Honouring Palestinian martyrs


December 17, 2023, Jenin refugee camp: A stone plaque with a printed photo of a Palestinian martyr, shattered and defaced by Israeli occupation forces (IOF); only the words “The Martyr Leader” remain. Many families in the camp who lost a member have such plaques at the entrances of their homes. These have become a target of vandalism and destruction by the IOF in the current genocide in Gaza.

After a Palestinian is killed by Israeli violence, their family and community print and display photographs of them throughout towns and streets. Sometimes individuals’ photos are collaged alongside images of fellow martyrs (the term Palestinians use to describe anyone killed by Israelis) from the same town or community. Families also put up images of the martyr in central locations in the martyrs’ families’ homes. For Palestinians, photographing and remembering martyrs is a means of resistance to Western-Zionist settler colonialism. 

For 76 years, Palestinians have fought the Israeli Zionist project in Palestine that has displaced them, colonized their land, subjected them to a brutal military occupation and apartheid, systematically confined and fragmented their communities, and denied the right of return for around 750,000 refugees forcibly displaced during the 1948 Nakba and their descendants, who now number roughly six million. Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza since October 2023 is no exception.

Israel, like any other settler-colonial power, understands the power of images. In recent months, Palestinians have been broadcasting Israel’s genocide in Gaza, which has informed and moved the public across the globe. In the West Bank, it seems the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) have declared war on photographs, vandalizing, damaging, and destroying them. Israel has also targeted the infrastructure that enables Palestinians to commemorate the dead. I witnessed the aftermath of an IOF raid on Nibras printing press opposite the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. I interviewed the owner one day after the facility was invaded, and he told me his printers were confiscated, valued at over $100,000, and the place was ransacked. Additionally, the IOF invaded the owner’s extended family’s homes, strip-searched the women and men, and stole their money. 

Israel’s campaign of destroying visual representations of Palestinian martyrs intends to erase the physical symbols of resistance and seeks to undermine the collective memory and narrative of the Palestinian people.

Amid this ongoing struggle, the community’s insistence on displaying images of their beloved children defies the IOF’s attempts to erase their memories. The relationship between commemoration, memorialization, and photography in Palestine has evolved over the years, drawing inspiration from locally available materials. Stone has become a canvas for printing photos, alongside glass, fabric, metal, and traditional photo and poster paper. This diverse array of materials contributes to a rich tapestry of visuals embodying the enduring spirit of Palestinian resistance and resilience.

The photographs presented in this essay offer a glimpse into the violent actions of Israel’s occupation forces, specifically the destruction of martyrs’ images in the city of Jenin and the adjacent Jenin refugee camp in North Palestine. To destroy these photographs displayed in city and camp squares and inside private homes, Israel has employed various tactics, including bulldozing monuments, breaking plaques, shooting images, and spraying the Star of David or an “X” on the photos with paint. Israel’s campaign of destroying visual representations of Palestinian martyrs intends to erase the physical symbols of resistance and seeks to undermine the collective memory and narrative of the Palestinian people.

Taken during my walks through the streets of Jenin and the Jenin refugee camp between November 2023 and January 2024, these photos convey Israel’s violence toward the visual representation of Palestinian memory and the memorialization of Palestinian lives. In addition to depicting the destruction of images, these photographs capture not only the immediate violence against physical representations, but also the underlying fear and threat that these depictions of Palestinian resistance instill in the Israeli settler-colonial regime. 

December 17, 2023, Jenin refugee camp: A mural depicting activist and author Basel al-Araj from al-Walaja, outside Bethlehem, at the entrance of the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp. The mural was vandalized by the IOF during a December 12, 2023 raid on the theatre. A Star of David, sprayed with black paint on his image, was later removed with white paint. The raid resulted in the arrest of the theatre director and his assistant, along with the ransacking of the venue and aggressive graffiti sprayed throughout. al-Araj, who was in his 30s, was killed by Israel’s special forces in al-Bireh on March 6, 2017.

December 20, 2023, Jenin refugee camp: A lightbox containing the photograph of martyr Amjad Iyad Alazmi, desecrated and damaged during an IOF military raid on the Jenin refugee camp in November 2023. Alazmi, a 19-year-old university student, was killed by the IOF on August 16, 2021, alongside Saleh Mohammed Ammar, Raed Ziad Abu Seif, and Nour Jarrar. The IOF took his body and continues to hold it to this day. His grieving mother, surrounded by his photographs, passed away in September 2023 at the age of 51.

December 12, 2023, Jenin: Photographs of martyr Ziad Zirini and his comrades – part of a monument dedicated to them in a square that was named Zirini, on Haifa street in the city of Jenin – were shattered by the IOF during an invasion in November. Israeli bulldozers devastated the site, destroying the monument and damaging the square. Zirini and five others were killed on March 7, 2023, during an IOF military raid on the Jenin camp.

December 12, 2023, Jenin: Riddled with rifle shots and bulldozed, this close-up photograph depicts Ziad Zirini and one of his comrades, both killed by the IOF.

January 10, 2024, Jenin refugee camp: A photograph of late journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, killed by an Israeli sniper while reporting for Al Jazeera on May 11, 2022, vandalized by the IOF at her memorial in the Jenin refugee camp – the very place of her murder. The IOF targeted her memorial for the second time in two and a half months, shattering a plaque with her name, firing shots at her images, and tearing others. The street, bearing her name, where this memorial stands, was also bulldozed and damaged during the latest raids on Jenin’s refugee camp.

December 20, 2023, Jenin refugee camp: Numerous photographs, a collective homage to many martyrs, displayed on the façade of a house in the Jenin refugee camp, were subject to IOF vandalism. Some images were forcibly removed and crushed under soldiers’ boots. The bullet-ridden house resembles nearly every residence in the camp. The images of martyrs and prisoners displayed on the walls of the Jenin camp are a testament to the sacrifices made by Palestinian refugees, as they persist in their right to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled by Zionist terror groups in 1948.

January 10, 2024, Jenin: Al-Ahmadin roundabout, dedicated to two Ahmads from the same extended family, both murdered by the IOF – Ahmad Ismail Jarrar on January 18, 2018, and Ahmad Naser Jarrar on February 6, 2018. The IOF invaded Jenin on January 10, 2024, bulldozing the square and damaging the monument. On the same day, I arrived at the site and photographed fragments of the images and plaques.

January 10, 2024, Jenin: The portrait of eight-year-old Adam Samer al-Ghoul on his grave in the martyrs’ cemetery. al-Ghoul was shot and killed by the IOF on November 29, 2023, while playing in his neighbourhood in Jenin city, according to eyewitnesses. Security camera footage shows the Israeli soldiers shooting al-Ghoul for no reason. Photographs of those killed by the IOF were placed across the martyrs’ cemetery in Jenin.

Rehab Nazzal is a Palestinian-born multidisciplinary artist based in Montreal and Bethlehem. Her work deals with the effects of settler-colonial violence on the bodies and minds of colonized peoples, on the land, and on other non-human life.

Readers like you keep Briarpatch alive and thriving. Subscribe today to support fiercely independent journalism.