Last Updated on 11/26/2023 by Feroz Khan
“All I want is for people to live in peace and dignity,” says photographer Rania Matar in an emotional plea to the world. Having grown up in a war-torn country and living through multiple wars and conflicts during her lifetime, she knows firsthand the infrastructural and emotional devastation that they result in. And witnessing what’s ongoing between Palestine and Israel for the last 6 weeks now, she hopes dearly for the bombardments to stop and for a much-needed ceasefire.
We featured Rania’s work on our site last year when she was one of the three winners of the Leica Women Foto Project Award in 2022. A talented portrait photographer, many of Rania’s past experiences and learnings find their way into her photos as she seeks to break stereotypes with her photography. I remember her work and words having an impact on me during that interview last year:
“Reading about Rania’s experiences makes me want to go back and look at my portfolio again: to see what part of me has found its way to my photos, and to chase my newer projects with the kind of passion she embraces in her work.”
Table of Contents
Rania’s familial roots trace back to Palestinian heritage, a fact that holds significant meaning for her. Despite the ongoing personal sorrow in her life, she willingly engaged in a conversation with me to discuss the subject at hand. It’s been three months since her beloved father passed away and Rania was very attached to him, as I could tell during our call. “My whole Palestinian identity is really tied to my father,” Rania said about her cultural roots. “My father is Palestinian, and he came to Lebanon after the 1948 Nakba. As a Palestinian Christian, he was able to eventually get the Lebanese nationality.” When she was growing up during the Civil War, he did not want Rania to get involved because of the war.
A Father’s Protection
Rania’s father was caring enough to often emotionally shield her from the effects of the wars he had lived through and the hardships of his past. The strong emotional connection she shared with her late father was palpable throughout our conversation. “He always told me – you’re not Palestinian, you’re Lebanese,” Rania recalls in an impassioned way. “The burden of the Palestinian problem is my problem. It’s my burden to carry, not yours.” This meant that Rania grew up identifying more as a Lebanese. It wasn’t until later in life that she began looking more closely at her Palestinian roots.
“The Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, refers to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war”The United Nations
Her father’s recent passing makes the ongoing conflict too personal and difficult for Rania. She identifies with the issues there on a very personal level due to her Palestinian background. When I queried her if there were any family members currently locked in there, she also recalled a photograph from her past.
The Power Of a Photograph
“I don’t have family back there now, but I’m reminded of a photograph my father had,” Rania says. “I found in my father’s suitcase, one that he carried around with him for over 70 years, a photograph he had.” She described it as a photograph of people running from Jaffa, where her father was originally from. An image of people fleeing into the water, escaping the clashes there. The fact that he had this photo his whole life and held on to it until the end was quite a poignant sentiment for Rania.
“Seeing the pictures of the happenings in Gaza is making me extremely upset,” Rania continued. “I don’t know where the picture came from; I found it with his things. It’s pretty powerful for me to realize that he carried this photograph his whole life, even though it was so hard for him to do so.” She knew her father tried to protect her all along.
Rania is contemplating the idea of a photo project to showcase her father’s belongings from the past. But as the ongoing war affects her on a personal level, she feels like she’s being thrown back into the conflicts she grew up in. She lost her mother very young and her father so carefully did his best to protect her from the identity conflicts of Lebanon his whole life. And I understand pretty well the difficulties in moving forward from this, especially with the constant bombardment of one-sided narratives on the news. As Rania rightly pointed out – “How does one come back from the division, the hatred and the horror we are witnessing? When is it that we reach the point of no return? But somehow we cannot give up on hope and our shared humanity as this is all that we have left”. She recalls her youth as she mentions how she grew up during the Lebanese Civil War and then lived through the 1982 Israeli invasion and the 2006 war with Hezbollah. All these memories repeatedly come back to her nowadays with what she’s seeing happening in Palestine. But at the end of it all, Rania truly wants everyone to live in peace with one another. Without war, without hatred. “Violence just creates more violence,” she rightly says.
Give Peace a Chance
Is it even possible to see the images coming out of Palestine and not be moved? Scenes capturing children frantically searching for their parents amidst the aftermath of bombings, or the haunting sight of lifeless limbs amidst debris, portray a stark reality. Many images now show entire cities reduced to nothing but graveyards.
What is most heartbreaking is not knowing what’s next for those who are alive today; will they be around to see a tomorrow. Being on social media these days is an endless doomscroll, but we must stand up and ask ourselves how we let humanity reach this level. Why is it that some lives are perceived to have more value than others? As much as I try to stay stoical while viewing photos from Palestinian photographers, I often find myself losing hope. And I feel painfully cushioned when I realize that those enduring that hell there have nothing but hope left.
Keep your eyes trained on the ground for reports from Palestinian photographers who are risking their lives each day to bring the reality of the situation to the world. Look at what people like Wissam Nasser, Belal Khaled, Hind Khoudary, Motat Azaiza, and Plestia Alaqad are photographing. You’ll truly understand the value of a dedicated photojournalist then. And you’ll truly appreciate what photography brings to the world, especially as a medium of documenting history. May peace come to the region soon. May common sense prevail where it’s needed. Let’s also say a prayer for those brave photojournalists who died (more than 50 now) in the line of coverage.
All images used in this article, unless otherwise specified, have been provided for usage by Rania Matar.