Caris works as a taxi driver in Beit Jala. During the pandemic she has been unable to work due to the lockdown and closure of stores, restaurants and roads. Portrait of Caris by Samar Hazboun/Oxfam

Samar Hazboun was born in Jerusalem and raised in the West Bank. Her award-winning photographic work explores women’s rights, with a particular focus on the Middle East. Here she tells us about her experience documenting the impact of Covid-19 and planned annexation on communities in the West Bank.

It breaks my heart seeing people in Bethlehem suffer.

Not only people I’ve photographed, but also people I’ve known from my childhood, my relatives, neighbours, simply everyone.

So far Bethlehem has been hit the hardest, economically. Many businesses have had to close down.

A lot of families have not earned anything since March 2020. And it seems like it is only a matter of time before things will get out of control.

Poverty is on the rise and the future is uncertain.

I was at the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem the other day and was told that a piece of land in Bethlehem now costs as much as a piece of land in Manhattan.

I can only imagine what inflation is to follow, post annexation.

Our local communities are losing their natural habitat. Farmers will no longer have access to their lands.This in turn will cause not only unemployment but a lot of psychological damage to the people who will have to endure this.

I was looking through my images. I noticed a lot of resemblance between an image I took of taxi driver Caris standing on the rooftop and an image I shot around 9 years ago – for my very first project on Palestinian women.

Dima is a university student at Birzeit University. As a Palestinian, you are forbidden to travel, to move from one city to another, and are surrounded by a wall. It’s like being trapped inside a box. Image: Samar Hazboun/Oxfam (2010)

It brought back so many memories.

And the realisation that the political situation hasn’t yet changed for Palestinians. And maybe even worsened for Palestinian women. I am still trying to come to terms with that.

I’ve seen the geography and landscape of Bethlehem change so much throughout the years.

This town no longer looks like the town I lived in as a child.

The places I used to play in are no longer accessible to Palestinians. Or there’s a wall, which completely blocks our view.

In some areas, I’m not even sure what’s behind the wall now.

We’ve lost much of our fertile ground and natural resources. And with the coming annexation this is only going to put even more pressure on Bethlehemites.

Before the pandemic I used photography as an excuse to get to hear people’s stories in their own words. To really investigate matters for myself. [It’s] not that I didn’t believe the narrative offered by other people, but I always had more questions.

Imad in his taxi in the city of Beit Jala on June 8th, 2020. Image: Samar Hazboun/Oxfam

I was really touched by Imad, a father and taxi driver from Bethlehem, who is struggling to make ends meet after the pandemic.

I felt a lot of pain thinking what it must feel like for people in their late 50’s and 60’s. After so many years of working hard and providing for their families [they] seem to face a potential scenario of ‘no rest’ in the years to come.

I hear people say they no longer can afford to purchase things like meat. And have limited savings.

The younger generation will come up with solutions – or at least that’s what I’m hoping – however, many people who are my father’s age suffer from digital illiteracy. [They] will find it hard after so many years of working and specialising in a certain field to start again from scratch.

Ali’s grandson, Mazen plays with a goat in the sheep tent in the Jordan Valley. Image: Samar Hazboun/Oxfam

In general I like close up images. And I really like being close to people to explore their features. With the social distancing this had to change.

Even before the outbreak of the pandemic I was a bit of a health freak. My university classmates used to mock me for microwaving the dishwashing sponge to disinfect it. So, the gloves and mask are just another part of my routine.

I always throw my clothes in the washing basket as soon as I come home. I spray all my belongings with 70% alcohol, wipe my phone and equipment with wipes, and then take a shower.

I usually prefer to edit my images the following day. I’m always tired after shoots and want the information to sink in. But at night I go over all the conversations I had with people that day. And pray that once I start working on the images they do the story justice.

Samar Hazboun on assignment for Oxfam in the Jordan Valley. Image: Lisa Sabella

Oxfam's coronavirus emergency response appeal

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