Infertile Crescent

Infertile Crescent

Nadia Bseiso, 2020 Winner

"Infertile Crescent" is a long-term project that documents life Jordan's borders. She focuses on environmental issues, including water scarcity, a result of generations of conflict over land known as the Fertile Crescent; the disruption caused by conflict on the lives of villages along the border; and layers of history, culture and conflict that have altered humans' relationship to Mother Nature.

Baptism site of Jesus Christ, Jordan River, Jordan-Israeli border. 2015

Inside the mountains that hold the castle of Machaerus, thermal water escapes from the earth, through the ancient port of Herod, to cool down in the Dead Sea. 2017

For a few seconds, along the way, the spirits of revolters, hanged during the British Mandate, exchange glances with the living. Southern Jordan Valley. 2017

Jordan Valley. 2016.

Road to the Dead Sea. 2015

Two men on the cusp of a greeting on the road to Wadi Araba. 2017

Along the valley of peace and a desert yearning for the Sea. Southern Jordan Valley. 2017

Hot Springs, Jordan. 2017

Spinner of Wool, Jordan Valley. 2017

Fog, Madaba, Jordan. 2016.

Farm pond, Jordan Valley. 2017

Mother Nature does not understand man-made borders. However, Mother Nature steps in and stands guard as the fire burns itself out, until the land lives to produce again. However, she stepped in, to put out the fire, and the land lived to produce again. Hot springs. 2016

Jordan Valley. 2016.

Salome’s cries for redemption could not undo the beheading of John the Baptist nor curse the bride. Lights out, wedding is on. Jordan Valley. 2016.

Mountain roads. Northern Jordan Valley. 2018

Occupied Golan Heights visible from a resort in the northern Jordan Valley. 2018

Barb wire border fence cutting the Golan Heights in half, The Yarmouk, river acts a natural frontier between the two borders of Jordan and occupied Golan. Jordan, 2018

Jordan Valley, Jordan. 2016

Pomegranate Farm. Northern Jordanian-Syrian border. Jordan, 2018

Girl with anemone flowers. Also called blood flowers, or in Arabic, “ the pieces of An- Nu’man,” after the last Lakhmid king of Al-Hirah. According to myth, the flower thrived on the king’s grave.

Intertwined. Irbid, Jordan. 2018

Al Ramtha, Jordan. 2018

Golden Syrian horizon. Jordanian farm on the Jordanian-Syrian border. Al Ramtha, Jordan. 2018

Girls play under a water pipe that releases water at 63° C (145° F), carried by underground lava fissures as it makes its way through the valley to a nearby resort. Jordan Valley. 2018

Al Wehdah Dam shares a tri border between Jordan, Syria and Israel. Water capacity has decreased severely in the last few years. Local villagers blame Israel for illegally taking huge quantities of water, Irbid, Jordan.

Ancient olive trees, Jordanian-Syrian Border. Irbid, Jordan. 2018

Fountain of youth, Jordanian-Israeli border. 2018

Female scarecrow dancing in the field of a sunflower farm. Irbid, Jordan. 2018

Girl plays on a farm on the Jordanian-Syrian border. Al Ramtha, Jordan. 2018

Photographer's Statement: 

“Infertile Crescent” is an attempt to visualize what happened to the “fertile land,” which once stood as the cradle of civilization, the paradise of biodiversity with its marshlands and rivers that shaped the progress of humanity. Now dry and burnt in turmoil. Did man break that sacred bond with Mother Nature and is reaping what he sowed?

In the beginning of the 19th century, the Middle East witnessed crucial geopolitical changes that transformed the region for a century to come. It slipped away from the fists of the Ottoman Empire, only to fall in the hands of British-French colonialism. Earning its independence years later, it was reconstructed, mapped, and divided into small statelets
which currently form the contemporary Middle East.

By following the modern Jordanian map along its four borders with Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, this project documents the landscapes of several surviving villages resting on manmade borders. Taking water resources as an indicator and border villages as a witness to the invisible lines in the sand, which are responsible for shifting the region from what it once was, to what it is today, and what might soon become.

Infertile Crescent, is a long-term, ongoing project that started in 2016 and is divided into four chapters. Each chapter delves into the complexity of Jordanian geopolitics, since its establishment in 1921, going back to its historical importance since Biblical times. Of the present-day countries that make up what was known as the Fertile Crescent (Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq), only Jordan is relatively stable and independent; beyond three of its borders, countries are burning in turmoil. Jordan’s calm has allowed it to open its arms to refugees from all of its neighbors.

