“Crowded classrooms and limited facilities do not dim this girl’s enthusiasm for learning, something shared by all her classmates at the UNRWA girls school, Qabr Essit camp, Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic” — thus reads the official caption to a 1983 image of a young girl at a school for Palestinian refugees in Syria.
This photograph now forms the centerpiece of the UN’s International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. On Tuesday, it will be projected onto buildings in eight cities across the world, in an effort to inspire solidarity with the people of Palestine: Bangkok, Beirut, Dubai, Jakarta, Marrakesh, Seville, Tokyo, Vienna and on the UN headquarters in New York.
Chris Gunness, the spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides health, education and housing support for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, said in a press release:
Given the tumultuous events in the Middle East region, such as the siege of the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus in Syria’s ongoing civil war and the conflict in Gaza, it is more important than ever to show solidarity with the Palestinians, particularly the refugees. Through the direct provision of services, UNRWA has been doing this for 65 years. We do it every day by educating some half a million Palestine refugee children, we do it through the provision of primary health care to millions of the most disadvantaged people across the Middle East. We also have extensive emergency programs in all five areas of our operations, which include Jordan, Lebanon and the West Bank as well as Gaza and Syria.
Although the UN has been criticized recently for its complicity with “reconstruction” plans for Gaza (which will see millions in aid money go to Israeli companies) UNRWA has taken a more principled line on the issue.
Highlighting UN archive
The use of the striking photograph is also intended to raise awareness of UNRWA’s archive of around half a million images from its work with Palestinian refugees. The archive has been awarded “Memory of the World” status by UNESCO for its value in recording a major aspect of the history of Palestine and the wider Middle East.
Around two-thirds of the archive has been digitized – more than 300,000 photographs – some of them dating back to the Nakba of 1948. The images are progressively being made available online to “journalists, writers, scholars and members of the public,” according to the UNRWA release.