BILIN, West Bank (AP) — After 14 years as a photographer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, one Palestinian man has found his second calling through sculpture, telling stories by recycling metal wire into art. He says that while the effect of a news photo can be fleeting, a work of art remains over time.
In the garden of his small house in the village of Bilin, 43-year-old Haitham Khateeb twists and binds wires into images of the Palestinian experience — both tragic and joyous.
He says that by working with metal, he’s giving a sense of permanence and durability to scenes of Palestinian daily life “because we need to convey it to the world and (future) generations.”
His artworks range in size and include pastoral scenes of olive harvests and farmers cultivating their land. They also depict confrontations with Israeli troops and the ongoing protests along the Gaza Strip’s boundary with Israel.
For over a decade, Khateeb’s village was itself a flashpoint for protests against Israel’s separation wall. The wall cuts off many villages from their fields and pastures, as was the case in Bilin.
Starting in 2005, residents of Bilin began staging weekly protests against the wall that continued for several years.
“I carried the camera, and I began documenting what was going on in my village, and sent it to the media,” he said.
At times clashes erupted, and two protesters were killed by Israeli fire. Activists from around the world and Israeli supporters took part in the demonstrations, which helped them build momentum and brought worldwide media attention.
But as the demonstrations have quieted down in the past two years, Khateeb says he found himself with more free time.
“I started to think of another way to tell the news,” he said.
As a child, Khateeb says he learned how to use metal wire to make toys that he could not afford. “Today I use it differently.”
Sometimes he goes back in history, building scenes from the war surrounding Israel’s creation, in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes, or the first and second uprisings against Israeli occupation.
His dozens of works include a portrait of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, with his famous keffiyeh, the iconic Palestinian headscarf. He’s also sculpted refugees fleeing their homes and clashes between Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli troops.
Khateeb displays his works on social media, and is preparing for his first exhibition soon. He also hopes to do larger pieces that can be placed in public squares.
“I worked as a photojournalist for a long time, and now I found that art could be a more effective way of reporting,” he said.