Present Absentees (2019)
The project depicts the issue of “Present Absentees” or Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) in Israel. Present Absentees are Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their home in Mandatory Palestine by Jewish or Israeli forces, before and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, but who remained within the area that became the state of Israel. They are regarded as absent by the Israeli government because they were absent from their homes on a particular day, even if they did not intend to leave them for more than a few days, and even if they left involuntarily. IDPs homes, property and lands were seized by Israel. 274,000 Arab citizens of Israel (25%) are IDP.
The project was created during an Artist’s Residency at Umm El Fahem Gallery, Israel and the photographs were taken in the gallery as well as in the Elderly House in the town. Local residents were invited to a photoshoot in which their photographs were taken against the background of historical photos of Al-Lajoun – a nearby village where they or their ancestors were born. The houses and the land of the village were confiscated by the state after 1948 and the village was destroyed shortly after. The land and some of the surviving buildings belong today to the Jewish National Fund (KKL in Hebrew) and is used as a park. In 2017, KKL-JNF friend and supporter Jose Luis Mendoza, president and founder of the Catholic University of San Antonio of Murcia, Spain donated further funds to cover the area of the village with further forest trees. Other parts of the village land were given to Kibbutz Megido in which until today one of the village's mosques is located. In the last decade, the original residents of El Lajun have been trying to negotiate as well as start legal cases, aimed at getting back some of the lands that were taken. Others have created plans that envisage the re-building of the village. More info about the village can be found here: https://zochrot.org/en/village/53285
The participants in the photoshoot were asked to choose which of the historical photos, taken from the Umm El Fahem Gallery archive, they would like to be photographed with. The photos were projected on a wall and the participants were positioned in front of the projected image holding whiteboards. The whiteboards allude to the colonial imagery of the “tabula rasa,” the alleged empty places that are “open” to colonisation, or in the Israeli case, the Zionists’ (and others in the Christian west) imagery of Palestine as a wilderness (Shemama). The projected images were an act of negation of this, still prevailing within Israeli society, colonial imagery. However the photoshoot brought further complexity - the projection of the images onto the boards blinded the participants who were facing the light emitted from the projector. This work then, at the same time, sheds a light on the historical injustice but also renders the subjects’ limited control over their image and over their land, life and history. But this action opened another space. One of the participants described his experience as being in a visual vacuum – blinded and left only with his thoughts or memories of the village.
After the photo was taken could the participants see on the camera’s digital screen how they were positioned in the village landscape and chose the photo that they were happy with. The project was chosen to be exhibited in Edut Mekomit / Local Testimony 2019 in the Eretz Israel Museum.