This featured exhibition is part of the 2014 Head On Photo Festival program.
Israel-based Amnon Gutman was born on a kibbutz in 1977. After four years of travels, he studied photojournalism in Tel Aviv where he spent one year with paramedics on night shifts, a project awarded third prize in Israel’s national photography competition. A freelancer since 2006, Gutman has documented HIV/AIDS in Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique, and the ongoing conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo focusing on the FDLR Hutu militia.
“Growing up in a war conflicted region, I have always been deeply aware of the possibility of loss. Photography empowers me to share this insight, demonstrating the horrible, equalizing moment of the possibility of loss, the universality of vulnerability. There is nothing clearer, nothing more precious than the preservation of the life force in the face of violence and disease. This is what I am attempting to articulate with my black and white images of the world.”
Artist StatementIn June 2002, the government of Israel decided to erect a physical barrier to separate Israel and the West Bank in an attempt to minimize the entry of Palestinian terrorists into the country. This has partially solved today's terrorist infiltration problem but has caused grief and pain to innocent Palestinians in every area in which it was constructed, along the 1967 Green Line.
In the southern region of Mt. Hebron, the movement of Palestinians who are coming into the country to find work has been disrupted. These people and their families are paying the price for the system of collective control that Israel has decided to implement with the erection of the Separation Barrier.
Typically, a day's work in the West Bank for a builder usually comes to about $18,while a day's work in Israel brings them $60 - $110. Their families have come to rely on this income.
Ironically, these Palestinian men, who are determined to keep providing for their families are the ones who are physically building the State of Israel. They endure terrible conditions as illegal workers, sleeping rough in river creeks, under bridges , on building sites and under highways in the Beer Sheva area, trying to avoid getting caught. If the Palestinians are apprehended, they go through a security check and when found innocent of terrorist intentions, they are sent back to their homes.
And so the wearisome cycle continues. Israeli border patrol police and the army are in a constant but only partially successful race to apprehend these Palestinians. Every wall has its weak points. For a young man determined enough, it becomes a way of life- waiting for the right moment, for the pre paid accomplice driver waiting on the other side, depending on his faithful cellphone and on his buddies, all of whom are adjusting strategies to accomodate for the Seaparation Barrier.
The village of Ar Ramadin in the southern region of Mt Hebron presents a unique example of the kind of effect that the separation barrier has had. The village was established by the Bedouin tribe Ar Ramadin whose former lands, in areas north of Beer Sheva, they abandoned in the face of oncoming Israeli troops in the War of Independence in 1948. The lands the tribe left became part of the new Jewish state and the Ar Ramadin were forced to purchase land from Palestinian land owners in Dahariya, an Arab falachim village 15 kilometers to the north. After the six day war in 1967, Ar Ramadin became part of Israel.
The building of the fence in 2002 left the village on the West Bank side. From 1967 until 2002 relationships between the local Bedouins in general, Ar Ramadin and their Jewish neighbors were very good. It could have been characterized as a peaceful, working relationship. The two ethnic groups invited each other to social celebrations. There was a real atmosphere of camaraderie. The word “Bedouin” carried no threat, But now the Bedouins of Ar Ramadin are being perceived as Palestinians by the Jews and as Bedouin by the Palestinians. Both positions, for the Ar Ramadin represent an unfavorable choice. Clearly, the question of loyalties is a work in progress, undergoing formative influences. Loyalties made due to familiarity between the Ar Ramadinim and their Jewish neighbors have begun to crumble as a result of the physical barrier that lessens daily contact or that forces them into the role of unwanted intruders.
The 4 kilometer area of the fence just outside the village is notoriously easy to slip through. It seems that the Israeli government has not yet committed to completely closing down this area of fence in an attempt to accommodate for the very real necessity of relieving the pressure for employment that is building up on the other side. The sight of Bedouin workers escaping through the loopholes in the fence does not contribute to strengthening the Jews’ perception of them as innocent partners.
The people of Ar Ramadin are often exposed to arrests, beatings, and confiscations of herds. Houses and water wells have been demolished under the pretext of lack of licensing, and illegal building. The people are often prevented from working their own fields, because they are located so close to the fence.
As the Arab world is historically changing by the day and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are on hold once again...One cannot predict what will happen next in this ongoing conflict.
It is solely to the credit of these resilient people, the Ar Ramadinim and their heightened understanding of the ironies of history that they have not yet taken on the role that is being pushed onto them – that of violent resistance.
Where: Herbert Smith Freehills Law Library
Image: Amnon Gutman