The project bringing Palestinian refugees back home

What does the right of return mean to Palestinians, 72 years since the Nakba? Tarek Bakri’s visual documentation project offers a glimpse.

A few months ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when a video really caught my attention. I tapped the unmute button to hear a young Palestinian woman, Nour, tell her grandmother over the phone: “Sitti, I’m standing in front of the palm tree you told me about.”  

There’s nothing particularly appealing about the video itself — the image is shaky, and it’s difficult to make out Nour’s words over the strong wind.

Her grandmother, a Palestinian refugee from a village north of Akka, was exiled to a camp in Syria during the Nakba, the catastrophe that culminated in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948, and which continues to impact millions more to this day.

Nour was able to enter Israel on a European passport. After hearing her grandmother, Um Safwan, talk about her Palestinian home all those years, she decided to pay it a visit.

The landscape has changed completely since, and what used to be the village is now an Israeli national park. But using the sea and a palm tree as her markers, Um Safwan guided her granddaughter to where the home once stood.

Nour holds back her tears until she can’t anymore. She kneels on the ground and starts bawling. “Alhamdulillah”— praise be to God — she says.

The person filming Nour is Tarek Bakri, a young Palestinian engineer-turned- accidental-archivist. Almost 10 years ago, Tarek started a project called Kunna ou Ma Zilna, Arabic for “we were and are still here.” It’s a way of visually documenting Palestine in the social media era. 

Using old photos and oral history, he helps Palestinians find their original homes and villages, many of which are now depopulated, destroyed or occupied by Jewish Israelis.

Between decades of settlement expansion, Trump’s Deal of the Century, and now looming formal annexation, the right of return for Palestinian refugees has been sidelined. To shift back the focus on this issue, we at +972 Magazine set out to explore what return means — 72 years since the Nakba. Is it merely a symbolic demand? Is it at all feasible?

This episode is the first in a three-part series on the right of return for Palestinian refugees. We will be releasing a new episode every Friday over the next few weeks, starting with Tarek. With his help, we travel from Safad, to Akka, to Jaffa, to Beit Nabala, and get a sense of what return might look like.