Ahlam Shibli احلام شبلي

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© Ahlam Shibli

Arab al-Sbaih

Jordan, 2007
series of 47 photographs, 38 x 57.7 cm; 57.7 x 38 cm, gelatine silver prints; chromogenic prints

The photographs constituting Arab al-Sbaih were taken in four different places: the Irbid Refugee Camp, Irbid City, the al-Baqa'a Refugee Camp, and Amman. Three generations of Palestinian refugees have been living there since the 1948 war that followed the declaration of the Israeli State and resulted in the Palestinian Nakba.

The title of the series references the original name of the village Arab al-Shibli in the Lower Galilee of Palestine (currently Israel). A part of the villagers who fought for their lands in 1948 against the Jews were expelled to Syria and Jordan; the other part took shelter at the Mount Tabor Monastery. After several months of hiding in caves on the land of the monastery, at the end of the war, the families who managed to return to their homes had to change the original name of the village, Arab al-Sbaih, to Arab al-Shibli in order to protect themselves from Israeli revenge. The refugees in Syria and Jordan on the other hand are preserving the memory of their homeland by naming their shops after places in Palestine and reproducing the social structure of their original villages.

Places and people in the pictures of Arab al-Sbaih:

The path close to the Syrian border, taken by the people from Arab al-Sbaih in 1948 to reach Irbid and the UN shelters. The refugees' flight took them through Lebanon and Syria before they chose to turn to Jordan.

A UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) operations map of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon in the living room of a refugee family in Amman.

The al-Baqa'a Refugee Camp in Amman and a neighborhood constructed by people who left the original area of the camp and built their own houses on adjacent land. The al-Baqa'a Refugee Camp is known as the scene of some of the fiercest fighting between Palestinian revolutionaries and the Jordanian regular forces during the Black September in 1970.

A shelter built in Irbid by the exiled sheikh of Arab al-Sbaih for the people of the neighborhood during the Israeli-Arab war of 1967.

A wall with graffiti of Handala, the iconic image of Palestinian exile and resistance.

The framed photo shows a member of the British administration presenting a prize to a long-distance runner from Arab al-Sbaih in Nazareth in 1946.

A Palestinian fighter, a nephew of Arab al-Sbaih's sheikh, in his officer uniform.

A couple of cousins and their children (she, a Palestinian refugee in Jordan, and he, a Palestinian refugee in Syria, last seen at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Aleppo in March 1980. He was then "disappeared" by Syrian security forces, and the family has never heard from him again.)

The living room of the sheikh of Arab al-Sbaih in Irbid, with a large drawing of the previous sheikh, who died in 1998 and is buried at the Cemetery of the Martyrs in Irbid.

The bedroom of the late sheikh of Arab al-Sbaih. Since his death, his widow has maintained the room in the state he left it in.

An old refugee from Arab al-Sbaih packing his suitcase before taking a plane to Denmark, where his son lives.

The al-Khalil Grocery (al-Khalil being the Arab name for Hebron) and the al-Khalil Jewelery Store.

The Beisan Supermarket (Beisan, a town in Eastern Palestine, is today under Israeli rule and called Bet She'an).

A Narghila coffee shop decorated with a Palestinian flag, a portrait of Saddam Hussein, and a map of Palestine.

The interior of a falafel shop adorned with Palestinian and Iraqi posters and stickers.

The King Abdullah II School for Excellence in Irbid, a large percentage of whose students are third generation Palestinian refugees.

The Irbid Refugee Camp cemetery and the Cemetery of the Martyrs in Irbid City, which was constructed by the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) to hold the graves of Palestinian martyrs from various wars.