I spoke to Ezra about his work focusing on the Bedouin population and the desert environment that he loves.
Judih: Ezra, can you tell me something about the current Exhibit?
Ezra: I’m constantly biking around the area with my camera. In the Revivim area, there’s a large Bedouin population. And I endeavour to photograph what’s going on, within our population and around us. The Bedouin have a very difficult life, without legal status or rights and they are angry to the degree of hatred.
I try to capture the images of what is really going on, with the Jewish population and the Bedouin. At the same time, my intention is to be an agent, or go-between. I wish to mediate between two sides, two groups of human beings
Judih: Do you feel that you are being heard? Do people have questions? Are they taking an interest?
Ezra: People are listening. They get angry, but they listen. There are those who believe that I’m exaggerating on either sides. Yet I know that eventually what I’m saying will penetrate people’s consciousness.
Judih: Have any newspapers taken up your cause? Is there anything written?
Ezra: Very little. I say this: Over Tel Aviv, there’s an Iron Dome, impossible to penetrate. You want to get through, but it’s impossible.
Judih: You can’t break that bubble.
Ezra: Exactly, even if you have something to say, something truly deserving to be heard,
Judih: Do you know if something has been written in the English press? Perhaps some response from out of the country?
Ezra: I don’t think so, but I’d like to find a way to spread the word to English-speakers.
Judih: Well, this blog might find a small audience, maybe 20 people or so!
Ezra: It doesn’t matter how many, even 20 people is good!
Judih: Is there something in particular you’d like readers outside of this immediate area to know?
Ezra: As I wrote in my artist’s statement for this show, people find it very difficult to relate to the camera; as if the camera is an enemy. This is true for Jews as well as Bedouin. Apparently, they’ve got something to hide, and that is what I’m searching for, what lies underneath. Both sides are the same, and essentially need to stop being foolish.
This week, for example, on our Kibbutz fence,there was a war between the Bedouin and the local councils. Highly unnerving. There I am biking around, and it’s not always with a good feeling.
Judih: or a feeling of safety.
Ezra: or safety. And after this week, I feel even more uncertain.
Judih: What exactly happened?
Ezra: Government officials came to issue demolition warrants on illegal housing and there was huge opposition. The Bedouin threw stones and there was gunfire, right on our Kibbutz fence. It’s terrible.
Revivim exists with that volatile fence and tunnels and trenches. It’s terrible.
Still I am trying to build relationships, but I’m only one man, a small force and it’s extremely difficult to encourage change.
Judih: Do you have any suggestions as to how to recruit support?
Ezra: My dream is to establish a home, like Haim Perry has done with the White House on Nir-Oz, between Revivim and Bir-Hadaj, their area. There I want to offer art activities for groups of Jews and Bedouin. That’s my dream. With such activity, it’s possible to develop cooperation.
Judih: That sounds wonderful! Is it possible, is there some viable way to develop this project?
Ezra: Haim suggested something and I’ll start to work in that direction; perhaps the Peres Center for Peace. And I need to find someone who can locate the resources for developing this idea.
“Where do we encounter violence?” asks Ahmad Fukra, a physical education teacher in front of his soccer club of Bedouin boys and girls.
“Everywhere,” answers Salwa, a girl from the sixth grade. “At home, in society, in the neighborhood and on the soccer pitch.”
“How is it expressed?” Fukra, 28, continues.
“Both verbally and physically,” respond the children.
“Who is most violent on the soccer pitch?” asks Fukra.
“The spectators,” answers Diana, 14.
“And which spectators are the most problematic?” asks the teacher.
“Those belonging to Bnei Sakhnin,” answer the children in unison. The teacher finds it hard to hide a smile.
The short conversation opens a soccer lesson provided within the Abu Basma regional council. Education and Social Project, a non-profit operating in partnership with Hapoel Tel Aviv, runs the program for 1,200 Bedouin children from non-recognized villages in the Negev. About half the children are girls, 500 of whom are part of baseball or dodge ball teams, with the remainder playing on soccer teams. The session run by Fukra earlier this month at the Tel Arad school was given to a mixed group of 17 boys and 7 girls.
Salwa, 12, eludes the boys, fires the ball and scores a goal. The look of deep disappointment is apparent on the faces of the goalkeeper and his friends, who are dressed in shorts for a hot spring day while Salwa wears long sweat pants, a jacket and a head covering.
“It’s very hot,” she concedes after the game. “But, I’ve gotten used to playing this way. I enjoy scoring goals, and the freedom to run around and play with the boys,” she adds – her eyes burning with passion.
