Letters From Noa Ben Shalom
Noa Ben Shalom
  • Dear Robin

    October 2012

    Dear Robin,

    I think I can relate to practically every word you write. I force myself to work, and besides that there are, of course, my lessons in Hungarian with Esther the teacher, for my application for a Hungarian passport. I’m reading a book about Communists in Hungary during World War 2. The author, Sándor Márai, writes of how he became indifferent: “I realized I had become indifferent to everything. Indifference is a dangerous thing. It is immoral and a contradiction to life. Until then, I had never been indifferent. I lived one thing or another, in my own way, but I had never known indifference.

    I looked at myself and then looked around, and was amazed at what had happened to me. Only later did I realize: I had become indifferent because I was constantly surrounded by evil, stupidity, and injustice”.I read that and thought about life here, about the people surrounding me, and about myself. I thought about how we are affected by the evil, the stupidity and the injustice surrounding us, and how, if at all, I can protect myself from them.

    Noa

  • Dear Iyad

    September 2002

    Dear Iyad,

    I was on the way to Prizma Photography. A Border Police jeep’s shrill horn pierces the air. Zion Square makes me nervous. The jeep is on its way to the Russian Compound. Inside the jeep, on the left, are two border policemen. On the right, one border policewoman, and one young Arab with the crap beat out of him, full of blood, trying to wipe it off. I stand there petrified, unable to take my eyes off him. I can’t do anything else. I escape to my darkroom at home on Narkis St. to develop my prints with the shutters closed, and the red light reflecting in the developing solution.

    If we walk down the street one day, you and I… forget it, we won’t walk anywhere. I always preferred driving over walking. You do too, right?

    Noa

     

    December 2003, Paris

    Dear Iyad,

    I remember the day we spoke and I told you I couldn’t take it anymore, that I needed to leave the country for just a little while. Back then I was saddened by every little thing I saw; residents of Eastern Jerusalem stopped for checks on the street, soldiers. Security guards eating was one of the things that used to especially upset me; they would sit like ducks in a shooting range, on their bar stools at the entries to malls or restaurants. Exposed, they would eat their falafel out of a torn pita bread, tehini dripping all over.

    On the other hand, I like going to the post office. The solidarity of the line, where Orthodox Jews, the elderly, Palestinians, office clerks and I, all wait patiently, making polite conversation about who is next in line. In Jerusalem I developed a tolerance that was never part of me. Because of my fatigue, my sadness, and primarily my inability to take it in anymore, I withdrew into my airy apartment on Narkis St. and tried to visit the post office frequently.

    I’ll be back soon, will you come help me pack up the Narkis flat? I’ll move to Jaffa, where you can see horses bathing in the ocean, which may be slightly out of the ordinary, but to me seems the sanest thing there is.

    Noa

     

    August 2006

    Dear Iyad,

    What’s up? I’ve been trying to reach you for several days, and Maisa answers:

    Min?

    Noa.

    Min Noa?

    In any case, I’ll try again. My sister saw you on TV, and Uri, whom I told you about, has been drafted. I feel nauseous. Within seconds, it hits me in the tackiest way – the soldier going off to war. He called to tell me that the draft notice came, and I immediately drove to him. He received it by phone.

    A computerized voicemail message telling you when and where to be , you confirm you’re going to war by hitting the star or pound key. I gave him a Dan Haschan vintage postcard on which there is a photo of Begin and Saadat laughing and shaking hands – it’s a collector’s item, very dear to me – and made him swear to bring it back in the end. We sat in the kitchen, he, Boaz, and I. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing. One of Boaz’s girlfriend’s friends had also been drafted, and they would go off to war together.

    Call me,

    Noa

     

    August 2006

    Iyad,

    Your surprise visit overwhelmed me with a billion stories and emotions that I wanted to tell you during the war. I was worried about Uri. He was worried about the children of Riada and Layla, the two Lebanese women who work at his mother’s hotel in Metula. Layla was the one who packed his uniform. He said that her children had stayed in Lebanon, in a village only one kilometer away from Metula, and he was there in the village with the tank, and saw nobody. They were hiding in the basement beneath the house. Hiding from the IDF’s shells as Lebanese, and hiding from the Hizbullah as sympathizers with the former Southern Lebanese Army. We visited him with his tanks. It made me sad.

    I hope we will go out for a drink soon. Now that it’s over.

    Noa

  • Dear Aya and Ronit

    June 2002

    Dear Aya and Ronit,

    Uri’s cat Mitzi is lost. We wandered through the streets of Florentin the entire afternoon, whistling, holding out cream and cans of tuna. When we finally gave up and stopped at the cafe near the apartment, she suddenly appeared – Mitzi came home. I said goodbye to Uri and got in the car. I took a left using the shortcut Uri taught me, onto Kibbutz Galuyot St., and suddenly boom! There was a sound of an explosion. Uri calls urgently: “come back”. I made a u-turn, and fifty meters away was a car bomb that had exploded. I was the first photographer on the scene, and at that very moment I decided I would get out of the car to take pictures and try to sell them.

    The car had exploded at the entrance to a club on Kibbutz Galuyot. Thanks to the security guard who had seen it racing towards the club, nobody had been killed. Ambulances and police were there in 40 seconds. It looked like they had all been waiting in the alleys around the club and just came out. At once the stretchers were out, the area was almost sealed off, and the crowd, myself included, was sent away, for fear there would be another explosion. And scattered in the back seat of my car, which I had left not ten meters away from the car bomb, were a keffiyeh and photos of Palestinians.

