Six Border Policemen and a headless horseman are subduing an East Jerusalem demonstrator in this shot by Shiran Granot, taken on Land Day inside Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. This photograph − rich in detail, packed with information, bursting with energy − is edifying not only for what it shows, but just as much for the way in which violence is perpetuated and documented and normalized, and becomes mere background noise. It’s a photograph in which there is a video camera and another camera with a long lens, in which there are more viewers than participants, and one person who is suffering: blood oozes from his head and a red tomato is visible on the ground behind him.
It is a photograph of motion. Is the policeman in the center of the photograph falling? Or is he perhaps biting the back of the detainee’s head? And what does the policeman on the left − the one standing in front of the sacks of white potatoes − see on the screen of the Sony camera whose strap he has slung across his right shoulder? And the two people who are hastening toward the detainee? One in a faded three-button jacket, the other in a white shirt: they cannot intervene, because they will be arrested too, but they can film. Behind, on the left, a young man with long hair, wearing a green shirt, sunglasses on his forehead, is watching the event. What is he thinking? Does he trust the security forces? And does that reassure him? He cannot intervene, of course.
On the day this photograph was taken, 25,000 people ran in the Tel Aviv marathon, and in the evening the Arab affairs commentator Ehud Yaari said on Channel 2 that he thinks more people took part in the marathon than in the Land Day demonstrations. Land Day passed without casualties to the security forces. There was one fatality in Gaza, dozens inhaled smoke and a youth who was hit by a rubber-coated bullet fell to the ground in Qalandiyah minutes after declaring that he was not afraid of soldiers and started to throw stones.
Well, what did the man in the photo, who went to demonstrate at Damascus Gate on Land Day without requesting a permit, expect? Look, the Border Police are filming, too. They have nothing to hide. You can expect to be pummeled, maybe lose a tooth, bleed, maybe suffer a concussion. And the policemen can go home in the evening. There’s nothing special to tell, another clench, submission, slight bleeding − there’s no choice, right?
This photograph describes the way in which the persistent Israeli violence is documented and absorbed into the reality of its participants until their senses are numbed. Until it looks justified and part of a completely regular cycle, like the winter rains. Border Police in full gear patrol the Old City every day; the cavalry is summoned for special events. There are no demonstrations by residents of East Jerusalem without response and restraining. Maybe from this angle it looks like biting in the back of the neck, a deviation of a kind, very close, but the maneuver is executed flawlessly: encirclement, backup, clench from behind, submission. Everyone is doing his job; there’s nothing to tell the family at home, nothing to think about during the evening shower. It’s all been captured on film. A regular day.
But there is blood on Land Day. Amid the greens and browns the stains of red stand out from afar. They emerge from the body of the shouting bearded man. His mouth is agape like that of Isaac in the painting by the innovative Caravaggio (1602), who showed gaping mouths for the first time. His blood colors the whole photograph, anomalizing what had become a no-different-from-any-other day. Blood must be clear. “If they show me blood and I say blood they will say color,” Amir Gilboa wrote in utter despair. And these days they show blood and say blood.
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