Leeor Kaufman-Sabras

The Story of Wadi Fuqin

Wadi Fuqin, a small Palestinian village, carries the inconceivable complexities of the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The village is a well preserved model of a traditional agricultural way of life, developed thousands of years ago. The community has harnessed the water flowing from the valley’s eleven springs to nourish their fields. Kilometers of canals direct the spring water to storage pools and onwards to the many fruit and vegetable fields. Currently, the agricultural way of life and natural landscape is endangered by many threats. To the east, the massive development of the Beitar Ilit Settlement is posing an immediate danger to the springs, to the west, the planned separation wall threatens to harm more springs and close the village in between the wall and the settlement.

The villagers are not permitted to cross to Israel nor are they allowed to cross to the settlement. Some of the villagers, left with no other income possibilities work in the settlement’s (with special permission) construction site. Building the threat to their village themselves. As an Israeli I approach this story with great passion. A known saying in Hebrew determines that a person is the scenery of his childhood. Wadi Fuqin is part of the scenery of my childhood. The smell of the fresh vegetables, the clear water are a good part of my memories, I grew up in a country mixed with Jews and Arabs and no walls in between. Its true that the atmosphere was not always welcoming on both sides but is still part of my memories, part of who I am. I document the beauty of the place, the significance of the scenery and produce the land brings to its owners, the villagers. I pay close attention to the joy and love the place and produce bring to the villagers, it is important for me to document it, before it might change, for them and for myself.




Leeor is a filmmaker and a photographer. A graduate of the Tel Aviv University’s Film department and the International Center of Photography Documentary and Photojournalism program.
Leeor has worked on independent films and commercial television programs as a cinematographer, film editor and director. His short and feature length films were screened in film festivals and television channels world wide. Currently based in New York, working on film, photography and multimedia projects and teaching at the International Center of Photography.


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37 thoughts on “Leeor Kaufman – Sabras – The Story of Wadi Fuqin”

  1. Wow! What a beautiful and powerful body of work. I am so, so happy to see a body of work from this region that goes far beyond the stereotype – the common – that we have come to see from this very important part of the world. And I am sure featuring it here now is no coincidence with the palestinian government’s proposal for statehood at the UN happening now. I was especially moved by image no. 5 and really felt like I wanted to hug this man. Overall I got the sense that the pictures showed moments that are really frozen in time, which is so symbollic of what is happening in that part of the world. I was there a few years ago and always felt the news coverage we see does not do this region any justice. Work like this does. Congrats Leeor – I feel like I have just been kicked in the stomach ==> L.

  2. Stunning portraits of a life so ancient. Especially 19 touched me. I like his comment that it doesn’t matter who is in charge as long as he is left to live his life on his land. Your strongest portraits, though, are 3 and 4, IMO. Thanks for sharing.

  3. “Here there is no “I”.
    Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay.”
    — Mahmoud Darwish

    Soulful, simple, verging on the nearly fogotten (that extraordinary color and framing as if recovered film from long ago), these portraits actually reinvent an anawareness for many in that in their ‘out-of-date’ look and their similarity to biblical iconography, that grapple with what often appears to be the simple understanding of what folk are fed about with Palestine and Palestian life. I do love the ‘retro’ appearance not because, like so much iphone technology that often reduces a connection and fondness and appreciation for the past to a simple calculus of superficial tropes rather than the ideas and technology and the limitations that valued some essential expression, the portraiture here is one born of a deeply connected awareness: land and light. The men and women here are neither cliche (the nobel elder) nor the politicized terrorist (cliche) nor the overwhelmed and suffering (though make no mistake about it, palestians do suffer profoundly under the current conditions in Gaza and the West Bank), but reach for both a simpler and more lasting truth:

    life connected to land and what the nourishes…

    older and more long lasting than bombs or cocktails or white phosphorous….

    the creek of the river bent as the back in the sun,
    the shadow beneath the crown of the tree, weathered and wan

    Ironically, as just yesterday I mentioned to Laura El Tantaway the necessity of reading/looking at the remarkable book of words and pictures, After the Last Sky, that Edward Saaid and Jean Mohr published a number of years ago to fight both the cliches and the easy depiction of the life of palestians.


