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From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

For the Palestinians, not only is land a source of food, but it also stands for resistance, freedom and sovereignty, while farmers are considered defenders of the land.

—Fareed Taamallah

PHOTOS

June 30, 2019, Sunday, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Old City

Fareed Taamallah with Maryam Abdallah Abu Lateefa and her grandchildren, in Kalandia refugee camp
With Mustafa Mahmound Abu Awwad in Tulkarm refugee camp

Returning to Ramallah yesterday [June 29, 2019], we stopped at an organic farm Fareed had learned about on Facebook (I constantly remind myself that Fareed and the Palestinian woman from Gaza who I’d worked with on water issues more than 15 years ago, Amani Alfarra, had inspired me to begin my own feeble FaceBook career.).

Fareed is adamant about boycotting all Israeli products (a mark of his integrity in my view) and using Palestinian products whenever possible. Other Palestinians (and perhaps even some Jewish Israelis) do the same, a tough practice while Israeli products dominate the Palestinian economy. He explained that at the outset of watermelon season about a month ago (I ate my own watermelon last week in Ramallah, unaware of the source, assuming local—my big mistake), his kids pestered him for watermelon. Unable to find locally-sourced melon he took a chance. Is this Israeli or Palestinian? his kids had asked. I hope Palestinian was his answer. But now, we’d discovered a certifiable source of local melon, both green and yellow, along with zattar, cucumbers, sunflowers (for the beauty and bees), etc.

The farmer showed us the seed packet—from the USA, specially bred for a non-salty environment like this region of Palestine. Fareed asked me to photograph him with the staff and include the farm and a giant melon, posing smiling, proud—like a sports fisher with a prize fish freshly caught.

Fareed with his certifiably organic watermelon

During the long drive we compared notes about Palestine, the Israelis, our families, what we read, and our hopes. He was very interested in my report about the Israeli-organized Shurat HaDin’s 3rd Annual Law and War Conference I’d attended in Jerusalem, the first person I’ve spoken to about this, in some detail.

As the director of public relations department of the Central Elections Commission-Palestine, he reads less now, mostly history and politics. About 1 book per month, he claims. His college-age son reads a book a week. Most Palestinians do not favor reading, he explained. Rather, vocal storytelling is the primary means for conveying knowledge. When I asked about his experience during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 (after I’d read Mike Merryman-Lotz’s moving account of his own experience in Ramallah then, the city nearly destroyed and under curfew, a response to suicide operations) Fareed at length and yet cogently told more his own story.

Graduating from Birzeit University with a masters degree in international relations, journalism and political science in 2000, he then worked for a governmental agency, maybe the Palestinian Authority, as a journalist and lived in Ramallah during the week and with his family in Qira (his home village, in his father’s house) on the weekends. At the beginning of the Second or Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000 he was able to maintain this routine for awhile, but the expanding number of travel restrictions like road blocks (which we experienced again yesterday, unannounced, unexplained, unrelated to security, as is usual) and checkpoint mushroomed until he could no longer maintain this regime.

Checkpoint, Hebron, 2008 c. photo by Skip Schiel

Examining for explosive belts, Harawwa, West Bank, 2007

He then, giving up his journalist job, lived exclusively in Qira and worked in freelance journalism. His daughter Lina was born during the first year of the Second Intifada, 2002. To get his wife to the hospital in Nablus, they had to arrange multiple ambulances and drop-offs, which meant she’d need to walk from one ambulance to the next, pregnant and about to deliver (this all a precedent for her later harried trip with an ill Lina to the hospital 6 or so years later, another story—Fareed said both stories are online, I’ll search for them.) To support his wife during Lina’s birth, he walked thru the mountains, in the rain, I believe at night, to be with her in the Nablus hospital. That story sets the stage for the later one, equally telling and dramatic, about Lina’s kidney transplant. He calls this the most terrifying period of his life.

Explaining his love of farming, he considers himself primarily a farmer and activist, or an activist farmer. He uses farming politically, as in his story about the local watermelons. His mother was his guide, silent (Holy Silence). That is, she never verbally instructed the young Fareed, simply worked with him in silence. She felt silence was most appropriate while in the field with the plants, a holy moment. Even tho now with his kids who are all very conversant with farming, knowing plants, etc, they talk while they work. He suggested that after I’ve finished with my refugee project I return to photograph farming. He promised me many contacts. This I will consider, tho not at this point seriously—since I can not imagine the end of this Ongoing Nakba photo project. Too much to do, too little time remaining. To entice me, he reminded me how observable the topic is—plants, water, weather, earth, people, planting, cultivating, harvesting, selling, eating. Appealing altho not yet compelling.

Farm in the Jordan Valley, photo by Fareed Taamallah

He also expressed a wish to tour the United States and give talks about activist farming. He has contacts in Europe and has apparently previously given talks in some European countries, but the USA would be a new audience. I promised to help, requesting first a synopsis of his background, mission, and themes he’d deal with. I mentioned the American Friends Service Committee and Tree of Life as 2 possible organizations that could work with him. Also Jewish Voice for Peace but they tend not to sponsor speakers, unless directly related to their organization, like Brant Rosen on his book tour.

Of course, traveling between the West Bank and the United States, requiring exit and reentry permission from the Israeli and the United States governments—the U.S. now not overly friendly to Palestinians (and most people from Arab-Muslim regions)—can be daunting. Same for traveling locally, meaning to the city of his father’s birth, Haifa. Israeli blocks him from entering Israel, as it does most Palestinians in the occupied territories. Paradoxical because Andrew Haddad, who I’ve also profiled in this blog, a Christian Palestinian Israeli living in Haifa, can visit Ramallah to visit family.

For all this I paid, as agreed, $150 or 600 shekels for a full day’s work. Three interviews plus the day with my good friend Fareed.

Skip Schiel and Fareed, 2019

Witnessed in May 1950 by a woman in a kibbutz in the south as Israeli soldiers unloaded Palestinian refugees from trucks at a camp, quoted in Benny Morris’ 1993 book, Israel’s Border Wars: 1949-1956. (Incidentally, Israel may have by now excised these original documents from its archives.):

We were waiting for a hitch beside one of the big army camps… Suddenly two large trucks arrived, packed with blindfolded Arabs (men, women, and children). Several of the soldiers guarding them got down to drink and eat a little, while the rest stayed on guard. To our question ‘Who are these Arabs?’ they responded: ‘These are infiltrators, on their way to being returned over the borders.’ The way the Arabs were crowded together [on the trucks] was inhuman. Then one of the soldiers called his friend ‘the expert’ to make some order [among the Arabs]. Those of us standing nearby had witnessed no bad behavior on the part of the Arabs, who sat frightened, almost one on top of the other. But the soldiers were quick to teach us what they meant by ‘order. The ‘expert’ jumped up and began to…hit [the Arabs] across their blindfolded eyes and when he had finished, he stamped on all of them and then, in the end, laughed uproariously and with satisfaction at his heroism. We were shocked by this despicable act. I ask, does this not remind us exactly of the Nazi acts towards the Jews? And who is responsible for such acts of brutality committed time and time again by our soldiers?

LINKS

I consider Fareed, the activist farmer, a visionary. As well as anyone in the West Bank, he understands climate crisis impacts on Palestinian agriculture and here makes recommendations to address the problem.

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

PHOTOS

We shall have to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.

—Theodor Herzl, Diaries

June 23, 2019, Monday, Ramallah, Occupied West Bank

Trying to recall significant details about the 3 people Fareed and I met last Thursday [June 19, 2019] proved futile. Even with the aid of the photos and the few notes—names, places, and dates, mostly—I couldn’t recall much of significance. Partly this is because interviewing 3 in a row without breaks to record merges those individuals. They all mix together. Who had lived in a village near Jews but had no interaction? Who lived near Jews and had lots of interaction? Who had the father who returned to retrieve property? Etc. So far Fareed wrote that he doesn’t have time to write speaker notes from his notes. He’ll save the notes if I have questions later.

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Khadija Mohammad Al-Azza (Um Ghazi) in the Amari refugee camp

I considered asking him to photograph the notes and send me the photos, for possible later translation, but he might have scribbled so that anyone trying to decipher the notes may not be able. Luckily, I have the audio recording with his periodic translations, so, when needed, I can refer to that. All I need at this early point in developing the series is a few brief quotes, not a summary, but a few dramatic and distinctive details. Bits of stories.

Had I asked the questions rather than he I might have better recall. While he interviewed one person I spoke casually with her daughter, that beauty who I failed to photograph well (blurry). I heard her story clearly and was able to record her stories in my speaker notes. About her wish to move out of the Amari refugee camp and how dangerous playing is for the kids. By the way, I asked about the Amari Play Center, once connected with Friends (Quakers), either the Ramallah Friends School or Ramallah Friends Meeting or both. An old woman ran it, Rosi Greenberg organized a mural-making project. I recall it well. What became of it and the center? I could ask at the school or search my website.

Otherwise I believe I made a decent set of photos.

Fareed asked for photos of himself with the people, which I provided yesterday, in color and black and white, unsure which he’d prefer, and also curious about how they’d look in black and white. I began new collections with these sample photos. (And sent the zip file to Minga a few minutes ago with an invite to swim and bike when I return home, spurred by the recent news that the Charles River annual swim was at first postponed and then finally cancelled because of heavy rains—which can pollute the river, an indicator both of the climate so far this summer in New England and the vulnerability of the river to pollution.)

Fareed with Khadija Mohammad Al-Azza (Um Ghazi) in the Amari refugee camp

June 30, 2019, Sunday, Old City of Jerusalem, Palestine-Israel

Yesterday [June 29, 2019] with Fareed was my final day photographing Nakba survivors; tomorrow with a rented car I begin phase two, find their original sites, Arab villages destroyed by Israel in 1948, and make landscape photos that connect with the portraits. We were in Tulkarm, near the sea, thus flatter, warmer, and much more humid. During the second of 3 interviews, I became drowsy and nearly fell asleep. This loquacious guy, the man we interviewed—Fareed told me later—extended stories past their breaking points. He also insisted on elaborating contexts rather than specifying experiences or stories.

As I mentioned to Fareed later in reviewing our work, when he delays translations I tend to lose interest. The session becomes boring to me. I’ve run out of photographic ideas and struggle to maintain my concentration. I only snapped back when I thought of 3 questions to add to the interview: one was about mode of transport, how people moved themselves and belongings; another I’ve forgotten; and the third, one I’ve never asked before, motivated by a statement someone made to me at lunch during the war and law conference held in Israel Jerusalem, was, would you like to move out of the camp, and if so, why don’t you?

The obvious answer is expense. Land is very expensive, even in Tulkarm which seems not a highly desirable area (unlike Jerusalem and Ramallah, more like Jenin). In my answer, I mentioned outside pressures and governmental restrictions, which might corroborate what the Israeli asking me the question assumed: that the Palestinian Authority forces people to live in the camps to make a political point.  Fareed and I discussed this at length later. The man we interviewed of course would deny governmental pressure. Fareed told me he rephrased the question to our sitter so it would not appear political. He explained that had he asked it straight, does anyone force you to live in the camp, the man would automatically say no because even if someone did force him, he would be at risk politically if he admitted it.

(Later, asking Fareed to clarify this question of political influence, he wrote: “I don’t think that the Palestinian Authority forces people to stay at the camp, most likely the poor people stay at the camp because they can’t afford buying an apartment in the city, while the middle class and rich people move without any problem.”)

The other question might have been about his political activity, in the form of, did you resist the occupation? He said he had, experienced many years in prisons, as had his sons. When I asked specifically what did you do to resist, he said, I worked for Fatah. Fareed explained later that activists cannot be more specific without risking Israel learning about them. So I gather that even tho he’d been punished and was now a very old man, in his 80s, full admission would put him at risk by the Israelis.

Fareed’s father with his grandson, Mohammad
Fareed’s home in the village of Qira, Occupied West Bank—the huge settlement of Ariel in the background

I’ll save further details about the people for my speaker notes. Fareed promised to send me names of people and places by the end of today, and I promised to send him photos of him with the people. We visited 2 refugee camps in Tulkarm, looking much like the other camps—building up, narrow streets, many people, a smattering of shops. The main difference might be the weather.

Fareed told me he’d written on Facebook about another person we’d interviewed and photographed. I should compile his posts, even tho he writes in Arabic. The automatic translation feature might bring back details I’d overlooked. He is surely invested in this project. I think of the first man I interviewed for my coordinator “position,” Mohammed who I’d met outside the Ramallah Friends Meeting and briefly considered working with. Among other benefits Fareed brings to the project—besides expertise, knowledge, investment—he is affable, trustworthy, gregarious, genuine. And he exudes this with people we meet, our local guides and the people we interview and photograph. Whereas all of my previous assistants, such as Mousa, Murad, Ayed, Meras, knew the people we met and thus had already established trust, in most cases with Fareed we had to develop trust instantaneously.

LINKS

Facebook page of Fareed Taamallah

Water in Salfit, sewage from Israeli settlements—my blog in part about Fareed as he guided a small group of us investigators/activists in 2007

Palestinian refugees and the right of return (American Friends Service Committee)
Approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced and became refugees as a result of the 1948 war which led to the founding of Israel. None of these displaced persons were ever allowed to return to the homes or communities from which they were displaced and the Palestinian refugee population has continued to grow in the time that has passed since 1948….

Palestinian Refugees (contrary view by the Anti-Defamation League)
The Palestinian refugee issue originated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when five Arab armies invaded the State of Israel just hours after it was established. During the ensuing war, as many as 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled their homes in the newly created state as a result of many factors….

Israel’s ‘Independence’ Day, by Ramy Tadros (1995)

To be continued

My photographic life

A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.
 
—Dorothea Lange

My photographic life began when I was 7 years old on the Southside of Chicago, 1946, just one year after World War Two ended and the US unleashed the first use of nuclear weapons, a period I do not recall but which produced life-long motivations. In that same year, my father Fran gave me my first camera. Seventy two years later, I photograph along several lines: politically-based addressing such knotty topics as the climate crisis, racism (an issue greatly deepened thru my participation in the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage Pilgrimage in 1998-1999), and injustice in Palestine-Israel (begun in 2003 and continuing with a series about people and their descendants Israel expelled from their ancient villages and towns to form the new state, “The Ongoing Nakba”); our precious environment all over New England and much of the US including Quabbin Reservoir, Alaska, and California; indigenous people begun while living on the Lakota Rosebud reservation for one month in 1984; among others. I work with Extinction Rebellion on the Media-Messaging Team and with the Israel-Palestine Working Group of New England Yearly Meeting.

Kodak Brownie camera
Kodak Autographic fold-out camera

Quakers have been enormously supportive in many ways—prayers, criticism, direction, use of my photos, and financially. Much of my photography derives from Quaker theology and practice, most notably John Woolman who visited his then-neighboring Indians (believed to be hostile) in Pennsylvania in 1761, and who strongly addressed racism, even among Friends. He walked his talk, a key principle for me. Dorothea Lange photographing the Great Depression with a Great Heart is a major inspiration. Many in our monthly and yearly meetings working with many tools on various topics, often using art effectively, have mightily influenced me.

Beauty will save the world.

—Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Idiot”

Dorothea Lange, Texas, circa 1934
Six Tenant Farmers Without Farms, Hardeman County, Texas, 1937

Website

Video

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

From Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz

The need to tell our story to “the rest”, to make “the rest” participate in it, had taken on for us, before our liberation and after, the character of an immediate and violent impulse, to the point of competing with our other elementary needs. The book has been written to satisfy this need: first and foremost, therefore, as an interior liberation (SA, 5-6).

(His recurring dream while in Auschwitz:)

This is my sister and some unidentifiable friends and many other people. They are all listening to me and it is this very story that I am telling… I also speak diffusely of our hunger and of the lice-control, and of the Kapo who hit me on the nose then sent me to wash myself as I was bleeding. It is an intense pleasure, physical, inexpressible, to be at home, among friendly people, and to have so many things to recount: but I cannot help noticing that my listeners do not follow me. In fact, they are completely indifferent: they speak confusedly of other things among themselves, as if I was not there… My dream stands in front of me, still warm, and although awake I am still full of its anguish: and then I remember that it is not a haphazard dream, but that I have dreamed it not once but many times since I arrived here… and I remember that I have recounted it to Alberto and that he confided to me, to my amazement, that it is also his dream and the dream of many others, perhaps of everyone. (SA, 53-54)

“The Anti-linguistic Nature of the Lager in the Language of Primo Levi’s
Se questo è un uomo”, by Fabio Girelli-Carasi

PHOTOS

June 21, 2019, Friday, Palestine-Israel

Yesterday [June 20, 2019] Fareed did much more than translate: he took over the task of interviewing, leaving me the duties of photographer and audio engineer (my audio skills have improved markedly since the year before.). Our modus operandi was to run thru the questions together before we met the person, agree that Fareed would ask most of a set of questions that I’ve been using and that are obvious, beginning with name, village, how old during Nakba, the Nakba itself, where to, when, and how, any return visits, family transmission of stories, and sometimes current health and whether it is affected by the Nakba experience and the question of burial in the village.

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Shaker Issa Odeh (Abu Maher) with his son, in his son’s home in Ramallah—Fareed Taamallah on the left,  FaceBooketeer who lives in Ramallah

I’d throw in follow up questions, Fareed as well. He’d interrupt the speaker to translate for me, sometimes letting the speaker continue if he felt the speaker wished not to be interrupted. He took notes. I watched for emotional displays by our sitters. Earlier, I’d studied and, when possible, altered the lighting and placement of people, aware of the background. We’ve not discussed what to do with Fareed’s notes but I’ll suggest he provide me simple notes, key points, not a fully written account. He reminded me that he once worked as a journalist; he certainly has the skills and impulses. I believe he is also definitively committed to this project, feels it deeply, which is crucial. He needs to sell the project to the person and family, i.e., persuade them about my goodwill and authenticity, that I won’t exploit them. Persuasion can be a chore, as happened during the last of the 3 interviews yesterday. A son was skeptical, asked to see examples. I’d forgotten to bring my prints from portrait sessions the year before. So I struggled with my website, finally got one image to display. This seemed to convince him.

Later, Fareed confided that he thought all the interviews the day before went very well, but he didn’t like this last son [who does not appear in any of my photos]. He felt the son had prejudged the project and me when he learned I was from the States. Unlike working with Ayed, Murad, and Mousa, some of my other Palestinian colleagues (Mousa is now touring New Zealand or Australia and another country presumably with his videos and photos), yesterday (possibly on other days) Fareed didn’t know the people. He relies on friends of friends. Yesterday at Amari refugee camp (because the contact had turned off his phone and we couldn’t reach him, infuriating Fareed), we began at a sports club. (The manager of the Educational Bookshop in Jerusalem had suggested asking at sports clubs in refugee camps for participants.) Little by little, Fareed made connections and we found the old woman and her adult children, resulting in a very lively interview.

