Citizens with no address
Interview about the photo documentary project Citizens with no address - Unrecognized Bedouin settlements in the Galilee
Interview by: Veronica Yudkevich
Photography: Adi Segal
Could you please describe the project?
The project was initiated by Dugrinet, to document the unrecognized Bedouin settlements in Galilee and eventually produce an exhibition using my photographs. Together we gathered the data, visited the villages, talked to the people, heard their stories and I took photos. I had a previous knowledge of many Bedouins living in tin shacks in the Negev desert, but I had no idea that this is so widespread in the north. Every village has a different history and a different situation, but there are many common threads. I’ve been preoccupied with this issue for years, at first in the South Hebron hills, but then I discovered that I didn’t have to drive for 4 hours; it’s the same country and whatever happens there happens here, only slightly differently. The struggle for the land, inequality, and injustice are here as well, near me.
We’ve collected a number of testimonials from 8 out of 25 villages in Galilee, which paint a general picture of the life of about 4000 people living in this area. They are citizens who don’t have similar rights as others. They’re not connected to water, electricity, and sewage infrastructures; some villages have no paved roads leading to them, which in winter makes coming in and going out or kids getting to school quite complicated and sometimes impossible.
These issues relating to the Bedouins of the north are surprisingly unknown; there’s no information available, as though the matter doesn’t exist. The residents of the settlements are affiliated with the largest adjacent community, so there’s no address or demographical data. Part of the project was also creating a detailed map, using the statistical data collected by Bimkom. This map accompanies the exhibition, showing all the settlements in Galilee and their population.
How did you find your subjects?
Dugrinet has been covering this issue for a few years now, until recently almost exclusively. So we started with people Dugrinet was already in contact with - residents of West Kobsi, Ramiya, and Shehade. Slowly we got to know more people and more places. In some places nobody would talk to us, because we didn’t know anybody, while in others they wouldn’t even let us in.
We respect that, of course. We didn’t photograph or interview anybody who wasn't supportive of the project. In many places people invited us into their homes and were happy to use this opportunity to bring forth their reality and to share their story.
How do you make your subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera?
I don’t take the camera out right away; it’s a process that takes time. Sometimes it takes one visit or two or three until we establish some kind of trust and connection. It’s very important to first hear the story, get to know the person and a little bit about his/her world, and only then start shooting. Always the same questions come up - should I shoot spontaneously or direct and how to approach this subject - should I photograph the people or the environment or both and how provocative should it be. There are many ways to tell a story. I decided not to direct but to have the subjects facing the camera and, subsequently, face to face with the viewer - the straightforward look that can’t be avoided was very important to me; I chose a somewhat suggestive approach that allows imagination, interpretation, and curiosity. Bringing the personal voice and the story of my subjects was very important to me. Through them I first try to learn about people’s lives, problems, and struggles, and then bring that to the viewer.
Did the encounter with the people in the villages have an impact on you? If so, in what way?
I’ve been living in the Galilee for 7 years, and I thought that I was a rather open and curious person interested in her surroundings. However, from the moment I started visiting the villages and meeting the people, I started noticing those tin shacks everywhere alongside the roads. Until a few months ago I wasn’t even aware of this phenomenon, which means that my eyes were screening it almost automatically. I suddenly realised who lives here, who our neighbours are. It’s all so close, sometimes just a matter of tens of meters, but the gap is very clear. The encounter dissolves this separation for me.
I’ve also been very inspired by how much some people stick to their purpose; they’re strong, unabating, and they don’t give up. The human encounter excites me; it opens a door into a world that isn’t usually seen in everyday life, a culture of this region, most of which is gone, but whose traces are still here.
What did you find the most challenging in this project?
First of all the time restrictions. I wish we had more time to spend in one place, to gain a deeper understanding of the story, and then it could all have been more profound, more real, more detailed. A question of depth versus breadth also came up - whether to visit as many types of settlements as we could or to go deeper and spend a couple of months with one family. Within the time that was at our disposal, I managed to visit some places 3 to 5 times, others once or twice. I hope to return and continue documenting.
Perhaps the biggest challenge was establishing trust. Many people were scared, fearing that we were representatives of the authorities. We had to explain that we came to help them share their story. How much of that story should be revealed, without inadvertently doing damage, was another real concern.
How much of it is work and how much a passion project?
With documentary photography I only get involved in projects that get to me; it’s hard to approach a subject that I’m not passionate about or that I don’t find interesting. I see the camera as a tool and sometimes as an excuse to study an issue; it makes the encounter possible. It’s hard for me to remain a bystander watching the struggles go on for years or hearing about the insulting, unreasonable, and evasive responses people receive and sometimes none at all. Everybody has a tool; mine is the camera; others know how to sing or write or be a lawyer. I think that if everyone were to put their strengths into it, that would have made a change.
Do you know of similar documentary projects with a social agenda in Israel or abroad that have made a change/inspired?
There are many inspiring projects. While working on our project I was happy to accidentally come across Tal Adler’s booklet. He’s a photographer who did a similar project with the Bedouins in the Negev ten years ago. He spent a few years in the Negev working in cooperation with the settlements and had an exhibition. I contacted him and was very sad to find out that 10 years since, unimaginably, the situation there has only gotten worse.
What drives you?
I think mostly optimism, inquisitiveness, curiosity and a desire to connect and to learn. With the camera I get to see places I probably wouldn’t have been able to see without it. It’s always an issue that I feel passionate about, which relates to various aspects of life.
What’s next? What would you like to work on in the near future?
I would like to continue exploring issues concerning relationships between Jews and Arabs in this area. I embrace every opportunity I get to go, see, and interact, and figure out the place I live in a bit more. This place has so much to offer. I love being like a tourist here; there’s such a wealth of cultures and customs.
The exhibition is currently showing in YMCA Jerusalem
Link to Adi Segal’s website
Link to Bimkom
Link to Dugrinet