Saturday, August 15, 2009

The story of photos continues...

The night we took most of the pictures in my previous post, we stayed in the Dneisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. While we were eating dinner suddenly the air filled with wild party music and fireworks started popping into the nearby sky. It seemed clear that something was going on and that clearly meant I should go try to enjoy the action. Sue, my travel roommate, and I promptly set out to find the party. We walked about a block and when we turned the corner to follow the lights and sounds, we found a huge party in the street. As I looked around and sized up the situation I noticed we were the only women among hundreds of dancing men. A quick thought went through my mind about whether it was appropriate for us to be there, but luckily before I had to think much about it I was approached by a kind looking gentleman. He pointed towards a building with a blowing sheet over the entrance and asked if we would like to go in the woman's tent. Before we knew it we were swept into a room with hundreds of Palestinian women dancing, chatting and celebrating a wedding. As you can imagine, our entrance made a splash. At first I fingered the small bag of candies I had been handed right away as a party favor and wondered what I had gotten myself into. Luckily right there in the back of the room was my little budding photographer friend and her family. Within moments they cleared seats for us and invited us into their little circle. Between dances, of which there were many!, we sat with our friends.

As soon as we sat down, our friend asked if she could see my camera and look at the pictures she had taken and show the rest of her family. Quickly the story changed to something much more substantial in the spirit of the occupation. After they looked at the photos they had taken they started flipping through all my shots. In that digital card I had all my photos from the last few days of the my trip (about 300 shots) These included all the shots I had taken on our walking tour of Old City Jerusalem. Under the current occupation travel to Jerusalem is wildly restricted for Palestinians without work permits or residential permits for Jerusalem. Although Bethlehem is only about 15 minutes driving distance from Jerusalem, the Wall, check points and the harassment they bring makes the trip hours long even if you are granted a permit, something you must plan months ahead to try to get. This means that most Palestinians have never been to Jerusalem to see the historical and religious sites there, including the Dome of the Rock, the third most holy place for Muslims. So as they clicked through my pictures they got very excited. I watched the mom point and explain to the kids what things were. Along the way they stopped and asked who people were and what places were.

At that moment, even in a very joyous party that had transported me far from the disturbing issues I had been seeing first hand on this trip, I felt very sad for a group of people who are being forcibly separated from their land, history and culture.

P.S. Unfortunately photo taking was strictly forbidden so I will have to live with the memories of hundreds of women dancing and reveling only being in my head.

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