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Replace fake co-existence photos with real images of co-resistance

The exposure of a popular ‘co-existence’ photo as a staged fabrication points to the need for better images of the path to a just peace.

Text and photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org

A photograph intended to illustrate the peace process ended up being more accurate than intended. The now-iconic image showing a “Palestinian” and an Israeli boy walking arm in arm was a contrived set-up that anyone with experience in the region should have been able to spot as a fake.

The popular photo recently showed up in a tweet by Rihanna after she posted — and then quickly deleted — a tweet with the hashtag #FreePalestine during last summer’s Israeli offensive on Gaza.

While it’s certainly true that many Palestinian and Israeli Jewish children are friends with each other, those familiar with local culture would know that only older men wear their keffiyeh scarf the way this little boy is shown. As it turns out, the Jewish boy wearing the kippah (yarmulke) wasn’t even religious — so even he’s fake.

As The Forward reports, the original photo was taken by American photographer Ricki Rosen for a cover story about the Oslo peace accords for the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s:

Rosen said that the magazine’s art director was so specific in what he wanted that he even drew her a picture — one boy in a yarmulke, the other in a keffiyeh shot from the back walking down a long road, which was supposed to symbolize the road to peace.

What makes this photo the more-perfect-than-intended allegory for the peace process is that it was the product of Western directors who orchestrated an image of peacemaking in which Israeli Jews went through the motions and Palestinians were excluded in virtually everything but appearance. Despite enthusiasm abroad for each new round of talks, few on the ground — either Palestinians or Israeli Jews — had much hope for their success, at least in recent years. Facts on the ground such as ongoing settlement construction had long subverted any real prospects for a two-state solution.

Yet the process goes on in fits and starts — and images like this endure and proliferate — because people in the West cling to the idea that if we all just came together as human beings, we could solve this thing. The problem with that fantasy is that it ignores the structures of Israeli oppression, in which one side holds virtually all of the power.

But perhaps more encouragingly, the allegory of this image continues to unfold in the sense that the truth behind it is finally coming out. Through social media, unnamed sources and candid comments in closed-door meetings, the real picture of Israeli colonization is slowly permeating global consciousness.

In that spirit, I offer an alternative image of the way to a just peace:

A Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli activist confront Israeli soldiers during a weekly demonstration against the Israeli occupation and Separation Wall in the West Bank village of Al Ma'sara, April 5, 2013. The Wall, if built as planned, would cut off the village from its agricultural lands.

A Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli activist confront Israeli soldiers during a weekly demonstration against the Israeli occupation and Separation Wall in the West Bank village of Al Ma’sara, April 5, 2013. The Wall, if built as planned, would cut off the village from its agricultural lands. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

I know this photo won’t likely make the cover of Maclean’s or any other mainstream journal, but it’s a far more accurate image of genuine cooperation between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Taken at the weekly demonstration against the Israeli Separation Wall in the West Bank town of al-Ma’sara, it shows an actual Palestinian activist wearing a keffiyeh and carrying a Palestinian flag. Next to him stands a kippah-wearing Israeli solidarity activist from the group Combatants for Peace. Both face a row of Israeli soldiers blocking the road so that the nonviolent demonstration cannot proceed.

(Bonus contrasting allegory: on the left side of the frame, a Palestinian child holds a B’Tselem video camera. The Israeli organization provides the camera; the boy documents his own reality and posts it on Facebook. Take that, Western media art directors!)

The activists engage in dialogue with each other and the soldier, but it is clear who holds the power in this image. There is no faking any saccharine symmetry of “can’t Palestinians and Jews just get along?” And no, there are not just “two sides” that need to “come together.” And no matter how much dialogue this Palestinian has with his Israeli friend by his side or the soldier blocking their path, the power dynamic of oppressor and oppressed remains. They’ve been having this demonstration every week for seven years. While the relationships on the ground are important, their ultimate goal is international pressure.

“I think in this peaceful demonstration, the important and the first thing is to make a change in the thinking of many people around the world,” says Mahmoud Al’aa Elddin, the Palestinian activist in the photo. “I have the hope and I have the power inside me to continue. But at the same time I don’t have power like the Israeli occupation. They have the power; they have all the guns. But for me, my weapons and my power are more and more the international people and the Israeli people who came and stand by my side.”

