It is a stark and visual reminder of the Nakba, when Palestinians were displaced from their homes by the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. (See a related article, “Oral History, Which Records Once-Silenced Voices, Gains Ground in the Arab World”.)
What Is Heritage?
The photo exhibition is part of DAAR’s wider movement to use heritage to resist colonialism and occupation.
The collective’s nomination of a refugee camp as a heritage site could be a first for Unesco. The organisation’s rules stipulate that, among other criteria, a World Heritage site must be “an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures)”.
Whether a refugee camp meets those terms has been a subject of debate in the media.
Another challenge for DAAR’s proposal is that Unesco specifies that nominations must come from a state, but Palestine is politically and militarily an occupied territory.
Alessandro Petti, one of the two architects who founded DAAR, says: “By bringing in a refugee camp to the discussion, we also point out different forms of heritage-making that are somehow not trapped into the idea of nation state.”
It can be argued that the usual definition of heritage is not universal, but has colonial foundations and is subject to nation-state control.
The exhibition seeks to provoke people and global organisations to question what heritage is. Unesco has awarded World Heritage site status to a number of places in Palestine, such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives. These sites, of course, go back far beyond the Nakba but also show the degree of history that goes into making the case for a place as a heritage site.
The Question of Temporariness
The photos also raise the question of temporariness. Refugee camps are in principle built with the intention of being later demolished when no longer needed. Can that be compatible with heritage status?