Palestinian Adventures

Palestine. A country not to be forgotten.

This designated blog post is there to guide you through, and explain my variety of different posts which I wrote throughout the 10 days which I spent in Hebron, Palestine. The post will be categorised chronologically with a summary as well as a reflecting comments. I am hoping that this will help you, the reader discover my journey through the culture of this incredibly diverse and tension stricken country.

Taken in a vistor center, discussing the conflict between Israel and Palestine. 

14 Nov 2016

The view from my hotel room.

Day 1 was filled with travel, and I was nervous. My nervousness, only increased when I saw the amount of guard towers, soldiers and general army throughout the West Bank. Once I had gotten over that concept, I was straight away overwhelmed by the openness that the people of Palestine showed me. I still distinctly remember the children shouting up to me. Looking back, I wouldn't agree with my statement that Palestinians are incredibly open. They are incredibly generous and very kind, once one gets to know you; however before that they are timid. This however, based on their situation is understandable.

15 Nov 2016

Creating templates for the leather binding of the shoes.

I dived head first into the shoe factories of Hebron, visiting over ten within a day. The people were filled with pride as I looked through their facilities and listened to their stories. The factories were filled with modern machines and lots of work stations. However, the majority were empty and not in use; this is because of their incredibly small market. The factories within the West Bank are only allowed to export to Israel; thereby narrowing down the market substantially.

16 Nov 2016

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On my third day in Hebron, I met Shaban; the man who I would be spending the rest of my time with, and also the man who made sure that I would have the best possible time; which I really did have. Shaban spent the day showing me Hebron by car, explaining the history and the tensions within the city.

That was also the day, when I decided to learn Arabic, in order to guarantee the best integration possible when I visit again. So far I have started to learn a few critical phrases so I am definitely making progress.

17 Nov 2016

In the foreground, the drying hides. The background shows one of the many washing machines.

Today was the day, where in my opinion I managed to shoot some of the best photos over my 10 days at the leather tanning facility. Also this was the day where I met the people who I would now call my friends. Mohammed, Omar, Yazeed and so many others who spent the evenings in the PlayStation cafe which is run by Muhammad.  The tanning facility really fascinated me, and it is definitely a location which I want to return to. The scale of the washing machines, and the great transition which the hides went through fascinated me. 

18 Nov 2016

Family members at the Natsha house.

Shaban was invited to a wedding during my stay in Hebron and he decided to take me with him. The wedding had over 1000 guests, I was rather shocked, by the masses. Everyone got served rice and lamb. This got devoured within minutes. After that we proceeded to visit the Natsha family house. This is the gathering point for the 30,000 family members, this time they were discussing their scholarship fund; which has supported over 600 students totally over $400,000. Shaban also explained lots about the high cost of living in Hebron, due to the limitations and double tax as goods are imported through Israel.

It was after this day, that I realised just how much Shaban was trying to integrate me into everything, to show me his life and make me feel as comfortable as possible. Along with Muhammad, these were the two guys who did their absolute best showing me around. A true example of this is Muhammad's friend Omar, who couldn't speak English and I not speaking Arabic spent 5 days together using hands and feet to communicate yet we still managed to have a good time together.

19 Nov 2016

The view from Assad's house. Assad is Shaban's best friend.

By this point in my journey I had known Shaban and Mohammed  for 5 days. I was starting to feel comfortable around them, and I was hoping that that is how they felt towards me as well. Using this opportunity I decided to slowly but surely delve into the culture and fears of the Palestinian citizens. The resilience to the tensions which have been so prevalent throughout the last decades, really got to me; as one can't tell in their normal lives just how much it truly does affect them. They seem to be incredibly happy and warm hearted people yet when delving deeper there are so many more fears which they face.

20 Nov 2016

The ruins of the Abraham Mosque (where it was meant to be built. It then got moved.)

Shaban asked me whether there was anything that I was particularly interested in seeing. The only thing which entered my mind was "The Cave of Patriarchs" which is also known as the Abraham Mosque. This is where prophet Abraham resided for decades and also the place he died and was buried. Thereby this mosque is incredibly precious and important within Islam. Yet we were unable to go, because the Israelis have blocked off the mosque. Once again highlighting how the past tensions are still very much on going.