Nakba-Amari-refugee-Palestine-Israel_DSC3416.jpg

Khadija Mohammad Al-Azza (Um Ghazi) with Fareed Taamallah, who has published or will her interview on his Facebook page

Soon I intend to cruise thru the multitude of photos I made yesterday, write speaker notes, and ask Fareed for his notes. We meet again on Sunday afternoon for Kalandia refugee camp.

Yesterday at 2:30 pm I met Fareed at the Ramallah Friends School upper camp, expecting to work together until about 9 pm in the evening, including a visit to his home in Ramallah for dinner. Getting to know Fareed better is one of the chief blessings of this trip. Also meeting his family again, including his son studying civil engineering at Birzeit University. His daughter, Lina, is tall and beautiful and shy; she has recently graduated from high school. Her story illustrates the occupation perfectly:  less than one-year-old, kidney problems from the cistern water which had become polluted and they had no other water, potential kidney failure, mother at night in the rain races to reach the hospital in Ramallah, circumvents the checkpoints, carries Lina for an exam.

Lina needs a transplant, mother offers but not compatible, father offers but his kidney too big for the child. He spreads the word, Anna, an activist Brit living in South Africa offers, problems getting Lina to an Israeli hospital (no facilities in Palestine), problems getting Anna into Israel (because of her activist history), finally succeed, the transplant, Lina lives with Anna’s kidney, and so far as not met Anna (because Anna is banned from entry to Palestine).

I believe I met Fareed thru this story, told me by Hannah Mermelstein, a friend of his—as an activist, journalist, activist farmer, and good person, he has many friends worldwide. As he reiterated parts of Lina’s story, we considered the possible effects if the story had ended tragically. Still, I argued, it would be a useful story to tell: the consequences of the occupation. We also debated the value of storytelling, agreeing that some people with their Nakba stories find the storytelling too painful and might resist doing it. While others, I believe most, find the telling healing and cathartic, as I hope is true for people we interview and photograph. I quoted Primo Levy in Survival at Auschwitz, in short: a recurring nightmare of many prisoners was to find themselves released, yet no one wanted to hear their stories. With the refugees, I do not get this sense of either not wishing to talk or others not wishing to hear. Many times other family members and people outside the family sit in on our interview.

I mentioned to Fareed that 2 nights previously Ayed, another colleague, had toured us thru Aida refugee camp where Ayed lives, because Steve (who I worked with on the Alternatives to Violence Project) hoped to visit a camp. Steve confided to me that his image of present-day Palestinian refugee camp was tents. As might be true for many, who are perhaps influenced by contemporary imagery from Africa and parts of the Mideast or have just not updated their information about Palestine.

Riding back in Fareed’s car, I shared a possibly sinister thought about the right of return: since a fairly high proportion of survivors expressed to us a wish to be buried in their original villages, how about a limited right of return?—their corpses. Fareed winced at this, and pointed out (as someone had earlier that Israelis might vandalize the burials) that this might represent defeat of the right of return. How so? I asked. By suggesting that the only way Palestinians can return is as a corpse.

FareedSkipDrive7676

Fareed and me

During the entire interview sessions, I suffered from a sore eye and a bloated, gassy feeling. Was I about to shit mush? Would my eye become worse? These thoughts distracted me. Extraneous thoughts often distract me. I rarely experience single stream, serial thinking. Nearly impossible to concentrate on the photography while also listening to sitters and Fareed and attending to the audio recorder. Would be much better to expand our field team from 2 to about 5, all proficient in their roles.

Thirty-five years ago, in the pages of the Journal of Palestine Studies, Edward Said made a surprising admission about the limits of fact-based evidence to change world opinion in the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians. Despite withering criticisms of Israeli atrocities during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon documented in the 1982 MacBride report of international jurists, and the detailed descriptions of the unremitting abuses committed by the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) in works such as Noam Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, Said reasoned that such “objective” presentations of Israeli criminality invariably failed to convince the public of Israel’s moral turpitude. Probing how Israel had largely escaped international condemnation alongside its success in depicting itself as the beleaguered victim of implacable Palestinian aggression, Said concluded that Palestinians had to frame the conflict in a discourse different than that of fact-based positivism. For Said, such a project had to reside in an epistemological break that would redirect representations of the conflict away from a detached empiricism and toward the virtues of national culture and national historical narration. Two years later, Said himself hinted at what this impulse might entail. In After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives, Said pondered how, “for all the writing about them, the Palestinians remain virtually unknown” and used this observation as a prelude for his narration of arresting images of Palestinians captured by photographer Jean Mohr. In this way, Said concedes to the camera a role in rendering the Palestinians visible while crafting a narrative of the Palestinian encounter with Zionism in a new language.

—Lockdown: Gaza through a Camera Lens and Historical Mirror, by Gary Fields (May 2020)

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

 

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

Nakba-Amari-refugee-Palestine-Israel_DSC3400.jpg

As Israel prepares to extend its rightful sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”), we bear a historic – and moral – responsibility to accurately call this event what it is: reunification. Israel is reuniting families, communities, and the Jewish people. It is reuniting with its history, which stretches back thousands of years. It is reunifying the traditions and culture that have survived and even thrived through adversity, animosity, and the horrors of countless wars….

It’s not ‘annexation’; it’s reunification, By Gerard Filitti, in The Times of Israel (June 28, 2020)

PHOTOS:

Khadija Alazza (Um Ghazi) was born in 1932 in a small village between the flat land of the coastal plain and the mountains to the east, which she described as a paradise. “We lived the best of life; we planted wheat, barley, corn, sesame, tomato and okra, in addition to olives, apples, figs, cactus and almonds, and we were self-sufficient.”

The village of Tal Essafi is located on a hill between Hebron and Ramleh, bordered by the villages of Ajoor, Dirdaban, Moghlis and Berkusia. Moreover, Jews built a kibbutz named Kfar Menachem on Palestinian land between Tal Essafi and Masmiyi. At the edge of the village, there was a water storage shed where water pumped from the well was stored in the water tanks. Khadija’s father owned much land, and plowmen and harvesters worked with him. She was not required to work in farming, and so was spoiled.

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Tal Essafi, 2013. photo by Liadmalone

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Tal Assif, 2010, from the mound looking east, photo from the internet

Tell es-Safi-2.png

 

The Jewish gangs, especially the Haganah [one of the precursors of the Israeli army], began to attack the Palestinian villages after they had conquered cities. Agrarian people heard about the massacre of Deir Yassin and were frightened. Jewish gangs displaced Arabs from one village to another. “It was midsummer and the people had already harvested; they had laid down the piles of wheat to be threshed. Some Palestinians resisted the gangs but had only a few old guns. They were not able to respond to the large attacks by Jewish gangs. Khadija says: “The gangs surrounded the village from the west side and left the eastern side open, and killed a number of people of the village. Our fighters withdrew, and we fled to the nearby village of Ajoor, walking on foot and without carrying anything with us. After a day and a night of walking we arrived in Ajoor.”

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Khadija spent three days with her family in Ajoor. “The people of Ajoor kindly received us; they fed and accommodated us in their homes.” Then the Zionist gangs attacked Ajoor, and the people again fled to the east, this time to the village of Beit Jibrin, which is located in a high area. People walked two days without water. They stayed in Beit Jibrin 3-4 months, and then Jewish gangs started attacking Beit Jibrin. There was strong resistance which lasted for three days. “They bombarded the town with artillery and warplanes, and people fled into the caves in mountains. The gangs entered the town from the west, and we again fled east. We walked for 3 days, and we passed through the village of Ithtna and slept there for a night. We continued 2 days more walking until we arrived in Hebron.”

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Ajoor/Ajjur, 2019, photo by Skip Schiel

“We sat under the vineyards for twenty days, and there were lots of displaced people. A friend of my father from Hebron named Haj Osman al-Hamour, was looking for us, took us to his house, and we lived all summer and winter in his house. There was much snow that year.

“Due to cold weather, the Jordanian army came and took the people to the mosques. Some people went to the caves, and when the snow came down, they died there.

“We spent a year and a half in Hebron, during which my brothers were ‘infiltrating’ into the ‘occupied land,’ that is, into our own village, to bring food, wheat, and money from our house in Tal Essafi. My father did not like what my brothers did, and decided to go down to Jericho to prevent his children from infiltrating. We had settled in Aqabat Jabr refugee camp near Jericho and my brothers worked in the citrus fields because they were good farmers.

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Refugee camp, Jericho, 2005, photo by Skip Schiel

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Jericho, 2015

“I married Mahmud Sharqawi, a refugee from Kafr Ana, and we moved to the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah. After the 1967 war, my parents and siblings were displaced to Jordan, while I stayed in the West Bank. In 1975, my husband died, and I remained with my children and daughters in the Amari camp.

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After the setback of the 1967 war, Khadija went to Tal El Safi several times with her children—the last of which was in 1998—and found the village completely destroyed. On the ruins were some fig trees and cactus. Part of the mosque was still standing. Um Ghazi lives now with her children in the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah and visits her siblings in Jordan from time to time because they are forbidden by Israel to return or visit Palestine. Um Ghazi bemoans the homeland and her life there. She remembers the pile of wheat which remained un-threshed. She wishes the time will come when she can die and be buried in her hometown.

Cafit030.jpgArcheological site of Gath, in Arabic Tal Essafi, photo from Wikipedia

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With Fareed Taamallah, my colleague, from Ramallah

LINKS

Khadija Alazza bemoans the pile of wheat, which remained un-threshed, (from which I draw this blog), by Fareed Taamallah (2019)

Lost land: Nakba survivors recall rural struggle in Mandate-era Palestine, also by Fareed Taamallah (2020)

Tell es-Safi

Ibriq (Community)

Palestine Film Institute

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

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Neama Zaid

…refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible; Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations…

—UN General Assembly, adopted Dec 11, 1948, 35 for, 15 against, 8 abstained

PHOTOS

PEF_map_-_BEIT_NABALA

1880 Palestine Exploration Fund (click map for enlargement)

Notes from our interview.

She lives alone in a large house in the Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah.

She was 10 years old in 1948 when Israel forcibly expelled her and her family from Beit Nabala.

She recalls many details of her life in the village

Beit Nabala was a prosperous, agricultural, self-sufficient village.

Her grandfather owned a quarry. He partnered with Jewish people but during the Nakba lost the business; she doesn’t know what happened.

The Jews from nearby Tel Aviv spoke Arabic.

Villagers west of Beit Nabala fled earlier, her village was one of the last to flee toward the east. Rushed and frantic, her mother accidentally brought salt instead of flour.

Her family fled first to Budrus and then Ramallah.

The British supported the Jews; she believed they plot against the Arabs. The British caused or facilitated or allowed the Nakba.

Arabs had no weapons; the British would execute Arabs with weapons. “The Jewish” as many Palestinians call the Jewish militia and military bombed the village. Jews came from mountains, and the Arabs fled to other mountains.

Later, post-Nakba, Jordan stationed its army on the “truce line” (Green Line?), as if an agreement to stop Arabs from returning to their homes.

Budrus residents fled to Ramallah, and then were told to return; thus, her father expected to return to Beit Nabala, but her mother realized they wouldn’t return. (This during 1948-1951)

Why did she settle in Jalazone?

No jobs in the refugee villages; some jobs in Jordan.

She married, stayed with (friends or family?), and had 5 boys and 3 girls. Some of her children live in nearby villages, her sister in Jalazone. She travels to visit kids and siblings mostly in Jordan, some live in Jalazone. Some of her family live in Jordan and can’t come into Palestine, but she can go there.

(At the end of our interview) she sang for us a sad song about her village, as had another woman we met. And made us coffee.

LINKS

‘Raining Bullets on Beit Nabala’ – Beit Nabala, Ramle district (VIDEO FROM BADIL-2013)
Miriam Backer was 15 years old when Beit Nabala came under sustained Zionist military assault and was eventually entirely depopulated in 1948. Her memories of those days are still very vivid but also very painful. Fleeing whilst cradling her newborn baby daughter in her arms, Miriam remembers the ‘bullets raining down’ on the village and her fellow villagers who never lived to tell their stories.

For the first time in 70 years, Palestinians return to their villages [including Beit Nabala], by Shatha Hammad (2018)
To commemorate Land Day, group of Palestinian refugees returned to the villages they were expelled from in 1948.

The return to Bait Nabala by former residents—video by Zochrot (2016)-below

Beit Nabala (Zochrot)

Beit Nabala (Palestine Remembered)

society Palestine جمعية بيت نبالا-فلسطين/beit nabala society palestine

Also from Beit Nabala, Fatima Nakhli (Um Yousef)

Memories of Nakba from those who survived it, a review of the book Palestine is our Home, edited by Nahida Halaby Gordon, published in 2016, reviewed by Rod Such (2017)

Israel, annexation and the West Bank explained, BBC (June 16, 20200
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is planning to effectively annex parts of the occupied West Bank in what would be a major – and highly controversial – act.

Minnesota police trained by Israeli police, who often use knee-on-neck restraint (June 2020)

TO BE CONTINUED

MY POSTING DATE, MAY 15, 2020is NAKBA DAY

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. And as in this case, people expelled during the Nakba who’ve found ways to resist and remain in Israel as citizens. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Intending to return to the region this spring, I’ve decided, because of the coronavirus crisis, to postpone my next visit until fall, 2020, assuming widespread travel can resume.

Interviewed and photographed on July 2, 2019 and interpretation written in April and May 2020. (The immediate threat of Coronavirus infection has eased in Israel and Palestine, so Andrew has been able to reopen his guesthouse, his only source of income. But as of this writing, he has no guests.) This is part four. (Revised with new photos on June 2, 2020)

Flowers are appearing on the earth, The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance. Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come.

—The Song of Songs 2:12,13

PHOTOS

Family and Identity

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Andrew’s grandfather, Andrew Haddad, the first, a policeman during the British Mandate period—born in 1903, posted at Tulkarm

ANDREW: The grandfather of my wife actually is British. He was here during the Mandate period between the two wars. And he was some kind of officer. I don’t know. We have no idea about him.

SKIP: Your wife’s grandfather?

Yes. So he just disappeared. We don’t know if he was killed or he just left his daughter, my wife’s mother, in some monastery and he went back. We don’t know. We only know his first name and his family name and maybe his rank. He was a British soldier, major or something like that. And his full name is Alfred Williams. So you know, we have roots also in Britain.

Could you outline more of your wife’s story regarding immigration and travel?

My wife’s story. Her father is from a small village in the Galilee named Jish or Gush Halav in Hebrew. Very near the Lebanese border. They are from a Maronite church. Her father passed away a few years ago. He was a worker, a builder. Her mom was the only person from her family that she knew about. Her father was British and her mom was a German Jew. They had a gene test and they found out that 25 percent of her family is Ashkenazi Jewish.

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Location of the village of Jish (Click here for enlarged map)

Your children?

Actually, not my children. My children did not have their genes tested. It was their second or third cousins. They have the same genes. And [Andrew’s wife’s mother] was left in a monastery to be taken care of when she was 4 or 5 years old. And her father didn’t show up and her mother never showed up. So she was an orphan, actually, for most of her life. She refused to dig into her history. We could not convince her to try to find out about her family. She thinks that it will open a lot of wounds and she refused.

She stayed in the monastery until she married. Lived in a monastery until she met somebody. They had seven kids. Large family. I think that she had a lot of kids because she didn’t want to be alone. [Other than her immediate family] she has no family, no sisters and brothers, no aunts and uncles, nothing. She has nothing. The nuns that raised her are her family.

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Andrew’s wife’s grandmother, Jean Mary Nigem (originally Barbara Williams)

And she feels like she is an Arab. I think that the nuns were aware of her being left alone and maybe they thought that being raised as an Arab will give her more chances to be involved in the community. Still, she is a Christian and most Christians are Arab in this land. On the other hand, Arab is not a genetic issue, it is language, costumes, food, and habits. I believe she learned all of that and she sums up the story of a lot of nations that adopted Arab culture and became Arab. She speaks French because she was raised in a French monastery, St Joseph in Haifa. Later the monastery moved to the nearby town of Isfiya.

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The monastery of St Joseph in Isfiya, now part of Rambam Medical Center

She feels more Christian than Arab; I can understand that.

You identify as Christian. What does that mean?

First of all, I’m a human being. OK. But a lot of tags are put on us.

Part of our identification is where I am from and my family name. My religion or faith. So the basic and fundamental thing is being a human being. We could not be anything else if we are not a human being. Sometimes we make a lot of problems for our humanity. That’s another issue. But I’m a human being. I am an Arab, a Palestinian by sector. By faith I belong to the class of Christianity, slash Catholicism, from Haifa, an Israeli citizen.

So you go to church?

I’m not practicing so much.

OK. Do you believe in the supernatural?

Yeah. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that I believe with the blind or covered eyes. No, I am a big questioner. I ask a lot. Listen, we are not going to discuss about religion because it is something very private. So discussion about religion that means you get to the private zone.

Like sex. (laughs)

Yeah.

And money.

Yeah.

I won’t ask you how much you earn every year or how’s your sex life. (more laughter)

Why should you need to know that?

That’s not relevant.

Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, exactly.

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Andrew’s wife (second from right) and her family with her mother in the middle.

I know you’re limited in time, but I wonder if you have about ten more minutes to help me find two villages that are near here. And if you are willing, I have to get my computer from the car so I get the names right.

Yeah. Okay. So let’s meet in my place [guesthouse office].

Okay.

Okay. That would be easier for you.

Let me pay for the breakfast.

(And off we went to search for—using maps and his extensive knowledge of the region—destroyed Arab village sites that I needed to find for my Nakba work.)

BASIC LAW: ISRAEL – THE NATION STATE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
(Unofficial translation by Dr. Susan Hattis Rolef)
Basic Principles
1. (a) The Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
(b) The State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.
(c) The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People….

NEXT: More Nakba survivors

LINKS

 

Bayan logo.png
The Arabs in Israel—Bayan (2017)
Bayan is a quarterly review of Arab society in Israel, published by the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies at Tel Aviv University

 


Adalah—The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel

 

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Association for Civil Rights in Israel

 

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From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. And as in this case, people expelled during the Nakba who’ve found ways to resist and remain in Israel as citizens. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Intending to return to the region this spring, I’ve decided, because of the coronavirus crisis, to postpone my next visit until fall, 2020, assuming widespread travel can resume.

Interviewed and photographed on July 2, 2019 and interpretation written in April 2020 (Because of the Covid-19 threat, without guests he needed to close his guesthouse, his only source of income.) This is part three.

