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    About Our Cover 10.19.23

    Images depicting hope and coexistence resurface during tumultuous times, and so it is that several iconic photographs of Arabs and Jews peacefully together have reemerged in recent days following the escalation of the Israeli–Hamas conflict this month. These photos, often conveying LGBTQ love in addition to Palestinian–Israeli togetherness, are as controversial now as when they first went viral nearly a decade ago.

    Music superstar Madonna, for example, in May 2015 shared a photo, taken the previous year by Ziv Sade, of a Muslim man and a Jewish man hugging and about to kiss. She gave it the hashtag #rebelhearts, referring both to the photo and to the album she released that same month. One detractor accused Madonna of “triggering people of faith.” Still others criticized the LGBTQ community. One commenter, in Hebrew, wrote, “No. Simply No,” while another wrote: “Israel still kill [sic] people every day. This is beautiful but it’s not real.” Yet another wrote, “Death to Arabs.”

    Explaining some of the history of the photo, which was taken for an ad for a gay party line called Drek, Sade told The Huffington Post: “This picture sends an honest message of love, acceptance and freedom, and a strong shout that represents a generation that is tired if wars, tired of hating and suppression. We want change. We want love, equality and morals. No more violence against the LGBT community! We believe that it’s not too late … . We forgot how to talk to each other, to have sympathy and empathy, to learn from each other’s culture[s]. I’m optimist[ic]. I truly am.”

    Sade said that over 8 years ago.

    More recently, San Francisco-based singer and cabaret artist Paula West shared a similar but different photo, taken by Italian photographer Matteo Menicocci showing another gay male couple kissing—one again appearing to be Jewish and the other Muslim. She wrote, “If only the world were more like this … ‘you may say I’m a dreamer'”… . Producer, author, and LGBT activist Marc Huestis shared the same photo and wrote, in part, that the image was “filled with Hallmarky sentiments and hundreds of ‘likes.’ Though well intentioned, that has nothing to do with the reality on the ground.”

    Another image, showing a Jewish and a Palestinian boy together overlooking Jerusalem, has gone viral in waves since it first was created in 1993 by American photojournalist Ricki Rosen. Music star Rihanna shared it during Operation Protective Edge, saying, “Let’s pray for peace and a swift end to the Palestinian conflict. Is there any hope?”

    There is a commonality among this and the other images, beyond the obvious shared aspects of their depictions and meanings.

    First, they are all seemingly innocuous photos that have sparked outrage among many. In terms of the photos showing gay couples, just the fact that the images hold LGBT connotations is enough to anger and even “disgust” homophobes. Second, such images were nearly all staged. Rosen told the Jewish publication Forward that her image of the two boys “was a symbolic illustration. It was never supposed to be a documentary photo.” According to The Times of Israel, the boys in 2014 were “both Israeli Jews—Zvi Shapiro, 11, wearing a skullcap; and Zemer Aloni, 12, sporting a Palestinian keffiyeh.” The Times went on to share that the picture was taken in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor, which is a mixed Arab–Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that was home to the two young subjects.

    Shapiro is now in a postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine, where he is focusing on children’s mental health. Aloni went on to become an architect. Shapiro told Forward in 2014 that Rosen’s photo of him and Aloni “is probably less acceptable today than it was then [in 1993].” Aloni added that the image is a “wishful thinking picture. Then it was almost a reality, and now it is like a vision.”

    Now, nearly a decade on, even that “vision” seems all the more remote.

    About Our Cover
    Published on October 19, 2023