Through landscapes and everyday life of people living close to the border, the project argues that man’s maternal relation with land makes him directly affected by the region's political unrest and water deficiencies. For me personally, the Arab world was always connected by an invisible umbilical cord. Even if we had man-made borders, whatever happened around us was always close to home.

The first chapter explores the 180 km route of the controversial Red- Dead Sea salvation pipeline along the southwest Jordanian-Israeli border, by tracing the places it will cross. Although this pipeline is said to provide much needed water and to save the shrinking Dead Sea, some people have voiced concerns that that Jordan is getting the bad end of the deal, receiving questionable quality of water and bearing most of the costs.

Other chapters include the Jordanian Northern border that faces Syria and Israel, where I explore the lives of border villages along that dividing line. How did the same political events affect each border differently? Layers of history dictated how each village lived along the borders. I found myself digging in mythology and folklore, stories that travelers and villagers retold. I read about an ancient ritual for curing infertility, which involved women who couldn’t bear children bathing in boiling-hot spring waters, believing that they would be healed. Ghost stories, of an ogress haunting shepherds, martyr’s screams that kept a village awake in the summer and lastly the legend of Mother Nature who was more forgiving with Man thousands of years ago, because he cherished the sacred bond he had with nature, unlike his modern descendants today.

I found that the North had traces of fertility. The landscape changed from barren deserts to rich mountains and valleys. The land was exhausted from man’s behavior rather than from a lack of water. I explored the trilateral border, a tri-point between Jordan, Syria and Israel who share sensitive borderlines, high security alerts, and visible traces of wars.

This area includes the Golan Heights, a Syrian land, which in 1967 was occupied by Israel during the Six Day War. From the Jordanian borders, you can see the volcanic heights separated by a natural frontier, the Yarmouk River. Mountains on both sides of the border erupt with ancient hot springs. Their healing powers are shadowed by a haunting barbwire separating two sides.

Along this border, the intertwined sister-cities of Al Ramtha in Jordan, and Dara’a in Syria, share an ancient bond, including family ties and marriages as well as commerce. However, after the civil war started in Syria, security concerns ultimately closed down the borders. Villagers in each city suffered the most, because for them, crossing the border to the neighboring country was easier than going to one’s own capital. Throughout the seven years of the crisis, echoes of bombs have been heard, sounds crossing the volcanic valley from one sister city to the other, where just a few years earlier, when the war started, these valleys served as humanitarian corridors for refugees fleeing Syria to Jordan.

With this grant, I will complete my exploration of the entire northern border. I will trace the two Jordanian borders with Syria and Iraq. I will explore the aftermath of the Syrian crisis on the land and the border villages. I will follow the ancient route of the once thriving commercial road, leading to Baghdad. I will see it through the eyes of local truckers, who take the place of eighth-century 8th century orientalists who wandered the same area with their stories. I will take a closer look at villages that have been hit hard, living under siege of closed borders.

Almost every summer, a wild fire breaks out on the Palestinian-Israeli border which spreads into the Jordan valley, burning farms on the Jordanian side. Nature doesn't understand man-made borders, the flame travels across, burning the two divided lands, into one burnt piece. However, Mother Nature steps in and stands guard as the fire burns itself out, until the land lives to produce again.

But when man plays with fire, he creates wars, destroying civilizations and culture. He crosses nature, leaving behind a burnt land not suitable for living. His only salvation is to redeem himself from himself and to others. Nature will step in at some point for the land.What is left is to wait, for the rain to fall, on a once flourishing region.

nadia.bseiso's picture

Nadia Bseiso is a Jordanian documentary photographer based in Amman. She completed a degree in photography in Florence, Italy, in 2011, returning for a residency in Fondazione Fotografia in Modena in 2015. She concentrates on long term projects, based on personal research in geopolitics, history, anthropology and environmental degradation. In 2016, she was selected for the Arab Documentary Photography Program, funded by The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Magnum Foundation and the Prince Claus Fund, for her project “Infertile Crescent.” She was also selected as one of Time/Light Box’s female photographers to follow from around the world in 2017. Bseiso has been working with several local and international NGO’s since 2011. Clients include: The New York Times, The Telegraph, Reuters, Zeit magazine, the Intercept, The Globe and Mail, U.S News & World Report.