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From the Sandy Hook Elementary students’ return to school and the death of a gang-rape victim in India to New Year’s celebrations and a giant rubber duck in Darling Harbor, Australia, TIME presents the best images of the week.

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From the devastation brought by Hurricane Sandy and Eid al-Adha celebrations around the world to the final week of campaigning for the 2012 U.S. presidential election and a suspected smuggler’s jeep perched atop the U.S.-Mexico border fence, TIME presents the best images of the week.

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From the U.S. presidential debate in Denver and a ferry disaster in Hong Kong to Europe’s unbelievable Ryder Cup comeback in Illinois and a tiger cub at the Shanghai Zoo, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

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The land upon which the nation of Israel sits is steeped in stories and myths. It’s ancient, holy; all three major faiths that took root here see salvation in its domes, its olive groves, its cracked earth. It’s a land where people still seek the messiah. In one Orthodox Jewish messianic tradition, He will return riding a white donkey. On a blistering summer’s day in 2006, Yaakov Israel peered through the heat waves and saw, emerging in the distance, a man atop a white donkey. “He materialized,” says Israel, a photographer based in Jerusalem, “like a fata morgana,” a mirage.

Israel’s book The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey will be released in the U.S. this fall.

This man on a donkey was no illusion — nor, most would contest, was he the messiah. Instead, his arrival from the desert and into Israel’s lens gave the photographer a guide for a photo project he has worked on for the past decade, crystallized in a new book, The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey. Israel’s pictures are the product of years of wanderings in Israel, in the Occupied Territories and in the spaces in-between, seeking to document a vision of its people and landscapes away from the noise of an intractable political conflict and the rumbling news media that watches it.

In the spirit of U.S. photographers who chronicled their journeys through the American vastness, Israel would wake up early in the morning and head off in a direction, photographing what he saw and whom he encountered along the way. Of course, unlike in the U.S., Israel, traveling in the country that bears his name, would invariably run into one or two political borders by nightfall. And so his gaze dwells on the quiet of certain moments — “the small clues for me that exist in each image,” as he puts it — that tell a story of daily life in a land whose deep history and uncertain future are woven through with gestures that are at once religious, political and inescapably human.

A girl wades into the Sea of Galilee, her arms held wide as if choosing between crucifixion and baptism. Spools of barbed wire are followed in the book by tangles of thorns and a sea of dandelions; men with guns look on, at times curious, at times detached. A backpacker sleeps. The hills glow and soak in sunlight.

Israel emphasizes the everyday nature of his subjects — “these are people I’m just bumping into every time I go out.” Often, they would go out of their way to accommodate Israel, posing patiently, introducing him to family and friends, pointing to new vistas for his camera. In one scene, a pair of Arab workers who had intended to go to work choose instead to hang out with Israel and share their breakfast with him. “These episodes of human courtesy happened again and again,” says Israel. “For me, these small things tell another kind of political story.”

The man on the white donkey, a Palestinian farmer, was no different. In 45 degrees Celsius heat, he agreed without hesitation to participate in Israel’s project, desperately trying to keep his steed still until an image became clear.

Yaakov Israel is a Jerusalem-based photographer. See more of his work here.

The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey will be available in the U.S. this fall. The project recently won the PhotoEspaña Descubrimientos (PHE12 Discoveries) 2012 Award.

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An Israeli-government appointed committee ruled July 9 that the West Bank was not “occupied” land, something Palestinians who live there — and, indeed, much of the international community — consider it to be ever since Israeli troops seized control of the territory in 1967. The report reaffirms the longstanding view of the Israeli government, particularly the right-wing-led coalition currently in power, and pushes for a number of measures further supporting the presence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It’s news that can only deepen the sense of outrage and dispossession harbored by Palestinians, who have cause to feel exasperated with the current state of affairs: the peace process with Israel has gone moribund; the Palestinian leadership’s feeble attempt to unilaterally bid for statehood at the U.N. was brushed aside last year, all the while as Israeli settlements further entrench themselves on West Bank soil under the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Every May 15, Palestinians commemorate Nakba day, which marks the “catastrophe” that was the creation of the state of Israel and the subsequent loss of their homeland. In the weeks leading up to Nakba day this year, hundreds of Palestinians in jail had gone on a mass coordinated hunger strike in protest of Israeli detention laws. Scores took to the streets once again, clashing with Israeli security forces. As ever, images of burning tires and stone throwers were beamed around the world.

But American photographer Adam Golfer’s images of the West Bank look beyond the hurly burly of one of the world’s intractable conflicts, past what he terms “the theater of war” and the almost “ritualized” scenes of violence that seem to shape the outsider’s view of the Middle East. Golfer, who is Jewish, has an art background and does not consider himself a photojournalist. He spent three weeks roaming the West Bank last November and five more this February. The resulting photographs are, as he puts it, “not a documentary, but rather something far more personal,” tied to his own meanderings across a land over which “every aspect is disputed.”

Golfer’s photos, he says, “are vignettes of an experience.” They are bathed in a painterly glow, dwelling over terrain that is at once stark and desolate but suffused with centuries of accrued history and memory. In one, three foreign journalists stand atop the stony earth, at the center of the narrative they seek to tell. In another, an Israeli  “Center for Tolerance and Human Dignity”—built despite local protests and appeals—emerges from what is the site of a 7th century Muslim cemetery. A gnarled tree rises out of the foreground, its leafless branches pointing limply at the new construction.

A photo poised on a kitchen counter shows three men whose ties date back to this land well before 1948. “It’s a mixture of nostalgia and also a proof of life,” says Golfer. “I don’t want to sound dramatic, but not long ago Newt Gingrich was saying there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people. Here we have a portrait of a family, a sense of roots, a sense of place.”

That idea of place and of a moment interests Golfer, who hopes to expand his work with field recordings and other media. He says he’s not keen on “running into the line of fire.” Too often, says Golfer, our vision of this region gets represented by a “tableau of violence.”  Instead, he is curious about “how the Palestinian way of life has taken shape”: families negotiate real and imagined boundaries; a line of gorgeous woven rugs airs out in the early evening half-light. “There is a quiet about a lot of the stuff I was looking at,” says Golfer. If so, it’s a silence full of meaning.

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In a scorching hot community gym in the northern Israeli city of Acre, groups of young Jewish and Arab boys gathered to fight as equals. Boxing, it seems, serves as an unlikely bridge to peace among adversaries.

Associated Press photographer Oded Balilty is no stranger to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—in fact, his photographic legacy is intertwined in the struggle. After photographing the often violent clashes in Gaza and the West Bank for most of his life, Balilty has begun turning to stories that move beyond the violence—stories that offer glimpses of humanity, cooperation and shared experience.

Balilty’s latest series goes behind-the-scenes of last week’s National Youth Boxing Championship, supported by an organization boasting approximately 2000 active members. Although boxing isn’t a major sport in Israel, it’s favored by many of the roughly 2 million Israeli Arabs in the country, who often face discrimination and other economic hardships.

Within the framework of the sport, Jewish and Arab fighters square off, putting aside the tensions one would expect within a physically brutal sport. The young fighters, clad in helmets and gloves, view each other as equals and are not burdened by the engrained history of conflict outside the ring.

Balilty was drawn to the young age of the children. Many are between 9 and 13, ages where children remain unburdened by the conflicts of their parents. “They are only kids—all they care is to have fun with their friends everyday,” Balilty told TIME, “just like in any other place. It really gives me hope.”

Oded Balilty is a photographer for the Associated Press based in Tel Aviv. LightBox featured his work earlier this year in The Art of Storytelling and The Stone Throwers of Palestine.

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