Photographer: Laetitia Vancon
Title: Whose promise Land?
Location: Israel-Palestine
Period: 08/2021 - 09/2021
Category: Solutions

Whose promised Land?
My work is a journey through Israel to better understand what it means to be Israeli today - after a dramatic change of prime minister for the first time in over a decade.

From Metula, on the border with Lebanon, to Eilat, Israel's southernmost city on the Red Sea, we meet a kaleidoscope of people, searching for belonging but very different in how they find it.
A country still grappling with unresolved contradictions at its birth and with the consequences of its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. We discovered a battle of narratives - fought not only between Jews and Arabs, but also between Jews themselves.

Israel's founders hoped to create a melting pot, a society that would unite diverse communities into one Jewish state. But we encountered an Israel that was at times more like an intractable puzzle - a collection of incompatible factions, each with its own priorities, grievances and history.

Israel is embarking on a new venture perhaps unprecedented in the annals of international political history The country now has a right-center-left coalition government who is seeking to present their coalition as an inclusive one meant to heal not exacerbate the divisions in Israeli society And for all its diversity the new government has no ultra-Orthodox parties which threatens their influence and official privileges br The Haredi public could like others be affected materially by budget cuts as well as in the more ideological realm on delicate issues of state and religion

Timna Park a tourist attraction in Eilat on the site of a former copper mine The mine closed in the 1980s and the port never became a major thoroughfare Instead Eilat is Israel s premier resort Like the kibbutz Eilat has turned into something that Israel s founders never envisaged Eilat is now a 21st-century beach destination but before the sun loungers and luxury resorts this coastal town was established by King David as a navy base Since then Eilat has been involved in a number of battles The most recent military operation was in 1949 by Israeli forces when Eilat became the furthest southernmost town in Israel Today Eilat is a popular resort town for both foreign visitors and residents who wish to spend their holidays by the sea The majority of Israelis adopt a secular lifestyle

Checkpoint 300 also known as the Bethlehem checkpoint is a major Israel Defense Forces checkpoint at one of the main exits of Bethlehem The crossing in its current format was established in 2005 Palestinian workers say conditions at the notorious checkpoint in occupied West Bank have worsened with the overcrowding at the checkpoint and the attitude of the Israeli authorities against the Palestinians Each morning the scene is chaotic with Palestinians squeezed together inside a single lane pulling themselves up on the surrounding steel bars climbing over and dangling among the crowd

In the West Bank at Tekoa settlement Daniella Levy a 34-year-old novelist is praying in front of the Judaean Desert She moved to the West Bank mainly because of her husband who lived there before their marriage And they stayed because it allowed them to live within reach of Jerusalem but without its housing costs I think that Palestinians should have rights and they should be able to live well and have a good life the way that I do Ms Levy said But for that to work we would need to develop a basis of trust that is not there In Tekoa itself though there isn t much chance of trust-building Ms Levy has little contact with local Palestinians beyond fleeting interactions with those who run shops lining a nearby highway or the construction workers who build homes in Tekoa

Tourists and locals in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee This ancient city is a popular weekend beach getaway for Israelis and a magnet for foreign visitors drawn by its 2 000 years of history It used to be a much more vibrant city but the ultra-Orthodox have moved to Tiberias in large numbers in recent years and pressured stores to close for the Sabbath which begins Friday at sundown and extends through dusk on Saturday giving the once secular-leaning city an image as unfriendly to less conservative and nonreligious Jews

Thai workers in an avocados farm from Kfar Giladi kibbutz in northern Israel close to Metula In nowdays semi-privatized like Israel itself many kibbutzniks have drifted from their socialist moorings The business now earns more money from its quarries than its farms The people working the land are now mostly Thai not Israeli And its austere guesthouse is now a boutique hotel

Levana Ratzabi in front of her home in the Givat Amal Bet neighborhood Levana a 77-year-old retired caterer whose family moved to the area when she was a baby She is a member of the Mizrahi families and their descendants The latter never obtained full ownership of their homes or building permits on the land br For decades Israeli authorities and real estate tycoons have displaced the residents of Givat Amal who were sent to the neighborhood in the 1950s to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their land Today those who remain are fighting for the only home they have ever known br Levana Ratzabi is one of the few diehards who will not leave until they receive what they consider fair compensation

Palestinian resident Asmaa Azaizeh a poet who runs literary events in Haifa To many Haifa symbolizes Arab-Jewish coexistence It has a larger Arab population than most Israeli cities but to her it remains as occupied as the West Bank Every time she drives into the city the office blocks built on the destroyed Arab neighborhood underscore her sense of alienation reminding her that most Arab residents fled the city in 1948 They tell me to my face she said that this is not yours An Arab woman with an Israeli passport Ms Azaizeh does not feel completely at ease in her Palestinian-ness either Were it not for the occupation Ms Azaizeh said she might see herself more as Arab than specifically Palestinian Being a Palestinian is a way of resisting injustice she said If there was nothing to resist I wouldn t care if I was Palestinian or Egyptian or Lebanese or Jordanian

Yanki Katzburg a Haredi journalist and his five children at home gathering for the prayers welcoming the arrival of Sabbath Mr Katzburg and his family live in Tiberias but they decided to live in the city center not in one neighborhood only inhabited by Haredim If the Haredim are changing Tiberias Tiberias is also changing the Haredim Far from their leaders he says he has a more relaxed and independent life He still feels deeply religious but with less supervision by his relatives and rabbis he feels less expectation to devote his whole life to studying religious law

On the other side of the valley of Tekoa settlement in the Palestinian village of Tuqu the obstacle to peace is the construction of more than 130 settlements since 1967 often on land farmed for generations by Palestinians and a two-tier legal system that it considers a form of apartheid

Hundreds of Eritrean refugees live in limbo in Eilat some of them waiting for more than a decade for the Israeli state to decide whether or not to grant them asylum They are able to work legally but they are barred from higher education welfare benefits and a driving license To maintain a sense of community they run a community center on the outskirts of the city where they hold church services soccer games and language classes Many are traumatized by their experiences in Eritrea which is run by an authoritarian regime and by experiences of torture and kidnap on route to Israel through the Sinai desert

In Araqib a Bedouin hamlet in the Negev desert Hakmah Abu Mudeghim walking through the cementary where her ancestor are burried The Abu Mudeghim family is descended from Bedouin Arab nomads who crisscrossed the region for centuries and later settled in the Negev before Israel was founded br Israel says that most of the Bedouins have no right to the land since their ownership claims were never recorded in Ottoman-era land registries For decades the government has been trying to move more than 30 Bedouin communities from their traditional grazing grounds in the Negev into seven purpose-built towns The police had demolished parts of the village 191 times since 2010 according to a rights watchdog As a child Hakmah Abu Mudeghim thought of herself as Bedouin with no sense of Palestinian identity The difference for her now is the occupation It forced on her the Palestinian identity