dear —,
it has been weeks now since i went to jerusalem and left there, and i have tried to write you many times.  somehow i could not find the letter inside myself.  this, too, is not that letter.

my journey there was my first.  i had many opportunities in the past to go, and i always avoided them.  the mishnah tells us that it is good to put a fence around the torah—to take extra observances as a way of protecting the elemental ones—and it seemed to me best to put a fence around israel.  as you know, i have never been a zionist.  i reject irredentism, romantic nationalism, and colonial dispossession of all varieties.  i have never accepted that because i am a jew i should seek a jewish “home” in a militarized ethno-state founded on permanent violent domination of the land’s historical inhabitants.  such a “home” is against everything i cherish as jewish wisdom.  not believing in a jewish “right of return” or a privileged jewish reason for being there, it seemed better not to go at all.
quite honestly, nothing in my visit changed my basic reading of israeli history.  i would still, for example, describe zionism’s key move in late 19th and early 20th century debates about the jewish future as transforming jewish mythopoetics into jewish realpolitik.  on the one hand, it linked ancient tropes of jewish spiritual longing to a mandate for political liberation of an oppressed minority, and on the other hand, it linked visions of a homogenous jewish state to british colonialism in the post-ottoman middle east.  likewise, i do not see the israeli occupation as the regrettable byproduct of a reasonable need for security guarantees.  rather it seems to me that the israeli experiment depends on permanent war against palestine.  permanent war is, for example, precisely what israel’s 2018 “nation-state bill” means by its declaration that “the realization of the right to national self-determination in the state of israel is exclusive to the jewish people,” and its assertion that “the state views the development of jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”  and permanent war seems to me not only the province of the israeli right, for whom “national values” are so baldly anti-democratic.  most voices in the the so-called israeli democracy movement that has erupted in 2023 insist that the protection of democracy be decoupled from resistance to the occupation.  apparently they think that the current government’s plan to cripple the supreme court’s powers of judicial oversight has little to do with removing barriers to settler-driven israeli expansionism.
but why should i fill my letter with diatribes?  sermonizing is tedious and polemicizing is worse, as we know, quite apart from whatever you may agree with.  the important point for me is that my political opinions—which, yes, i still defend—are the frame for my stupidity.  my stupidity is the important thing. 
my stupidity, i could say, began here:  i did not grasp that good faith is necessary but not sufficient for ethical responsibility.  if you study something in good faith from a distance, the distance itself can introduce errors not only of fact but of value.  in my case, studying israel’s history in good faith—and willingness to criticize is precisely the standard of good faith, as far as i can tell—led me to reduce a people to an account of their political culture as beheld from a distance.  the distance was, i think, a trojan horse for a reductionist urge within me:  to flatten israel’s peoples according to my critique of the crimes of israel’s governments and its armies.  such reductionism is irresponsible ethically, to say the least.
the difference between looking at something and looking for it, looking for something and looking into it, looking into it and looking through it—have i not spent my life as a photographer dwelling on such distinctions?  did i need actually to go to jerusalem to figure out that the reductionist urge is wrong, disingenuous, indefensible?  apparently i did.  and has my deep study of the holocaust in situ not taught me to distrust distancing effects, rather to enter into them with a good box of tools—curiosity, doubt, wonder, observational practices through which the material-sensual might touch the spiritual-sensual?  apparently it has not.  i reprimand myself.  i who made my way literally to thousands of holocaust sites in germany, poland, urkraine, belarus, lithuania, latvia, moldova, romania, hungary, greece, i who have said the kaddish literally thousands of times into the face of the genocidal nothing, did i still fail to understand how grief and anger work?  did i fail to see that that my own repugnance at zionist apologetics for aggression and conquest—delivered in the language of self-protection, as usual—not to mention zionist instrumentalization of the holocaust as a license to kill, did i fail to grasp that my own antipathy threw peoples into a pit and buried them?  apparently i did.  and i failed to understand something else, this question:  does jerusalem still deserve our jewish longing? 
or to ask it differently:  did a spiritual jerusalem cease to exist with the creation of the jewish state?  did the state of israel swallow the spiritual city that for millennia has carried our dream that the world have a geo-psychic center, a nodal point of holiness?  and if the spiritual jerusalem still exists in the collective human heart, are we at liberty to consign it to the harsh realities of our age, declare it ancillary or unreachable?  are we at liberty not to renew the deep jerusalem of the ages in new visions, new forms?   
