Growing up in Israel in the 1950s as a child of Yemenite émigrés, I learned the standard Zionist Israeli narrative. It was of the great sacrifices made by Ashkenazi European Jews — settling and cultivating the land, building kibbutzim and the city of Tel Aviv out of the sand. All of this, decades before the State of Israel won independence in 1948.
Of course, there were already indigenous Jews in the land, in places like Jerusalem, Safed and Tiberias — those who lived there for many generations, as well as Jews who arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries from Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and North Africa. Yet, their story, their history and suffering under Islamic rule, was hardly told. And that narrative was buried further in the years following the Holocaust.
Beginning in the 1990s, with camera in hand, I traveled to Yemen to document the remnants of Jewish life there. The project expanded to Israel, half of whose population is made up of refugees from Arab lands and their descendants. There, I saw people with an immediate and emotional connection to the land — one that is cultural as well as historical and geographical. It is their Israel, too — and mine. And their presence gives lie to the notion that Israelis are mostly colonizing Europeans whose ties to the ancient biblical Jewish land are tenuous. The Zionist narrative, I’ve discovered after years of shooting in Israel, cannot be filtered through a single lens. Here, then, a wider angle.
A book and exhibition of “The Other Half” project, with photos by Zion Ozeri and text by David Suissa, are forthcoming.
Zilpa Yishak, Benefsha Yishak and Sabiha Sharabani, all of whom emigrated from Kurdistan. Photographed at Moshav Zekharia in central Israel, 2015.
Yigal Mizrahi, a musician and actor with family roots in Yemen, Morocco and Algeria. Photographed in Rehovot, 2015.
Galit Giat, an actor and singer, whose family hails from Algeria and Yemen,in her home in Givat Shmuel, near Ramat Gan, 2015.
Journalist and diplomat Yehuda Bar Yeshuah Laloum, from Algeria. Photographed in Beersheva, 2015