A stirring Nakba photo of a raw, faceless man

(Updated; special thanks to Yazeed Ibrahim) There is something about this photograph that makes it difficult to look without wondering. The context surrounding the scene is tremendously vague yet it imparts a powerful message. Humans all fall, but some meet the earth right where it was once stolen from them. It’s twisted, almost.

I found this photograph by accident. I don’t even remember where or how but I do remember immediately saving it, renaming it, and putting it in a special folder. Since then, I’ve spent many long moments staring at it, sometimes even trying to read beyond the raw physical image of the faceless man.

I know that it has something to do with the Nakba but I can’t be sure how exactly it relates. Aside from the fact that I wish to share with you what has ultimately become my favorite still image of all time, I’m hoping someone would be able to explain it.

I speculate that the man is grieving over a refugee who was among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forcefully expelled from their homes in 1947 and 1948. If you look closely, the gravestone to the left says “1990” and the one to the right says “1975”, so it is clear that the photograph had to have been taken in the year 1990 or later. The gravestone to the right also bears the name “Ramla”, a city ethnically cleansed by Israeli paramilitary units in the late 1940s and transferred to Jewish authority in early 1949. It is likely that this cemetery is the final resting place for Palestinian refugees and that this grieving man has returned to pay his respects to an individual who couldn’t escape the horrific consequences of the Nakba.

Even though I can’t determine the entire story behind the photograph, I feel guilty that it even exists, that at one point in time, a photographer happened to be standing in the right place and the right time, poised with a camera and ready to capture without color one of history’s greatest misdeeds. I want this to be framed and sent to every royal British court so that the British may remember the role their government played in snatching the land from right underneath the Palestinian people, from right under the feet of the grieving man. I also want this photograph framed for myself to remind me that grief is natural and expected, but not when it’s over stolen livelihood and stolen land.

The photograph really does say very little. I can’t wrap my head around its aesthetic appearance or what I imagine to be the thoughts running through the photographer’s mind as he aimed his camera, focused, and shot. Still, it gets you thinking, even feeling.

Sami Kishawi

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