The 15th of August to the 2nd of September 2017 was spent in Hebron, Palestine. This was my second trip to this city after spending ten days there back in November 2016. This trip was meant to be a continuation of my documentary series “The Shoe Factories of Hebron”, however, due to the friendships which I had built throughout the last 10 days made it difficult at times to focus on the photography and not the people that wanted to spend time with me.
The first few days were simply spent with the people that I hadn’t seen in 9 months. Talking to them, telling each other stories and discussing this that had happened to one another over the past time. The time was fun and rather enjoyable.
Smoking lots of hookah, drinking lots of tea, eating lots of chicken and falafel was a great time. (Being honest, I continued doing all those things throughout the 18 days).
The third days was spent exploring and climbing (in 34 degrees shade) the mountains and valleys surrounding the city of Hebron. Muhammad and Safwat took me on a drive throughout all of these landscapes with the opportunity of taking a vast amount of photos (only with my phone, didn’t take the camera by mistake). It truly was incredible experience with beautiful scenery.
The Dead Sea was something which I had always wanted to see and visit. Throughout the drive one travels from +1800m above sea level down to -400m below sea level. This is truly a bizarre feeling on one’s head. One feels this constant pressure around and in the head, and one can truly feel the weight of air. It was a fun day trip, which continued for around 12 hours as the journey is 2 and a half hours.
The first factory visit was on Day 5, visiting a shoe factory similar to the ones visited back in Nov. 2016. It was a struggle to get in as various factories were closing down, or shut over the holidays which is why I struggled with finding them.
So Day 5 was really valuable to me, as it showed me that it still was possible to create a series aimed at capturing the shoe factories of Hebron, Palestine.
A lot of days were spent working from the hotel room, as Shaban didn't feel great for a few days, meaning he stayed at home practicing additional days of Ramadan. The evenings of the free days, were then spent as every night in the playstation 'bar' which is run by Yazeed.
The 3000 year old historic centre is a truly stunning area which really features true beauty and history within one very small district. With its thin alleyways and narrow roads it offers truly photographic dreams, with such vivid contrasts.
The true problems though are the fact that despite the true stunninng beauty; the conflict between Israel and Palestine is more prevalent here than anywhere else. Settlers live above the Palestinian run roads, throwing garbage down onto the streets. Soldiers of both countries are stationed throughout protected each area, with Israeli flag located throughout the roofs demonstrating their position within this area.
On the last day, Sep.1 it was the start of the annual festival of Hajj, The same festival which draws in over 3 million muslims to Mecca and is celebrated across the muslim world simultaneously. I was there to witness the sacrifice of 2 lambs which Shaban sacrificed for the birth of his new born son as well as a variety of other sacrificed lambs by other people throughout the city of Hebron.
The experience was truly interesting seeing the culture and how they truly believe in this sacrifice. Admittedly it was, to a degree hard to watch as it was 8am and blood and guts are truly never pleasant, yet it was an experience which I won't forget anytime soon.
Travelling back to Israel on saturday was a breeze, with there being no queues at the border control providing very swift travel back to Ben Gurion Airport. After that is where it went downhill.
First off, what needs to say beforehand is that I had paid for the so called "VIP Service" at the airport which normally reduces the security process from an average of 4 hours to 30 minutes.
With the first control, before checking in the luggage I was questioned by a security member and two security supervisors. Why Palestine? Why not Israel? Why do I hate Israel etc etc. After finishing that 40 minutes of questions I was allowed to continue.
It was the security checks, where it all went downhill. After having as per usual had all my camera gear and laptop individually screened, they then took all my camera gear and laptop away for a total of 90 minutes, while doing this they X rayed me, patted me down twice and continued to ask me questions; normally however, always the same questions as were asked before. After all this time had passed, they needed me to prove to them that all camera gear was actually functioning camera gear, rather than weapons; despite the unexplained search that they had been running for the past hour and half.
Then I again got questioned by yet another security supervisor asking me who my friend was and how long I had known them. "My friend" being the woman who helped me through the security through this VIP Service. So I clearly answered no she's not a friend and I have known her for the past 2 hours and that's all. So, they expressed their opinion that I must have contacted her to smuggle me through security to get contraband through.
Then on the flight back to Berlin, once they had let me go, a Israeli Air Marshal stood in my aisle for the journey of the flight casually staring at me for the entire ride.
Now my question being "Does security like this and interrogations as such when this happens to photojournalists (I could prove that I was working on the project) undermine the freedom of press and block news from leaving?" I am intrigued to know what you think, and I'll be writing another blog post on this topic too.