French photographer Joss Dray speaks to MEMO at the Palestine Media Forum in Istanbul, Turkey about solidarity with Palestine and how things have changed since the First Intifada.
How did you get involved in the Palestinian issue?
I was involved in politics against colonialism and if you are against colonialism then you are for Palestine.
Palestine through the lens of the media
A two-day conference hosted by the Palestine Media Forum in partnership with MEMO pulls together activists from over 50 countries to look at how we can unite organisations to provide a true image of the Palestinian struggle and their sarifices.
When did you first go to Palestine?
I went in 1987 to the West Bank and Gaza. At that time everything was open. There were no borders between Gaza and Israel you could take a taxi from Damascus Gate in Jerusalem to Gaza. We used to go for two days. Sometimes for one day.
It used to take five minutes to get to Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
I went to Nazareth, Haifa, not to Tel Aviv. I went to the cities where there are Palestinians.
Did you go again?
I kept going until 2004. I was there during the first Intifada. I went less during Oslo.
Why did you go less after the signing of the Oslo Accords?
Because it was difficult to know what we can do. It was important to show settlement growth but I don’t want to have contact with settlers. I did work on Judaisation at this time as a way to show colonisation without dealing with settlers.
When you take pictures you become complicit with the other. I don’t want to support them and I don’t want to lie. My work is to show Palestinian people, how they live, think, what their culture is. The humanity, the legitimacy of their life on this land.
So settlers can stay and struggle against them, but not for me to take pictures of.
How did Palestine change since the first time you went?
It changed a lot. In 1987 everything was open. During the Intifada everything was open but with difficulties, sometimes there were checkpoints. After Oslo, they began to close everything. It was more difficult. After the Second Intifada the borders became worse. You can imagine. They set up borders with the wall and they began to get violent with Palestinians. They closed Bethlehem, they took all the land. The borders of Jerusalem became Bethlehem.
Where have you exhibited your works?
Mainly, I held exhibitions with solidarity movements. In 2003 I held an exhibition in the street in Paris to show how the land was being taken away from Palestinians. Until 1997 I had my pictures in newspapers, I published books and features images in exhibitions and magazines.
I even held exhibitions in Palestine and Lebanon, in Shatila and Ain El Hilweh.
You spent time in the camps in Lebanon, what were they like?
They changed a lot too.
I first went there in 1992-93 at the end of the war. Lebanon was totally destroyed but people were hopeful. They lost hope with the Oslo Agreement. But there was a political struggle. At some point UNRWA kept the funds from Lebanon and transferred it to Gaza.
I saw the refugee camps, in 2004 Ain El Hilweh was terrible, split by internal fighting.
Last time I went was in 2007 when they [the Israelis] destroyed Nahr El-Barid refugee camp in the north. I saw the people who came from there to Burj Al-Barajneh there were refugees again.
Are you planning to travel back to Palestine?
We have a project to hold an exhibition in Jenin. I went between 1989 and 2003.
After the refugee camp’s destruction, I was involved in the campaign for the protection of Palestinians. As part of the campaign I went with a group of artists and completed an arts project.
We will go back to find out what as happened to those who helped with that project. Show the journey of the youth.
It will also be 30 years since the First Intifada and 15 years since the destruction of the camp, so it’s important.
Do you think you will have problems getting into the Occupied Territories?
I do not know. The last time I had a lot of problems but in the end I entered. I had a paper from the consulate to say I was working with children. I stayed 10 hours or more but in the end they had to let me enter.
How do you get funding for your projects?
It depends. Sometimes from the Arab World Institute, sometimes I pay for my tickets. Mainly, I pay to build the project and then ask for donors. Now it’s more difficult in France. Before, it was more easy.
How is it more difficult?
There is a very interesting solidarity movement. There are a lot of people who are with Palestinian people. Society is mainly with Palestinians. Problem is politics and the government. People are tired of life and they don’t care and with the politics of immigrants, people are now different.
People don’t have a bad view of Palestine. During the Second Intifada, we had meetings in small towns in France where 200-300 people attended.
Now, because of the situation in Europe, because of the situation in Palestine things are not so clear. After the election of Hamas there was a problem within the solidarity movement they are a little bit lost, they don’t know how to work to support Palestinians.
People don’t want to see civil society is changing. We need to know what is going on for Palestinians and help them in their situation.
You have a lot of activists who are more involved in the humanitarian way of helping people, showing that there are children, sheep, olive trees etc being affected.
There’s generosity but not in a political way and it’s dangerous.