A Jewish Photographer’s Portrait of Arab Israeli Teenagers

The Photo Blog
April 22 2014 11:22 AM

A Jewish Photographer’s Portrait of Arab Israeli Teenagers

Eighteen 05
Jehad Nassar, 18, stands at the center of some of his gang members in Arrabe. Jehad has seen one of his friends lose his leg in a recent fight against another gang. Crime and gang disputes are very common, as the police hardly enter Arab settlements.

Natan Dvir

Turning 18 is the start of an important year for young Israelis. They typically finish high school, become legal adults, and get the right to vote. It’s also the year when the differences between two strata of Israeli society crystallize: While virtually all Jewish men and women join the military, most Arabs, who make up around 20 percent of the population of Israel, don’t.

In his series “Eighteen,” Jewish Israeli photographer Natan Dvir attempts to bridge that gap by taking portraits of Arab Israelis from a range of geographic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds during that crucial year. His goal, he said, was to challenge “the widespread misconceptions and stereotypes of the people within my own country who I was brought up to consider more as foes rather than as allies.”

Though Dvir grew up in Israel and spent most of his career there, he said he didn’t feel that he understood his Arab countrymen prior to the start of his project. “I knew a lot of Arab people, but I felt I didn't personally know this society. People I talked with also didn't know much about it. I felt a lot was lost in translation. My interest was to go on a personal journey to understand better,” he said.

Eighteen 07
Aseel, Umm Al-Fahm. "I love living in Umm Al-Fahm ... a Muslim city considered noble for its hospitality and respect for others, yet sometimes we must defend ourselves against our enemies. A few months ago, we had to prevent Baruch Marzel, an ultra-right-wing Jewish nationalist, from entering the city to stir up trouble. ... In the past I used to go with my father to Jewish cities, but after what happened, we hardly have time anymore. ... My dream is to become an English teacher and help the people of my city. I currently work at a local grocery shop, study sociology in a college near Tel Aviv, and improve my English by reading books."

Natan Dvir

Eighteen 10
Jehad Nasser (second from left) argues with his boss on the construction site where they build scaffolding. A large part of the Arab minority works in jobs considered less desirable by the Jewish population, with construction being one of the most popular.

Natan Dvir

Eighteen 02
Dina. "I was born to a Jewish Ukranian mother and a Muslim Israeli father in Ukraine. ... I am now living in Jaffa in a collective of Arab and Jewish human rights activists and volunteer in various organizations. I don’t really care if I live with Arabs or Jews. I guess I kind of did that all my life anyhow. I appreciate people for who they are and have little regard for that kind of categorization. I am both Jewish and Muslim, both Ukrainian and Israeli. I can be defined any way that makes you feel comfortable, but if you ask me, I would prefer not to be called any of the above—I am a human rights activist."

Natan Dvir

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Before Dvir started making photographs, he met with Arab scholars, writers, and leaders in order to get a better understanding of the world he was about to enter. “I didn't want to make the mistake of thinking that because I lived there I knew Arab society,” he said. “After about a month of just doing research, I started building a network of people who would help me find young people to photograph,” he said.

A history of mistrust between Arabs and Jews made getting participants for the project a challenge, even when Dvir enlisted an Arabic-speaking translator to make calls on his behalf. “The first question was, ‘Why would a Jewish person want to photograph Arab people?’ It just didn’t make sense [to people],” Dvir said. “But there was also a lot of interest. It was such an unusual request, someone from the other side wanting to learn and listen. I had a résumé of doing other projects in the past, which helped convince them that this was a chance for their voice to be heard.”

Eighteen 08
A young Arab man watches two of his friends playing pool in the local café in Jaljulia. Only 3 percent of the youth in Jaljulia complete their high school studies successfully and get their diploma. Most end up earning low wages working in construction for companies owned by Jews. The central city offers few recreation venues, and most young men hang out in the streets or in the only café in town.

Natan Dvir

Eighteen 01
Mohammad, Nazareth. "I went to buy new shoes and was caught up in a demonstration against Israel’s war in Gaza. Policemen arrested me, claiming I threw stones at them. ... My arms are too weak because of [injuries from a car accident]. I was put in jail, where the guards harassed me every day. They would wake us up each morning by kicking us. The Jews were allowed to pray however they wanted to, yet the Muslimsʼ practices were constantly disrespected. After a month in jail, I was released and was put under house detention. ... I wear an electronic leg bracelet and am allowed to leave the house only on Mondays and Thursdays, when I can go to my brother’s shop in the city."

Natan Dvir

Eighteen 06
Angham Amin Issa, 18, helps her sister Johaina, 10, with her homework. Most Arab families have many children, and the older siblings must help their younger brothers and sisters.

Natan Dvir

Though Dvir managed to secure enough subjects for his project, he said his interactions with them were still marked with suspicion and fear. “They were very distant and this testifies to the nature of our engagement. I was a photographer double their age coming from the ruling sect in society. That makes a very tense situation to be in,” he said.

In addition to candid photos meant to “reveal the social context of their lives,” Dvir shot intimate environmental portraits in his subjects’ living rooms or bedrooms to highlight their individual personalities. “I wanted to show their lives how they are, not how you see them on the news or in the media. I wanted to humanize them,” he said. “It’s an invitation to look closer. It's almost as if to say, ‘If I can get so close, so can others.’ ”

Eighteen 04
The men of the Awad family share the traditional Maklube during Friday family dinner in Jerusalem. A large part of Arab society in Israel follows traditional lifestyle-defining gender roles separating men and women. The men dine together, and the women follow after they have finished.

Natan Dvir

Eighteen 09
Hundreds of men celebrate around three grooms dancing at the end of their wedding in the streets of Rahat. The last part of a Bedouin wedding is a large party celebrated out in the streets.

Natan Dvir

Eighteen 03
Mousa Hatem Al Rifi (center) shakes the hand of a friend while playing cards with his brother and other friends. Mousa’s father was one of the leaders of the local mafia and was murdered four years ago by his bodyguards. Mousa quit school a couple of years ago and works with his two brothers as an electrician. His dream is to leave the city of Lod, which is infested with violence, yet he is unable to do so until his family resolves the blood-vengeance inflicted on them by his father’s death.

Natan Dvir

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