Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 2 June 2020

13 insightful photos of early 1900s Palestine taken by engineer Nasri Fuleihan

A collection compiled by NYU Abu Dhabi's Akkasah features more than 350 images, and is open for the public to view

A new digital collection of historical photographs offers glimpses of Palestine during the end of the Ottoman rule and the period after the First World War.

The Nasri Fuleihan Collection comprises more than 350 photographs by Nasri Fuleihan, who worked as an engineer in Palestine and helped exploring for oil in the Middle East.

His photographs, taken between 1912 and 1924, can be viewed online thanks to Akkasah, NYU Abu Dhabi’s (NYUAD) Centre for Photography, which digitises photos from the region that documents day-to-day life. The collections are shared on the centre’s website for the public to browse and for researchers to use as resources.

Born in 1891, Fuleihan was a Cypriot of Lebanese descent who studied Civil Engineering at Purdue University. After graduating in 1912, he traveled to Jordan, Palestine and Egypt and worked as an engineer in Southern Palestine at the Levant Producing Company.

During that period, Palestine was under Ottoman rule, which lasted until 1917. In one photo, the Ottoman flag can be seen on a boat sailing along the coast of Jaffa.

A studio portrait of a woman. The text on the reverse side reads "Ramallah girl". Gail O'Keefe Edson. Courtesy of Akkasah Centre for Photography
A studio portrait of a woman. The text on the reverse side reads "Ramallah girl". Gail O'Keefe Edson. Courtesy of Akkasah Centre for Photography

Fuleihan was able to capture everyday life in Palestine, as seen in his photographs of women grinding wheat outside of a building or a priest praying in a grotto in Jerusalem. He also documented the lives of workers involved in his infrastructure projects.

He was inspired by Palestinian photographer Khalil Ra'd, whose studio he visited in Jerusalem.

The engineer also worked for the American company Standard Oil, which explored the area for oil deposits even before the war.

The company eventually ran into conflict with the British Mandate, which controlled Palestine from 1920 to 1948. Fuleihan returned to the United States in 1924, where he worked on projects such as the Holland Tunnel and George Washington Bridge. He died in New York in 1959.

Akkasah’s collection came out of a collaboration between the collection owner Gail O'Keefe Edson, Fuleihan's granddaughter, and librarian Guy Burak from the NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library in New York. The photographs were loaned to the library and digitised there, while the Akkasah team researched and catalogued the digital images.

Jasmine Soliman, an archivist from Akkasah who conducted research on the photographs, said: “Fuleihan's photographs tell the story of his life and career among the Middle Eastern diaspora in the United States; beginning with his time studying alongside classmates from as far afield as Japan and the Philippines and later returning to the Levant.

"There he carved out a successful career and developed a network among leaders in Palestinian society, including Selim Ayoub and Ismail Bey el Husseini, officers of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Commercial Society of Palestine Bank.”

Currently, Akkasah has 33,000 photographs in its archive, with more 10,000 images digitised and available to the public on their website.

Updated: May 6, 2020 08:08 PM

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