Curator's note: According to Professor Kimberly Katz, this mural was created as a student project for the Annual Student Research and Scholarship Expo at Towson University in Towson, Maryland.
Arabic translation: Only three things can break the human spirit: death, poverty and sickness.
The image of the soldier on the left side of the mural is derived from the early Zionist poster Your Place Is Here
Rebecca Keaton, Towson University
After reading The Diary of Sami ‘Amr, translated and annotated by Dr. Kimberly Katz, in her History 340 class, a group of students—including myself, Hadear Abdou, and Talal Pharoan—took advantage of the opportunity to participate in a Student Research and Scholarship Expo at Towson University. As artists, we wanted to create a poster, which turned out to be on three large panels, to reflect our understanding of the history surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the diary and historical sources, while considering the effect that the translation of this type of writing has on history.
In the center of the image, hands with arms tattooed with British flags tear the land apart. This illustrates the British Mandate for Palestine which began in 1922, lasted through interwar period—when Sami ‘Amr authored his diary—and ended in 1948 with the creation of the Israeli state, pulling Palestine away from the rest of the Arab region. We included imagery from an old war poster encouraging citizens to enlist in the British Army under the Mandate to further emphasize the time period and context of the diary. Across the center there is a line from the diary, “There are only three things that can break a man: death, poverty, and illness.” The young Palestinian figure in the left corner wears a black and white kufiya, an emblem of Palestinian nationality, and actively writes the line from the diary. In the opposite corner, another figure wearing the same kind of kufiya, throws a rock at the world, which then bounces off and turns into paper, which across the top of the image unfolds into the diary.
Historical events—such as the First Intifada—beyond just the time period of Sami ‘Amr’s writing, influenced our understanding and ideas about the significance of the translation of such primary sources. The mainstream historical narrative widely ignores the Palestinian voice, in part, due to a lack of sources. This absence of voice in history, in a way, dehumanizes Palestinians and allows them to be shoved into the margins and ignored entirely. Much like the physical acts against oppression in the First Intifada that demanded recognition of a Palestinian identity, through words The Diary of Sami ‘Amr changes our understanding of history and gives the everyday Palestinian an active voice in history where that voice is seldom heard. Our mural is a visual reflection of the idea of the need for recognition of the Palestinian narrative in history.
Talal Pharoan, Towson University
We chose to illustrate what we considered essential contextual information about the writing of Sami ‘Amr's diary. We designed a linear perspective of some geo-political factors and socio-political identities at work during Sami ‘Amr's life in mid-20th century Palestine. We touched on the European military usurpation and occupation of Palestine as well as the Palestinian resistance to those forces. We also touched upon the use of political propaganda aimed at inspiring people of the Jewish faith to come from Europe and de facto conquer Palestine for themselves. Although it is central to the issue, it was too difficult to include the involvement of Arab or "Muslim" forces in the destruction of Palestine. This is due in part to the difficulty of illustrating them, but more so because Sami ‘Amr's diary does not bring to the surface the reality of political corruption amongst Arab-Muslim leaders. Therefore we avoided illustrations not stemming from the text and dedicated our design to excavating the diary’s key features.
We decided to use 3 large boards of plywood, acrylic paint, along with one stencil. The central feature is British hands pulling the land of Palestine away from its original geographical context. Maintaining access to the Haifa oil pipeline (built by the British) was important for Britain during that period of war. We located a European poster made to encourage Jewish people in Europe to come to Palestine and "liberate" it. We converted the image to stencil form as an example of political propaganda that indirectly brought about the usurpation of Palestine. Similarly we incorporated an example of Palestinian socio-political identity called the "kafiya". This was important because it has evolved overtime from representing the Arab farmers of that region to expressing Palestinian identity in the diaspora as we know it today.
Kimberly Katz, Historian and Professor, Towson University
One exciting aspect of teaching university students is the opportunity to engage students in high-level research, such as appears in the image of the mural by Hadear Abdou, Rebecca Keaton, and Talal Pharoan.
I was preparing the translation of the diary of Sami ‘Amr and gave students in my course on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a paper assignment in which they had to read my early translation of the diary and write a paper identifying the main themes that this young Palestinian man was concerned with at the time he wrote his diary, from 1941-1945, among the last years of the British Mandate for Palestine (in addition to pointing out places where the translation needed further clarification!). These three student-artists, Hadear, Rebecca, and Talal, were enrolled in that course in the spring 2007 and found the subject matter captivating and decided to take advantage of the university’s Annual Research Expo to create a distinctive artistic mural that would convey to the Expo’s viewers their understanding of the diary.
Hadear, Rebecca, and Talal thought big in their creativity, painting a mural on three panels, six-feet by three-feet each, connected by L-brackets to hold them together (and so as to allow them to be disconnected for transportation!). They depict Palestine torn asunder from its geographical home by a pair of all-powerful British hands, a reflection of Great Britain’s abilities in the eastern Mediterranean during the first half of the 20th century. Two young kaffiya-clad Palestinian boys, likely representing the author of the diary engage in acts of resistance: one, on the bottom left, completes a line found in the diary that says “There are only three things that break the soul of an individual: death, poverty and illness;” and the other, on the bottom right of the mural throws a stone at the globe in the top left of the mural, representing the international community. Undoubtedly these Towson University students projected the stone-throwing of the Palstinian Intifada back on the young Sami, who seems to have resisted by words, evident in his diary, rather than by physical actions. Hadear, Rebecca, and Talal’s understanding of the history of Palestine and its importance for Great Britain is rounded out by the stone bouncing off of the globe and unfolding into a piece of paper, which travels the course of the Haifa-Baghdad pipeline and ends in Iraq, where it unfolds not just to a piece of paper, but to a notebook, similar to the one in which Sami ‘Amr wrote his diary, and there they explain a bit about the diary and history of this period in Palestine. Not only did the artists present Sami’s views about Palestine being subject to Great Britain’s mandate, but they also included a propaganda poster (Zionist in origin) that says in Hebrew: “You belong here, Enlist,” imagery that appears near the globe in the top left part of the mural.
As their professor, I am most proud of their engagement with the material covered in class and proud of their artistic expression, which is now shared publicly through the Palestine Poster Project Archives website for all to appreciate.
"The Diary of Sami ‘Amr" is published in English, with annotations and an introduction by Kimberly Katz; foreword by Salim Tamari. It is available here