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In 2003 the United Nations sent me on a mission to document their humanitarian activities in Palestine's West Bank. I was then Chief of the United Nations Photo Unit and had just traveled from New York with Secretary General Kofi Annan to Jordan as his photographer at the Davos Conference held in Amman, Jordan. During the conference, the SG and Sergio de Mello held back-channel with world leaders  as part of the "Quartet" , hoping to continue negotiations that might bring a semblance of peace to the Middle East, an exercise in futility. Meetings often lasted past midnight  in our hotel and I was on constant call to photograph "grip and grin" handshakes the SG exchanged with stakeholders in the peace process.

At conference's end, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA)  hosted my visit  to the West Bank. It was like out of a novel by John LaCarre as I was dropped off near Jericho by a UN vehicle on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge.  The bridge is currently the sole designated exit/entry point for West Bank Palestinians traveling abroad.  I walked across the Jordan River in "no man's land" until stopped by Israeli border officials at the West Bank checkpoint.

They demanded that I  hand over my laptop, saying they wanted to scan my hard-drive, despite the fact I held a UN Laissez-Passer diplomatic passport. I stood my ground and politely refused to turn over my MacBook  as it contained  all of photos I had taken during the SG's confidential meetings related to negotiating peace in the Middle East. Although the handshake photos were mundane, if scanned by Israel border officials they would probably be passed on to Israeli intelligence,  providing a record of with whom the SG met during delicate negotiations in which some of the parties involved took the public stance that they were refusing to negotiate. I was kept waiting in a plastic chair for six hour in the border office and watrched as border officials made frenzied phone calls.  I wasn't sure if I was being detained as no one spoke to me. Finally, a man in civilian dress approached me and asked if I had taken the photo of Colin Powell and US Secretary of State Donna Rice sittig together in the UN General Assembly. I said I had. He was quite aggressive and then asked if I had taken it for the online publication "ElectronicIntifada" .  After I explained that  the photo I had taken as Chief of the UN Photo Unit at UNHQ was a free UN handout for anybody to use and had been probably downloaded  from the UNDPI website, the civilian briskly walked away, and made a phone call.  I was then released to enter the West Bank.  

I spent only four days in the West Bank, guided  by helpful  UNRWA staff who drove me around the territory in their vehicles. I received a warm welcome and Arab hospitality from those I photographed, sometimes invited into homes to sip tea. I wanted to stay longer but UNRWA told me that 4 days was max to "fly under the radar." At mission's end, they dropped me off at the Allenby checkpoint and I crossed back into Jordan from which I flew home.

When I returned to UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary General asked to see the photos I had taken. When I saw him later, he thanked me for taking the risk to get "such good pictures."

You can download all the 60 pictures I took in the West Bank at the UN website: 

In the search bar , type in "Hollyman West Bank Photos".


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