Posted by on February 28, 2013 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

Spring 2013 Intern

It’s unusual for American audiences to see photos of Palestine outside a political context, completely void of violence or strife. One Israeli photographer and filmmaker is using his talent to show the less-visible agrarian lifestyle of small villages and the struggles of its inhabitants. Leeor Kaufman is a Brooklyn-based photographer from Israel, who began documenting the daily lives of Palestinian villagers and took a particular interest in a small village in the West Bank called Wadi Fuqin.

Wadi Fuqin is a preserved model of traditional agricultural life, which Kaufman has documented in his project Sabras (named after the Prickly Pear found throughout the region) consisting of a short film and photo gallery. The photographs are very simple; they consist of ordinary everyday activities that capture the essence of the village, like a woman pushing a stroller down the sidewalk or famers with their crops. In the short film, a teenage resident explains what it’s like to live in Wadi Fuqin, but also expresses his desire to leave and see the world by going to college. He describes the beauty of his home, the variety of flora, and the close-knit relationships between the inhabitants. “People in our village are like family. We all know each other in the village.” But Kaufman demonstrates that even the tiny village isn’t isolated from politics, no matter how much they want to be. While trying to apply to colleges, the boy cannot select a “Palestinian” nationality and forced to identify as Israeli, even though he does not experience Israeli privilege.

As much as Kaufman does not want to make the Palestinian-Israeli conflict the focal point of his work, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that this little piece of the past is being threatened by encroaching Israeli settlements, and they are getting more difficult to ignore. To the east of the village lies the rapidly-expanding settlement of Beitar Illit and to the west, plans for a separation wall are underway, both of which are threatening Wadi Fuqin’s way of life. The residents rely almost solely on local springs to irrigate their crops, but the settlement is preventing the necessary water from reaching the village, and what little water is accessible, is contaminated.

One possible way to preserve the village and their way of life is through UNESCO. In 2010, the organization recognized Wadi Fuqin as a potential World Heritage site, but since Palestine is not recognized as a sovereign state, the Palestinian Authority is unable to register the village. The threats bearing down on it continue to destroy the centuries-old way of life.

Leeor Kaufman’s work does not depict the conflict, which is ubiquitous in coverage of Palestine. Instead he wants to recreate the memories that refugees have of their former homes. In an NPR article, Kaufman explained, “So many Arab villages are gone and can only be visualized through the refugees’ memories. I wanted to make pictures of the villages in their field with their produce ­– trying to make the image they would in the memory.”

The Sabras project can be found here on Kaufman’s website.

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