Entrance to the huge illegal Israeli settlement/colony of Ariel, north of Ramallah
At home in Cambridge Massachusetts I am now recounting my trip to southeast USA with my photographic presentations about Palestine & Israel, in 15 parts, one for each day.
Machsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch), a group of volunteer Israeli women, monitors checkpoints in the occupied Palestinian territories. Esti Tsal led me and a few friends on her monitoring session, meeting us in Jaffa-Tel Aviv, and driving effortlessly into settlements to demonstrate how easy being oblivious to the occupation is for most Israelis.
It is 7 AM on the train home, crossing one of the many rivers in and near DC, passing government buildings, most empty since this is Sunday, sitting in the café car sipping Amtrak coffee, nibbling on dates, Newton fig bars, grapes, watching people come and go with their breakfasts and a tad sore from the night sleeping in the coach which required sharing my 2 seater with a fairly large friendly young man.
I am slowly mastering the art of sleeping on a train, discovering how to stretch, roll to one side to relieve aches, treat my arthritis with respect and love, not worry too much about not deep sleeping. I’m aware I sleep when I awaken to a dream.
My night seatmate lives in Lynn Massachusetts, grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, moved north for work because he was sick of Florida and now wishes to return home. He’d been visiting friends. He stayed up long past my bedtime when sleeping on trains (about 8:30) to play video games on his tiny $300 laptop. He told me earlier that while coming south by train he couldn’t sleep until he loaded himself with beer.
Advertising subsidized housing, Ariel
The off day in Jacksonville turned out to be mostly 1. visiting with Z and his family, including his gorgeous and outgoing kids, 2. taking in the several exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art, including selections form their permanent photo collection, 3. appreciating a coffee house and bookstore, also the library with its excellent collection of displayed photos, 4. fruitlessly searching for the Museum of the South which turned out to be a closed storefront, and 5. worrying about when V and M, the two Syrian women who’d become my designated drivers, would return from shopping to drive me to the train station. They’d found a discount outlet for high-end women’s clothing and each bought large basketfuls of clothes. M forgot our meeting time and had left her cell phone in the SUV so I couldn’t remind her.
Z is encouraging me to circulate my slide shows more widely, either by establishing a program which would train people to give the shows, ala Al Gore, or put them into DVD form, also ala Gore. I favor the second, and remember that he’s not the first to suggest this. He thought videoing was fundable, and that as a last resort he might himself fund it. I’m to research methods and costs. The video that folks did in Aiken might be a pilot. I’m eager to consider this possibility; I’m heartened that people suggest it, affirming the value of my programs.
He seems deeply committed to social transformation. We discussed why so many are so mute on this topic, inactive, dormant. His main suggestion was the fullness of time, i.e., people are too busy. He himself works long hours as a cardiologist, then he has his family obligations. I can guess that buying things occupies him as well, the house for instance, that he recently moved into. When driving me in his relatively new BMW sports car—he also had a BMW SUV—he confessed, I’m embarrassed by this car, never thought to consider its gas mileage and now I can’t sell it.
Rick, Marty, Esti Tsal
Preparing to leave, the family gave me a large plastic bag of food for the train, fresh grapes, high quality dates (the moist kind), flat bread, rolled cheese, and a large heavy box of Arabic sweets. Plus anything else I might desire and be able to fit into my luggage. I declined. Z also donated about $250, making some $500 from this venue alone, probably my most generous of this trip.
His home: maybe 6,000 sq ft (compared to my 700), or more, a pool, large lawn, long corridors, high ceilings, plenitude of toys and games and food and furniture. He might be embarrassed by this as well. Despite his consumer patterns he seemed to genuinely feel my life style was laudable. He said so, referring several times to my life as a model, my life as a story, which may be the most impressive component in my presentations. Not so much my economic picture but my obvious willingness to face danger to foster justice and peace.
When I use the word shaheed referring to Rachel Corrie and more generally those who die because of the struggle, a martyr, audiences might perceive that Skip Schiel also could become a shaheed. Would this be the ultimate irony in my shows?
Rick told to go back, Hawwara
Once situated in my rented 30-hour mobile home, the train, I began culling from my travel journal, to consider a blog form. Since I’ve made very few photos on this trip (an entire batch perhaps lost to a memory card malfunction) I might use photos from the shows. The simple act of culling is a review, a digestion, a contemplation of what I’ve just done. Culling always raises the questions of relevance and propriety—what fits and how much to disclose? Instance: excising the woman I shared a seat with to Ashville NC when arriving in the south because it is so personal and irrelevant.
After reaching home I will total up shows given, audiences shown to, money earned. And I will delight in deciding how much and how to donate to various Palestine/Israel organizations, Ma’an Development Center tops among them. (Reminding me that I’ve heard nothing from my friend in Gaza in weeks who works for Ma’am, Yusef. Is he alive?)
Examining for explosive belts, Hawwara
I wish I could say more about my impressions of Jacksonville. Big, sprawling, sandy, close to water, both the ocean and a large river. Relatively new, multi cultural, high crime rate, not teeming with cultural amenities. What is its history, its destiny? Would I ever consider a photo project about Florida? Why not? One stream might be retracing the route and experiences of my parents while they honeymooned there. I vividly recall a photo of them standing proudly together on a high rock, both looking so young, elegant, beautiful and happy.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I received one, from the older of the two Z daughters. Cut out from red paper, inscribed to “Mr. Schiel.” But without a declaration of love, which is appropriate. We just met and she is no more than 8 years old. Otherwise, no messages of love. Except one: a bulk mailing from Chris J. Oh well, my reality. And oh well, perhaps today when I open my email I’ll find a little surprise. But then I shouldn’t discount the many recent letters from Y, remaining one of my most reliable correspondents. And then I could inquire: have I sent any love messages out? (I’ve not.)
Esti with the District Coordination Officer
It is now 7:30 AM, just leaving DC, clear sky, sun fully up, cold weather. We are racing thru the countryside just outside DC. Rails better here? Where is Obama at this moment and what is he doing? Since he and Michelle have enrolled their two daughters in a Quaker school, is he tempted to attend a Quaker meeting with his family?
—February 15, 2009, Sunday, on the train, written in and while pulling out of the DC railroad station
This is the last in this series. For a full report.
Machsom Watch volunteers relieving Esti
Report of April 4, 2009, 8:25 AM
The traffic of pedestrians into the town is heavy. The narrow turnstiles are crowded and jammed. The Palestinians complain that the disabled crossing is not open and there is no one to talk to about it. The exit from the town is less crowded. The humanitarian lane is open. A man is detained. According to the DCO representative he tried to cross via the humanitarian lane, he was refused and then tried his luck again in a vehicle. A while later he is released.
The queue of cars leaving the town is quite short. An x-ray machine, a dog handler and a DCO representative are present. Three lanes are open but the inspection is slow and thorough and the queue grows and grows.
A bus driver complains that at Za’atra only buses are held up for about half an hour for an additional inspection, therefore, most of the passengers prefer to travel by taxi causing the buses to lose business. He claims that it is not fair. And the roadblock is fair?
Three photographers from ‘news agencies’ stand on the traffic island filming the queue of cars. They did not tell us what brought them to the roadblock. In the car park one can buy tea, coffee and non Passover food.