A little over one year ago, an amateur Palestinian photographer with a cell phone captured an image of a group of Palestinian men scaling Israel’s barrier wall in order to make it to Friday prayers in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque. The men used a ladder and worked in unison to elevate one another up and over the giant concrete slabs.
The photographer remained anonymous. In fact, to my knowledge, she or he never even published the image. A non-Palestinian photographer also at the scene took a similar photograph and uploaded it to the internet for the world to see.
Here we’re already met with an unfortunate double standard. For the Palestinian photographer, any mention of her or his name would connect her or him to the scene. Although no crimes were broken (unless you consider apartheid law to be legitimate in any way), this is terribly dangerous, especially considering how in-depth and persistently inflammatory Israeli intelligence services can be. Future visas can be denied. Access through Israeli checkpoints can become twice as difficult. Her or his name could be blacklisted as a “Threat to the Security of the State”, and this can have permanent repercussions on this person’s family, friends, and city of residence.
The photograph that did go online garnered quite a bit of attention. But even then, a number of viewers felt uncomfortable that some impunitive measure might be taken against any of the men identified in the image. Even if it seemed highly unlikely, for many Palestinians it was still a legitimate concern validated by years of experience involving brothers and fathers, sisters and mothers facing arrest for no real reason whatsoever.
More recently, a Palestinian adult crossing a checkpoint in the West Bank was forced to take a bus along with the very same Israeli soldiers who dictate whether Palestinians have the right to travel in their native lands. She or he also snapped a photograph but uploaded it discretely and privately to the internet, requesting any and all anonymity.
The image, posted here, is not inflammatory in any sense. In fact, it is a candid shot that means very little unless the viewer is aware of what the bus is used for as well as the kind of “rules” the soldiers enforce.
But because the photo credit is blank, does this mean the image carries less value or that its context should be ignored? To those who feel naturally repulsed by the very thought of Palestinian rights and to those who who feel the Palestinian narrative should be crafted on their terms and their terms alone, the answer might be an obvious yes. But to everyone else, the anonymity adds so many more dimensions of understanding.
When Israeli propagandists present Israel as the beacon of free thought and free speech in the region, they are intentionally leaving out the fact that Palestinians are not free to criticize the apartheid regime governing their everyday lives.
They cannot always document the human rights abuses they endure because doing so may jeopardize their ability to make it through another checkpoint.
They cannot always videotape an arbitrary arrest because doing so may lead to their own arrests, as is commonly the case.
They cannot always show their faces at demonstrations because doing so may lead to village-wide lockdowns during which Israeli troops rummage through homes to intimidate future demonstrators.
They cannot always file formal complaints against armed settlers because doing so might draw attention to their homes which, for some magical reason, could then be slated for demolition.
They cannot always use their actual names on Facebook or Twitter because doing so may cause Israel to deny them entry into Palestine for good.
Anonymity, then, is not a privilege for these Palestinians. It is a life-sustaining reflex.
This is not to say that Palestinians are an anonymous bunch. There are so many brave Palestinians who refuse to be intimidated. But the next time you come across an unattributed photograph or an image of a blurred face, do not immediately reject the image or call it contextless. That absent name says more than the story itself.
All images discussed or presented in this article were used after careful consideration.