Photo credit: Elif Görken
Date taken: January 1, 2015
Location: Jerusalem, West Bank, Palestine
Children play on the steps of the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.
Elif Görken’s trip to Palestine was spontaneous, she tells me. It was her second time going. She arrived to the warm embrace of friends who, in the following days, took her through the winding roads of the West Bank, reliving with her their childhood experiences. In Jerusalem, her friends showed her where they played, where they gathered rocks for street games with the neighbors, where they prayed, where they whiled away the hours during Ramadan. It was an experience she couldn’t have gotten from a book, she says. It was meaningful and personally relatable. In her own words, “I fall a little deeper in love with Palestine every time.”
As someone who is restricted from visiting the West Bank, I can’t help but envy those that get to breathe its air and soak up its sun. I’ve seen enough photographs over the years to amass a list of places I’d like to one day visit. There was a time long ago when my family in the Gaza Strip could easily make the trip to the West Bank, eat Bethlehem’s fresh ka’ik, pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, wind through the hilly villages on the outskirts of Ramallah, and still have enough energy for a last-minute run to Nablus for the sweetest knafa the world has ever seen. Today, though, my little green hawiya means that I am not allowed.
There are people who visit the West Bank entirely oblivious to their privilege and who manage to ignore or even make a mockery of the Palestinian experience. Then there are people like Elif, whose experiences, I’ve come to learn, are underlined by an immense pain that comes from knowing that so many Palestinians are illegally kept from their homes. I choose to live vicariously through her photographs. What I see is a window into a land forbidden to me — a land that, for years, I’ve only been able to learn about through books.