Photographers' Blog

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Sderot, Israel

By Finbarr O’Reilly

“If you want to learn about a city, look at its walls.”

-Greek graffiti artist iNO

In springtime, the fields around Sderot are carpeted with red and yellow flowers swaying in the breeze. Yet the pastoral setting is at odds with drab concrete tenements rising up from the impoverished Israeli city under constant threat of attack.

Nowhere in Israel has been as heavily bombarded as Sderot. More than 8,600 rockets fired from Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, have landed in and around the city since 2001 according to the local media center. Ten people have been killed by rocket fire in Sderot since June 2005 and dozens more have been injured. Psychological stress also takes its toll.

With just over a kilometer of fields separating it from the Gaza Strip, Sderot is an obvious target for Palestinian militants whose stated aim is to destroy Israel. The most intense bombardments came during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, when Israel launched an attack on Gaza, beginning with a week of air strikes and shelling, followed by a land invasion. Hamas and its allies responded by firing rockets and mortars into Israel during the three-week conflict, which killed an estimated 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Israel’s Iron Dome defense system that destroys incoming rockets does not offer full protection to Sderot. When a “code red” alarm crackles over the city’s loudspeakers, the roughly 25,000 residents have 15 seconds to seek shelter from incoming projectiles.

“Having 15 seconds to run for your life is hard to understand or explain,” said Noam Bedein, director of the Sderot Media Center. “Routine life is a bit absurd, but you accept it.”

Commuting from the West Bank

By Ammar Awad

There are two ways for Palestinian workers to cross into Israel every day. Those with work permits can pass through a military checkpoint. Those without a permit have to find a way through the controversial Israeli barrier, and sneak across the border. Both ways are time consuming. Neither is pleasant.

Gallery: Commuting from the West Bank

“I have no other choice,” said Tayser Sherif Abu Khader, a 57-year-old Palestinian from Qalqiliya who for two decades has been making the commute. “If I don’t work in Israel, I will die from hunger.” I met Abu Khader in line with hundreds of other Palestinians who were waiting to cross through the Eyal checkpoint in the northern West Bank. He told me that about 7,000 Palestinians cross daily through the checkpoint. He had gotten there before dawn to make sure he would be at the front of the line and make it to his job on time. You can never tell how long the wait will be, he said. There are fingerprint scans, x-ray machines for their bags, and sometimes workers are delayed for additional questioning. But the hassle is, at the end of the day, worth it. The work opportunities are better in Israel than in the West Bank, where the economy is struggling.

Abu Khader works in construction in the area of Tel Aviv and was one of the few willing to talk to me. He is considered one of the veterans of the group and is in charge of a small group of volunteers who every morning make sure people stay in line. It is common for workers to try to cut the line, and that could quickly cause a scuffle. When things go well, Abu Khader returns home at night with 300 shekels. That’s at least four times the average salary in the West Bank, Abu Khader said. But if there are delays, or if for some reason he misses his ride to the construction site, he loses a day’s pay.

Golan Heights cowboys

Golan Heights

By Nir Elias

On one of my recent visits to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights I bumped into a group of Israeli cowboys working their herd near the tense frontier with Syria, where a civil war is raging just several miles away.

GALLERY: GOLAN HEIGHTS’ COWBOYS

After taking some photos of the men with the Hermon mountain range in the background, I was able to arrange a full day shoot. Arriving before the crack of dawn, I was welcomed with a steaming cup of coffee by the head cowboy, Nadav. Joined by four other riders, we saddled up and rode out.

Each cowboy made his own fashion statement. Nadav was dressed for the trail – no tassels or frills, just workers’ pants, a button-down shirt and a broad, weather-beaten brown leather Stetson. Alon looked like he had just walked out a fashion shoot, accessorizing his get-up with a Zippo lighter, a multi-tool Leatherman, an extra knife and a pack of cigarettes.

Reality of a grand Hasidic wedding

Jerusalem

By Ronen Zvulun

Coming back home at 5am sunrise, I was just beginning to digest the grand event I was lucky to witness and cover: the wedding of the grandson of one of the most influential spiritual leaders in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.

GALLERY: ULTRA-ORTHODOX WEDDING EXTRAVAGANZA

The wedding, attended by some 25,000 people, was a massive event that was conducted like a military operation.

How do you take care of thousands of people, feed them, accommodate them, seat them and provide safety for the huge crowd? There was a 20-story stand that needed to hold thousands of dancing Hasidic men.

At home with Israel’s ultra-Orthodox

By Ronen Zvulun

As a native of Jerusalem, an Orthodox Jews’ appearance is not alien to me. The thought which often comes to mind when thinking about the ultra-Orthodox community is “so close yet so far”.

SLIDESHOW: ISRAEL’S ULTRA-ORTHODOX

How does my life as a secular person differ from the life of a Haredi man (Hebrew for “those who tremble (before God)?

How different are the lives of my daughters from that of a child growing up in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood: the education, the atmosphere at home, the games, the books, the Western-based culture in which my family lives versus the sheltered lives of the Haredim. Nonetheless, despite all these differences, I find the common ground between us and am mostly welcomed when I cover their reality.

Witnessing an Israeli undercover operation

During Sunday’s events held by Palestinians to mark “Nakba” (Catastrophe) to commemorate the expulsion or fleeing of some 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in the war that led to the founding of Israel in 1948, I covered clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian youths in the Shuafat refugee camp, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem surrounded by the controversial Israeli barrier.

Both sides were standing at a distance from each other when I arrived and the youths were throwing stones towards the police. The police retaliated by firing rubber bullets and tear gas, a common occurrence during clashes. After a few hours the police charged towards the protesters who were running away.

I saw that a few police were running down an alley. Due to my past experiences in these types of situations I followed them, sensing that something out of the ordinary may occur. When I reached a point in the alley I saw riot police surrounding a group of about ten masked men and a woman, all armed with pistols, detaining a few Palestinians.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Photo highlights from the Holy Land

This image shot by Jerusalem based Reuters photographer Ronen Zvulun of storks flying over the Judean Desert is among the latest "Photo highlights from the Holy Land".
ISRAEL/

Click below to view a multimedia presentation by Sharon Perry showcasing some of the best Reuters images from Israel and the Palestinian Territories during the week of August 24-31, 2009.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Dead Sea Wonder

deadsea1
The Dead Sea is among 14 finalists in a global internet vote next year to choose the 7 wonders of the natural world, organisers said on Tuesday August 25, 2009.
The famously salty lake at the lowest point in the world is in the running for a place alongside spectacular natural phenomena such as the Amazon River, the Galapagos Islands, the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef.
The Dead Sea is shared by Israel, Jordan and the occupied West Bank. It was almost eliminated from the contest (www.new7wonders.com) earlier this year when Middle East politics blocked their required cooperation.
But a last-minute compromise allowed the candidacy to proceed to the next stage. Final results are due in 2011, by which time the organisers expect one billion people will have voted online.

Click below for a multi-media ’essay’ on the Dead Sea.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Photo Tales from the Holyland

Click below to view a multimedia presentation showcasing some of the best Reuters images from Israel and the Palestinian Territories during the week of August 2-9, 2009.

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