Demonstrations, Ofer military prison - Bernat Armangue - October 2011
Demonstration against worsening conditions for Palestinian prisoners, outside Ofer military prison, October 11, 2011. Photo by Bernat Armangue
Text size

Every photograph of people flying through the air stirs thoughts about suspension and circus, virtuosity and momentum, the limits of physical ability and sheer astonishment. But in photographs of stone throwers, something else is always at work, something regrettable and hopeless, as though the same youngster is present in them all. In this Chagall-esque image, taken on October 11 by AP's Bernat Armangue at a demonstration of support for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Ofer military prison, near Ramallah, there are five people hurtling through the air.

It is a spectacular shot which captures the energy of these young people, their rage, their determination and power, and also the stupidity and blindness with which they are throwing stones at a prison facility, at soldiers and at the world. And the more dramatic, athletic and impassioned it is - and shot in a way that makes it impossible to see the result - the more abstract it becomes. And the more aesthetic.

In this photograph, Armangue deconstructs the fixed image of the stone thrower, distills it and simultaneously perpetuates the ceremoniousness of the demonstration and the fact that it is trapped within its own happening. This is purposeless violence, dead-end frustration, action with cold weapons, which endangers the lives both of those who are on the receiving end and, following an armed response, the perpetrators themselves.

The duplication of the same action is visible in the two stone throwers whose feet are on the ground - the one in the kaffiyeh in front and the one behind him - as replicas of each other, like cardboard cutouts at a movie theater. They are standing in the same posture, at the same angle, in the same jeans and the same black jersey.

And then the flyers burst in, on the right. The first one, who stands out, is cruising at an incredible height, partly due to the illusion of the camera angle, as though doing a long-distance jump. His knee joint is swollen and his strained face looks upward, following the trajectory of the stone he has hurled. The second flyer is represented only by the side of his white shoe, adorned with black stitches. The third is running counter to the movement, a yellow shirt around his neck. The secret flyers are in the back, next to the pillar of the huge iron structure, caught while running.

A few hours after this demonstration was photographed outside Ofer, where most of the prisoners are administrative detainees - people held without trial - it was officially announced that a deal had been struck in Cairo: Gilad Shalit will be released and on the other side 1,027 prisoners will be freed. But the demonstrators here don't know this. In any event, Hamas prisoners did not take part in the hunger strike the demonstrators are supporting and which was not immediately stopped.

After Shalit's return from captivity, more than 4,000 security prisoners will remain in Israeli hands, and Ofer - which digests those who enter day after day - will remain firmly intact. So that these young people are without hope. But the Shalit deal need not necessarily lead to the logic of holding on to "bargaining chips." Indeed, long-term logic obliges release and relief, improved conditions and even an agreement for the general release of those who are not murderers. There is no need to wait for an abduction.