Arab-Jewish photography exhibit communicates new visions

Givat Haviva’s Peace Gallery unmasks hard issues through shared experiences.

Flags, colors and symbols cover and reveal. (photo credit: COURTESY GIVAT HAVIVA)
Flags, colors and symbols cover and reveal.
Twenty 17-year-old budding photographers, half Jewish students and half Muslims, are showing their photos at Givat Haviva’s Peace Gallery in a new exhibit called Behind the Mask. But unlike other exhibits, the names of the individual photographers are not labeled next to their creations.
The exhibit is the culmination of a year-long project under the auspices of Givat Haviva’s Center for a Shared Society (CSC), in an initiative called Through Other’s Eyes. Givat Haviva was founded in 1949 as the educational center of Hashomer Hatzair’s (The Young Guard) youth movement.
The students needed to put aside their individual egos for the larger group goal, which is an uncommon act for photographers and creators. Similarly, they were credited only as a group, underscoring the joint process. They shared professional-level equipment, made suggestions for subject matter and locations jointly, and gave each other feedback about the photographs, guided by their mentors Rama Yazma and Rauf Abu Fane. To decide which photos to exhibit, Yazma asked: “What is the message you want to bring to the world?”
Violinist at Netanya beach playing Arabic music (Courtesy Givat Haviva).Violinist at Netanya beach playing Arabic music (Courtesy Givat Haviva).
Givat Haviva is ringed by Pardes Hanna-Karkur, Hadera, Caesarea, Kafr Kara, Umm al-Fahm, Tarkum and Jatt. The program had 150 applicants from six participating schools. Candidates were interviewed and recommended, and the 20 students selected were required to obtain permission from their parents.
Traditionally in Israel, ethnic and religious communities live in distinct communities, forming a mosaic. Yaniv Sagee, CSC executive director, said that, “Givat Haviva is confronting the social divide head on. Our project… has been connecting young Arab and Jewish teenagers for 18 years, as part of a wider goal to build an inclusive and socially cohesive society.”
The multi-tiered program met weekly to both study photography and explore issues affecting Israeli citizens. The students explored their own and each other’s origins, customs and societal questions, and were encouraged to question what might be considered beyond the pale in their home communities. For example, they explored the meaning of both Yom Haatzamaut (Israeli Independence Day) and Yom Hanakba (Day of the Catastrophe), the national anthem “Hatikva,” women’s freedom and attitudes toward homosexuality. Nothing was off limits; cautious curiosity was replaced by mutual understanding.
Following their year of shared experiences, the participants joined a three-week summer camp in New York run by Hashomer Hatzair.
Their exhibit centered on a white mask, chosen as an identity neutralizer, hiding and exposing in equal measure. Yazma said that, “working with the group made me more attentive. These kids have a lot on their shoulders; the conflict is complex. We wanted to relate differently.”
She said she saw the success in their works. “The white masks covered differences. The strength of the photography shed light on the conflict and made people think.”
The exhibition, which has already been displayed in New York and New Jersey, will next be shown at six participating schools.
Noga Barzon from Pardes Chana, the second oldest of four sisters – whose mother is an environmental consultant and whose father works in hi-tech – is a student at the Mava’ot Yaron High School. She described her home as a small rural house. At first, volunteering to host the group was both “fun and also a bit awkward: having all see where I live,” she said.
Barzon prepared for the meetings by cooking with her grandfather, originally from Tripoli, their traditional Friday evening Libyan-style couscous, a food unfamiliar to their Palestinian guests. “Ultimately, it was very satisfying to have everyone over,” she concluded.
Abdalla Watted was motivated to apply out of a desire to meet Jewish Israelis and hear their opinions. His family has lived for many generations in Jatt, a “Muslim conservative village” of 1,400 people. His mother lectures and has a PhD in civil engineering from the Technion, while his father studied computer science in Germany and lectures at Beit Berl. Watted, the oldest of five siblings, attends Jatt High School, where “everyone must comply with the rules of Islam.” His school did not participate in the CSC project, he noted.
Like the Barzons, the Watted family also hosted the group. Noga recalled their home as a “castle” with two kitchens, and public and private living rooms. Abdalla’s mother prepared a variety of traditional food platters.
While Abdalla has spent time in England and participated in the Model UN program, the visit to the US was a first for him. He knew he and nine other Arab Israelis wold be joining 140 campers from around the world. Before arriving, they learned about Kabbalat Shabbat (receiving the Shabbat). The Israeli and Arab folk dancing was his stand-out memory of the camp, he said. A violin player from age seven, Abdalla performed Arabic music at the exhibit opening.
Despite the many problems Israelis face, he said, “We must think outside the box. We must focus on a shared society, break through barriers and have equality.“
Noga said that in her view, the barriers have already been broken. Participants continue to stay in touch on WhatsApp and get together socially. “We don’t always see the whole truth; we see what we show outwards. Now I see their side and see them as human beings.”
The “Behind the Mask” exhibit will be on display at the Peace Gallery in Givat Haviva until October 5. The gallery is open Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.