The wall that separates Israel from Palestine has many names. The Israeli government refers to it as a “security fence” or “anti-terrorist fence,” as its explicit purpose is restricting Palestinian access to Israel. Palestinians, though, call it the “racial segregation wall” or the “apartheid wall.” Made of concrete slabs, fences, ditches, razor wire, an electronic monitoring system, and observation towers, this barrier has been the subject of near weekly protests, often countered by Israeli military force, since the beginning of its construction in 2002.
Wall: Israeli and Palestinian Landscapes, a new book published by Aperture, features stark black-and-white panoramic photographs of East Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the Israeli settlements along the route of the wall, all taken by the Czech-born Josef Koudelka between 2008 and 2012. Koudelka presents the wall stripped of all the trappings of political language, letting it speak for itself. “I don’t pretend to be an intellectual or a philosopher,” Koudelka once said in an interview. “I just look.” A chronology, understated captions, and a lexicon defining terms from “Intifada” to “Hebron” provide the book’s sparse verbal context.
In some images, the wall appears like the jagged spine of some buried prehistoric beast. In others, graffitied murals on its concrete bricks make it appear almost accepted, as if those it shuts out are making the best of it, until you spot the gun painted in the hands of a hijab-wearing character. Many of Koudelka’s images appear deceptively simple on the surface, composed of architectural lines and geometric shapes, but no amount of abstraction rids them of their harrowing power.
The wall, the plotting of which disregards the internationally recognized Israeli-Palestininian border, is an example of architecture at its most divisive. If completed as planned, it will be about 434 miles long, the biggest infrastructure project the Israeli government has ever undertaken. No studies have been carried out to assess its environmental impact.
Koudelka’s work has always been politically charged. In 1968, he photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague–anonymously, under the initials P.P. (Prague Photographer), for fear of reprisal by the government. In 1969, this mysterious P.P. was anonymously awarded the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Gold Medal for those photographs. The following year, he fled Czechoslovakia for political asylum in England, where he joined Magnum Photos.
Wall is available for $51 here.
[All photographs © 2013 Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos]