Category Archives: Israel

Activestills. Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel

Activestills. Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel, edited by Vered Maimon, a Senior Lecturer in the Art History Department at Tel Aviv University, and by Shiraz Grinbaum, a curator and photo editor for the Activestills Collective and researcher at Tel Aviv University.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Pluto Press writes: In 2005, a group of photographers took a stand alongside the people of the small town of Bil’in, and documented their fight to stop the Israeli government building the infamous West Bank Barrier. Inspired by what they had seen in Bil’in, the group went on to form Activestills, a collective whose work has become vital in documenting the struggle against Israeli occupation and everyday life in extraordinary situations.

Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel examines the collective’s archive and activity from historical, theoretical, critical, and personal perspectives. It is the result of an in-depth dialogue among members of the collective and activists, journalists, intellectuals, and academics, and stands as the definitive study of the collective’s work.

Combining striking full-colour photographs with essays and commentary, the book stands as both a major contribution to reportage on Israel/Palestine and a unique collection of visual art.


Children sit amidst their belongings after a demolition in al-Araqib village in the south of present-day Israel, October 2009. Credit: Activestills.org


African asylum seekers and their supporters gather in Levinsky Park, Tel Aviv, December 2013. Credit: Activestills.org


Demonstrators stage a solidarity action with Khader Adnan, who embarked on a lengthy hunger strike to protest his detention by Israel without charge or trial, in the West Bank village of Bilin, February 2012. Credit: Activestills.org

Activestills is a group of Israeli, Palestinian and international photographers who use their camera as a tool for social and political change. Unlike most photo reporters, the members of Activestills don’t see themselves as impartial and external witnesses but as part and parcel of the events they document. They don’t see their subjects as victims either, but as political agents who play an important role in the resistance against all forms of oppression.

Activestills dedicates an important portion of its coverage to the Israeli occupation and its two corollaries: the resistance against it and the violations of human rights carried out in broad day light. But the group also looks at injustices that happen within Israel: LGBTQ campaigns for equality, continuous discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel, migration and asylum seekers, resistance against privatization of natural resources, the ultra-Orthodox community’s resistance to compulsory military enlistment, etc.
They see connections and parallels between theses struggles.


The Halif family site near an improvised dinner table set near their demolished house in Givat Amal neighbourhood, Tel Aviv, Israel, September 19, 2014. Two days passed since the third eviction of families in the neighbourhood which left 20 residents homeless without proper compensation or alternative housing solution. Credit: Activestills.org


Activestills street exhibition, Bil’in, West Bank, 2007. Credit: Activestills.org

Another important focus of Activestills is that that they want their images and the social issues they address to be visible to everyone. The group not only collaborates with independent media but they also set up street exhibitions in the very spaces where the images have been taken, making them closer to an audience of people who are directly affected by the situations documented. The street shows also find their way to Israel. Although the audience there might sometimes be less willing to engage with some of the struggles that the photos uncover.

I’ve been admiring the work of the photo collective for years. Activestills. Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel is a relentlessly interesting book that analyses the group’s practices of intervention and visualization of struggles and explores their unique identity within the field of photo reporting. As you can expect, the book is splendidly illustrated with images of the collective’s work but it also contains essays, conversations with and texts by activists and by photographers who further illuminate and contextualize the work of Activestills, the way it challenges paradigms of news consumption and embeds solidarity into each of its actions.


A protester during confrontations with Israeli forces north of the West Bank city of Ramallah, near the Beit El settlement, November 2015. Credit: Activestills.org


Palestinian farmer and activist Muhammad Amira climbs a ladder next to the separation wall to watch over Israeli soldiers arriving to open the agricultural gate in his village, Ni’lin, in the West Bank. After the building of the wall in Ni’lin, many farmers were separated from their agricultural land. In order to work on their land, they must apply for wall-crossing permits from the Israeli army. Credit: Activestills.org


Residents of the ‘unrecognized’ village of Al-Araqib hold Activestills photos documenting their struggle during a protest against the demolition of their homes, 2010. Israeli authorities have since demolished the village over 100 times. Credit: Activestills.org


In the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, Israeli soldiers arrest Nariman Tamimi, a photographer herself, as her 8-year-old daughter, Ahed, tries to free her during a protest against the occupation in August 2012. Credit: Activestills.org


