DATE: March 2001
SUBJECT: The VanFossens in the Holy Land for the Millennium and Intifada
Tel Aviv, Israel – The idea of spending the eve of the Millennium in the Holy Land was very exiting for the popular nature photographers and writers, Lorelle and Brent VanFossen. Living in Tel Aviv on temporary work assignment seemed to be a dream come true as 1999 turned into 2000. Little would they realize that the Millennium celebrations for peace would be just another dream dashed.
“We were so excited about coming to Israel, one of the most controversial and ancient of countries, revitalized and restored in many ways since it became a state in 1948. History lives here, not only in the ancient archeological ruins uncovered in the 50s, 60s, and even today, but in the living historical cities of Jerusalem, Jericho, Jaffa, Bethlehem, and Akko (Acre). With the turn of the Gregorian calendar from 1999 to 2000, we all felt hope alongside the rest of the world about peace in the Middle East. Then came the end of the millennium and with it, hopes were dashed,” says Brent VanFossen. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he comes from a conservative upbringing, far from the violence that now infects the peace process in the Middle East. “Now, angry mobs are desecrating the holiest of cities. Jerusalem, and Jericho and Bethlehem are under siege by militant Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. The peace we hoped for is gone.”
In addition to being a nature photographer, Brent is also a structural aircraft engineer in Israel on a special work assignment modifying commercial aircraft, working with the largest employer in Israel, Israel Aircraft Industries. The two have been living on the road in North America full-time, traveling in a travel trailer and working on the road. His wife, fellow photographer and writer, Lorelle, tries to express some optimism. “We came here thrilled with the excitement of living in a foriegn country, but now we are trying hard to find some light behind the dark clouds. Militant arabs, not just Palestinians, are stirring up their fellow young men to do evil through riots and terrorist suicide bombings. Arafat, a master at controlling his people, is encouraging them while telling the masters of the Western Civilization that it is ‘out of my hands. Israel made them do this.’ I’m not a Zionist or big fan of Israel in general, but I see the great promise of peace and the economic success of partnership with Israel and the Palestinian Authority going up, literally, in smoke because of the lawless and brutal activity of a few who want to control everyone through violence. Violence is never an answer.
“During our first year here, we saw many programs where Palestinians were working alongside Israelis, profiting and being successful for the first time over several generations. More than 80% of the tourist workforce was made up of Palestinians. With the curfews and closing of the borders because of the violence spreading out from the Palestinian Authority areas, these workers can’t get out to work. Tourism is down over 95% because of the violence, so even if they could cross the border, there aren’t any jobs left. With more than three-quarters of the workforce in the Palestinian Authority working within the State of Israel, the Palestinians are the ones who are going to suffer the most. They are only hurting themselves with the violence.”
When asked whether or not they are personally afraid of the terrorism and violence, the VanFossens are thoughtful and cautious. “We are amazed at how the Israelis get on with their life after each terrorist act. Within a few hours, the place that was practically destroyed with major loss of life is now cleaned up and boarded, awaiting the contractors to come and restore. Within a month, sometimes less, the place is repaired and open for business, and people are arriving en mass. Their willingness to live ‘normal lives’, whatever that means, is amazing. This spirit to survive strengthens us.”
Brent says, “Sure, we are worried. We’ve changed our habits by not riding the bus as much, and taking care not to go places where there are crowds, potential attractions for bombers. But we still go to work, visit with our friends, go shopping, and live our lives the best we can.”
“When Brent’s parents had to cancel their year-long plans to visit us in November, just after the fighting started, we were heartbroken, not having seen family for over a year. But my mother and two other friends have braved the terrible stories on the news and have come to visit USA, bringing a little touch of home with them. We took them everywhere, to Jerusalem, up to the Galilee, down to the crater at Mahktesh HaGadole, all over Israel playing tourist. Brent’s family says they will come next fall. By then, if we are still here, we will be experts on all things tourist in Israel,” Lorelle laughs.
“How long will we stay?” The two look at each other, smiling. Lorelle turns back, “Until the job is done. Who knows when that is.”
You can read more about the adventures of Brent and Lorelle VanFossen living on the road on their popular web site, http://www.cameraontheroad.com including their adventures in Israel. For more information on the VanFossens, check out http://www.cameraontheroad.com/doing.html or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. The VanFossens are nature photographers and writers traveling full-time whose work has been featured in major publications such as Shutterbug, Outdoor and Nature Photography, Arriving Magazine, Jerusalem Post, Trailer Life, and the Photographic Society of America’s Journal. Their web page, http://www.cameraontheroad.com is one of the largest personal web sites on the Internet.
For more information on who the VanFossens are and what are they doing as they take their camera on the road, visit their Doing Zone.