Portraits and interviews: 18-year-old Arabs living in Israel

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All images © Natan Dvir, from his series, “Eighteen”

Photographer Natan Dvir grew up and spent most of his photographic career in Israel. He returned to Israel when he came to realize he did not truly know or understand Israel’s Arab society — over a fifth of the population consisting of hundreds of thousands of families who continue to live within Israel’s borders. He became interested in the stories of these people living as a minority in a country defined by its majority’s religion.

For this photo-research project, Eighteen, Dvir focused his attention on 18-year-old men and women, with the thought that they might be especially aware of an identity crisis and willing to talk about it.

Below, we have portraits, along with the personal stories, of some of the young men and women Dvir met during his research. This work is being exhibited at Portland’s Blue Sky Gallery January 6 – 30, 2011.

You can read more of Dvir’s thoughts, and see a range of his photographic portraits, here in Lens Culture.

dvir-18_1.jpgJehad (Arrabe, Muslim)
I left school a couple of years ago because I wanted to work and make my own living. I work in construction and try to support my family. My dad works in transportation and my mother has a job at the local grocery store. My father is angry with me sometimes if I don’t work for a few days.

I have a few tattoos: my name in English, a crossed-out heart with the name of the girl I love, three dots meaning I am not afraid of the police, and a scorpion because it kills in one stroke. I like to hang out with my guys after work. We either stay around here or go out to the Jewish cities Nahariya and Acre.

Sometimes we get into clashes with the other gang in the village. One of my best friends lost his leg a few months ago in a big fight. The police always take a few hours before getting here. They still haven’t done anything even though we knew and could identify the person who shot him.

All I dream of is having enough money and marrying the girl I love. Her family won’t allow me to see her until I get my act together and stay out of trouble. I do try but somehow it just doesn’t work out. Every nice day I have is followed by ten days of chaos.

dvir-18_2.jpgMohammad (Nazareth, Muslim)
I never got to finish high school. I was in a car accident about a year ago and injured my head and my arms. When I tried returning to school, everybody mocked me and called me names. I became depressed and could not complete my final exams.

Half a year ago, I went to buy new shoes and was caught up in a demonstration against Israel’s war in Gaza. Policemen arrested me claiming I threw stones at them. How could I have thrown stones at them? My arms are too weak because of the injury. I was put in jail where the guards harassed me every day. They would wake us up each morning by kicking us. The Jews were allowed to pray however they wanted to, yet the Muslimsʼ practices were constantly disrespected.

After a month in jail, I was released and was put under house detention. They have no evidence against me, but the trial goes on and on. I wear an electronic leg bracelet and am allowed to leave the house only on Mondays and Thursdays, when I can go to my brother’s shop in the city. I usually use this time to hang out with my friends in the neighborhood.

dvir-18_3.jpg Angham (Kfar Qassem, Muslim)
My father is a high school principle and my mother is an Arab language teacher. Education was always very important in our house. I love to study and hope to do well in the upcoming Israeli SAT exam so I can study in the university. Many Arabs see the exam as discriminatory and choose to study in Jordan instead. I hope to be accepted to physiotherapy studies and make enough money to be able to donate to charity for the construction of a school or a mosque.

I don’t like to watch modern music channels and enjoy only religious programs with preachers explaining the knowledge embodied in the Koran combining faith and studies. The Islam is attacked these days all over the world. The attacks come even from Muslims that try to imitate western lifestyle. Muslim women find it especially hard given the common negative reactions to the hijab (traditional head scarf). Our religion is beautiful and encourages studies, having an order in life, and earning a place in heaven.

I’ve recently gotten engaged and hope to get married in the upcoming summer. This is my first relationship with a man of course, as it is improper for a Muslim woman to meet with a man before there are engaged. I’m very excited and confused by my emotions as I am finally allowed to fall in love.

dvir-18_4.jpg Mohannad (Be’ine, Muslim)
I’ve been boxing ever since I was young and have been the Israeli Middleweight division champion (up to 75 Kg 165 lb) for the last couple of years. I’m training every day either at a boxing gym in the nearby city of Akko together with Jewish and Arab boxers or here in the lower floor of my house. I can’t make a living as a boxer and have to work with my older brother as a repairman.

