Zed Nelson is a photographer based in London. Having gained recognition and major awards as a documentary photographer working in some of the most troubled areas of the world, Nelson has increasingly turned his focus on Western society, adopting an increasingly conceptual approach to reflect on contemporary social issues (for example, in Gun Nation, his first seminal book, he provides a disturbing reflection on America’s deadly love affair with the gun).
However, this time I wish to focus on his feature project The Keys of Palestine. Here is the description:
The declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel took place on 14 May, 1948.
Every year since, on May 14th, Israel celebrates its ‘Day of Independence’ a national holiday marked by family meetings, fireworks, barbecues, picnics and concerts.
The Palestinians mark the same day every year, but they call it the ‘Nakba’ meaning catastrophe.
Palestinian refugees still keep the keys to their former homes which they fled during the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948. When war broke out and Arab armies went to war with the newly self-declared state of Israel, thousands of Palestinians fled their homes. They initially believed their exile was to be brief. In the manner of other civilians who are forced to abandon their homes in the midst of battle, they assumed they would return to resume the life they had left behind.
It was for this reason that many of them carefully locked their front doors as they left. Those who had time also diligently collected their deeds of ownership to property, the maps of their orange groves and fields, their tax returns and their identity papers going back to Ottoman times – and packed them into bags and tins along with their front door keys.
But by one of the more subtle cruelties of Middle East history, the keys were to prove the most symbolic and most worthless of possessions to the Palestinians. An estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled, and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were depopulated and destroyed. These keys acquired a significance that grew ever more painful as weeks and then months away from home turned into years. The next generation of young Palestinians can remember how their parents became increasingly angry as the true meaning of these possessions became clear; because they proved ownership of a world that had disappeared.
The new owners of those homes in the newly declared state of Israel forbade any return.
The keys are still kept by Palestinian families today symbolic of the enduring demand of their ‘right to return’ the dream of returning to the land and homes they left behind.
For more on Nelson and his work, visit his official website.