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Vice Uses Archive of Gaza’s First Photographer for Zionist Propaganda

Gaza’s first photographer’s grandson, Kegham Jr., and journalist Dana Al Sheikh expose the impact of the edited Vice article.

Farah Desouky

Amid the ongoing massacres in Gaza, Palestine, Canadian-American magazine Vice republished a 2021 interview with Palestinian-Armenian-Egyptian artist, creative director and professor Kegham Djeghalian Jr.

The interview, titled 'Rediscovered Photos of Gaza Reveal a Lesser Known Side of its History,' initially narrated the tale of Gaza's first photographer and the creator of its inaugural photography studio, Kegham Djeghalian Senior, as presented in an archival photography exhibition ‘Photo Kegham of Gaza: Unboxing’ created and curated by his grandson during Cairo Photo Week.

On October 25th and 26th, Vice and Vice UK  released an edited version of the interview, a move that, "Appropriates Kegham Senior's archive to promote Zionist narratives and propaganda," Kegham Jr tells CairoScene. Kegham Jr, along with the author of the 2021 article, Palestinian journalist Dana Al Sheikh, identified several discrepancies between both versions.

One such inconsistency is the assertion in the edited version that the late photographer was based in Jerusalem. However, Djeghalian Jr clarified that, even though his grandfather had resided in Jerusalem among other cities, he only established himself as a photographer in Gaza where he resided till his passing in 1981.

In 2021, Kegham Senior's grandson curated an archival photography exhibition. This exhibition featured photos of Gaza taken prior to the occupation, spanning from the 1940s to the 1970s. These images convey narratives of happiness, love, friendship, and community in Gaza before the Naksa. Through these archival photos, the artist aimed to depict a contrasting image of Gaza, one that predates its association with warfare and genocide, a time when its people weren't reduced to mere statistics of mortality.

The exhibition delved into the photographic legacy of Kegham Djeghalian, as viewed through the eyes of his grandson, who conducted archival research to delve into both Kegham, the person, and Kegham, the photographer. Through both lenses, the exhibition explored the visual history of the city of Gaza.

Kegham Jr. clarified that the re-published interview distorts the narrative and modifies the original interview conducted in Arabic. According to Kegham Jr., the re-published version fails to include historically essential terms in the context and story. He points out the absence of terms like 'Israeli Occupation,' 'Nakba,' and 'Naksa' in the article while introducing a new context with 'Hamas takes power,' which was not part of the original interview or article.

In a joint email from Kegham Jr and Al Sheikh to Vice’s Editor-in-Chief, which the artist shared with CairoScene, Kegham Jr stated, “What is implied is that Hamas is the cause of the decline and tragedy of Gaza. Historically, this is absolutely inaccurate. All the photos given to Vice under my copyright were taken before 1967.”

The grandson also highlights that his grandfather passed away in 1981, whereas the organization Hamas, was founded in 1987 and only ‘took power’ two decades later. He is adamant about not contributing to a narrative that implicates the archive with colonial undertones, suggesting that the destruction of Gaza was due to Islamic movements. He emphasized that the purpose of showcasing the archive and hosting the exhibition in 2021 was to present an image of Gaza before the Israeli occupation.

Vice UK's edited headline, titled 'Gaza Before the Conflict,' includes terminology that many pro-Palestine activists, including Kegham, find problematic. The term 'conflict' is seen as diminishing the historical power dynamics and, as per Kegham, fails to acknowledge the harsh realities of the Israeli occupation and the ongoing genocidal warfare and displacement since 1948.

Palestinian journalist Dana Al Sheikh, whose name is still listed as the author of the re-published article, spoke to CairoScene and stated, "I was not consulted at all during the editing process. Originally, the article was written in Arabic, and when it was translated into English, French, and Spanish, I was consulted. However, none of the versions included any mentions of Hamas."

The current article reframes both the archive and Kegham Jr's 2021 exhibit. Since October 25th, Kegham Jr has contacted Vice via email, declining the use of his grandfather's copyrighted image in this context and denouncing the dissemination of misleading information and narratives in the 2023 edited version. “They have not responded to my messages, my comments on the Instagram posts are hidden. They are instrumentalising our work, memories, history and archive for Zionist propaganda,” Kegham Jr tells CairoScene.

The re-published article also neglects to acknowledge Kegham Senior's documentation of pivotal events like the Nakba in 1948, the Naksa (Israel-Egyptian war in 1967), or the plight of Palestinians in refugee camps. According to his grandson, the edited interview has now been weaponized to create a portrayal of Gaza before Hamas. This narrative has historically been employed to present a 'liberal' image of nations before Islamic rule, consequently demonizing entire populations and weaponizing feminism and liberalism as colonial tools.

"What saddens me, on top of being Palestinian, originally from Gaza, and a journalist is that this article is being used to justify the current massacre carried out against Gazans. I am shocked by the blatant forgery. The images tell the story of Palestine and the possibilities of Palestinian life, free of occupation," Al Sheikh adds.

It's important to note that the edited Vice article was published amidst a global wave of Palestinian and Arab journalists and activists criticizing the bias in reporting by Western media regarding the ongoing attacks in Gaza, which began on October 7th. Palestinian author and activist Mohammed El Kurd, in response to Israeli airstrikes targeting the Al-Ahli Hospital Baptist Hospital and resulting in the death of over 500 Palestinians, tweeted, "This is journalism ushering in genocide" noting how the day prior, the BBC published an article alleging that Hamas uses hospitals in Gaza as military bases.

Palestinian activists and journalists have been vocal in criticising the disproportionate focus on Hamas’s role in the ongoing events. They emphasize that the persistent queries and requests to condemn Hamas overlook the history of displacement, violence, and occupation carried out by the Israeli Occupation Forces since the Nakba in 1948, which marked the establishment of the state of Israel and the displacement of thousands of Palestinians.

As Kegham resided in Gaza, experiencing and capturing its moments of joy and trauma, and making the choice to live there until his final day, the reinterpretation of his historical archive contributes to the broader erasure of Palestinian history and memory.

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