A New Exhibit Displays Some of the Oldest Extant Photographs of Jerusalem

Feb. 14 2019

A recently opened exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art features the daguerreotypes of Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, a Frenchman who spent three years traveling around the Near East using the new technology to take pictures. Among them are twelve photographs of Jerusalem. Karen Chernick writes:

Girault de Prangey began his journey in Rome and crisscrossed the Mediterranean coastline before arriving in Jerusalem on May 21, 1844—two months later than he had hoped, having originally planned to be there for Easter celebrations. When he finally reached the Old City, he captured a comprehensive tourist checklist: panoramic views of the walled ramparts, the Damascus and Lion gates, the Pool of Bethesda, the Dome of the Rock, the churches of the Holy Sepulcher and Nativity, the Moroccan Quarter, Robinson’s Arch, and the tombs in the Valley of Josaphat outside Jerusalem. . . .

Girault de Prangey wasn’t the first photographer to bring a camera and light-sensitized plates to Jerusalem; photography came to Ottoman-ruled Palestine the year it was invented, in 1839. For centuries, European artists had painted the ancient hilltop city in countless religious artworks without ever having seen it. As soon as Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre released his eponymous new mode of image production in 1839, European photographers flooded the region to capture it and bring their records home. . . .

Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet used the new technology to create the first photographs of Jerusalem in early November 1839, just three months after the announcement of the daguerreotype. He was quickly followed by Pierre-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière, who photographed Jerusalem in February 1840.

These early photographs were used as source material for European book illustrators, but most survive now only in their translated medium as etched engravings. Only Girault de Prangey’s daguerreotypes, which he stored meticulously in custom-made wooden boxes, have survived.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Arts & Culture, Jerusalem, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photography

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat