Sunrise over France
Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
June 17, 2009, Wednesday, Orly airport, Paris France:
In the Orly airport near Paris, waiting for the 2nd and last leg of this journey, about to land in Tel Aviv and worry my way thru the expected questions of security—why are you here, where are you staying, who are you visiting, are you going to the West Bank? I am flying on wings of love from many.
The airport is huge, and maybe because of the early hour (landing at 6 am, departing at 10:30) it seems relatively empty, as if a shell of a new self, one expecting to be full. What if air traffic diminishes because of fuel prices? What shall we convert unused airport space into? Giant spas? Emporia of art? Brothels to service those of us who know we’re on a dying planet and wish for the last intense pleasure—even enlightenment? Chris S, bidding me bye after Quaker meeting last Sunday, mentioned that Thomas More claimed the orgasm is ultimate enlightenment. May we all suffer in this way!
At the airport—a mix of nations represented so this can’t be conclusive—I noticed young women wear their hair long, older women short, as in the States, but the footwear seems different: a preponderance of thongs, the simple form of sandal. One variation on the long hair theme is pulling the hair back into a tight bun. What will be the hairstyle in Palestine, assuming I can see women’s hair, since it is sometimes covered with a hijab.
Israel, near Tel Aviv
July 17, 2009, Wednesday, East Jerusalem, The New Palm Hostel, opposite the Damascus Gate:
Eureka! I am in! I am here! I am present!
No problems entering, despite my various blunders, like answering the wrong question with my well-rehearsed answer, banging my head against the glass of the passport control officer’s booth as I strained to hear her voice, and smudging the glass with my greasy face. I had a brainstorm shortly before landing (maybe a result of my ever diligent muses) to say, in addition to my usual story of photographing holy sites and visiting Israeli friends, that I am requesting a 3-month visa (they often give shorter term ones) because I’m volunteering with an Israeli environmental organization. She reminded me that if I wished to continue working with this organization past the 3-month limit they could help me extend the visa. No further questions, not even about whom I’m visiting and working with followed by phoning them.
Except for one: what were you doing for one hour since your plane landed?
Answer: the toilet. When in reality I was opening my computer to find the email from my main contact at the environmental organization, Friends of the Earth Middle East, that I am indeed volunteering photography for. In case. In case she asked for verification. She didn’t.
One other factor that may have helped: R gave me the Travelers’ Prayer, in Hebrew and English, a traditional Jewish prayer for travelers like me. I wanted it close to me so I folded it into my wallet, then considering the impact it might have if it fell from my passport during the security check, I put it in the page after my passport photo page. Perhaps this helped.
I passed swiftly, others were not so fortunate. I saw a security agent lead off 3 young men who might have fit the profile of suspected terrorists. They were probably headed for further interrogation.
Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv, Israel,
water cascading in front of the greeters
Since I arrived so late to Jerusalem I stayed overnight at my favorite hostel in East Jerusalem, just outside the famed Damascus gate, The New Palm. It teems with activists, photographers, writers, a hot bed of resistance—along with some screwy types (which some might consider me to be). I booked a dorm for 50 shekels per night which is about $15, and I was warned that one of my roomies snores loudly. I brought earplugs.
The weather on the first evening was cool and windy, a delight. This is my first summer here so there is much new just about the weather. I am excited to be here, and to return to Ramallah. I bussed there with my friend Hisham who lives at the Palm, works with the International Solidarity Movement and, and is going to the ISM office in ramallah tomorrow for a meeting. As we greeted each other he told me that on his wall he still has a photo I’d given him on my last trip here one and 1/2 years ago.
Dining on my first evening in East Jerusalem, which is mostly Palestinian (except for an enclave of orthodox Jews), I sat outside with a robust well-tanned muscular fellow who happened to be from France. How ironic. Frank (my father’s name) is Jewish, has family in Israel, but is open hearted about the situation here. He was very curious about how I am able to enter Gaza, expressing some interest in doing this on his next trip. He told me in painful detail how relations with some of his relatives, fervent Israel supporters, have been severed. Such family discussion to me is hopeful, despite the suffering. As someone said, for a conflict to be resolved it first must be provoked.
