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’No Place Like Home’ is a visual commentary on contemporary Jewish identity in the UK. Throughout the photo-book, photographer Judah Passow captures this complex and pluralist community engaging in everyday activities. In doing so he explores the contrast and coexistence of tradition, national identity, religion and 21st century living.

There is little to shock or surprise in this book. At first glance these images portray nothing more than ordinary people doing ordinary things, but look a little closer and you’ll see a multi-faceted community that has finally found its place in UK society. No longer muted and hidden, Jewishness is exclaimed loudly and proudly; lit up on the roof of a car or tattooed on the body.

The book captures young and old, orthodox and liberal, pro-Isreal and anti-Zionist all in stunning black and white. It opens the doors to a section of our society that is often perceived as willingly closed and segregated, exploring the topic of integration by portraying Jewish and Muslim children playing together in a Birmingham school.

Passow challenges the stereotype of a people that is steeped in tradition and the ways of old by introducing topics of gender issues and homosexuality; the ordination of female rabbis and lesbian and gay congregations. The Jews of today are not faced with the choice of traditional or modern, they can be both.

’No Place Like Home’ is one of those photo-books that grows on you. It may not pack much of a punch a first, but the more you look, the more you see… and there is so much to see. The introduction provides a lovely insight into the work but the book would nevertheless benefit from captions throughout. Not only this, but it’s a shame that this collection of heart warming images aren’t displayed full page.

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Photography © Judah Passow. With thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing.

New+Middle+EastThere are few people as well equipped to write an analytical summery of the current and, potential, future state of the Middle East than Paul Danahar.

Having spent the past 3 years running the BBC’s news coverage of the Arab Spring as Middle East Bureau Chief, he has a wealth of knowledge on this incredibly complex and volatile region and its politics. His personal journalistic exploits, throughout his career, allow him to pepper his commentary with anecdotes and snippets of conversations with experts and political leaders from around the world.

‘The New Middle East’ looks closely at the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria and explores their causes and consequences both as unique individual uprisings and as part of the Middle East as a whole. At the same time he takes the reader right back to the very roots of conflicts such as Isreal/Palestine, using history to shed light on the problems of today.

Danahar makes no assumptions about the reader’s pre-knowledge on Middle Eastern politics, history, international relations or Western foreign policy, nor does he complicate matters by trying to be too clever about it. He talks straight, explains clearly and provides balanced points of view from all sides.

Although the book’s main focus is on what the future holds for the Middle East and how this will affect the rest of the world, Danahar also provides insight into the political thinking of Western countries and how this affects their ability (or willingness) to intervene in Middle Eastern affairs.

The chapter on Syria makes for a particularly interesting read as America currently tries to decide on its next move with regards to the Assad regime and their chemical weapons. Ironically, at the time of Danahar’s writing, America showed no interest in taking a hands on approach to Syria and he chides their complacency. Perhaps this goes to show how quickly and dramatically things can change in war.

‘The New Middle East’ is an essential read for anyone looking to better understand the world issues that flash across our television screens on a nightly basis. It’s well rounded, comprehensive and brilliantly accessible.

‘The New Middle East’ is available in the UK from the 15th August 2013.

www.pauldanahar.com

Twitter: @pdanahar

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury, with special thanks to Laura Brooke.

 

‘5 Broken Cameras’ is a documentary straight from the horse’s mouth. Director Emad Burnat lives in the Palestinian village of Bil’in. After the birth of his son Gibreel, he begins to film the day to day events in his village. Throughout the film, Emad gets through 5 cameras, each ending up destroyed in conflicts with Israeli soldiers. Nevertheless he manages to document the many injustices that he encounters.

Amongst these, the biggest injustice of all is that as little Gibreel grows, so does his contempt and anger. At the tender age of five he has already learnt to hate. He witnesses things that no child should witness, in an environment that can only breed another generation of hatred.

It is important to note that this is not a film that provides a balanced argument, discussing both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict in a measured tone… and nor does it claim to be. ‘5 Broken Cameras’ shows the daily life and struggles of a Palestinian man, through his own eyes and in his own words. It’s biased, it’s blunt, and it voices uncomplicated views.

Because of this, it makes me consider how easy it is for us to comment on the ‘wider issue’ and on the politics of the whole situation from our living rooms. After all, for Emad and little Gibreel, and all the other Palestinians, it really is that uncomplicated. For them, injustice and unfairness are not complex political debates, they are burnt olive trees, stolen land, and bullet wounds. Everyday.

It makes me wonder how different the film would be from an Israeli perspective. How different might the world be, as a whole, if in every situation of conflict we could see through the eyes of our opponent?

‘5 Broken Cameras’ humanises this age-old conflict, through the views of a grown man with a life’s-worth of experience, and a child who can do no more than take the world around him at face value. It provides a fresh, rare, emotionally engaging, insight into an issue generally only seen through distant news reports. It’s predominantly for this reason that I highly recommend it.