A new exhibition in Jaffa has a strikingly simple idea: portrait shots of 50 Palestinians who were born in 1967, the year the Israeli occupation began. “50 Years” showcases both rich and poor, political activists and those whose homes are slated for demolition, and runs at the Jaffa Art Salon until December 21.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem organized the exhibition and its public outreach director, Roy Yellin, says the idea was an attempt to reflect a situation in which people have been living under occupation for a long time.
“Some of the people in the pictures already have grandchildren,” he explains. “The occupation is seen as something temporary, but it’s already been going on for a long time.” He adds that the subjects were found with the help of B’Tselem researchers.
Yellin hopes the exhibition will spark questions among the attendees. “On the aesthetic level, the people in the catalog are ordinary folk and they reflect different types of people under occupation. We deal with the universality of human rights, and the exhibition reflects the harm done to all types. Even rich people in the West Bank have very few opportunities to take advantage of their wealth.”
Curator Maayan Sheleff selected the exhibition’s photographers, some of whom are Israeli and some Palestinian. This project is different from others not only because of its political implications, she says. The project created complex encounters between the subjects and photographers, she says, because they were one-shot deals.
“It was like a blind date and led to some emotional situations,” she explains. “The encounter between the photographer and subject is not equal: The Palestinians can’t come to the Israelis, who have the privilege of coming to the subject. There’s no attempt here to present a utopia or a dialogue, but instead to reflect a situation that is not so simple.”
Many of the photographs show poverty. Like, for example, the one of Fakhriya Ashur, a widow, mother of nine and resident of the Shoafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. Wearing a red dress and with a neglected building in the background, her photographer was an Israeli, Orit Siman-Tov.
Every subject also had to chance to express their feelings in a few sentences, and these appear in the catalog alongside the image.
“I don’t know what it means to feel freedom and to be free; I hope I’ll have a chance to experience that,” Ashur said. “My joy in life is my grandchildren, and I hope their future will be better than our present.”
Oven awaiting demolition
Kifah Abdel Kader, a widow and mother of two from the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank, is a political activist for women and children’s rights. In Dan Haimovich’s sensitive and melancholy shot of her, she is seen in a shelter that’s also the office of the Fatah women’s organization where she works. A painting of a dove, the Palestinian flag and a victory symbol is seen on the wall behind her. “Liberty and freedom are rights that God gave us as human beings and that the occupation denies us,” she declares.
Mahmoud Debabsa, meanwhile, is a shepherd and the father of 12. His photograph was taken by Anna Yam against a pristine landscape without buildings or infrastructures, with only a small path visible on the horizon. He’s a resident of Khirbat Al-Mufkara, a community located in the southern Hebron Hills that is at risk of being evacuated by the Israeli army. According to Debabsa, “There’s a demolition order for everything here – for the house, for the fence, for the bathrooms, even for the oven. We live here and don’t bother anyone, but Israel wants to evict us in order to take our land.”
The exhibition also includes photos of well-to-do Palestinians. For example, Ayman Bani Fadel – the owner of an electrical infrastructure company, married and the father of four, from Akraba near Nablus. Yanai Yechiel photographed him sitting confidently in his living room, among elegant sofas, curtains and carpets decorated in an Arab style. “Freedom is living in dignity in an independent homeland that will give us peace and security,” he says.
Ahmad al-Assad, deputy head of the Tubas council, married and the father of five, lives in the Al-Fara refugee camp near Tubas. Galit Aloni photographed him, but there is no magnificent fountain or cultural center in the background of his photo – merely bare land, a tree and a few battered benches.
“The diplomatic process is stuck and discouraging,” he says. “But as an elected official, despair is not an option. It’s important for me to succeed in representing the collective aspirations of the Palestinians for liberty, independence and security. I want peace and know it will guarantee the lives of the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, whom Israel is trying to expel. On a personal level, like everyone else I want to live my life in happiness and to be able to move freely in my country.”
The exhibition also includes images of B’Tselem volunteers like Rima Abu Ayesha. Married and the mother of eight, she is a resident of the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron’s Old City. Yael Bartana photographed Abu Ayesha holding her video camera, which she says gives her power – unlike the descriptions she gives of being a woman living under occupation.
She lives in a house that looks like a cage, she says, “in order to protect ourselves from the settlers who throw stones at our windows. Because of the restrictions on movement imposed by the army, even my children can’t come to visit me.”
Khaled al-Azayzeh, a field researcher for B’Tselem, worked with photographer Ronit Porat: Their collaboration was unique because it was the only one that was done via correspondence on WhatsApp and Instagram. Azayzeh is married and the father of four, and lives in Dir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip. From a selection of pictures taken by Azayzeh, the two picked several images of the Gaza coastline, and from them Porat created a collage. Azayzeh called the work “To the End of the Horizon.”
As a footnote, Israel prevented 22 people involved in the exhibition from attending a special event at the Jaffa Art Salon last Thursday. The Civil Administration rejected their request for exit permits from the West Bank, citing the sensitivity of the event.