“Our problem is not with the Israeli people,” says Al’aa Elddin. “Israeli people come and they participate with us in our demonstration. The problem is with the Israeli army and the settlers who occupy the land, build the settlements and use violence against Palestinians.”

This image and Al’aa Elddin’s words illustrate why co-resistance by Israelis and internationals at all levels is needed before co-existence based on equality and justice can form the basis for a true and lasting peace.

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    1. Brian

      The photo goes hand in hand with the whole kitsch Disneyfication of Israel and the Situation by its American diaspora. The images sold in this process no more represent what is really happening than “The Sound of Music” is an accurate representation of the Austrian Anschluss.

      Reply to Comment
      • Roberto

        Except Israelis (more so Israeli Jews) and Jews in Diaspora represent the largest group of those actively and consistently opposing the occupation. Not just those working in the territories or helping Palestinians from Israel proper, but Jewish groups in the West engaging politicians, representatives and interest groups.

        You are on a website of Israelis (Jews and non-Jews alike) who are doing what you think is a “Sound of Music” approach.

        There is collaboration and cooperation. Just because your media doesn’t broadcast the activism, does not mean it doesn’t exist. It does. And it’s not insignificant in the least.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Roberto,

          I was actually writing in full and unambiguous support of the excellent efforts you describe. My comment was meant to decry the lack of attention to these efforts in the US/Canadian media and the distortion of the situation generally. By “The images sold in this process” I was referring to the, as Ryan Roderick says, fake image of the two boys and much else besides. I was referring to the opposite of the contextualized images provided by Activestills and Ryan Rodrick. We are on the same page as far as I can discern. I was prompted by this: “the original photo was taken by American photographer Ricki Rosen for a cover story about the Oslo peace accords for the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s….”
          In no way do I think +972 is “a website…doing…a “Sound of Music” approach.” Precisely the opposite. My guess is that you thought I was writing from the right when I was actually writing from the left. I think that Netanyahu depends upon the kitsch Disneyland version that Shel Adelson spends a lot of money to purvey.
          Interesting voices like yours are a breath of fresh air here and very welcome!

          Brian

          Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        Brian, if you are ever in the Palestinian Territories, Egypt or Iran, you may not want to speak like that. Men with your proclivities have been put to death for expressing such tendencies.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Beautiful photo. The soldier on the far right is totally intrigued by the situation. It’s no kitsch Brian – there are many Israelis who join the non-violent demonstrations, and their participation is highly appreciated by the Palestinians. They risk tear gas, sound bombs and worse from their own army. Come and see instead of writing a comment on something I doubt you have experienced. As an outsider European, I have.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Carol,

        Please see my reply to Roberto. I couldn’t agree more with your description of the beautiful photo. I think the photo to which you refer is anything but kitsch. It is anti-kitsch. I was writing not about that photo but about the fake photo above it. I do not claim to have risked what the many Israelis you describe have risked but I have been inside the West Bank and I know what you describe is true.

        Brian

        Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        I didn’t notice the young Palestinian boy with the camera until I read your post. So thanks; it made me look again.

        This really is a great photo. Not sure if the soldier on the right is ‘totally intrigued’ but he is, at the very least, looking a bit pensive.

        I also like the fact that none of the five Israeli soldiers are actually talking – the one in the middle with downcast eyes just seems completely passive.

        The only two talking are the Palestinian and the Jewish Israeli supporter. And they are to be doing so as equals.

        And how about all that rubble on the roadside; what is that from?

        The more you look at this photo, the more there is to like.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Sluggo

      Actually, the strongest impediment to Palestinian statehood is the Palestinian leadership. The reason: they recognize that any agreement with Israel would legitimize the existence of Israel. They don’t want this at all.

      Reply to Comment
    4. “I think in this peaceful demonstration, the important and the first thing is to make a change in the thinking of many people around the world,” says Mahmoud Al’aa Elddin, the Palestinian activist in the photo. “I have the hope and I have the power inside me to continue. But at the same time I don’t have power like the Israeli occupation. They have the power; they have all the guns. But for me, my weapons and my power are more and more the international people and the Israeli people who came and stand by my side.”

      “Our problem is not with the Israeli people,” says Al’aa Elddin. “Israeli people come and they participate with us in our demonstration. The problem is with the Israeli army and the settlers who occupy the land, build the settlements and use violence against Palestinians.”