    What I love so much about these pictures, in nearly each frame, is that the true subject is both Palestine but, more specifically, the relationship to that land: the land (cactus, dust, dirt, sky, cloud, fruit, tree, brick) and the sybiotic relationship that both man and beast (i love, like a Robert Bresson’s Balthazar, the motif of the mule/donkey) have to land and land to them.

    The gorgeous tonality of the color, the fragmented spaces in the frame, the humanity of the iconography and, yes, the poltics that are inescapable, especially when the volatility of the land is nearly absent….nearly, because it is there in all the buildings…..

    I too let out a small gasp when i saw 5…the face, the bent back like a kettle spout, the light in the clouds, the intensity of his gaze….

    and then the final tree….tree of life…

    and then there is David Grossman’s magisterial last novel Isha Borachat Me’besorah …..

    we flee from and into the land…

    congratulations on being published and sharing with us your powerful work…


  4. marcin luczkowski

    A few strong pictures and a few weak one… that’s the best photography meat is. Very good series, nice story. Well done

  5. As Lee has stated above, the comment with photograph 19 speaks volumes. The whole essay shows the deep connection of the people to the land. One can only wish them well. Photograph 12, the boy with the toy gun, gave me the chills as I could imagine him being perceived as a threat and killed.

    Leeor, did you find working on the project difficult?

    Congratulations on being published here.


  6. Wow!!! I love these images!!! A joy and pleasure to see them!!!
    You said it all in your pictures, nothing more to add.
    Leeor, thank you so much!

  7. This strikes me as relatively excellent journalism and impressively ambitious photography. It gives us great insight into the lives of people who are grossly stereotyped if their existence is acknowledged at all. I think it’s marred, however, by the images that are so obviously digitally manipulated. Images in which the light is just so… not right. But I guess that shows how far out of step I am, that #5 seems to be the consensus masterpiece and although I agree that it stands out my initial reaction is that it stands out in a horrifying way. Not talking content, you understand, but production. There’s nothing inherently wrong with detail lost in shadows or blown out in highlights. That’s how our eyes see, no matter what our memories may tell. Nothing wrong with a little strategic dodging and burning, but if it’s noticeable, it’s way too much.

    And although I admire the journalism for its relative quality, I think for it to be absolutely rather than relatively excellent journalism (the bar is pretty low these days), I think from a text point of view we need to know significantly more about the water issues and from a photographic perspective we need to see a much more enlightening representation of the “settlers.” Here so far, they’re presented as buildings, not people. Of course we intellectually know that they are people. Intellectually, we understand that it’s not just phalanx after phalanx of brick and mortar monstrosities marching thoughtlessly over the lands of the people depicted in these photos, crushing their orchards as they go. We know that intellectually but we don’t really get it from the photos themselves. These people’s loss of their land seems inevitable in the way an act of nature is inevitable. Like it’s nobody’s fault. Like there’s no real cause. Just another tragic twist of fate. Is that accurate? Is that all there is to this story? Just another devastating tsunami or volcano? Without expanding the scope to include the “settlers”, there’s no way to tell. We get the current landowners motivation for wanting to keep their land. But it’s not some random force of nature threatening their way of life. It’s the “settlers” encroachments and appropriation of the water supply. Who are these “settlers”? What is their motivations? One side of the story is pretty much unintelligible without the other.

