Farms of Camp Aqabat Jaber

Hello friend,

Camp Aqabat Jaber is a refugee camp located just outside of Jericho City. It sits beside a group of mountains and across from Jordan, near the Dead Sea. Camp Aqabat Jaber appears to be a farming community. There are farms located on both sides of the camp, where they produce most of their crops. On the side closest to the checkpoint, there is a cattle farm. Many donkeys, camels, goats, and horses graze in this part of Camp Aqabat Jaber.

I have spent about one month consistently visiting Jericho, always coming back to this part of town. I am drawn to the people that live there as well as the landscape. The color of the mountains and the deep blue sky along dirt paths under the scorching sun of the Judaen Desert provide a surreal experience for me. The way people interact with the landscape of Camp Aqabat Jaber is what I wish to photograph. They use their land as a resource to build their own community with the help of the residents living there. There are a few small stores and places to by cold food and groceries in the center of Camp Aqabat Jaber. Many people hangout at barber shops or local community centers to play pool, drink coffee, and smoke hookah. The simple life the people live interests me. I have always grown up in the city so being around farmland provided a change of pace. 

One day I headed towards the outskirts of town, stumbling across a cucumber farm. There was a big pile of trash burning alongside the dirt path leading to the farm. A boy suddenly popped his head from behind some of the crops that were growing in the cucumber farm and waved to me. He started to walk my way when suddenly a group of boys also rise from behind the crops, accompanied by a donkey. He decided to help me onto the donkey, giving me a short ride around the farm.

My friend Matt (@Matt_Wong) captured a nice picture of me interacting with the boys at this scene. I put my hands up and had them throw some fists at me like I used to play as a kid. There is something about the youth within the areas I photograph that always keeps me interested. I suppose I channel my inner experiences of boyhood through my work. It has always been a returning theme in a lot of my pictures. I definitely will try my best to photograph all ages and genders, but the youth always seems to be the most alive from my point of view. 

Photography is the one thing that allows me to be myself and do things the way I want to. I rarely take a picture nowadays where I am not interacting with the scene. I am engaged with the people that are with me, learning about them and the place they live in. Through interacting with strangers, I learn about the world from an entirely different perspective. It provides a different experience rather than reading about how a place is in a textbook. This drive to experience life from an outsider’s perspective keeps me entertained and gives my life purpose. Taking pictures is my way of having fun. 

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Palestinian Hospitality

Hello friend,

The hospitality I have experienced in Palestinian Refugee Camps has been incredible. Most people are extremely welcoming and always insist that you come into their home and enjoy some tea, coffee, or lunch. At many of the stores I enter in Camp Shu’fat, I am even given snacks and drinks for free. This weekend, I visited Camp Aida near Bethlehem. A few young boys began to take me around, showing me their farms and the different things that they grow. We picked some fruit that I have never seen before from the trees and ate them as we walked. They told me there is a lady that owns a ton of dogs on the side of the road near the farm. I approached the house and was greeted by a welcoming old lady. She invited me inside her cozy home that was beautifully decorated with religious images of Jesus and Christian figures. She told me that she loves dogs more than human beings. "They are loyal, affectionate, and very loving," she said. The lady had about 8 or 9 dogs inside her home. I played with them and kept her company as she waited for her friend to take her to the church. When I left, I told her that I will pray for her and her dogs. She then left for church and prayed for me that night.

I was invited into the local Mosque to pray in Camp Aqabat Jaber, which you can see in the picture below. I was pleasantly surprised that they did not mind that I was taking pictures. Not knowing what to do, I followed everybody around me and bowed my head to the ground and prayed with them. I found the experience very peaceful. It was something I felt I needed to do because I will be spending so much time in these communities. 

I met a man named Fadi in Camp Aqabat Jaber that introduced me to the Jahlin family. The Jahlin family invited me to their home where they were constructing a new floor on the roof of their house. I watched as they used copper wire to create the foundation for the walls that they will use for the new room. After about 30 minutes of building, we enjoyed a big lunch with meat, potatoes, rice, and bread. 

Once we fueled up, they drove me to the highest mountain near Camp Aqabat Jaber. It was very steep, so they had to get out of the car and push it up the mountain at some points like the one in the picture below. We arrived at the top of the mountain where they built a fire on the edge of the cliff and made some tea. I am still searching for the herbs and specific ingredients they use in the tea because it is so damn good. 

