Palestine Part 2

My Second Trip to Palestine

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.

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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.

 

 

Day 11 - The 3000 Year old Centre of Hebron

 The Abraham Mosque

The Abraham Mosque

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 Renovations funded by EU programs

Renovations funded by EU programs

 The Settlers throw rubbish down onto the Palestinians streets, so the Palestinian government has to build nets to prevent people getting injured.

The Settlers throw rubbish down onto the Palestinians streets, so the Palestinian government has to build nets to prevent people getting injured.

The most inner and historic centre of Hebron is 3000 years old. It is truly beautiful with narrow alleyways and tunnels connecting each and every courtyard. The whole area is truly stunning.

Yet there is a downside. Shaban used to live in this area, however, he hasn't been to this area for the last 10 years at all. Not once. He only came here today, to show me around.
So why? Why hasn't he been there? Well quite simply put, because of the Israelis.Spread throughout a vast array of Hebron are settlements especially within the centre, the most historic and beautiful part of this city. This makes him and all Palestinians very uncomfortable as they can really feel the impact that the Israelis are having on their life. The centre is deserted, a few shops are open selling tourist souvenirs and that is all.

Adding to an even larger degree why Palestinians feel uncomfortable around the centre is that it is there that the Abraham Mosque is located deep within this very centre. 
It is here where the Israeli soldier committed the attack that killed 30 people and injured over 120. Still, to this day, the soldiers control the mosque and the surrounding settled areas.
 

The entire area is absolutely stunning, but sadly so very deserted and lifeless because of how very scared they are. It truly does once again highlight the continuation of the conflict even though it is subdued in the general media at the moment.

Day 8 - Nablus and a Printing and Graphic Design Company

To start of with, this has been the first post in the last 3 days. Before that, there hadn't been much to report. A lot of travelling and visiting clients, however not much photographically appealing. 
However today was quite the opposite. A 300km drive to Nablus and back as well as visiting another company provided quite the long day. 

This factory, pictured in the gallery below is the largest designer and printer of billboards throughout the Hebron region, using heavy duty machines which can print up to 1200 sqm per hour. They also print and produce national and international campaigns for large multinational companies. 
Their speciality is printing on a variety of objects including raw wood, glass, boxes, textiles, labels, canvases and a variety of others; doing this they use some of the most modern machines capable of the very best quality.

The journey from Hebron to Nablus is approx 150km each way, meaning roundabout an 1:30 each way, leaving plenty of type for my new favourite thing, shooting photos out the window.
It sounds bizarre, but I have been doing it alot lately, and I truly enjoy attempting to get a shot despite the speed and the quick passing moment.
 

As such, we didn't stop in Nablus for longer than 5min, but it was a beautiful drive, down to the dead sea and then up again, causing your ears to pop various times as one travels from +1000m sea level to -400m and back up. Nablus is similar to Hebron, a city placed in a vast array of valleys and mountains leaving room for plenty of spectacular views.

Second Day - Looking out of the window

The day started off relatively late, with me staying in the hotel to continue on highly interesting university paperwork that needed to be done.
Afterwards, we continued in visiting a variety of Shaban's friends and clients.
 

Spontaneously Shaban then had the idea of driving up to Bethlehem to go to a famous restaurant where all the served was grilled chicken. I have to admit I can understand why it is famous. (damn good chicken).
Continuing back towards Hebron, Shaban spotted a vast valley with little dirt roads going through out them. He decided that we should explore and that it would be a great opportunity for photos, and it truly was. One has already been posted on my Instagram and there is a gallery of shots further down in this post.

Seeing the border wall from a distance was rather humbling as it really showed the scale, with one being able to see it on the horizon. 

Throughout the day, I have been working and developing ideas for the planned project now I recon I have a chance of continuing the series after all; so we'll see how it continues. Obviously, I will keep all of you updated as soon as possible.
I have also decided to work on a type of short film, using a variety of sound tracks, time-lapses and stills.
Saturday will be the day on which we will start traveling to Jericho and then onwards to the dead sea.