A film footage of Palestine in 1896 was recently published online thanks to Lobster Films. It shows Palestinians of all faiths – Christians, Jews and Muslims – living side by side, and praying side by side. I transcribed the narration below. 15 years later, the cinema is taking its first steps. Cameramen employed by the Lumiere Brothers filming in Jerusalem’s station, provide the first moving pictures taken in Palestine. From now on, the camera’s a recording eye and what it records is this: A society much like that of Cairo, Damascus, or Beirut, in an Arab city much like any other.
By the end of the 19th century, Palestine has 500,000 inhabitants, of whom 30,000 live in Jerusalem. A veiled woman, a Sunni Muslim, one of the majority. An orthodox Jew. He too turns away from the camera. Here we have an Armenian pope. Each of the Christian denominations has its church here in the holy city. The holy places of the three religions are scattered across a few hundred square meters. The Great Mosque is close to Christ’s tomb. Further along at the foot of the wailing wall, a Jew is reciting a prayer. He is wearing a Turkish tarboush, and although he prays in Hebrew his everyday language is Arabic. Jews form half the population of Jerusalem, but in the country as a whole they make up less than 5% of the total. Christians account for 10% and Muslims 85%. All of them are subjects of the Sultan of Constantinople. There are no frontiers in the Ottoman Empire. There are administrative divisions in which, in this immense territory, Palestine occupies a mere 27,000 square kilometers, made up of three small districts, in the south of the province of Damascus.
According to the Electronic Intifada’s Jalal Abukhater, the film was recovered in Paris, February 2007.
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