Fervent hopes in a land offering little to hang them on

Photo essay: In Eighteen, Natan Dvir portrays Arab youth coming of age in Israel, and shares, as he puts it, "an inside view by someone who is typically regarded as an outsider".

Aseel Ahmad Shauki Mahagne is happy being part of a religious family with only sisters since a brother might have imposed increased restrictions.
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While Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, over a fifth of its population is Arab (Muslim, Christian, Druze and Bedouin), consisting of hundreds of thousands of families whose ancestors settled Palestine and stayed within its borders after Israel was established in 1948. This large minority is experiencing a challenging identity crisis. Despite the critical role I believe this society will play in determining the future of this region, it has been somewhat forgotten amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Although I grew up in Israel and spent most of my artistic career photographing its citizens, I felt I did not really know or understand this society. How do Jewish and Arab cultures with their interconnected history perceive one another? Who are the Arab people living in Israel and how are they different from the stereotypes and circulated media images? What is the contemporary status of the Arab society in Israel and what are the pressing issues it faces? In this highly political environment I became interested in the human stories of these people living as a minority in a country defined by its majority religion.
Wishing to examine forward-looking aspects of this Arab-Jewish coexistence, I decided to focus on young Arab men and women at a crucial point in their lives - turning 18 years old. At this age they graduate from school, become legal adults and gain the right to vote as Israeli citizens. Yet unlike their Jewish peers, most do not join the military. As they start their mature life in Israel many face the dilemma of striking a balance between their relatively traditional culture and a modern lifestyle. Family structures and gender roles are evolving, with increased availability of higher education and decent-paying jobs for women. Living in an area of conflict, many are politically aware and express concerns about being able to study, find work and attain financial stability in a country they feel discriminates against them.
The project Eighteen includes a series of photographic profiles collected during my personal journey exploring the Arab society in Israel. I aim to confront and dispute the widespread misconceptions of the "other", the people within my own country whom I was brought up to consider more as foes rather than as allies. I faced a unique challenge of photographing and portraying my so-called "enemy", and in doing so hope to highlight the impact that cultural and internal conflict have had on these people, personally and collectively.
As a Jewish Israeli man, I expected most of my subjects to regard me with suspicion and distrust. I chose to photograph them in their close surroundings, wishing to present the pictures with a sense of place and attempting to reveal the social context within which they live. Personal testimonies presented alongside each of the portraits allow an initial understanding of their background and create a more intimate space between these individuals and the audience.
The essence of these images, however, does not lie in their aesthetics, but rather in the complex dynamics that take place between the sitter, the artist and the viewer. While photographed from a close distance in intimate environments, my subjects' often unwelcoming expression and body language testify to the complex nature of our engagement.
The hostility and suspicion that I felt at the beginning of most of my encounters were soon replaced by interest, curiosity and hospitality. The candid pictures photographed after the portraits reflect this transformation and allow an intimate view of this generation. By combining these images with the portraits, I try to influence my audience's instinct to regard my subjects as the "other", allowing a more complex and intimate viewing experience and reading.
Eighteen is an artistic point of contact serving as an invitation to get closer. A project aimed at reconciliation by understanding and respect. An inside view by one who is typically regarded as an outsider. If I, a Jewish Israeli man, have been accepted and was allowed into my subjects' personal lives, so can others.
www.natandvir.com; Eighteen was produced with the support of the Other Israel Film Festival, www.otherisrael.org
About the photographer
Natan Dvir was born in Israel in 1972 and received his master's degree in business administration in 1998. He turned to photography and now specialises in documentary and editorial work, focusing mainly on the human aspect of political, social and humanitarian subjects. His work has appeared in many publications, including Newsweek, Glamour, Le Monde, Stern, Focus, Die Zeit, Corriere della Serra, Die Weltwoche and Wallpaper. He has exhibited in Israel, Europe, South America and the US. Dvir is based in New York.