onlookers Mitzpeh Hila
Two girls at Mitzpeh Hila, October 20, 2011. Photo by Abdallah Shama
Text size

This charming photograph taken by Abdallah Shama on October 20 is light and full of humor. Two teenage girls proudly display photo number 1,309 on their iPhone 4: Gilad Shalit riding a bicycle outside his home in Mitzpeh Hila. There is so much sweetness in the attempt by these two to "look pretty" while being photographed, and in the fact that they really are pretty.

With their white tank tops, red lipstick and black hair, they look like sisters, both similar and different, complementary and contrasting. The one with her hair put up makes sure to keep her mouth closed, like girls who are convinced that a closed mouth is the way to emphasize their best features. The other, with her beautiful hair worn loose and her red nail polish, offers the smile of a social network profile, convinced of exactly the opposite. Behind them, in the background, is the smile of Shimshon Liebman, head of the campaign to free Shalit. This is a bright, shining day in Mitzpeh Hila.

The photograph of Shalit on the girls' iPhone was taken by Shama, too. There is charm in his willingness to share what could have been his exclusive photo.

On the day of Shalit's dramatic return, the first photos of him were stunning, reinforcing the shock and pain of his re-entrance into the "real" world, of his reappearance as a living person. All along the route he followed after his release, he seemed to be immersed in a morass of pain. In the striped shirt he wore in Egypt, like Joseph, in the uniform that was barely held up by a belt, and in his salute to Netanyahu, like the salute of John F. Kennedy Jr. to his father in the famous November 1963 photo, Shalit - and only he - is the center of attention.

But from the moment he returned home, the pain we feel begins to diminish. Shama's photo records not only the way pictures of Shalit have begun to be absorbed into a reality that works like a copying machine, but the evaporation of the pain as well. These Shalit tourists mean well. We do not see the disparities that sometimes arise when people "make a pilgrimage" to centers of national drama - only the joy of a surprising happy end. It isn't tacky or ridiculous; this is how people take part in an experience without allowing cynicism to paralyze their response.

Therefore, although this image may enable us to speak of the blurred boundaries between private and public, or of how the bearable lightness of current photo-snapping affects our perception of reality, the subject of this photograph is the two girls. Shama observes their friendship, the heightened self-consciousness of adolescence, and the way their different personalities are emphasized and come through despite the fact that they both believe in red lipstick. And that makes it possible suddenly to see the tattoo on the arm of the girl on the left. It's a bird. A beautiful one. A free spirit.