1997 — student winner
Land has always been at the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; even now, land questions threaten the final stages of the peace treaty. Small parcels of land are being seized from Arab peasant farmers for use by Israelis. I would like to document Arab families after their homes are taken, and show how their lives are affected by the seizure.
Since the Israeli Defense Forces captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, the Israeli government has established Jewish communities throughout the occupied territories. Much of the land had been owned by Palestinian peasants farmers who were forced to leave their homes and farms. In the past, many of the flare-ups in the conflict have been attributed to confiscation of land.
In recent years, the Israeli government's settlement policy has come under close scrutiny. International pressure and its own public opinion has been against the land grab but a strong political party supports the continuation of the settlements. This conflict is set to be resolved in the final stage of the Oslo Agreement. Meanwhile, Arab families are still losing land. New settlements are still being built, and Arabs are being evicted from the right-of-way for a road that the Israelis are building to avoid traveling near Arab towns.
The Arabs who live on sites sought by the government are left with no choice but to leave their homes. Without any compensation, they are forced to find new shelter elsewhere. Often the families are large, with 8 or 9 children. They are forced to go to the homes of relatives, making the already tight conditions worse. Some families have taken shelter in tents, abandoned buses and even caves. Families are sometimes separated to ease the burden on host families. Many live with no hope of ever returning to their homes. They may be lucky enough to rebuild a home and start over, but they will always live with the fear of having their home taken away, with little or no warning.
I have lived and worked in Israel, and I speak Arabic fluently. As a Palestinian, I'm more aware of Middle East history than most Americans. I believe I can offer a unique photographic perspective that could lead to a greater understanding of one of the world's most troubling conflicts.