Recent Book Explores History of Palestinians’ Displacement
February 24, 2011 – Palestinians displaced from their villages during the first Arab-Israeli War in the late 1940s carried their towns’ family histories, memories, traditions and possessions into “village memorial books,” according to Rochelle A. Davis, assistant professor of anthropology.
Davis, of Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), examines this phenomenon in her book Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced (Stanford University Press, 2010).
A Rooted Past
The professor says the book shows how the Palestinian people have passed on their histories and traditions to future generations.
“That’s what the [village] books are about,” Davis says. “People say in the books ‘so you don’t forget, so you don’t feel rootless. Even though we don’t have a state, you have a past, you have an origin.’ ”
“What I have done in this book is mark a moment in history when history is being written and in a sense document that process,” she adds.
Davis talked about the book in a Feb. 23 lecture co-sponsored by the university’s Mortara Center for International Studies.
Davis began researching the village books in 2004, spending 10 months in Jordan collecting them and interviewing their authors.
She also spent two months in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, in 2008.
The professor collected the village books – which include everything from family trees to British mandate documents – from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Syria.
She also met and talked with people with roots to the former villages.
“Everyone who I interviewed was appreciative,” she says. “They were very collegial interviews in that sense.”
In all, Davis collected about 120 Palestinian village history books from 418 destroyed villages for her research, most of which were published from 1985 through the present.
The authors of the books were children at the time their villages were destroyed, the professor explains.
And Davis says some villages had multiple books published on their histories.
One author, she says, wrote his own book on his village after reading an anecdote in another book about the village mayor hitting his head on a tree while riding his donkey.
“Historians have to choose what materials they’re going to include,” the author told Davis. “I want to write history for others so that others who have forgotten can benefit from the information.”