Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 2012, Pages 57-58

Music and Arts

"Guardians of the Mosque": African Palestinians of Jerusalem

"Guardians of the Mosque," a photography exhibit which will be on view at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery in Washington, DC from Nov. 9 to Dec. 1, depicts a community almost unknown to the West: African Palestinians in Jerusalem. New York-based photographer Andrew Courtney has spent the last two decades establishing his relationship with the 50 families who make up this minority community. His black-and-white large-scale images depict the daily lives and struggles of these black Palestinians, whose ancestors came to Jerusalem from Chad, Sudan, Nigeria and Senegal generations ago. They have traditionally held the keys to the city's Islamic holy sites, and thus have been called "Guardians of the Mosque."

The families live near the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, in apartments built in the 14th century. During Ottoman rule, until 1918, the buildings were used as prisons. Courtney captures sensitive portraits of community elders, such as Ali Jiddah and Mohammed Hassan Bulalla strolling through the quarter, as well as of the next generation of children, with images such as the one in the home of Ali Jiddah and his daughter Hibah.

The accompanying text tells the community's story. "It is noteworthy that the African Palestinians of Jerusalem consider themselves proud, steadfast Palestinians. Since the 1967 war and occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, most of the community has been directly involved in resisting the Israeli occupation. Many have served long sentences in Israeli prisons, as have many other Palestinians in the territories. As a result of the 1967 war, a quarter of the African-Palestinian community became refugees in surrounding countries, particularly Jordan and Lebanon. To this date, they are still not allowed to return. Ali Jiddah served 17 years of a life sentence before his release in a 1985 prisoner swap. He now works as a political tour guide in the Old City."

Photographer Andrew Courtney is an artist, teacher and activist. For many years a still photographer and activist for global social change, Courtney's portfolios of photographs made in Sandinista Nicaragua, Vietnam, Apartheid South Africa, Cuba and the Palestinian territories remain an important legacy of his craft and his world view. In recent years filmmaking has been the focus of his work. His film company, Red Hill Films, engages documentary themes and issues of important social concern.

—Dagmar Painter

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