800 year old mosque in the center of Jenin
Office of The Freedom Theater in Jenin refugee camp
Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
July 14, 2009, Tuesday, Jenin Creative Cultural Center:
No dreams—dreadful. But a spectacular lilting cloud filled morning sky, and I was in just the right situation to photograph it: on my back, fuzzy, merging into wakefulness.
Why no dreams? Always a question, a mystery. How I miss them. As if the night were wasted, might have been effectively skipped without significant loss.
To Khirbet Belameh, a ruins near the northwestern entrance to the city, suggested by either Yousef or Ala’a, I forget which, as a photo field trip site. Very good choice. Partly because it generated a lot of interest from a wide assortment of people, including Mohammed, Yousef’s nephew, the entire class of 5, a few of their friends, Husam who was our informal leader, and the Gang. The ruins feature a large tunnel, at its height some 5 meters, equally wide, extending far back past the current and temporary gate and allegedly up the hill. This is thought to be for people to carry water from the spring or pool at the lower end up to their city on the heights. Pockmarks of about 1 m wide and high decorate one section of the tunnel, said by the guide (who was on only his 2nd day of the job and seemed untrained) to hold food for horses. Needless to say, this archeological attraction requires much research.
Archeologists date it to the Bronze Age with proof of habitation extending from the Bronze thru the Iron, Roman, and Byzantine and into the Islamic eras. Ruins are on top of a high hill, we didn’t visit them. From another document: … one of the major Bronze Age sites of the West Bank. It sits in a commanding position over the pass of the Wadi Belameh, which leads to the Jezreel Plain. The site is identified with the city of Ibleam, which is mentioned in the Egyptian Royal Archive in the 15th century BC. This site was occupied through the Medieval period.
Not only is this site being developed for its intrinsic intellectual interest but for its touristic potential. It would be one of the few such sites in Jenin.
Photographically it offered odd lighting, curvaceous forms, mystery—and the bodies of other humans, ourselves, as we explored. Students tended to be much more interested in photographing each other than the site itself. We emerged outside on a high platform looking over the complex. As we leaned over the railing I noticed our shadows on the ruins, and added them to my designs. I might mention this to my students as an object of awareness: who else noticed and made use of the shadows?
The stones are memory, mute for the most part. They lay there, containing stories, and we wonder: how to decipher them? Stones fascinate me.
Sadly—and a mark of the occupation—the interpretive panels stand empty. The bright metal reflects light but little else. For how long have they remained in this dormant condition? When will they contain information?
I asked the affable dark skinned guide how many visitors had he on his first day, the day before? None. And today, before us? One.
The saga of getting to this site warrants a few words. The plan kept shifting, as happens regularly here—Tuesday, no today, Monday, noon, no 1 pm, and finally we left at 2. Then the Gang straggled off for food. Our nominal guide Husam said we’ll wait. I exploded. Wait!? We’ve been waiting for 2 hours and now they go off for food and we’re to wait longer? Not a minute longer! I relented, we agreed to 5 minutes, the Gang dutifully reported back within the time frame. Meanwhile, Husam and I discussed the conflict between eastern and western concepts of time, loose and tight, agreeing that both have their virtues, both their problems.
I was excited going with this group of enthusiastic souls. While waiting with Touleen and Mays, my only 2 female students, I improvised a portrait lesson, since their homework had been to make portraits. We shared the computer room with Lucas who was teaching German. After showing Touleen how I was able to fix her camera’s over exposure problem (with the assistance of Mustafa at the Freedom Theater) and download (using my Canon) I gave them my Canon camera and asked them to photograph each other. I took a turn. We downloaded the photos and examined them, deciding what worked, what didn’t, and why. A sterling lesson, one of my best. I used Mustafa’s technique of drawing directly on the computer screen to demonstrate the effect of cropping. I noticed that when Touleen set up a view of Mays she initially posed her at the window, then saw the backlight problem and moved her. We’d discussed backlighting earlier.
Two of my photo students at the Jenin Creative Cultural Center watching a video of refugee camp children in a photographic workshop at the Freedom Theater
In the evening Yousef invited us to his home in Burquin, a small village west of Jenin, about 8 km. It is in the hills, and he and his brother, Ahmed (aka Mohammed) and his nephew Mohammed guided us up the hill behind his home to a plateau. We overlooked much of the surrounding terrain, including Jenin with its lights on, Nazareth, the Jordan River valley and Jordan beyond, and toward the coast, not so far away. This reminded me again how small Israel-Palestine is. He pointed out where the Israeli army had constructed a base during the Battle of Jenin in 2002, firing artillery and cannon into the refugee camp. We waded thru thick olive groves, including some “Roman” trees, gnarled and shriveled, full of lacunae, indicating their great age. He brought us to his “castle” where he’d like to build some sort of international center for transformation of the political scene. Seemed a bit vague to me, but then dreams often are.
