Exhibition: Britain in Palestine by Anne Lineen

03 March '13

Britain in Palestine is a research and exhibition project on British rule in Palestine 1917-1948. The exhibition will be displayed at the Brunei Gallery from October to December 2012 and will be the culmination of 4 years of dedicated research and consultation.

Hebron children

Britain in Palestine will tell the story of what happened to Palestine and its people under the British mandate for Palestine. It will show what Palestine was really like in the early years of the 20th century, who lived there, and how their lives were changed forever by British rule. The exhibition will feature stunning and dramatic photographs, film of moving personal testimonies, important original documents, and fascinating historical objects from Palestine. This material will be drawn from major public and private collections in Britain and the Middle East. Private individuals have generously agreed to lend precious family documents, photographs and objects for the exhibition.

The exhibition displays will show the beauty, diversity and vigour of Palestinian culture and society, in which the majority Arab population lived alongside long established Jewish communities and Armenians. Scenes from Mandate Palestine rarely shown: the busy towns and cities, the cultivated and fertile landscape, and the fruitful economy. Alongside these displays the exhibition will portray the dramatic events and key turning points of the Mandate era using original documents, photographs and film. Rare and previously unseen Arab political documents will demonstrate the articulate, forceful and constructive Arab opposition to British policy.

Extracts from interviews with Arabs, Jews and British who lived or served under the Mandate will bear witness to the extraordinary times the people of Palestine were living through

“My uncle was one of the revolution members fighting against the British and together with his colleagues escaped to the house, the British army surrounded the house, the members of the revolution escaped except one person who was wounded, so they put him in the women’s part – in 1930’s the women were covered, all their faces were covered, the British commander insisted on searching the women’s part, the women started screaming the women told him you must give us some time to cover our faces, they decided to put the man on the bed and cover his body, the British soldiers asked who it was, and they told him it was an old woman who was dying – the British asked to see her face, the woman said no, so they looked at her legs, and they took him, it was a ten minute order to evacuate the house with whatever you could take from your own belongings and the soldiers bombed the house.” Naseer Arafat, interviewed in Nablus

jerusalem protest 1919

“A feast, this was in Hebron, one of the local Arab military leaders who the British had been chasing for years, we arranged to go and meet him, the meeting consisted of lots of food,…we had to leave the armoured car and part of the agreement was not to bring our weapons, Arabs guarded the armoured car…this was the feeling between the Arabs and the British….if you’d been having his food you can’t arrest him, it wouldn’t be right..it wouldn’t be fair…but probably a week afterwards if you met him you would shoot him.”  Palestine Policeman Jack Bewsey on the 1936-39 Arab Uprising.

Treasured family objects have been collected from the people of the West Bank, who have generously agreed to lend these for the exhibition. There are vivid and fascinating stories that accompany these objects; some simple and moving, others dramatic and complex. By including these in the exhibition visitors will be reminded of the ordinary people of Palestine, whose voices are often lost in the high political drama of British rule.

Stone to crush olives from Deir al Ghosoun, Tulkarm

Narrator Sami Dawood

“I want to tell you the story about this stone. It belonged to my grandfather Mohammad Dawood since 1945. My grandfather was a farmer and he had many olive trees in his land. He was a merchant; he bought and sold olives from all over Palestine, he also traded with Jordan.

My grandfather carried this stone with him everywhere. When he bought olives he would use it to crush one olive from the crops he intended to buy. This allowed him to examine the concentration of oil in it. This would determine whether he bought the crop.

After my grandfather died, my father took the same trade, and he used this same stone to examine the quality of olives.

I still have the stone and if you gave me another stone I will not be able to check the quality, only my stone can tell. Every time I use it if feel good and optimistic as if my father and grandfather are still standing with me while trading. And when I want eat pickled olives I ask my wife to serve me those olives which have been crushed with this very stone. It is a sacred relic for me; I feel all the goodness in it.”

Cigarette roller and tobacco container from Jenin

Narrator Sanabel Zaed

“I want to tell you the story of this cigarette roller and the Arabic tobacco container. They belonged to my grandfather since 1930. My grandfather bought them one year before he got married, to indicate that he is now a grown up man. He continued using them all his life.

His sons, my uncles, grew up and they wanted to smoke like their father but they couldn’t. In those days according to our traditions, it was forbidden for the boys, even if they were grown men to smoke in the presence of their father, it was considered most disrespectful. And if the father caught them smoking he would beat them. So my uncles had no choice but to steal tobacco from their father and hide in the olive grove to smoke. My grandfather found out about these little thefts. One day he put his cigarette box on top of the kitchen cupboard and pretended to be asleep. My uncle Salim came to steal one cigarette and my grandfather caught him red handed, he beat him very badly. And my grandfather continued forbidding his sons from smoking until he died.

On the day of his death and after the funeral my uncle Tawfiq, put on his father’s clothes and took the cigarette roller and the tobacco container, put them in his pocket and said a poem

The lion of the land is dead

The fields are now open

Now the fox can run free

To roam all the fields

My father Mohammad kept these two items since then.”


About Britain in Palestine and Anne Lineen

The exhibition project was originally started by the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum in 2008, but the Museum halted the project in February 2011 due to financial difficulties.

Anne Lineen originally developed the exhibition for the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum. Anne will be continuing the project independently of the Museum as a freelance curator. She is a trained and qualified curator who has worked on museum and exhibition projects for over 20 years. In 2008, the exhibition she created for the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum was short-listed for the Art Fund Prize, the most prestigious arts prize in the UK.

“The Judges felt the Breaking the Chains exhibition was a model of how to address a difficult history with academic rigour, but also with sensitivity and imagination.” Art Fund Prize 2008 Judges’ citation

The Britain In Palestine exhibition will take place at the Brunei Gallery in London from October to December 2012; it will then be available to tour other important venues in the Middle East, America and Britain.

Anne is seeking funding for the exhibition, and is still keen to talk to any people who have memories or mementoes from Mandate Palestine. If you would like to contribute or discuss the project with Anne, you can contact her on anne.lineen@gmail.com

For more on Britain in Palestine visit www.britaininpalestine.org.uk

For more information on the Brunei Gallery visit: www.soas.ac.uk/gallery

Images above, from top to bottom:

Local children in Hebron, 1929.

Arab protest against the terms of the Mandate for Palestine, Jerusalem, 1919.