let me be more specific:  am i wrong to say that the distinguishing feature of the spiritual jerusalem is everything it lacks?  it seems to me that the holiness of the spiritual jerusalem is precisely that it does not belong to the dominion of war, and its affluence owes to the scarcity of certain illusions.  it lacks, for example, the illusion that freedom is a prize or a spoil or a belligerent extraction, or that victory brings freedom, or that freedom stands to be “secured” by disciplinary regimes that would enforce an equilibrium of mutual loathing.  it seems to me that the spiritual jerusalem has lost—has always lacked—fantasies of others’ permanent humiliation.  am i wrong to say that a city built around non-oppositional styles of freedom is what hebrew means by a “makom” or a “place” in a sacred sense?  i hasten to say that the spiritual jerusalem is not the place of the western wall, or the temple mount, or the holy sepulcher or the rock under the dome.  rather it is migratory—much as the holy of holies, wherever it once was, is the desire-filled space between a word’s singularity and its plurality, a space of magnetic desire between one holy thing and all of them, where holiness gathers not to settle but to disperse.
i recognize that i have betrayed my origins in diaspora.  it is, yes, a renewal of a diasporic spiritual vision of jerusalem that i am talking about, a jerusalem from the diaspora and for it.  it is true, yes, that i think the zionists have consecrated a misunderstanding of diaspora, rendering it as vulnerability, endangerment, weakness, privation.  i see diaspora as a gift:  the gift of not belonging, the gift of difference, the gift of transposition.  i see these gifts as elemental to the survival of the jewish people over time, also to the jewish path of healing and repair.  and so it seems to me, yes, fair to want to return jerusalem to the diaspora, in a manner of speaking.  it feels to me right once again to seek from jerusalem what generations of jews sought from it—new visions of justice and vitality and uncapture, quite apart from its current captivity.  
i decided to do an experiment:  to see whether i could make images of the spiritual jerusalem—or, well, not “of” but from, or for the sake of it.  it seems poetically right that i should try this experiment with photography, a medium strongly associated with acts of arrest, seizure, possession, containment, and capture—the latter word now the dominant metaphor for photography in our own time, so much that it fails for many even to register as a metaphor.  i told myself:  if for the sake of images of the jerusalem of longed-for release, i should make them by subverting the medium of capture.  how to do this?
the solution, once i saw it for what it was, was straightforward:  to photograph without a lens.  i drilled a hole in the middle of a body cap for my leica, and taped in a laser-drilled pinhole.  photographing with a pinhole is something i’ve done off and on over the years, with an interest in what makes these types of images particular.  they are not sharp in the way that a lens-given image is sharp, but also not exactly unsharp, rather what could be called a soft sharpness or detail-rich unsharpness.  and owing to the tiny aperture, the quasi-un-sharpness obtains from millimeters in front of the pinhole all the way to infinity, a depth of field far deeper than any lens could give.  as with so many aspects of photography, we lack a vocabulary for the specific look of pinhole photographs, though it's easy enough to spot once you know what to look for.
but it wasn’t for the sake of conventional pinhole images that i made my way there.  rather it was that the pinhole required long exposures, during which i moved as the world also moved.  just as a poem is a process of language—language revealing itself in process, as process—exposures of a few seconds or minutes yielded photographs that seemed to me visions of seeing in process, seeing as process.  in my experiments i found my way to images that in one sense are utterly conventional photographs—dependent on an uninvented world where images are formed through the direct action of light on a light-sensitive surface.  at the same time these photographs could not be pre-envisioned or be easily described after they do exist.  in this sense they seem to me to take seriously a philosophical problem about creating meaning through appearances:  they approach appearances as neither self-meaningful nor fundamentally untrustworthy, and come down on the side of meaning that can be made to appear, as against the kind that will always refuse appearance.
you say, correctly i think, that poetry is the situation in which we feel meaning resisting language.  you contrast this against the situation—call it prose—in which meaning submits to language, or language manages to accommodate meaning.  i find this approach to poetry useful with regard to these photographs of mine, made in geo-spatial jerusalem of the spiritual jerusalem.  they are visions in which meaning is resisting images, disengaging the conventional photographic conceit of predictive previsualization, and also the conceit that photographs enable a sense of mastery or epistemic control over what is shown.  it is hard to understand these images, and this is exactly what interests me about them a apropos the problem of release.
