Theater of Cruelty

4 travel essays from the archive

Summer is cucumber time, and the national press is full of travel tips for trendy destinations. Here are the tips you won't get anywhere else.


Nabi Saleh – Palestine

Although the peace process between Israel and Palestine has stopped, Palestinians in Nabi Saleh still dream of access to the Mediterranean.

Nabi Saleh may be reminiscent of southern Italy – the remote areas where nobody lives anymore. During the day all the Palestinians are in Ramallah, which is half an hour drive from Nabi Saleh and about 10 kilometers north of Jerusalem.

In Nabi Saleh you will find only one-story dilapidated buildings, located around an open space that appears as a void. There is a gas station and a small colonial shop, but nothing else. Among the chickens and grasshoppers and plastic bags fluttering in the wind, you can hear a drone buzz – a reminder that you are never alone.

It is tempting to think that if the residents here had not had to oppose the Israelis and defend their homeland, everyone would probably have moved from here a long time ago. The same can be said of Halamish and the surrounding Israeli settlements – built on top of these barren, god-forsaken mountains – sun-drenched and at best suitable for goats.

Read the full report here

Taranto – Italy

Taranto is known as the city by the two seas and for its world famous olives and clams. But the Italian coastal city has also become one of Europe's most polluted cities.

PHOTO: Isabell Zipfel
Located on the Gulf of Taranto in the Ionian Sea, Taranto is the third largest mainland town in southern Italy. The town is world renowned for its olive groves and clams, for the dolphins and whales that swim around the bay, and for the rugged cliffs that adorn the coastal landscape. But the city itself is dying. Many houses are in danger of collapsing, and the facades are crumbling up. Within a radius of 20 kilometers, no animals are grazed, vegetables are not grown, and the mussels must not be eaten.

No animals are grazed, vegetables are not grown, and the mussels must not be eaten.

ILVA – the largest steel mill in Europe and a colossus built in the 60 century – is poisoning the water, the air and the soil, making Taranto the most polluted city in Europe. But the steel mill also accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, and that in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in Italy.

Read the full report here


Guatemala has around 5000 killings a year – it's not that far from the nearly 7000 civilians killed in the Iraq war in 2016, and that in a population that is half that size. Violence has become an epidemic that is gnawing on economic development, people's health and the relationship between people.

It is said that one healthy society has an annual murder rate of between zero and five murders per 100 inhabitants. When the number passes eight, we are talking about crime as an epidemic. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are now in the numbers between 000 and 30. The UN has described the triangle as the most dangerous place in the world, and the International Crisis Group has called Guatemala a paradise for criminals. 98 percent of all crime is never solved. There are studies that try to calculate what financial losses the violence causes: medical expenses, police, security guards, justice system, refugee foreign investments, material losses and lost jobs. But what it does to the people living here is harder to measure.

Read the full report here

Chernobyl – Ukraine

Blocks of flats, amusement parks, kindergartens; here once lived 50 000 people. Now only the skeleton of the city remains. How many people actually died because of the accident, nobody knows.

Ill. Viktor G. Khoury

While the night watchman sat alone in the April evening thinking about what to do during the holidays, the lid of reactor four exploded in the world's largest nuclear power plant. The explosion triggered a fire visible from the city of Pripyat a few kilometers away. The fire was blue and beautiful. People got beer in the fridge, made sandwiches and sat down on the porch to have a look. The next morning the children cycled to the reactor to see. They were not the children of anyone – their parents were engineers, chemists and technicians with a high education in everything that had to do with nuclear power plants. That's why they lived in Pripyat – everyone in town was hand picked to work at the facility.

The explosion that lured them out into the evening darkness was the sound of the world's biggest environmental disaster. But the radiation had no smell, no sound. Our natural instruments – nose, ear and eyes – no longer worked. We were used to the fact that danger was something we could see; a flood, a gun – or feel; a creeping disease. But it was the freshly cut grass that came to life now, and it was difficult to understand. Because the duvet was just as soft and the potatoes tasted just as good, so why run away? The sun is shining, no smoke, no one is shooting at us, is this war? We have survived the siege of Leningrad and famine, nothing can be worse than that. Here you just have to go out – look, the kitchen garden is in full bloom, nothing has changed.

Read the full report her

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