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.
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.
Q: (Judih): Hi Bar, I’ve been wanting to ask you about a program you’re involved in called JITLI. Do you have time to talk?
A: (Bar): Sure, go ahead!
Q: Tell us something about JITLI – what is it?
A: It’s a program of co-existence with Jewish participants from the Sha’ar Hanegev community, San Diego, California communities and the Muslim communities of Segev Shalom Village and Lakiya village in Israel. It’s a program that teaches how to take leadership in your community while enabling you to get to know the other side, the other culture, the other religion.
From the site: jitli.org:
The original idea was to include these 4 different groups: American Jews, Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians. The group would visit Spain, as a neutral ground with significantly peaceful historical relations between Jews and Arabs, and various parts of Israel, including the Israeli and Palestinian homes. Another characteristic of the program was that every group would consist of 5 girls and 5 boys, and they would be guided by young and adult, counselors from every region. Although not every year could incorporate all four groups, each year has been a success in its own way. The trip now includes a San Diego portion to start it off which lets the American groups also show their home.
Q: Who started the program?
A: Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs, a family from San Diego that wanted to start a project geared to children. It began with the Sha’ar haNegev community and a village in Gaza. At that time, there was far less restriction of movement and the Jitli group flew to Spain for one week and then spent a week in Israel . Things had to change in 2003 or 4, when kids were not allowed to fly freely from the Gaza Strip and Jitli partnered with the village of Lakiya, instead.
Then the JITLI journey became one week spent in San Diego, one week in Spain and one week in Israel.
Q: Who is involved?
A: Each community has 10 participants, 5 boys and 5 girls, selected after an interviewing process. They are chosen based on knowledge of English and on their seriousness in wanting to be ambassadors. They must have potential to take leadership and sincere desire to learn about the other side.
After 2 days of tests, our final 10 participants are chosen. Since November or December we’ve been having one meeting every 2 weeks in which we talk about issues in our immediate world or actively train for the upcoming journey.
In each community there are two counselors: one young and one adult. The young one is fresh from his or her own experience from the JITLI trip the previous year. I have been able to contribute a lot from my experience in order to be able to guide the kids, being more close to them and their problems.
The adult counselor is in charge of everything and responsible for the entire community.
Q: Where does it happen?
A: Meetings take place at Kibbutz Or Ha Ner, which has been relatively safe from qassam fire. We meet once a week, though recently we’ve had to miss meetings because of our Bagrut exams.
Q: Tell us about some of your projects.
A: After the JITLI journey, each participant can take on leadership responsibility in his/her own community or even in another community. There are people who take leadership to begin projects to contribute something or help in an ongoing project.
Q: Can you give specific examples?
A: I can tell you about one person who participated in 2003. After serving in the army, he called Gary and asked how he could help in Jitli. He told them he wanted to continue what he’d started and wanted to give back to the organization. Now, he’s in charge of coordinating all communities in this area. It’s nice to see him come back after the army.
Another project is happening in Hura. There is an open kitchen, serving food to Arab communities. There are kids from Sha’ar Hanegev who are involved in that projet..
We had a gathering of Jitli Alumni from 2000 – 2007. Everyone was excited to meet and share experiences. What was clear is that they all want to keep active and help.
Q: How has JITLI affected you?
A: Even though I experience qassams all the time, I’m in a position that few share. I get to know the other culture. We could never talk to Arabs or Muslims so freely before and how could I have the chance ever again without JITLI?
For me there’s been a switch in my mind – I’m more open. I am understanding. I really want to help contribute to the community.
I gained information from the journey about the West Bank and the way of life there and, also, I get to know the people, the inner person. They talk about their family, those who may be in jail, or even dead. We talk and listen to one another.
We’ve made a lot of friendships. I go to Lakiya and Segev Shalom and my friends there and their families welcome me. They really are friends of mine.
Q: How you think JITLI helps make a difference?
A: JITLI, itself, can’t make a difference. It works on a personal level. If each participant can take something to his or her community, then they, themselves, make the difference through personal contribution. JITLI gives tools. We need to do the work.
Q: And the future?
A: We, the participants from Sha’ar ha Negev are going into the Army. I don’t know what the future is going to bring, but each one is responsible for his own future, responsible for what they’ve learned.
Q: What about the Army? How is it going to be for you in the Army after having participated in JITLI?
A: It’s really hard. I don’t know what the Army’s going to teach me, or how it’s going to affect me. What I do know is that now I’m going to the army with knowledge that other people don’t have. It’s going to help me make decisions.
Another thing I learned is that a lot of JITLI Alumni are now commanders and hold important offices in the army.
Q: That has to be good. Any other comments?
A: Last year, at the end of the 2007 JITLI trip, kids came together and it was really nice for everyone. We were able to see with our own eyes that four years later, after JITLI participants had finished their Army service, they, the graduates kept talking with the Arab kids and were good friends. We saw that and it encourages me and all of us that we can do it, too. And that we don’t have to be enemies.
I guess that’s about all I can say.
Q: Thank you, Bar. You are inspiring. Good luck with everything.
A: You’re welcome.
Note from Judih:
For further information about JITLI, click onto www.jitli.org or for information regarding how to contact Bar Gal-On, make a request in your comments. Show your support for this project! Thank you.