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Sep-29-2009 15:57printcomments

Weekend in Palestine: Part 1

Part one in a memorable account and photo essay of a day on the West Bank.

All photos are property of Dexter Phoenix

(JERUSALEM) - It was an extremely hot day when we all grouped up from a Hostel in Jerusalem. It was not easy getting up early in the morning after a rather heavy night of enjoying the night life in this city... which seemed to go on forever.

The place was bustling with young college type people who somehow managed to find enough money on their student loans to pay for Israel's extremely expensive and heavily taxed drinks, especially the liqueur. We woke up around about 7:30 a.m. due to the hostel only having two showers, and we were told we had to get to another hostel “dead on” at 9:00 a.m.

It was quite a walk going all the way through the narrow, hot, sweaty, crowded streets by the Jaffa gates... and carrying a 40 pound bag on my back full of Camera equipment did not help ether, through this almost claustrophobic environment that these small streets produce on such a popular, busy month of the year.

There was one professional journalist that specialized in mostly dispatches who was from the (United) States, and 3 wannabe pro-Palestine activists. We got word from one of the wannabes that there was a secret meeting at a hostel on the North side of the gate through those crowded narrow streets. The people in charge of this gathering were locals, but were very cautious and suspicious, for obvious reasons, as to who they take along on their trip to Palestine.

Just before I left the hostel, my good friend, the journalist, decided on a last minute decision that it was too hot to go that far today and so I reluctantly left him behind...not knowing myself: what I was going to come across, or see on this day?

I struggled through the streets trying to keep up with a rather over excited bunch of protesters (all from Europe). Already the streets were smelling strong; the burning rancid stench of stale lamb's blood that was already cooking away on the old picturesque red hot paving stones.

Jerusalem and the West Bank March; all photos by Dexter Phoenix

The smell actually got so bad I almost wanted to vomit, and I normally do have a very strong stomach for strange rancid unusual smells, die to previous work experience.

The reason for this foul odor that stuck to the street like gum on a shoe, was the meat they had hanging in the heat, and half of it hanging in some hot, sweaty, humid shade. Most of the meat was fresh and they tended to hang it overhead so the blood would run down into the streets.

As I walked quickly away from the outdoor butcher department zone, located in the Arab quarter, the smells started become more manageable as the whiff of Arab herbs started to absorb the atmosphere in front of me.

Hundreds of different displays of Arab herbs and fresh vegetables narrowed the streets even further as they crowded their little shops with all their products, from carpets to pottery, to shoes shops and bag retailers, to shops selling gold.

I finally reached the Damascus Gate, going past more outdoor markets as I tiredly walked up the last long overly-stretched steps, that did not seem to fit a normal human being's stride.

I carried on walking through an open courtyard and headed towards the address I was given. The hostel was very discreet. A small door with steep narrow steps that took you up to a living room that was nicely cooled from the temperature outside. I walked through this room and entered another large room where everyone casually laid around to enjoy the hostel's company.

I looked over to the excited protesters as they pointed over at me to a rather nervous looking big-built guy... he nodded to them and gave me a quick wave. It was now 9:30 a.m. Everyone was told if they had friends coming along who they were waiting for, they would miss the shuttle. By now a sizable group had accumulated in the room, mostly European traveler/hippie types.

We all headed towards the bus area to grab our small, stuffy shuttle. The price was surprisingly very cheap considering the distance we had to drive to get to the Palestine border.

The ride was pleasant enough until you reached countless border control security. Oddly enough they seem to have taken a huge interest in my English Passport, not helping at the same time having a Lebanese multi-entry visa which they kept stumbling over while flicking through my passport.

I seemed to have a mild satisfaction when they flicked over that last page to view that visa... admiring their facial expressions and actions as they walked off the bus and radioed in about my passport. It was only on the last stop on the road block that they did not radio in about my passport.

Finally we got to the border gate. Well really it was a huge endless long concrete wall. We went through countless passport checking and being asked questions as to why we wanted to visit this area. We went though many barbed-wire security gate systems... feeling like cattle being guided around an obstacle course, thinking "will this never end?"

