I took these photos over a 2 month period in the Middle East, during the spring of 2014. Against the advice of friends and family, as well as my own government, I travelled Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Egypt. Not quite an all inclusive in Cancun, this was more of an all inclusive in political and cultural schooling. Turkey was having their general elections, and it seemed like every corner I turned had another massive protest or rally consuming the streets. I took up smoking with dedication, and played backgammon everyday with my friend Mouhammed, a Syrian refugee from Homs. His entire city had been bombed to rubble, and he had been waiting on the proper visas for over a year to go to Germany to live and finish his medical studies. Egypt was still under a military coup which was sentencing hundreds of its opposition members to death everyday. One minute I witnessed a man being beaten (by what I assumed were government cronies), the next I was in the depths of a boat on the Nile surrounded by plus-sized, barely clothed women belly dancing while men smoked endless cigarettes and flung fake money all over the place. In Palestine I ran a half marathon in Bethlehem in the morning, and ran from Israeli tear gas in the occupied town of Bil’in in the afternoon. I met a Palestinian photographer named Rani Abdel Fatah, who was shot through the neck by an Israeli sniper during the second Palestinian Intifada. The bullet had fractured his spine and exited his body in multiple places, leaving him with severe nerve damage and disabled from the waist down. Despite this handicap, every Friday he would join the people in his town to protest the illegal Israeli settlement built on Palestinian land. With a gas mask strapped to his face he would navigate his motorized wheelchair through the smoke of Israeli tear gas, photographing the battles between his friends and the IDF. In Beirut, Lebanon I partied with proud gay Arab friends in clubs made from old bomb shelters. The histories of places such as Tyre and Baalbek amazed me, as I read the pages of Robert Fisk’s book, The Great War for Civilization, and thought about his work during the complex times in this beautiful country.
When I returned home I caught up with the western media, and reports on areas I had just visited. It was saddening to see the narrow view that most of us place on areas that we don’t know much about, and have never been to. Im certainly no historian or expert on any of this, but even from what I saw and the people I met, I learned more in two months on the ground then I would have from years of tainted news reporting. I learned that people are people, anywhere in the world, and aren’t really that different. We are all trying to find a way through our days, and be happy with our families and friends. Governments, more time than not, have a vested interest in keeping their civilian population under their control. Governments rarely do what it takes to ensure the well being of their most downtrodden citizens, instead choosing to appease other agendas for their own interest. I suppose being in a position of extreme poverty, and having nowhere to turn for help, can make people do things that us in the western world fundamentally don’t understand, and therefore criticize. How can we, who find fault and stress in every little inconvenience, from cell phone service to rush hour traffic, even begin to comprehend the thoughts of the poverty stricken in third world countries? Do we know what processes went into play in order for a man to justify bombing an embassy of a country that has invaded his homeland illegally and claimed rights to it? What is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? Why is a rich powerful nation, in the name of spreading democracy, granted the self-righteous authority to bomb anyone they choose, and when the retaliation comes we are all left unable to understand why they don’t wish to be “liberated” in the first place? What is justice? Who is the judge? Does it even matter so long as it happens over there and not on my doorstep? Most are content to watch their FOX news at night, then deliver their sermon on Facebook, and feel that their social duties have been contributed. However, ignorance does not exempt complicity. For some to live the high life, others must live the low. Think for yourself, question authority. Travel and find the answers for yourself. This world is not all shit that you see on the news.