I don’t like to talk about politics since I believe it never leads to anything productive. The situation would have been much better in Israel if Arabs and Jews were treated equally. Hopefully I will have a chance to move to the US or Sweden where I can train at better facilities and experience less discrimination as an Arab.

dvir-18_5.jpg Reeham (Rahat, Bedouin)
The origin of my family of 11 brothers and sisters comes from the Bedouin tribes of Sudan. We live in neighborhoods 7, 11 & 20 in Rahat, the only Bedouin city in Israel. People live in modern buildings and houses, yet many families try to preserve elements of our nomad culture. There are no movie theatres or nightclubs. Men hang out in hookah bars or playing snooker, while women spend their time at home or visiting friends.

When I went to school I used to wear a veil since I wanted to be like all the other girls. I prefer to go around wearing a hat and trousers and don’t see it as a bad thing as most Bedouins. People saw me as a bad person and were surprised to hear about my future plans. Young people in our society struggle between adopting modern lifestyle and preserving our heritage and culture.

My dream is to become a doctor, yet I have to work in order to save money for my studies. I would like to study in Russia, though my brothers recommend I go to England or Jordan. I want to live in a non-Arab country and experience a different culture. It is extremely rare that a Bedouin woman would be allowed to study away from home not escorted by a male family member, so I am very grateful for my family’s support.

dvir-18_6.jpg Rodaina (Daliat Al-Carmel, Druze)
I have met a man that is the love of my life. I wish to be with him even though it is very difficult. My family disapproves of this relationship and wants me to break up with him since he is not educated or wealthy enough.

A year ago we had a huge fight and broke up, after which an older man came into my life. He asked for my hand in marriage and I accepted after receiving my family’s blessing, yet I could not go through with the wedding. Once my true love wanted me back, I called off the marriage and went back into his arms.

He is the only man I will ever love. Going against the will of my family is extremely problematic since I am Druze. We will never be able to get married without my family’s approval. I hope that as time goes by they will see how much I love him and will accept him, and allow us to spend our lives together. For now we must be strong yet careful, and not do anything that might jeopardize the family’s honor and put our lives in danger.

dvir-18_7.jpg Ehab (Be’ine, Muslim)
I have been playing soccer for as long as I can remember. This is the most important thing in my life. I used to play for HaPoel Haifa in the 2nd Israeli league. A few months ago, I was transferred to HaPoel Beʼine, my villageʼs team. We are in the 4th league, so the level of the game isnʼt as high as I am used to. With hardly any available funds we are forced to make the best of our very basic facilities.

Although this soccer club represents an Arab village, quite a few players on the team are Jewish. I am happy the Jews have to serve in the military, which creates openings on the team. All I can do is continue to play my best and hope I will be able to return to HaPoel Haifa, now playing in the Israeli major league.

dvir-18_8.jpg Aseel (Umm Al-Fahm, Muslim)
I love living in Umm Al-Fahm. This is a Muslim city considered noble for its hospitality and respect for others, yet sometimes we must defend ourselves against our enemies. A few months ago, we had to prevent Baruch Marzel, an ultra-right wing Jewish nationalist, from entering the city to stir up trouble. Ten years ago, three young men were killed here during the October 2000 clashes. I was very young at the time yet remember how horrible it was then. In the past I used to go with my father to Jewish cities, but after what happened, we hardly have time anymore.

I prefer being in a family with sisters, since a brother might have imposed increased restrictions. My mother taught me well how to follow Islam, how to dress properly, and how to be respectful of others. I am not allowed to have a relationship with a man before we are engaged. I loved somebody once but never told him. It is better to avoid all the mess of falling in love before getting married.

My dream is to become an English teacher and help the people of my city. I currently work at a local grocery shop, study sociology in a college near Tel Aviv, and improve my English by reading books. I am very optimistic and believe that if you have positive thoughts, good things will happen to you.

dvir-18_9.jpg Mohammad (Muawiya, Muslim)
My father and uncles work in construction and my mother is a housewife. I am an only child. My parents are extremely generous and give me everything I need, though sometimes I feel they are overprotective. They made it possible for me to travel to various Arab countries including an unforgettable visit to Mecca six years ago, which was very important for me as a Muslim.

I used to work in a boutique in Umm Al-Fahm and am now working at McDonalds. There aren’t many options to go out to around here — only restaurants and hookah places. I prefer to go out with my friends to dance clubs in Jewish cities which are much more exciting.