OCHA Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) COVID-19 Emergency Situation Report 4 (7 – 13 April 2020)

2020 coronavirus pandemic in Israel+

PHOTOS

His Royal Highness the Emir Feisal, representing and acting on behalf of the Arab Kingdom of Hejaz, and Dr. Chaim Weizmann, representing and acting on behalf of the Zionist Organization, mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people, and realizing that the surest means of working out the consummation of their national aspirations, is through the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab State and Palestine, and being desirous further of confirming the good understanding which exists between them, have agreed upon the following articles…

Faisal-Weizmann Agreement

Educate to change the mindset—the “DNA”—of Palestinians and Israelis about sharing the land, everyone with equal rights

Listen. If you ask me what is my dream or my vision for solving this problem [of diverse people sharing one land], there is no place for two states between the sea and the river. We know as Palestinians we could not throw out the Jews. That’s a fact of life. And Israelis could not kick out the Palestinians. Also, that’s a fact of life. So there two ways to struggle—fight [using violence] or start thinking differently.

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On the light rail, thru much of Jerusalem, Israelis and Palestinians ride together, 2019

The Israelis tried to dominate for 70 years and they could not succeed because altho they have stubborn heads, we are their cousins. In fact, before that we were brothers, Isaac and Ishmael. We have the same stupid heads. We are stubborn too.

So we can share. We can make one state for two people. And it doesn’t matter who is the ruler. I don’t care if his name is Bibi Netanyahu [former and maybe future prime minister of Israel] or Mahmoud Abbas [president of the State of Palestine and Palestinian National Authority, mainly ruling the West Bank but not Gaza] or anybody else. The state should be a tolerant state. Not ethnic and not religious. It should be a state for all its citizens, period. 

Why isn’t that happening? A lot of people are calling for that.

Because, listen, if you suggest a state for all its citizens to Arabs—local Arabs, Palestinian Arabs here [in Israel] and in the West Bank—what percentage do you think would accept that idea? Ask the Jews or the Israeli Zionists the same question. I am sure that on the Arab side you will find more acceptance for the idea, maybe in two digits, while on the Israeli Jewish side it would be one digit only.

Why? Because Jewish Israelis have the support of the most powerful state in the world. And now your president. So why should they? (Even tho I’m not a capitalist and I’m not against the West, I love to drink Coca Cola and I drive a GM car, but I’ll still against one-sided USA support.)

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Andrew pours himself a drink

We have to change the idea, the DNA. How can we change the DNA? Look, not by power, not by force, not by domination. The only way to do that is thru education. Both sides. I’m not blaming the Israelis or that I’m all in favor of the Palestinians. But I believe that it would take time, at least one generation minimum to start to educate in schools.

Teach the Palestinians or the Arabs that they are not only cousins of the Israelis, but brothers. Much closer than cousins. And the same thing to teach the Jews. Everyone has to understand this.

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Downtown Hafia, remains of a mosque, 2006, photo by Skip Schiel

The idea would be that the only difference is religion, not any kind of…. So the name of the game is education. We have to stop educating our kids, both sides, about hatred, about difference, about superiority. I’m worth no more than any other Jew in the world. But at the same time, he is not worth more than me.

Do your son and your wife share your views?

Yes.

How have you educated your son? Because he seems very knowledgeable. [His son recently graduated from university.]

Yes, he is. As I told you, the only weapon we have is education. I told him, listen, you hear whatever you want. You decide whatever you wish. You’ll have to be open to multiple ideas and you have to build up your personality.

An exercise practicing making I statements--When you..., I feel... Ramallah Friends School-DSC_9643

Conflict resolution class, Ramallah Friends School, 2007

You’ll need to know two things. First, you are a human being, and that’s above everything else. You’ll have to treat everybody as a human being. And second, why we are here. The rest is up to you. I never told him to be more Palestinian. That’s up to him. I told him you have to learn, to get an education. That’s the only source of power.

I don’t want to fight anybody. I don’t want to fight [violently]. I read that war doesn’t kill those who are right; it kills those who are left, the survivors. The war will do nothing for the dead [right or wrong]. Any future war will take those who have remained. I don’t want to be with that pain. I don’t want anybody to be hurt.

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Mediterranean Sea, near Haifa, 2006, photo by Skip Schiel

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But at the same time, I don’t want to be hurt all the time. I want my rights. I want my people back. I don’t understand why Jews won’t accept that idea. If they claimed for 2000 years they were exiled from here and they want to get back to their homeland, if they dreamed about it for 2000 years, how can they ask me to stop dreaming for 70 years? It is just yesterday. We still have people who have their own house keys. They can remember even the names of the street and on which floor they lived.

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Ahmad Ali Hawad, originally from the destroyed village of Ellar, now lives in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem, Occupied West Bank of Palestine

And you’re talking about a historical issue of 2000 years [Jewish history]. I don’t know if it’s true or not, because it’s actually a biblical thing. It’s not a historical thing.

And I say, OK, if you want to claim that. Then nobody can ask me not to ask for our rights, in particular, the right of return. This has to be for all the Palestinians who want to come back. I think these expelled Palestinians are right. They were forced by power to flee from here and now it’s time to get them back, to make peace between people. They should not be trapped in some foreign places. And they say 22 countries are Arab countries, etc., etc. No, we have one Arab country. We have 22 divided semi countries that the British and French decided about. And we have one homeland. It’s an Arab world.

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You know what? Even the Jews living within them. I have no problem. I don’t care if a Jewish person would live in Ramallah or in Nablus.

How are you treated by Jewish Israelis here [in Haifa]?

Listen, here in Haifa, it’s totally different than in other places. We have to admit that. The people here, the atmosphere here is totally more tolerant than in other places. But still, you can find sometimes that we are second-class citizens.

Could you give an example?

Very easy. Very simple. The anthem says nothing to me. The flag does not belong to me. The law that named itself the national law of Israel. That put me in second degree or third or I don’t know. I’m talking about a civil right. I’m not talking national rights now because I am a citizen. So I have the right to say that.  

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2014 (Boston)

Now, if Israel says that Israel is a Jewish and Democratic state, I’m sorry, I’m not a Jew and I don’t want to have any religion, but I am a citizen. How about that? Is it my land? Is it my country? Is it my state or not?

They said that I don’t do all the duties, which duty? What duty do you think that I’m going to fulfill?

The army?

Yeah, but I didn’t choose to not serve in the army. Nobody asked me to serve. You declare that the Arabs can’t serve in the army. So I’m breaking no law. If I’m not breaking any law, the Israelis have no right to take my rights.

Your guesthouse—getting permits, paying taxes. Do you ever experience discrimination?

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Haddad Guest House, Haifa, both photos courtesy of Haddad Guest House

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No. In that case, no. No, because there’s a lot of bureaucracy….

What about your customers, your clientele? Would there be Israeli Jews who come here and hear the name Haddad? “We saw your name, sir. Sorry I don’t want to stay here.”

You never know but I’m on the safe side. You know why? Because that name is also Jewish. A lot of them, they think that I’m an Algerian Jew or Tunisian Jew because it’s a very common name. But I explain to them that I’m an Arab. And the name actually means blacksmith. Yeah. So, you know, I have a British first name so I can change the family name to blacksmith. And I become British.

And your son is Aseem?

 No, Essam.

And that means a proud boy?

Proud and independent.

Yeah. OK. And you’re Andrew.

Yeah. Because of my grandfather. So it’s a heritage thing, you know? And I am the first male born from my father. And he was the first one to his father. So it’s the custom that he named his son after his father. And the same thing is true for my son. And he’s done the same thing for his son. So actually, I have a grandson. His name is Andrew. 

(From the Greek, Andreas, meaning manly, strong, courageous, warrior.)

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Haifa, 2013

NEXT: Andrew Haddad—I’m a human being. I am an Arab Palestinian by sector. By faith I am a Christian/Catholic from Haifa, and an Israeli citizen.

LINKS

Historical Memory Project on Haifa

Coronavirus in Palestine: Ramadan, and the joy that comes with it, could be just what we need (April 21, 2020)

Voices Across the Divide, by Alice Rothchild (2013)
A powerful documentary movie and oral history project by Alice Rothchild & Sharon Mullally exploring the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through rarely heard personal stories—interviews with Nakba and Naksa survivors
Now available for free streaming at Kanopy (thru your local library)

Turning Points in Middle Eastern History, by Eamonn Gearon
A lecture series beginning with Mohamed and the beginning of Islam to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a useful background to any work about Palestine-Israel
Available thru the streaming service (thru your local library), Kanopy, or for purchase

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. And as in this case, people expelled during the Nakba who’ve found ways to resist and remain in Israel as citizens. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Intending to return to the region this spring, I’ve decided, because of the coronavirus crisis, to postpone my next visit until fall, 2020, assuming widespread travel can resume.

A special note from Zochrot, responding to the exacerbation of the Ongoing Nakba because of the Coronavirus crisis (shortened message).

PHOTOS

Andrew Haddad, working for a new nation

Interviewed and photographed on July 2, 2019 and interpretation written in April 2020 (Because of the Covid-19 threat, without guests, he needed to close his guesthouse, his only source of income.) This is part two.

We think, as Israelis, that Jews and Arabs should live together. Palestinians have rights of self-determination just like we have. We have to fight also for their rights. One of our slogans is “we refuse to be their enemies.”

—Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, 2006 AFSC Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

Nakba-Haifa-Palestine-Israel-_DSC4605

How do you work for that change (for Palestinian Israeli rights thru political action)?

The only way that I can do that by law is to send a representative to the parliament, the Knesset. In that arena we can fight. I don’t want to fight on the street. I don’t want to fight with rifles. I don’t want to kill anybody. I don’t want to throw anybody in the Sea. And I don’t want anybody to feel less than me or more than me.

So that means the political game. That’s why we send our representatives. Most of them are actually in the left-wing of the Israeli policy. The majority of our representatives are Arabs because nobody else feels your pain like people like you.

Other than voting. How are you active in electoral politics?

In what?

In the US we call that electoral politics. Holding signs for example, writing letters, signing petitions going door to door for your candidate. Do you do any of that?

Yes, we do that for our candidates. We try to make some educational campaigns. To make those candidates known. The problem is still we have a lot of people who are afraid of being Palestinians or afraid to say that they are Palestinians. And in that case, they prefer to be silent or in a shadow instead of speaking out. They think that it’s breaking the law. And actually, they are short-minded. Sorry to say that.

We have our own newsletters and newspapers. We have our own nonpolitical organizations. They focus on education. Sometimes we make some demonstrations. They do not reach the level they should. You have to understand, this is not the United States. It’s not Canada. When you’re talking about demonstration of Arabs, that means it’s [understood as] anti-Israeli always. Not a civil action. That’s what how it’s understood here. Totally different from when you make any strike or any demonstration in the United States against some issue because you are a citizen. You do that because you feel it’s your duty. Here, when we do such a thing, it’s thought to be anti-Israeli. We are talking about our rights to be fulfilled. And people are afraid of that.

 

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Credit: Ilya Melnikov

 

Andrew, could you fill out your family tree going back as far as you know. Where did your earliest ancestors live?

The earliest that I can recall is about two hundred plus years ago. They were living in Nazareth, but I know that the root of our family and actually most of the Christian Arab families here in the Middle East, the source—it sounds very unusual—should be here in the Holy Land. This is the land of early Christianity, the land of Jesus Christ.

Because of a lot of factors that happened since that era, like the Crusades, many Christians are not actually from here. So the origin of my family is in the Syria of today. You have to understand, when we say “the Syria of today,” we are talking about political borders, artificial borders, not natural borders. So Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria were all part of Greater Syria. People were moving from one part to another part and they did not feel they were immigrants.

Like if you live in Boston and you moved to Louisiana you’d still to be in the United States; you haven’t changed your status, your identity, only the city or the town or the state where you live. The United States is part of your identity. You are an American. So people, when they moved from part of Syria of today to somewhere that is part of Palestine today, they felt they were moving from the living room to the bedroom or to the kitchen. They were still in their own home. We are not newcomers to this land, we are deeply rooted.

We are part of this land, we stayed here, we have never gone anywhere. So the idea that people came over here from different places and they do not belong here is false.

Our family existed in this land for about between 470 to 500 years.

Greater Syria 3

Greater Syria/Assyrian Empire 617 BCE and 824 BCE (click image to enlarge)

Part of them lived in Haifa—actually Haifa didn’t exist at that time because Haifa is a new city. It’s about 270 years, 260 years old. That’s it. The old one, the historical one, was a small fisherman village, but it was demolished. We are talking about Nazareth and the Galilee. So they stayed in Nazareth and the Galilee. Part of us stayed in Jenin [the West Bank] of today. Also in Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Ramallah, Tulkarm, and down to the shore. Jaffa, Lod, and all that area.

Are they all Haddad?

Haddad is actually the second largest Christian family in the Middle East.

Are they still in Jenin?

Yes.

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Jenin

Because I’m going there today.

Yeah. You can meet my cousin over there. He has a big hotel in Jenin, a large tourist village. Ibrahim Haddad. Yes.

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Haddad Village, Jenin (photo: Haddad Village)

I will try.

You should.

Can you go to Jenin to visit?

Yes, yes. According to the law, no. You know, because an Israeli should not go inside the West Bank. But I’m not sneaking in. I go to the checkpoint and then get in. So I’m not breaking any law. The Israeli troops set the rules. If I’m breaking the law, they should stop me. Right? So I come to the border and I get in. Nobody says anything.

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Jalameh checkpoint with the West Bank north of Jenin in the background; the luxurious-looking homes in the upper left are presumably in an Israeli settlement. Click here for my blog entry about crossing this checkpoint.

They don’t check your identification?

Yes, sure, they do.

But they don’t stop you.

No.

And coming back?

Sure. Yeah. They will stop any Jewish because they are afraid that any Jewish person inside might be lynched. But the soldiers know that the West Bank is part of us. People there are my cousins My wife’s brother lives in Ramallah. Should I consider him an enemy? Come on.

And you go to Ramallah?

Sure. I’m invited to a wedding in Ramallah ten days from now. Sure we do. It’s part of us. We feel home. And they come over here always. When I say Palestinian, I leave myself out of this sector. I’m talking about Palestinians from the West Bank.

I mean, the Palestinian Authority Palestinians.

“we have on our land what makes life worth living"-DarwichSM.jpg

We have on our land what makes life worth living. (Mahmoud Darwich)

TO BE CONTINUED: MORE ABOUT HIS FAMILY ROOTS IN GREATER SYRIA AND THE NEED FOR ONE STATE FOR ALL ITS RESIDENTS, SOON TO BE CITIZENS

LINKS

COVID-19 in times of settler colonialism by Zochrot and Osama Tanous (March 2020)

Baladna, Association for Arab Youth
A developmental and capacity building agency for Arab-Palestinian youth in Israel

Association for the Defence of the Rights of the Internally Displaced (ADRID)
Operating in the 1948 areas among the masses of the displaced

7amleh-The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media

“The last generation”: How occupation is driving Christians out of Palestine, by Peter Oborne (2019)

What It’s Like to Be a Palestinian Journalist, According to an East Jerusalem Editor, by Carolina Landsmann (2016)

Israel Must Choose: Give The Palestinians A State – Or Equality, by Sam Bahour and Tony Klug (2019)

The Chilling Effect among Palestinian Youth in Social Media, by Palestine News Network

What Can South Africa Teach Palestinians: Reflections on our Palestinian youth organizer delegation to Johannesburg, by Palestinian Youth Movement (May 2019)

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. And as in this case, people expelled during the Nakba who’ve found ways to resist and remain in Israel as citizens. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Intending to return to the region this spring, I’ve decided, because of the coronavirus crisis, to postpone my next visit until fall, 2020, assuming widespread travel can resume.

PHOTOS

Andrew Haddad, about being Palestinian

Interviewed and photographed on July 2, 2019 and interpretation written in March 2020 (Because of the Covid-19 threat, without guests, he needed to close his guesthouse, his only source of income.) This is part one.

A strange stillness lies over all the mountains and is drawn by hidden threads from within the empty village. An empty village; what a terrible thing! Fossilized lives! Lives turned to fossilized whispers in extinguished ovens, a shattered mirror, moldy blocks of dried figs and a scrawny dog, thin-tailed and floppy-eared and dark-eyed. At the same time–at the very same moment–a different feeling throbs and rises from the primordial depths, a feeling of victory, of taking control, of revenge, and of casting off suffering. You see empty houses, good for the settlement of our Jewish brethren who have wandered for generation upon generation. War! That was our war!

—Josef Weitz, land official of the Jewish National Fund and chairman of the first Transfer Committee, 1948

Nakba-Haifa-Palestine-Israel-_DSC4596

[Being Palestinian] is about our history and our story. It’s become part of our DNA. We actually suck it with our mother’s milk. We know that. It’s not fake. It’s our truth. We know who we are, why we are here and what happened. Even without anyone telling us, we know our identity, we can smell the air, we can taste the land, and we know the people. We are proud, and we cannot hide our core identity. It’s part of us. And we don’t want to redesign our DNA again. This is who we are and this is what we are and this is what we want to be—Palestinian.

To be Palestinian is not just a title. It’s not just the word. It’s beyond that.

And I think being Palestinian escalated more after the Nakba. If there had been no Nakba I think that we Palestinians would be regular people like everybody else. Like Tanzanians or Louisianans or Germans. It doesn’t matter. The word Palestine or Palestinian became only a title. Now it’s more than that.

I have relatives spread all over the world. All of them fled from here because of the Nakba. Actually, I was supposed to have fled because I’m the first generation after the Nakba.

Some of us fled because of the 1948 war. I was supposed to be a Palestinian refugee, to live in some camp in Syria or Lebanon because my father and my grandfather, they left. I don’t know. But I believe there was no other choice for them but to leave. And they left from Nazareth to Lebanon and then continued to Syria. But eventually they could come back to their homeland, their hometown, Nazareth, before it was captured [by the Israeli army]. So in that case, if the border had already closed, I suppose I would have been born in Syria or somewhere else. But I was born in Nazareth and I am a full Palestinian, born to a Palestinian family within the borders of Israel.

Nazareth mural

Nazareth’s mystery mural as an emblem of Palestinian resistance
The Israeli authorities have painted over a mural dedicated to the 1948 Nakba seven times – but local activists continue to repaint it, writes Gawain Mac Greigair.

And so I become an Israeli. And for a long time, nobody would tell us that we are Palestinians. We were just Arabs or Christians or Muslims or whatever. It took a while because the first generation was mostly afraid to speak out.

I remember as a kid we were told not to speak about politics or other controversial issues because even “the stones would hear.” So it was a type of mind control of our people during that era. And after that, we had no resources. Most of our resources were gone. So the only resource that we still had was our location and our mind.

The first, second and third generations after Nakba became more educated than the first. The only weapons we can control are our education and mind development. We began to understand the issue in a totally different way. So we struggled for our identity and existence. Now we see this country struggling against our will in a lot of the laws controlled by the majority. The last one, The National Law of Israel. What does that mean?