  8. MW:

    Michael, sometimes the IMPLICIT is far far superior and stronger than the EXPLICIT….all that you ask for, picture wise at least, is there in pictures 22 & 16 and runs through each…..i think the encroachment and sucking up the water by the development of the settlers (a story i have long long wished to see) is surely there in the pictures, though it is not spelled out…though an active reader sees it…loved to see Bowen tackle that issue, indeed…i understand what you thirst for (pun intended), but i think it also is necessary that we see that the juxtaposition of these images (the farming with the building and what that implicates for the israeli/palestian relationship) reveals that, if not explicitly, then surely it’s part of the dialogue of these photos….this kind of visual journalism, to me, is far superior to the explicit, because it makes the audience work at the implications….make sense?…

  9. I agree about the overuse of Photoshop. But in some circumstances, like this essay, I like the effect. It dramatizes the story as well as the highlights and shadows. There is a difference in manipulating to make a bad photo acceptable and these which look very painterly. I love this look and feel.

  10. Just two quick comments.

    First I tend to agree with MW, especially in reference to #5. That photo is horribly overworked. It would be one thing if it was an overall style that the photographer was going for, but it just jumps out of the rest of the photos. Generally when editing an essay, if a photograph stands out from the rest the way that one does, one should be thinking about why.

    and as for “this kind of visual journalism, to me, is far superior to the explicit, because it makes the audience work at the implications”…

    Well that is all well and good in a perfect world. But in general, viewers probably fall along the same lines as the general electorate… they are usually not all that up-to-date on the issues.

    If the photographer is mainly interested in catering his work to people that already know and understand the story and implications then he or she has the luxury of letting the viewer play “where’s waldo” with the meaning of the images.

    On the other had if the photographer wants to bring awareness to an issue to people that do not know the story or understand the implications, then this is probably not the best approach.

    This is where I think that the “art” approach to photojournalism can be tricky and problematic.

    And as for “and then the final tree….tree of life…” First I don’t get that feeling from a dead or dormant tree. I think Bob is smoking too much herb. And I also don’t think that the caption works either since it talks about the land being fruitful but that is not the feeling you get from the image.


    Now all that being said, when I read the photographer’s statement, he says: ” I document the beauty of the place, the significance of the scenery and produce the land brings to its owners, the villagers. I pay close attention to the joy and love the place and produce bring to the villagers, it is important for me to document it, before it might change, for them and for myself.”

    My interpretation is this is more of a document on the people and their way of life more than the actual conflict. More akin to doing a photo essay on Coney Island, capturing the look, feel and culture of the place for posterity, without showing what is happening there. The photographer is working from a love of the place and the people. That much is clear in the images. He has an emotional investment in the place. Perfect for what I think he is trying to achieve.

    I think it depends on what exactly the photographer is documenting. If I am interpreting his intent correctly, I think the essay is successful even though I would like to see more of their daily lives other than their work. I am sure there is more.

    But if the intent is to show the conflict in their lives, I think it misses the mark a bit as a completed story. I would like to see more.

    Shit, so much for two quick comments.

  11. PETE:

    your comments are approaching bobblack length, what gives? ;))

    the think about the ‘journalism’ is that who says this is journalistic….there is a difference between event/news work and let’s say more ambiguous documentary work…andit IS the responsibility of the viewer to inform themselves…ok: a newspaper: make it explicit, demark…

    a body of work coming from a filmmaker is very different….i think, politely, your confusing news with the work of a narration….sure, your beef makes sense if this were a news story on ‘settlers and water’ but it is not…the issue of water (critical here) is important, at the heart and the building of settlements is one of the ancilary threads…but there is also a story about the necessity of land vis-a-vis working it, vs. building and claiming etc…

    as for smoking, well not really…last time that happened, i was out for hours (ask dah), …tree of life your assumption that beauty is dead?…who’s smoking? ;))


  12. You need to re-read my comment. I do not have a problem with it if I am interpreting his intent correctly. And why are we always bringing up newspapers here? Who said anything about newspapers. Haven’t you heard? NOBODY is reading them.

    Never said it was news work.

    You know what? Nevermind.

