Remembering Service: UNRWA in Gaza

29 November 2013

In 1974, George Nehmeh took a picture of an UNRWA doctor in Khan Younis treating a baby who was near death from dehydration. That picture, like the others Nehmeh took in decades of work as an UNRWA photographer and filmmaker, forms part of the Agency's historic audiovisual collection, a trove of more than half a million photographers and over a thousand hours of footage on film and old video cassettes. 

Largely created by Nehmeh and other UNRWA photographers, this archive, stretching from the aftermath of the Nakba in 1948 to the present day, forms the collective memory of Palestine refugees. UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi has thanked Nehmeh, who worked for UNRWA from 1960 to 1996, for his contribution to the digitatzion of that archive. 'The Long Journey', an exhibition unveiling the newly digitized archive, opens on Thursday 28 November at 6 p.m. at the Al-Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, in the Old City of Jerusalem. 

In the autumn of 2013, Nehmeh visited Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, meeting with people he had photographed during his career with UNRWA. This gave him the chance to return to Gaza for the first time in 20 years. In Khan Younis, he brought that now-retired UNRWA doctor together for an emotional reunion with the dehydrated baby in that picture - now a 40-year-old man with five children of his own. 

On a visit marked by dramatic changes - such as those at the Erez crossing, as well as happier ones, such as the digitization of the archives underway at UNRWA Headquarters - Nehmeh's photographs and the rest of the archive form an important reminder of the continuity and the history of Palestine refugees.