Nakba-Haifa-Palestine-Israel-_DSC4669

I am Israeli by citizenship, but Israeli citizenship is not part of my identity. Whether I am Christian, Muslim, Arab, Jewish, whatever, Israel has decided to put Jews and Judaism before democracy. Israel says it’s a Jewish democratic state, but it cannot be both democratic and favor Jews. I believe Israel should be a democratic state. Period. No more. No need for any identification more than that. If that were true, I will feel like an Israeli. If I lived in Canada, I’d feel like a Canadian, not an alien.

Let’s go back to 1967 and the Six-Day War when Israel took over the West Bank and Golan Heights. It’s called Naksa or Defeating Day.

Then a lot of Arab youth discovered that they have no hope here. So the Israelis start encouraging Arab youth to lead a better life outside Israel. Actually, my father’s family consists of seven brothers. Four of them, they are in Canada. They left Israel in 1968 and 1970 for a better life. So my family, more than 50 percent of it, is in Canada. Instead of being in their homeland. And that is true for a lot of families and communities here. If you take Beit Jala [part of Bethlehem] as an example in the West Bank, the majority of people originally from Beit Jala now live in Chile, not in Beit Jala. In Chile they actually have a football (soccer) team called Palestino. One of the best football teams in Chile. So we are just regular people, normal people, but we have no normal life here in Israel.

Palestino players.jpg

Why did you stay, not go with your brothers to Canada?

Actually, in the beginning, I thought to go. I made an application and I’m so happy that the Canadian government rejected me because I was poor.

I love this place. I love this land. I’m connected. My roots are here. The political situation here is a problem. But it cannot be like this forever. And that doesn’t mean that I want to demolish Israel, because I have to be careful using that word. But I want to change Israeli politics [to benefit all its] citizens. That’s my right as a citizen and as a law keeper. I’m not breaking the law if I say that I want Israel to be more democratic than it is now. I believe that I’m developing the state to a higher position, not lowering it to be an ethnic state. Now it’s semi-democratic, a Jewish Democratic state for Jews and a Jewish state for Arabs. So I do not understand this idea.

TO BE CONTINUED: HIS ANCIENT FAMILY AND HOW HE ATTEMPTS TO FOSTER CHANGE

LINKS

Op-Ed: Israel just dropped the pretense of equality for Palestinian citizens, by Yousef Jabereen (a Palestinian Israeli Knesset member), July 2018

Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People

Palestinian Internally Displaced Persons inside Israel: Challenging the Solid Structures by Nihad Boqa’i

These Jewish and Arab Israelis Are Creating a New Type of Grassroots Activism, by David B. Green (March 12, 2020) 

Still Locked in Conflict, Israelis and Palestinians Need Each Other To Fight COVID-19, by Daniel Estrin (NPR, March 26, 2020)

Welcome to Lockdown: COVID-19 quarantine and the Gaza experience, by Abdalhadi Alijla (March 20, 2020)

Haddad Guest House

The Rise of Palestinian Food by Ligaya Mishan (February 2020)

In Her Footsteps, by Rana Abu Fraiha, a documentary movie made in 2018 about a Palestinian family living in a Jewish Israeli town

From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. 

PHOTOS

VIDEO

The past as it is and has been represented- the inquiry into the archaeology of memory’s representations following Michel Foucault—is but a facet of this study. The power of the past as it was lived and is remembered, as it is commemorated and represented, continues to limit, define, and inspire current narratives of Arabs and Jews.

Susan Slyomovics, The Object of Memory, Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village

July 2, 2019, Israel, Haifa, Haddad Guest House

In a gleeful mood—the guest house, the family and Haifa generally—I wrote my chevrah and adapted the message for the Agape steering committee and a friend, Peter, who’d also recently written:

earlier, driving to haifa somewhere north of tel aviv, i stopped for gas and food along the big israeli highway. pulling in, two dark-skinned young men greeted me with what i thought was unusual welcome. one pointed at the bracelet i wear with the palestinian flag colors, smiled, and asked, “what does that bracelet mean to you?” i wasn’t sure he was israeli or palestinian. i answered, “it means palestinian rights, their human rights.” he smiled again, and thanked me, saying, “i spotted your bracelet before you even stopped your car. we’re palestinians.”

The power of symbol.

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July 3, 2019, West Bank, Jenin, Freedom Theater guest house

A big deal, a dream realized, another pilgrimage (as was finding Deir Yassin): finding and exploring Ein Hod and Ein Hawd, the first, the village Israel confiscated in 1948 as part of the Nakba, now an artist colony, and the second, a previously unrecognized Palestinian village. This constituted a major personal achievement of yesterday and perhaps this entire trip. As Deir Yassin is legendary and known to anyone with any knowledge about the Nakba, the two Ein’s may be less known but still familiar to a few. The artist colony the Israelis constructed when they took over Ein Hawd, kicking out the Palestinian residents who’d been there for centuries or maybe millennia, and what the stalwart Palestinians did to relocate themselves within viewing range of their old lands are both truly impressive—the first of creative reuse, the second of sumoud (steadfastness). Together—perhaps, a huge perhaps—a model window into the future of a shared land.

Ein Hawd, the Palestinian village, is less than 1.2 miles/1.9 km from Ein Hod (straight line), from the Israeli artist community, but reachable only over a torturous up and down road, often pockmarked and partially eroded, 1.7 miles/2.7 km driving. I made lots of photos and filmed part of the connection trip.

 

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Ein Hawd

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Ein Hod

In retrospect: The Two Ein’s, Hawd and Hod-Recent writing for the blog

February 28, 2020, Cambridge Massachusetts

In brief, for millennia (at least since the time of Sultan Saladin’s conquest of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in the 1180s), Palestinians lived in a village called Ein Hawd (Spring or Fountain of Trough) south of Haifa, in the foothills of the Carmel Mountain Range, within sight of the Mediterranean Sea. During the Nakba in 1948, the Israeli army forced the residents to leave. Many left the country for Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan; some to refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, especially Jenin; and about 35 villagers, led by the family of Abu al-Hija, improvised temporary housing across the valley from their village in a barn on village land.

Initially, the Israeli authorities did not recognize the village. In 1988, residents helped to form the association of the Arab Unrecognized Villages in Israel. In 1992, the state finally officially recognized the village, but it was only granted full recognition in 2005, when it was connected to Israel’s electric grid. (Wikipedia)

In 1953, an artist from Romania, Marcel Janco, fleeing the Holocaust, persuaded the Israeli authorities—who’d planned to erase all signs of the village—to leave the buildings remain so he could organize the first-ever and still-only artist colony in Israel.

Bidspirit auction | Marcel Janco $20,000.00* Marcel Janco, - 1895 - 1984. Refugees, 1939,, Oil on cardboard laid down on canvas.jpg

An expulsion by the Nazis in the Soviet Union, 1941, by Marcel Janco (however, he was empathetic with the Palestinian expulsions)

The situation is steadily deteriorating. I had to go. And as soon as possible. I had only been convicted of being born a Jew.

I was not physically abused, I was not raised by legionaries. But I was morally ill. I endured with great intensity the sufferings of my whole people: I experienced, every day, [in Romania] the pain of the Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, who were begging at my door and talking about horrors that seemed unbelievable to me; we suffered with them and wept with them, thinking of the desperate situation of our brothers in the concentration camps; I wept when we learned how our synagogues were burned and our sacred books burned, how the graves were spoiled, the Jewish cemeteries destroyed; I was filled with despair when I learned that the elders and children and women together, the people of an entire nation, were being driven out of their homes and transported in wagons … to be killed in the gas chambers or burned alive.

Their suffering shook me. I felt threatened – me and all of me – by a great, irreparable danger, I felt that if, by an unexpected chance, I would still save myself from this danger, I still would not be able to, in such a world devoid of freedom, work. You don’t even live. I had to go as soon as possible.

I did not accept to go to France or America, where so many of my friends called me insistently.

Identified with my oppressed, stacked, mocked, humiliated, shattered nation, which the enemies intended to destroy, I decided for Palestine.

I was drawing with the thirst of one who is being chased around, desperate to quench it and find his refuge.

—Marcel Janco, VISUAL ARTS. The confession of a great artist (in Romanian but can be mchine translated)

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On the Way to Ein Hod, Marcel Janco

From the beginning of my work in Palestine-Israel in 2003, I had known about this peculiar juxtaposition. I’ve yearned to visit both villages, maybe reside in both for a few days to explore, photograph, meet residents, and interview. Finally, on my most recent trip last spring-summer (2019), exploring the coast in my rented Palestinian car to locate and photograph destroyed Arab village sites, I managed to briefly, cursorily, explore both sites.

Curiosity was one factor that drew me; but another, discovered only recently, is that the two villages, with decent relations between them, at least not hostile, could represent the future for Palestine-Israel. As do Haifa and the Old City of Jerusalem, where Jews and Palestinians live, pray, and work side by side. Usually without violence.

“Briefly and cursorily” means I walked around Ein Hod, the Israeli arts colony, for a few hours in the hot mid-summer sun last year, photographed art installations and the Janco-Dada art museum established in 1953 by the colony’s founder, Marcel Janco; and met several artists. Meeting people there is easy: I am a tourist, a potential buyer. The art, mostly decorative, often abstract, did not much appeal to me. Plus, how could I afford any of it?

The museum, however, did appeal. I explored it thoroughly, appreciative of Janco’s Dadaist approach which resonated with my impulses. The big find for me was the Dadalab in the basement, serene, mysterious, dark, filled with all sorts of objects like bells, horns, tools, furniture, etc that could be converted into Dada installations, or drawn or painted or sculpted with. And the light! Cool, shadowy, subtle, lilting, like the chords of early Miles Davis jazz.

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Dadalab

I’m embarrassed to admit that in Ein Hawd, the Palestinian village, I only left my car for a perfunctory view of houses and across the valley to Ein Hod. Driving, videoing thru Ein Hawd, holding my phone camera in front of me, easily visible thru the windshield, I noticed several men glaring at me. Who’s this? they might have thought, an Israeli Jew contemplating another removal? To extend their artist colony perhaps? Only months later, while writing this blog, did I learn the crucial role played by the man who brought Israeli recognition, along with municipal services—and respect—to Ein Hawd, Mohammed Abu al-Hija. In effect, matching Marcel Janco: visionary and persistent.

Today [2018], the population of the entire country from the river to the sea is at least half Palestinian, and that proportion is growing. The natives are still there, unified by decades of occupation and colonization since 1967, and they are restless. Those Palestinians who have managed to remain in historical Palestine—in spite of the ceaseless efforts to dispossess them—continue to resist erasure. Outside of Palestine, an equal number remain profoundly attached to their homeland and to the right of return. The Palestinians have not forgotten, they have not gone away, and the memory of Palestine and its dismemberment has not been effaced. Indeed, wider international audiences are increasingly aware of these realities.

Rashid Khalidi, 2018

On my next trip, I intend to explore both Ein’s more fully, reside at least one night in each village, eat in the Ein Hawd restaurant, sip coffee in the Ein Hod café (formerly the village mosque), meet more people, especially founders of Ein Hawd and artists in Ein Hod, and photograph and interview. And ask, what are you doing to create one land for different peoples?

Or are the Palestinians in Ein Hawd subject to further removal? The Ongoing Nakba.

After struggling for recognition for so long, I now recognize, how a group of people, a village, can finally obtain official status of their home, recognition of their right to live lawfully in their own village after so many years. It is true that many years have gone by, but this is a great achievement for everyone, a big step forward. The State of Israel has finally applied a policy of equality to us and I am hopeful that this will prove to be the case for other villages that are in similar situations as well. This step shows that there is hope for additional changes for the better as well. It helps to convince me that equality is attainable, no matter how difficult it may seem.

Mohammed Abu al-Hija, mayor of Ein Hawd (2005)

Mohammed Abu al-Hija, 2004, photo by Skip Schiel

LINKS:

Ein Hod by the Lonely Planet guide book

Trailblazers: The Man Who Changed a Country, New Israel Fund (2018) with a video of Mohammed Abu al-Hija

Tarek Bakri: “We Were and We Are Still Here”

A Free People in Our Land: The Status of the Arab Sector in Israel, by Ilan Jonas (2005)

The Object of Memory: Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village, by Susan Slyomovics

On the way to Ein Hod | A frame from an interactive new media Installation | 2018

The installation was presented in Janco Dada Museum in the village of Ein Hod. It is influenced by a series of paintings by Janco depicting the village, sometimes burning, with refugees leaving it.

Marcel Janco

Ein Hod Artists’ Village

PM Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (February 16, 2020) lauding Trump’s “Peace Plan” and support and how they solidify Israeli control over the entire Palestine-Israel region

My photos from “In the Steps of the Magi,” a Christmas Pilgrimage (that included Ein Hawd) in 4 parts, 2004

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Road between Ein Hawd and Ein Hod, about 3 km/1 mile, or 15 minutes by car, nearly the same distance as by air, with more contortions—video of part of the ride between the two villages

TO BE CONTINUED

On the occasion of the UN-declared International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2019

With continuing gratitude to those who’ve already generously funded my Nakba photographic project, now I seek further funding for “The Ongoing Nakba, photographs of internally expelled Palestinians in the West Bank.” Early in 2020, I plan to return for another two-month trip to locate a few key survivors and sites, like people who lived in Deir Yassin, the site of a massacre; and Lifta, one of the few original villages still reasonably intact. I will need to hire colleagues to help me locate survivors and their destroyed villages.

TO HELP FUND THE NEXT PHASE OF MY PHOTOGRAPH PROJECT, PLEASE GO TO MY GoFundMe campaign. THANK YOU.

The human enterprise, yes….I’m trying to reiterate the possibilities that are held out to us by various horizons. I’ve seen horrible human behavior in so many places. I see the pleasure some people take in injustice, and I see their appetite for the violent enforcement of prejudicial beliefs. The question this forces on us is “Are we ever going to outgrow this hatred of the Other?”

—Barry Lopez

PHOTOS

In the fall of 2018, I photographed 15 Palestinians, most first-generation refugees, some second, third, and fourth generation. In the spring and summer of 2019, I photographed another 24 Nakba survivors. I’ve also photographed many of their original regions, their destroyed villages, sites of expulsion where many had provably lived for multiple generations, now in Israel.

With help from many others, I meet the survivors, now often living in refugee camps in Palestine, interview and photograph them, photograph their current living conditions, and return to their ancestral homes (now in Israel) to photograph. I include photos of where and how they live currently in internal diaspora to contrast with their earlier, often pastoral lives, in destroyed villages—in contrast also to how Israelis are privileged to live. Eventually, I’ll add archival photos of their regions before the expulsion.

The project has 4 parts: black and white portraits, color photos of their current environment, color photos of their former villages and towns, and black and white historic photos.

My immediate goal is what I call a multi-platform book, meaning a traditional photographic book but with links to the videos and audios I’ve made, plus resources like maps, timelines, analyses, etc. An example of this in exhibit form is “The Promised Land,” info here: promisedlandmuseum.org.

Record-of-Teeksa-and-blog-posts-Refugee-Project-second-phase

My overarching goal is to draw attention and activism to this particular issue in the larger struggle for a just peace and full human rights for Palestinians.

Since 2003 I’ve visited the Palestine-Israel, photographing a variety of themes, water, youth, occupation, Gaza, and women, among them. My current project is locating, interviewing, and photographing Palestinians living in yet another of their many diasporas, this one internal, meaning in the Occupied West Bank of Palestine. In the fall of 2018, I photographed 15 Palestinians, most first-generation refugees, some second, third, and fourth generation. In the spring and summer of 2019, I photographed another 24 Nakba survivors. Early in 2020, I plan to return for another two-month trip to locate a few key survivors and sites, like people who lived in Deir Yassin, the site of a massacre, and Lifta, one of the few original villages still reasonably intact.

In 1948, Israel expelled some 750,000 indigenous Arabs to clear the land for Jewish settlement, leading to the foundation of the state of Israel. Thus the Nakba (in Arabic), or Catastrophe. Some 5 million Palestinians now live in the West Bank and Gaza—the “internally expelled.” And, with few exceptions, they are not permitted to return to any of their original 400 villages and towns, even for short visits.

Before the Nakba

During and after the Nakba

In Israel, a state established as a national homeland for Jews, in the direct aftermath of one of the most atrocious crimes against humanity,  it is truly mind-boggling that the protection and application of these rights is a struggle. 

Rabbis for Human Rights

For background on the Nakba and refugees, please read the book, “My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness, A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century,” by Adina Hoffman, and the article, “Lydda, 1948,” By Ari Shavit.

PALESTINIANS IN THE UNITED STATES DECLARE THAT
FREEDOM IS THE FUTURE-A CALL TO ENDORSE

From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

PHOTOS

The 1948 Palestinian exodus from Lydda and Ramle, also known as the Lydda Death March, was the expulsion of 50,000–70,000 Palestinian Arabs when Israeli troops captured the towns in July that year. The military action occurred within the context of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The two Arab towns, lying outside the area designated for a Jewish state in the UN Partition Plan of 1947, and inside the area set aside for an Arab state in Palestine, subsequently were transformed into predominantly Jewish areas in the new State of Israel, known as Lod and Ramla.

Wikipedia

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Rajab Mustafa Ghanem

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In Israel’s first months, largely Arab cities emptied as inhabitants were forced to flee. Photograph by David S. Boyer / Corbis

 

For this writing I draw gratefully from Fareed Taamallah’s interview in Arabic, translated by him and revised slightly by me. Published on his Facebook page.

Rajab Mustafa Ghanem, 19 years old in 1948, the Year of the Nakba, worked with his father in a grocery store in the city of Lod/Lydd. Hearing about Jews forced to flee from Europe, he believed Palestinians were to live with them and give them shelter because they were victims of war. Forced from his home by what he called “Zionist gangs,” his family fled by foot, carrying no food or water, first to Ramallah, and then by truck to Gaza, the Bureij refugee camp. After Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, he moved to the Amari refugee camp in Ramallah. He never saw his city again, nor his father and mother who remained in Gaza and died there. Today, 90 years old, he told us his only wish is to die and be buried in dignity in his hometown, Lod, and not in Amari as a refugee.

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Dahmash mosque, Lod/Lydda

One early morning day in May 1948, the Zionist militia or gangs attacked the city with planes, tanks and artillery and told people to surrender. The men were asked to go to the Dahmash mosque. Many went there and the mosque was filled with men. But there was no room for Rajab and his father. The gangs entered the mosque and ordered the men and boys to lie on the ground, shot and killed hundreds including some of Rajab’s friends and relatives.