    From that moment on, the wait was long and tiresome. All the photographers and journalists tried in vain to get closer. After a few rounds with the Channel 2 crew, we were allowed to move a bit closer. Then I discovered my car, which had been broken into, both windows smashed, my bag and its contents scattered across the road.

    Even beforehand, I had just wanted to run away, but now, forced to remain on the scene, I had really had enough. I was stuck there until five AM, waiting for the property tax clerks to arrive and for someone to let me move the car. I ended up not selling any photos: no corpses – no story.

    Noa

     

    June 2002

    Hello my dears,

    I’m soon going to the Property Tax offices. I’m all right, even happy. Uri’s sister is getting married this Thursday. Yael Segal and I will shoot the wedding, which will be at Tel Hai. It’s a bitdepressing to think of a wedding at Tel Hai, what with Trumpeldor and all that. At first I looked forward to it, I said: “you know, I’m in the mood for a wedding.” Uri didn’t really understand why I was so happy. Then I remembered: his father was very sick. They had already prepared a room with an oxygen tank for him to rest – it was sad.

    Soon I’ll have a drink with Hadassah at Diwan, “it seems like just a good summer eve” and Jerusalem is pleasant. I recall Manfred Herbst from S.Y Agnon’s Shira on his way from Talpiyot to the city center: “…that particular day was hot and hamsin-like, a day when the good Lord remembered his land unfavorably. The sky was yellow, gray, and dusty; the earth was gritty and hard. In between, the air was yellow and gritty, searing one’s eyes, scratching one’s skin, drying one’s mouth and lips. Throats and palates became irritated, as if they had been sprinkled by salty sand. There was no wind. The sun peered down with ugly eyes.”

    Noa

     

    March 2003

    Dear Aya and Ronit,

    Today our friends came to Jerusalem so that I would give them and the Australian a tour of the Old City. They wanted to see the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Australian was impressed. My friends seemed bored and mostly hungry. I was happy to practice my Arabic. I took them all for lunch at Old Philadelphia – I remembered the way and the manager remembered me. As they all ate, I discussed the situation with him.

    He told me he had been to Baghdad, yes, the Baghdad under attack, three weeks before. In the meantime, on the TV which sat on a side table: ‘Dramatic Developments’. Baghdad would soon be in ‘our hands’, it would soon be over. Actually it would soon begin. Our correspondent goes on air. He knows nothing. A large square. He’s told that they are several blocks away. But several blocks away, he reports anxiously, a news crew was kidnapped. He’s very scared. And then it happened. That same image we saw throughout the entire war, the statue, the mosque, a few palm trees, the large square filling with American tanks. A liberated mass goes to bring down and strike the statue of “Stupid Saddam” with their sandals. At Sky News they like to bring in Iraqi expatriates for commentary. The anchor lady consults with the expatriate on the custom of hitting something with shoes: “it’s a major insult in the Arab world, wouldn’t you agree?” she asks. “It’s a huge insult in the Arab world,” the Iraqi expatriate agrees.

    The restaurant manager says that his brother’s wife’s mother is from there. He said that when he visited, it was not really possible to talk about Saddam. It was dangerous, the Secret Police were everywhere. He said they took all her children, including a 16 year old boy, forcefully, to fight the coalition forces. The brother’s wife’s mother, she lives right where the bombs fell, they talked to her and she’s all right, except for the children whom she was looking for. A terrible story.

    Noa

  • Dear Daniel

    November 2002

    Dear Daniel,

    I’ve decided not to photograph suicide bomb attacks. I can hear them from my house. The news penetrates my four walls through the balcony; I don’t need a beeper to inform me. I can see the photographers sitting at cafes in the city center, waiting for a bomb. I don’t want to wait for it. Not outside, and certainly not at home.

    Noa

     

    March 2003

    My darling,

    The odds of missiles falling here are low. Today I didn’t watch any war. The standard routine of live broadcasts is: split-screen to three: the White House briefing, a camera from Baghdad broadcasting green night-vision images, and clips of air raids – grey grainy footage, a crosshair in the middle of the screen, nothing is happening until suddenly the picture seems to burn completely. On the crackling radio, the pilots report a successful hit. Hours upon hours of tracking bullets and bombs falling on green and grey screens. A live audiovisual spectacle.

    Noa

  • Dear Uri

    May 2010

    Hi Uri,

    This week I was at Mount Herzl. I saw a group of Arab men, mixing concrete. I thought to myself, are they building out graves as well? I went over to find out. Turns out, they’re former Southern Lebanon Army proponents. They escaped after the Israeli withdrawal, and now they work for the Ministry of Defense in a unit that builds military graves in all Israeli cemeteries.

    Would you believe it?

    Noa

     

    December 2012

    Sweetie,

    How do you say “conflict” in Hungarian?

    The answer is below 🙂

    Noa

    *conflictush

  • Dear Esther

    November 2013

    Dear Esther,

    As you can see in the enclosed photograph, I have received my Hungarian citizenship, and tomorrow I’m going to get my passport! Like most ceremonies of its kind, the citizenship ceremony was completely idiotic. In any case, I’m really happy and you have a large part in it! Now I just have to understand what am I do with my European citizenship? To start, I will walk by the red signs forbidding Israelis into the A area of the Palestinian Authority, waving my red European passport. After that? We’ll see.

    Noa

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Sternthal Books is an art book publishing company which uses print, motion, and digital media to examine current global issues from an artistic perspective. Through our experience, we shepherd our clients and collaborators through the various stages through which an idea is transformed into a finished product. We believe that art provides all people with the power to express ourselves, transform our surroundings, and make the world a better place. If you are an artist, gallery, or museum interested in publishing, please get in touch at contact@sternthalbooks.com, and for a more detailed list of available services scroll below.

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