Photographer captures 'bizarre reality' of life in Palestinian Territories

A girl poses for a studio portrait in an amusement park in Jericho. All photos courtesy of Tanya Habjouqa.
 
Taking a ride on a motorcycle, going for a picnic, taking a dip in a pool… These simple pleasures could take place almost anywhere. However, photographer Tanya Habjouqa captured these moments in the ever-tense Palestinian Territories. Though she brings positive moments to the foreground, the spectre of the political situation looms large in her series “Occupied Pleasures”.
 
Habjouqa, 33, is Jordanian-American. After studying and working as a photojournalist in the United States, she now lives in East Jerusalem. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications. She made this series over six months during the past year, with the help of a grant from the Magnum Foundation.
 
I had been coming to the region to document Palestinian issues for years, but it wasn’t until I met my husband during a stay in Jerusalem in 2009 that I decided to move here. I now live in East Jerusalem, where I work as a photographer for numerous news outlets. This project was a departure for me, because it’s more subjective and personal than my previous work. I’ve married a Palestinian man and have become a mother to two Palestinian children, and I am still trying to make sense of the bizarre new reality around me which my daughters are growing up in.
 
There are so many photographers here documenting the violence. In the media, Palestinians are portrayed as either victims or proponents of violence, and there is no other in-between, no shades of grey. So I paused and tried to analyse, what’s missing? I wanted to find a way to remind audiences of the humanity of the people here, of the small pleasures they find among the absurdities of their situation.
 
The Separation Wall is very prevalent in my photos. There is no way to document the reality of the West Bank or East Jerusalem without capturing that wall. It changed everything. Families who before its construction could reach each other in 5 or 10 minutes now, if they are lucky enough to get permission – which most are not – have to go through so many detours and checkpoints that it takes an hour and a half. So in addition to being a constant backdrop, it has become a symbol of the difficulties they face. People resist it by painting on it, use it to practice parkour, and basically use it in any creative way they can.
 
University students practice javelin throwing next to the Separation Wall.
 
I took this photo (below) of a young man and his sheep after he had waited for a long time to get through a checkpoint. After this frustration, he stopped to enjoy a cigarette, and hammed it up a bit for the camera. It was the end of Ramadan, so this sheep was on its way to being eaten during celebrations.
 
 
This one was taken in Gaza. This woman, who didn’t have a travel permit, was walking in an underground tunnel towards Egypt. It was surreal, seeing her ambling along with a bouquet of flowers, which she was taking to a wedding. The image is beautiful and absurd, but it also denotes the difficulty of life for Palestinians, and what lengths they have to go in order to try to find normalcy.
 
 
There is very little colour in Gaza, and so when I saw this van in front of the sea, I rushed to take a photo of it. Gazans often feel claustrophobic, but they often say: ‘At least we have the sea’. People of all economic backgrounds enjoy walking along the shore.
 
 
This photo shows girls preparing for a school dance in Ramallah. The city of Ramallah is a bit like a bubble, where there is a much greater sense of normalcy and relative freedom of expression and of movement than in the rest of the territories. Still, these girls are part of a small, privileged minority – not many girls dress like this. They go to a Quaker school that is quite liberal; many of the students there end up pursuing their education abroad.
 
 
This man is playing with his baby on the rubble of his family’s house in East Jerusalem. It had been demolished shortly beforehand. They had moved into a small cave underneath the house, which had previously housed their livestock. It still smelled like a stable. The man told me he had put up the Palestinian flag following the house’s destruction to say ‘this is my home’. Of course, putting up a flag like this can get you in trouble with the authorities.
 
Destructions like this are quite common in the area. There’s a housing shortage, and land prices are quite high. Palestinians have difficulties obtaining permits to build, and so quite often houses and even whole apartment buildings are built illegally. The risk of demolition constantly hangs over their heads.
 
 
Women practising yoga with a visiting American instructor on the outskirts of Bethlehem in the West Bank.
 
A boy from Hebron enjoys a swim at Ein Farha, in the West Bank.
 
A Gaza parkour team practises in a cemetery near their refugee camp in Khan Younis.
 
Post written with freelance journalist Omid Habibinia.
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