The Zionists forced thousands of people of the city, including Rajab and his family, to go east out of the city on foot without allowing them to carry anything, out of town, into the unknown. They walked all day without water or food, and some died on the way. Until they arrived in Ramallah a few days later. Then from Ramallah, he went by truck with his family to Gaza, specifically the Bureij refugee camp. He lived in Gaza until 1967 after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel, he moved from Gaza to the Amari refugee camp in Ramallah where he lives with his family to this day. He has not seen his city since 1948, nor his father and mother, who died in Gaza in 1995. Today he is 90 years old and he told us the only wish he has is to die and be buried In Lod, in his hometown in dignity and not as a refugee. 

History of the expulsion in 1948

The Friends’ Play Center in the Amari refugee camp was operated by the Ramallah Friends School, and was located in one of several refugee camps in Ramallah. Thanks to Rosi Greenberg, kids and internationals designed and painted this mural—suggesting their dreams, not their reality (photos from 2007—in 2019 apparently the Center no longer operates).

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Ramallah

Ismail_Shammout's_Where_to_1953..

Ismail Shammout’s “Where to?” (1953)

As the bus drew up in front of the house, I saw a young boy playing in the yard. I got off the bus and went over to him. “How long have you lived in this house?” I asked. “I was born here,” he replied. “Me too,” I said.

—Father Oudeh Rantisi, a former mayor of Ramallah who was expelled from Lydda in 1948, visited his family’s former home for the first time in 1967.

LINKS

Israel’s Law of Return

Massacre at Dahmash mosque in al-Lydd

Israeli army veterans admit role in massacres of Palestinians in 1948, Published in Middle EastNews (2014)

Tour at al-Lydd – Report (Zochrot, 2012)

Lydda, 1948, By Ari Shavit (2013)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

PHOTOS

July 5, 2019, Friday, West Bank, Jenin, Freedom Theater guest house

The conventional names should be replaced by new ones … since, in an anticipation of renewing our days as of old and living the life of a healthy people that is rooted in the soil of our country, we must begin in the fundamental Hebraicization of our country’s map.

—from a 1948 letter sent to first Israeli Interior Minister Yitzhak Gruenbaum

Nakba-Palestine-Israel_IMG_6022

What next? Today [July 5, 2019] drive from Jenin in the West Bank north to the Jalamah checkpoint (which I’d always heard as first the Jeffery and then the Jeremy checkpoint) into Israel and then west, consider either try again to find the village site of Ijzim or head to the Mediterranean coast and my first new village site, Miska.

Yesterday, waiting for word from M, my colleague in Jenin (he’s rarely clear about who we’re to photograph, in large part because the availability of people we hope to photograph is rarely clear), turned up one woman who had cancer and couldn’t speak. A primary challenge of this project is that the people I wish to meet are rapidly dying. So I concentrated on planning the last two weeks of my two-month journey. On maps, I’ve located (tentatively) most of the destroyed village sites, reordered my route sequence to go from north to south along the coast and then southwest of Jerusalem. I doubt I’ll be able to find all these places in my remaining time. But there is always the next trip, when hopefully, I’ll have an able in-country colleague with me. Or the equivalent.

I’ve begun marking on my paper map of destroyed villages the sites I need to find. This will help as I’m harried with the needs of driving and my shrinking time—plus where to reside overnight. I hope to explore Lifta, even tho I’ve unearthed no one from there. As I explored on my last trip Deir Yassin, I have yet to meet someone from there who survived the expulsion and massacre.

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Arab structure along the highway

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Precisely where it’s located, thanks to GPS coordinates embedded in the photo file (look for the red pin) I add a large regional map at the end of my post.

As often happens on my travels, I have no idea where I’ll be tonight, where I’ll rest my perplexed body. So I’ll “just put out the fire and call the dog” and be off, as Lynn and I used to say when departing, especially when camping or otherwise packing light.

Being Friday, the Muslim holy day, the Freedom Theater is quiet. Few people if any are using the Internet so it is at its most robust, about 10 Mb/s download and 13 Mb/s upload, even while uploading my photos. Despite its little traffic, this morning my Gmail drops periodically and begins again.

July 6, 2019, Saturday, Israel, Ramla, Sadot Hotel in the Assaf Center complex

Last evening I ended up in the same mall-hospital-hotel complex I’d resorted to in the fall, the Assaf Center, just outside Ramla. Earlier for the first time ever I tried Airbnb, located a room in an apartment in the Ramla city center, paid in advance ($34), and then tried to find it. All seemed fine as I opened one of my two map apps. Straight away I landed at the designated site—a parking lot and industrial complex. I had no address, no other info to help. So I tried the second map app. This led me about 1 mile further to a small residential area. I went up to an old man sitting slurping watermelon on his porch and said, Airbnb? Hiba (the owner of the B and B)? Room for the night?

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Destroyed mosque (or synagogue?), Ramla, Israel

He was deaf, I shouted into his ear. No reaction. Eventually, a short dark-skinned woman came out, equally confused about my request. Neither spoke English. I’m not sure if they were Israelis or Palestinians. I tried in a building across the street. An older Jewish man taking his grandchild out in a stroller and a young Jewish woman also did not understand my question. I found another building that might be Hiba’s home, my residence for the night. No one answered. I tried the map again and found it merely returned me to the first site, the parking lot.

Because my phone service vexingly does not allow me to phone out (only receive calls), I used my Google voice service on the computer. Which meant, because the computer did not connect with the Internet, I had to set up my hot spot, all in my overheated car. Soon a young man angrily told me to move my car, can’t park here! I moved, phoned the Airbnb host, no answer, multiple times.

I’ve applied to Hiba for a refund:

i request a refund. i could not find your home. google maps and apple maps gave different directions. neither brought me to your home. i tried to phone and message. your phone was busy or would not answer. later i found a text message in hebrew  which i do not understand. i am frustrated. please refund my money.

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Near the moshav, Gan Haim

Extremely frustrated, tired, hungry—I’d been driving all day, searching for village sites (usually futilely, very little payback compared with what I recall last fall), navigating traffic, names of places I do not recognize, avoiding a crash—I decided to try to find the mall complex I‘d used last October. Again to sleep overnight in my car. Since I carry the laptop I found my journal entry (Oct. 14, 2018) and got the name. With maps, I found the mall. Closed. Shabbat. No easy refuge as I had last time to eat and do my toilet duties.

Let’s check out the hotel, I know it’s expensive and possibly filled. (As was true last year during a Jewish holiday). 650 shekels, $185, yikes and holy shit! I’ve never paid this much for a room in my life; it’s the equivalent of 1/3 my month’s rent at home.

Inquiring, they had a room. I’ll think about it, I told the hotel clerk, a large affable man. So I strolled around outside, scouted the hospital, knowing it would not close on Shabbat. The mall won’t open until 8:30 pm Saturday. Ok, I have 2 possibilities: sleep in my car again and use the hospital for toilet or stay in the hotel.

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Sadot Hotel in the Assaf Center complex, Ramla (for my budget, a stretch; for my needs, perfect—I found no other alternatives, including Airbnb)

Hotel! So here I am with shower, hot water for coffee, good view, fast Wi-Fi, wash my hankie, big double bed, write and read and plan.

What I do feel much more than I did last year is the presence of the historic people, namely the expelled, as if ghosts, as if wisps of memory, lightly curling smoke. Their presence is more palpable to me than last year. In fact, during my HOW (Hour of the Wolf, an intense period of non-serial thinking, often nightmarish) last night I thought I might retitle my project: Expulsion, Return (or The Right of Return). With a subtitle that specifies more precisely what the project is, a plea for the right of return. Add the word “home” to lend it more currency with an audience. The right of return home.

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Ramla

Perhaps because of my present and hopefully short-lived homelessness—I worry about where I will find housing tonight—I might be better attuned to the situation of refugees. Not only the Palestinians, but millions of others without homes. According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, by the end of 2018, 70.8 million human beings were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. And according to Help Refugees, 1 in every 113 people around the world is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee, What those millions might give for a night in the Sadot hotel? And the right to return safely to their homes.

Big question of the morning: should I recharge my phone account so I can use it, assuming it needs recharging even tho I’d bought an unlimited voice package?

Bigger question: route, where next, which sites to try to find? And related, where to stay tonight? I’m near Jaffa so maybe the hostel there which I know and like. Phone now with my computer?

detailed-elevation-map-of-israel-with-roads-cities-and-airports

LINKS

In Search of Fatima, a Palestinian Memoir, by Ghada Karmi

Remapping of Palestine: Why Israel’s erasure of Palestinian culture will not succeed, by Ramzy Baroud (2019)

Refugee statistics (UNHCR)

More refugee statistics (Help Refugees)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

(Thanks to Fareed Taamalla)

The world should not have to constantly catch up to what Palestinians have always known about the Nakba… Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

Amjad Iraqi, writing about Israel sealing documents that record the atrocities of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe in 1948 that enabled the creation of Israel

PHOTOS

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Fatima’s sweet smile captivated me, especially when she sang or chanted a sorrowful song about the loss of her home in Beit Nabala. Her smile quickly vanished and grief and tears took over.

She’d married when about 14, probably common during that era, and thus had a child before the Nakba which she must have carried when her family fled the Israeli militias. Her village—stone cutting one industry—about 10 km (3 miles) northwest of Ramla, was connected by train to Tel Aviv. A British military camp was near the village housing soldiers from Africa and India who acted as guards. Villagers and soldiers had no interaction, nor did they with the few Muslim soldiers who prayed in a local mosque. Jews worked inside the camp, also with no village interaction.

However, Arab villagers did interact with Jews who lived in a small settlement between Beit Nabala and the town of Lydda (Lod). They had friendly relations. She told us her father had once asked for water and received it from their Jewish neighbors.

In the first days of the Nakba, village fighters traveled west to help other fighters near Haifa but soon returned to defend their own village. It was being bombed. Villagers fled to Kibiya/Kebbia east of Beit Nabala. During the first day of flight, they sought refuge in another village where they slept under fig and olive trees. This was early summer.

Asked if she and her neighbors knew about the massacre at Deir Yassin, she said they’d heard everyone in Deir Yassin had been killed, some by Jews who’d shared life with the Arabs in that village for decades. Fatima and her neighbors were demoralized even further after they’d learned that a key Arab leader had been killed. News spread rapidly during this period of assault, including the infamous massacre in the Umari mosque in Lydda. There, Israeli militia herded many of the men into a mosque (which I later visited and photographed from the outside) and then shot them.

Her husband returned to Beit Nabala periodically to rescue other villagers and save some plants, this at great risk of being shot as an “infiltrator.” She told us that during World War 1, in 1917, when the British had attacked her village, people had fled and remained away for 14 days, so this time they assumed they’d soon return. Thus, as was true in many attacked villages, people brought very few belongings with them.

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Fatima’s son

According to the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, in 1992 the village site “…is overgrown with grass, thorny bushes, and cypress and fig trees. It lies on the east side of the settlement of Beyt Nechemya, due east of the road from the Lod (Lydda) airport. On its fringes are the remains of quarries and crumbled houses. Sections of walls from the houses still stand. The surrounding land is cultivated by the Israeli settlements.” She lives now in the Jalazone refugee camp, north of Ramallah. 

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Former schoolhouse of Bayt Nabala, presently used by the Jewish National Fund in Beit Nehemia (Thanks to Wikipedia, 2013)

LINKS

‘Raining Bullets on Beit Nabala’ – Beit Nabala, Ramle district (from BADIL, a video interview with Miriam Backer, former resident of Beit Nabala)

Bayt/Beit Nabala (from Zochrot)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

(Thanks to Ayed Al-Azza)

Of all the ironies of history none throws a more sinister light on human nature than the fact that the new-style nationalist Jews, on the morrow of the most appalling of the many persecutions that their race had endured, should at once proceed to demonstrate, at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs whose only offence against the Jews was that Palestine was their ancestral home, that the lesson learnt by Zionists from the sufferings which Nazis had inflicted on Jews, not to forbear from committing the crime for which they themselves had been the victims, but to persecute, in their turn, a people weaker than they were.

—Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, abridged ed, vol 2, 1957 

June 10, 2019, Monday, Bethlehem, Palestine-Israel

PHOTOS

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From my speaker notes:
Abdul Qader Hassan Monjid Al-Lahham
Interview assisted by Ayed Al-Azza, my colleague from Aida refugee camp
June 9, 2019
In Deheshe/Dheisheh refugee camp
From the village of Beit Etab/Bayt Itab 11 miles west of Jerusalem

  • Like other refugees, he is reluctant to engage in yet another interview.
  • Age 29 when expelled.
  • Ayed didn’t know him (but referred to him as uncle, an honorific, even tho not-blood related).
  • Lives with 2 unmarried daughters (about 68 and 72), sons and daughters, including great-grandchildren.
  • He’d worked for UNRWA in charge of water.
  • At first, he was separated from family, including his wife.
  • After a few days, the family reunited.
  • He was devoted to his sheep.
  • He’d been arrested near the village of Beit Nattif when with his sheep. The Israelis confiscated all his sheep and never returned all of them.
  • He sold his remaining sheep at a price less than their worth.

Ayed and I met him as Abdul left a small store with a bag of fruit. He was much bent over, walked next to Ayed. I photographed as they walked thru the camp to home. He looks easily the part of an aged refugee. He didn’t change facial expression much, looked down mostly, and his thick long eyebrows tended to conceal his features.

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Nes Harim, the westernmost point on this map, is an Israeli moshav (cooperative agricultural community) built on the lands of Beit Etab, which of course is not included. (click HERE for actual map)

I was with Ayed from 9:30 am when he generously picked me up in front of the Manger Square hotel, and, nearly 6 hours later dropped me there after the interviews. Generously he bought me lunch. I raised the question of payment. At first, he asked me what I thought fair. I returned the question to him. $200, he said. $200 seems high, I replied, and suggested half. Oh no, can’t. So we settled on $150 which I calculated to be about $40 per working hour (because the other 2 were largely social and not directly related to the project).

I hope you don’t hate me now, he said. No, not at all, I can appreciate all that went into the organizing before the interviews. And he explained: finding people, overcoming people’s reluctance, deciding times, etc. Lots of unpaid work, like a teacher not paid for preparation and follow up.

Today I meet Fareed [my colleague on this project, helping me find and interview people] in Ramallah, traveling thru the Valley of Fire that so terrifies my friend Alicen and me. Someone told me death by auto accident is the largest category of death in the West Bank. So, if unlucky today, this might be my last journal entry. Will the photos survive? Will anyone be able to work with them to continue or complete the project?

LINKS

Deheshe/Dheisheh refugee camp

Beit Etab (video)

Al-Ahram
March 15, 2000

…The right of the Palestinian refugees and the uprooted to return to their homes is a fundamental right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the European, the American and the African Conventions on Human Rights;

The right of the Palestinian refugees and the uprooted to return to their homes is an inalienable right and has been affirmed by the UN Resolution 194 over 110 times since 1948;…

TO BE CONTINUED, WITH MORE DETAIL TO COME LATER FROM MY AUDIO RECORDINGS

The Agape Community is an ecumenical nonviolence center advocating and organizing large scale, faith-based systemic change. Celebrating the birth of that exemplary luminary from the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi, we hold a day-long celebration, outside on our 32-acre grounds three miles east of Sacred Quabbin Reservoir. In recent years we’ve heard from Muslim, Native, and Black and Brown voices. This year we honor our founders, Suzanne and Brayton Shanley, and all our successors, young adults with vision and energy.

The major achievement was partially turning over leadership of Francis Day and by implication, Agape itself, to younger people, part of our painful, fitful transition as Suzanne and Brayton Shanley, co-founders and co-directors, mellow into elder years. Paradoxically, the crowd seemed older than usual, more grey, white, and silver heads.

For me and perhaps many of us older, more Catholic Worker-related people, Frida Berrigan and her mother Liz McAlister, were the hits. Frida, daughter of Phil Berrigan, spoke about place, being uprooted from her original home, Jonah House in Baltimore, her parents saving nothing of the old house to move to their new home as custodians of a cemetery. And then how she plugged into the new community, New Haven CT, running for mayor on the Green Party ticket. She doesn’t expect to win, only to raise issues, many of them related to neighborhoods, thus place, her main theme.

Altho few of the youngers in the crowd may have recognized those two, now venerables, they heard powerful words from both. Liz was recently released from 20 months of pretrial detention and faces a trial on Oct. 21 when we’re all encouraged to stay tuned and pray, with possible prison time following for her. Her infraction? Kings Bay Plowshares 7 to expose illegal and immoral nuclear weapons that threaten all life on Earth.

On the ride home with El (other than her announcing her plans related to Agape), she asked, why different religions? What purpose do they serve since they mostly have the same core message wrapped in various skins, that is systems of practice and belief, activity and theology? I offered the following: partly it’s tribal. We seek people of our own kind, using the same language (I am led, in the light, meeting for worship, etc, from Quaker Speak, my language, opaque and confusing tho I often find it), birthed from the same parents (George Fox and Martha Fell in mid 1600s England), sharing a name (Quaker, Religious Society of Friends, Friends, People of the Light), and with the ability to connect with others nearly instantaneously by reference to our tribe (Oh, Parfaite Nthuaba, you’re from Burundian—and Quaker? And you from Nepal—and Quaker?). Families across borders. Mostly, unless in schism mode which constantly threatens.

Another key reason is individual propensity to a structure or scaffolding. I prefer non-deism. Thus Buddhists are one of my key tribes. I prefer a social-politically radical teacher. Thus my man Jesus. I prefer to be grounded in earth. Thus my Native Indianism. I prefer to eschew hierarchy. Thus my opposition to mainstream Catholicism. I’m just not familiar enough with Islam to be drawn to it. I have many homes.

Agape Community

Francis Day 2019 – A Short Video

Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead, I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

(Thanks to Ayed Al Azza)

That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination might well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given to them.

—Hannah Arendt

PHOTOS

Note: there are alternative spellings for most Arab words, eg, Jibreen = Jibrin = Guvrin; Al Azza = AlAzza = Al-Azza, Bayt = Beit (means literally a house, but more broadly a place, a village or town); etc.

From my journals of June 10 and 11, 2019:

After my recent series of interviews and portrait sessions I realize, as expected, the stories tend to be repetitive, except of course for the locations of the destroyed original villages. Most villages were primarily agricultural; people reported they led pleasant and safe lives (few spoke about encroaching Jews). The Nakba in many cases occurred during Ramadan in early summer; some people were about to harvest corn but needed to flee—the unleavened bread story from Jewish scripture. Most had good relations with neighboring Jews, and all were forcibly expelled with little help from other Arabs or the international community. Some expressed fierce anathema toward some Arab countries, including Egypt which Issa told us had soldiers stationed nearby but the soldiers had done virtually nothing to help.

The stories blend together. I believe I can remember and concentrate much better when I meet no more than 3 people each day, with gaps between. Ideally, 1 each day but logistically this would stretch out my work too far. When I write my speaker notes as I try to do daily, I anticipate much confusion. The audio recordings will help, as will the photos. Today [June 11, 2019] I intend to make a second directory like the one I made last year, send it to my Palestinian colleagues, Ayed and Fareed, to get names and villages straight. Then sketch the stories, and later use the recordings.

Today [June 10, 2019] to Deheshe and Azza refugee camps in Bethlehem (Azza now renamed by UNRWA Beit Jibreen after the area most residents come from). For this project my first time in both camps (I’ve visited both on earlier trips). Interviewing and photographing the first couple, Issa Younis Al Azza, aka Abu Ahmed and his wife, Aisha, 10 years younger, led to interviewing their son, Ahmed, and then his wife, Shahrazad (just getting all the unusual and some times repeated names straight is itself a major challenge—Ayed is invaluable). Then with the second couple, using English, a long, well informed, impassioned, congenial conversation (all in English), joined by their son, Ahmed, the grandson of Issa and Aisha, about their situation and the USA role in it. All recorded, how much to use is a question. This type of intense conversation may be a first for me in this project.

When expelled from the same village, Issa was 19, Aisha, his wife, 9. He’s now 91 and she 80. Their age difference is apparent. I noticed it immediately.

Their village, Beit Jibreen, is southwest of Hebron about 43 km/26.7 miles. (walking time via Googe Maps to Bethlehem is about 9 hours, an altitude change of 650 meters/2,100 feet. Imagine walking this distance in 1948 with whatever clothes, food, etc one could carry; vehicles were sometimes available.) In fall 2018, I’d visited the village, now replete with archeological details, designed by Israel to be a tourist site. While living there, Arab people understood the site was rich in history, deep history, dating back at least to Greek and Roman times. They understood people had inhabited the region over millennia. (After the Nakba, Israel excavated more of the area; shockingly, but not surprisingly, there is no mention of Arab times.) While in the early part of the 20th century, when Issa and Aisha lived there and for centuries earlier during Arab times, Christian brothers lived in the Crusader church. Many people have interviewed the couple; at least locally, i.e. in the West Bank, their story is well known.

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Beit Jibreen (press here to enlarge)

Map Beit Jibrin

One walking route to Bethlehem

Relations with neighboring Jews were good. But during the Nakba, Jewish militia shelled the Egyptian outpost there, and the Egyptian soldiers fled during a full moon night. Soon after the expulsion, Issa snuck back into the village to retrieve belongings and harvest, and Jews shot at him.

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Video of Aisha Al Azza at Beit Jibreen interviewed on Jordanian TV

Equally valuable during this interview I spoke with their son, Ahmed Al Azza, a retired teacher, and his wife, Shahrazad. Together they founded a kindergarten in the camp. They need to raise money to continue its operation. With Ayed’s help, we discussed the possibility of crowdfunding. They showed me on a smartphone a video of a Jordanian TV interview with Aisha, Ahmed’s mother, when she returned to Beit Jibreen. Recounting her experience as a young girl before Nakba, she looked visibly pained. (I’ve not been able to find the video on the Internet.) They confided to Ayed and me that earlier when Ayed had approached the elders about my visit, Aisha had expressed suspicion, I’m not sure why. I’ve heard from other sources that some interviews can either distort the message or lead to troubles with the authorities.

Ahmed (the son), a championship chess player (he showed me many trophies), brought Ayed and me to the top floor. As is true in all the camps, residents build up because of restrictions by Israel and presumably UNRWA which administers aspects of the camps. Aided by his sons, one in particular, another Ahmed, Issa and Aisha’s grandson, the family saves money and when enough accumulates they add another room or level.

Ahmed brought us to the local cemetery and on the way showed us a community building erected for social gatherings for people from Beit Jibreen.

In another video we watched, Issa at the destroyed village, he wept. Later he told us he wished to be buried in Beit Jibreen. I asked if that would be allowed. No answer. Which raises a question about how neighboring Israelis will treat the gravesites. Do the dead and dying have the right of return?

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Azza refugee camp

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MAP-Expropriated land by JNF.jpg

JNF = Jewish National Fund

LINKS

Bayt Jibrin by All That Remains

Zochrot about Bayt Jibrin

Blind Spot at a Heritage Site, by (de) colonizer (2015)
A research and art laboratory for social change, working to challenge the colonialist nature of the Israeli regime. To learn more please visit www.de-colonizer.org.

Mapping what’s been lost, by  (

Archival photographs—David Staniunas

Tour Beit Guvrin (nothing mentioned about Arab habitation)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. My dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

PHOTOS

Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and its native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.

—Edward Said

MAJOR THEMES EXPRESSED BY THE REFUGEES

·      Their original lands were idyllic, owned by their families for many generations.
·      Growing grains and produce, shepherding animals, the people were self-sufficient.
·      Jews often lived nearby with a wide variety of relationships— trade and mutual help, avoidance and conflict as well.
·      During the Nakba, some local Jews attacked their neighboring Arabs, betraying them.
·      Militias, Jewish and Arab, fought.
·      There were massacres.
·      Many wish to be buried in their original homelands, possibly not aware of how the graves would be treated, if even allowed.
·      Grief continues, as do stories passed thru the generations.
·      Some claim their grief exacerbates their health.
·      Many second and third-generation refugees remain angry and are often politically active.
·      A few understand that Jews were dominant because of superior organization, leadership, weapons, strategy, international support (especially British), and motivation.

WHAT HAVE I DONE WITH THE PHOTOS I’VE MADE?

Mainly small exhibits or presentations at places like New England Yearly Meeting of Quakers in Vermont (August 2019), Social Documentary Network (July 2019), Whitelight (a photographers’ group, 2018 and upcoming), events hosted at Friends Meeting at Cambridge, various small gatherings with friends, and my website and blog. Upcoming are more opportunities like this, many to gain feedback and provide others a small sense of what I’m doing.

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New England Yearly Meeting Sessions (Quaker), Castleton Vermont, August 2019

 

FUNDING

The cost so far for the two trips, fall 2018 and spring 2019, is less than $11,000. Major expenses have been airfare, housing and transport in the region, payment to collaborators, food, and car rental. Major funding has been savings, private donations, and crowdfunding (Go Fund Me). I anticipate further expenses for my upcoming third trip and for the postproduction I’m doing now, approximately $5,000.

I welcome donations.

WHAT IS MY MAJOR CURRENT PROBLEM?

At home to avoid what I call “The Quotidian Seduction”—everyday tasks such as laundry, shopping, cooking, sleeping, gardening, health care, bike trips, family, friends, Quakers, political work, communities, other photographic assignments, earning money, and all sorts of other distractions, needed for balance, ruinous to missions—I have decided to construct two types of work retreats, one at an ecumenical non-violence center in central Massachusetts, the Agape Community, the other at home. At Agape I will retreat for two two-week periods, joining in their work and prayer life as appropriate. At home, I dedicate the first 3 days of each week to my project. One week into my new routine and I claim success. After being home for the second half of summer I’ve finally returned to my project.

YET TO DO

·      Most importantly, work with the photo, video, and audio files I’ve made during my first two trips, which means select, edit, transform, and use.
·      Maintain my website and blog.
·      Develop exhibits and slideshows.
·      Confirm the locations of sites I’ve already photographed.
·      Interview and photograph people in the New England area.
·      Do more research.
·      Raise more money.
·      Find a sponsoring organization.
·      Find colleagues.
·      Gain access to Gaza.
·      Return for two months in winter 2020 to find people from key villages like Lifta and Deir Yassin.
·      Locate and confirm sites I’ve so far failed to find.
·      Begin assessment of multi-platform books.

 

GOALS AND PURPOSE 

A multi-platform book, pages of photographs with some text written by me and others, linking via the internet with my videos, audio recordings, and supplementary information including maps. As far as I know, this is the first project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees using primarily photography. By presenting powerful and contrasting images of life in the current and original sites of internally expelled Palestinian refugees, I hope to build awareness and inspire action. Early step: the right of return for Palestinians. The end result: beyond coexistence to a breath-taking sharing of the region, its resources, histories, luminaries, and potential. Freedom, self-determination. equal rights. A truly Holy, Just, and Peaceful Land.

WHAT MOTIVATES ME?

I’ve blogged (in 4 parts) extensively about my motivations, but a new thought is the following from my journal of July 23, 2019:

I recently realized that native Indians and what I wasn’t able to do to help them historically is part of why I’m able to do what I can do now. I had not yet been born during the last phase of so-called American-Indian Wars, that period of roughly 1840 to 1900, climaxing with the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890—fifty years before my birth. I was 8 when the Nakba occurred, and probably in my 60s when I learned about it, and then precisely 77 when I decided to begin my current project. Time and timing matter. Because of an accident of my birth (I could do nothing about Indians then), and because of this same accident, I can do something about Palestinian refugees now—and shall. Often too late, rarely too early, occasionally on time. Time is elastic.

Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

— Amjad Iraqi, writing about Israel sealing documents that record the atrocities of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe in 1948 that enabled the creation of Israel

LINKS

Arab Villages, Bulldozed From Our Memory, by Gideon Levy (2012)

Jerusalem’s Museum of Tolerance remains a mystery, by Guy Nardi (2017)

The Mamilla Cemetery; A Buried History, by Asem Khalidi (2009)

Ahmed Abu Artema (the visionary leader) on the Palestinian Great March of Return, by Esty Dinur (April 2019)

Let Them Eat Cake: a Journey into Edward Said’s Humanism, by Ted Steinberg (2019)

Trial booklet from Schiel’s first season

GoFundMe appeal for Skip Schiel refugee project

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. My dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

PHOTOS

We must take a hard road, a road unforeseen. There lies our hope, if hope it be.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

 

(Captions indicate name-current home-ancestral village)

WHERE AND WHEN?

Since one year ago exactly, September 3, 2018, I have traveled, lived, and worked in Palestine-Israel on my refugee photographic project for 4 months. Initially, I titled it “On Our Way Home,” referring to the Great March of Return in Gaza that was one of my motivations for this project, but, after meeting people who seemed securely situated but were universally fearful of further expulsion, I retitled it, “The Ongoing Nakba.” I have met no Palestinians living in Palestine who feel safe from forced removal by the Israelis.

WHAT IS THE NAKBA?

In 1948, Israel expelled some 750,000 indigenous Arabs to clear the land for Jewish settlement, leading to the foundation of the state of Israel. Thus the Nakba (in Arabic), or Catastrophe. Some 5 million Palestinians now live in the West Bank and Gaza—the “internally expelled.” And, with few exceptions, they are not permitted to return to any of their original 400 villages and towns, even for short visits.

With help from many others, I meet the refugees, now often living in refugee camps in Palestine, interview and photograph them, photograph their current living conditions, and return to their ancestral homes (now in Israel) to photograph. I include photos of where and how they live currently in internal diaspora to contrast with their earlier, often pastoral lives, in destroyed villages—in contrast also to how Israelis are privileged to live. Eventually, I’ll add archival photos of their regions before the expulsion.

 

ACHIEVEMENTS

On my first trip for this project, September and October 2018—my overarching project began in October 2003, in part inspired by the martyrdom of Rachel Corrie that spring—I photographed 14 Palestinians, mostly first-generation refugees (expelled during the Nakba); 4 were second and third-generation refugees. I also located all the destroyed villages they’d lived in, 8 of them, an arduous process because of deliberate disappearance and displacement by Israeli communities and parks, and because of their new names—the process of Judaization.

On my second and most recent trip, mid-May thru mid-July 2019, I interviewed and made portraits of 24 more Palestinians forcibly removed or threatened with removal, all but 4 first generation. In addition, I plan to photograph another 10 or so Palestinians living in New England who I know personally and who come from Nakba-suffering origins. I will also photograph where and how they live currently, as well as their destroyed villages.

Of the second group’s 15 destroyed Arab villages, I found about half, mostly along the Mediterranean coast. Many sites are now major Israeli cities and towns like Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa, Ramle and Lydda, virtually completely erasing their Arab history. A few are parks where I’ve discovered remnants like rubble, cacti, and rock walls. I’ve not seen any markers on either trip indicating prior Arab habitation.

DIRECTORIES

Directory of names and places from the first trip

Directory from the second trip

DISAPPOINTMENTS AND FAILURES

So these are achievements. Disappointments and failures fall into 2 categories: finding people to photograph and locating their original villages. For the first 3 weeks of my recent 8-week trip, I found no one and suspected this might be true for the remaining 5 weeks. No one to photograph for this project. I can’t simply hike into a refugee camp, announce myself, ask for volunteers, and photograph. I need contacts, intermediaries, people trustable to those I need to photograph. And I need to trust the intermediaries. During my second week when I was most desperate, I met a local man in Ramallah who offered to help me. I was suspicious, asked about him, learned he was unreliable, and decided not to hire him.

The second category, the villages themselves (for my second trip), are mostly buried by urban development. Little remains. For instance, Tel Aviv, the major Israeli city, lies atop at least 8 villages. In Jerusalem, the Nakba forced all Arabs living in what is now called West Jerusalem, now all Jewish Israeli, out entirely of Jerusalem or into East Jerusalem (which I call the Palestinian sector of Jerusalem). Ironically the new Museum of Tolerance builds atop some of the historic Arab cemetery in downtown Jerusalem. Earlier, Israel built Independence Park atop a portion of the cemetery, governmental buildings including the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Industry, and several roads.

Consider the United States, New York City, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, most cities. What do they erase? How many Indian sites lie beneath these metropolises?

 

COLLEAGUES

I desperately need a professional fixer or colleague who I’d hire to travel with me in Israel. Someone who knows where these villages are—and where in the village sites are the remains like cemeteries, mosques, other buildings, wells, cisterns, cacti, rock walls, rock debris, and remnants of buildings, the usual telltale signs I search for.

I’ve been graced with several excellent Palestinian colleagues, Nidal Al Azraq, Fareed Taamallah, Ayed Al Azeh, Musa Al Azeh, Murad Abusrour, Eman Wawi, Amos Gvirtz, David Nir, Sahar, Meras Al Azza, Linda Dittmar, and a few others. But two organizations, natural fits with my project, BADIL, and Zochrot, have failed to fully respond to my inquiries for assistance. (I mention this mainly because I believe it is a major factor impeding progress in activist circles generally). BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, and Zochrot (Remember in Hebrew), ­­an Israeli NGO that, among other tasks, leads tours to destroyed Arab villages, have for various understandable reasons been disappointments. They failed to fulfill their promises in the first case or didn’t fully respond to my phone and email requests in the second. Likewise with individuals who might have helped with the project—no response. Sure: general busyness, a crisis within the organization, or people not knowing or trusting me could all help explain the silence. That Deep Dark Pit that good intentions often disappear into.

FareedSkipDrive7676.JPG

Fareed Taamallah (R) with Skip Schiel, on the road, June 30, 2019 (photo by Fareed Taamallah)

LINKS

Uncovering the Lost Palestinian Villages Underneath Glitzy Tel Aviv, by Mira Sucharov (2016)

(DE) COLONIZER—research/art laboratory for social change

A new guidebook “Omrim Yeshna Eretz” (Once Upon a Land) published by Zochrot and Pardes Publishing). It is a bilingual tour guide, in Hebrew and Arabic, to what is left and—mainly— what was erased, almost without a trace.

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. My dispatches based on my work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

PHOTOS

Civil disobedience . . . is not our problem. . . . Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government. . . . Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.

—Howard Zinn

Jenin checkpoints.png

Northern West Bank, courtesy B’Tselem (click image to enlarge)

Dark brown = Area A (under complete Palestinian control); light brown = Area B (under Palestinian civil control, Israeli military control); blue = Area C (under total Israeli control)—when in reality Israel controls all of the West Bank, including sections nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Without clear info anywhere—online or in-person—I wasn’t sure as I was stuck in traffic whether the checkpoint would be open or closed (various views), and if open I could pass, with my car or without (no online info even tho B’tselem* has a list of the checkpoints). Arriving at what I think the border police said (they seemed unsure of the name) was the Balaam or Belem** checkpoint, parking my car (the gate was formidably closed), at first I saw no one.

I called out hello, and a drowsy-looking male border agent or policeman or soldier (I’m not sure who guards checkpoints, which member of the vast Israeli security complex) slowly came out of the small container, tucking his shirt in, clasping his belt, and asked who are you? I’m Skip Schiel from the United States. What do you want? Entrance to Jenin. Why? To visit a friend. Show me your id. You mean my passport? Yes. What do you do? Photography. By now a female agent had joined us. She adamantly said you can’t come in. Why not? Not allowed. You can’t come in here. How am I supposed to get into Jenin? I don’t know. Are there other checkpoints I could use? I don’t know. Call your Jenin friend.

CheckpointJenin_5911-Edit.jpg

Jalameh checkpoint with the West Bank north of Jenin in the background; the luxurious-looking homes in the upper left are presumably in an Israeli settlement

I phoned Mouwia and eventually engaged him and the two Israelis in some sort of conversation that I couldn’t follow.

Go! Now! she said, with strong conviction. By this point, both had put on their bulletproof vests, backpacks, and had their machine guns prominently displayed across their chests—as if to add credibility to their commands. No helmets; I wasn’t much of a threat. What had they been doing before I arrived at this lazy border crossing? I pondered to myself.

As I went to my car parked about 100 ft from them and the closed gate, I noticed two men easily walk thru the checkpoint. So I returned to the police, asked again, hey, why can they go thru and not me? They live there, you don’t. I then unleashed the mighty fury of my full credential: Say, I’m a citizen of the United States of America, I pay taxes, I vote. I help pay for Israel, perhaps your salaries (Not quite accurate since I’m a tax refuser.). He said, as if to counter my argument, I pay taxes too. Then me, my country gives your country 3.8 billion dollars annually. Implying maybe I’d make some sort of complaint back home. This didn’t move them.

In retrospect, I believe they simply wished to harass me. Why otherwise the early questions about who am I and why do I wish to enter Jenin? Did they notice my bracelet with the Palestinian national colors?

Conversing with Mouwia later (luckily I had data coverage, close enough to an Israel settlement in the West Bank to provide this), after consulting with others (I sensed that Mouwia rarely leaves Jenin or works with people, guests of the Freedom Theater, who need travel info.), he directed me to another checkpoint, the Jeremy checkpoint*** I believe he called it, from the Israeli town of Afula south. Comparatively, this was a breeze—going in. Coming out, if I use the Jeremy checkpoint again, it might be much different. This time, being rush hour, not only was road traffic generally heavy, but the checkpoint was crowded with Palestinian workers returning home. I watched as long lines of mostly men entered; cars jockeyed for passage. For me entering the West Bank, one cursory stop, then the traffic, and I was headed for Jenin. Glory be! My next task would be finding the refugee camp and the Freedom Theater and Mouwia himself.

