Dream Homes Property Consultants is a postgraduate project of Palestinian artist-filmmaker Alexandra Handal. The interactive web documentary art project takes as its starting point Israeli real estate ads for “Arab houses” in West Jerusalem. The ads typically erase from history the people who built and lived in and were expelled from these houses and never allowed back. Dream Homes Property Consultants used participatory research methods and storytelling to restore the homes to their proper owners and to bring alive their stories and the devastating irrevocable consequences of their permanent loss of these homes, which had such deep meaning to their original occupants.
Developed in 2013 out of Handal’s postgraduate work in the region, the project used participatory research methods and storytelling to capture the memories of Palestinians who were displaced during the chaos of 1948 and never allowed to return.
In an interview with the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) in 2015, Handal recounted the inspiration for the work:
“Can you tell me how you were inspired to create ‘Dream Homes Property Consultants (DHPC)’?
Alexandra Handal: “The idea for the work grew from an encounter I made in the early 1990s. During a trip to NYC, I met a Palestinian refugee and he showed me a real estate advertisement that featured upscale residential properties in West Jerusalem. At first glance, there was nothing particularly special about this ad, but the absurd political reality around it became evident after he explained to me that this was in fact his family’s expropriated home that was now on sale for an Israeli Jewish international clientele. I was a teenager at the time and the story had an enduring impact on me—beneath the glossy surface of the ad was a cruel reality.
“Roughly ten years later, remembering that encounter, I began browsing Israeli real estate agency websites wondering whether I might come across an advertisement like that one again. I could not have anticipated what followed in terms of the amount of material I would find, what it revealed, and how it made me feel.”
“What did you find on the websites”?
AH: “Well, this led me to compile a collection of advertisements, which I used to carefully study how confiscated Palestinian homes were being imagined in an Israeli Jewish context. I learned that expropriated Palestinian houses in West Jerusalem are ironically repackaged by Israeli real estate agencies as “Arab-style.” The use of the word ‘Arab’ in ‘Arab-style’ is emptied of its Palestinian memory and reduced to architectural terminology.”
“The other component of my investigation was the emotional impact that sifting through estate agency photos of West Jerusalem would evoke in me. The images that are commonly featured on such commercial websites are informal domestic snapshots, where images of quotidian life are on display in order to imagine oneself in that space. For those looking for a place to buy, the space is a commodity, but for me, the images became a way to access a suppressed history. I got a glimpse of what became of the homes of Palestinian refugees from West Jerusalem. The presence of the current Israeli Jewish occupant emphasized the Palestinian absence.
“It was not until I began meeting Palestinian refugees from West Jerusalem that I realized the stories they were telling me needed to be set in an imaginary real estate agency, as it provided the context necessary to empathize with such monumental loss.”1
Within the site, specific homes in different neighborhoods are explored in depth. Each house, neighborhood, and family is described in detail.
Abla Dajani’s Story
In this video, Jerusalemite Abla Dajani visits her family home, confiscated by Israel in 1948, in the neighborhood of Lower Baq‘a in what became West Jerusalem after the war and the establishment of Israel.
The below history accompanies this video on the Dream Homes Property Consultants website.
“In the early twentieth century, Abdallah Bek Abdul Rahman El-Alami, who held a high rank in the Ottoman Empire, gave instructions that any Jerusalemite passing by Aleppo be invited to his house. He was from Jerusalem and missed his city dearly, so this was his way of remaining connected with its inhabitants. El-Alami was a very wealthy man who lived in a large house with his family, a man who also provided secret shelter as well as flour, rice and heat to Armenians in his area, that were persecuted by the Ottoman Turks. No one would have dared to search his house, due to his high position, under Sultan Abed El-Hamid Abdallah.
“Among one of El-Alami's visitors was Daoud Taher Dajani Daoudi and Khadijeh Mustafa Kutub, known as Abu and Umm Faek. The couple had gone to do a pilgrimage to Mekkah, Saudi Arabia, but on their way back to Jerusalem they passed by Damascus and Aleppo to buy goods, such as rosewater and all kinds of spices, a custom known as hejje ou hajje. El-Alami extended an invitation to the Jerusalemite couple, and they cordially accepted. Abu Faek and Umm Faek spent a good time at Dar El-Alami’s, as the two families got along very well. Umm Faek told her husband that she wanted El-Alami's beautiful daughter, named Amneh, for their son Mohammed. Abu Faek therefore proposed the idea and El-Alami immediately approved.
“So when Mohammed Daoud Taher Dajani and Amneh Bek Abdul Rahman El-Alami got married in 1923, Amneh, the bride moved to Jerusalem. Since she was leaving her family in Aleppo, her father wanted to make sure she was happy. He offered his beloved daughter a big wooden mother of pearl box, filled with different kinds of clothes and precious jewelry. When Anmeh arrived in Jerusalem, she lived with her parents-in-law, in their house in Lower Baqa‘a. It is there, that the newlyweds had their first son, Sliman. Shortly after, Abu Sliman and Umm Sliman moved out of Abu and Umm Faek’s house and rented a modest house in the same neigbourhood. There they had four more children: Hind, Abla, Jawad, and Layla.
“After Abu Sliman had earned enough money from his businesses, he had a house built for his family in Lower Baqa‘a, a mere walking distance from his parents. In 1936 when construction was completed, his family moved into the newly built house, which is the property featured here. Abu and Umm Sliman had three more children: Salah, Anbara, and Walid. For the ninth birth, Umm Sliman contacted a mid-wife named, Stella to rush to the house once she felt she was entering labour. Abu Sliman who was in Egypt at the time, wished to call the unborn child Khaled, should it be a boy, a name he loved. Stella arrived at the house and noticed complications, so she called Dr. Mahmoud Dajani and Dr.Hajjar to assist her. By the time Dr. Mahmoud Dajani and Dr. Hajjar arrived at the house, and tried to deliver the baby, the infant had already died. He had one cry and was about 6 kilos.
“Being in the real estate business, Abu Sliman purchased additional plots of land in Lower Baqa‘a, where he had other houses constructed, and rented those properties out. Abu Sliman also owned the Daoudi Trading Agency in Mamilla. He was a well-known merchant and had among his customers the nuns that ran the German Colony School. Umm Sliman who was sadly suffering from a heart illness was too weak to care for all her children, therefore the nuns kindly offered Abu Sliman to help by having his daughters, Abla and Hind, as boarders. In 1942, the British Mandate closed the German Colony School after which, Abla and Hind were boarders at the Italian School in Talbiyeh for a year. When the Italian School closed at the end of WWII, the girls moved to the Schmidts Girls School, where their sisters, Layla and Amnbara were attending.”2