It’s not easy to imagine how physically intimidating and oppressive the wall is until you get right next to it and feel its weight. A year ago today, I wrote about how I touched the wall for the first time. I (almost) would have liked to say that I felt some unmistakable negative energy flowing into my hand through the contact; it would have been a dramatic story. But it would have been a ridiculous lie. Instead, I felt cool, rough concrete. Nothing more. Nothing less.
However, the weight of the wall, the feeling you get from walking or standing next to it, is derived from much more than it’s physical presence as a concrete monolith. Its power is almost entirely based on the ideas, fears, and laws that guided its construction and are continuously reinforcing its structure. Concrete crumbles without symbolism and idolatry as supports.
But here we are. Cool, rough, concrete.
There’s not much to say about January 29th and 30th, 2012. At this time last year, I was experiencing my first bad bout of sickness away from home. It was a mysterious bug that waylaid me for two days, a frustrating and unpleasant time. I also developed a deep mistrust of red lentils, the only unfamiliar food I ate before getting sick.
According to a tweet that I posted last year at this time, I spent some of the two days working on the postcards that I sent as part of the fulfillment for the crowdsourcing campaign that helped finance Walking Walls. Writing these postcards was a lot of work (there were 3 rounds of 43, one round per country) but I’m really glad that it was a part of the experience. Loads of people told me after the fact how much they loved receiving them, and I think the role they played in allowing others to be a part of the journey was an extremely valuable way to build community around this project.
So maybe these days weren’t a total loss after all. I’m not planning to post tomorrow as this reflection addresses both the 29th and 30th.
No pictures today, it was a Saturday in 2012 and I was being an observant Gentile again. Shabbat had started to become something I greatly looked forward to and a much-needed time to recharge.
I didn’t keep a traditional journal during Walking Walls. I rely on my photos for a window to the past, leaving me blind to days where I didn’t commit any pixels to memory card.
For the most part, these gaps in the record bother me, but I think in the context of Shabbos it’s kind of nice. I can’t recall any scary or uncomfortable moments in my day, and I can surmise that my pursuits were restful, so I rewrite/remember January 28th, 2012 as a good day where not much happened, which is a very good thing, every once in a while.
Today, January 27th, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Last year at this time, Jesse, Mori, and I went to Yad Vashem in the morning for reflection. We didn’t have much time, but we made a pass through the Children’s Memorial, which was overwhelming and awe-inspiring. The memory I recall most strongly was the feeling of being lost in the darkness of the halls, unsure of the space around me where candles seemed to float at varied distances. It was a very good place to be quiet for a time.
Immediately after our visit, the three of us headed to Mt. Scopus, where local activists were staging a protest against a plan to confiscate Palestinian land for a proposed national park. The idea was to prepare the land to plant olive trees and a small group of Israelis and Palestinians spent an hour or two moving rocks and digging small holes. Most attendees were young, many were children.
Before writing this post, I spent some time thinking about if and how the two parts of this day were connected. I’m not in the business of mashing ideas and experiences into forced revelations so I will stop at a simple appreciation for the role of children in this world. Even as they are inevitably entangled in humanity’s conflicts, their innocence and honesty should be be a source of inspiration and hope for all of us.
I had been focusing my lens on the doorknob of a Settler house in Wadi Hilweh when angry voices burst out of the intercom in front of me. It was going to be a pretty innocent photo, a detail shot for a photo essay I was working on; not that this would have helped my case with the occupants. I was badly startled, and without hesitation started walking away as quickly as possible. Paranoia gripped me. The entire neighborhood was thick with cameras and it would have been easy for anybody on the other end to see exactly where I was headed. I imagined the occupants had called up to the security guards stationed at the City of David plaza, where I would have to pass through. In fact, the occupants could have been following me themselves.
To my surprise, no one seemed suspicious when I exited the neighborhood or the City of David area. It seemed I had made good my escape as I passed into the Old City and through large crowds. Later, I decided that it had been a decent adventure and that getting yelled at by a Settler in Wadi Hilweh was, in fact, a good achievement.
I took this picture in Nachlaot, the neighborhood where I lived with friends during my time in Jerusalem. It’s a beautiful, winding maze of apartments and synagogues where the streets are paved with smooth, slippery stone tiles and intermittent courtyards dot the walkways. The streets are narrow, rarely wide enough for two abreast, and stray cats prowl the alleyways with authority; there was an orange cat that hung out across from our apartment, which looked less mangy than most. It was surprisingly quiet, given its proximity to the noisy Agrippas street and the Shuk. It’s a place that feels eternal, and it was a fantastic place to call home for five weeks.
The above photograph was featured on this blog last year, but I think it’s worth sharing again. As I was reflecting on January 24, 2012, I realized that hearing this man’s story had been a turning point for me. He had been shot in the leg by a Settler in his own neighborhood, and walked with a cane and a pronounced limp. His story was heartbreaking. Silwan’s story is heartbreaking.
After listening to him and seeing the streets of Silwan for myself, there was little doubt in my mind that the neighborhood was under siege. As I was leaving, I remember being inspired by panic and flat-out running to catch up to the group I had come with after lingering for a moment to take a picture-an uncharacteristic move, I’d like to think.
A few weeks later, the building we sat in while this man told us his story was torn down by the police. It was sickening and frightening to begin to see the human impact of the Occupation.
The language barrier I encountered in Israel/Palestine was probably the most disorienting obstacle I faced throughout Walking Walls. I traveled extensively before heading to the Holy Land and from Paris to Poland, I had always been able to read a few street signs, master some key phrases, sometimes I could even understand and respond to simple conversation in German or more advanced discussion in Spanish.
I didn’t stand a chance with Hebrew or Arabic. Reading was out of the question and I only learned a few basic words in either language during the five weeks I spent in and around Jerusalem. To be fair, I didn’t have the time or resources to make a more serious effort at either language, but my resulting confusion and dependance on the prevalence of English signs and English speakers was both remarkable and isolating.
And a note about the prevalence of English on those signs. In Israel/Palestine, most public signs and notices will include writing in Hebrew, Arabic and English. In my experience, the order of the languages tells you who controls the area and by extension, reveals your relationship to the neighborhood. English is usually last, but it seems to me that the real battle is between first two, Arabic and Hebrew. They switch predictably based on geography, but with an insistence that would make you think someone was keeping score.
The above photo was taken in the Shu’afat neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
I do not have any pictures from January 21st, 2012 because I was celebrating Shabbat by sleeping, reading, eating, and for the most part, being shockingly observant for a Gentile. My hosts and I had prepared (on Friday!) lunch for a few friends; I believe we ate pasta with broccoli, cheese, and cherry tomatoes, amongst a variety of other dishes. I was astonished by how quiet it was outside. There were only a few cars on the road, no public transit, and people strolled slowly in small groups. It was good to see the world slow down.