Dubai: A UAE-based filmmaker and professor of media has embarked on a project aimed at preserving Palestinian culture by filming interactive stories of elderly Palestinians who speak about their lives in Palestine before the Nakba.
The Nakba, in 1948, occurred when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled or fled from their homes when the state of Israel was created on their land.
Suhail Dahdal, himself a Palestinian, wanted to find a way to collect their stories in order to document Palestine’s oral history before they disappear forever.
In the collection of stories entitled, Kan Yama Kan, or Once Upon A Time, the subjects talk of a land where people lived in harmony regardless of religion or ethnicity.
“This is the last generation of Palestinians to have lived a peaceful life, therefore, it is a critical to capture these stories before they are lost forever,” the American University of Sharjah professor told Gulf News.
“It is also a very Palestinian practice to tell stories,” he added with a smirk.
This is the last generation of Palestinians to have lived a peaceful life, therefore, it is a critical to capture these stories before they are lost forever.”
- Suhail Dahdal | Professor at the American University of Sharjah
Dahdal has 25 years of experience in digital and interactive media with over 10 award-winning projects under his belt.
Fifteen years ago, he was running a summer camp for children in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
At the camp, children were able to interact with elders who shared stories about their life before the creation of Israel.
“This experience stuck with me and made me realise the importance of connecting the youth with their history,” he says.
He laments that children today are often too immersed in social media to care about hearing stories of the past from family members.
In 2017, Dahdal was able to start filming the Kan Yama Kan project after years of preparations.
In order to put together the perfect team he had advertised about his project in both Palestine and the AUS campus.
Out of 400 applicants only 20 of the best and brightest students were selected.
Dahdal personally trained the students in the art of documentary filmmaking and digital storytelling during a one week course in a Palestinian village just outside of Ramallah.
“The training really boosted their confidence and empowered them to really take ownership of the filming process,” he says.
At first, most of the footage was shot on mobile phones, due to budget constraints.
However, the students launched a funding drive and were able to raise $3,371 in order to purchase four camera kits.
They hope to raise more money to get at least 16 more cameras for the ongoing project.
Already, they have received donations from the Sharek Youth Forum, an independent non-partisan Palestinian organisation that aims to develop and empower youth as active participants in civil society.
The American University of Sharjah has also helped fund Yan Yama Kan.
Laila Alkaff, a teacher’s assistant at AUS, told Gulf News that although she is Yemeni she has always been interested in Palestine.
“Working with a perfectionist like Dahdal has really enhanced my attention to detail,” she says.
Sabreen Ozrail, a Palestinian student at AUS, says she always wanted to learn more about her country’s history.
She was particularly moved after interviewing an elderly man from the Palestinian city of Nablus for the project.
According to Ozrail, Waleed Halawa, 89, said he used to make shaving products from scratch, which required a lot of time and manpower.
“He had a really tough life but he always had a smile on his face. This taught me to look for the positives in everything,” she says.
For Rand Amjad, the experience shed light on just how free Palestinians were before the creation of Israel.
“I spoke to an elderly woman named Sadiqa Hamdan who told me how she often used to travel to Yaffa and Haifa and Gaza with her family as a young child. Now of course this impossible as Palestinians from the occupied West Bank are confined to their area inside Israel’s separation barrier,” she says.
I spoke to an elderly woman named Sadiqa Hamdan who told me how she often used to travel to Yaffa and Haifa and Gaza with her family as a young child.”
- Sabreen Ozrail | Student at the American University of Sharjah
Hamdan passed away shortly after the interview.
“After she died I realised the importance of the project and felt compelled to work faster to interview these people before it was too late,” she says.
One of the greatest challenges is to find elders who had memories of life before 1948. Many have already passed away.
Dahdal is also working on animations in order to bring some of the stories to life.
“We are really pushing the boundaries technically and creatively,” he says.
Some of the already-shot interviews can be viewed on the Kan Yama Kan Facebook page.
— Hams Saleh is an intern at Gulf News