CheckpointJenin_5915.jpg

Jalameh/Mqeibleh checkpoint

*B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

** Later, using the map from B’Tselem I learned from the organization the correct name of this checkpoint is Salem. Quoting B’Tselem:

A crossing point in the Separation Barrier. Serves as the entrance to the Israeli DCO (District Coordination Office) at Salem, where there is a military court, the Land Registry Office, and a small police station. Staffed only during daytime by the military and Border Police. Subject to inspection, Palestinians may enter the DCO. During the olive-harvest season and subject to coordination with the DCO, Palestinian residents of the village of Zabuba are allowed to cross the checkpoint to reach their lands.

*** Also later I learned the correct name is Jalameh/Mqeibleh. Again quoting B’Tselem:

A crossing point in the Separation Barrier. Staffed around the clock by the military and private security companies. The checkpoint has an extensive infrastructure, similar to a terminal. Closed to Palestinians, except for East Jerusalem residents and Palestinians with entry permits into Israel. They are permitted to cross only on foot. Closed also to Israelis, with the exception of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. Also used for transporting goods between the West Bank and Israel using the “back-to-back” method. The checkpoint opens at 5:00 A.M. to allow Palestinians working in Israel to enter; then, from 8:00 A.M., vehicles may cross from Israel to Jenin. The checkpoint is closed between 12:00 P.M. to 1:00 P.M. From 2:00 P.M. to 5:30 P.M. no one may cross into Israel. From 5:30 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. people can cross from Israel into Jenin, and Palestinian citizens of Israel can return from Jenin to Israel. During Muslim holidays, restrictions are eased and hours of operation extended, but not consistently.

LINKS

Machsom (checkpoint) Watch, an Israeli women’s organization monitoring checkpoints

Two videos from B’Tselem showing ordinary life in Palestine, the first near the first checkpoint I write about and the second a sniper action in a refugee camp south of Hebron.

 

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

PHOTOS

Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

— Amjad Iraqi, writing about Israel sealing documents that record the atrocities of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe in 1948 that enabled the creation of Israel

Winding down after a fruitful and frustrating 2 months in the Never Neverland of the Holy. Free for some, prison for others. Split down the middle, half Jewish Israelis, half Palestinians. Don’t take sides, some advisors tell me, but not my primary Quaker mentor, old John Woolman. I doubt he’d ever advise that. I side with the ever-present John.

Thanks to many supporters I’ve been able to complete another phase of my photographic mission about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank.

Here’s one recent highlight as I searched for the destroyed Arab villages where the refugees I’ve been interviewing and photographing lived before the expulsion of the Nakba.

In the West Bank city of Jenin, for one week I stayed in the refugee camp (with a violent history, especially during the Second Intifada in 2002, Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield), based at the Freedom Theater, hoping Mouwia, my local coordinator (fixer is the professional term: finds people to interview and photograph, fixes a date and place, introduces me, translates, and helps interview) can find me a few more people to meet. Partly because of confusion between us about whether first generation only, or second and third, and because first-generation people are old and often in poor health, we’ve had a slow go finding people. Plus the theater’s Wi-Fi sucks, days are hot, and I’m frustrated. At our first photographic session the man’s son and grandson joined the crowd.

Jenin_6004

Jenin

After Jenin, using a rental car, maps, and general info, I attempted to locate the original villages. I found about half of the 12 or so on my list. Many are now major Israeli cities and towns like Tel Aviv, Ramle and Lydda, completely erasing their Arab history. A few are parks where I’ve discovered remnants like cacti and rock walls. I may return next fall. I desperately need a professional fixer who I’d hire to travel with me. Someone who knows where these villages are—and where in the village sites are remains like cemeteries, mosques, other buildings, wells, cisterns. cacti, rock walls, rock debris, and remnants of buildings, the usual telltale signs I search for.

On the plus side: Haifa, a gorgeous coastal mixed city (Israelis and Palestinians) where I stayed in a lovely guesthouse in the German Colony (interviewing the owner, Andrew Haddad, a Palestinian with a rich expulsion history); the sites of Ein Hod (now an Israeli artist colony) and its neighbor, Ein Hawd (where the Palestinian residents of Ein Hod fled when kicked out during the Nakba); and finally reaching Jenin and the theater after an arduous route thru the checkpoints and into a very crowded, busy, noisy, congested, large Palestinian city. With excellent shuwarma and fresh-squeezed fruit drinks.

Haifa_5800

Haifa

One major negative factor has been connecting with potential allies. For instance (I mention this mainly because I believe it is a major factor impeding progress in activist circles generally), two strong and natural potential allies for my project are BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. And Zochrot (remember in Hebrew), ­­an Israeli NGO that, among other tasks, leads tours to destroyed Arab villages. For various understandable reasons, these organizations didn’t fulfill their promises in the first case or didn’t respond to my phone and email requests in the second. Likewise with individuals who might have helped with the project—no response. Sure: general busyness, a crisis within the organization, or people not knowing or trusting me could all help explain the silence. That Deep Dark Pit that good intentions often disappear into.

In contrast I’ll mention several crucial allies: Fareed Taamallah, a farmer activist with contacts thruout the West Bank; Ayed Azzeh, resident of the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem who introduced me to refugees in several camps; Nidal Al Azraq, cofounder of the organization 1for3 who helped me significantly; and Amos Gvirtz who brought me to the Al Araqib Bedouin vigil and village and introduced me to one of the leaders, Aziz; plus a few others. Without them I would not be able to create this project.

Then there’s the climate: slowly warming and drying out. Despite drip irrigation, desalination, and illegal theft of water. A recent prediction claims that by 2100 this region’s summers will be 2 months longer. Maybe that would offer a resolution of the conflict: uninhabitability. A vacant land, at last as it once was before human beings were born south of here.

If interested in reading my personal story about a Jenin checkpoint encounter, as a sampler of life in the occupied territories, please write me thru this blog’s comment section.

LINKS

Burying the Nakba: How Israel Systematically Hides Evidence of 1948 Expulsion of Arabs, Hagar Shezaf (Haaretz, July 05, 2019—may be behind the paywall)

The Nakba Documents, a proposed movie by Benny Brunner about hiding the Nakba documents. He needs initial funding. The Nakba Documents (Boston) for more info.

Israel Saw Significant Rise in Temperature in Recent Decades, Study Shows, by Zafrir Rinat (Haaretz, June 25, 2019)

Censored Voices by Mor Loushy (2015) about experiences of Israeli soldiers during the Six Day War, which includes references to Palestinian refugees (similar to what happened 19 years earlier during the Nakba)

TO BE CONTINUED

World Refugee Day 
20 June 

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

PHOTOS

A few stone houses still stand on the village site [original Al Walaja land]. Otherwise, the site is covered with stone rubble, and with almond trees that grow on the western terraces of the village and to the north. A spring in a valley west of the site still flows out of a stone-and-concrete structure. The 1948 Armistice line passed through the southern lands of the village. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) built refugee shelters and an elementary school on the land that became part of the West Bank. There is a white marker on the grave of one village woman; her first name, Fatima, is visible on it, but her last name is illegible. The village area is used as an Israeli picnic site; the Israeli Canada Park now lies north of it.

—Walid Khalidi, 2006 or earlier

To reach my rendezvous point with Meras in Aida refugee camp who had arranged today’s session [June 8, 2019] with Omar Hajhajleh in Al Walaja village (suggested by Nidal), I tried to grab a service taxi at the bus station in Bethlehem. Many others had the same desire. Some were families that I didn’t want to push ahead of. Some asked the driver where he was going and either jumped in or waited for a different taxi. I was perplexed and finally decided to walk. That is one hell of a walk—2 km or 1.2 miles—especially with my photo and audio equipment, up and down the Bethlehem slopes, grand view, but tiring. Returning I considered finding a service near the checkpoint which would probably be much easier, but then decided buying beer and bread took presence.

Walaja aerial SM

Yellow indicates Palestinian village and Blue Israeli settlement/colony

After picking up Meras’ friend, Nadeem, to help with the interview and audio recording, I would finally meet, interview, and photograph Omar Hajhajleh. Meras phoned, after several tries we finally reached him. At first, he told us he’d broken the key (I assumed metal, but learned electronic) and we’d not be able to visit; we might interview and photograph thru the gate. Then, surprising us, he opened the gate, releasing himself from his prison, sat on one of the two car seats, and began a much-practiced monologue about his condition, with questions later from me. We had a relaxed interview, helped partially by Meras and Nadeem (in the car, I’d talked earlier with Nadeem about how he can assist). All 4 of us marveled about the absurdity of Omar’s situation.

Meras photographed and filmed and promised to send me the photos after I’d sent him my email address (which I did; he hasn’t yet.). I could use photos of Omar’s house and fields, if we don’t return (or find them on the internet). I hope to discover a satellite image of the area, pinpointing his isolated house, what remains of Al Walaja, the expanding Har Gilo settlement, and the various fences and walls. (I forgot to photograph the electronic key—except at a distance when he left us.) Leaving us, he entered the tunnel beneath the fence and security road, as if he disappearing into a dark pit

His story from my notes (later to be checked against the audio recording):

  • Father was raised in the original village; he’s now dead, displaced during the Nakba.
  • Father built a new house where Omar has lived since the 1950s, born there?
  • Omar is a farmer with some 40 dunams of land, raises animals, gardens, has olive trees.
  • Once worked construction jobs in Israel but now because of his imprisonment no longer.
  • Israel covets his house and land. They will pay any price and offered him 4 options: sell it for a price he names, rent it out for a price he names, organize a partnership with Israel, and one other I’ve forgotten.
  • Has a wife and 3 sons, 10-16; how do they feel about their imprisoned lives and Omar’s resistance?
  • Sons attend school, meet the bus at the gate, but friends can’t visit and play.
  • Recently punished with 8 days of internal detention (house arrest) because he’d installed a buzzer outside the gate (he shows us) so his kids could beckon their mother after school—now ripped out by Israel.
  • He is much visited by the media.
  • Internationals and old people in the village help him with materials and I suppose farm labor.
  • Can’t be off the premises past 10 pm.
  • Someone always must be in the house to protect it; for, if unoccupied for more than about 60 hours, Israel considers it abandoned and will take possession.
  • Asked why he stays, I think he said because the land and house are mine; I own them; I have a right to live here (i.e., simple justice).
  • The larger context of his personal story is encroachment by the huge Har Gilo settlement and the separation wall. Plus the On Going Nakba, Israel’s conquest of everything for the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Bethlehem map SM.jpg

  • NGO’s help minimally.
  • Friends painted Gaza mural outside the fence; it’s a new type of fence, tall with razor wire, not electronic.
  • Har Gilo and beautiful terraces lie on the other side of the fence—as does freedom and his family’s original home in the now-shrunken Al Walaja.
  • Maps are vital to explaining his story and the overall situation, Al Walaja and beyond, The On-Going Nakba
  • How might I visit the house; can I find it on maps?
  • He asked me to help him travel to the States (for visit, talks, residency?)
  • He tells his story calmly, without exaggeration, unlike many who’ve suffered greatly, and finally have an opportunity to speak their story, and then become so emotional the story’s power diminishes.
  • I felt bonded with him as I commiserated and felt some parallels (minor suffering on my part).
  • I recall visiting Al Walaja at least twice earlier, once with the Palestinian News Network (PNN) to cover a Catholic mass held to protest land confiscation, and another time for a demonstration, both apparently in 2013.

After the interview and portrait session, I asked Meras, how would you like to arrange payment for your help? He said 200 shekels for time and taxi, then when I fiddled with my purse, he said dump it all here (in his hand) for the driver. Which made a grand total of 250 shekels or $70 for about 3 hours work which includes maybe 1h our driving. Let’s say $25/hr which I suppose is reasonable. (I should compare with what I paid last year, suggested by Nidal, always a murky issue. Especially when Palestinians prefer to settle after the work rather than before.)

Now I wonder if we might return, especially to see the house, meet and photograph his family, and whether there are others in Al Walaja with different stories (to avoid repetition). I’d definitely love to find the original house in old Al Walaja, before Omar lived in this current house, and asked Meras about it. He’s not sure where the first house is, whether it still exists, or whether Omar could find it or be allowed to take us there (it is probably now in Israeli).

I’ve begun uploading my more politically sensitive photo sets to the Cloud, such as yesterday’s set from Al Walaja, Sheik Jarrah, Asem, and Jerusalem Day. I don’t expect Israel would block or confiscate these photos, but I prefer to allay my worries. With the speedy internet connection at Casa Nova [the pilgrim guest house in Bethlehem where I temporarily live], I can easily push these photos to the Cloud. In addition, I have them backed up on two external hard drives, one my complete laptop hard drive, the other only photos, audio, and journals. That one I plan to mail home.

Today: with Ayed to various camps, including Beit Jibreen and Dheisheh. Renewing my work and friendship with Ayed should be satisfying. He so wishes to travel with me to destroyed villages. And then on Monday with Fareed to various refugee camps, a full 3 days of work.

Thanks to Meras Al Azza who brought me to this section of Al Walaja and introduced me to Omar; to Nadeem Abu Rasme Fayz Arafat assisting me to interview, translate, and operate the audio recorder; and Nidal Al Azraq who lined up Meras to work with me.

About settlement expansion and corresponding shrinkage of Palestinian land:

Picture this (something I would like to actually do): a time-lapse aerial video of the West Bank since 1967 showing multiple settlement expansions, like mudslides. Roughly, it might be possible from Google Earth imagery which can provide a slider to show earlier views (under “view”).

(Quiz: where does Google Earth take you when you search for “Palestine”? Click here or try yourself to learn.)

 

I think this absurdity [the occupation and siege] is going to lead to a real awakening and people will eventually hang their heads and say, ‘What were we thinking?’ 

—Diane Buttu

LINKS

In photos: al-Walaja village faces “slow death” as Israel takes its land, by Anne Paq (2014)

Seven decades of struggle: how one Palestinian village’s story captures pain of ‘Nakba’ by Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem, and Pablo Gutiérrez (2018)

Welcome To al-Walaja

First Israel Locked This Palestinian Family Out of Its Home. Now It Locked the Gate Connecting Them to Their Village by Nir Hasson (May 2019)

Al-Walajah village explores theater as a form of resistance by Ben Rivers (2012)

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

PHOTOS

MOHAMMED SABAGH

Mohammed Sabagh, as skilled at storytelling as his friend Nabeel, told virtually the same story as Nabeel. I decided to let him continue despite overlap because I’d suddenly thought maybe I’d not saved the files of N’s interview, and I’d need M’s info. At home, reviewing my work, I was overjoyed to find everything intact. I uploaded files to Google Drive and downloaded from my phone to my laptop via iTunes to make sure I don’t lose them.

I asked Mohammed if he’d mind showing me his house, which is behind and up the hill from N’s. Yes, but I don’t have much time; I need to get to the post office in 10 minutes. He explained that he’d expanded the small original blockhouse provided by Jordan when they controlled this area before the Six Day War, to house others in the family. He showed me his guest room where he speaks to delegations. There I made perhaps the best photograph of the set of him. Previously I’d tried photographing him as he labored with his smartphone to find a photo showing a visit from Jimmy Carter. As I told him and N, Carter is perhaps the only American president who would visit here. Can one imagine Trump coming to Sheik Jarrah to visit potentially expelled Palestinians? Nope, instead, if he came, he’d probably visit the settlers. Maybe stay overnight to get a deeper feel.

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This housing complex was once home to 8 Palestinian families.

Later, on M’s way to the post office he dropped me at the Damascus Gate. This journey of maybe one-mile max required about 30 minutes because of traffic. However, it provided more conversation time, mostly about family, his and mine, always a good connection point. When I asked why many Palestinians, especially women, wear black, and not only black, but gowns that seal their body, despite the heat, he answered, it’s normal.

I’m tempted to say, such apparel is blazingly cool—and hot.

Palestine-Israel-Jerusalem-Sheik_Jarrah-52.jpg

Checking my previous materials (Teeksa website and my blog, ever handy) I discovered I was there in 2009 and photographed the family that had been recently evicted, now living under a protest tent.

First photo set

Then again in 2015

Then, during my work with Grassroots Jerusalem, I visited Sheik, presumably with or guided by Fayrouz (journal of May 7, 2015). Where is that photo series I made of Nabeel and family?

One of the most stunning comments and discoveries from the two interviews: neither men are willing to risk leaving the country, even tho they have relatives abroad and might be able to travel, and they rarely leave the neighborhood. Reason: to protect their homes. I name them “guardians of the neighborhood.” A few days later after the interviews I remet Mohammed at the weekly protest against expulsions—hey, you showed up, as you promised, he said. And there I met the Jewish activist scholar, Sayia Rothberg. His is another story. In part one of this story I linked to Sayia’s blog entry about protecting Sheik Jarrah.

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Mohammed Sabagh (R) with Shaiya Rothberg

Where to go with this interview and portrait set? Moreover, does it too sharply diverge from my main path of internally expelled refugees in the West Bank and Gaza? Or is it a side branch, even a new river, possibly warranting changing the name of my project from On Our Way Home to something like The Ongoing and Relentless Nakba?

Last evening [May 30, 2019], once rested and fed, I sat in the side garden of the Austrian Hospice for the first time working on my next blog, “Plan and Acclimate.” Such joy to work outside in the evening light, birds, plants, fellow quiet guests. Who mostly sat together at various tables, each on a separate smartphone. Such a loss—the joys and discoveries of random, relaxed, lazy conversation.

Here I am, typing away, alone, yet potentially with others, a community, some I know well, others I’ve never met or will meet. Writing, I carry on a conversation with myself that eventually I may share with others. My strong need for comments might reflect my need for conversation. With Louise over Skype two evenings-mornings ago our conversation was lush with discoveries, for instance, the decision about Napa and her trip plans. Also my analysis of how busyness curtails movement building in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and her observation that I’ve perhaps deepened a little spiritually, developing Holy Patience.

~~A fellow hospice dorm resident, a short woman looking vaguely Asian, just rolled her walker past me, on her way maybe to breakfast and later out. What fortitude to tour the Old City with her infirmities, her diminishments! I am emboldened. I wish her well. Maybe we’ll have a chance to chat later.~~

Additions about Nabeel from my notes:

Built the addition in the 1980’s (?), Israel never allowed him to use it because of no building permit, pays ongoing fine-his large extended family in small space-once worked as a “driver” which sounded more like a courier-born in Nazareth, moved to Old City during the Six Day War, then to present site in 1950s when Jordan, controlling this region, built housing for refugees-person buried nearby not a Jew, but a Muslim, prayed to by settlers, 4 different grave sites of this supposed holy Jewish man-Zionists when occupying the nearby house would open a window facing N’s home and shout obscenities, encourage women to bare themselves, and throw garbage so N put up a curtain (photographed during other visits?)-a series of protests, tents, planting in the front yard (Facts on the Ground?) an olive tree (which seems to thrive) and lemon tree (destroyed first with oil and other fluids, then ripped out by settlers)-harassment dates back to the 1970’s-weekly protests continue on Fridays at 4-age about mid 70s-healthy altho with previous heart problems-land not his, but rented from municipality-stays strong and vigilant (when I asked him) because his home is his!, rightfully, legally —i.e., justice.

