Category Archives: photography

Women, a child, arms and a man in Nabi Saleh.

Palestinians scuffle with an Israeli soldier as they try to prevent him from detaining a boy during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. Reuters

Palestinians scuffle with an Israeli soldier as they try to prevent him from detaining a boy during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. Reuters

When camera images “go viral” it speaks to their resonance with their publics, and their power to command the attention of viewers. They also declaim loudly about the situations they depict, echoing resoundingly the events framed by the lenses through which we see them at a distance. Such are the images of the attempted arrest by an Israeli soldier of 12-year-old Mohammad Tamimi near the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh on Friday August 28th 2015. Attempted, because women from Mohammed’s family struggled with the soldier to prevent the arrest.

The images did not go viral because it is unusual for Israeli soldiers to arrest Palestinian children. According to a UN report on human rights in the Palestinian occupied territories, “on average, around 700 children are detained and prosecuted per year, most commonly on charges of throwing stones,” which could have been Mohammad’s fate. Nor is it especially unusual to see still and moving images of these arrests. In one example about which I wrote in July 2013, Israeli soldiers from the Givati Brigade stationed in Hebron detained Wadi’ Maswadeh, aged five years and nine months, after he allegedly threw a stone at an Israeli car. Wadi’s arrest was documented on video by Palestinian field researchers for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

It was also not unusual that there were images of a demonstration at Nabi Saleh. The village is now famous for its weekly demonstrations in which its residents protest the confiscation of their land and the appropriation of the spring (owned by the Tamimi family) by the nearby Israeli settlement, Halamish, in 2009. As the villagers march towards the spring, the protests generally become violent, as Israeli forces block them. Palestinians throw stones and Israeli forces break up the march with skunk water, teargas and live fire, as a result of which two of Mohammed’s relatives, Mustafa (in 2011) and Rushdi (2012), were killed. Events are recorded regularly, appearing on the Nabi Saleh Solidarity blog, local Bilal Tamimi’s YouTube channel and Israeli artist David Reeb’s YouTube channel. Both David and Balil were arrested without ground on Friday August 21st, then released by the court.

The difference between David’s and Bilal’s videos filmed last Friday indicate why some of the images went viral. In David’s video we see the “routine”: beginning with marching and chanting, the road blocked by Israeli troops who fire teargas, then other rounds, Palestinian youths using slingshots for stones and to return the still smoking teargas canisters. There is a shot of a lone soldier running at full pelt after a youth in a blue shirt, then as one of the youths is bound and detained by four other soldiers, we hear some shouts and women shrieking out of sight of the camera. Nothing exceptional here to go viral.

Bilal’s short video begins as the running solder changes direction to capture Mohammad in a choke hold and force him to the ground, fends off a young woman activist (he calls her “leftist trash”) who pulls at Mohammed’s right arm (the left one is broken and in plaster), and calls for back up. A little over a minute later, Mohammad’s sister Ahed arrives, tugging determinedly at his arm as she yells in English to leave her little brother alone, shortly followed by his mother Nariman and another Palestinian woman, and a small crowd of locals, activists, and cameras. The three women grab hold of the soldier, smacking him on the head, pulling of his net balaclava. The soldier fends them off with his hands and keeps hold of Mohammed until, some 2 minutes after he grabbed the boy, the soldier’s commander arrives, pushes one woman in the face, and then has the soldier let Mohammad go. As he is helped away by another soldier, his parting gift for the people left around the boy is a stun grenade. According to the +972 blog, both Ahed and Nariman were hurt in the tussle, needing hospital treatment, which went unreported in the Israeli press, at first, until a subsequent report by Amira Hass.

Perhaps, though, the video images of the event, including this shorter video clip that appears on the Ramallah City Facebook page and has had more than 2.2 million views, would not be so arresting without the still images. The shaky, hand-held filming and the confusion of voices in the videos certainly have a raw documentary power, but they do not quite hold the viewers to the intensity of the event. There are several stills which can be seen in this report by Ha’aretz that reflects the army’s version of events and this dismissive one by the right-wing Daily Mail. I will focus on just one image.