  13. My first impression was that these images had the appearance of old photographs. They could have been taken 50 years ago, and the prints have shifted to a predominant yellow cast. They have a retro look. Is that the intention of the photographer? I don’t consider myself an essayist, but I have enjoyed looking at these.

  14. About the photoshop, I was referring to the digital dodging and burning and whatever was done lightwise to #5 (HDR?) and possibly some of the selective blurring — not the color palette. I like the color palette and suspect it is more accurate than whatever the camera captured and the RAW defaults produced.

    As for criticizing what’s not there, well, I understand the counterarguments, though I wouldn’t phrase it as explicit vs. implicit. I think Pete has a very good point about the photographer’s intent being to document the existence of a place and many of you understand how that’s a point that resonates with me. I do believe that documentation of valuable things that will soon disappear is important in and of itself. That intent, though, gets somewhat lost in most the rest of the text Pete did not quote as well as the captions. But still, it’s a fair point and the work succeeds on those merits. And as I hope I communicated, I think it succeeds on journalistic merits as well, I just think another expanded circle or two of context would make it even more successful.

  15. I enjoyed this essay, but of course I manage to always see the glass half full. Maybe it’s my imagination but I find the detail in these images to be outstanding and as far as I can remember I haven’t seen anything on Burn like it since “Life in concrete”, perhaps it’s film or a medium format digital back. On the subject of complaints with the overuse of photoshop, dodging and burning, it always makes me smile how nobody seemed to ever care or complain about the burnt biblical skies and all the dodging used to keep detail in Salgado’s “Workers”, “Migrations” and “Africa”. It’s was so obvious, excessive, unsubtle, made to make everyone gasp in awe at the pictures and I’ve rarely heard any complaints on the subject. But of course he’s a master photographer and he can do what he likes but those emerging are not allowed the same “eloquence”.

  16. Paul – REALLY GOOD points.

    To me, the series works. It may be true that there are some readers and viewers in this world who do not know the larger context and so could use some more education, but, frankly, those people are so out of touch or so dogmatic that this essay would likely never reach their eyes anyway, or, if it did, they either wouldn’t care of they would just swear.

    As for that “life” – I cannot be totally certain, as, whether I view it on Safari or Firefox, my large screen view still collapses in burn, but that tree appears to me to have buds on it.

  17. Love it that the point of view of the photographer comes through here.. 3, 6 and 23 are the pictures that resonate most with me.. don’t like the pp, but would like to see how the prints look..

    Thank you!

  18. ‘Been busy but need to take a moment to comment on this lovely series.
    There is a lot to like here.
    I like the fact that you are showing me photographs of Palistinians who are not throwing rocks or grieving for a dead loved one.
    These people I can relate to. They look me in the eye. They are going about their lives. I can feel the heat, taste the dust, and smell the gardens. I can feel their resignation to their fates. This is exactly what I’ve been hoping for when I comment about wanting to see more portraits in essays.
    Here is a little story of a little corner of the world, another sad story of people being displaced and dis-posessed.

    On a tech note, I love the palette, the use of medium format square images and the whole look thats been created here. It is much more sophisticated than might first appear, especially #3 (my favourite) which appears to have had help from either a flash or a reflector, natural of added. Makes me want to run out and buy a Hasselblad and a couple of bricks of colour negative film.

    Love it.
    Bravo and congratulations

  19. Martin Heidegger puts the heroic act in context to a technological environment; either the significance of a man is defined through his use of technology, or he fights against it. In this essay, it seems the encroaching development is gaining in the technology war, while the fruits of the agriculturalists’ labours – seemingly manual – are on the wane and losing side. As brutal and harsh as it may be, lack of tractors, harvestors or any labour-saving tools gives this essay an editorial fait accompli, and we are witness to the snuffing-out of the way things were. We are left with a remembrance of things past.

  20. marcin. hard to tell for sure on the interweb, but the romantic in me would like to believe that they are on film, with what looks like an ND grad and maybe some kind of tobaco color filter. Certainly you can see haselblad 6×6 notches on some of the shots….but, everything is doable in potatoshop these days so who knows?? these could just as easily have been made on a point and shoot, cropped to square and cloned, and the fake edge markings layered on.