We danced and sang, overlooking all of Camp Aqabat Jaber, the Dead Sea, and the even the country Jordan. The entire experience was one of the most memorable things I have done here so far. You can find a video of the men dancing below. 

The next day I found myself walking along the outskirts of Camp Aqabat Jaber near the farm. A group of men were taking a rest from building a new home for their family on the side of the rode. They invited me inside to drink some tea while they relax. We sat on the dirt floor inside as it was still in the early stages of construction. I became interested in the frame of the window inside the house and made the photograph below. 

The two young men in the photo below belong to the first family that invited me into their home in Camp Aqabat Jaber. They brought me into a couple of their neighbor's homes. In this picture, we are actually in their grandmother's house. 

Overall, I have been having more positive experiences here than negative. I wanted to make this post to give you a better understanding of some of the more intimate moments that I have experienced here. If you want to find me everywhere else online, check out the links below.

The Dangers of Documentary Photography

Hello friend,

I want to discuss a few things that happened this weekend while photographing in Camp Aida in Bethlehem and Camp Shu’fat in Jerusalem. I believe it is important for me to share my experiences with you. My goal of this project has never been to display Palestinian life in a negative way, but unfortunately there is not much peace in the communities that I explore. I want to spread nothing but love, but this is the reality of the situation. I hope these stories can inform you and help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. 

On Friday, March 24, I travelled to Camp Aida with my friend Matt (@Matt_Wong) who is in the photo below. We were warmly greeted by a nice family on the camp and they made us lunch. They even offered us to sleep in her neighbor’s home as they were out of town. We decided that we would stay the night, so we continued shooting there throughout the day. Before the sun began to set, we headed to the wall dividing Israel and the West Bank. While taking some pictures, a group of teenagers approached us. 

One of them pulled out a knife and put it up to Matt’s body. We remained calm, but he came up to me with the knife next. I told his friend to take the knife away from him, as we are just students working on a project and pose no threat. They disarmed the boy, but he then picked up a cracked lightbulb and attempted to approach us with the sharp object as well. His friends diffused the situation and Matt and I walked away. A rock came flying our way as we left, alluding to my next story. We feel very lucky that it was just a young boy with the knife and not somebody our size. 

The next day, we decided to go to Camp Shu’fat. While photographing by the wall of the camp, we were under attack once again. We walked along the wall with two young boys that were showing us their favorite places in Shu’fat. The wall is located at the lowest point in the camp and is surrounded by steep hills on all sides. A huge rock came flying from the top of the hill, landing close to Matt. I was turned the other way, taking the photograph you see below. Just a few seconds later, an even bigger rock is launched our way, slamming the back of my leg behind my knee. 

We notified a local adult that was nearby, pointing towards the threatening person on the hill. Matt and I climbed the hill towards the young man and attempted to make peace. I wanted to give him and handshake and explain to the best of my ability that we are peaceful and mean no harm. Unfortunately, he refused to give me a handshake and we went our separate ways. My leg does hurt quite a bit as the rock was very big and it was coming from a steep hill at a high velocity. Again, we are lucky. If the rock had hit me anywhere else, I would be a lot more injured right now. I am currently resting the day after the incident and hope my leg feels better soon so I may continue to shoot. 

I completely understand why locals would feel threatened by strangers from America and Canada entering their communities with cameras. The Palestinian people cannot trust anybody. It is a tough situation that they are living in. They have been going through decades of conflict. I watched a dog die yesterday before I was attacked with the rock. A young boy opened the door of an abandoned car, pulling out the dying dog. He tied a rope around it’s neck and proceeded to drag it along the path near the wall in Shu’fat. It could barely stand and would not move at all. The dog laid there on the side of the dirt road, surrounded by garbage, and died before our eyes. I never had any emotional attachment to animals, but this was quite a sad site. Here is a photo that I made moments before it’s death:

I uploaded raw footage of the events so that you can get an understanding of what kinds of situations you may get into as a documentary photographer. Danger is definitely a part of the job and I accept the risk I need to take while photographing. It was just unfortunate that I had to experience so much hostility in one weekend. Many people I meet here are extremely hospitable and welcoming, but the youth are definitely more violent than anybody else. I will use these situations to better my awareness and to understand how to react in life threatening encounters. 

My hope is that this video can inform you while you are out photographing. If you ever have to experience something like this, just remain calm, do not come cross as angry, and always try your best to make a peaceful resolve. I would appreciate some discussion in the comment section of the video and will answer questions if you have any. Stay shooting, spread peace, and love one another. If you would like to watch the video I made of these events, click the link below: