Letters from Noa Ben-Shalom
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.
Jerusalem Day, 2004.
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 café 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 called 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 immediately decided to try and get some photos to sell later.
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 of 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 kaffiyeh 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 by the police, 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 bodies – no story.
Kiryat Shmona, 2003.
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.
Hush – Israel Palestine 2000-2014 is the eleventh book to be published by Sternthal Books. It includes over 250 photographs and a collection of personal letters by Noa Ben-Shalom. The book was designed by Noa Segal, and exists in a limited edition of 500 Copies. To order a copy of ‘Hush’ from our online shop click here.
A short film about’Hush’.