Palestine Diary - Najib Joe Hakim

PALESTINE DIARY, 1978-1979

"But, once the realization is accepted that, even between the closest human beings, infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!" --- Rainer Maria Rilke

It may seem odd to return to a place one has never been. But as a Palestinian, that is exactly the feeling I had when I “returned” to Palestine in 1978 as a recent college graduate. That was just five years after discovering I was Palestinian.

I applied to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Foreign Student program and they accepted me on the basis of my straightforward premise: “My background is Palestinian Arab… My objective in going to Israel is to observe the Middle East situation from the Israeli perspective.” I went with high hopes and bags full of naiveté.

My parents were not pleased. As my uncle pointedly asked, “Do you think you are going there to play Kissinger?” The little stone that I was caused hardly a ripple in the scheme of things – large or small. Neither at the time nor afterwards. I believe not one of the Israelis I spoke with, got to know, or befriended went on to be a “mensch” towards Palestinians. But I got to sink roots into the country, connected with family never before known, and earned the right to become a player in whatever way I could.

The photographs in this exhibition were taken with the purpose that most pictures are made – to remember and to tell a story. In that respect, they present my personal relationship to the places and people I connected with. I traveled the country from top to bottom, east to west. Learned sufficient Hebrew and Arabic to get into and out of jams.

Unlike the fog of memory, these images feel to me solid like stone, and lay a good foundation on which to stake my memories. Although the images may appear timeless, from another era, they are not nostalgic. Most make declarative statements or ask poignant questions. Today they help me re-connect with the most pivotal part of my life. But they are more than just about me. They also show Israelis and Palestinians on the ground, beneath the big headlines of the day: Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, the Camp David Accords, the origins of the Israeli settler movement and of course, the Iranian Revolution.

The captions that accompany these photographs are excerpted from a journal I kept at the time. When I read the journal recently, it felt like letters that I had written to my future self, were just delivered. The captions are edited mainly for clarity, succinctness, and to veil some of my more embarrassing naiveties. They do share some insights that have held up over the decades. Most relate only tangentially to their associated photograph.

My work over the last ten years has focused primarily on remembering and documenting. Both are part of the Palestinian struggle to regain control of our own narrative. They are my humble weapons to counter the accelerating genocide waged against the people of Palestine by asserting our vital existence and by steadfastly resisting our erasure.

Would the Hebrew University accept me today as they did in 1978? Sadly, I think not. Would I today, under current circumstances, do what I did 40 years ago? Frankly, I would find it much more personally difficult to do it today. On the other hand, it’s never been more important to take that kind of leap.



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