Photographs of Ali Saad Dawabsha, the Palestinian baby in an overnight arson attack, are laid out on the floor of his family home, Douma, West Bank, July 31, 2015. Credit: Activestills.org


Protesters take part in a demonstration calling for animal liberation. Tel Aviv, Israel (2013). © Activestills


Israeli soldiers try to arrest Activestills photographer Oren Ziv during a protest against settler violence in the West Bank, October 2012. Credit: Activestills.org

Josef Koudelka. Wall, portrait of a crime against the landscape


Josef Koudelka . Invasion / Exiles / Wall, view of the exhibition space at C/O Berlin

“Every day that I was there I didn’t see anything else but the wall, and I can tell you I couldn’t stand it longer than three weeks. I was so depressed that I needed to go away,” photographer Josef Koudelka explained in an interview about Wall, a series that documents the monumental wall erected by the state of Israel in the West Bank as well as around Israeli settlements.

In the early 2000s Israel unilaterally decided on building the wall on the pretext of protecting itself from terrorist attacks. A nine meter-tall and today over 700-kilometer-long fortress made of steel, concrete, barbed wire, and motion detectors—almost three times as high and five times as long as the Berlin Wall once was.

One of the reasons why Koudelka found it so painful to be in proximity to the wall is that he grew up behind the Iron Curtain. He is thus more affected than many of us by this attempt to curtail people’s freedom.

I didn’t grow up behind a wall but i did feel anxiety, claustrophobia and sadness when i discovered some of his panoramic landscape photographs at C/O Berlin. They were part of Josef Koudelka . Invasion / Exiles / Wall, an exhibition that also includes earlier works, such as the ones recording the Soviet occupation of what was then Czechoslovakia and the ones he took while living in exile in other European countries. The whole exhibition is magnificent but -and this won’t surprise anyone- i had to single out Wall.

I’ll leave you with his photos and accompanying comments:


Rachel’s Tomb, Bethlehem.
The Wall intrudes two kilometers into Bethlehem City to encircle Rachel’s Tomb, traditionally considered the burial site of the Biblical matriarch. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos


Josef Koudelka, Baqa ash Sharqiya Access gate.
Around 7,500 West Bank Palestinians reside between the Wall and the Green Line in an area called the ‘Seam Zone’. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos


Shu’fat Refugee Camp, overlooking Al ‘Isawiya, East Jerusalem.
When complete, the Wall will be approximately 700 kilometres long, more than twice the length of the 320-kilometer 1949 Armistice or Green Line between Israel and the West Bank. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos


Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem, overlooking Gilo settlement.
The wall severs the historic link between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in addition to cutting off Bethlehem from its agricultural hinterland. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos


Hebron.
Around 120 obstacles block off the Israeli-controlled Old City of Hebron (H1 zone) from the rest of the city (H2 zone). © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos


Ash Shuhada Street, Hebron.
The majority of the Palestinian shops in the once commercially thriving Ash Shuhada Street have closed as a result of access restrictions by the Israeli military and harassment by Jewish settlers. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos


Roadblock, Route 443.
Roadblocks, checkpoints, and other physical obstacles restrict Palestinian pedestrian and vehicular movement throughout the West Bank. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos


Al ‘Eizariya (Bethany), overlooking, Ma’ale Adumminm settlement, East Jerusalem.
The Wall consists of concrete slabs, fences, ditches, razor wire, an electronic monitoring system, groomed sand paths, observation towers and military patrol roads. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

“I call what is going on in this most holy landscape, which is most holy for a big part of humanity, is the crime against the landscape. As there exists crimes against humanity there should exist the crime against the landscape.

I am principally against destruction — and what’s going on is a crime against the landscape that is enormous in one of the most important landscapes in the world,” the photographer added in the interview mentioned above.


Al ‘Eizariya (Bethany), East Jerusalem.
Although the Wall is the largest infrastructure project undertaken by Israel, no studies have been carried out to evaluate its environmental impact. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos


Near Baqa ash Sharqiya.
Increasingly, Palestinians farmers can only access their farmland on the de facto Israeli side of the Wall with special Israeli issued ‘visitor permits’ and through designated gates. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos

Wall is part of a larger project, This Place, initiated by photographer Frédéric Brenner that explores Israel as place and metaphor through the eyes of twelve photographers.

The series is currently on view at C/O Berlin as part of Josef Koudelka. Invasion / Exiles / Wall. The exhibition was curated by Xavier Barral in cooperation with Sonia Voss. It remains open until 10 September 2017.

