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A Rarely Seen Photo Archive Tells The Story Of The Palestinian Exodus

On Thursday, Palestinians mark the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” – the name they use for their uprooting during the war over Israel’s creation in 1948. In honor of the day, the UN has digitized more than 525,000 photos, most of which have never been seen before.

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Vast tent camps, like this one in Lebanon from 1952, were established as emergency measures to shelter Palestinian refugees. Today, many still stand as crowded, cement-block neighborhoods.


In this 1968 photo, a Palestinian woman arrives at a Jordanian refugee camp as part of the exodus of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 war. Many thought they were only seeking temporary shelter at the time.

This 1967 photo shows Palestinians fleeing the river Jordan on the remnants of the Allenby bridge. Many carry only what they can hold in their hands or on their backs.

"We didn't realize then, that we would never see our homes again," said Fatima Husseini, who fled her home near Jerusalem in 1968 when she was only 11 years old. She still lives in Jordan with her four sons.

Many were unprepared for life outside of their traditional homes. In this 1975 photo, Fathiyeh Sattari, a worried Palestinian mother, talks to a doctor about her underweight child, at a Rafah health clinic.

Today Sattari, 62, and her family still live in the Rafah Refugee Camp in the southern Gaza Strip. Her son, Hassan, holds the photo of himself with his mother. They say they have little hope of ever going back to their ancestral home.


The family recently told AP that they would not mark the Nakba this Thursday. "Without confrontation, we can't go back," said Hassan, adding that he himself was focused on his son's education.

This year, Palestinians will mark the Nakba as the most recent efforts to reach a peace deal between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership end in failure. The two sides are currently exchanging blame over who torpedoed the talks.

While many issues remain on the table, few are as contentious as what will happen to millions of Palestinian refugees and their right of return. Palestinian murals, like this one, still portray a mass return of refugees as the ultimate goal.

Israel is staunchly opposed to a mass return. According to UN figures, 700,000 Palestinians fled during the 1948 war, and tens of thousands more fled following the 1967 war. Today, some 1.5 million refugees remain in the region's 58 refugee camps.

U.N. agencies still deliver aid daily to hundreds of thousands of refugees in the camps. "What perpetuates the refugee problem is the failure of the political parties to solve it," said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N.

Sheera Frenkel is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in San Francisco. She has reported from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and across the Middle East. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4A53 A35C 06BE 5339 E9B6 D54E 73A6 0F6A E252 A50F

Contact Sheera Frenkel at

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