Palestine, tourism in the lives of others
26 Jun 2012
Since I was a kid I always felt impressed by the photographs I saw of Palestine, I felt curious about how people could live in such a reality, under the Israeli military occupation that started in 1967 in the West Bank, in places like Nablus with its curfew of more than 100 days during the Second Intifada, and Hebron with Shuhada Street closed and the Baruch Goldstein massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, when I was only 7 years old.
So last year I decided to go there, this text is part of the construction my head made out of my journey to part of the holy land: Israel and the West Bank, I know Gaza is a completely different thing. Since the moment I crossed de Kalandia Military checkpoint that divides Israel from the Palestinian Territories and saw rich men in Mercedes Benz, Pizza Hutt and KFC, I knew that understanding the situation In the West Bank would not be easy.
The importance of being a State
For many people "Freedom for Palestine" means having a recognized State named Palestine, but if Palestine is declared a State: will the government be fair and progressive, and most importantly, respectful and capable of uniting all the different views? Or would this be just another corrupt State? In 2011 the United Nations decision to include Palestine caused fervor in some citizens but most Palestinians are more interested in having a descent life day-to-day than giving power to the Palestinian National Authority through recognition.
Before the United Nations Partition Plan, a consequence of WWII, Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities lived together in peace; that plan brought violence to the territory due to economic interest. But who was supposed to buy all the weapons left after the war?
So, a lot of difficult questions come: What is true freedom? Is there true freedom? All we can wish for is to have a look of our own and create an image for ourselves in our head. The ones, who supported the creation of the State of Israel after the Holocaust for humanitarian reasons, would now be supporting a state for the Palestinians.
Freedom Of Speech Won't Feed My Children
If you are a photographer, soldiers and demonstrators are the ones that give you the money shots. The "ritual of Demonstrations" is a new version of Cowboys and Indians that takes place in different villages of the West Bank every week on Fridays, the "working holiday" in this part of the Middle East. It starts in the morning when the journalists gather together and go looking for a good shot of soldiers shooting gas or harassing people that protest against what they call the "Apartheid Wall".
With bullet proof vests, gas masks and Telephoto lenses, journalists from many countries go from Bil'in village close to Ramallah (Capital of the West Bank), to the dangerous Nabi Saleh and sometimes to the Kalandia Military checkpoint. Demonstrations usually end up with people wounded, intoxicated or detained. Since 2004 more than 20 people have been killed during these demonstrations, this is the image that sells.
I understand that when I support Israel, part of this support is going to the military occupation. But when I support Palestine who am I supporting? On both sides of the Wall there are people who want peace, to stop the occupation, and people who actually make a lot of money out of this situation, happy to bring foreigners to write about the suffering of the people, rather than helping the development of the education or economic system in the West Bank.
Israel is a young state, only 64 years old, and like every country in the world it goes through processes, with periods of war and peace. In my view, in the Zionist propaganda, there is a process of self-mythification of a nation.
Israeli society is very complex; we can find liberals of the Maki Party and the right-wing extremists living alongside the ultra-religious communities in the Settlements, and even religious people who only respect the laws of the Torah but not the laws of the Israeli State. Just like when the European conquerors of the American territories killed indigenous peoples to build colonies, all in a religious-right context, the Israeli state is today absorbing the natural resources of the Palestinians, selling them the goods and assassinating anyone who dares to rise against them.
Most of the liberals criticize the expensive taxes in Israel to pay for new weapons, maintain "the best army in the world" and build the Separation Wall, but are aware of the possible attacks of suicide bombers that they call "terrorists" and some Palestinians call "martyrs".
Tourism in the lives of others
I'm a photographer, not an activist, but I can understand why people feel so attracted to support the Palestinian cause. Palestinians have something that most of the people in the Western Culture lack: a goal to live for; that goal is freedom.
I found the most radical youth not among the lines of the Israelis who served as soldiers during their forced Military Service, neither among the Palestinians kids who throw rocks at the wall, but among the activists who were there "to help". European and American gay and straight couples that swear they will not leave "until the occupation stops".
On behalf of freedom some of them attack the Israeli Soldiers during the demonstrations, tell them that this is not their land, call them Nazis or even deny the Holocaust. They see the Palestinians only as victims and have the idea that only by being there they're helping. Many Internationals promote only hatred towards Zionism instead of peace for Palestine.
Of course, when their visa expires, they are kicked out of the country for illegal political activities or they break-up with the Palestinian boyfriend; they can always go with the orphan children of Nepal, to the Sahrawi Refugee Camps of with the Zapatistas in Mexico, a common reaction of Postcolonialism.
Only the people that have stopped seeing Palestine as a victimized developing country and have decided to promote social equality rather than support political affairs are making a change. Palestinians know that every time they build a house it could be destroyed by the Israeli bulldozers, but that won't stop them from building more houses, just like they know peace-talks won't give them real freedom.
If you don't have the time or the money to go and see for yourself, I highly recommend the books "Shattered Dreams" by Israeli photographer Judah Passow and "Life's A Blast" by Swedish photographer Linda Forsell, both far more interesting than the usual "Soldiers pointing their guns at Palestinian children", "Palestinian doing the hand peace sign", "Mother crying the death of her child by a suicide bomber" or "Crowd holding the coffin of a martyr".
Text corrected by Alejandro Ashley.