  21. marcin luczkowski


    I believe it is scanned film without color improvement. many films have misrepresented colors corrected during printing.

  22. If it appears on the internet, it’s a digital image and color adjustments were made, if only to make them as accurate as possible. Sorry if I’m wrong about the overuse of photoshop or whatever. That kind of thing has been on my mind recently so perhaps I’m seeing things that aren’t there. I went to a gallery opening recently and from all the way across the room noticed one photo where the subject’s face had been over-dodged. I thought I must be mistaken, but in his talk the photographer mentioned it as though it were a good thing. And on the giant prints I could see that there was a lot of other selective adjustment going on, though not anywhere near being obvious. I don’t see anything wrong with that, I think it’s potentially a good thing when done with great skill. Personally, I’m all digital and although I think most often the best photos are gotten right in camera, I have no qualms at all about digital manipulation. And actually, I’ve got nothing against the obviously unnatural if it works, but it often doesn’t, especially with color dodging in photoshop, which it looks to me is what’s going on in a few of these photos, particularly #4.

  23. i’m with Marcin….

    actually, the entire photoshop debate here made me VERy ANGRY at first, but kept silent….i thought to myself, i wonder how much photography people look at in real life, how many real prints (historical/vintage/family albums/glassplates/3-color process/cmyk color/kodachrome/agfacolor/polaroid people really have looked at….i sometimes get the feeling (just talking about this last night with mrs. b about many young grad students doing mfa in photography) that the extent of knowledge/experience that abides is mostly via internet and digital and social sharing and online blogs/magazines etc….no like Gladdy, i could be wrong, but this does look like film (and not because of the 6×6 notches (which are faked all the time now, stupid really)) for a number of reasons…and this work looks over photoshopped?…jesus, give me a ff**#$& break, like hell it does….ever see real color pics from 19th century, or the 40’s, or ‘Nam era or Eggleston up close and personal…….i have…there is NO perfection in prints…actually what one sees is how beautifully IMPERFECT and human wetbprocess prints are….we’ve analized ourselves in bye the 1’s & 0’s of digitalization…and even if this were digital pics manipulated/cropped/cloned/P-shoped who the fuck cares……

    NOTHING is lost in this body of work, regardless of how it was produced…

    i shoot film, only film…and over the last 3 1/2 years i’ve stopped printing in the darkroom and only do digital prints from good scans, and someday i’ll ditch the damn trix and agfa and do digital…who the hell cares….

    it is the story and it’s the form the story takes….

    after reading that comment earlier in the week about PS, i’ve looked at this work a ton of times and i have no idea what ya’ll are talking about….

    mw: have you ever worked with bright Mediterranean light and color film mid-day?….perfection of light/color working on that film: NEVER HAPPENS….it is splayed all over the place…what might look like dodging to you, to me looks like a guy shooting film in quite intensive sun working with subject shadows and trying, post processing, working on some sort of decency in the beast that is film and light….i’ve struggled with that….photoshop over color dodging?….too clever by 1/2…


  24. Still enjoying this essay, I keep finding myself sucked into it, and that’s what it is all really about isn’t it?. I’ve just noticed the poor donkey in picture N14 also in picture N18… just look below the construction site :)

  25. And why shouldn’t we consider these kind of issues in this forum? Nothing in this thread could remotely be construed as a personal attack.

  26. And perhaps if you quit running so much, you wouldn’t find this friendly discussion of photography so wearying. Ha ha. Just kidding. Are you in NY for any of the festivities?

  27. Oh, and I forgot to answer your question. No, I’ve never photographed anything in the midday sun. Crepuscular baby… That, or whenever.

  28. Pingback: Dozens injured in West Bank protests, including two boys shot with live ammunition | Mondoweiss

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