21 Nov 2016

The carpark lodge.

Shaban spontaneously decided to show me the city of Bethlehem. I was surprised as I had presumed that it would need to be a day trip, however it was only 15 km away which just illustrates how small Palestine is as a whole.  Bethlehem is very similar to Hebron based on the landscape and architecture yet there are vast amounts of tourists. We also visited the Church of Nativity (the birthplace of Jesus) yet because of vast renovations only the Grotto was accessible to the public.

22 Nov 2016

The markets of the old city. (Sorry, it breaks the layout, yet no fitting photos in landscape.)

Hebron is a modern city with a 3000 year old history; thereby making it one of the oldest cities worldwide. On that day, we explored the vast history which it offers. The city is filled with narrow alcoves and tight passageways, which was designed specifically to ensure warmth with the extreme climate changes of plus 35 in summer and minus 5 in winter. Yet only 30% of this beautiful historic part of the city, was accessible as the rest was bordered of by the Israelis. Also the old town has been internationally funded by European governments to guarantee that the historical heritage would remain in good condition.

23 Nov 2016

 The grilled chicken

The grilled chicken

My last day wasn't special. Muhammad, Omar, Shaban and I just spent a nice day together cherishing the last 24 hours. We grilled some chicken, relaxed with a hookah and sat in Muhammad's PlayStation cafe, thereby doing what we had done pretty much each and everyday which is why it was so nice. Thanks to that day, I have fond memories of the time I had with new friends which I was able to make in the last 10 days.

Whilst curating my photos totalling 750 shots, I realised that there were two clear series. "The Shoe Factories of Hebron" and "Hebron and the cultures of the Palestinians". It is obvious to me that "The Shoe Factories of Hebron" is a much more compelling topic photographically, so thereby this will be the series which I am focussing on. However, I will be adding the other photos in a separate category to showcase them to people interested. When looking back to this incredible journey I am thankful, and so appreciative to the people who welcomed me with open arms, showed me their home and did everything possible to make me feel as welcome as humanly possible. So once again, a huge thank you to everyone that showed me around, helped me out, attempted to speak English as I couldn't speak Arabic (but I'm learning!). Overall I can't say thank you enough for everything, especially my father for supporting me to be able to go on this journey. I have made friends and am going to be back, speaking Arabic very soon to continue on this project and get back to my friends. Thank you for reading this blog giving me the opportunity to tell you all about my experiences. I was so happy with people expressing support about this space. I will continue updating this blog, with further projects and news about my photography!

My last day in Hebron, another great one!

I have now spent a total of 10 days in this incredible placed named Hebron. I was worried when I arrived, I had a lot of goals and hopes. Expectation management is my best virtue, meaning I am able to raise my hopes to a ridiculously high level; to then fall as low as possible. However I didn't hope or expect as much as I have gotten from this trip. I have gained a huge amount of experiences, and I personally think that I have gained a group of friends. I had hoped for someone to show me around, and that was it. Yet the Natsha family game me a lot more than just a tour guide. 

Muhammad, Omar, Shaban and I grilled at Shaban's house for lunch. It was very cold, however the grill really did provide a nice amount of warmth. As such today nothing special happened, which I really enjoyed because I was able to just spend some with the people that I have met and enjoy my time.

I am going to leave this very short post here, as I am feeling quite emotional about leaving, and tomorrow at 8 I am back off to Tel Aviv. Do expect a long and comprehensive post about my amazing time here in Hebron,with all the great experiences that I have made.

Exploring the 3000 year old Hebron

Hebron's old city is a staggering 3000 years old, which makes Hebron one of the oldest city worldwide. Only 30% of the city is accessible. Well for the Palestinians at least, the rest of the world heritage site is, of course, guarded, by walls and barbed wire. This is including the Abraham Mosque, the place where today at least 30 Palestinians stood peering through the fence looking at this incredible piece of their religion, yet not being able to come any closer. I am aware that I keep going on about this concept, yet it is because I simply can't grasp the idea. It has gotten to a stage with me that I just find it ironically funny/stupid. Whenever I see a guard tower or Israeli soldiers, I just think: "Oh look, he is yet another wall. What a surprise". This is the exact same way that Muhammad feels, laughingly saying oh well that's life. 