      I posted this elsewhere on this site and it echoes what Al’aa Elddin said above. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

      The governments are and always have been the stumblingblock put before the people, that and the constant propaganda spread by both sides to keep people in a state of fear and mistrust. People the world over are screwed by their elected (and unelected) leaders, who put their special interests ahead of the needs of the people they are intended to serve. Great article and nice picture of Palestinian/Israeli facing the IDF.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Pedro X

      It would be better to show the results of Palestinian resistance – terror. Let people see the faces of Israeli victims of Palestinian resistance, dead men and women killed in synagogues, children blown apart on buses on the way to school, children’s throats slashed while sleeping in bed, teenagers shot to death while hitching a ride home from school, a 3 month old baby run over by a Palestinian, youths blown apart while enjoying pizza, youths blown apart while dancing at a dance club, elderly Israelis and their families blown to bits while eating a Seder supper, a pregnant woman and her pre-school daughters shot and killed from close range, Israeli shoppers killed by a suicide bomber’s suicide vest packed with metal bearings, screws and other bits of metal, Israelis laying in comas or permanently disabled from attacks and families suffering from the effects of having their relatives killed. Then look at the Palestinians celebrating and handing out sweets in response to these killings. Listen to the words of the Palestinian driver who drove the bomber to Sbarro Pizza describe how Palestinians were elated as the toll of the bombing became greater and greater. Hear her lack of remorse as she regales the operation to Palestinians. Observe the Palestinian polls which show a majority of Palestinians approved the kidnapping and killing of three teenagers in June of this year. In 2008 84% of Palestinians polled approved the killing of 8 Yeshiva students in Jerusalem. Such is the wide support that Palestinian violent resistance enjoys from the Palestinian public.

      Look at the cost of Palestinian resistance, the absence of a state and the absence of a civil society with equal and human rights for Palestinians from Palestinians. Look at Gaza and see how resistance invested in rockets, weapons and tunnels instead of medical supplies, hospitals and sewers and water treatment plants. Look and you will see that Palestinians are ruled by autocratic and corrupt officials who deny the most basic human rights to their own people.

      Then think about all the Palestinian children and youth whom were sent to their deaths by their Palestinian elders to perpetrate attacks on Israelis, or to act as human shields. Think how Palestinian children are indoctrinated at school, at the Mosque, and in the Media to hate Jews and wish to kill as many of them as they can.

      Then think of Golda Meir’s words:

      “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

      No truer words were ever spoken.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        What Pedro thinks it would be “better to show” says it all about what he is really all about. The last thing Pedro wants is Palestinians and Israelis talking to each other and standing side by side as in the photo in solidarity and an Israeli occupation soldier being intrigued by that. This kind of “stand with us” is anathema to Pedro. “Move along–nothing to see here.” Pedro wants hatred and blood and division. Because he does not want justice.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Are dead Israeli’s somehow more tragic, more disturbing than dead Palestinians? The quote by Meir in my opinion is the most cynical, sadistic remarks ever made.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        Israelis love love. Palestinians dont seem so. You make the call.

        Reply to Comment
      • Guy L.

        Will the question work the other way around?
        Are Israeli deaths more acceptable than Palestinians?
        There’s always a ‘but’ somewhere along the line.
        ‘Oh, yes, the murder of the Zionists was horrible… But what would you do after being occupied?
        It’s terrible, that they died, yes. But I can understand the Palestinians after so many years of oppression…’
        And on and on. It does look like there’s always a ‘but’ in there somewhere, to justify, explain and make it a bit more acceptable. No one should be hacked to bits, but they are a part of an oppressing system/terrorist government.

        It’s appropriate that Brian’s comments were mistakenly taken as coming from a right- wing point if view. An old Yiddish saying comes to mind- dezelbe drek under decorazia. Meaning- same junk but decorated differently.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          I hear what you’re saying Guy, but I think we are well beyond the point where some extra-skillful therapy is going to at long last get people to stop talking past one another. Time for serious sanctions. Nothing else is serious. You first have to stop the behavior (occupation) and then the feelings will eventually follow and other behaviors improve and the reconciliation will eventually follow upon that perhaps in the next generation. First stop the behavior. Not the other way around. First things first.

