Invisible Land (1)

James Longman is a well-known British journalist currently traveling the world, including Israel, on an extended reporting assignment. This photo below is from his Twitter feed: here he is in Jerusalem about two weeks ago, looking eastward from a well known spot in the city. On a “clear Jerusalem evening,” what he sees when he looks to the east are the Jordanian mountains in the distance, dozens of miles away.


What he doesn’t see is the separation wall that divides Jerusalem from the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, along with its sister neighborhoods in East Jerusalem just a mile or two from where he’s standing. (It’s in the valley in the center-right of the shot, partially obscured by a tree.) Yet he’s looking right at it. Seeing those things requires a clarity and a focus that Western journalists tend to lack. When I’ve stood at that spot myself, as I have dozens of times, the wall is the first thing I see. When I see it, I can’t help remembering the people I left locked behind it, while I take the bus into Jerusalem and get a vantage of the world denied to them. But that’s because I know such people. I wonder whether Longman does.

Longman just visited the West Bank, including apartheid Hebron, on his trip. While there, he made a de rigeur trip to the Hebron Jewish community, including its American-educated spokesman, Yishai Fleischer. It’s unclear whether he made any attempt to connect with “the other side.” In that respect, he’s like 99% of British or American visitors to “Israel.” They see what they want to see, filter out the rest, and put the results on Twitter to be re-tweeted to like minded viewers. But there’s more here than meets such camera eyes. “Such a clear Jerusalem evening” that you can’t see the evidence of apartheid in front of your face. You might want to look more closely.

16 thoughts on “Invisible Land (1)

  1. I should add that it’s not really clear to me that Longman is seeing the Jordanian mountains in this shot, or if any Jordanian highlands are in fact visible from this vantage in Jerusalem. He’s looking southeast from Jerusalem, but the only Jordanian mountain that’s even remotely visible is Mt Nebo, which is due east, not southeast of Jerusalem. Longman is standing on what’s known as “Bible Hill,” roughly at the junction of Bethlehem Rd and David Remez Street. What he’s calling “the Jordanian mountains” are much more likely to be the hills of the West Bank west of the Dead Sea than anything in Jordan. In other words, what he’s done is simply to see past and erase Palestine altogether.


  2. I would have said the wall is the most notable feature in this photo. Maybe there should be a crusade to Palestine by western well wishers, in support of the Palestinian people. I’d go. Of course, one might not get a visa


    • No, the yellow cobble-stone like wall in the immediate foreground the of the shot is not the Israeli security wall, it’s just the side of someone’s house. The security wall is in fact not easily visible in Longman’s photo, precisely because he’s not focusing his camera on it. The wall is actually quite difficult to see in this photo, but–I know from experience–is easily visible to the naked eye from this location, especially on a clear day like the one he’s pictured.

      The “mountains” he has in mind are in the very far distance, the horizon where the clouds meet land. The security wall is located in the distant valley, farther than the wall of this house immediately in the foreground, but much closer than the distant horizon he’s focusing on. If you follow the right edge of the house wall, with its crenelations, and then make a “right turn” with your vision (maybe a centimeter or so), you’ll see white stone buildings in the distance perhaps a mile or two away. If you look very closely, you’ll notice that a certain point, the buildings abruptly stop. That’s where the wall is. Then there is a a rise. That’s where I lived.

      I don’t have a screenshot “snipper” on this computer, but I do on a different one. What I’ll do is write a new post, and snip his photo with an arrow to the wall, then insert a photo of my own from roughly the same location. I was trying, intentionally, to photograph the wall, and it’s clearly visible in my shot. I think you’ll also see that it’s taken from essentially the same hill, same vantage point, same location, as Longman’s. I was standing maybe 1,000 meters in front of where he is.


      • I’ve put my shot on the header of the blog. If you walk 1,000 meters directly forward from Longman’s position, and descend somewhat down the hill and onto the street–imagine, in effect, jumping over the house directly in front of him and then walking–you find yourself in my shot. Now look dead ahead, into the center of the shot. There is a scraggly hill. On top of it is a cement wall. That’s the wall. Just beyond the wall is a small cluster of four-ish white buildings, two taller ones and two shorter ones. Those are all in the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, on the Palestinian side of the wall.

        My photo focuses downward into the valley and at the wall, his picture looks past the valley to the horizon beyond. But we are looking in exactly the same direction from the same hill.


        • These two links give a good sense of what the wall looks like from the Palestinian side. Imagine that you went straight through my header shot, then somehow jumped over the wall into the town of Abu Dis. This is what you’d see.