That is exactly the point. That isn't meant to be life. While walking through the city, suddenly Muhammad stopped suddenly, listening to what I presume were radio news. A 40-year-old man got shot down by the Israeli army in the city of Ramallah. This is their reality, and they just laugh it off, because they know for a certain fact that there is nothing they can do about it.

The old city of Hebron is incredible. Snaking through the buildings are thin alleyways and halls; some of the ceilings are no more than 170cm high so I spent most of the time ducking. They were built so closely and tight, in order to keep the inhabitants cool during the very hot summer and warm during the cold winters. 

I was very surprised by the fact that throughout Hebron one doesn't see much international support. There is a small UN building which I have seen, apart from that nothing. Whereas in the old city at every corner one sees a german flag, an American flag, a Spanish flag and a British flag. All of these demonstrating that these countries had decided to support and preserve the history of Hebron.

It surprised me simply, because a lot of western countries, especially America criticise Palestine openly and support Israel; and with this seeing them support the H1 (the Palestinian side) of Hebron. It demonstrates the fact that countries see this huge cultural and historial heritage which needs to be protected, despite their political opinion.

The rest of the day and night, I spent with Muhammad, Omar and Yazeed. People who over the last week I would call friends. We have spent a lot of time with each other and I have had a great time with them, and thereby I am feeling very melancholy that tomorrow will be my last day.

The Cave of Patriarchs

The Cave of Patriarchs is probably the most famous tourist destination here in Hebron. First of to make sure people don't think the title is click bait; i wasn't able to visit it. The Cave of Patriarchs is also known as the Abraham mosque. This is where Prophet Abraham lived and died, because of this it is a crucial place for Islam. Shaban likened it to Bethlehem for the christians. 

Yet, where the mosque stands now, wasn't the original place where it was meant to be built. According to Shaban, they had started to build the mosque, when god called down to them and said, let a camel go free and where it sits down; that is where the mosque should be placed. 

These are the beginnings of the mosque, before it was then relocated.

Shaban had often asked me, is there a place where you would really like to go. As such no, because my goal of this trip was to experience the culture and the people. However the Cave of Patriarchs did interest me, because of the amount that one can read about it. Yet we didn't go, but once Shaban explained why not; I was relatively happy that we didn't. The cave and mosque are located in H2. The Israeli side. However to visit this historical site, Shaban described it as tighter security than in Tel Aviv airport, and people recommend to arrive at Tel Aviv airport 5 hours before boarding. Not only that stress, however also often Palestinians aren't even let in, because they are Palestinians. Shaban explains how discomforting this is for Muslims especially as this is such an important site within their religion.

On a lighter note, we visited another shoe factory today. The more and more of them that I see, I am continuously amazed by the similarities that each and every factory shows. After each day I am getting more and more confident in my ideas for the project which I am developing. Yet the thing which I am still struggling greatly with is showing people. Portraits. Portraits tell the story behind the glue, behind the machines and behind the paint. Without seeing people the story becomes much less graspable. That is why, when I return I should be able to have a small conversation in Arabic in order to make the people feel more comfortable around me.

A long day full of experiences!

So Shaban and I were going to meet an 9. Ended up being 9:30, he did apologise, however he also mentioned that this isn't at all unusual. We Germans are apparently extreme as we always like to be punctual. Whether I agree with this, I am not sure.

We were driving when I saw a huge crowd of 1st graders, however I noticed that they were all girls. Shaban explained that schools are segregated. The only education system which isn't segregrated is university. This however creates "a cocktail... so very bad.", this again showing the conservative mentaility which Palestinians have. Continuing along this line, today I also heard my first gay joke. He was explaining the tradition of men kissing eachother on the cheeks as a greeting, however I shouldn't be worried because they aren't gay and don't do "pinocchio things". I was surprised that a group of men, would start making homophobic jokes in front of a stranger like me.

Throughout the last few days in Hebron, I noticed cars with a German flag on the number plate and the rims. I asked why this is, and Shaban told me that it's because some cars get imported directly from Germany; and owners of these cars are incredibly proud of this fact.

 The first set of drums, in which they clean the hides and remove the blood etc.

The first set of drums, in which they clean the hides and remove the blood etc.

The fresh cowhides, which are treated with sand and soil to guarantee no rotting.