Palestinians try to prevent Israeli soldier from detaining a boy during a protest in the West Bank village Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. Reuters

Palestinians try to prevent Israeli soldier from detaining a boy during a protest in the West Bank village Nabi Saleh, August 28, 2015. Reuters

There are four faces in the frame. The soldier’s is central, Mohammad’s below him, his sister Ahed to the left and his mother the other woman closely bracketing the soldier. It is a scene of struggle, an image of power relations. There is a Zionist literary and cinematic trope of being “the few against the many.” The soldier is besieged and outnumbered, his hand bitten, his neck and shoulder pulled in different directions. The soldier also seems vulnerable, having emerged for the chase without a helmet or body armor. Yet, the trope doesn’t work in this context. He is the one with the rifle. The soldier’s father told Israeli army radio that while his son had been attacked, he was subject to a provocation, perhaps planned in advance, and was proud of the restraint he’d shown. No question for him, then, of who was really in control. Mohammad’s father Bassam tells a different story: fearing the consequences if the Palestinian youths ran to the soldier who might then start shooting, setting off a bloody chain of events, he shouted for the commander to come over.

The photograph evokes most clearly all a scene of women and a girl defending their child and relative, pinned in fear and pain under the armed man. The adult women are marked by their traditional dress that leaves only their faces and hands exposed. Ahed appears unthreatening in her pink T shirt with its Tweety Pie cartoon, her bite that of a child without the strength to combat a grown man. The pulling in different direction symbolizes the pulls between different laws, reminiscent of Sophocles’ play Antigone. The soldier claims possession of the boy according to the law of the father, of the state, and the occupation. If the boy threw a stone, he has become a weapon, and the state brooks no infringement of its monopoly on the use of force. The boy is subjected to force, to violence. The women claim the boy, Mohammad, son and brother, according to the law of familial bonds. Their hands, arms (and Ahed’s teeth) weigh against the force of the armed man. And according to the same law of human bonds, Mohammad’s mother judges the soldier to be a child too, a victim of policies that he ought to question. On this occasion the struggle between the law of the father state and the law of the family ended well relatively for the sons. To say the incident ended peacefully would be untrue, but at least it ended without any mothers keening for the dead sons.

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Documentation and Donations: B’Tselem’s cameras | The Vision Machine

B'Tselem's Facebook cover photo (Hebrew version, January 2015)

B’Tselem’s Facebook cover photo (Hebrew version, January 2015)

In this blog, I write about a fund-raising video produced by Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem in the context of their practice of giving video cameras to Palestinians the human rights abuses entailed by occupation. Even though the video avoids sensationalism, it falls into a sentimentality that is tension with its usual “raw” aesthetic.

Documentation and Donations: B’Tselem’s cameras | The Vision Machine.

Images of fake peace and of co-resistance

A Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli activist confront Israeli soldiers during a weekly demonstration against the Israeli occupation and Separation Wall in the West Bank village of Al Ma’sara, April 5, 2013. The Wall, if built as planned, would cut off the village from its agricultural lands. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

In this piece linked below, Activestills photographer Ryan Rodrick Beiler expresses a key idea and purpose of this blog and my research. There are images of peace and images of peace. He criticizes a “PR” image of peace, an image of peace that is and will remain an unfulfilled wish, forever deferred, because, sadly, there will (from the Israeli-Jewish perspective) never be enough people of good will on the other (Palestinian) side. The image of the boys that the article talks about is an image that Netanyahu could endorse, an image of coexistence in which nothing needs to change except “perception” or “attitudes”. If only “they” didn’t hate us it would all be fine, and we would live in “peace” and they wouldn’t mind that we dispossessed them and occupied them. But as it is, “there is no partner for peace,” so instead we will continue to like these images of coexistence and say it’s a shame that they don’t like them.

The recent talk about the photograph in the Jewish Daily Forward, following Rihanna’s tweeting it, characterizes the photo as a fake, because it is staged photo of two Jewish Israeli boys. However, as the photographer Ricki Rosen said “t was a symbolic illustration,… It was never supposed to be a documentary photo.” She’s right that it isn’t a “fake” and in that sense it’s no more fake than another similar photo by Debbi Cooper that’s touted as being a “real” one in a follow-up piece. That photo does picture a Palestinian and Jewish Israeli boy, but it’s also staged in that the boys were not already friends. As the photographer reportedly said “it was always aspirational, rather than a reflection of the situation between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground” at the time of the first intifada.

In his piece Beiler also calls Rosen’s picture a fake. But he seems to mean something different to the discussion in Forward  when he says that the photo was a “more-perfect-than-intended allegory” of the Oslo process and its more recent iterations. His point is less that th ephot is fake than that peace process is itself a fake. As he says, ” images like this endure and proliferate — because people in the West cling to the idea that if we all just came together as human beings, we could solve this thing. The problem with that fantasy is that it ignores the structures of Israeli oppression, in which one side holds virtually all of the power.” Instead, Beiler produces and advocates for other images of peace, images of just peace, in which occupation is overcome in Jewish-Arab partnership. This peace is hard work, sometimes dangerous work, work that puts activists at odds with people from their own communities, but it is peace.

Replace fake co-existence photos with real images of co-resistance | +972 Magazine.

Two Pictures of War: Over the Protective Edge

On the morning of July 18, 2014 the slide show of photos on the Haaretz Hebrew online version’s front page included a couple of typical photographic representations of war. Perhaps they are unremarkable in themselves, among the daily flow of images of the current armed conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. But perhaps the way the two photos could regard each other, or what they might want of each other, is remarkable.

 

Reserve soldier says farewell to his girlfriend at a mobilization point in Haifa. Photo by Rami Shalosh, Ha'aretz online, 18 July 2014.

Reserve soldier says farewell to his girlfriend at a mobilization point in Haifa. Photo by Rami Shalosh, Ha’aretz online, 18 July 2014.

One is a picture of how mainstream Israeli society sees itself in this war. The reserve soldier is a citizen reporting for duty, ready to serve his country, to protect it. He is there to be the “protective edge.” There is no celebration in the picture, no excitement, no loud hurrah, no waving flags, no parade. Other than the couple in the foreground, and the military fatigues and T-shirts worn by three of the group of men, they look as if they could be heading off on a job together. That is how Israel sees itself going off to war, somberly, reluctantly, only because it is necessary. Only because of them, their rockets, their refusal to accept a cease fire, their refusal to let us live in peace.
These are men gathering for war, but the face that is turned towards us is not the soldier in the foreground, but his girlfriend’s. Her expression is partly obscured by her sunglasses, so we don’t see her eyes, but we can see the anxiety and concern in her face as she embraces him. This too is part of the way Israel (and other countries) go to war, the men leaving the women behind. He puts himself in danger to protect her. Yet in this war (as in many other wars) as the soldier goes off to the front while the home front is left exposed to their rockets. In this case, as the girlfriend and other friends and relatives in the picture are in Haifa, they are beyond the range of all but a few rockets. But still, it makes sense that we see her face, because in this kind of war, she is as much a protagonist as her boyfriend. All civilians are human shields in this war, including Uda Al- Wadj, the Israeli Bedouin killed by a rocket that hit his community, Qasr al-Sir, close to the Israeli nuclear reactor in Dimona.

 

Wounded Gazan girl in the Shifa Hospital, Gaza. Photo: AP. Haaretz online, 18 July 2014.

Wounded Gazan girl in the Shifa Hospital, Gaza. Photo: AP. Haaretz online, 18 July 2014.

In another picture the face that is most visible to us is also a girl’s, in this case an injured, infant girl, in the arms not of a soldier but a man wearing surgical gloves and a face mask. Other than the mark on her head and what might be a bandage on her foot, it’s hard to make out the extent of her injuries. Her eyes are mostly closed, but we see the distress on her face and the concern on the man’s as he moves to rest her on a bed. Behind them, we see a group of men in the uniforms of medical staff. Unable to protect the girl – and themselves – from the missiles and shells that the Israeli military rain down on Gaza, these men’s duty is to treat the wounded. Here there is no difference between the front and the home front. The girl is on the front line, along with the men.
This is how most Palestinians experience the war with Israelis, with the reservists quietly going to the front. They shoot at us and bomb us. They drive us from our land. They make war on all of us, fighters and civilians, men and women, adults and children, young and old. They turn us into refugees. The choice is to remain steadfast and risk death, or flee. In Gaza, there is nowhere safe to flee to that is safe from their missiles and bombs. We are in the hands of God.
If the eyes of the injured Palestinian girl would open and the young Israeli woman would take off her sunglasses, and their eyes should meet, would the killing and maiming stop, would the men be able to stop doing their duty? Is this what the two pictures want from each other? Is this what all the human shields, Israeli and Palestinian alike, want from each other?

