The Go-Between

By Rebecca Spence

Published April 13, 2007, issue of April 13, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Between 2002 and 2006, photographer Gillian Laub made more than a dozen trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories to shoot portraits of everyday people going about their lives. Those lives, often interrupted by violence and bearing the scars of the conflict, are explored in her new book, “Testimony” (Aperture). The Forward’s Rebecca Spence spoke with Laub about the process of making the book.

RS: When did you begin this project and why?

GL: I began going to Israel and making pictures in April 2002. I went because the second intifada had happened and I felt that the images coming out of Israel, mostly of war torn territories and bombings, were not fully representative of what was going on. Being there as a teenager, I remember being struck by how beautiful it was. So in some way I felt a duty and responsibility, because I am a photographer who shoots for magazines and has a way to say something, to do just that. I went on my own, innocently, with a journal, and just started taking portraits.

RS: How did the book take shape over that time?

GL: I was initially trying to focus on regular life and people, and specifically not news stories, but when there’s a bombing you realize that there is absolutely no way that you cannot deal with this. I visited a rehab clinic, and that’s when everything changed. The first woman I met there was Kineret. Here’s this young, beautiful girl, age 19, who was blown up, and it was literally hard to look at her. She had this gorgeous glow and was not bitter at all. I was amazed how the people living with the wounds of the situation, who didn’t look for it or ask for it, were not filled with anger but were actually incredibly compassionate.

RS: How did you start photographing Palestinians living in the territories?

GL: First, I got a grant from World Press Photo, and each grantee had to make pictures related to the title, “Enough.” Because of this grant, I went back to Israel and decided to photograph Israelis who had been injured in suicide bombings. When the work was exhibited in Amsterdam, it was hung next to a photographer who had shot in the West Bank and Gaza the same summer. In addition, I was surprised to hear Israelis saying to me: “I wonder what the other side is like. We’re proud to be Israeli, but we don’t agree with what our government is doing.” I heard this across the board, even from soldiers. I thought that I would love to meet Palestinians who didn’t instigate anything and were also injured civilians. In 2004, I went to The New York Times Magazine and they gave me the opportunity to continue. Since I am not a conflict war photographer, I had no entrance into the territories, so their support was crucial.

RS: What was it like going there as a Jewish photographer?

GL: First of all, I would never deny that I’m Jewish, but not one person asked. The journalist who was translating for me was Palestinian, from East Jerusalem. Every day at the checkpoint, I was hoping and praying the soldiers would be on good behavior, because I would feel mortified if they weren’t. Going in with Palestinians, you feel the tension — you can cut it with a knife. I would bring with me pictures of Kineret and the other Jewish Israelis I’d photographed, and my Palestinian subjects would all be so touched by them. It was so hopeful, because every family I visited had such compassion. When I would return to Tel Aviv, where I was staying with Kineret, I would share stories from the other side. I felt like a go-between.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.