Israelis celebrate 47th anniversary of Jerusalem reunification (Photos from Judy Lash Balint)

Judy Lash Balint (photo journalist, blogger and author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times and Jerusalem Diaries II: What’s Really Happening in Israel) observed the following yesterday while covering events to commemorate Yom Yerushalayim:

Thousands of Israelis dressed in blue and white and carrying Israeli flags took to the streets of Jerusalem on May 28, 2014 to celebrate the reunification of the city in the 1967 Six Day War. Parades and prayer services marked the day, while many took the opportunity to take part in walking tours of historic parts of the city.

Here are some of the photos taken by Lash Balint of the day’s festivities, published here with permission.

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You can see additional Jerusalem Day photos by Lash Balint here.

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O Little Near-By Town of Bethlehem: Christmas 2012

The following was published on Dec. 24 at Times of Israel by Judy Lash-Balint

Every Christmas I make the 15-minute drive from my Jerusalem home to Bethlehem for a reality check on the beleaguered town five miles away.

This year, contrary to the customary gloomy reports from the international media, things were bustling in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Bright blue skies and comfortable temperatures help make things more pleasant than in previous years when a cold, grey drizzle dampened spirits.

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Driving up to the Rachel’s Passage checkpoint in my car with Israeli plates, a quick check of my press credentials is all that’s needed to get waved through. Tour buses and private cars get the same summary but courteous treatment by the Israeli soldiers stationed at the checkpoint.

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In Bethlehem on the other side of the security barrier, the most striking thing this year is the massive presence of Palestinian police and other security personnel. Two uniformed men are stationed on every corner, at every intersection, and every 50 yards along the narrow streets leading from the checkpoint to Manger Square. Dozens of police cars, army vehicles, jeeps and assorted other cars with flashing lights are dotted all over town.

Palestine security personnel out in force on the streets of Bethlehem

Palestine security personnel out in force on the streets of Bethlehem

The European and Asian-funded restoration projects in Bethlehem’s old city have mostly now been completed, and Star Street that leads into Manger Square is a lovely pedestrian walkway lined with Ottoman-era buildings.  Flower-lined alleyways; interesting courtyards and steep, winding stairways lead off the street.

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Inside the Church of the Nativity, scene of the 39-day siege by Arab terrorists in April 2002, lines form to get into the crypt. As sunlight pours in through the windows just below the ornate ceiling, tour guides lead their groups around the marble pillars and under the brass lamps adorned with Christmas baubles, while those selling candles do a brisk business among the predominantly Asian pilgrims.

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This year, the center of Manger Square is packed with media and tourists, averting the scene I witnessed back in 2004 when hundreds of Moslems poured out of the mosque at the edge of the square and took over the area directly in front of the Church of the Nativity for midday prayers.

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Another thing missing from previous years—the pictures of Yasser Arafat.  One or two small pictures of Yasser are still to be found on official buildings, but images of current Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are nowhere to be seen, apart from on the window of one cop car.

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And the ubiquitous martyr pictures of recent years?  A few hang forlornly on some shuttered shopfronts, but there are far more posters for upcoming concerts.

We get to Paul VI Street just in time to catch the traditional Palestinian bagpipe parade, where some fifty smartly uniformed musicians march through town squeezing their bagpipes to the accompaniment of several oversize booming drums.

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Mid-afternoon, the local faithful are to be found at prayer in the Santa Caterina church in the grounds of the Church of the Nativity. Several thousand worshipers wait reverently to take part in the ritual as the voices of the choir resonate from the tall arched walls. Apart from a large presence of nuns, almost everyone in the church is Christian Arab. It’s clear from their dress and their bearing that they’re from the dwindling upper strata of Bethlehem society.

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 In the Bethlehem Peace Center that houses the tourist information office in Manger Square, the standard Palestinian propaganda is on display.

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On the way out of town, the Rachel’s Passage checkpoint has closed for some reason and we’re re-routed via picturesque Beit Jalla, a once-friendly village of ancient Christian origin that became the launchpad forArafat’s attacks on Israeli civilians in neighboring Gilo during the second intifada.  Today, Beit Jalla, like Bethlehem, is under Palestine Authority control and the streets are lined with PA security forces.

The road winding down from Beit Jalla to the Ein Yael checkpoint near Jerusalem’s Malcha train station boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in the area and provides time to adjust to re-entry to western Jerusalem, where it’s just another Monday in December.

[All photos © Judy Lash Balint.  All rights reserved]

Faces of the IDF, faces of stereotypes: Countering the Guardian’s crude caricature of Israelis

My friend Judy Lash Balint, who blogs at Jerusalem Diaries, published an essay recently at Times of Israel.  Balint wrote:

The so-called Global March on Jerusalem [GMJ] and the annual Land Day ritual that took place last Friday fizzled to a predictable end. But the non-event did produce yet another series of images that reinforce the world’s perception of Israel as a place of conflict and violence.

I’m an occasional stringer for a photo news site based in the U.K–here’s what the assignment editor sent out to his Israeli contacts on Friday:

Like almost every other news editor, he isn’t interested in seeing Israelis in all their complexity and color, it’s just so much simpler to portray us as tear-gas firing, helmet-wearing, faceless aggressors.

Clearly, the Guardian got the memo. Their photo story on GMJ protests, Israeli police and Palestinians clash during Land Day protests, included this:

The propaganda value of this photo is priceless, and represents quintessentially Guardian caricatures of cruel, sadistic Israelis juxtaposed with innocent Palestinians – devoid of any trace of context.

There were hundreds of Palestinians rioting on Friday, many throwing rocks and firebombs at uniformed Israelis, and the IDF, as they always do, employed non-lethal riot dispersal means to quell the violence in a manner most likely to minimize injury.  This was no small challenge in the context of a broader GMJ movement which clearly wanted to provoke violent confrontations to achieve propaganda victories.

Balint concluded:

So, for the record, here are some faces of Israel and her security forces that may shed a little light on just who we are as we approach Passover 2012.

Here are the photos she took and posted at Times of Israel:

Police on patrol at Jaffa Gate

Posing in Akko…

Consulting with the locals at Qasr al Yahud in the Jordan Valley

Naval cadets in Jerusalem

Border patrol in Jerusalem

Visiting Herodian

Local coordination at Wadi Kelt

IDF Entertainment Group welcoming new olim at Ben Gurion Airport

IDF conquers the Old City

Border patrol on break at Kikar Safra, Jerusalem