Since 1995 one hundred teenagers comprised of Palestinians, Israelis, religious and secular, Muslims, Jews and Christians, have congregated for a series of long term encounters to examine themselves and "the other" through the process of photography and creative writing.
Together through the difficult reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the intricate social divisions within the individual societies, these teenagers were guided through the maze of confrontation, recognition and self-expression. Slide lectures exposed the students to prominent international photographers and their varied interpretations of a theme. Ongoing critiques served as an open forum for discussions about the art of photography as well as each other's daily lives and their personal and collective identities. Frequent facilitation exercises touched upon the delicate questions of identity, perception and truth. In addition, for the duration of the course (6-8 months) the students were required to keep a diary of personal writings that were regularly shared in class. A 2 day field trip to Jerusalem, a Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, a refugee camp in Ramallah, the Holocaust Museum: Yad Va Shem, allowed the participants first hand contact with "the other side".
To say that this is strictly a co-existence project between Palestinians and Israelis would be an oversimplification. At its core it is something more complex. The Inclusion of religious settlers together with secular Israelis, affluent Palestinians and those from refugee camps as well as Arab Israelis, Christians and Muslims created quite a delicate mosaic. In such a unique environment the focus was, not only on the conflict itself, but also on the more camouflaged discord within these societies. Overall, the intention was not about conversion from one ideological/political forum to another but about learning how to listen, to respect and to accept that each one has a point of view and each point of view is legitimate.
The role of art in society has always been a debatable one and photography, within the realm of art, has complicated the issue even more. These young photographers have taken the risk that many more experienced artists so often fall to do; they have truly confronted and subsequently exposed themselves within the confines of photography. To stand so vulnerable before oneself; ones peers and most of all... ones enemies is an act of bravery so bold that few artists and politicians have rarely even dared to do so. Our meetings were filled with such gestures but we suffered our own casualties along the way. During our sessions we found the passions of our classroom discussions pushed the limits of some students too far. There was a handful that never returned, there were endless delays at checkpoints forcing some to stay home and then there was the student who could no longer hide her weekly excursions from her parents. She too, regrettably disappeared.
The opening of this exhibition in Belgrade serves as a fantastic achievement of the organizers and of its participants. Before arriving to Belgrade these photographs have traveled to Gaza - Palestine, Dublin - Ireland, New York City, Paris, Tel Aviv and the list goes on, but Belgrade has a special significance for me since it is here, as in the very place this project originated, that the wounds are still fresh and where confronting "the other" often means, first, confronting oneself. It is here, in a city that can vividly recall the nights of bombing and its overwhelming effects, that such an exhibition can have profound results. It is here, where small gestures between people, rather than between politicians, will eventually make the difference and begin to eliminate the hatred and prejudice that has haunted the region for years.
These young photographers should be seen as representatives of global conflict. The problems of their peoples are always understood as political ones but, in fact, they have shown us, through the wonder of photography... They are human ones.
Hally Pancer Jaffa, Israel