I have lived by myself since I was 14 in this apartment above my parents’ house. This house looks nicer and can help me find a better wife. My parents don’t know, but I have a secret girlfriend. We talk over the phone every day. We have to be very discrete since her parents forbid us to be in touch before getting engaged. We must respect their will, but cannot deny our feelings. Yesterday she had to get off the phone very suddenly. I haven’t heard from her today and am worried somebody might have found out about us.

dvir-18_10.jpg Dina (Jaffa, Jewish-Muslim)
I was born to a Jewish Russian mother and a Muslim Israeli father in Ukraine. They are both doctors and met in medical school. I moved to Israel with my family at the age of five. My family lives in Taibe, a Muslim city in the triangle area that is heavily populated by Arabs. I didn’t really like living there and felt oppressed as a woman in that culture. My mother could not work as a doctor and had to open a boutique for brides. Boys and girls remain separated. There are hardly any places to go out. I was able to hang out with my friends only at our homes or in Jewish cities.

I joined the Communist Youth Movement, but everybody was always trying to prevent me from organizing activities. My parents encouraged me to leave Taibe and find a place where I felt more comfortable socially and professionally. I am now living in Jaffa in a collective of Arab and Jewish human rights activists and volunteer in various organizations.
I don’t really care if I live with Arabs or Jews. I guess I kind of did that all my life anyhow. I appreciate people for who they are and have little regard for that kind of categorization. I am both Jewish and Muslim; Both Russian and Israeli. I can be defined any way that makes you feel comfortable, but if you ask me, I would prefer not to be called any of the above — I am a human rights activist.

dvir-18_11.jpg Hanan (Abu Grinath, Bedouin)
I pray to God I will reach heaven in the after life. I am very happy being a devoted Muslim, and enjoy a traditional lifestyle. Still, I feel the women’s role in the Bedouin society is evolving and hope it changes significantly. Until recently we were expected to marry at the age of 18 or even earlier. During the last few years it has become more acceptable for women to get higher education and study at colleges or at the university. We are still obligated to return home every night and can study only at nearby institutions.

I wish to study Communication & Journalism and make a documentary film about my village, which is not recognized by the Israeli authorities. This is my biggest dream. I love watching documentary films on TV and learning about the world. Unfortunately, neither my family’s financial situation nor my level of education would allow for it at this point. I recently applied to an organization offering scholarships for studies of social work or education. Hopefully it will allow me secure a profession in either of these fields, which would enable me to help the community in my village.

dvir-18_12.jpg Baraa (Arrabe, Muslim)
My brother Aseel Aslih is a Shahid (martyrdom in Islam) murdered at the age of 17 by Israeli policemen during the October 2000 events. This “democratic” country stopped the Arab population’s demonstrations supporting the 2nd intifada by killing 13 men and children. I was 8 years old when my brother went to take part in a demonstration next to our village wearing his green “Seeds for Peace” shirt. My parents went to bring him back home and saw him being shot at close range as was proved later by the autopsy. All our appeals to the Supreme Court resulted in no justice being reached and the murderers were set free.

I was brought up to believe in the love of god, the land, and men as human beings. This event changed the lives of myself and my family. I see myself as an Arab-Palestinian and not as a Jew or as an Israeli. I hate this country that doesn’t respect me, and don’t believe in reaching peace with it while my civil and human rights are violated. The Arab sector is highly discriminated. Almost no funds are diverted to culture and education, resulting in lack of infrastructure and community centers, which leads to youngsters turning to bad ways. If Israel wants to be truly democratic it needs to change its definition from a Jewish country to a county of all its citizens.

dvir-18_13.jpg Sliman (Shkip, Bedouin)
I have 6 brothers and 3 sisters. A couple of my brothers work in gardening. I’ve been searching for a job for a long time now yet nothing is available. Our family is surviving on social security stipend.

We are living in one of 47 Bedouin villages not recognized by the state of Israel. The authorities do not provide us with water or electricity nor allow us to build permanent houses. My home was destroyed a week after we received the court order. Many policemen arrived at the village, evicted us out of the house and destroyed it together with 6 other buildings. This rubble is what was left of it.

My father served 23 years in the Israeli army. Two of my older brothers were about to join the army, yet refused to do so after our house was demolished. I do not want to serve a country that doesn’t respect the Bedouins and denies us of our rights. All I dream about is having a big house with running water and electricity as others do.

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