June 18, 2009, Thursday, East Jerusalem, Palm Hostel:
Morning in Jerusalem, sleeping surprisingly well given how stuffy the dorm room was, how loud my roomie’s snoring was, how I don’t like sleeping in my underpants (prefer being nude), and how excited I am to be alive and intact and in Israel-Palestine I blessed thru the short night, awakening fresh and eager to launch this mission of photographic discovery. The evening before after checking into the hostel, depositing my largest piece of luggage (in a hard shell black rolly case, said by Katy to be “traveling light,”) I found my way to the ATM opposite St George’s cathedral, and picked up 1200 shekels. Not without a slight problem: two men stood there, the one sitting on a pedestrian fence called to me, Can I have your PIN? Or so I understood him to say. My PIN?! Sorry friend you’ll have to go to a bank and get your own.
Maybe he was joking, maybe he was crazy, maybe he thought he could intimidate me. I simply smiled, answered straight, stood in line, and when they’d finished their transaction made my own. I wasn’t sure the system would disgorge money into my needy hands—I’ve had problems in the past when I suddenly discovered my account blocked, learning later someone had stolen my ATM number.
Realizing I’d walked out of my way, confused by the perpetually twisting streets and roads of this region—the city was not laid out for autos—I walked back to the hostel, stopping for a chocolate bun to eat after I’d purchased a shuwarma at the local outdoor and indoor café. There I providently met that French man, reversing the goodbye I’d said to a certain French woman in 2008, and once again …
I bought a SIM card from a local dealer, asked him to try it to make sure it functioned, he struggled with it, eventually recharging g it with another charge card because the initial SIM card for some reason did not work.
Now I have a functioning phone, making my first call to George at the Ramallah Friends School to make sure I’d be able to enter my apartment. The phone worked, hot shit! I’d worried about this since I’d struggled monumentally to unlock the phone before leaving. This required at least 6 calls to T-Mobile workers, nearly 2 hours of phone time, and only when Heather, in the US rather than the Philippines where all of the others seemed situated, found a way did we achieve success. But would it work in Palestine/Israel? Does it have the requisite bands? Yes, at last I know.
On that first evening here I wrote, somewhat groggily since I’d missed my usual sleeping pattern while traveling. I wrote first Y thanking her for the metta (a form of Buddhist energy, she’d put out a request to a wider net), and then others like the Israelis who agreed to be my visiting friends, and the contacts in Paris that AM found for me should I be denied entry. And to a few others, like the Israel-Palestine FMC group because of the Senator John Kerry connection.
Later I will blog some of this, or write specifically to some including my Israel-Palestine support group. I have a huge network of helpers, assistants, confidants, living muses with real flesh without whom I would be rendered mute and sterile.
In discussing with Frank last night why we both are so drawn to this region, I mentioned history—the supposed fact that people like Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and others once walked here—and the mysterious forces of earth, call them geopsychological factors, as possible explanations of the allure. He added prayer: what effect accrues when masses of people simultaneously pray in the same general region? I added romance, how this region emanates romance, at least for me. (I could have gone into detail about ME but resisted.)
The illegal Israeli settlement/colony, Modi’in, near Bil’in
Yesterday afternoon, sharing a taxi for the trip from Ben Gurion airport to Jerusalem, we drove by the huge settlement of Modi’in. I’ve seen it from the Bil’in side, opposite the separation fence, sharing with the local Palestinians the pain of separation from their lands, but only from this side, the Israeli side, and this close, can it be seen in all its looming horror. I made a few photos.
So here I am, for the 5th time, another 3 month journey of photo discovery, hoping to broaden and deepen my work, strive beyond the obvious, not misled by wrong thoughts, flaming passions, harmful preconceptions, but allowing or encouraging good thoughts and profound passions and strong analysis to aid me in a quest for my truth—simply my truth of experience in Palestine/Israel.
Separation/Apartheid Wall, near Kalandia checkpoint
on the way to Ramallah