At 17, Kitra Cahana has suddenly become one of Israel’s leading photojournalists. Her poignant photo of a Jewish boy in Gaza pushing at the sorrowful Israeli soldiers moving him out of Neve Dekalim appeared in the New York Times on the opening day of the disengagement in August. A visiting Canadian student this year at the Hebrew University, Cahana divided her time between her studies and an internship as a photographer for a photo agency. Entering the field last September with zero prior experience, her work has already appeared in the pages of Israeli, Italian, French, and American periodicals; her photograph of First Lady Laura Bush visiting the Western Wall last spring made page one of USA Today.
“I’ve always wanted to be an artist,” Cahana said by cellphone this summer from the Gaza Strip “When I started seeing the photos coming out of the Iraqi conflict in 2002, I realized I can make art out of reality.”
In the course of her work, Cahana has visited with the clandestine ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist group Neturei Karta and attended Palestinian demonstrations against the separation barrier. She has thrown herself into riots, stampedes, and clouds of tear gas, her camera in tow. “I really use photography to learn about and to get connected to Israel. I use it to be a part of this beauty.”
Since July, she has been living and photographing in Neve Dekalim, the largest settlement in the Jewish area of the Gaza Strip. An independent “guerilla journalist” with no immediate ties to the community, though she is a cousin of the late controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane, she told the blog Jewschool that “[being young and] having the settler background in my family.. .people will come up to me and invite me into their homes, but they won’t come up to other photographers. The insurgents from Gush Etzion won’t talk to any other press, but they invited me for Shabbat. I went to one family for Shabbat and they brought out a Qassam that came through their roof and put it on the table. We were sitting around a Qassam singing zemirot (Shabbat songs). It was surreal.”
Through her haunting images, Cahana closes in intimately on Israeli life. And she isn’t even old enough for a press pass.