At an Exhibition of Photographs of Israel, Some Wonderful Images, and Much Foolishness

March 25 2016

This Place, currently at the Brooklyn Museum, displays 574 pictures of Israeli scenes taken by a dozen accomplished photographers. In his review, William Meyers notes that there are “some wonderful images,” but the exhibit’s attempt to convey a message is at best meaningless and at times something worse:

[One of the photographers, Josef] Koudelka, calls the wall Israel built to protect itself from the suicide bombings of the second intifada “a crime against the landscape,” and his extensive documentation makes clear how ugly it is. In his text, Koudelka, one of the world’s great photographers, makes an analogy between Israel’s wall and the Berlin Wall—but the analogy is off. The latter was built to keep people prisoner, to prevent their escape; the former for security, any country’s first responsibility.

For “Desert Bloom,” a series of aerial views of sites associated with the Bedouin of the Negev, Fazal Sheikh began by consulting B’Tselem, . . . Breaking the Silence, and [other] far-left groups that cloak their activities in the rhetoric of human rights but seek to discredit Israel. Aerial photography requires interpretation to be understood, and these pictures, which purport to show Israel’s indifference to its Bedouin citizens and a disregard for environmental concerns, actually document the need for the plans that the government has been trying for several years to implement to improve the educational, health and employment opportunities in the region.

[The exhibit’s organizer and prime fundraiser, Frédéric] Brenner, in [an] interview, . . . said, “I came to feel that only through the language of artists could we hope to create an encounter that truly reflected the complexity of the place, with all its rifts and paradoxes.” This is the hyperbole of fundraising, Brenner’s strong suit. The parties to the conflict . . . will not be swayed by the language of artists. Only donors will.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Bedouin, Breaking the Silence, Israel & Zionism, Museums, Photography

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem