This is the main road in Jabel Mukaber, East Jerusalem. Things are bad here. However, I received one of the warmest welcomes I could have asked for in this neighborhood: coffee, attempted conversation, and slingshot practice. Part of the reason I decided to come here to walk was because the place scared me. I had a great interaction with locals, but couldn’t say my visit was comfortable. This feeling was magnified by the massive watchtower at a strategic bend in the road, and the beautiful but haunting cries of the Imam as I walked down the muddy, deserted street. The few hours I spent there felt much longer. It was a valuable experience because I had never been more out of place.
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.
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.
This Palestinian woman has lived in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem since 1964. She only enjoyed her home for three years before a military base was built nearby, and the barbed wire began to snake through her neighborhood. Not long after, a settlement sprouted up across the street. The field where her children used to play is now filled with garbage and barbed wire stacked three rows high. This picture was taken in her driveway, not 50 meters from an Israeli fence. She said, in short, “it [the wall] is basically making life hell for Palestinians.”
This morning I went on a great tour of East Jerusalem with the Israeli NGO Ir Amim. I wanted to share a few quick edits yet today. We’re getting ready for Shabbat here, and although I’m not Jewish, the friends I’m staying with are, and I’m excited to do Shabbat with them. So no posting this evening or tomorrow.