September 22, 2011 4:00 AM EDT

This week, the world’s attention centers on the United Nations in New York where, following months of build-up, the Palestinians have brought their case for statehood to the U.N. Security Council. Given the certainty of a U.S. veto, the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition will be stillborn. What follows after this high-profile diplomatic “showdown” is anybody’s guess, but there’s little cause for optimism. Co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians in the bitterly contested Holy Land grows ever more fraught. Seeking to break through barriers, Israeli photographer Natan Dvir decided to cast his lens on the others in his midst — the largely marginalized Israeli Arabs, who comprise nearly a fifth of Israel’s total population. Dvir sums up their plight:

“They are living as a minority in a Jewish country at war with people [the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza] they see as allies or even brothers… Many see themselves as being discriminated against and are hoping for a change that would allow them and the rest of the Arab population in Israel an equal position in society.”

Yet that prospect seems remote, especially now under the watch of a particularly right-wing Israeli government. The Arab and Jewish communities, says Dvir, have been drifting apart over the years, pointing to surveys that now suggest nearly half the Israeli Jewish population would not object to Israeli Arabs being deprived of some of their civil rights. A loyalty oath to Israel as a “Jewish” state further polarized feelings.

Sensing their alienation, Dvir went around photographing Israeli Arabs —in particular, Israeli Arabs all of a certain age. Eighteen is a project not just about youth, but about what it means to grow into adulthood in some of the most politically-charged and challenging circumstances possible. As Dvir points out, the age of 18 is the moment of real separation between Jewish and Arab Israelis; most of the Jews leave for military service, most of the Arabs stay put.

Dvir’s pictures of Israeli Arabs move from intimate portraits to scenes of quotidian ennui to glimpses of the grim, bleak desolation that can shape the collective psyche of an embittered community. Throughout, the photos convey a kind of unvarnished, human normalcy. For fellow Israelis, says Dvir, he hopes his project “is a point of contact serving as an invitation. A project aimed at reconciliation through understanding and respect. If I, a Jewish Israeli man, have been accepted and was allowed into my subjects’ lives – so can others.”

Ishaan Tharoor is a writer-reporter for TIME and editor of Global Spin. You can find him on Twitter at ishaantharoor. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEWorld.

Natan Dvir is a photographer who shares his time between New York and Israel. Eighteen has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States, Europe, South America and Israel. To see more of Dvir’s work visit his website.

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