Of all the many recently published photographs of the policing and suppression of demonstrations in the territories, this is one of the most disturbing, like a thorn in an animal's paw. It was taken on October 9 by Nasser Shiyoukhi of the Associated Press in the village of Beit Ummar, near the settlement of Karmei Tzur in the Hebron area, during the dispersal of a routine demonstration by Palestinians and foreign activists.
The headlock is the focus of this photograph. Not just the headlock itself but the dominance it represents. And not just the dominance, but the pleasure taken in that dominance as seen in the relationship between the pair in the center of the photograph: the relationship between the tilted head emblazoned with the Hebrew word for "police" and the tongue of the headlocked man, the protrusion of which might be due to choking and might be due to his efforts to free himself. This is a photograph that shows what it means to have a gun put to your head, but also what it means to arrest - with threats and with firearms and in costume - another human being. This is, therefore, a photograph that also speaks about the gratification that comes with dominance.
Eleven men and youths are seen in this photograph, whose composition is masterful, Caravaggesque. In the outer circle stand three soldiers, their rifles hanging down; they are only observing while the special force does the "work." In the second ring are five Border Police officers in ski masks that tell the soldiers not to shoot and also enable them to operate without faces, without leaving a trace, without fear of recognition or of identification. In the third circle lie the Palestinians who have been subdued, close to the ground. And thus the couple in the center - the dominant Border Police officer with the inflated chest in a striped shirt, and his prisoner - become the sun of this universe and its primal, primitive condition, and all the other participants operate around them, each with his role and his clothing, his position in the hierarchy and his colors and his masks and his weapon.
This is a photograph rich in nuance: the dense black hair on the back of the hand gripping the Border Police officer's pistol in the left side of the picture, a white cigarette between the fingers of his other hand. The bright red of the fabric at the waist of the Palestinian who lies under him. The woolliness of the lining of the green coat on the bound man whose legs only are visible at the bottom of the photograph. The mouth, open to speak, of the soldier whose helmet fills the upper-right corner of the photograph. And, of course, the tongue, the protruding tongue of the youth in the headlock in the middle.
Each detail in this photograph tells the story of the time and place in which it was taken. Even the colors seen here are the colors of Palestine. This is a photograph of sweat and adrenaline and fetishism, of violence and fear and addiction and self-persuasion and aggressiveness. At the center is the martyrdom of the demonstrators, the pleasure and the surplus power of the subduers. But don't let the photograph's artistic richness mislead you: Israelis, this is moral bankruptcy.
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