‘My work is about bringing people together’

Artist Adam Green with his portrait of esteemed photojournalist Don McCullin
Artist Adam Green with his portrait of esteemed photojournalist Don McCullin
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The conflict in Gaza had a profound affect on photojournalist Adam Greene. He tells JOE ROBERTS about how it inspired his work.

Very few people were left unmoved by the devastating scenes that emerged from Gaza last year as the latest conflict between warring ideologies took its toll on civilians and their families.

Adnan Al Atrash pictured in March holding the photograph taken of him by Adam Green in 1985

Adnan Al Atrash pictured in March holding the photograph taken of him by Adam Green in 1985

Among those watching the sobering events unfold on news reports was photojournalist Adam Greene, who was particularly saddened by what he saw.

Adam, who is originally from London and has lived in Portsmouth since 2002, has visited Israel six times, starting in 1979 when he first made the journey as part of his gap year travels.

It was in 1985 that he first visited the country as a photojournalist.

Working with a reporter from the Daily Express on a story about arid-zone farming techniques, Adam’s work that year also captured the plight of Palestinian refugees, beginning his life-long interest in the ongoing crisis that would affect the lives of so many in the years to come.

Following his 1985 trip, Adam enjoyed a varied career working in social care, public relations, and even plumbing, while still managing to fit in several photojournalistic trips that included reporting from Romania following the fall of the Ceausescu regime.

And it was photojournalism to which he would return after witnessing what he saw as a mainstream media failing to convey the true “dehumanising’ effect of war during last year’s conflict in Gaza.

The resulting project is a website named Voices for Peace, aimed at amplifying the message of peace advocacy groups working in the region to promote unity between Israelis and Palestinians by helping them communicate and share stories of loss and bereavement.

Adam said: ‘I do feel an obligation because I have Palestinian friends and I’ve come to understand the suffering of the people.

‘Watching the news it’s about the immediate event, the focus is on the conflict, and it seems that there is very little in the mainstream media that is given to the groups that are bringing Israelis and Palestinians together.’

Adam had already been planning a return trip to Israel after a commenter on his online photo portfolio likened one particular photo to Steve McCurry’s famous Afghan Girl shot.

McCurry, who had returned years after taking the original shot to track down the girl from the photograph, inspired Adam to do the same with his photo, a shot of a Palestinian refugee living in Dheisheh refugee camp in 1985 named Adnan Alatrash.

Adam added: ‘I was surprised at how easy it had been for McCurry to track down the original girl so that stayed as an idea.

‘Then what happened was the horrific fighting in Gaza. I sat almost in tears at what was happening.

‘I felt I wanted to give voice to Israelis and Palestinians who are opposing violence and extremism.’

Adam planned a trip for March with the aim of getting people’s views on single and two-state solutions and exploring a region where, he would discover, little had changed for refugees since his 1985 trip.

He contacted several peace advocacy groups through Facebook and set off for Israel in March to document their efforts, discovering the vital work that was being carried out in what he calls ‘re-humanising’ those caught in the conflict.

He explained: ‘I went out there with the idea of getting people’s views but what I found was that there is a healing process that people need to go through.

‘I didn’t expect that, I was much more in mind of something more clean-cut in terms of a political solution. I hadn’t thought too deeply about what was happening on a human level.’

As for Adnan, Adam managed to track him down through a journalist who had ties to Dheisheh camp.

Once he had met up with his old friend, Adam photographed him in the same area of the camp as he had in 1985, see panel.

But Adam was most taken by the work being carried out by groups such as The Parent Circle Families Forum and Sulha Peace Project, which try to foster peace by bring Israelis and Palestinians together and encouraging them to share their stories and experiences of the crisis and how it has affected them.

He said: ‘I was so taken by what I saw at the Sulha Peace Project. I was just so overwhelmed. The Parents Circle Families Forum as well, I see as doing extraordinary work.’

Adam met and worked with documentary film-maker Harvey Stein, who is working on a film to demonstrate the way in which these groups are trying to bring about change, in the same way as Adam’s website aims to do.

After returning to the region, the 53-year-old says he is hopeful about the future and is looking forward to spreading the message of reconciliation, providing an alternative view of the situation to rival that of the mainstream media’s.

He continued: ‘These groups are trying to turn the whole narrative on its head. That is what my website and the documentary film are also trying to do. It’s about something alternative that is happening.

‘I feel there needs to be two things happening. This healing process, the re-humanisation of people by bringing people together and sharing their story.

‘Also it is about the big issue which is obviously the occupation. Ending the occupation.’

‘It is ultimately about finding a way forward and supporting the right to a Palestinian homeland and a Jewish homeland.

‘The key is for people to realise that the real enemies are the extremists amongst the Israelis and Palestinians and not each other. Through people seeking to share the land, peace can come about.’

Adam hopes to have the Voices for Peace website online by October this year, where it will be presented in English, Hebrew, and Arabic so the information can be easily accessed by Israelis and Palestinians.

In the meantime he has set up a blog where his photography and writing can be viewed ahead of the full website launch and he is looking for support, especially with translation.

The blog is at voices4peace.blogspot.co.uk and Adam can be contacted at adam.voicesforpeace@gmail.com

Adam’s mission

On his visit to Israel in March, Adam Greene was intent upon tracking down a Palestinian refugee whom he had photographed in 1985.

Adnan Al Atrash was living in the Dheisheh refugee camp, just south of Bethlehem, with his family when Adam first met him.

He was originally from the al-Walaja village but his family had been displaced after the six-day war in 1967.

Adam managed to track down Adnan before he left for his March visit by contacting a well-connected lawyer in Israel who knew a journalist with connections to Dheisheh.

Adam said: ‘I emailed pictures of Adnan to him and he passed them on to a journalist who was often in Dheisheh and he knew Adnan. In all, it probably took about three weeks to find him just through the power of Facebook. Adnan had moved out and they lived not far from the refugee camp.’

The journalist sent Adam an email with Adnan’s mobile phone number.

‘I have a neighbour here in Portsmouth who is Egyptian and he very kindly offered to act as interpreter because Adnan only speaks Arabic.

‘So we made contact. I explained I was coming out. He did remember me and he was very positive.

‘Most people are very happy to talk out there. Sometimes they don’t want to be photographed. But he was very happy.’

Adnan was now living in his old village of al-Walaja, not far from the refugee camp where Adam had taken his photograph 30 years ago.

Once Adam and Adnan had been reunited, Adam recreated the photographs from 1985 of the now 51-year-old Adnan.

Adam added: ‘He’s got an incredible face. He’s younger than me.’

Adnan then asked Adam for help for his daughter, who had a problem with her vision.

‘He asked me if I knew of any organisation that could help his daughter who needed eye surgery, so I said that he would have to leave that with me and I would investigate it.’

‘I contacted Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and they said I would need an up-to-date assessment done on the girl.

‘So I contacted Adnan again and said he needed the assessment and it was going to cost $300.

‘For them it is a significant amount of money. So I put an appeal out on Facebook thinking this will take two or three weeks and within 24 hours I had the money.

‘Adnan’s daughter has now gone to a hospital in Jerusalem and I’m hoping that they will be able to take the next steps. I don’t know what that will be yet, my understanding at the moment is that she may need a cornea transplant.

‘If they need more support I will do it. Because they live on the Palestinian territory side of the security wall that the Israelis built, in order to access hospitals in Israel they have to get permits which is often quite difficult.

‘It is rewarding and I was completely taken aback by the response on Facebook.’