Palestinians confront Palestinian police near the Wall and Gate to Jerusalem
Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant
April 1, 2012, Sunday, Bethlehem
Here’s how the day unfolded. Land Day, March 30, celebrates resistance to Israeli confiscation of land in the Galilee in 1976 when many were injured and some killed. This is an annual event, one of the most important for Palestinian resistance. This year it was conjoined with the Global March on Jerusalem, the idea that many would mass inside and outside Palestine-Israel and attempt to reach Jerusalem. For me this meant Bethlehem, inside, assembling at the main gate thru which tour buses and other allowed vehicles can pass. While waiting about 100 meters away from the gate for the event to begin, which is usually after Friday prayers around 1 pm, I heard a familiar voice, spotted a familiar face—Don B from Cleveland, the guy who’d arranged for some of my shows a few years. He and I discussed local politics with an astute Palestine selling souvenirs.
I’d brushed off the Palestinian earlier, now regretful of my hasty decision.
Then the action. With the yellow flags of Fatah, a march toward the gate. Palestinian security police blocked out way. They wore the usual black swat-type clothing, but only the officers carried guns; most men had shields, clubs, helmets, boots and other protective gear. They all looked young, many handsome, and I felt for them—poor guys, a job, but they are in the employ of a corrupt Palestinian Authority working for and with the Israelis and the USA.
There was no great effort to break thru, even when another group showed up waving orange flags, apparently the party of Mustafa Barghouti who reportedly was injured during a similar event in East Jerusalem—which incidentally was much more violent, as was the event in Gaza itself when Israeli soldiers reportedly killed a Gazan.
One man in particular made most of the speeches, all in Arabic so I understood nothing but his passion and the attention and respect the crowd gave him. He called them to prayer after they’d sat down in a move which to my eyes suggested the Occupy movement. If we can’t get thru, we will sit and block—occupy.
They prayed, reminiscent of the freedom struggle in the USA; none had brought prayer rugs. Events seemed to be ending, so I was surprised to observe them rise, turn around, face the police, and charge thru the line, as if empowered by their prayer. The police did little to stop the crowd. We were soon at the gate, at the wall, at the watch tower. A barrage of rocks, on and on, interspersed with 2 Molotov cocktails that each found their marks on tower window sills. They stuck and burned, the crowd cheered.
I found a decent vantage point earlier for my camera, part way up an electrical tower, twice making maybe some of my best photos. For the rock throwing I wasn’t sure how close to get. Several times I joined the throwers, observed, and tried to show their fevered concentration. I felt the energy. I felt the surge of adrenaline. I felt the thrill of banging back at the oppressor. Most of the men were young (I saw no women), teens to young adults. A few older men, including the man who’d made the speeches, tried to stop the throwers—to no effect. Earlier I’d noticed him shoo a very young boy away from the violence, perhaps his son.
Torn down from the Wall
This continued without retaliation from the Israelis. For how long? Presumably the Israeli military, at least in this case, had wisely decided no shooting, no arrests, no tear gas. (I learned later they used tear gas, injuring several, some seriously.) So I turned around after observing an older woman come out of her house to angrily shout at the rock throwers who had leaped a fence into her yard and were using her rock walls as ammo. Around this time I climbed up on a 4 foot ledge for an elevated better position and when I jumped down I crumpled to the ground. A young woman asked if I was OK. I am, no problem, or so I thought.
I sensed no injury whatsoever. I continued photographing, slowly left the scene, showing a pair of men from one of the phone networks handing out water in plastic containers. The Palestinian police stood demurely in 2 lines far from the action.
I walked to the PNN (Palestine News Network) office where I examined the photos I’d made, selected about 25 for further processing, finished this, and sent them to PNN for probable archiving.
After sitting at the computer for an hour or so I rose to pee. And then I discovered I’d accidentally injured my knee when I jumped from the ledge, I felt pain, my knee had no flexibility, I could not put weight on it–oh no, how can I continue to photograph when I rely on my legs to bring my camera to the proper positions? Miniscule compared with the suffering of others at various sites in the region, especially East Jerusalem and Gaza. Don was hit in the head by a bouncing tear gas container, taken to hospital, treated and released. Others in Bethlehem were similarly lightly injured. I wasn’t sure soldiers were inside the tower as rocks pelted it but later I discovered YouTube footage showing that there were soldiers inside as the rocks clanged and careened against the windows, pock marking the bullet proof glass.
Will others in the world notice this tiny pocket of suffering and injustice and the struggle for freedom? Will the Global March, even tho it failed to reach Jerusalem, Al Quds, the Holy, stick as an important part of the Palestinian freedom movement, an event as pivotal as the lunch counter sit-ins or the Birmingham bus boycott or the Selma to Montgomery walk in the USA freedom movement?
Only if we make it so. As Dr Martin Luther King Jr frequently claimed, the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. And as I append, only with our help.
Coda about my process of photography:
Considering the photography I and many others made yesterday about Land Day I wonder, what is best to show? The physical altercation, which is usually what photojournalists’ seem most drawn to (including me)? I think not, rather something more subtle, nearly hidden, namely the characters and incidents of the main event, what leads to what, the story. And how to discern and portray the meaning of the story? As in the role prayer played yesterday or the speech making. Not only the rocks and cocktails. How well do I do at this?
Another issue, concentration, pure, single-minded attention to the scene. I noticed a well armored woman with cameras and laptop shooting and uploading at nearly the same moment. Mazin joked with her, got enough gear? How can someone concentrate on making good photos when lugging all that paraphernalia and while instantly disseminating the images? I wonder about this form of flighty journalism.
Gifts of water