Middle East NU.in

A Visual Narrative of Nationalism and Self Expression

Story and photos by Alex Chang

On a random Sunday afternoon, I told my mother that I wanted to travel to Israel/Palestine. Other than Christianity, I had no connections to the land. No family, no friends, no lineage. And yet something pulled me to spend my first six-month co-op there.

I think that as a first-generation immigrant, activism is inherent. It’s intrinsic, genetic and necessary when you are raised constantly fighting for a mode of self-expression. Being part of a stark minority in my community, the lack of self-assurance in who I was made me stoic as I rationalized that disappearing into passivity was far better than being ostracized. But with passivity comes submission, and with submission comes compliance with abuse. I realized this, and by high school, years of grey conformity exploded in vibrant color, and I couldn’t get enough of expressing myself.

I suppose this is where my activism started, though I was always silently partial to right versus wrong. In terms of the Israel-Palestine conflict, much of my opinions have been crafted by my studies and what I heard on the news. I connected much of the nationalism I felt as a child of Taiwanese immigrants to that of displaced Palestinians, and very quickly I became an outspoken supporter of the movement. However, something still didn’t feel right. Between the contending sides, I had only heard one side of the story, and I realized that this was dangerous. Thus, as I landed at Ben Gurion Airport, I vowed to hear the full story of the conflict to interact with people from both camps with an open mind, and to listen more than I spoke. 

These are posters of martyrs from Asira ash-Shamaliya. Posters like these are often commonplace within Palestinian cities and refugee camps.
Supporters of Ukraine protest of Russian invasion in Donetsk and Luhansk in front of the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv. This was taken on the first day of the 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine.
I worked with the British NGO SkatePal, a non-profit organization supporting skateboard culture throughout Palestine to encourage self-expression in Palestinian youth.
Somehow, I was caught up in the funeral of Rabbi Kanievesky, the largest funeral in Israeli history. Rabbi Kanievsky was a strong authority dictating rulings on legal issues and ethics within Haredi Jewish society. His Halakhic rulings made waves as he issued doctrine regarding terrorist attacks, medical cannabis, and COVID-19.
A Palestinian protester is arrested during Ramadan in front of Damascus Gate. Most of the protestors I witnessed being arrested were between the ages of 12-18.
Israeli riot police stand surrounded amidst Ramadan tensions at Damascus Gate. 
Unintentionally, I was also swept up in the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. An American-Palestinian journalist, her death remains the subject of controversy as evidence implicates Israeli Defense Force involvement in her death. UNESCO recognizes the death of 21 professional journalists in Palestine since 2002, most of which are Palestinian, and whose cases remain unresolved.
The collapsed home of the Al Rajabi family in Silwan, East Jerusalem. Bulldozers are used to implement court-ordered evictions for Palestinian homes that have unauthorized building permits.
On Jerusalem Day, I also found myself in the middle of Zionists parades through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem Old City. In 2021, this annual march ultimately triggered barrages of missiles fired from Gaza into major Israeli cities. Here, Israeli youth confront Israeli police.
Zionists march through the Arab ‘souq’ (market) of Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter.
One of my last trips was to the Palestinian city of Jenin in the West Bank. Pictured here is the Jenin refugee camp, a stronghold for Palestinians involved in attacks on Israel. Strung across the sky are flags of Fatah, the major faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
More posters of martyrs plastered on the walls of the Jenin refugee camp. As I walked through the camp, there was not a single wall without a memorial.

As I am writing this in the middle of Snell, I realize that after six months, I still don’t have an answer. Yes, I set out to look for truth, and yes, I found it. But the reality is that the truth caused me to become more confused. I’ve spoken with disillusioned IDF soldiers, ultra-Zionists, pro-Palestine Orthodox Jews, and war widows from both sides, yet I do not have a clear answer. Perhaps there is no right or wrong in this conflict. But one thing I know for certain is that there is always loss. 

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