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For 20 years, Philadelphia-based photographer Dr. Aisha Mershani has been photographing the Palestinian villages of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. She believes media coverage of Palestinians has been unbalanced, since long before the current Hamas-Israeli war.
Mershani, an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at Gettysburg College and media activist, has focused her lens on the 439-mile Israeli barrier wall, which segregates Palestinians from Israelis and, in some cases, Palestinians from their own land.
“Our media is biased towards Israel,” she said. “Our tax dollars are going towards the violence that the Palestinian people are experiencing. How do we come up against this gigantic system here in the U.S.? For me, this is the dent I could make.”
About 100 of her photographs are on display at the InLiquid gallery in the Crane Arts Building, in Kensington, as “La La Lil Jidar: 20 Years Behind the Apartheid Wall.” The name of the exhibition is taken from a chant often heard from Palestinians protesting the construction of the wall: “No, No To The Wall.”
Each photo is accompanied by a QR code allowing viewers to hear the subject of the photo talk about their life inside the wall.
“The struggle is about centimeters. We are fighting for each centimeter,” said Mohammed Al Khatib in an audio clip recorded in 2022. He is a leader of a movement against the construction of the wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in.
His comments accompany a 2005 photograph of himself handcuffed and shoved by Israeli police, and a 2022 photograph of himself overlooking a completed portion of the barrier wall with an Israeli settlement beyond. The exhibition describes the settlement as illegal.
“The Israelis are trying to control every centimeter of our lives,” he said. “They have the support. They have the law. If the law is against them, they will change the law for them, to make the law work for them.”
The exhibition is focused on the barrier wall in the West Bank. It does not contain any images of Gaza or Hamas, nor is it a response to the current war between Israel and Hamas. “20 Years Behind the Apartheid Wall” opened at InLiquid three weeks ago, and is based on 20 years of documentary photography.
“The Wall Today” by Aisha Mershani. The Israeli barrier wall separates Abu Dis from an open field on the edge of Jerusalem. (Photo, Aisha Mershani; Courtesy of InLiquid Art)
A collective of artists and activists, also called La La Lil Jidar, has formed around the photo project to tell the personal stories of Palestinians often not seen in mainstream media, in order to “shift the mainstream narrative on Palestine/Israel, while simultaneously building local community struggles through solidarity against all forms of violence,” according to its website.
The collective curated the exhibition for InLiquid. In a statement, the gallery said “La La Lil Jidar” is aligned with its mission to “encourage dialogue and work towards a culture of understanding.”
Large-scale portraits printed on scrims over the windows of the InLliquid Gallery depict Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied West Bank. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)
Although not directly about the current war, Mershani said the photo documentary project traces years of oppression of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, which preceded the surprise attack by Hamas in Gaza last weekend. The resulting war has killed, as of Wednesday, 1,200 people in Israel, including 14 Americans, and 950 people in Gaza. President Biden has called the Hamas attack “sheer evil.”
“Israeli families whose loved ones have been killed or taken hostage are scared. We can understand that pain and grief, and we experience that when we watch the news,” Mershani said. “Yet we are not seeing images of the grief and pain of the Palestinians inside Gaza or the West Bank. We are not seeing the indiscriminate bombing campaign or the people experiencing extreme violence on a daily basis.”