art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Jungjin Lee: Unnamed Road.

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Unnamed Road is a book by Korean photographer Jungjin Lee, in which she approaches the territories of Israel and the West Bank by turning to the landscape. After reading Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks , Unnamed Road was a book that allowed me to continue the journey – this time by looking, not reading.

Lee turns to the landscape in a similar way Shehadeh does. She explores spaces more than people. Her black-and-white images are self-contained worlds of stillness and wonder, as she searches for something constant in the life of the landscape.

Unnamed Road

Her approach is not documentary (atleast not primarily), it’s more like meditation – a search for the spiritual potential with(in) the landscape. In a way, that approach is a luxury international photographers (or people visiting the West Bank) can afford to have, because of their fresh relationship with the landscape.

For the locals, that relationship involves so much more, it is a burden in so many ways (Shehadeh writes about it very well). It becomes hard to enjoy it or just be present in the moment.

Unnamed Road

That being said, I still really like going through images in the Unnamed Road. Not just because they are a great work of art. I like it because it makes me think of a scenario in which some fundamental truths do not alter – even in the West Bank and the Occupied Territories. I like to picture it as true, as possible.

I like to imagine people (those who live there and those who come to visit) looking at the landscape, walking, breathing – just being present and nothing more. No burdens, no thinking, no fear. Just people and the land – pure, authentic, everlasting relationship.

Unnamed Road

Unnamed Road

Unnamed Road

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//all photos © Jungjin Lee//

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

The Book To Read: Palestinian Walks, Notes On A Vanishing Landscape.

DSC08257/Wadi Rum, photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

“Take a walk” is pretty much my answer to everything life throws in front of me. Walking can heal you, change your perspective, give space to new ideas, put your mind to rest, it can connect you with nature, landscapes, buildings, other people, yourself.

It is no wonder I really liked the idea of Raja Shehadeh’s book Palestinian Walks: Notes On a Vanishing Landscape (first edition published as Palestinian Walks: Forays Into A Vanishing Landscape). I’ve had it on my to-read list for couple of years and I finally managed to get it and start reading it just this last week. I actually bought it in a bookstore at the American University of Beirut campus, where Shehadeh studied forty years ago.

Shehadeh is a Palestinian lawyer and author, and a passionate hill walker. He is also a founder of the human rights organization Al-Haq, an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists. He has written several books on international law, human rights and the Middle East. Some of his books include Strangers In The House, Occupation Diaries and A Rift in Time: Travels With My Ottoman Uncle.

In Palestinian Walks, he captures the changes his beloved landscape endures under Israeli occupation. He started hill walking in 1970s, not aware of the fact that he was travelling through a vanishing landscape. Shehadeh writes: “As I grew up in Ramallah, the land from my city to the northern city of Nablus might, with a small stretch of the imagination, have seemed familiar to a contemporary of Christ. Those hills were, I believe, one of the natural treasures of the world.”

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But the landscape he traverses decades later is the site of a tense standoff between his fellow Palestinians and settlers newly arrived from Israel. Seven walks captured in this book span a period of twenty-seven years, in the hills around Ramallah, in the Jerusalem wilderness and through ravines by the Dead Sea. Each walk takes place at a different stage of Palestinian history.

On the changing idea of Palestine, Shehadeh writes: “Palestine has been one of the countries most visited by pilgrims and travellers over the ages. The accounts I have read do not describe a land familiar to me but rather a land of these travellers’ imaginations. Palestine has been constantly re-invented , with devastating consequences to its original inhabitants. Whether it was the cartographers preparing maps of travellers  describing the landscape in the extensive travel literature, what mattered was not the land and its inhabitants as they actually were but the confirmation of the viewer’s or reader’s religious or political beliefs.”

As decades pass, it becomes harder and harder for Shehadeh to enjoy his walks. He is often harassed by Israeli border patrols, during one walk he is horrified when his young nephew picks up an unexploded missile and on one other occasion, when accompanied by his wife, they come under prolonged gunfire.

He also describes intense legal battles he fights for Palestinian landowners, and the way it also became harder with time. It so happens that even when the client’s ownership of land is proved, it gets taken by some overarching new directive. Legal battles have worn him out, and that’s when his writing saved him from total desperation.

He feels the need to capture his experiences, to describe the land the way it used to be and how it changed, to show the effect it had on people, for there is a fear it will totally disappear and nobody will ever know, nobody will ever remember – no justice, just long and empty silence. The loss of such a simple pleasure as walking around freely is much more important than it might seem, for it exists within a much greater loss – deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land.

Take this walk with Shehadeh, it’s one of the rare chances to still walk around Palestine, to travel back in time and witness the changes of the land and its people.

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Previous The Book To Read:

Night Draws Near

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

Anti-Arab Racism in the USA

A Tale of Love and Darkness

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