Identity and Memory

Intergenerational conversations, art, photography, and writings reveal how memory shapes the contemporary identity of Gaza's residents.

World Like Cage (2008) by Mohamed AbusalThe Barakat Trust

World Like Cage

Identity is often defined by politics, as evidenced by Mohamed Abusal's sculpture pictured here. It speaks to his experience of the world: as a thorny, hollow cage. 

War as Memory

Constructed with grapevines, which are native to the land in Gaza, this sculpture suggests that land shapes consciousness. The contestation over food, land, and heritage of Israel-Palestine is both a cause and effect of the ongoing violence in the region.

My Studio in War (2009) by Mohammed MusallamThe Barakat Trust

Ahmad Al-Za’Tar by Mahmoud Darwish

"...He seeks an identity and is struck by the volcano
The clouds are gone and have left me homeless, and
The mountains have flung their mantles and concealed me
I am Ahmad the Arab, he said
I am the bullets, the oranges and the memory."

Police patting down Arabs (1936-1937) by John D. WhitingThe Barakat Trust

Resistance to Imprisonment

Ahmed Alhaaj, a steadfast communist, was arrested twice by the Egyptian forces in the United Arab Republic in the 1950's, who controlled Gaza at the time. He describes resistance as the basis of identity.

Ahmed Alhaaj, Retired English Literature Professor at Islamic University
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“I resisted. I always preferred to die under interrogation – suffering, beatings, and so on – and not to confess and be sentenced with long-term imprisonment. This was always the preferable choice of being in such cases. For this reason, I was released to be captured again."

The Magic Box (2004) by Mohamed AbusalThe Barakat Trust

This piece by Mohamed Abusal also displays a kind of cage. Among the Palestinian diaspora, keys are a common symbol of the hope to return to one's family home. For those displaced into Gaza in 1948, this possibility is suspended in space and time, trapped in memory. 

Priest from Jaffa baptizes Djeghalian Family (1967) by Avedis DjeghalianThe Barakat Trust

Avedis Djeghalian, On Photography
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Photography as Memory

Avedis Djeghalian, the son of the famous Armenian-Gazan photographer Kegham, speaks about his family's photo studio in 20th-century Gaza. Photography, he says, is how we record history and identity.

Avedis Djeghalian's Mother Teaches Armenian (1967) by Avedis DjeghalianThe Barakat Trust

Avedis Djeghalian, Kegham's Studio
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Hear Avedis describe the community of Armenian-Gazan photographers in Gaza between 1956 and 1966. His father's shop had darkrooms on the second floor.

Nowar (2006) by Mohamed AbusalThe Barakat Trust

Yousef Aljamal, PhD candidate and Journalist
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Language as Memory

Though a picture speaks a thousand words, a thousand words can also be spoken of one phrase. Language carries history. Yousef Aljamal talks about the Gazan colloquialism "salib al saleeb,"  which originated during an ancient olive harvest.

Palestinian Pearls (2012) by Mohammed MusallamThe Barakat Trust

Because olive trees take a long time to grow, Palestinian artists often portray olives as a symbol of nationalism and connection to the land. Mohammed Musallam's work entitled Palestinian Pearls playfully evokes this by displaying olives as jewelry.

Fishermen on Gaza coast with women strolling (1936-1937) by John D. WhitingThe Barakat Trust

Yousef Aljamal, PhD candidate and Journalist
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Yousef Aljamal discusses how Israelis perceive Gaza negatively. The Hebrew slang for "go to hell" is "go to Gaza." 

Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, April 17th (2020) by Mohammed MusallamThe Barakat Trust

Hanan Habashi, Writer and Teacher in Gaza

"Writing about wars is a betrayal. You betray your indescribable feelings with impotent words. No word can ever grasp the meaning of living under the burden of losing a loved one. No word can tell the world how it feels to replace your heartbeats with uninterrupted explosions..."


"Language is a lie. It can't understand what it feels like to go through the faces of unidentified martyrs-- to force yourself to stare at exploded brains just to assure yourself that this is no one you've ever smiled at. Language is a fraud. I'm never betraying my pain again."

A Narrative Story of an Old Trip (frame #7) (2014) by Mohamed AbusalThe Barakat Trust

Narratives as Memory

This work by Mohamed Abusal is a narrative about the inability for Gazan citizens to travel. His series of photographs shows a toy car, towering with luggage. Because it is surrounded by fences, the car remains stationary. 

Rawan Yaghi, Journalist
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Because Israel is between the two Palestinian land masses – Gaza and the West Bank – there are numerous checkpoints between them. Rawan Yaghi, a journalist, discusses her disbelief that, according to oral narrative, porous borders existed only one generation ago.

A Narrative Story of an Old Trip (frame #8) (2014) by Mohamed AbusalThe Barakat Trust

Yousef Aljamal, PhD candidate and Journalist
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For young Gazans who grew up under the blockade, hearing the stories of their elders about traveling to other parts of Palestine feels like mythology.

Live sculpting of Arab man (1936-1937) by John D. WhitingThe Barakat Trust

As the heritage of Gaza shows, identity is often shaped by politics and by outsiders: Eastern traveling merchants, Western immigrants, and global Islamic empires. Now, the Gazan sense of self is warped through a lense entrapment: an inability to interact with the outside world. 

Credits: Story

Compiled by Leena Ghannam. The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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