Book review: Forensic Architecture. Violence at the Threshold of Detectability

Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability, by Eyal Weizman, founder of Forensic Architecture, founding member of the architectural collective DAAR in Beit Sahour/Palestine, Professor at Goldsmiths College, University of London and a Global Scholar at Princeton University.

It’s on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Zone Books and distributor by The MIT Press say: In recent years, the group Forensic Architecture began using novel research methods to undertake a series of investigations into human rights abuses. Today, the group provides crucial evidence for international courts and works with a wide range of activist groups, NGOs, Amnesty International, and the UN. Forensic Architecture has not only shed new light on human rights violations and state crimes across the globe, but has also created a new form of investigative practice that bears its name.

The group uses architecture as an optical device to investigate armed conflicts and environmental destruction, as well as to cross-reference a variety of evidence sources, such as new media, remote sensing, material analysis, witness testimony, and crowd-sourcing.

In Forensic Architecture, Eyal Weizman, the group’s founder, provides, for the first time, an in-depth introduction to the history, practice, assumptions, potentials, and double binds of this practice.


Forensic Architecture, Guatemala: Operación Sofia (The DNA identification room at Laboratorio Clyde Snow, Guatemala City, November 2011. Photo: Paulo Tavares, Eyal Weizman)


Forensic Architecture, White Phosphorus

Forensic Architecture is a multidisciplinary research agency composed of artists, filmmakers, writers and architectural researchers who use architectural methods and repurpose new sensing technologies to investigate and expose state or corporate violence, especially when it bears upon the territory.

The group analyzes WW1 aerial photographs, inspects satellite images, deploys kites for land surveys, investigates material traces left on the ground, builds 3D models to re-create atrocities, creates interactive cartography and countercartography, collects testimonies of survivors, scrutinizes user-generated media made by citizens on the ground and uploaded on the internet, etc. Forensic Architecture uses any mean and media necessary to reconstruct evidences of violence that are inscribed onto the land and built environment. Their meticulous work is then turned into evidence that can be used in legal settings to challenge the official narrative of critical events. Sometimes, some form of justice is eventually reached. Other times, miscarriages of justice or even complete absence of justice prevail.

The case studies detailed in the book involve the reconstruction of a contested shooting in the West Bank, the architectural recreation of a secret Syrian detention center from the memory of its survivors, an investigation into the environmental violence and climate change in Guatemala, the 3D modelling of bomb clouds that are then used as fingerprints for locating Israeli strikes on the Gaza dense urban environment, patterns of Western drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc.

Along the pages, you get to learn a lot about the challenges that the members of Forensic Architecture encounter in their work: satellite imagery is more affordable than ever but its photographic resolution is degraded for privacy and secrecy reasons, at least when it comes to the ones available to the public (as Weizman notes, high resolution is used for killing and low resolution for investigating the killing); a commitment to helping the victims leaves the group exposed to criticisms, even though their method is rigorously scientific; legal system itself can be part of a state’s mechanism of domination and denial; evidence from sources derived from new media video analysis, interactive cartography, or animation almost always encounter objection in court because they are too new, etc.

Saydnaya: inside a Syrian torture prison, a commission by Amnesty International


Rafah: Black Friday. Report on the war operations of 1-4 August 2014, in Rafah, Gaza. Image complex: Forensic Architecture


Forensic Architecture, Drone Strikes (Digital reconstruction of the scene of a drone strike in a 3D-mode. Düsseldorf, May 21, 2013)

The book is fascinating. It is dense in information, images, maps and documentation that record the way the organization is re-appropriating and re-purposing a broad number of skills and technologies in the context of activism and justice. Their method is characterized by a remarkable amount of scientific accuracy, but also by a surprisingly high percentage of flexibility, empathy and creativity.

The book is often disheartening too. State-sponsored violence makes for very uncomfortable read: tales of ruthless dispossession, of Bedouin villages bulldozed time and time again, brutal colonization of landscape, destruction of life-sustaining resources, arbitrary killings made acceptable by the cultural and legal system, erasure of culture, etc.

Forensic Architecture. Violence at the Threshold of Detectability is a publication i’d recommend to anyone interested in human rights, activism, geopolitics, urban planning, architecture, and in the creative and social-engaged uses of technologies.