Tuesday, 9 January 2007

The Family Home: Even at the best of times

I become obsessed with the idea of the Israeli secret police. I imagine every taxi driver I speak to, everyone frying falafel in the cafe, everyone serving me coffee is listening in to my conversations and passing on information. Sometimes I think I'm getting carried away - other times I think I'm not careful enough. Someone once told me "one in five...remember, one in every five peopoel you talk to is an informer." I think about that every time I sit around a table with six friends.

I had to come up with a cover story for my reporting. With the PhotoVoice project over, I went searching for two houses that once belonged to my family. I know they still exist, but one is now a mental institution, the other a secret biological research facility. During research for a documentary, I go to visit the houses, pretending to be an architecture student from London looking at how development affects old architecture in the Middle East. In a way, it's true, but I have to immerse myself in the lie in order to keep a straight face. At one point I feel my eye starting to twitch, and I'm convinced the people at the Weizmann Institute are on to me. "Why do you keep asking about that house?" They ask. "Because," I say "no one seems to know anything about it. That makes me even more curious..."

It's exahusting, lying. I use the architecture student story whenever I don't want to reveal too much about what I'm doing in a small secluded Israeli town - Nes Tziona - that was once the Palestinian village of Wadi Hunayn, overflowing with orange groves. I have an hour-long conversation with an army reservist, sitting beside me on the bus back to Jerusalem, about my thesis, even showing him photos of the houses on my camera. Several times I strike up conversations with regular Israelis, which make my cover story of being a British architecutral student even more difficult.
"What do you think of Israel? It's great, isn't it?"
"Yes," I say, biting my tongue "It's great."
"It's a beautiful country!"
"Yes, it's a beautiful country..."

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