Abu Youssef is the owner of a family run tanning shop. (I am now writing notes continuously, so I should start remembering more names.) I was astounded by the size of this place. Two building with four stories, filled with hides, leather and in total 8 huge washing machines. It takes a total of 14 days from the time that they get the hides delivered straight from the slaughterhouse to the finished leather in its customisable colour.

The building further down the hill, which is run by Abu Youssef's son is the station where the first processes are completed. This includes dehairing, cleaning, smoothing the hides. Here lots of heavy chemicals are used to ensure complete sterilisation and cleaning of the raw hides. To my surprise I found out that dehairing, removing the fat, and cleaning are all separate steps completed by different machines; which shows just how specialised each and every machine is.

Shaban asked me whether or not I really wanted to see the culture. Not really knowing what I was saying yes too, I agreed. A relatively normal wedding in Palestine has at least 1000 guests. Yes 1000. I found this out for myself by the traditional congratulations which men give to the groom and women give to the bride. To do this, there is a line of men, these men are the uncles and close male relatives of the groom. Then each and every guest walks down the line and congratulates them. I know these things, as I went to two of them tonight. Apparently Shaban goes to at least 2 a week however gets invited to 10s every Thursday. Here again I noticed the culturally conservative segregation. All the men sit in a hall after congratulating the line, one is given Arabic coffee. For me personally it was quite a nerve-wracking experience as my Arabic is still as good as non-existent and on top of that I didn't no anyone.

Shaban then dropped me off, at his nephew's cafe that catered to a younger crowd. The cafe appeared quite popular, with many customers playing playstation. It was a really unique concept which I enjoyed. I met 4 guys one of them was Shaban's nephew named Muhammad. He was 23 and I recon the other 3 were in their 20s as well. As far as I understood one the 3 was Muhammad's brother and the other 2 were childhood friends. We continued as a group of 5, to smoke a hookah and drink Arabic tea. These two things often go together and are both very traditional within the Arabic culture. They were all incredibly surprised when they found out that I have often smoked one, and that in Berlin a lot of people smoke them as well. Only one of the four guys could speak English, however they put in a huge amount of effort to make me feel as comfortable as possible, and i really did, it was a good laugh. I found it really pleasant to have a night out with people my age and not go to a bar to drink alcohol. We just walked around the city. Even though it was cold and we even stopped to have an ice cream. Overall it really was an interesting and busy day. 

Also I am very pleased to say, that I recon I'm coming closer to my goal, which was to be able to leave with a fixed concept for my next visit. I would like to focus on the industry. Even though the facilities and machines are top modern, the buildings have real character as well as the people working there.

Being amazed and simultaneously humbled by a Country

I am writing this, sitting in my hotel room absolutely stunned by the variety of emotions that I have felt throughout the day. Beware this will be a very long post. So please give yourself 10 minutes when possible to read through this.

The Journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

I started my journey today, walking 3.5KM through Tel Aviv carrying 25kilos of equipment + luggage in 27 degrees. Doesn't sound that bad I know, however, I am not made for heat. I get on the bus, which takes me through Israel to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the place which I had been warned about. Jerusalem, the place where I was discouraged to go by people living in Tel Aviv. I wasn't nervous, yet I had a certain amount of anxiety.

Throughout the entire journey, we had roadworks, lots and lots of roadworks. On the occasion when there wasn't one, the road was brand new. Israel has clearly invested a lot of money to build and improve the infrastructure. 

Much to my surprise I hadn't seen a single Orthodox Jew in Tel Aviv and then I arrived in Jerusalem. This isn't by any means a statistic however I would guess 40% of all people I saw, were Orthodox Jews. Never before had I had any inhibition about seeing them; however now because of what people had told me, I looked at them differently. Not negatively per se however differently.

 View from the Jerusalem Bus Terminal

View from the Jerusalem Bus Terminal

Coming from Berlin, Tel Aviv jad more security than I was used to but Jerusalem had at least double as much as Tel Aviv. I pondered these  differences as I scurried through the city, hopeful that the man bringing me to Hebron, wouldn't have to wait too long.

