectual input, which I deeply value, and Mr. Mahmoud Abu Rmeileh, who superbly handled the tasks of image archiving, layout, and design.
Two final points: I extend my deepest apologies for any unintentional mistake that might appear. This was a monumental effort and I hope we shall be able to produce a second edition to correct whatever errors or remedy omissions occurred in this the first edition.
My thanks go to the Japanese Representative Office in the West Bank and the Japanese Embassy in Tel Aviv for their contribution through the UNDP offices in Jerusalem, which ensured that this project became a reality and which allowed for the printing of the first edition (2005). Many thanks go also to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in Jerusalem, whose support for the printing of the second edition (2006) is highly appreciated.