This is a developing project so please forgive the lack of continuity or finality in this post.
After just over two weeks spent in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories (working on a couple of video projects), an unexpected portfolio of still images is developing and I want to use this space to share the best of them. I’m doing my best to honor the curiosity that I thrive on and the storytelling that I aspire to. Feel free to comment on images that work for you or images that don’t speak to you.
The above is image is of a young boy living in the Aida Refugee Camp on the edge of Bethlehem. He is standing in front of the wall or “fence” that Israel has setup as a “security” measure around the Jewish settlements that have sprung up illegally around the Palestinian Territories. These colonies amount to a blatant land-grab on the part of the Jewish community to populate Palestine. Refugee camps sprung up around the West Bank (as well as abroad in places like Jordan and Lebanon) when Palestinians were forced from their homes in 1948 during the creation of Israel. Thought to be temporary, these camps have proved to be more permanent and, as in the case of Aida, are becoming increasingly constricted as the population grows within narrow confines.
Below, a ruined stone-cutting factory that sits across from the Wall was shelled by the affluent, strong-armed Israeli army during one of the Intifadas (Palestinian uprising). Millions of dollars in machinery and significant jobs were lost.
Above, a center of contention in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the city of Hebron is well known for the most infamous Jewish settlement that resides there. Recognized by the international community to be the most extreme, the approximately 1000 settlers that reside there (guarded by several thousand Israeli soldiers) are considered to be existing illegally even in the eyes of the Israeli government. Yet they protect them. When you see photographs in the international media from Hebron, the iconic image is often that of the settlers, most of whom carry guns, harassing Palestinians who live there. Verbal abuse, rock throwing, and even shooting and killing are not uncommon.
Above, a Jewish settler (originally from Chicago) spoke to American college students about the Zionist movement in the settlement of Afrata.
Jewish settlements illegally (as seen by the international community) dot a long-inhabited and contended landscape. Both Jews and Palestinians lay claim to the Holy Lands as rightfully theirs. Despite a “concession” (as seen by the Israelis) of the West Bank for the Palestinians to live on, these settlements keep popping up in the Palestinian Territories.
The oldest church in the world: Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was built directly around the cave in which Jesus was supposedly born (in 300 AD). In 2002, Palestinian militants fleeing Israeli troops were fired upon by snipers in one of the church sanctuaries. Seven were killed. Bullet holes remain in some of the walls as well as a statue of a saint in the courtyard.
Life goes on. Although violent acts (mainly by Jewish settlers on Palestinian villagers) take place weekly, 2011 has been relatively peaceful thus far. Palestinians in the Christian neighborhood of Beit Sahour celebrate life and progress in a characteristically huge wedding gathering near Bethlehem.
An Israeli policeman feeds strays outside of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron’s old city.
A young Palestinian is arrested at the first of three Israeli checkpoints and metal detectors that one must pass through to get from Hebron’s old city to the Ibrahimi Mosque (the half that is designated for muslims to pray).
The Star of David brashly marks a row of shops closed in Hebron’s old city. More than half of Hebron’s Palestinian owned shops like this have been closed due to the intimidation tactics by Israeli soldiers and settlers or because of restricted movements of the Palestinians as the settlers have expanded their presence. Hebron is the infamous center for contention between the most radical Jewish settlers and the Palestinian people.
A Jewish man prays in the synagogue above the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron’s old city.
Orthodox Jews pray outside Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs synagogue.
Muslims pray at a neighborhood mosque in Bethlehem in the West Bank.
Trash lines the netting placed between roofs in Hebron’s old city where many Palestinians own shops and many more have been closed. The trash comes from Jewish settlers who have taken over the living space directly above the shops. Along with their gray water and, in some extreme cases, acid the trash is thrown down upon passing Palestinians as an intimidation method since the settlers don’t feel that Palestinians should be living there.
Children on the Palestinian “H1″ side of the old city of Hebron finger the barbed wire that helps separate them from the “H2″ Jewish section of town that settlers have illegally inhabited since the late 1970s.
A small village of “cave-dwellers” exists near the encroaching Israeli green line that demarcates Israel proper from the Palestinian Territories. These villagers have reportedly been living in caves and makeshift shelters in the area for thousands of years.
*Photographer’s note: cave dweller coffee is a bittersweet slap in the face – fresh ground on the spot, infused with cardamom and soaked with its grounds. I didn’t know whether I should lay down and pass out or get up and fly around the village.
Fawda lives beneath the bridge that connects Jerusalem with settlements and the city of Hebron to the south. Because it is an Israeli road, the army tried to force her and her family from their home among the olive trees below Bethlehem. They refused to leave so the soldiers built an enclosure complete with barbed wire fences around her home and a fence that they are not allowed to drive through. At first a soldier was posted outside the fence, intimidating her son to the point that he stopped attending school out of fear of having to deal with the soldier. Now 16, jobless and a heavy smoker, he has little hope for work or even vocational school since he can’t read or write. He also has an anger management problem.
When the occasional Jewish settler gets turned around and ends up in the family compound, Fawda or her son helpfully directs them back to where they belong.
Two young Palestinians look across the fence that divides them from Jewish settlements as two Israeli soldiers look on from an outpost in the highly contentious city of Hebron. Palestinian activists throughout the West Bank are encouraging a new tactic of non-violence in their dealings with the Israelis, an approach requiring great humility given the bloody past of intifadas and short battles that have played out between the two sides over the years. A past in which the Palestinians have paid a far higher price than the Israelis.