Film footage from Palestine back in 1896 

It is becoming a trend among influential GOP candidates to call out the Palestinian people as “invented” or even “non-existent”. First we had Republican candidate Newt Gingrich calling the Palestinians an “invented people”. Another rising star, Republican candidate Rick Santorum, has also said “There is no Palestine”. But I won’t really bother to give any of them dimwits any more attention than they deserve. Their case is a hopeless miserable case after all.

On this occasion I’d like to share with you this, video footage taken in Palestine back in the year 1896. We see Palestinians; we see Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in peace. We see a Jewish man praying at the Western Wall without having to show IDs to any authority, unlike what we see in Jerusalem today. We see neighbors, friends, families, and a society just like that in Cairo or Damascus, as the commentator says. If we look today, we don’t see much of the same thing. Not so much freedom of religion, not so much freedom of life.

The film was recovered by Lobster Films, a film preservation company based in Paris, in February 2007. In a letter to an Italian film festival organizer, according to this, Lobster Films co-founder Serge Bromberg said:

    …this year, we have something very special to show. In an antique shop, we have discovered 93 wonderful little camera negatives from c. 1897, all shot in the Middle East (Jerusalem, Palestine, Egypt, etc.), that would form an ideal 80 [minute] program of what could be among the earliest films shot in the region still in existence. … They are in wonderful condition … Not a scratch, no decomposition, and those little sprocket holes typical of the films of that year.

It always feels great to see bits from the pleasant past, to forget the reality for a minute and just feel how life was at that time.



Asa Winstanley's picture

Amazing footage, thanks Jalal.

I’m wondering when exactly the commentary dates from. Is it 2007?

Jalal Abukhater's picture

I have tried to look for more details, but I couldn’t determine exactly when the commentary was done. It doesn’t look like anything recent though, the maps and commentary look like something done at that time a centuary ago.


I thoroughly enjoyed this. Thanks Jalal.


The three-minute footage from Palestine 1896 has been known for years. In the excellent documentary "Palestine, histoire d'une terre, 1880-1950" by well-known French-Moroccan-Israeli Simone Bitton who also made "Citizen Bishara", "Rachel Corrie" and "The Wall" it's one of the opening scenes. This documentary is from the '90's and has been shown on national French television. Elias Sanbar, the now Unesco-ambassador, is the historical advisor.
I have a better sound-track somewhere else but don't have time and access right now so here's the one I've got available with a rather bad sound-track. The whole documentary and the second part going from 1950 to 1991 is also on the net (in French only). Best documentary on Palestinian history, great footage from the UN vote Nov 1947 included (Henry Cattan etc):
The Lumière-footage is from min 00:44. (I hope the link works)


I tend to think you're reading a hell of a lot about life at that time into a few video snapshots. This isn't so much evidence that jews, muslims and christians all got a long at that time, as it is evidence that these video snippets capture specific jews, muslims and christians not bothering each other.

Also, before reading too much into the peace/freedom of the city, consider that at the time there were only about 20,000 people living in Jerusalem. It was basically a village (with a lot of history) not a city. Now it is a sprawling city about 50 times that size, and this helps explain some of the growing discord.

Here's an alternative theory, and i'm not saying it's the right one or the only one - to the extent there was peace it was because the muslims were fine with muslims controlling Jerusalem and the jews and christians were in no position to argue for anything else. One reason (among many) that things are not fine now is because the city is now governed by Jews and Muslims are unhappy with that.


The attempt to take less than two minutes of antique film clips and turn them into propaganda is rather pathetic. Clearly, the narration is NOT contemporaneous with the footage, despite the clever addition of post-production sound effects like camera and film noise, etc. Especially glaring is the narrator's scripted dialog, "... but in the country as a whole...", as if the Palestinian territory was considered a nation at the time. What a sad attempt a revisionism.

The map footage is also not original. As to your comment "We see Palestinians...", this is your own editorial comment, not an historically accurate description employed by the Ottoman Empire or the contemporaneous population of the time.


You could find similar scenes of African-Americans mingling pleasantly with whites in the Jim Crow south - indeed, weren't segregationists always touting such things and claiming how the civil rights workers were just stirring up trouble? If we could ask a Jewish kid from that era with no hope of true equality with the Arabs surrounding him how "pleasant" that era was just because he could get to the Wailing Wall without showing ID, what would he say?


Commenters seems oddly eager to denounce this footage as propaganda, even as they commit the same act in reverse. I of course have no idea what life was like in Palestine in 1896, and this video offers only a suggestive glimpse. Speaking as an American Jew who had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel, though, I do agree that the film seems to portray a city at greater ease with itself than the one I experienced, and it is absolutely the case that the footage undercuts the ludicrous narratives put forth by the Greater Israel advocates in the Republic party.


The problem is that this footage is being used to pretend like Ottoman Empire - mind you, not the Arab nation of Palestine - was this land of equal religious access all sui generis. Well, it wasn't. How about you look up Hamidian Massacres of 1894-1896. That was also taking place in another part governed by the same Sublime Porte (aka Ottoman Empire).

Jalal Abukhater

Jalal Abukhater's picture

Jalal Abukhater is a Jerusalemite, he is a graduate MA(hons) International Relations and Politics from the University of Dundee, Scotland.