The Journey from Jerusalem to Hebron

The man driving used to live in Hebron, but now he works from Jerusalem. Thereby he had in-depth knowledge of both places. He explained that Jerusalem as a city is divided. The new city in the west is mostly inhabited by Orthodox Jews, whereas the old city in the east is inhabited by "Arabs, Muslims, Christians and some Jews." The separation of Arabs and Muslims intrigued me, however I didn't want to enquire further; to ensure not upsetting anyone. 

I hadn't been nervous until I saw a bus. This bus, same make and company as the one which I had taken to Jerusalem, had smashed windshields, and burn marks along with dents along each side. Yet what shocked me was that it was in service. Picking up passengers and no one looked twice. This was the first instance, when I noticed the tensions up front. 

 Awful Quality I know, but I think it demonstrates my point well

Awful Quality I know, but I think it demonstrates my point well

We continued driving, in the distance I saw a tunnel and over this entrance were huge steel bars looming over the road. This was the border. When we came closer and closer to this monstrosity, the sheer size became apparent to me. The only thing I was nervous about, was the border crossing; even when you have nothing to hide there is always something daunting about it. We simply drove through it; I was stunned. Everyone drove through it. There isn't a border crossing into the West Bank, only when attempting to enter Israel is there a checkpoint. So we continued driving, the highways stayed in the same excellent condition, and as such I noticed no difference.

Then the driver (I am terrible with names, and I just couldn't remember his.) pointed to a village. Not any village though, a armed village with Orthodox Jews, American Orthodox Jews. Apparently, the majority of these settlements are inhabited by Americans.   

A Palestinian numberplate. The first one I'd seen. He quickly mentioned that those numberplates are banned within Israel, any car carrying those numberplates will not be granted permission into Israel. Again, this stuck with me. Israeli numberplates are allowed throughout the West Bank, and there isn't a border control, yet Palestinian numberplates aren't allowed in Israel and there is a border control.

War. The first time, that I had ever felt so confronted by it. A huge concrete watchtower, with at least a dozen CCTV cameras, a barb wire fence surrounding it, and 3 Israeli soldiers with machine guns. Opposite the road, was a refugee settlement, of people who had been living there before 1949, when Israel got the land. The driver told me, that this is where the rocks are commonly thrown. Every 5-10 minutes I saw one of these watchtowers, these symbols of power instilled fear. Further down the road, there was a huge fire which people had set in front of yet another guard tower. . Next door, literally the next building was a bridal shop, showing the attempts at normality. I will never forget this image, yet I wanted to be as cautious as possible and decided to not pull my camera out.

Once again, the driver pointed. It was the first glimpse of Hebron which I saw. We turned left, and there was the street leading up to the city, which I was going to spend the next 10 days in. Once again roadworks, the pathment was being completely renewed and trees were being planted.

My First Impressions

I arrived at the hotel greeted by 5 people all speaking great English. They exuded a welcoming atmosphere. I got shown my room, and was given an ashtray; puzzled I asked, to be told that all the rooms are smoker rooms, yet not one little bit of smell. Once again, I was impressed.

So there I stood, looking out of the window, with a cigarette, enjoying the incredible view of the sun coming down over the city. Suddenly I heard two screams, I looked down and two boys, guessing I would say 8 and 5 were shouting hello and waving. I waved back with a massive smile to this openness. They asked whether I spoke english and I shouted yes. Then they were gone, 2 minutes later, they were standing on the roof of the building so they could see me better. They stood there, just watching me and shly waving. It was incredible. I was covered in goosebumps and full of amazement.

 The view, which I got to enjoy.

The view, which I got to enjoy.

How can children who live in a place, which some countries deny the existance of, with continuous tensions be so open and friendly? I am writing this, close to tears just filled with amazement. Right now, I hear more shouts, the same children are running down the back alley with toy cars and scooters enjoying life without the internet or iPads.

The sound of the call to the sunset prayers rings throughout the city, I go down to the hotel lobby. Empty, people are praying. I can't identify with religion nevermind understand it, but its interesting to be in a place with people so devoted. 

I look at over the city once more, and hear bangs. Echoing throughout the hill tops. They sound like gunshots, and before coming here I read a lot, and people mentioned that one can often hear gunshots from a distance. This brings me back to their reality rapidly, thinking once again about how these children can be so seemingly free of worries with gunshots in the distance.