Photographing Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank is a difficult endeavor and one that requires a balancing act that is nearly impossible. On one hand, you must gain the trust of the IDF soldiers to be there, much less document anything that may make them look bad. On the other hand, you are there to document the situation from the Palestinian perspective. My first day of photographing the checkpoints was an experiment and I was not sure if I would end up shot, in jail, kicked out of the country or just turned away.
Upon arrival I approached a group of IDF soldiers and just started talking with them. Judging by their responses, people don’t normally come right up to them and start a conversation. After a few minutes I was approached by a commander who took me behind the checkpoint walls, looked in either direction and then whispered to me “You can take pictures of whatever you want whenever I am here. What we are doing is wrong, I wish I was strong enough to stand up and do something about it…but I am not.” He looked me in the eyes and then walked away.
I spent the rest of the day freely photographing everything that went on at the checkpoint. I spoke to a lot of the soldiers and to my surprise, most of them were very kind to me and also the Palestinians waiting to pass. There was an exception though, a young man who you could see the anger and hatred in his face. He was abusive and mean and had several women and young children nearly in tears by the time they passed him.
This photograph is of a young woman who was waiting to be called forward by this young man. She was watching how the person in front of her was being treated and I would assume she was anticipating the same experience.
During that day, many of the soldiers talked to me about how they hated this job, hated the fact that they were forced to do it and really had nothing against Palestinians. They said that they were young and that they wanted to be enjoying their lives, not stuck on a dusty road twelve hours every day. They were kids with weapons, most behaved like humans and a few did not.
I like to believe that most people are good and that there is a relatively small amount who are not and who give their whole group, faith or nationality a bad name. For the most part, my experiences back up my theory.
-Zoriah is a multiple award winning photojournalist and war photographer with clients such as Newsweek, The BBC, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR. He contributed this piece to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit his website: www.Zoriah.com