West Bank settlers and memories of Sharon

The current edition of Details has a terrific investigative piece about the youthful extreme segment of the Israeli settler movement. It's by my chum Matt McAllester who spent five years based in Jerusalem as a correspondent and returned earlier this year to probe deep into this largely inaccessible (to foreign journalists, at least) fringe of Israeli society -- a fringe that nonetheless holds the whole region to ransom, to some extent. It's a change from Matt's other recent offering -- a beautiful, tragic memoir of life with his alcoholic, depressive mother called Bittersweet.

It was doubly lovely to see Matt earlier when he came to report this settler story, because Details sent him with Gillian Laub, a photographer whose on a different artistic plain from most shooters working in the mainstream media. On the Details website, you won't be able to see many of her photos, which they've used mainly for the piece in the printed magazine. I have good memories of working with her. This is a shot she took of me interviewing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shortly before the stroke which ended his tenure:

Security at the Israeli PM's home is, as you might imagine, strict. It took us over an hour to get through the check, because of the amount of equipment Gillian travels with -- lights, light-stands, batteries for the lights, various cameras, reflectors, and I seem to remember a minigenerator, too. It's worth it, though, because the effect she's produced here is reminiscent of the darkness surrounding the action of a Caravaggio painting.

It's strange to see the photo now. When this interview took place, Sharon was under attack from the kind of extreme settlers featured in the Details piece. That's because he'd just pulled Israeli settlers out of the Gaza Strip. He told me his plan was to do the same thing in the West Bank, difficult though it might be. Then he had his stroke, and his replacement wasn't strong enough to continue that path. The result: both Israelis and Palestinians appear to be waiting quietly for the next big outbreak of violence. Perhaps the shadow around the edges of this shot wasn't only a measure of Gillian Laub's artistry. Though we didn't know it, despite all the lights and reflector shields set up around the room, the darkness was closing in.

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