Photo Essay: Israelis and Palestinians Join Up to Rebuild Homes
“If peace and reconciliation can be achieved in the Holy Land, it can be achieved anywhere.”
—Sheik Abdul Aziz Buchari
As a conscious Jewish American, I have understood that Israel/Palestine is a land where people are vastly divided and alienated from one another. Israelis and Palestinians often feel deeply rooted to the exact same parcel of land.
The intent of this photographic essay is to personalize the struggle of those displaced from their homes as land ownership changes and to illuminate the untold story of the dedicated Israelis and Palestinians working together to forge lives of peaceful co-existence.
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear of Israel and Palestine? When was the last time you heard about Israel-based grassroots organizations composed of Arabs and Jews working together to create equality, justice, and peace?
Like you, I had very little knowledge that these organizations even existed. I had heard plenty about this land that several organized religions call home, and plenty more about the ongoing conflict, religious and social polarizations, ingrained religious dogmatisms, and, of course, who has the better hummus.
—Sheik Abdul Aziz Buchari
This photo essay tells the story of courageous organizations wherein Israelis, Palestinians, and volunteers from other countries work side-by-side toward a peaceful co-existence. Additionally, the pictures provide a view into the personal struggle of the displaced, connecting the ramifications of this conflict at the level of families and individuals with the importance of the organizations dedicated to repair and peace.
This past summer in Israel, I confronted the stark reality of a decades-long conflict. Working with the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition (ICAHD), I hepled to document some of the 24,000 stories of Palestinian and Bedouin households demolished by the Israeli government. I met families whose entire village had demolished to make room for the expansion of a Jewish settlement’s orchard, even when other seemingly suitable undeveloped land was nearby.
The villagers, however, the land had been all they had. The ICAHD was there to help. The committee works closely with both the Israeli peace camps and Palestinian partners, as well as with dozens of civil society organizations worldwide. They work in the Occupied Territories, specifically helping rebuild demolished homes, with 165 homes successfully rebuilt.
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Similarly, I visited the South Hebron Hills (in the West bank) with the Arab-Jewish partnership group called Ta’ayush. According to the group's website:
“Ta’ayush (Arabic for “living together”), is a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews working to break down the walls of racism and segregation by constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership. Together we strive for a future of equality, justice, and peace through concrete, daily, non-violent actions of solidarity to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve full civil equality for all.”
One Israeli volunteer acknowledged to me that he knows the actual physical work they do is not high-quality. They are not trained construction workers. Yet his contribution’s true value is not the physical labor alone. Its value lies in demonstrating to the Palestinian villagers—as well as to the soldiers, settlers, and the Israeli government—that what is happening to these villagers matters to Israelis and to the world.
In the face of the horrifying realities ensuing from the ongoing conflict, I was encouraged by these organizations. All kinds of people, old and young, western and eastern, are continuing to come together to work for a peaceful tomorrow.
Ben Guss works at a non-profit focused on shared equity housing, specifically resident-owned, manufactured home communities and community land trusts. As a photographer, he is dedicated to assisting community organizations and NGOs advance their work by telling their stories visually. You can see more of his work at www.forwardphoto.com.
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