Intifada: Men of rebel / Micha Kirshner

December 1987 started with another ‘routine’ occurrence in Gaza. A Jewish truck driver ran over four Palestinians near the Jabalya refugee camp, killing them. Up to here, is the journalistic chronology. The occurrence was the fuse which set the territories alight and from that moment on, fire and brimstone. A short while later we became acquainted with a new word which appeared in the Palestinian/ Jewish relations dictionary: ‘Intifada’.

In May ‘88, I closed my studio for several months and went out to take photos in the territories. I intended photographing injured Jews and Palestinians who were not directly involved with the uprising, but nonetheless were brutally injured without any justification. Injured Palestinians who were the outcome of the hard-heartedness and anxiety of soldiers aged 18 – 20 and a type of Israeli politics. Injured Jews, victims of Palestinians, whose nationalistic ideology and fanatic religious indoctrination was the oil which fueled their blood.

Initially, I approached the Moses family of Alfei Menashe. The mother of the family was burnt to death by a Molotov cocktail which also caused severe burns to her husband and daughter. The father, first and foremost was concerned with the well-being of the children. The family decided not to be exposed. They have my utmost sympathy, and I cannot judge them.

After reconsideration, a decision was made to only photograph Palestinians, since we justly wrote about ‘Tzvika A, Tzvika B and Tzvika C’(Common Israeli name) all the time . We knew that they were the best in their class and that their life was destroyed abruptly, we knew their image and contribution. We knew that they were lighter than eagles and braver than lions, this was true, important and agonizingly painful. We identified with their families and counted the days until our children enlisted in the army, our stomachs clinched with fear. Nobody knew who ‘Ahmed A, Ahmed B and Ahmed C’ were. Were they the best in their class? What did they look like? What were their dreams?

Entering the territories at that time, was accompanied by existential anxiety – literally. Traveling in foreign taxis or a beat-up transporter to the heart of darkness, was accompanied by express disconcertion (I will forever take my hat off to the news photographers who did this for years before this moment – and for years afterward). The stone throwing, car rocking, the basic hostility, the constant crowding around the camera, and the buzzing of the word ‘Yahud’ led me to Parkinson fits.

‘Why is everything so sterile? Why with a white background with an air of a studio on Sheinkin Street or New York?’ I was asked again and again. The response is simple and related directly to the stomachs of the newspaper readers. Years of photographs of refugee camps, with the sewerage running through them and the ramshackle houses with a sad-eyed child next to them, turned everything into a concoction which we held in contempt. The decision to confront the viewer with a vulnerable body, an entirely naked body, a body from which there is no escape, was conscious and almost cynical. Nobody is more vulnerable than the exposed body which has no protections, a body between whose epidermis and myself was only the thin air of insecurity. And the eyes peering from the photograph? Open slightly wider than necessary? I hope that it will be impossible to ignore the eyes.

And today? Nothing has changed. Both tribes – as if taken from an ancient world, continue to draw blood from each other, with God on their side.
And the photographs, what have they contributed? And what is the power of the said photograph to be worth a thousand words (according to the cliché)? The response is embarrassing.

Published in Maariv 2008.

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