Jerusalem photo galleries
by photographer Eitan Simanor

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here is a selection of galleries showing some of my works and projects in Jerusalem

An ultra-orthodox Jewish family

In 1988, during the week long sukkot Jewish festival, I met for the first time with Arie and two of his sons, Yosef Haim (8) and hilel (5) at the Western wall. I was taking pictures, we got to talk and became friends. from then on, I visited them regularly in their home and decided to photograph them as a way of documenting their family and community life.

 

Arie and his wife Galit came from a secular background, they had married and lived a totally secular life in Holon, a populous suburb of Tel Aviv. A few years before I met them they decided together to come back to the Jewish faith. They moved to Jerusalem and joined the "Shuvu Banim" community, a subsect of the Bratslav Hasidic dynasty. Eliezer Berland was the rather dubious and controversial religious leader of the "Shuvu Banim" community and already back then, many of Berland's followers had burnished reputation for lawlessness and violence.

 

Arie and Galit already had 6 children when I first met them. The family was living in accordance to the strict rules of Hasidic Judaism, yet the "Shuvu Banim" community was not part of the Hasidic mainstream communities in Jerusalem. In many ways, they were being marginalized. One reason was that the vast majority of its members had come back to the faith, born and raised in secular Israel. This is why I could visit them in their home. Unfortunately, after some months, Berland's closest followers became suspicious of me and I was "advised" in a rather unfriendly way to "keep my distance"...

Here is a series of photographs from the period during which I could freely visit Arie and Galit. I decided to try and focus on 5 years old Hilel, one of their sons, who was just about to join the community's education system.

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an ultra-orthodox Jewish family

 

snow in jerusalem

this series illustrate recent winters during which significant amounts of snow blanketed Jerusalem

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snow in jerusalem

 

Jaffa Street in Jerusalem

During the 150 years of its existence, Jaffa Street has served as a main artery, running across Jerusalem from East to West. Traffic originally consisted of camels and mules before vehicles of all types gradually took over, and Jaffa Street—in the heart of the city—became  clogged with heavy traffic. The municipality ended up by launching an ambitious development plan transforming Jaffa Street and its neighboring streets into a pedestrian area accessible by light train.

In 1990 the project for a light train network was actually laid out. Construction lasted forever, costs rose sky-high and its opening was postponed four times. In despair, Jerusalemites adopted a caustic play-on-words for this rather elusive means of transport and its interminable construction, referring to it as “Rakevet Hatakala” instead of “Rakevet Hakala”, Hebrew for “train of failure” instead of “light train”.

At the end of 2011 Jaffa Street finally came back to life and the project is now considered a real success. Like many other Jerusalemites I have now accepted the presence of the light train.

In this series I try to find out if Jaffa Street has been restored to its previous glory in the heart of the city and in the hearts of Jerusalemites, despite the serious concession to modernity the train has imposed on a city almost five thousand years old.

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Jaffa Street - Jerusalem

 

street view

This series focuses on the human activity, at street level, along the narrow lanes of Jerusalem Old City. My aim is simply to observe the feverish daily buzz in the streets of the Old City in an attempt to decipher the fascinating groundswell that sweeps this tiny microcosm. 

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street view

 

Annual marches through the streets of jerusalem

Jerusalem hosts annual street marches, some are fun, others are more political, all have an agenda.

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Annual street marches

 
 

Jewish festivals

this series focuses on the different annual Jewish festivals in the streets and shrines in Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, the Jewish quarter in the Old City, the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods and some private places.

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Jewish festivals

Christians in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a holy city for Christianity. Yet only some 16,000 Christians live in Jerusalem, 12,600 of them are local Arab Christians. Moreover, only 9% of Israel’s Arab Christian population lives in Jerusalem. The city with the largest Arab Christian population is Nazareth, Haifa comes second, Jerusalem is only third.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 posed a “complex theological challenge” to the churches and the Christian world: how should the Christian world refer to the Jewish people’s success in establishing a sustainable Jewish state in the Holy Land, in light of the traditional Christian conception that the Jewish people was sentenced to punishment by exile and constant humiliation?

 

The Six-Day War and its surprising conquests of Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, home to most of Christianity’s holy places, served to further heighten the fears of the local Christian communities and churches and also among international Christian elements.

For the first time ever, the holy places of Christianity were under the control of a state that Christians identified with Judaism, the defeated religion that birthed Christianity, the "victorious religion".

Israel, the state of the Jewish people, which for centuries was a minority dependent on the good graces of Christian and Muslim rulers, found itself in the role of "Caesar", expected to deal with the affairs of local Christian communities, with international Christian bodies, holy sites and the vast Church property that remained within the boundaries of the young state.

