Sepia Prints (2014 - Present)
Portraits of Denial & Desire Sepia

Umm Aziz. Digital Print. Sepia.
80 x 60 and 110 x 80 inches
John Halaka © 2015

Umm Aziz - Amneh Hassan Bannat - Born 1930 in Sheikh Daoud Palestine - Lives in Borj El Barajneh Refugee Camp, Lebanon.

Umm Aziz was born in the Village of Sheikh Daoud in northern Palestine and moved to her husband’s village of Amqa, when she was married at the age of fifteen.  She had to flee early one morning in July 1948, when the village came under heavy artillery fire.  She told me that she quickly put her two infant daughters in a metal washtub, placed the washtub over her head and ran out of the village barefooted.  The one-month old baby was badly injured by shrapnel and both of her daughters died during her journey out of Palestine. Several members of her family and husband’s family, including her husband, who had been working in the fields during the shelling, managed to return to the village and to stay in Palestine, but Umm Aziz, barely 18 at the time, couldn’t return and joined the rivers of displaced Palestinians seeking shelter in Lebanon.  Her husband left Palestine voluntarily to search for his wife and daughters and found his young wife over a year later in a refugee camp in Southern Lebanon. The couple were forbidden from returning to Palestine by the newly established state of Israel, and eventually settled in Borj El Barajneh refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut, where they raised eight children. 

Um Aziz, lost four of her sons during the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September, 1982.  They were taken from her home and her arms by Lebanese Phalange militia early one morning.  Her four sons, along with hundreds of other men and boys, were loaded on large transport trucks bearing the insignia of the Lebanese military. All of the men that were hauled away during that period were never seen or heard from again and became part of the tens of thousands of the “disappeared” who vanished without a trace during the fifteen year Lebanese civil war.

Umm Aziz has expanded a great deal of energy searching for her sons.  Thirty-two years after their disappearance, she still waits by her window every night listening for the footsteps of her four sons, hoping beyond hope, that they will return and help to mend her broken heart before she dies.

She told me during the interview “I left Palestine and came here walking. If they told me I could go back to Palestine, I would tell them that I would happily return to Palestine walking.  In the same way that I left Palestine and came to Lebanon walking, I would return to Palestine walking. But only after I find out the whereabouts of my children. Only after they would tell me what happened to my children. I want to know if they’re alive, or dead, or in prison. I don’t know! I live in a whirlwind."