Occupied Pleasures

These photos show the little nuggets of happiness and light that Palestinians experience while living under the harsh conditions of occupation in the West Bank.

by Tanya Habjouqa
Jul 21 2015, 4:00am

After grueling traffic at the Qalandia checkpoint, a young man enjoys a cigarette in his car as traffic finally clears on the last evening of Ramadan. He is bringing home a sheep for the upcoming Eid celebration.

This article appears in the 2015 Photo Issue

Photos by Tanya Habjouqa, from our collaboration with Magnum Photos and Magnum Foundation

Habjouqa's work focuses on gender-, civil-, and human-rights issues across the Middle East. She says she tries to approach her subjects with sensitivity, but also with an eye for the absurd. These photos, which are part of a series called Occupied Pleasures, focus on the ludicrous everyday life that the 48-year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem has created—and the beauty in spite of it, as the Palestinians refuse to let suffering define their existence.

From a besieged Gaza where a five-minute boat ride is the epitome of freedom to a tropical studio backdrop that serves as a travel fantasy, the photos show that in humor there is often sadness and that, in Palestine, the oppressed never stop dreaming of a life full of greater possibilities. One industrious Gazan refused to be deprived of his right to love and snuck his young Jordanian bride to Egypt through smuggling tunnels. He said, "It was like a Bollywood film, her trembling, covered in Earth... I ran to her and covered her with my kisses." Habjouqa says that moment stayed with her and infused in her a desire to capture those little nuggets of happiness and light that Palestinians literally find at the end of the tunnel.

Hayat Abu R'maes, 25, and Nabila Albo, 39, take students out on a hike and yoga outing in Zatara, on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Sometimes they go to nature spots (one popular spot is near Roman ruins) that settlers try to intimidate Palestinians from accessing. They call it "inner resistance."

Students from the Al-Quds University javelin team wrap up the last practice before summer vacation in the West Bank city of Abu Dis, next to the Israeli separation wall.

A young girl in the Banana Land amusement park of Jericho takes a portrait in a studio. For a vast amount of the West Bank population, travel is expensive and sometimes stressful through the only exit available—the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge. For some, such studios are the closest to a tropical adventure they can experience.

A toy-filled van drives along Gaza's beach highway. 2013

Gazan bodybuilders jovially strike poses after a workout. 2013

A woman in Gaza without a travel permit, marches through the silent dark of an underground tunnel on her way to a party in Egypt, clutching a bouquet of flowers. 2013

High school students enjoy a boat ride on the Mediterranean Sea off the Gazan coast. Gazans are not allowed to travel outside of the enclave due to the siege, so this ten minute ride must feel like the epitome of freedom. 2013

A young girl plays on the beach in the party dress she wore the night before at a wedding at the Deir al-balah Refugee camp in Gaza. 2013

West Bank: Two furniture makers take a break in a pair of plush armchairs (of their creation) in the open-air in Hizma, against Israel's 26-foot high Separation Wall, 2013.