Through this series my aim is to discover and learn the different Christian communities from the different denominations present and active in Jerusalem, mainly those who share the rights in the church of the Holy Sepulcher, namely the Orthodox and the Catholics, the Armenians, the Copts, the Ethiopians and the Syriacs. Local Arab Christians, Pilgrims and casual Christian visitors are also in the focus.

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Christians in jerusalem

 

Franciscan and Armenian procession in the Holy Sepulcher

“Things, as they have been running until today, shall remain as at present, pending a final agreement.” This was the declaration made in 1852 that established what was to be known as the Status Quo. It is a document with a list of "temporary" rules that regulates the Christian holy sites shared by several Christian communities in the Holy Land.

 

In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Status Quo governs the organization of the space in the minute details: the divide of spaces, the ownership, cleaning rights, candles and bulbs that can only be lit by their owners...

 

but above all the status quo establishes a precise schedule of the rights and hours of worship, a schedule that needs to be strictly observed so as to avoid disturbing the hours of worship for the other communities.

One of the best ways to witness this in "real time" is to attend the daily Franciscan procession in the church of the Holy Sepulcher, commemorating key events of the passion, the death and the resurrection of the Christ , shortly followed by a similar procession by the Armenian community, taking place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. This series closely follows both processions.

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Franciscan and Armenian procession in the Holy Sepulcher

 
 

urban stress

The Old City of Jerusalem is under stress: enclosed behind its ancient walls, it suffers from overpopulation, an influx of tourism, aging infrastructures, and the narrowness and steepness of the alleyways that pass for streets.

 

Large quantities of solid waste accumulate daily at street corners, while hordes of street sweepers crisscross the Old City and small tractors tow away towering heaps of rubbish. Add to this militant graffiti seeking public exposure, and your conclusion must be that the urban landscape of the Old City is being reshaped daily by chronic disorder.

This issue is not specific to Jerusalem, but in such a cramped and tense urban environment the effect is exacerbated. Focusing on this aspect of the Old City of Jerusalem offers a perspective far removed from the perception most people have of this iconic destination.

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urban stress

 
 

urban spaces

Until the 1860's, all Jerusalem residents lived within the walls of the Old City. 

 

Jerusalem's population increased drastically in the first half of the 19th century. As a result, new housing projects spilled outside the walls, first next to the City Walls, gradually expanding way beyond.

Since the end of the war of independence in 1949 much efforts by the Israeli authorities and by Jewish/Zionist institutions across the world have helped transform Jerusalem into what it is today: a city of nearly one million and the largest city in Israel, in terms of jurisdictional area, with 126 sq.km, compared with Tel Aviv, which has only 52 sq.km.

In terms of religious identification, countrywide the religious are 24% of the population, while they make up 31% of the population in Jerusalem. the ultra-orthodox, who are 10% of the Jewish population of Israel overall, form 35% of the city’s Jewish population. This is probably directly linked with the fact that Jerusalem is a holy city.

Yet Jerusalem is trying to develop as a "normal" city with its urban projects, its popular and fancy neighborhoods, its sprawling suburbs, its road and public transport networks, its public parks and gardens, its cultural institutions and street art…

In this series I reflect leisurely at what all this means for me, as Jerusalemite.

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urban spaces

Project Mamilla

"Project Mamilla" is a 10 hectares ambitious urban development including luxury housing, hotels and offices as well as huge underground parking lots and a tourist promenade combined with a shopping mall leading to the Old City through a steep fly of 22 stairs.

Most buildings from the original Mamilla neighborhood have been destroyed, giving way to massive modern structures with neo-archaic arches as the main design feature. A couple of historical warehouses have been dismantled and put back together in different locations, as part of the project, allowing the entrepreneurs to claim a large conservation effort as part of this rather gigantic project.

"A unique project overlooking the Old City" was the advertising slogan for the project, situated near Jaffa gate, on what used to be the seam line between West and East Jerusalem (from 1949 till 1967). Yet for a glimpse of the Old City walls from Mamilla shopping mall one would have to stand on the very edge of a top terrace...

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Project Mamilla

 

Jerusalem duality

This series focuses on a simple observation which every visitor to Jerusalem is bound to make: the city of Jerusalem is torn between its complex and controversial political status on the one hand and its sanctity as a fully recognized holy city on the other hand.

It is argued that the only "raison d'être" for the city of Jerusalem is its holiness. Was it not be for the sanctity, would Jerusalem have raised as a city in the first place, let alone reached such prestige?

