The Rising of the Light:
Photography by Skip Schiel from Israel and the Occupied Territories of Palestine
October 11 – November 1, 2010
We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
—Dr Martin Luther King Jr
Apsara Warrior, by Ouk Chim Vichet, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Art Museum
I am very grateful to all who organized and hosted for me on this tour. Without them and many others I’d not be able to do the little I’ve accomplished. I am immeasurably grateful. Unfortunately, a few who promised venues did not follow thru—usually for unexplained but I’m sure understandable reasons. Maybe next time.
The journey—intentions, problems, meaning, and achievements?
Three weeks in the Midwest, the hinterland, mostly Cleveland, Detroit, Ann Arbor Michigan, Tiffin Ohio, and Chicago and suburbs. At 2 conferences, 1 mosque, 1 Islamic high school, 2 public high schools, 1 neighborhood center, and 2 Friends meetings. Details here. Showing Dismantling the Matrix of Control, Gaza Steadfast, and The Hydropolitics of Israel-Palestine, also with the photo exhibitions, Gaza is Home to 1.5 Million Human Beings: How Do They Live? and Living Female in a Zone of Conflict. To approximately 600 people in live audiences, including children as young as 7 years and elders older than me—and an unknown number at former, current and future exhibitions.
Gaza and Living Female exhibits at AFSC Chicago
My tour organizer and I found fewer venues than we’d anticipated, perhaps our lack of Midwest contacts or the economy or poor timing. At some venues, notably in Cleveland, the audiences were small (10-15 people) and relatively quiet. While in others, the 2 conferences and the Friends meeting, audiences were larger (100-200) and seemed more engaged. People frequently encouraged me to return.
The audiences were mostly welcoming, with a few exceptions—someone at a mosque misinterpreted my Gaza slide show to be siding with Israel, propounding its point of view. A man shut down that show. Later several participants from the mosque apologized and told me this man did not speak for their community. In addition a Jewish adversary from the Boston area, long critical of me, sent a letter to key leaders of a suburban community claiming I was partisan against Israel and worse. The high school at which I was to appear canceled my presentation. Local organizers felt this was not in response to the letter, but to what they thought were my slanted views displayed without sufficient context. No easy road—threading thru a tortured terrain.
I’ve lost friends and supporters as I’ve photographically engaged with Palestine/Israel. And I’ve gained many new ones, especially on this last tour.
Not to take sides is to effectively weigh in on the side of the stronger.
—William Sloan Coffin, Credo
I connected with various people in the progressive Jewish movement who are in the forefront of Jewish activism about Palestine/Israel. I co-presented with Mark Braverman (author of Fatal Embrace, Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, highly recommended) in Tiffin OH, Rabbi Michael Davis in Downers Grove IL, and Rabbi Brant Rosen (co-founder of Fast for Gaza and the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace) of the Evanston Illinois Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. The Chicago regional office of the American Friends Service Committee’s Mideast program honored Rabbi Rosen, Shirien Damra (a Muslim American graduate student organizer for Palestinian rights), and me with their annual Inspiration for Hope award.
Zionism always was, despite strategically motivated denials and brief flirtations with other objectives [e.g., bi-nationalism], an attempt to establish Jewish sovereignty over Palestine. This project was illegitimate. Neither history nor religion, nor the sufferings of Jews in the Nazi era, sufficed to justify it. It posed a mortal threat to the Palestinians, and it left no room for meaningful compromise. Given that the Palestinians had no way to overcome Zionism peacefully, it also justified some form of violent resistance.
—Neumann, Michael: The Case Against Israel
The Muslim and Arab communities are on the rise, organizing and participating in events like mine, and boldly speaking out against injustices in Palestine/Israel. Potentially they form a funding and political bloc which could influence the course of events in the Mideast.
Various activists housed and fed me, treating me to tours of their regions. Hospitality seemed limitless, as did love, commitment, and appreciation. Hosts and organizers taught me about issues local to their region, and what’s being done. For example, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor I attended what I call The Red Shirt Affair, a dramatic opposition to a campaign by Israel to rebrand itself by sending current and former soldiers to campuses to propound views supportive of Israel. (Photos here, included in part 1 and part 2 of a 2 part series of my photos from the trip. )
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
As if riding thru neighborhoods and homes on a railroad train, I sampled lives as I tunneled thru.
A highlight was exploring my hometown of Chicago—childhood on the Southside and high school years in the northwest suburb of Arlington Heights. Roots and influences. A rich heritage. I hope to return soon to this vibrant and often overlooked sector of the nation.
Security officer, Cabrini Green, Chicago
Confirming the observations of others in the United States, I’ve noticed a shift in perception about Palestine/Israel. People are more willing to criticize Israel, demand the application of international law, understand the complicity of the United States government in fostering the oppression, and most importantly (thanks in large part to Mark Braverman) realize that the silence of the Christian church community enables Mideast horrors to continue. As evidenced by the people I’ve mentioned, Jews and Muslims and Arabs play a major role in this perceptual and activist shift, standing up for human rights despite the opprobrium this generates in their own communities.
My temporary neighborhood in Detroit
My main hope for this journey was to broadcast as widely as possible my images and stories collected over the past 7 years, enhancing the struggle for Palestinian dignity, human rights, and justice, while acknowledging the suffering and rights of Jews and others in that region. And to do this by concentrating on international law, holding accountable all parties in the conflict.
Both Israel and Hamas have failed to meet their obligations under international law to conduct credible and independent investigations [into the assault on Gaza by Israel named Operation Cast Lead from late 2008 to early 2009]. “The Human Rights Council must therefore assess these domestic proceedings and report accordingly to the UN General Assembly and Security Council,” said [Wilder Tayler, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists]. “The Security Council must take concrete and robust measures to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for victims, and to this end consider the options at its disposal to break the cycle of impunity prevalent in this conflict, including by referring the situation in Gaza to the International Criminal Court,” concluded Tayler.
—International Commission of Jurists, September 2010
Now I bear down on plans for another trip: Gaza for 6 weeks, mainly to teach photography thru the AFSC and to make photos, in the context of a movie being made about Gaza and my photographic work there.
I’ll be blogging and posting photos on my website, so please consider signing up for the Levant list below if you’ve not already.
Levant email list: please write skipschiel (at) gmail (dot) com with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line.
The prophets do not offer reflections about ideas in general. Their words are onslaughts, scuttling illusions of false security, challenging evasions, calling faith to account, questioning prudence and impartiality.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets
Morton Arboretum, Downers Grove IL
All we want is to be ordinary.
—Mohmoud Darwish, the late Palestinian poet