Untold Stories 23:

The Olive Branch

One part of the Middle East Conflict is fought on the battlefield. Another and probably just as important struggle is being played out in the international media.
Pictures in the international news media – especially the nightly TV news bulletins – often have greater effect than the victories where you actually have beaten back your opponents on some hot, dusty hillside somewhere in the contested Middle East landscape. Dramatic television pictures can cause public outrage, inspire politicians to spin some easy political capital from an event far away, and all of a sudden an absurd piece of theatre has become a political reality.
This protesting Palestinian activist is dragged away from this same spot on the West Bank just about every week. It happens almost exclusively because of the media and international public opinion.
As long as I keep shooting pictures with my camera, the activist makes sure that he is as heavy and awkward to handle as possible, and he makes sure to hold the olive branch up close to my wide-angle lens. It makes a great picture.
    No matter who is right and who is wrong, the photograph has already handed down its verdict. It doesn’t matter what I write. Pictures are much stronger than words. The Palestinian has won his public relations victory as soon as I press the shutter release.
When I have taken my picture, I straighten up myself and walk away to another dramatic encounter elsewhere on the barren field. Behind me I hear the Palestinian shout: “OK, OK! I’ll get up. No worries!”
In any case, even if he is arrested, he will be released in a couple of hours.  The soldiers won’t carry him longer than absolutely necessary in the heat, so they unceremoniously drop him on the ground. He gets up, brushes the dust off of his olive branch and joins the other protesters.
A short while later, I see him again, screaming and shouting while he is dragged away by two other soldiers as another photographer shoots his perfect picture of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
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Translation by Matthew Kalman
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