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Why I took 32 photos of my leg

I hurt my leg, so I gave it a treat: a trip to sites across Israel/Palestine that tell of just how fragile the human body is.

The doctor says my leg is fine, but I have doubts. I twisted it playing football (soccer, so be it) last autumn, tore a muscle and feared damage to the knee. I then went on to celebrate a “round” birthday. Forty is fairly young, but facing a new decade with an ache makes one ponder the human body and its weaknesses.

The body feels different here in Israel/Palestine. It is a land where the notion of peril to the flesh is very much omnipresent. I decided to take my leg on the road and photograph it at places that speak of the body’s fragility. An editor on this site recently warned me that my travelogues are turning stranger. So be it. The personal is the political, and nothing is more personal than the body.

There are 32 photos, the number of teeth in an human adult’s mouth, and one that represents the heart in mystical Judaism. They are presented according to a south-north axis. I consciously put together the violent with the accidental, the national with the personal, the Palestinian with the Israeli, etc. Walking through this country, thoughts of peril rise at every turn, free of categories.

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The Arava Highway in Israel’s far south, is notorious for car crashes. I posted this photo on Facebook and a friend instantly messaged: “NEVER sit this way in a car! A friend of mine did that down in the Arava and ended up in a wheelchair.”

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Masada, a site of ancient violence, surrounded by natural dangers: the canyons that cut through the high terrain face hikers with steep cliffs and flash floods.

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A sinkhole swallowed up Route 90 near Kibbutz Ein Gedi. Careless human intervention causes the surface of the Dead Sea to recede dramatically, breeding countless sink holes along the shoreline.

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Hanging at a bus station near Tze’elim Base, in the Negev. In the early 1990s, ten soldiers from an elite IDF unit were killed here in two training accidents.

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This pastoral mural adorns a fortified bus station in the northern Negev. Relatively few Israeli civilians have been hurt by rocket fire from the nearby Gaza Strip, but anxiety in these parts is high.

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The city in the distance is Gaza. This is as close to it as I am allowed to go.

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In one word: Hebron

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My mother lived as a child by this beautiful park in the port town of Ashdod. Her sister Dahlia died here from a rare blood disease at the age of 11.

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If tradition is anything to go by, the hill of Tel Azeka in the Judean lowlands is where David shot a stone into Goliath’s forehead.

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Two settlements in the southern West Bank, including Nokdim, home to Israel’s current Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman. I could tell this region, held under military control, is a troubled one simply from the bullet I found on the ground.

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I may play soccer again, but will certainly never wear red on the eastern bleachers at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium.

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This palm tree stands at the former site of Versailles, a West Jerusalem function hall. One night in 2001, the floor caved in as wedding guests danced in the third floor ballroom. The disaster claimed 23 lives, and over 300 were injured.

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A tunnel in Jerusalem’s Valley of the Cross. A woman I know was sexually assaulted here.

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In drag during Jerusalem Pride, 2016, looking down at the pavement in Rehavia. One year earlier, at this exact spot, an assassin murdered one participant of the march and wounded another five.

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When East Jerusalem combusts, it is often at Damascus Gate.

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I fell off a basketball hoop at this very spot in French Hill back in 1988, breaking my jaw. The original ladder-like design has since been replaced.

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While this project was under way, Israeli soldiers sprayed a Palestinian car on Route 443 in the West Bank with bullets, killing an innocent 15-year-old and wounding his three friends.

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Akko St. in south Tel Aviv is the haunt of the city’s Heroin addicts.

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The sea is a famous killer, and this rocky embankment on Tel Aviv’s shore is a particularly dangerous spot for swimmers.

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The radiation clinic at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital. I used to sit here with my friend Yoram, keeping him company while he underwent treatment.

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One example of Ramat Gan’s building boom. The easiest way to die in this country is to work in construction. Lack of regulation allows contractors to neglect security ordinances. Most victims are either migrant workers or Palestinians.

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In 1997 a clumsily-constructed bridge, put together ahead of the Maccabia (“Jewish Olympics”) fell apart on opening night. The Australian delegation fell into the heavily polluted Yarkon River, and one of its members died after ingesting the water.

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On October 29th, 1956, Israelis soldiers massacred 47 residents of the village of Kafr Qasim. They obeyed an order that could have only been motivated by pure disdain.

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Beit Levinshtein is Israel’s most famed rehabilitation center. Its name is synonymous with coma, as well as with the triumph of recovery.

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My girlfriend Elisha holds my leg up in the old town of Nablus. This market knew horrific days of street combat, especially during the Intifadas.

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Haifa’s petrochemical industries are blamed for high rates of asthma and cancer in the north.

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At a small Catholic graveyard atop Nazareth’s Tremor Hill. Tradition holds that the Virgin Mary stood here, trembling with fear, as the angry townsfolk chased her “heretic” son over an adjacent cliff. Jesus was miraculously lifted into the air and landed safely in the valley below.

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A Syrian tank dropped into the deep canyon of the Banias River back in 1967.

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On the foothills of Mt. Hermon, my leg and I came across a de-mining crew.

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The lion monument at Tel Hai commemorates a 1920 attack on a Zionist farm, often cited as the first episode of the Jewish-Arab conflict. The attack’s best known casualty, Joseph Trumpeldor, was one limb short: he had lost an arm fighting for Russia in 1905.

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Looking into Syria proper from the Golan Heights. While taking the photo, I heard explosions and saw smoke billowing in the distance. The region pictured has known nearly four years of ceaseless warfare.

Soon after taking the last photo of this rendition of the walking blues, I was stung by a spider, reminding me that I had left our flora and fauna out of the story. This country is rich in snakes, scorpions and poisonous plants, but its challenging realities are essentially the work of man. It is a human land.

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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Illustrations: Eran Mendel