Salwa admits that at home, next to her father – who is married to two women – and her 10 siblings, she makes an effort not to discuss the game.
Eran Gilboa, 31, is the head of the southern office of the non-profit group organizing the after school project.
“There is no community center here,” he says. “Everything takes place around tin shacks and wooden cabins. A soccer game combining educational values with physical activity is the only after school enrichment the children around here get. Through experiencing the game, the children learn tolerance, mutual respect, violence prevention, enjoyment, empowerment and leadership.”
“Bedouin society does not take for granted girls participating in physical education lessons,” says Ibrahim Amterat, 23. Amterat, who lives in Kseifa, is the non-profit’s project coordinator for the unrecognized villages.
“Until recently, the girls at most would play hopscotch or stand by the fence and look at the boys. In order to get the girls to participate we had to go from family to family to get permission from the parents and the tribe. It wasn’t so simple convincing them that the girls should play soccer,” he says with a laugh.
“Most of all, I enjoy scoring goals, attacking and mowing down the other side,” says 13-year-old Resha, as she rolls with laughter. “The boys give girls who are struggling a hard time, but you have to get used to it. Once they would insult us, now they’ve gotten used to us, and we’re part of the team.”
“Through soccer we see the empowerment of girls,” observes Gilboa. “These are girls who are usually shy and closed up, and they are not used to talking, but the game strengthens their self image. At first, they didn’t know the rules, and now they are developing and some are even turning out to be as good as the boys.”
Back at the Tel Arad school, which runs on electricity from a generator, most of the girl soccer players sit on benches next to other girls during class, while the boys stick to the boys. Outside the soccer pitch, the separation of the sexes remains.
This is huge – just getting permission from the parents is huge. Who knew? Thanks to Eran Gilboa and Ibrahim Amterat for working this chance for girls to rise up in at least one sphere closed to them till now. There’s hope. Things are changing.
Hoping to update this if I get a chance to talk to either of the leaders of this project.
G: I’m inspired by many things. First, Avishai’s new disc. Also, I saw a great show called “Debka Fantasy”, Israeli Ethnic music from the 1920’s onwards. Trips in nature – always good ideas come from my walks with my dog Nina in the forest near our house. Lastly, my family always contributes to my inspiration.
J: What are some of your other interests?
G: I play basketball every Sunday. I like to prepare food and I’m trying to grow organic food.
J: Tell me about the work you do with students in Otef Azza
G: The kids are very talented so it’s lots of fun, We work in a miklat (bomb shelter) so we are safe. I’ve heard only one “Tseva Adom” “Red Alert” and it was scary – though the kids were used to it and didn’t make a big deal of it.
J: How would you describe the music the kids like to play?
G: The kids like to play Rock, Progressive Rock, Reggae and some Trance. Some of them also like Jazz.
J:Do you think that the qassams in the area make a difference to the sort of jams you hear from the students?
G: One time a student did a free style Hip Hop and played with the words “Tseva Adom” like a scarcher (turntable) but usually there is no difference.
J: Do you see any difference since the ‘ceasefire’?
G: I’m more relaxed on the way back home…
J: Were you tense before? Can you elaborate on that?
G: I used to drive very fast when I passed Sederot. I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to hear the alarm from inside the car. Now I feel better, but maybe I just got used to it.
J: What about your work with Bedouin musicians? (note: Gal was a member of the BeDo project, an ensemble of Israeli and Bedouin musicians) Can you talk about that briefly?
G: We are no longer in touch, except for wishing each other “Chag sameach” “Have a happy holiday” from time to time.
It was a great time working with them and I learned a lot, but then each one of us went our own way. We recorded our stuff and you can hear it on our MySpace page: http://myspace.com/bedoproject.
Maybe someday we’ll do a gig together. Who knows…
J: What do you see as a possible future scenario in this area?
G: I’m optimistic-but it will take time…
J: You say you’re optimistic. Do you know of any ongoing projects right now that will promote a peaceful path?
G: I’m starting to do something in Ben Gurion Universty – a mixed group of students
playing together. I hope it will work out well so i can tell you more about it.
J: I’m looking forward to hearing about it. Thanks, Gal, for taking the time to talk to us.
G: Good luck and kol tuv (‘all the best’)
To all: Take the time to listen to some of the BeDo Projecthttp://myspace.com/bedoproject on MySpace. Listen to the blend of Bedouin instruments and folk lyrics from Israeli as well as Bedouin sources. It will take you to a place of optimism. We can work together–judih.