Picturing the peace procession

Photographs of the signing of negotiated peace agreements are among the few conventions of the limited iconography of peace. Representing the partners shaking hands, perhaps even smiling at each other, often in the encouraging embrace of a mediator, such photographs are typical images of the sort of peace made between political leaders. Pictures of Arab-Israeli peace agreements follow an established formula, a seen in this vertical triptych printed by the New York Times on December 2, 2007.

Top, middle, Associated Press; lower, Doug Mills, New York Times.

Top, middle, Associated Press; lower, Doug Mills, New York Times.

The series is telling in itself. The top image shows Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin smiling and holding hands upon signing the 1979 treaty between their two countries under US President Carter’s close watch. The middle picture shows PLO Chairman and Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Rabin shaking hands, but without much warm body language, in the frame provided by Bill Clinton’s open arms, as they sign the 1993 Oslo Accords, which was a ‘Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements’ (to establish the Palestinian Authority) rather than a peace treaty. The Oslo Accords envisaged a full and final peace agreement within five years, but the lowest picture records the unfulfilled promise of the one above. In 2007, with President Bush’s hand’s off encouragement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert allegedly came close to a final agreement, but not close enough. Bush holds the hands of his two guests, who do not (in this image) shake each other hands or exchange looks.

livini.erekat.iftarThe current round of discussions, brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, about how to restart direct talks between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority has already generated its own set of images. In a first series, the two chief negotiators, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat sit side by side opposite John Kerry at the dinner table, in a suitably posed impression of diplomatic relaxation before the hard work begins. Another series of pictures were published after it was announced that the talks about talks have produced the desired outcome of more talks that will begin in the Middle East in two weeks, aiming for a comprehensive peace agreement within nine months. These photos follow the generic convention of the mediator framing the two partners shaking hands.

erekat.livni.shakeIt may be more appropriate, though, to show here an image captured by CNN, before the two hands meet. The whole process seems so uncertain that all three participants have their eyes not on each other’s faces but on their hands. Will they or won’t they successfully grasp hands? At least the outcome of this encounter is much more certain than the achievement of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The sense of uncertainty and justified scepticism about reaching a final agreement in such a time frame, and to some extent the corollary cynicism about repeated, unsuccessful peace processing, is reflected in a non-conventional image by T.J. Kirkpatrick in the New York Times. The shot captures the procession of diplomats, none of whom seem to be looking forward to a destination. Ereket looks at his watch, as if time is already running out. Livni looks down, uncertain of her ground. Kerry seems ready to reach out to Livni if she stumbles along the way. In the photo, the peace process has become its own goal, not peace itself.

kerry peace processThere is a part of me that was cheered by the news that this very first hurdle in the arduous process has been overcome. But that is the same part of me that expects to win the lottery, a part which indulges in wishful, if not magical, thinking. Once the procession begins, our attention switches to the success of the process, to the drama of breakthrough or breakdown in which the media frames peace diplomacy. For one thing, we lose sight of the peace for which we – and not only the suited diplomats – strive. Is a two-state solution the goal we should seek? Too late to ask, the race is on again. Our eyes are on the finishing line, not on the ground of the present, the ground on which the Israeli Housing Ministry today proposed to build an exclusively Jewish neighbourhood, in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, and the ground on which the Israeli occupation continues to operate by force. The peace that must be achieved is one that begins today, not as a photo-opportunity for but as practice of partnership. Perhaps, I hope, my suspicion about the pseudo-peace offered on John Kerry’s table will be proved groundless (and perhaps I will win the lottery). In the meantime, I place my modest hopes for peace with the activists against the occupation, not with the peace procession.