The many faces of protest in Israel

Protests broke out on January 4, in Tel Aviv outside the courtroom when a young Israeli soldier, Elor Azoria, was found guilty of killing an incapacitated Palestinian lying on a street in Hebron the previous March. The Palestinian, Abdul-Fatah al-Sharif, had been wounded after he allegedly stabbed an Israeli soldier. The fatal shots had been captured on video, circulating through social media and international broadcast news. Human rights activists, from Israel and elsewhere, saw this as an example of ‘extra-judicial killings’, while police authorities defended the soldier’s actions as a necessary measure in the face of any terrorist act. The charges against the 19-year-old soldier had split opinion within Israel, and fueled conservatives’ support of Azoria. The trial had received international coverage, so it was to be expected that the clashes that erupted between police and the crowd of conservative Israelis who had gathered to protest the verdict would appear in news broadcasts included in the Screening Protest project.

A few days later, I was at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, being introduced to “Local Testimony”, an annual exhibition of documentary photography and photojournalism by photographers who are active in the region. The exhibition, which was founded in 2003, is designed to represent a retrospective of the past year’s events in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and runs concurrently with a selection from the World Press Photo annual competition.

Our guide, Ami Steinitz, introduced us to this year’s exhibit by contrasting two photographs; the first by Amir Cohen, from the courtroom during Azoria’s trial as the young soldier sits impassively with his parents behind him, their grief and worry evident amidst the other participants. The second, by Yonatan Sindel, was more simple and stark, of a rectangle of black plastic covering a body, with only the hands showing. The victim here was 21-year-old Omar Yasser Skafi, who had been shot as he attempted to carry out a car-ramming attack in Jerusalem the year before. Our guide movingly described this double tragedy and the challenges of including all sides of a conflict in an exhibition that differs from the usual press coverage, and that represents the many facets of this region, as they try to address the question ‘How do we contain the violence around us?’ He stressed the point that ‘around us’ includes not only Israel but what they see as they look across the entire Middle East.

Other parts of the exhibit represented the richness and cultural diversity of the region, and where political violence was not at the forefront, such as Abir Sultan’s beautiful black and white portrait of Talleen Abu Hanna, an Israeli Arab from Nazareth, winner of the first Miss Trans Israel contest. The insights to be gained through local visual testimony were also evident in the contrast World Press Photo provided. Following my research into images of protest, I was not surprised to find a winning photograph from Paris of a public manifestation supporting free speech and solidarity against terrorist attacks of the previous autumn in that city. Also Black Lives Matter was represented, in a photograph from Chicago of a face-down between a young black demonstrator and a white policeman.

I learned something new, however, when I encountered a beautiful photograph in “Local Testimony”, by Oren Ziv, of Bedouin women scattered across a brown hillside, facing a line of bulldozers at the crest of the hill. The bulldozers were there to begin planting a forest on the site of their Negev village, Al-Araqeeb, which has been destroyed 104 times since 2010. Their protest was not international news, nor was their (partial) success. Although 10 of the protesters were arrested, the bulldozers have been halted, at least for the time being.

Karin Becker

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