Visiting Bethlehem. Yup, that’s in Palestine…

December 18, 2012

Every places has its own prejudices and superstitions. If you don’t live in Israel, most chances are that you don’t know ours. One of them, which we’ve been brainwashed with for years and years, it that all Palestinians hate us. All of them are terrorists, all of them want to kill us. A lot of people believe that and currently, so does the government (or at least that’s how it acts). This is not a political post- I wasn’t even about to mention politics. However, yesterday, our Irish ambassador decided to post something for Christmas on the embassy’s facebook page, along the lines of “had Jesus and Maria been living in Bethlehem today, as Jews they would have been lynched right away”… Very smart coming from an ambassador who’s supposed to upkeep our relationship with a not-so-Israel-friendly-Ireland. Not only did he manage to offend the Irish by using their symbols, he managed to make their Christmas about us and, the cherry on top- just igniting more hate and unjustified fear. Good job, diplomat!

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The first souvenirs shop was at the parking lot, where it was very dark. I used my external flash to bounce light off the ceiling and fill the frame with beautiful diffused light.

That’s it for politics, from now on- pretty pictures and stories.

My siblings and I joined a tour organized by IPCRI (anyone can join, by the way) to Bethlehem. The day started at (what they claim) is the most expensive parking lot in the world- 58$ for one hour of parking (!). We walked towards the main square and the Church of the Nativity, where it’s claimed the Jesus was born. On the way they had several stands and shops, but the most interesting one was this one in the photo below. Look at what they’re selling.

Selling Chanukias

Look at what they’re selling in their main stand… Chanukias for Chanukah! I do wonder who buys them cause we didn’t see many Jews walking around there…

At the entrance to the church, we encountered several groups. The ones that I liked most were a group of Eritreans from Israel (asylum seekers who took a day off from their miserable life) and a group of Indians who were wearing Santa hats. I found the situation hilarious and it seemed that the locals did as well. I became obsessed with taking a good photo of an Indian with a Santa hat and ended up liking this moment where the two locals are staring at the two pairs. I had to be far enough to get all of them in frame, opened up to f/8 in order to get them all sharp enough and used the leading lines (bricks, tiles, pillars and the locals’ eyes) to direct the viewer’s focus to the two pairs.

The Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity

Inside the church, as is often times the case in churches, I had to bump up my ISO to 3200 and slow down my shutter significantly to about 1/40, which required me to shoot wide to disguise camera shake and be very accurate while shooting moving people (in order to not make them look blurry). We were rushed through with the other groups (of course, I wanted to stay and shoot for several hours), but I managed to find a few nice spots that weren’t overcrowded with people. Shooting to the ceiling certainly helped…

The Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity

Once done at the church, we ma?e our way to the market. We passed the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene (gets a whole new meaning when it’s in Bethlehem, doesn’t it?…) and I had fun watching the people (locals and tourists) being all tourist-y and taking phone pictures of the whole thing.

Nativity scene and the Christmas tree in the main square

Nativity scene and the Christmas tree in the main square

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Markets are definitely my thing. When they asked us if we waned to walk through the jewelry stores or the actual market, I didn’t hesitate for a second- market it is! Markets are both hard and fun to shoot in- they’re colorful, loud, there’s a lot happening and lots of people. On the other hand, the light keeps changing (light and shade), they’re loud, there’s a lot happening and lots of people… Whenever there are frequent light changes, switch my camera from M (full manual mode) to Av (aperture priority). That way the camera takes care of exposure and I can concentrate on the surroundings. Markets are often times similar, so I try to find the things that make them unique: the people and the way they dress, the unique produce and moments.

I did my best to try and strike up conversations with people. Many of the shopkeepers (like anywhere else) try to call you to their shop or just start talking in hope that you’ll buy something. The most common dialogue was:

“Where are you from?”

“Israel?!”

“Welcome!!!”

The Bethlehem market

A shallow depth of field and using several layers in the frame (the main subject, the man in the front, the people in the back) give the picture depth and make it more interesting- they make the viewer’s eye wonder around for a bit before settling back on the child.

The Bethlehem market

Beautiful diffused light from a cloudy sky. No matter what’s in the frame, it’ll look nice. I did want to focus on the almonds but again- wanted to give it some more depth. I waited until a face showed up in the frame to place it in my background.

The Bethlehem market

Women in the market- I’ve seen/taken this picture dozens of time before. The concept isn’t unique at all, but the nice composition and the fact that it gives us a sense of place make it a picture worth taking.

The Bethlehem market

Sitting so perfectly in front of this amazing door, accidentally arranging his belongings to create a very balanced frame and having a friendly face- I had to take this picture.

the last part of the trip was about the barrier wall. What can I say? I don’t think it matters what your political views are- when you see this wall from the Palestinian side you can’t help wondering how Israel can even pretend that it’s trying to make peace…Regardless of the fact that its effectiveness is questionable (ask 10 Israelis and you’ll get 10 different answers- some would say it’s the only reason we have quite and others would say it’s a load of crap), the psychological effect is certainly unquestionable: it creates hate. No doubt. What else can you feel when you’re put in a walled ghetto against your will? When you’re house is surrounded by a 9-meter-high (27 ft.) wall from 3 sides (true story)? When your livelihood is taken away because someone decided to block the main highway with a wall? I’m not even saying if it’s right or wrong, just the mere facts. If you were walled off against your will you’d hate whoever did it. That’s all I’m saying.

The barrier wall

An Israeli outpost on the other side of the wall

The barrier wall

The barrier wall

Abed, a lighthearted musician from a neighboring village, joined us on the tour. After taking a bunch of grave photos of the wall, I wanted to shoot something else. Caught him as he was lighting a cigarette with this funny look on his face, a stark contrast to what’s behind him.

The wall is all covered up: graffiti, posters, art and hate speeches- they’re all there. A series of posters called the “Wall museum” tell stories of locals that relate to the life behind the wall.

I didn’t want to end on a sad note. So, in spite of the fact that I’m ending with another picture of the wall and a very sad poster title, it does carry a positive message. Most of the people in the frame are Israeli, listening to a Palestinian tour guide. I don’t think all of them completely changed their views after that day, but at least they were there. At least they know that the ambassador in Ireland is wrong. At least they have a better understanding of what it’s like to be a Palestinian. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not delusional and I’m fully aware that there are people in Bethlehem that would want to kill me for being Israeli. But they’re an extreme minority- we have those as well. The day they’ll stop determining our policy and diplomacy, we might actually be able to live here freely.

The barrier wall

Every places has its own prejudices and superstitions. If you don’t live in Israel, most chances are that you don’t know ours. One of them, which we’ve been brainwashed with for years and years, it that all Palestinians hate us. All of them are terrorists, all of them want to kill us. A lot of people believe that and currently, so does the government (or at least that’s how it acts). This is not a political post- I wasn’t even about to mention politics. However, yesterday, our Irish ambassador decided to post something for Christmas on the embassy’s facebook page, along the lines of “had Jesus and Maria been living in Bethlehem today, as Jews they would have been lynched right away”… Very smart coming from an ambassador who’s supposed to upkeep our relationship with a not-so-Israel-friendly-Ireland. Not only did he manage to offend the Irish by using their symbols, he managed to make their Christmas about us and, the cherry on top- just igniting more hate and unjustified fear. Good job, diplomat!

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