A newly painted version of a picture that for Palestinians has come to symbolize their struggle for statehood has been unveiled in Dubai, many years after the original was believed to have been destroyed in a U.S. airstrike on Libya.
“Jamal al-Mahamel” (Camel of Burdens), a 1973 painting depicting an elderly porter struggling to balance Jerusalem on his back, is seen as a representation of the Palestinian aspiration to establish a state with East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war, as its capital.
“I was not thinking of making an icon when I painted it,” artist Suleiman Mansour, who painted the original and the duplicate, said before the work was unveiled Wednesday. “But now, with so much Arab and Palestinian focus on this painting, of course it has become even more famous than me. I am identified by it.”
Mansour said the Libyan ambassador in London told him that the original 100x70-cm painting was most likely destroyed by U.S. airstrikes on Tripoli in 1986. Countless copies of the gray-and-blue artwork painted by Mansour, a Jerusalem resident whose family comes from the West Bank town of Bir Zeit, had already found their way into Palestinian homes, after it was reproduced as a poster in 1975.
Mansour, who teaches at the Palestinian Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, said the new painting, “Jamal al-Mahamel II,” fixes some factual errors in the original.
Porters in Jerusalem had often stopped him to point out that unlike the round rope he had painted in the original, which can cause a load to slip and fall, they use a flat rope that gives more grip.
Mansour also made crosses on the Old City’s skyline more visible to show the diversity of the city holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews.
“Many ordinary Palestinians see their fathers or grandfathers in this painting,” Mansour said, “in the dimaya [traditional Palestinian men’s robe] worn by the porter, and see their heritage and culture in the image of Jerusalem on his back.”
“Jamal al-Mahamel II” is due to be auctioned at the end of the festival in Dubai. A percentage of the proceeds will be used to support an arts initiative in occupied Palestine.
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