Book reviews, Comments, Culture, In Focus

Everyday life in the occupied territories

An accord has very recently been signed between the president of the Palestinian Authority, who is the head of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, and the leader of the Islamist movement Hamas.


Be Good to Yourself
“Be good to yourself”

Sean Sheehan


The agreement, negotiated by Egypt, strengthens the Palestinians’ case for recognition by the UN of an independent Palestinian state in the face of Israeli intransigence. There is now a joint government for the Palestinian Authority and for Gaza and the prospect of it surviving the elections which will take place across Palestine next year look promising.

Over 6 million Palestinians live in territory under this new caretaker government and nearly half of them live in the West Bank. They still remain, ultimately, under Israeli control. Some 400,000 Israeli settlers have occupied land in the West Bank and half as many again occupy parts of East Jerusalem (the part of Jerusalem that was not part of Israel after the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War but which was captured by Israel, along with the West Bank, after the 1967 Six-Day War).

Skjonsberg Rgb

“Be good to yourself”,   is a book of photographs taken by Katrina Skønsberg after her period of residence in the West Bank.

They are not the kind of images we have become accustomed to from television and newspapers reporting on the Occupied Territories: protests, demonstrations, violent confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, shootings, stone throwing. What we see instead are scenes of everyday life featuring Palestinian men, women and children, their homes, their parties and pastimes. There are photos of meals being enjoyed, sitting on the carpeted floors of living rooms, someone sleeping on a couch, smiling faces of ordinary people enjoying themselves in extraordinary conditions.

The ominous reality of living in a land which belongs to the Palestinians living there but which is still not their land remains outside the visual purview of this book. It is not explicitly depicted and the Israeli military presence and its numerous checkpoints are not photographed. What we see instead are aspects of ordinary life.

There is a kitchen interior with vegetables being prepared at the sink; but not the strict control of water supplies that ensures Israeli settlements enjoy priority at the expense of shortages affecting Palestinian neighbourhoods during dry summer months.

The oppressiveness is implicit, suggested by night scenes that are far from easy on the eye; there are light blue colours but they inhabit the sky above, not the streets. Landscapes are bleak, space is at a premium; Palestinians remain stateless, subject to imprisonment without charge for up to six months (and renewable).

Skjonsberg Rgb

Skønsberg’s book has won an award from Fotogalleriat Oslo for artists with a connection to Nordic countries and one can understand why. Its title, “Be good to yourself”, points to another dimension of life under Israeli occupation.

The personal is the focus of her work and her achievement is to capture moments of day-to-day intimacy in a place where privacy and autonomy is under siege.

“Be good to yourself”, by Katarina Skønsberg, is published by Kehrer Verlag.

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