Member Highlight: Sandra Chen Weinstein

© Sandra Chen Weinstein, Woman of Nablus, from Dignity for Palestine series, 2011

Sandra Chen Weinstein has been interested in foreign affairs and the international community since college. She worked for an American agency and lived in many countries. One of her visits to the Holy Land was with Olive Tree Initiative, academic scholars and businesses, all interested in opening peaceful dialogues and resolution. There, she met with both Israeli and Palestinian officials to begin understanding critical issues between the two perspectives, and has travelled back to Israel many times since to continue documenting life around The Wall.

“Even as a tourist, you can see the conflict between the wealthy Israelis and the Palestinians living in poverty. I was able to walk freely while Palestinian were not.  The Separation wall and divided land has shattered the human tolls economically and their dignity as human living,” Sandra said.

© Sandra Chen Weinstein, The Cabbie, from Dignity for Palestine series, 2011

The Palestinian community continues to celebrate their heritage, though the struggle is evident. Sandra met many families and was invited as a special guest to attend a wedding and take photographs in Bethlehem.

“As a street photographer, you always consider the decisive moment to photograph, especially in this very personal setting where one must pay respect to their customs” says Sandra.

Though you may be unable to tell from The Party and The Wedding Singers below, there was much uncertainty from the guests towards Sandra; but it didn’t take long for them to open up after hearing what her photographic research was all about.

They were pleased to know that someone from a completely different background took interest in their situation and is now trying to raise awareness for a wider audience to have a better understanding of the hopes of constructive peaceful resolution.

In the wedding reception, traditionally, men and women are in a separated hall to celebrate. All the bride’s relatives and bridesmaids dressed in striking colors and elegant fashion that you rarely see in a Muslim Middle East. Women in Palestine have often demonstrated their endurance and resilience with strong confidence, wisdom and empowerment during hardships.

© Sandra Chen Weinstein, The Party, from Dignity for Palestine series, 2011
© Sandra Chen Weinstein, The Wedding Singers, from Dignity for Palestine series, 2011

“How could one not be emotional when someone comes and force you to move within 48 hours and offers nothing to compensate the lost, and no home to return to – this is not just political, but social. It’s about how we live,” says Sandra.

She walked among homes that had been burnt or demolished, but the most difficult for her to see were the hardships for women and children, with little promise of a brighter future. Resistance was often expressed by covering walls with the art of their reality.

© Sandra Chen Weinstein, Ruin and Demolition, from Dignity for Palestine series, 2011
© Sandra Chen Weinstein, How Many?, from Dignity for Palestine series, 2011

She went on to document the checkpoints dividing Israel from the West Bank, where she learned that unless one had a permit or family members on the other side, not every Palestinian was free to cross to Israel. “It is as if they are prisoners on their own land.” She says.

© Sandra Chen Weinstein, Qalandia Crossing at Checkpoint, from Dignity for Palestine series, 2011

 Sandra intends to continue her series with the hopes that the project will help people to learn and understand the complexities of the life divided by the wall.

Sandra Chen Weinstein‘s exhibition “Women of Arab Spring” will be seen at three venues in conjunction with FotoFest Biennial 2014, Houston, TX, in March and April.

This monthly Members Highlight blog feature is where we interview and share what some of our En Foco members have been creating. To learn more about En Foco’s memberships and how to join, please click here.

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