The popular saying, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission” would be a great motto for the state of Israel. In fact, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion was quoted as saying “If your expert tells you that you can’t do something, find a new expert.” While almost insubordinate to some, this is the core of Israeli innovation. It’s the ability to look from a different perspective and think outside the box. It’s the belief that nothing is impossible. It’s how things get done here. On the Israel Rising photo shoots, I was about to learn that lesson.
During these photo shoots, some pictures came easy, others not so much. While in Jerusalem, we wanted to capture this angle (below) taken from inside the Old City, on top of the Dung Gate that is inside the Davidson Center archaeology park, looking back towards the Kotel (Western Wall Plaza). However, due to the vantage point, there were several security cameras in this restricted area. I wanted to make sure we weren’t going to end up in some cement basement Mossad interrogation, freak out some ultra-religious guys or start an international incident by jumping the fence into a security area just to get some cool pictures. Being a westerner that looks for permission, I found the guy at the park entrance ticket booth, showed him the photo we wanted to recreate and told him it would only take us five minutes after jumping a fence and climbing on top of the stone gate that literally just above him. Seemingly unphased and uninterested from my request, he barely looked up from his coffee to say “you need to talk to the police”, which sounded more like “go away”. We headed off to the police station on the other side of the Western Wall Plaza.
After entering through the crowded security checkpoint, navigating thru the throngs of awe-filled, picture-taking tourists, finding the right sergeant in the police office, I finally had someone’s attention. After hearing my “kindest” explanation, the police sergeant said in heavily accented English, “we just own the cameras and don’t run the site?” and told us we had to go talk to the Western Wall Rabbi’s office since they are in charge of that area. In other words, the police said they aren’t in charge and “go bother someone else”.
After another 20 minutes of looking for the Rabbis office, feeling clearly out of the place from the "are-you-lost" stares in the Chief Rabbi’s main office for the holiest site in Judaism beside where the Temple once stood, we found an office assistant who would listen. Upon hearing my “trying to be kind” explanation, she looked irritated that the cops just passed us on to them and said, “if the area isn’t in the actual plaza, it not our responsibility” Technically, the spot wasn’t inside the western wall plaza, it was just outside, so there was nothing to argue. She told us to go back to the police. "No, we just came from there, who else?" I said with an edge, knowing full well I was stuck waist-deep in the “run around”. “I don’t know, go back to the archaeological park”, she said with a shrug and almost pitying smile. Having no other option, soon I found myself back at the same ticket booth talking to the same guy as from the beginning. Thankfully, he had just finished his coffee and was mildly more attentive. Seeing my persistence and that I wasn’t going away, he softened a little, “you need to talk to my manager in the office” and pointed me in the right direction with instructions on where to go and who to talk to. We had just spent the last hour in the hot sun, searching for offices on the far side of the plaza, being blown off to someone else’s office, to now end up back where we started, and to hear the same guy give us some new helpful info that he failed to mention the first time. And all we needed was 5 minutes on a restricted walkway that was a stone’s throw away from this guy’s ticket booth. My patience and western sensibilities were now gone. We were getting on that gate and getting this shot, no matter what it took.
Upon finding the right office, the site manager was professional and interested. I gave her the same explanation that I had given at least 4 other times to various people in the last hour, in a tone that said I’m tired, irritated and I need an answer. I was pleasantly surprised that this manager actually listened… until she gave me a clear answer to what I needed to access to that specific spot. “We DO allow access to that area in certain situations, for 400 shekels ($100) an hour.” “Look,” I said, half exasperated and half pleading, “I'm not paying you 400 shekels. I just need five minutes and want to know that when I hop the fence that police with guns won’t come running or that I’ll end up on CNN tonight.” Much to my surprise, she sat back in her chair, shrugged with a sideways smile, and said, “Okay.” A little shocked that she simply gave in from her initial request, I confirmed, “It’s okay?” She nodded with a mix of approval partial respect of my assertiveness. That was way too easy. We quickly left before anyone could change their minds.
We hurried back to the Dung Gate, hopped over the waist-high fence, and climbed the stone steps to atop the old city gate… and no one batted an eye. It was the perfect angle that I expected to find. From an area once overgrown with cactus hiding ancient history’s treasures to an archaeological park welcoming visitors from around the world, the changes in Jerusalem in the last 100 years are simply stunning. It was hard-headed persistence like this day that allowed me to share this shot and many others like it with my readers. (To see over 100 photo comparisons from 25 locations all over Israel, get your copy of Israel Rising at EzraAdventures.com/store!)
As we got the shot I wanted and were leaving, a security guard who had quietly watched this whole process from the beginning, spoke up to give his unsolicited opinion in a thick Hebrew accent. “This is going to be a good book” he said. Taken aback, I asked him why. “Lots of people can take pictures but you know where you need to go and don’t stop until you get there. This is going to be a very good book.” he said with an admiring smile. I thanked him for his kind words and wondered if maybe he was the guy I should have talked to first. Or maybe I should have just done what I needed to do, asked forgiveness if I needed to then have been on my way an hour earlier, without the drama. It’s often how things get done here.
Doug Hershey is the author of Israel Rising, conference speaker and founder of Ezra Adventures, an Israel focused travel and education company. From years of hands-on experience, cultivating unique relationships in Israel and a love for history, Doug provides a rare perspective on the connection between the Jewish Scriptures and present day Israel. When he is not in Israel, he is speaking in churches and synagogues about the prophesied restoration of Israel.