          From the vantage of one of the “four-ish white buildings” I mentioned in my last comment:

          This is a different part of town, where fights tend to break out. Also where one catches the bus into Jerusalem:

          There are actually are tours in Palestine of differing degrees of intensity and partisanship. This is one of the more moderate, touristy ones:

          Just visiting Palestine is a “crusading” act that would be highly appreciated, regardless of any further, radical political gestures. I try to persuade American Jews who regularly visit Israel to visit Palestine as well, but there’s a great deal of hesitation. Indiscriminate calls for “boycotting Israel” don’t help.

          The same is true of Australian Jews, if only I could get to them. I have no objection to their visiting Israel, but I wish they would visit both Israel and Palestine.

          One of the most militant settler organizations, Ateret Cohanim, is run by a transplanted Australian, Daniel Luria. I once had a conversation with Luria, in which he told me frankly that he opposed the wall…because it was an obstacle to settlement! That’s not precisely the kind of opposition or visiting I have in mind. But it’s notable that right-wing settlers are much more forthright about moving about in “the territories,” while their left-wing kin pointlessly keep to the “proper” side of the wall. That doesn’t keep their hands clean, it merely leaves them ignorant of what’s going on.


    • I had half-resolved not to tell this story, but your bringing up Alan Paton now makes it impossible to resist. When I was an undergrad, I decided to write for and help edit The Princeton Tory, the campus conservative magazine. (I eventually became Editor in Chief.) One day, I was assigned to edit an article written by a staffer who was either South African by nationality or descent, or had some special connection to South Africa. (She was white.) This was 1988, when the apartheid regime was still in place.

      I came up with my edits of her article and was supposed to discuss them with her in person. It was considered OK in those days to arrange to have such meetings one-on-one in someone’s dorm room, so we arranged to do it in hers, which was a single. I walked into her room to find it festooned with posters of the natural beauty of South Africa–mountains, prairies, wildlife, beaches, sunsets…. I tried my best to avert my gaze from them and get down to business, but was obviously somewhat freaked out, and didn’t succeed. She looked at me, somewhat puzzled, as if to ask what was the matter. I gestured at the posters, weakly, and for lack of anything else to say, said: “So I guess you’ve been to South Africa?”

      Her face lit up. “Oh yes,” she gushed, and proceeded to tell me all about…how beautiful the land was. “Yes, I know,” she acknowledged, “that these leftists want to focus on other things.” Then, without ever so much as mentioning these “other things,” she went on to rhapsodize about the natural wonders of South Africa. It was so surreal that I actually remember being vaguely frightened. Yet she was the sweetest person ever.

      Eventually, I guess, we got down to business. I don’t remember the rest of the meeting.

      She went on to become the President of the College Republicans.

      I always remember things like this when people complain about how “woke” things have gotten on campus.


        • No, dammit. I should not have said it was “partially obscured by a tree.” It’s partially obscured by the trees (plural) beyond this one in the foreground. On the left-hand side of your oval, there is a clump of trees–three of them, not a single tree, as I first thought. If you look very carefully at the hill that those trees obscure, you may see the wall appearing as a kind of thin line. You have to look in the middle distance, perhaps a mile or so away from where Longman is standing. Not up close, where you’re focusing, and not all the way on the distant horizon, where he’s focusing, but between the two.

          It’s much easier to see on my header photo for the blog. Go to the “T” of Policy of Truth, and look upwards directly above it, maybe a centimeter or so. There are some trees directly above the “T.” Keep looking straight up from there, and you’ll see it.

          I have to eat dinner now, but when I come back, I’ll get my other computer out and put up a screen shot of where the wall is on Longman’s shot. I don’t have that feature on this computer. The thing is, since he’s not focusing on that spot, you’re unlikely to see the wall by staring at his photo. But one can certainly see it with the naked eye from where he is.

          The wall cuts through Jerusalem but is actually designed to be invisible from the nicer parts of the city. If you know it’s there, it sticks out like a sore thumb, but I’m beginning to grasp that maybe it really does work as designed. It’s deliberately designed to fade into the background.


            • No, it’s none of those, but I am glad you’re giving the Israelis a taste of their own medicine by erecting a haphazard set of security walls directly in the most tourist-dense parts of Jerusalem. So while none of those are the security wall, I kind of wish they were.

              I’m having dinner at a Mexican place, and think we should do the Trump security wall after we nail this one.


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