          Reply to Comment
    7. Guy L.

      I actually agree with most of the things in your post above. The Israeli government does deserve a lot of criticism, and even condemnation in some cases- but one crucial question still remains open.

      Which occupation would that be?
      The one of ’48 or the one of ’67?

      Or are they one and the same?

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        For me? ’67. Same as Mahmoud Abbas. He wants to return to Safed as a tourist. For that crime, Bennet and Lieberman call him “the greatest terrorist of them all.”

        Reply to Comment
    8. Pedro X

      Abbas and you may fool the Americans and Europeans, but not Israelis.

      Brian:

      “For me? Same as Mahmoud Abbas.”

      Mahmoud Abbas November 30th, 2014 interview with Akhbar Al-Yawm:

      “There are six million refugees who wish to return, and by the way, I am one of them.”

      Sounds like you and Mahmoud want to take back 48 Palestine in addition to Judea and Samaria.

      Keep on dreaming it is never going to happen.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Blah blah blah. Anyone can cut and paste misleading fragments. And I’m sure you will not stop doing it. Pedro it is exceedingly clear to an unbiased observer that your kind hates this man BECAUSE he wants a permanent peace and end of conflict based on the ’67 lines with swaps. You HATE the fact that he is NOT a terrorist. Because you have no intention of letting anyone pry your sweaty fingers off the West Bank or EJ ever.

        http://www.timesofisrael.com/abbas-says-he-has-no-right-to-live-in-safed-and-has-no-demands-on-pre-1967-israel/

        Abbas says he has no right to live in Safed, and no territorial demands on pre-1967 Israel
        Palestinian leader, taking moderate stance in Israeli TV interview, vows there won’t be a new armed intifada on his watch

        BY ASHER ZEIGER November 1, 2012

        Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stated Thursday that he was not seeking the right to live in Israel, even though he was born in Safed, in remarks that implied a moderated stance on the longstanding Palestinian demand for a “right of return” to Israel for millions of refugees and descendants of refugees.
        Abbas also said explicitly that the Palestinians have no territorial demands on Israel in its pre-1967 lines.

        Asked in a Channel 2 News interview what he considered to be Palestine, Abbas responded that “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever … This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah.”

        Interviewer Udi Segal cut in: “Sometimes your official television… speak(s) about Acre and Ramle and Jaffa [all cities within sovereign Israel] as ‘Palestine.’”

        “I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine,” said Abbas, “and the other parts (are) Israel.”

        Noting that he himself was born in Safed, in what since 1948 has been northern Israel, Abbas said he had visited the town and would like to see it again, but not to make his home there. “It’s my right to see it, but not to live there,” he said

        […]

        He also criticized rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel and said Hamas had no justification for launching the attacks.

        Segal said Abbas was giving the interview to reach out to Israelis over the heads of their politicians. Abbas expressed disappointment in the leaders of Israel’s so-called peace camp, and said he does not know Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich and that she has never requested a meeting with him.

        Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        What Abbas actually said, and which you creatively truncated was:

        “We cannot recognize a Jewish state. We will stand against this enterprise, not out of obstinacy, but because it contradicts our interests. The first to suffer from this law would be the 1.5 million Arabs who would be no longer belong to Israel, due to their religion. The first to protest this law were the Druze…

        “There is another reason. [Israel] will not allow the return of refugees. There are six million refugees who wish to return, and by the way, I am one of them. We need to find creative solutions….”

        Saying to an Egyptian audience that six million WISH to return is absolutely NOT the same as saying he intends to see that happen because he follows that with well-recognized code words for negotiating a symbolic return of a small amount in the context of an end of conflict agreement: “creative solutions.”

        You absolutely know this Pedro of that I am sure but just pretend not to comprehend it.

        Now what it also interesting is that MEMRI of all outfits published Abu Mazen’s full words–

        http://www.memri.org/report/en/print8323.htm

        –AS IF this were some kind of expose. It sure is. Everyone here should read EVERY WORD of Abu Mazen here. It’s an expose of the fact that Abu Mazen is perfectly willing to work with Israelis in good faith to freeze out Hamas and the MB and all that and what’s more he has done Israel’s faithful contract work in the West Bank keeping Israelis safe for how many years now? It is an expose of the bad faith of the Israelis. You are so full of it Pedro and you know it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Guy L.

