The "Israel Conversation" can be such a facepalm. To sum up the main talking points, let's put the Middle East in a sandbox: Israel's like, "I won this Six-Day War, fair and square. The Holy Land is mine... plus parts of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt," and Palestine's like, "But the Holy Land was mine before you or Jordan had it. Give me back my Holy Land." Everyone wants sovereignty. Everyone wants Jerusalem. Someone cuts off someone's water supply and a politician gets assassinated. One guy names a tank God's Messenger and meanwhile the judicial system is acting craaazyyy. It's a mess.
And while putting Israeli history in a 100-word sandbox can give some (albeit limited) perspective, it's still hard to imagine the on-the-ground experience. That's where two photo exhibits currently on view at Blue Sky Gallery come in to fill the gaps. Shai Kremer's Infected Landscape surveys the militaristic imprint left on Israel's lands, while Natan Dvir's Eighteen documents "18-year-old Arabs living in Israel," coupling his photos with essays written by the young people in them, detailing their lives and goals. Between Kremer and Dvir's photos, the social and physical after-bullet of war can be seen in the land and the people: Dvir gives us those folks most marginalized by war, and Kremer walks us through the world they live in.
In examining the physical imprint of conflict, much of Kremer's work captures strategic destruction. According to "Burnt Olive Trees and Katyusha Crater, Lebanon War," and "Palestinian Olive Trees Beheaded 'Due to Security Reasons,' East Jerusalem," you really don't want to be a non-Jewish olive tree in Israel. You will either be burned alive or beheaded for "security reasons," and neither sounds like a game of putt-putt. Plus, your murder will be carried out to the detriment of the local pool of resources.
In fact, most resources and infrastructure aiding the Palestinians are under fire. Walls have it bad, because walls are the natural habitat of enemies, as is evidenced by Kremer's "Trench 'Chicago' Ground Force Training Zone" (a metal bunker that's been shrapneled into a cheese grater) and Dvir's "Sliman, Shkip" (a young Bedouin man sitting on a pile of crumbled walls which used to be his home). You can put roads in the same category. Kremer's "Dromology—Palestinian Woman and Child, West Bank" depicts a woman and child walking up a single-lane thruway, the pavement lacerated at several points by explosions, possibly rendering the road impassable.
While it's one thing to cope with war-torn infrastructures (and the loss of friends and family), it's another thing to do so while adhering to strict religious doctrine, as Palestinian Muslims do. Many of Dvir's photos reflect this complex situation. Some are accompanied by essays expressing secret or repressed romantic feelings—a repression that's necessary for unwed Muslims to maintain the acceptance of family and community. One such photo is "Aseel, Umm Al Fahm," showing a Muslim woman in her bedroom, standing between a computer and guitar. She writes about her aspirations to teach English in the village, and of having fallen in love with a man. She claims that keeping her romantic feelings to herself is for the better. The word "Love" hangs on her wall in plush, stuffed-animal letters, telling of a rift between her sexual and religious identities—a rift I now know she walks with, past burnt fields as the sound of demolition comes over the bomb-pocked hills.