Jerusalem is considered a Holy City for all 3 Abrahamic religions. According to holy books and traditions, some of the fundamental events for each of the three monotheistic religions have taken place in Jerusalem, involving the most prominent figures of the three religions. The holiest shrines for Judaism and Christianity are found in Jerusalem. For Sunni Islam, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. 12% of the 1 km2 superficies of the overcrowded Old City of Jerusalem is occupied by shrines and sanctuaries!

Yet, for a large part of its history, Jerusalem was no more than a backwater provincial town ruled by powerful empires. It was mostly neglected. Only from mid-19th century did Western powers start competing for a presence in the Holy Land, mainly through missionary activities and biblical archeology institutions. Meanwhile, Zionism gradually led to the creation of the State of Israel.

At the beginning, Zionism did not pay much attention to Jerusalem, rather the contrary. It is only as a result of the UN partition plan in 1947 and during the struggle for independence that Jerusalem became ever so central in the Zionist narrative. It took months, after the declaration of the Jewish State before it was adopted as the capital city.

The international community largely considers that the legal status of Jerusalem derives from the partition plan adopted by the United Nations in 1947, ie a Corpus Separatum administered by the United Nations, hence it refuses to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city.

Since the end of the war of independence in 1949 and partly as a reaction to the above, much efforts on the ground have been made by the Israeli authorities and by Jewish/Zionist institutions across the world to clearly and physically establish Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State.

Yet, after the independence war, a cease fire was signed between Israel and Jordan, as a result of which the city remained divided between the two countries for 19 years, with a lethal "No Man's Land" strip cutting through it! In many ways, the city remains divided to this day…

The future of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest and complex issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The final status of Jerusalem and its holy sites is not to be decided solely between Israelis and Palestinians: implications reach far beyond the framework of the conflict itself and the debate includes more than merely geopolitical issues.

Despite all this, Jerusalem is trying to develop as a "normal" city with its urban projects, its popular and fancy neighborhoods, its sprawling suburbs, its road and public transport networks, its public parks and gardens, its cultural institutions and its street art…

In this series I explore the depth of this duality which undoubtedly is one of Jerusalem traits. I am voluntarily not including the Jerusalemites themselves. They might appear here and there, furtively, but they are not the focus of the story, being an ephemeral part of it in my eyes.  I am concentrating on the city itself, its stones, its symbols, its sanctity, its scars and open wounds, its contradictions, its urban development, its little corners and oddities, all very much a visual expression of this duality…

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Jerusalem duality

 

the Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives - Jerusalem

The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge adjacent to Jerusalem's Old City, across the Kidron Valley.

 

The Mount has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years, and holds approximately 150,000 graves, it is central in the tradition of Jewish cemeteries.

 

Since antiquity many Jews want to be buried on the Mount of Olives, based on the Jewish tradition that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.

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the Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives - Jerusalem

 

Views in Jerusalem

some revealing views in Jerusalem

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Views in jerusalem

 

Hebron Jewish settlement

the city of Hebron in the West Bank has a Palestinian majority of more than 200,000 citizens and a small Jewish settlement in the city center, variously numbered between 500 and 800.

One sector of Hebron, home to around 170,000 Palestinians, is governed by the Palestinian Authority. Yet another sector, centered around the Cave of the Patriarchs, which was inhabited by around 30,000 Palestinians is under Israeli military control with an entire brigade in place to protect some 800 Jewish residents living in the old Jewish quarter.

 

Israel has declared that a number of special areas in the Old City of Hebron constitute a closed military zone. Palestinians shops have been forced to close. Palestinian residents, who are subjected every day to repeated body searches, must register to obtain special permits to navigate through the 18 military checkpoints set up in the city center.

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Hebron Jewish settlement

 

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv seen by a Jerusalemite...

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Tel Aviv

 
 

Last Ones - Holocaust survivors

Holocaust Survivors are the very last living witnesses of those who became the helpless target of unprecedented hatred and genocidal plans.

 

During the Holocaust, each and every Jew saw his entire world collapse. Some went through the horrors of the Nazi monstrous extermination camps. Others managed to survive in less horrendous conditions. All of them had to face, at some point, the sudden crash and total destruction of their previously well structured and apparently safe surroundings.

 

Today, more than 75 years later, fewer and fewer Holocaust Survivors are still among us. Having survived, they managed to start a new life, often from scratch, despite the traumas and open wounds. Many have raised a family and led their own career.

 

They are now themselves nearing the end of their life. Their living testimony in all forms is invaluable to us and to future generations.

 

Through these B&W portraits, I have tried to draw up a visual and evocative perspective of their life “then and now” with regard to their destroyed but not forgotten past.

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Last Ones - Holocaust survivors