As soon as we got out the first entrance, we had to then walk up a large open area towards another separate unit. More security obstacles as we were herded through like lab rats in a maze, until we finally got through to the other side.

We walked down towards a group of taxis while doing this, reading the writing and graffiti on the walls, telling the locals' stories and dislikes of the Israeli occupation. The taxi drivers seemed pretty friendly and very eager to tell their stories and show us around, but we needed to get to the nearest city to catch another shuttle run to get to the West Bank.

We finally got to a small open-walled courtyard that had a handful of small buses and shuttles. We all managed to squeeze ourselves in, and with an element of excitement and anticipation in the air, we were gone.

Driving through windy medium-sized almost-deserted roads, vary rarely seeing any cars on the road...all the houses seemed to be empty and lifeless, only the cars or bikes parked outside telling us differently.

It was a hilly drive, with not much to see apart from dried land and rocks---not the best, most fertile looking land in the world for growing or planting anything, I thought. The drive was about 30 min. to the destination. It was a small town but buzzing full of wondering locals, normally walking along in groups of two or more.

The shuttle stopped outside a large house with a huge Palestine flag flying outside, with lots of Europeans getting their photos taken next to it. Inside, it seemed more like a squatters' convention. Hardly any furniture at all with people from all walks of life lying around on the floors. The walls were plastered with posters, stories and photographs of the past struggles of the West Bank.

The photographers and video people were mainly young people from Spain, France and Japan, mostly working for small independent magazines and newspapers. I noticed their new poster on the wall; it was a European journalist or photographer that had got shot in the head by a rubber bullet last weekend. Pretty colorful with lots of blood all over his face, first time I had seen a result of a rubber bullet in someone's face... it did intrigue me a lot with my normal morbid fascination with this kind of subject.

The locals were making colorful prints of this to hand out to the local protesters to obviously boost the so-called draconian behavior of the Israeli security forces that like to occupy this area---mostly on the weekends.

We were told firmly NOT to walk off with the locals to their houses, especially alone. As I walked out the house again, a man in his early 50’s with a mustache approached me. At the time, there was another journalist with me that could understand and speak Arabic.

The local man almost begged us to walk down to his house and take pictures, and write down the story of his family's ongoing struggles and the pain that they have been through living in this small town.

We decided to walk down with him towards his house. It was a 10 minute walk. We arrived to a largish building that looked like it was left half finished in an old renovation. He introduced us to his wife and 6-year- old boy. One thing I did notice was how very hospitable they were. He showed us around his house and walked us up to the top of the roof to view the West Bank fence and entrance to Israeli-occupied land.

He then insisted that we sit down and listen to his story about his teenage son who was taken from the West Bank by Israeli security services and was never seen again. He even showed us his son's bedroom---the whole room had not been changed at all..left in its original state.

He also mentioned his parents, who used to own most of the land that has now been taken by the Israelis. We sat there and listened and took pictures for about 40 minutes, watching his wife cry heavily while showing us the pictures of her missing son.

After awhile, we had to insist that we must join the protesters and demonstrators at the West Bank gate. We shook hands and were told by the man that any time we come back to this area, his house has plenty of room.

Dexter's story continues tomorrow, and also look for more original images from the fighting in Israel and Lebanon.

*********************************************** Dexter Phoenix has worked as a staff and freelance photographer since the mid-1990's and has a wealth of professional experiences on his resume. We welcome his presence to our staff and Salem-News.com.

This native of Great Britian moved to Los Angeles in 2007, where he photographed general news, general Interests, sports, freelance model photo work, and also stock images. In his career Dexter has had photos published : World wide, in many magazines and newspapers and online. Throughout the course of his career he has experience with technology of all imaginable types. In his career as a photographer Dexter has covered stories in Norway, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, France, Mexico, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, Somalia, Tunisia, Algeria. Angola, Iran, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Colombia, United States. Email inquiries about photo purchase to Dexter at the above address.

You can email Dexter Phoenix, Salem-News.com Photographer/Reporter, at innocent_p0stcard@hotmail.com

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Anonymous September 30, 2009 5:57 pm (Pacific time)

This is very interesting. Photos tell a story that words can not.  Very strong work.  I look forward to part two, thanks Dexter.

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