As one of the founding fathers of Israel once said, Israel will exist and will be an ordinary country like any other, the day it has its own prostitutes and criminals. I lived there for eight years and when I returned to France, looking back from Paris, I learned how to have a different view of the country I had just left. I thought of those words and then went back to photograph the “other Israel” which the local Yuppies, left-wing citizens of Tel Aviv and ultra-religious citizens of Jerusalem would prefer to ignore.


Traveling from Lod to Be’er-Sheva, going through Dimona, I discovered one of the hidden parts of the country, the part of the promised land forgotten and forsaken by everyone, the land of promises never kept, a land of cities ruined by poverty and unemployment, leaving nothing but a few hovels as squats for drug dealers, and with prostitutes hoping for as many customers as possible so that they could spend their earnings a few hours later shooting up heroine. The people living there, whether Russian, Ethiopian or Arab, have all become “sabras” or humble workers. In another life, some of them were doctors or engineers, but now they do housework, making a few shekels an hour. How did the Israel of kibbutzes with its founding fathers defending socialist Zionist ideals come to forget these men and women who, when united, were strong? Wondering about this, I realized that I, a French Jew and photographer whose pictures aspired to convey so many experiences and stories, had also forgotten this, and for a long time.

Since 2003, when Benjamin Netanyahu became Minister of Finance, aid has been cut repeatedly. In Lod, Dimona and Be’er-Sheva, it is the survival of the fittest. Around 25% of the people are living beneath the poverty line, and the only assistance is from NGOs and associations, including evangelistic organizations. Every day the gap between rich and poor gets bigger and bigger, and all of this in an area so small that the rich are living there with the poor watching on. Israel is falling apart from the inside. As a volunteer working for a charity said: “Our leaders are not taking things seriously. One day it will all blow up and will be worse than all the intifadas we have had so far.” Looking out from there, the war with the Palestinians seems like a distant event. This is another world, another battle, another struggle, a daily struggle, so different and yet so similar.

Looking at the distress of these outcasts in the Promised Land, I wonder if being an ordinary country like any other is a worthy ambition. Do so many men and women have to be sacrificed? Do there have to be so many prostitutes and criminals? As in so many other places around the world, I saw people who were simply fighting to survive. And I understood that there were no doubt many other people with a vested interest in continuing to both ignore and perpetuate this poverty, leaving these people in such dire circumstances so as to be in a position of power dominating them. Yitzhak Rabin was right when he said that we had succeeded with things impossible, but had not been so successful with things that are possible.

Pierre Terdjman

I wish to thank Guillaume Clavières and Caroline Mangez from Paris Match, Pascal Briard from Canon France, GQ, and the person who helped me find the words, Flore Olive.

Pierre Terdjman

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