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Memories of Nakba inspire Palestinian artist’s work

Abed Abdi sitting in his studio

Abed Abdi, 81, is a Palestinian visual artist who was expelled from Haifa in 1948 and returned three years later.

By Zena Al Tahhan

Published On 29 May 2023 / Aljazeera

During the Nakba, Zionist militias carried out dozens of massacres and destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages, while three-quarters of the Palestinian population was expelled from their homes, the vast majority made refugees outside of Palestine. [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Wadi Nisnas, Haifa – Visual artist Abed Abdi was expelled from Haifa – a major port city on the Mediterranean Sea – along with tens of thousands of fellow Palestinians by Zionist militias in 1948.

Memories of displacement and dispossession that started at age six inspire the art Abdi produces even today, at 81 years of age.

Artist Abed Abdi sits in his studio in the neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas in the northern city of Haifa [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

“Those scenes are very painful,” Abdi tells Al Jazeera from his art studio, located at the edge of the neighbourhood of Wadi Nisnas on the northern outskirts of Haifa.

“My memory of those moments is like a treasure to me,” added Abdi – a soft-spoken, meticulous man. “I remember the masses of people at the Haifa port. I remember the suffering of the people.”

On April 22, 1948, three weeks before Israel was declared a state, Abdi was forced to flee from the neighbourhood of Wadi Salib in Haifa with his mother and four siblings due to intense shelling by Zionist militias and attacks on residents.

Abdi’s memories of displacement inspire his art. He told Al Jazeera he recalls that the separators between the families at the Mieh Mieh refugee camp in Lebanon were made out of sackcloth, a fabric he has incorporated into his art pieces. [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

More than 750,000 Palestinians were forcefully displaced from their homelands as Zionist militias went on a rampage, killing Palestinians and destroying their society and homelands in 1948.

At least 110 Palestinian men, women and children were slaughtered in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948, and Zionist militias killed 60 to 70 Palestinians in the Balad al-Shaykh village, 7km (4 miles) east of Haifa city months prior.

Abdi holds up a family portrait of himself, second from left, and his siblings with their mother, taken one year after their return to Haifa in 1952. [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Palestinians observed the 75th anniversary of the organised and violent ethnic cleansing of Palestine – which is marked as Nakba, or catastrophe – on May 15, 2023.

The painting by Abdi shows the masses of Palestinians pushed to Haifa port before becoming refugees during the Nakba. The violent campaign by Zionist militias to capture Haifa and its surrounding villages began in December 1947, days after the United Nations announced a plan to partition Palestine between Palestinians and Jews on November 29, 1947. [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

“Most of Haifa’s residents took to the port for shelter, thinking that it could save them. Even if they would be away for a week or two, they would be back,” says Abdi, who returned to his homeland three years later.

Many of Abdi’s paintings depict Haifa’s neighbourhoods before, during and after the Nakba. Abdi told Al Jazeera he practices visual art ‘both as a participation of existence and to improve our cultural production’. [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

“Some people carried their mattresses with them. My mother took cooking tools such as her mortar, even though it was heavy. We took it and came back with it. She also asked someone to carve her name into one of her pots that she took with her,” Abdi continues.

Upon his return to Haifa in 1972 after studying art in Germany, Abdi worked as an illustrator for Palestinian and other Arab newspapers and journals for more than a decade. [Zena Al Tahhan/Al
Israel forced all the Palestinians remaining in Haifa into Wadi Nisnas after the Nakba and barred them from returning to their homes in the city. ‘Before 1948, Wadi Nisnas was a beautiful, elegant neighbourhood. It was turned into a refugee camp for shelter with high density,’ he says. [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]
A painting by Abdi showing his father’s aunt’s house in the neighbourhood of Wadi Nisnas, where the family lived for 10 years in a single bedroom upon their return in 1951. The home they lived in before the Nakba in nearby Wadi Salib was destroyed by Zionist militia. [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]
Today, Abdi says, ‘he is proud that there is a number of valuable Palestinian artists within the Arab [Palestinian] masses.’ [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

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