As the state of photojournalism faces more and more constraints in the Middle East, David Vaaknin explores what it’s like to be a reportage photographer in the Old City of Jerusalem. David has lived in Jerusalem for most of his life, so he’s familiar with navigating the unrest of the city, which serves as a holy ground for Muslims, Christians, and Jews. During his latest assignment from The Washington Post to photograph life around the Damascus Gate, David got a fresh taste of the challenging conditions.
I’ve spent many hours and days photographing in or around the Old City of Jerusalem…it is an integral part of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, so a big portion of my daily work revolves around it.
The Damascus Gate is one of the many great gates that surrounds the Old City of Jerusalem. This gate has seen an increase in violence—mostly in the form of shooting and stabbing attacks committed by Palestinian assailants against Israelis—in the past few months, so The Washington Post asked David to take accompanying photographs for an article about life in the area, following recent attacks. David got to the gate early, wanting to capture the sun as it pierced through the wall and also to take advantage of photographing at a time when there wouldn’t be as many people around. It wasn’t long before his work was interrupted by one of the policemen on guard.
I was standing about 50 feet away from a group of border policeman, who were doing their job, searching for weapons on young Palestinians, mainly men, who fit the profile of recent attackers. After a few minutes, one of the policemen aggressively told me to stop taking pictures of him and his colleagues.
David showed the man his government-issued press card and ID, which made no difference to the policeman, who told David to “not walk around there.” David laments the conditions which have fostered an over-stepping of regulations from Israel’s government and police into the world of the press, which should be a free agent.
The reality on the ground is that the police have a very tense and hard job to perform—in some cases the Palestinians they stop and search carry a knife or even a gun and in many of those cases the police are the ones being targeted in the first place. However, the police are not the ones who should be in charge of deciding what can or cannot be photographed in a public space, it is simply not supposed to be a part of their job description.
David’s assignment faced another obstacle when police detained The Washington Post Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth and reporter, Sufian Taha. Booth and Taha were conducting interviews for the article David was covering. The Israeli government quickly issued an apology for the detainment, saying “Freedom of press is a supreme value in the Israeli democracy,” but the situation resonated with David’s concerns about the increasing infringements on journalists and photojournalists in the area to fully do their work.
David’s photographs of the Damascus Gate area were published in the Washington Post as planned, and the article also extended to include coverage of the reporters’ detainment. David’s colleagues and others have appreciated the view of the gate he was able to provide, which is so different from the view usually presented in the media. The photo of the woman walking past the bullet-ridden door (shown above) is gaining particular attention.
To view more of David’s work, visit dvphotonet.com.