‘The Long Journey’: Digitizing the Palestine Refugee Experience

28 November 2013
‘The Long Journey’: Digitizing the Palestine Refugee Experience

East Jerusalem 

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is proud to unveil the first part of its newly digitized archive, which consists of over half a million negatives, prints, slides, films and videocassettes covering all aspects of the life and history of Palestine refugees from 1948 to the present day. 

The first group of iconic photographs and films are part of an exhibition, ‘The Long Journey’, which opens on 28 November at the Al-Ma’mal Centre in the Old City of Jerusalem. The archive was inscribed on the UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ register, which includes collections of outstanding cultural and historical significance.

Describing the exhibition, UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi said: “Collective memory is a vital element of communal identity and this rich archive documents one element of Palestinian identity, the refugee experience. But for us it was an urgent technical matter, as we needed to do something with our rich collection, which was literally decaying. Digitization was the only option for preservation and I am grateful to the Welfare Association, Bank of Palestine, PADICO, Wataniya and PalTel, as well as to the Governments of France and Denmark, for making this possible.”

One of the Agency’s leading early photographers, George Nehmeh, played a large part in the preparation for this ambitious project. In a short documentary made on the digitization, he revisits people and sites he had before his camera in his 40 years with UNRWA. “Through over six decades, in times of war and peace, through hope and despair, UNRWA photographers were there to capture individual emotions and communal dynamics. Each frame is a snapshot of a history that is indelibly part of the Middle East”, Mr. Nehmeh said. 

Once the exhibition closes at the Al-Ma’mal Centre, on 28 January 2014, it will go on tour to key cities in UNRWA areas of operations - the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, when the situation there allows. It will simultaneously tour centres of culture and politics in Europe and North America.

In tandem with the digitized archive, UNRWA is also launching a website, http://archive.unrwa.org/, where the 1,948 images will be available to media, academics, writers and others who wish to study, explore or just have a window into the world of Palestine refugees from 1948 to the present day. 

UNRWA produced a series of short videos specially for the UNRWA Archive digitization project. The videos feature examples of the work of George Nehmeh, one of UNRWA’s leading early photographers. Click here to watch the videos 

For broadcast-quality versions of the following films, please contact Johan Eriksson @ j.eriksson@unrwa.org 

Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 70.5 million.

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 240 2659
Office: 
+972 (0)2 589 0267
Sami Mshasha
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 216 8295
Office: 
+972 (0)2 589 0724

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