Photographically this was a gold mine, if only I set my camera properly and chose the position and moment astutely. Shall see today.
He had stories. About a tank sited across from him, firing his way in 2002. Snipers killing innocents. A checkpoint between Burquin and Jenin blocking access. This contrasted with what he had told some of us earlier, that the Jenin valley had long been a breadbasket of sorts, rich in produce, and with it water. After the Israelis built settlements nearby and dug deep wells, deeper than allowed the Palestinians, the water dried up. It is now a water-starved region.
And weaving into this some history of the region: Jenin comes from the Arabic word for paradise or garden (from some promotional literature he lent me: Jenin and its environs have been inhabited almost as long as Jericho, making it one of the most ancient areas in Palestine, and the world. Its history dates to 2450 BC, when it was built by the Canaanites and named “Ein Ganeem,” meaning Garden Spring.)
Mustafa, photography instructor at The FreedomTheater
Two of his students
The Romans called it Jinae, Jesus is thought to have passed thru here going between Nazareth and Jerusalem, healing a group of lepers in this village at a site now marked by a Greek Orthodox church (I visited it in 2006 when Yousef and I met).
Walking thru briars in the dark, over mounds of ancient limestone, not sure about snakes or poisonous plants, in my Tiva sandals, was unsettling. I didn’t trip, I didn’t slip, I didn’t catch myself on thorns, and as far as I know I wasn’t bitten or infected in any way. For such small wonders, I am grateful.
Hearing A’s story the day before, and noticing her rare beauty and how well she wears her suffering, I’ve been drawn to photograph her. To avoid possibly embarrassing her if I directly asked her for permission to make her portrait (she’d asked me to delete another I’d made in demonstrating to the class) I waited for an unguarded moment. It occurred. A group of us were sitting about, as we often do, waiting, waiting, waiting, when I thought, this is the moment. Not to sneak it but to appear to be making portraits of the group, one at a time. So I began with Sophie, moved left and finally alighted on A sitting nearly beside me. First a profile, then a more full-face view. She smiled, did not demur, I might have achieved some limited success.
Will this portrait reveal what I’ve written about her—a long-suffering young woman, hoping to break free from her restricted life as a woman living thru occupation?
Yousef seemed excited by my progress on the Center’s website. We sat together, me at the end of my working day, hot and tired, wishing only to shower and nap. I began a training for him because he will be the manager once I’ve exited. I showed him how to add and edit pages, add images, and we struggled with changing the language to Arabic. He brought a folder of images and texts that I can use for the site.
Yousef Shalabi, co-founder and director of the Jenin Creative Cultural Center
So far I take some limited pride in this site, despite the apparent bugs in the template and my clumsiness with managing it. It is not nearly as simple and sweet as is my blog template.
Sara wrote that American Friends Service Committee is closing Peacework. This is big, ominous, disturbing. The closure is a response to the demand by management for a 50% reduction in budget. Y wrote in with condolences and as is her way with brilliant suggestions about how to close it out: a form of party with a display of previous issues and those who guest edited or made contributions standing by their issue.
I wrote and phoned various people yesterday including Amal and Erez about my Gaza permit, which is yet to be approved. No word from Chris at Kerry’s office or from anyone else, other than Amal who seems to be putting the follow-up in my lap.
The night seemed cooler than previous nights, the morning less heated. Maybe the clouds had some effect.
Yousef clinched the windmill story, I think and for now: it is left over from an era of many windmills, during Jenin’s more productive period. It has nothing to do with the refugee camp, contrary to what Abdullah told me. A rich family probably owns it with the house at its base. The play gear I discovered there probablly is for the family’s children.
He also told us the army had made an incursion into Jenin the night before. I heard or saw nothing of it. The Israelis can be swift and silent in their night prowling. Who did they snare, for what reasons, and where is that person now, and for how long?
The night before, that same night—coincidence?—the entire city experienced a power outage. Charley thought this might have been associated with our own lack of electricity, but later we discovered that indeed it was due to not paying the account.
Making my life with the Gang somewhat harder are their accents, all different, and except for Lucas, barely resembling the English I’m familiar with. Scottish (speaking in a rapid clipped manner) and two forms of British.
Researching the archeological site I discovered my own site, and realize now I was here in April 2006, just a little over 3 years ago. (Photos here)