Yesterday I posted my reflection blog to a Presbyterian page on Facebook. I wanted to share it, but I knew how contentious the Israel-Palestine issues are among Presbyterian activists. Yet, I felt it was important to share. A few hours later, after several likes, I was asked “could I clarify how my trip was funded?” I responded that the University paid for my trip. There was an immediate concern that I might have been funded by a biased source (i.e., a Jewish source) and thus everything I had written and observed was to be suspect. I was bothered, but not surprised.
Then I was asked why in my post, I never used the words “Israeli occupation,” and how alarming that was. My response is the subject of this post. Here is what I said.
I spent four paragraphs talking about the West Bank. I may not have used the word that defines your narrative but I certainly spent a lot of time thinking and exploring those issues. My goal is not to convince any one of a particular narrative which I think you want me to take, but to insist that we view the issue with as wide of an angle lens as possible. In a camera metaphor we can’t just use a 300mm zoom, we need to pull out a 10-18mm wide angle to look at the bigger picture. And then switch to mid-range and zoom lenses (say the 28-105mm one I used) and occasionally shift to a macro one. When we limit ourselves to one focal point we miss a larger picture.
The more I think about this, I think the camera metaphor is a good one. When we look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we do so through our own eyes, but almost always have a lens through which provides focus to how we view the issue. In my reflection I said we had to take off the “pair of rose-colored vuarnets” and get a different perspective (and yes, I dated myself to the 1980s with that analogy). But let’s use the camera perspective a bit more. As an amateur photographer, I am always trying to frame a shot, and figure out how to get the best picture. This involves sorting out light and aperture (how big the sensor opening is), shutter speed (how long the sensor is open), film speed (how much digital noise to put up with in order to get a shot in less than optimal conditions), and what the focal point should be.
Do I shoot with an ultra-wide angle lens – to capture the broadest landscape? And get in as much of the picture as I can, but sacrifice detail and depth?
Or do you change the lens, to look for more detail.
The first is the big picture, at 10mm, while the latter is at 120mm (26mm on a small-sensor, canon S100 powershot).
Do I opt for a fixed single focal point lens (say a 28mm f/1.8 lens, that has no zoom or wide-angle, but has superior optics for the most crisp picture), or do I use a “zoom” lens (say my 28-105mm, which provides multiple ways of looking at a subject, but with less ability to manipulate light. Yet, I might capture incredible detail.
While a photography lesson could continue, I think there is a bigger point, tied back to the questions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When I was in Hebron we walked through he Palestinian market, or Casbah (or souk). It looked like every other Arab market I had seen in Nazareth and Jerusalem.
But then I was struck by what I saw for sale:
To most people, seeing Caterpillar work boots for sale would not be a big deal. To a Presbyterian who endured the 221st General Assembly’s battles over divestment from Caterpillar, HP, and Motorola, it was a powerful image. Indeed, people asked me “why are you photographing work boots?” From my focal point, the image had incredible irony. We see what we want to see. Or we see what are eyes are looking for.
Or how about this? In the Casbah, there is a fencing/mesh/netting above the market stalls. It divides the Palestinian market from the Jewish settlement apartments above.
Where did it come from? The Palestinians told us the Israeli’s drop trash from their apartments on the market. And sometimes liquid as well.
We asked the Settler spokesperson, why would you do this? The response was “why would we do this? Who says we did this? Perhaps the Palestinians put it there to blame us.” And then he flipped it around. Why is the netting there? “The IDF put the netting there to prevent the Palestinians from lobbing rocks and grenade into our apartments above.” Who to believe? Could there be validity in both perspectives? Is it possible the barrier was put up to prevent rocks from below? And is it possible that the Settlers throw trash from above to rain down on the Arab market? Sure. How do we know what is true? We don’t. And we can’t. But if we change the lens, we might see something else. We might not have the answers, but don’t we need to at least try to look for a complete picture. Or at least admit that our view could be biased.