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Symbols of Conflict

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Ten years ago last Saturday, March 16th, activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli Defence Forces bulldozer while attempting to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.

I don’t want to use this anniversary or my debut here to proselytize for either side in a complex conflict, or to talk with any authority about a part of the world that I know very little about. Rather I wanted to remark that the anniversary and its coverage put me in mind of the power of photographs and their symbols to stand in for complicated issues, and the strange way that the mind selects not always the most obvious image for this purpose.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is awash with photographic symbols. Most are ones that reinforce old, sometimes even ancient, clichés. David versus Goliath images of children throwing stones at tanks, Palestinians and Israelis facing off against each other like biblical armies, images of a holy land which seems, on the face of it, far from holy.

But to my mind none of these resonate in the same way as photographs of the Caterpillar D9 armoured bulldozers used by the Israeli Defence Forces. These are images which although often only amateurish snapshots, have for me come to embody the conflict and its two sides far better than any photojournalist’s pictures.

These squat, alien monstrosities with their dozens of bulletproof windows like spider’s eyes, seem to symbolise so many facets of the conflict as seen from the perspective of a European observer. The intractable, non-negotiability of a dispute which has dragged on in varying forms for six decades. The dire dehumanisation of both sides, by both sides. The slow but seemingly unstoppable destruction, and most of all the opaque foreign influences that economically, politically and historically underlie it all.

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