          Pedro:
          The current government made the mistake of neglecting Abu Mazen, when in fact they should have been strengthening him and his legitimacy. Basically- the current government isn’t making it worthwhile to reach any kind of accord. Damned of you do, damned if you don’t.
          Looking back at the past year- consider this:
          Abu Mazen is relatively nice, and is cooperative. We give him a nice, big middle finger.
          Hamas, on the other hand is not nice. The organization kidnaps and murders three kids, bombards our cities, we go to war- and meet some of their demands+seriously consider the rest.
          We give Mashaal prizes, and Abu Mazen the bird.

          Brian:
          I know that tempers can flare and rage here, so don’t take thos personally- but I fear that you’re homogenizing Israeli politics and public into a mass of drooling, raving bigots, and Palestinians into perpetually victimised peace loving folks.
          You should throw into the mix the quite a lot of people that honestly believe that I don’t have a legitimate right to live in the place I was born in, and that I don’t have a right to self determination and statehood (not that I am a partocularly oatriotic or nationalistic person, but it would be nice).
          Some voices are more subtle, such as, does Israel have a place in Jewish identity? Or why not be a Jewish minority in Palestine?
          While others are a bit more flagrant- Jews born after 48 don’t have a right to live in Israel. As an Israeli- this kinda sorta scares the beejezuz out of me and makes me say ‘hell no’

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Look, Guy, I appreciate what you’re saying but my own posts just now drew the difference between Abu Mazen and Hamas, starkly. This is why you have leaders and you have negotiations and enforceable agreements. There are plenty of people like Tomer and Pedro too who want to push the Arabs into Jordan or worse. It does not depend on what people WANT but what they DO and are disciplined to do. By agreements. My point is that people like Pedro hate Abu Mazen BECAUSE he is not like Hamas. That is what truly scares them. Abu Mazen may WISH he could return six million but he knows he can’t. And won’t. And is willing to end the conflict based on that can’t and that won’t. And THAT’S why Pedro hates him. Ya’alon may WISH for an Arab-rein Greater Israel but he needs to be made to know he can’t have it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            In other words, it’s time for the adults to take over. If that means sanctions, so be it. Ya’alon is an arrogant child. The USA is like an ever indulge parent that let’s this spoiled child run amok. If it takes sanctions, so be it:

            http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/1.631096

            Reply to Comment
    9. Brian

      http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/1.631096

      Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has shown his true colors. In an address to students at the Mekor Haim yeshiva in Gush Etzion, Ya’alon said he wished to expand settlement construction, and refrained from doing so for fear of the American administration’s displeasure.

      Ya’alon, who was recorded by Army Radio, told his listeners, “This administration will not last forever.” He also took pride in the 20,000 Israelis who had moved to the settlements over the past year, saying, “No other place in Israel has had such an increase.”

      In other words, the defense minister is waiting for Barack Obama’s administration to be replaced so that construction for the settlers can be expanded to even greater dimensions than their current ones.

      Right after Ya’alon’s statements were made public, it was learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be traveling to the United States early next week for an urgent meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry. The purpose of the meeting is to coordinate with the United States in preparation for the upcoming vote in the UN Security Council on the proposed resolution calling for an end to the occupation in the West Bank within two years.

      These are the two faces of the State of Israel’s outgoing government, and this is its duplicitous nature: On the one hand, the defense minister, who longs for the replacement of the American administration, hopes to build more and more settlements to ruin the last chance for the two-state solution. On the other hand, the prime minister urgently asks the same administration for help in scuttling the Palestinian initiative to end the occupation, using the accepted Israeli claim that unilateral measures are not helpful to the peace process.

      It is hard to grasp why the United States continues to placate Netanyahu, the prime minister who has done everything he could to sabotage relations with it. It is even harder to grasp how Israel dares come out against the Palestinian initiative even as it does everything possible to leave the Palestinian Authority with no alternative. After all, Israel continues to build in the settlements, which is perhaps the most unilateral move imaginable.

      Here are the Netanyahu government’s true intentions: to build recklessly in the territories, to sabotage relations with the United States and to call for its help whenever the Palestinians take political measures in the international arena. That has been the policy of the Netanyahu government, which led Israel to a dead end. That is why he must be removed from power with all urgency.

      Reply to Comment
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