a proposition:  photography is better understood as a medium for making invisible things visible than as a tool for proving that absent things remain present.  a second proposition:  we will not reach the holy city with possessive minds and spirits, rather with psyches touched by a sense of wonder, and freedom’s own wildness made somehow relatable.  
a comment on these propositions put side by side:  the process of encounter that a photograph registers includes at least these things—the self-being of a person, the self-being of a world in time and place, the self-becoming of a person, the self-becoming of a world in time and place.  in the photograph, the overlap between forms of being and forms of becoming is mercurial.  sometimes it is additive—as if the image were a zone of accretion—and sometimes subtractive, as if a zone of cancelation.  i think it is fair to say that with these photographs, lived space—the space of human relations, of psychic exchange—is not an exteriority, or at least not the kind of exteriority that geometry names and holds forth.  rather lived space is interior space—the space not of a private interiority but a collective one. 
you might ask:  who will see these photographs?  perhaps you will, and perhaps you will not.  perhaps there will be others, and perhaps not.  do i need to know?  i want to believe that a photograph, like other works of art, all by itself participates in—assumes—a special community of beholders, call it an audience, which is at once concrete and transhistorical, existing across languages, across cultures in specific formations and reformations, across time and historical accounts.  i want to believe that the mobility of photography as a medium, and the rebellion encoded in these photographs in particular—against ownership and final possession—will establish the imagined community they belong to, audaciously and in advance of the fact.  i can’t tell you that i actually do believe this, but i have not forsaken the hope that they do.
of course it is true that photographs, like all works of art and all poems, change nothing.  seamus heaney is right when he says that no lyric ever stopped a tank, and meir wieseltier may be right to lament that “the world doesn’t read poetry…even the most beautiful poem, even if we plead with it, even if we very much plead with it—it will not agree.”  but like a poem, a photograph changes everything when we understand what it actually is.  engaged or never engaged, it holds a space for contemplation, specifically for what heaney rightly describes as “the shyest part of our nature”—the part worth going out of one’s way to defend—and, i would say, also the work of mourning that maturation requires.  and lest i have been unclear, i want to say forthrightly that my travels left me with profound sadness.  this was predictable enough in advance, but it bit in a way i did not expect.  the truth is that i have never felt proud to be a jew, but also i never felt ashamed to be one—until this journey.  here i must mention hebron specifically, this is the place that i felt wave upon wave of shame.  it surprises me that i should feel shame when i am, after all, a jew not from there, with no direct responsibility for the situation there.  i am still meditating on the fact that shame should be part of my sadness.  it seems that even as i am a jew of the diaspora, palestine vibrates a dimension of longing within me—vibrates me—in a way i cannot explain. 
jerusalem is, i found out, a body, a bodied vital force to be encountered partly in objects, but mostly in light.  i might say that the spiritual jerusalem is bodied as light, that light is its bodied realness.  whatever i can claim as existing knowledge about this realness, or foreknowledge, or predictive knowledge, none of it is as encompassing as the reality of non-knowledge.  this reality deserves a form of its own.  my photographs are just that:  an effort to give-image to the states of non-knowledge through which we might gain in our unlearning, which i hasten to call necessary and crucial if peace is the deep task.
if it is not inappropriate, i will end with a poem, which says things better than i have otherwise said.  please put this poem in the dossier i have already given you, to which you did not respond—and to which i expect no response, as we agreed.
light in the shape of the body of jerusalem
slides out of jerusalem,
and loses its shape in devotion to jerusalem.
love, like shadows, starts inside of things
and are those insides, venturing out.
only wind that enters a lung may die,
and the tongue will remain faithful.
whatever it is to grieve, however much silence
is its devotional offering, love’s self-sacrifice
is not it.

i venture:  i will have made a photograph that matters if it receives the psychic energy of longing and return before it claims anything about what exiled people do not deserve and what occupiers claim as their deserts.

                                                                         i write with love, 
The photographs here were made in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, Beit Jalah and Tsfat in 2023.  The text was written in Paris in 2023.