Israel and the Occupied territories , 2007
Side-by-Side was the last project I was involved with on the ground at PhotoVoice.
We had been approached by a long-term PhotoVoice supporter and artist, Illona Suchitzsky, whose niece, Sharon, lived in Jerusalem. Sharon, who lost her brother when he served in the Israeli army, was a member of the Families Forum. The Forum members, half of whom are Palestinian and half Israeli, have all lost immediate family members in fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. They work toward peace and reconciliation bringing Israelis and Palestinians together in the hope of dialogue and understanding rather than ongoing violence and hatred. When discussing PhotoVoice Ilene and Sharon, began to consider the possibility of a project with the Families Forum.
After 1-2 years of research and development and securing the necessary funds, the Side-by-Side project could begin. It was the first direct dialogue project PhotoVoice was engaged with and using photography to bring together young people who spoke a different language and lived not only in different cultures but within communities whose narratives are so deeply and historically embedded in opposition and difference, was a fascinating prospect. Could the commonality of learning photography together and using the images as a tool to share views and viewpoints, both in person and online, facilitate a greater understanding and sense of commonality between these two groups of young people and could that then ripple out further amongst the young people’s families and friends?
Between January and July 2007, twelve young people, six Israeli and six Palestinian learnt photographic skills. Through a series of workshops and meetings, held on the West Bank, around Jerusalem and by the sea south of Tel Aviv, the young people began to share their lives and views with each other, communicating through the images they took and with each other. In time they began to open up and trust each other more and learnt and had fun together.
The project faced many challenges – including the 2006 war in Lebanon, violent clashes in the West Bank and regular checkpoint closures – however the students’ determination to represent an alternative view of the conflict and to share their work together did result in a strong body of work as well as lasting friendships across the divide. Together the teenagers developed a voice rarely heard amidst the daily news of the region’s politics and violence.
The Side-by-Side project was exhibited in both East and West Jerusalem as well as in London, at the Economist Plaza. The exhibition was held sixty years after the founding of the State of Israel, an event celebrated by Israelis as Independence Day and remembered by Palestinians as “al-Nambe” or the Catastrophe. A debate was also held with members of the Families Forum present at the Royal Geographical Centre in London.
Documentary on the Side by Side Project
With thanks to Idioms Film