Mayar Sami

Introduction to the project

Quoting Mr. Hamza AlAqrabawi: “I am not a storyteller, I just love to talk, and if I talk, I don’t stop.”.Storytelling and stories have historical importance in Palestinian social gatherings.
The Untold Palestine Project is a digital platform for Palestinian stories in a visual and tangible way that is more than just readable. We believe that every story has its heroes and heroines. Our main goal is to tell stories in a way that expresses the spirit of the heroes of the stories, their lives, and what they face.
Usually, Palestinian photographers and journalists' work is at its peak during painful political events, especially the stories that spread during aggressions on the Gaza Strip. Thus, the photographer's income depends on foreign agencies that are only interested in pictures of suffering.
We try to create a space to tell the untold stories of ordinary people during the days we try and pretend to be ordinary. Stories of work, food, and family. What they have in common is the daily challenges Palestinians face, both men and women, with situations and everyday events that seem outwardly normal. We tell the stories of the Palestinians wherever they are, on the lands of Palestine or the diaspora, in the East and West. We work with a network of male and female photographers around the world.
Our project is not just photographed stories, we try to understand the heroes and heroines of the stories in their own language, our stories are filled with the pronoun "I". We believe that the protagonist of the story is the only person that can express it in the best way possible.

The importance of stories for generations

We believe that this time and this period of time is our last chance to preserve the features of the generations before us, our ancestors who lived through the Nakba and the Naksa, and for this we try to collect the largest number of stories, especially the pictures that preserve the features of our ancestors, hoping that it will form an easily accessible archive available to all, to form a collective memory for generations. A memory that is based on the only true narrative and in the first person pronunciation: that is, in the language of the story’s protagonists themselves, me and us.

In the words of writer Salman Mansour, "If we lose memory, we will be eaten by hyenas." Believing in the saying, we launched an exhibition material under the title “March of Return”. This exhibition is a collection of photos of men and women who lived through the displacement of the Nakba. We picture them as an attempt to race against time before their features disappear from this earth. They are the ones who lived through displacement and uprooting from their lands. We bring them together in one picture with their descendants to prove that generations do not forget. The new generations are witness to the original narrative that colonialism is trying to erase.

Palestine as a tourist destination

When we talk about tourism, it is important to pay attention and take into account internal tourism. There are many Palestinian areas whose names we do not even hear about and we do not know any information about. It is important to share the stories of these areas, when were they displaced? Who are the original families of this region?
We lose land when we forget it, and it becomes easier to steal it because it is no longer in our memory and in our everyday language. It is important to know that spreading the stories of the forgotten areas is an essential and important part of opening the door of curiosity to visitors. In 2019, the Wadi Qana area was threatened with confiscation. A youth group worked on a digital campaign and a campaign of frequent visits to the valley, although the visits were dangerous, with the increasing circulation of the valley’s story everywhere, people’s curiosity increased, which increased the number of visitors. Visits were organized for large groups, to learn the story of the valley, to learn about it and its beauty, to meet with the ten families residing in the valley, to get to know them and their lives, and to publish their stories and pictures on social media. After much effort, the confiscation decision was postponed. This group was able to regain even a small part of its possession of this land after its story was circulated. This is a vivid example of the saying circulated by the Tijwal Safar group, "Roam the land, you own it."

Practical Work

In Untold Palestine, we try to practice the same principle. We noticed that the old crafts that still existed in the old towns of the cities began to weaken after factories dominated them. Despite this, the owners of these crafts and professions are still clinging to their old shops and tools and to this ancient heritage, although it is impossible for these professions to provide them with sufficient financial income. For this reason, in the Unrold Palestine Project, we organize tours that we call "Photo-walks", whose main objective is to visit the old town of a particular city, under the guidance of a photographer who is originally from the same city. To take us with them to visit the old artisans, to hear their story from them, to try to support them economically, to take pictures of them that tell the stories of their wrinkles, in an attempt to support them in their adherence to their beautiful heritage that is full of warm colors.

Stories and collective culture

We have noticed the impact of stories in promoting collective culture and a sense of community. We often publish stories that contain cases that need help, and every time we receive messages requesting ways to communicate with the heroes of these stories to provide them with whatever is needed.
Believing in the importance of stories in the Palestinian collective consciousness and our attempts to encourage people to archive the present, which will become history in the coming years, we are also working on face-to-face and electronic courses and training on how to move the story from a text to an image, to let the features of the face and the warmth of the place tell its own story. Our motto is to tell the untold. Our way to own the land is through stories.

Recommendation Concerning International Solidarity

As for international solidarity, we need to know that we do not need to tell our story in any other way or mold it in molds that fit the standards of the international community in order to gain sympathy and solidarity. Solidarity must be unconditional, and we must tell our stories as they are, with good and bad, and in our own language. We convey our experience as it is and with its true feeling because we only narrate the correct story.
One of the challenges that our photographers face in the field is that the heroes of the stories do not believe in their story, and that it does not contain information that is important enough to be published. Sayings such as “Who am I for my story to spread and be photographed?” But we believe that these images and stories are important individually, and that in the coming years, they will serve as documentation of today and yesterday. The day that passes so quickly that we do not pay attention to its small details will be a history that will not be forgotten.

Final recommendations

- Participate in tours as much as possible, get to know the regions and tell their stories.
- Archiving and photographing our grandparents and their stories, and trying to record their stories as audio records to form documentation of the past.
- Reading history and hearing stories from historians and storytellers.
- All photography enthusiasts can submit photos, stories, films, and articles for our project through all our social media platforms or on our website. We will then contact the applicant to discuss further collaboration.