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Sheik Jarrah map, click for an enlarged version, Courtesy of UN0CHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), 2009

LINKS

The Historiography of the 1948 Wars, By Picaudou Nadine  (2008) (contextualizes the book, All That Remains, by Walid Khalidi, and the Nakba)

The Nakba, Flight and Expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 (exhibition catalog by Zochrot)

Sheikh Jarrah, My Neighbourhood (2013)

Facing Eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, by Sarah Wildman (2013)

MORE COMING IN THE SERIES “ON OUR WAY HOME”

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

Special note: World Refugee Day, June 20, 2019

No, they [the Palestinians] were made voiceless, they were muted.  Our job is to de-mute them.

—Dr. Mads Gilbert, the Norwegian surgeon famous for his work in Gaza in 2008 and 2014 and for his painfully graphic books, Eyes in Gaza and Night in Gaza, quoted by Dr. Alice Rothchild

Sheik Jarrah is a Palestinian neighborhood immediately north of main East Jerusalem, threatened by Zionist settlers who claim historical possession of this neighborhood. Supported by Israeli military and police they attempt to expel Palestinians living there for decades and move into their homes. Among the leaders of the resistance, Nabeel Al-Kurd and Mohammed Sabagh

PHOTOS

May 31, 2019, Friday, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Old City, Austrian Hospice

Dream notes:

I stood with a crowd during a protest. We knocked on the door of the organization we were focused on, a solid steel reinforced door with a glass window itself reinforced with metal strands embedded in it. Suddenly a rock hit the window, causing minor damage because of the window’s construction. I said, or thought to myself, oh no, now the tear gas, now the rubber covered metal bullets, now the live fire.

Much like Palestine-Israel, obviously, but not specifically declared in the dream.

I dreamt this during another early morning HOW (Hour of the Wolf—partial wakefulness that can be either terrifying or revelatory), beginning around 4 am, call to prayer time, and lasting until I rose 2 hours later. Despite my apparent sleep loss, I usually don’t feel any more fatigued than usual thru the day, even with the heat. But perhaps the sleep loss will catch up with me and I’ll collapse.

Yesterday some good news, the news I’ve been waiting for. To my beloved cyber support committee, Susan D, JVB, George Cap:

meet nabeel and mohammed of sheik jarrah:

with great joy i share with you the first two human beings i’ve been able to photograph for my project. they live now in east jerusalem, a neighborhood called sheik jarrah, long under attack by jewish israelis who attempt to forcibly expel these legal residents and take over their homes. jvb [who may have visited the neighborhood on one of his two trips here] can fill you in probably. i’ve long followed this story, know elements of it, but today, a mere 2 hrs ago, i met these two stalwart “guardian” residents, nabeel al kurd and mohammed sabagh, thanks to amal t, a jewish israeli who works for an international ngo here and reminded me about nabeel (who i’ve visited several times in years past), and told me about mohammed.)

up to this point, 2 wks into my 8 wk exploration, i’ve had tremendous problems locating people to photograph. and they are dying off rapidly, having been born prior to 1947-48, the yrs of nakba, the palestinian catastrophe.

photos enclosed.

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Nabeel Al-Kurd

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Mohammed Sabagh

NABEEL AL-KURD

I am rocketedly ecstatic, beholden to Amal T who spurred me into action. On my last visit (I believe) I tried to meet Nabeel Al -Kurd again. His wife said he was out. He didn’t answer his phone. We’d first met many years ago, and I returned for a second visit which I dimly recall was with some of his family discussing family business. I recall a beautiful woman, I photographed freely. My two recent interviews went very well. Both men are much practiced in the art of storytelling, their own stories which they know well. Visitors like Christian Peace Team CPT) delegations often meet them. In fact, Esther K, leader of many CPT delegations, visited Nabeel recently. She’d thanked me for telling her about him last year and the delegation visited then.

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The home of Nabeel and extended family. Immediately to its left is the house he built in the 1970s for extra space, now occupied by settlers.

Not expecting to interview anyone yesterday, I did not bring my Tascam recorder. Luckily I had my phone, and, recalling SF’s suggestion last year, I could use it to record the interview. Worked perfectly, as far as I can tell. Nabeel and I sat outside beside the small house he’d constructed to expand his original dwelling, which had been provided by Jordan in the 1950s because of his refugee status. He told me Israel has never allowed him to live in this addition, claiming he built without a permit, a permit impossible to attain. A “big” (meaning fat) Zionist Israeli from New York City, maybe the head of local settler security, stays there overnight to protect the small occupied building from Zionist youth who allegedly use it for alcohol, drugs, prostitution, and other unsavory purposes (so claim Nabeel and later Mohammed), arriving late in the evening, leaving late in the morning. I’d love to meet this fat Zionist, interview and photograph him. I’ll leave Nabeel’s full story until later. I could do an entire project about Sheik Jarrah, perhaps living in a tent outside N’s home because, altho he might wish to host me, his space is tiny, his family large.

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Searching for a photograph of former president Jimmy Carter when he visited Sheik Jarrah in 2010, virtually the only US president who might visit, inquire, and possibly support the residents of Sheik Jarrah.

The first occupants of his confiscated building were a family. I believe he said when the family realized the reality of the confiscation they left. Brothers came in. And then the young, more extreme men with good body builds (how many were from the USA?) Across the street, the settlers consist of several families.

Discussing my prior work on the refugee theme, he brought out the book, All That Remains, The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, in Arabi, by Walid Khalidi, which I remembered to include in some photos. While I interviewed Mohammed, Nabeel looked thru the book, as if a bible for refugees.

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With the book, All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, by Walid Khalidi, an encyclopedic account of Naka expulsions.

LINKS

Sheikh Jarrah & the settlers’ court, by Louis Frankenthaler (2010)

We must not evict the Sabbagh family, by Shaiya Rothberg (April 2019)

My Neighborhood, a movie by Just Vision about Sheik Jarrah

Carter: Sheikh Jarrah Evictions Are Against International Law by Nir Hasson
and Haaretz Service (2010)

SECOND PART COMING ABOUT SHEIK JARRAH, PLUS MORE IN THE SERIES “ON OUR WAY HOME”

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

Special note: World Refugee Day, June 20, 2019

Artists are here to disturb the peace. They have to disturb the peace. Otherwise, chaos.

― James Baldwin

PHOTOS (Returning from prayer at the Al Aqsa mosque-on Friday during Ramadan)

May 18, 2019, Saturday, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Old City (continued)

Aside from my tooth, which history will not remember, I dropped in on Mahmoud Muna, one of the owners of the Educational Bookshop in the eastern section of Jerusalem. His shop is part of the American Colony Hotel, always a joy to visit, the shop and the hotel—despite some of my negative connotations of “American” and “colony.” He provided me many suggestions, among them:

  • To find people to photograph in camps, establish a link in a camp (Freedom Theater in Jenin for a strong example), visit community centers (such as for women), ask for contacts and a place to stay (I should try today to reach Mowia in Jenin.)
  • Photograph refugee achievers such as Abed and people he and others might suggest (as I’ve already done with Abed, Ayed, and others, none first generation; are there any?). Not only those like Abed who are achievers in the resistance movement, but professionals, artists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. Include the interior photos I’ve made to help undercut stereotypes (refugee housing is dirty, cramped, junky).
  • Connect with the Institute of Palestinian Studies, headed by Walid Khalali (who lives in Cambridge MA, why have I not sought his counsel yet?), based in many places including Ramallah, for contacts but also for archival photos of the villages before Nakba.
  • Same with UN and UNRWA.
  • Consult Salman Abu Sitta for an argument for return, read his new book, The Geography of Occupation.
  • For people who’d lived in Deir Yassin, Lifta, etc, contact associations formed to remember those Nakba disasters.
  • Zochrot is mainly about the villages, not the former residents, and tends to concentrate on the north, the Galilee, etc.

He confirmed what he told me on my last visit, that mine is probably the first photographic treatment of the theme.

When asked about the effect of digital technology on publishing and booksellers like his he agreed that for many books digital has a strong impact. But he’s convinced other kinds of books, like photography, will remain popular. Because people like to have the pages in front of them. We’ll see. He was not familiar with my concept of a multi-dimensional multi-platform book, in print but also linked to the Internet, or maybe purely digital.

He seemed to like the photos I showed him online. I mentioned my online booklet but we didn’t pursue it. I feel I can consult with Mahmoud regularly, even when I’m home in Cambridge MA.

Ironic that he is among my first strong contacts on this trip, as he was on my fall trip.

While scouting the American Colony Hotel looking for the bookshop I discovered a small exhibit of photos and texts about the founding of this place. Around the late 1800s, a small group from Chicago, my home town, mainly Swedes, pioneered. They encouraged friends to immigrate and eventually discovered a Jerusalem mansion they could first rent and then buy—the present building. I thought of joking with Suzanne and Brayton about immigrating Agape to here, founding the Agape Colony in Jerusalem. But, alas, they’re too old for this adventure, as are now most of my peers for such pathfinding.

After meeting with Mahmoud I sat in the garden across from the main building, enjoying its serenity and peace. I ate an apple and checked my mail, made a photo or two as well. I wondered, what would a single room for one night cost me? $330 average, a bit beyond.

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Patio of American Colony Hotel

A major achievement after a boondoggle: the main page of my website. This is a result of working between two computers, desk and laptop, not fully sharing all the files. Yesterday as I attempted to post my new flight photo set to my site, I inadvertently uploaded the old main page which dates back to about Nov 2018. I couldn’t reverse the save or retrieve the latest page so I needed to remake the page. I doubt I did it totally accurately but good enough to allow me to post my new sets. When I return home I can access the page I need and complete the restoration. Or so I pray.

Today [May 18, 2019, Saturday] I plan to announce this new set and possibly begin my first blog entry.

Today I’d hoped to join Zochrot in Jaffa for the Nakba tour. How to reach Jaffa from Jerusalem? While home I’d imagined riding either the Israeli bus or train, walking or taxiing to the central Jerusalem bus-train station, then, arrived in Jaffa, figure out how to meet the tour. Belatedly I’d remembered: oh shit, Shabbat, no Israeli trains or buses until late afternoon today. Rent a car? Couldn’t contact Good Luck car rental because it is Friday, Muslim holy day, and they’re closed. Then, running this question by Mahmoud, he replied, easy, use the shuttle near the Damascus Gate. He explained Palestinian entrepreneurs run shuttles to various locations in Israel, Jaffa for sure, on Fridays and Saturdays because of the absence of regular Israeli transport over Shabbat.

I searched the area I thought he told me where I could find the shuttle—to inquire about how early they run on Saturday (I’d need to be at the Jaffa port by 9 am, a daunting task, given the trip there takes 1 hour easily)—but because of Muslim holy day and the huge crowds going to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque, the area had been cordoned by the Israelis: no shuttles to be found. By now, altho I could have inquired, I concluded the Nakba tour would not be worth the effort. Plus, after I’d damaged my tooth yesterday, I realized today, Saturday, I will search for a dentist.

And what about this holy day crowd. As I mentioned to SF, I was caught in the “Al Aqsa prayer crush.” Coming and going. Inadvertently I’d timed my exit from the Golden  Gate hostel with the entrance of praying people, and my return to the hostel with their exit. The latter was the worst. Altho I’d tried to sit out the rush from the mosque, I missed the moment. A little past the American Colony I encountered thousands going to their buses to return to places all around the West Bank and (someone told me) Gaza as well. I could manage until I got nearer the Damascus Gate. Before reaching it I realized I could video this. So I tried, holding a position or walking into the crowd. Once past the gate, the corridor constricted, I soon was trapped. Zero motion. (What if someone set off a bomb to eliminate the maximum number of Muslims (and tourists and locals)? I panicked.

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Outside Damascus Gate, past the crush

Trying my usual technique—walking behind bolder walkers than me—didn’t work. We were stuck, we did not move. Luckily I could peel off into a sort of garden or park where I found shade. I sat, read, waited until I felt the crowd had shrunk enough for me to actually make headway. What a contrast when I walked a similar path later, around 9 pm, stopping at the Sepulchre Church to honor my departed teacher.

Last night I experienced a large scale HOW, Hour of the Wolf, about 1 hour long. My mind races uncontrollably, the throttle dismantled, no more serial, control thinking, but a barrage of unrelated thoughts, terrifying at worst, enlightening at best. But I can’t sleep. I tried the Cannabidiol, or CBD oil Katy had given me. Little effect that I noticed. Eventually, I slept—god given!—waking around 6:30 am to the noise of the two large black men sharing the dorm with me packing and leaving.

I think I’ve found relatively safe storage for my gear, finally remembering what I’ve done in the past: into my luggage, secured with a small lock, tucked under my bed. In it, large camera, iPad, and laptop when I’m not using it or in the hostel. Rather than in the office in my large knapsack where anyone can easily steal it.

Now, presently, at the moment, relative bliss. It is 8:07 am, I am alone on the porch with only the flies (large ones drawn by the remnants of my yogurt and banana). The sound only of shopkeepers opening for the day. Not a bad life if only I can have my tooth repaired.

LINKS

Educational Bookshop

American Colony Hotel

Booklet: On Our Way Home, photographs by Skip Schiel (On Google Drive)

If you’ve not seen the movie One Day in Gaza, about the May 14, 2018 juxtaposition of the Great March of Return viciously attacked by Israel and the opening of the USA Embassy in Jerusalem, please have a look. Click here for an intro from Haaretz (possibly behind a paywall, here for the movie (you don’t need to log in), and here for Alison Weir’s perceptive analysis. I deeply laud Alison and If Americans Knew (her website) for her courage, knowledge, and dedication.

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the one who hated, and this is an immutable law…I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense that once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

—James Baldwin

PHOTOS (leaving the Old City of Jerusalem after Friday prayer during Ramadan at the Al Aqsa mosque

JERUSALEM-FRIDAY-RAMADAN-CRUSH  (video of same topic)

May 17, 2019, Friday, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Old City, Golden Gate Hostel

Yes, arrived, for what may be my 12th trip here. The only problem at the airport was the long line at passport control. As I waited I observed what may have been visitors blocked from entering who were about to be interrogated. A small room, officious looking young Israeli men, hesitation and nervousness. Am I about to be part of this select group?

No, not one single question, altho I’d prepared: smile and say shalom, let my travelers’ prayer with its Hebrew text wave itself from my breast pocket (I swear the older, bearded officer behind glass noticed it), here to visit friends (list ready, Amos, David, Yony, expecting to visit my American friend with family in Israel, Rebecca), volunteer with an international organization (Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, not going into details because of possible confusion), and make a slide show for my church community (anticipating why I need a 3 month visa), toda. (thank you)

Well rehearsed (in my head, silently as we landed and as I walked thru the airport), not needed. I reported such to my colleagues back home (short form)—Linda, Rebecca, and Diane (my new cohorts called the chevrah (Hebrew for intimate association, as I understand the word) who replied within hours, and daughters and Susan R—earlier that I’d arrived, SF later and a few others who might care.

The fact is, I am now here for another 2 months’ duty.

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Lobby and porch of the Golden Gate Hostel, Old City Jerusalem, photo courtesy of Golden Gate Hostel

First things first: settle into the Golden Gate hostel and my bed for a short fitful nap, eager to begin scouting; find money (near St George’s, where I found a cash machine on my first trip here in 2003, aided this time by Mo, the café owner who directed me to a line up of ATM’s [cash machines] in the lobby of a continually open bank, reliable source of cash, drink a beer in the day during Ramadan, and chat about his 19 year stay in Los Angeles, returning to aid his ailing, now dead mother, ailing, not yet dead father, a recovering alcoholic, good photographer, reluctantly tried to replicate my cork trick when I challenged him); buy and install a new SIM card with data, and drop by the Educational Bookshop (and meet the young brother of the owners, Ahmad, who might be poised to invite me to a family Iftar [evening meal to end the day’s fast], and drink a fine iced coffee (where else in East Jerusalem could I find even a tolerable iced coffee?); enjoy stretching my legs after sitting compressed for some 14 hours in two planes to get here; not appreciating the sudden heat, thankful it is dry (after so much cold and wet weather at home); and finally, home in the Golden Gate hostel, eat a chicken shuwarma and those delicious, locally baked, miniature chocolate croissants, on top of the Taybeh beer and iced coffee.

Getting from the airport to Jerusalem was a major challenge. Long wait for the sherut [shared van] to depart (needs to fill up its 10 seats), long ride because I and the Palestinian woman were dropped last (at Damascus Gate), even tho we seemed to have passed near it on our way to Jewish Israeli places. (Consider another drop place for the next visit, maybe a light rail station.) The plane landed around 10:20 AM, thru security by 11:30, sherut departed the airport around 1 pm, landed in the hostel in the Old City around 2:30. Which makes about 5 hours airport landing to hostel landing, or about half the time the plane needed to fly from Toronto, Canada to Tel Aviv, Israel.

But: I am here. Healthy, happy, eager to begin again. Nothing stolen, nothing that I’ve noticed forgotten. (Later I discovered I’d forgotten my meds, for diarrhea, flu, etc.)

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On the bus from Ramallah to Jerusalem

What am I worried about? Pesky insomnia (none last night), possible return of urinary bleeding, worsening arthritis, too few contacts for my project, getting to Jaffa for tomorrow’s Nakba day event, making good photos, efficiently running my audio recorder, climate crisis, family ties, consequences of the Trump-Netanyahu era. What am I not worried about? SF, money, making good photos, my purpose in life, dying too soon before I’m finished, outlasting the negative powers in the universe.

May 18, 2019, Saturday, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Old City, Golden Gates Hostel

The story of my tooth: because it was Friday evening of Ramadan (runs from May 5-June 4), the Golden Gate porch filled up with people, who grabbed all the space. In the chaos of moving my gear and self I chomped on something hard, hoping it was merely a small seed and not a vital part of my being. Wrong, apparently it was a part of my upper right premolar. As I tried to assess the damage, feeling with my tongue and finger—I’d been eating bread dipped in hummus, hardly teeth-wrecking food—Sinaan (pronounced sEEnaan) tried to arrange two chairs for me so I could remain on the porch with my computer. But someone quickly snagged the chairs. Trying desperately to avoid obsessing about my tooth, I decided to give up the outdoor space and move inside to write. Four young men had commandeered all the tables and chairs. (This is typical for the Friday evening break-the-day-long fast.) I reluctantly sat in a stuffed chair I was sure they’d not acquire, after thinking more about my tooth, maybe examining it in a mirror. I struggled to move beyond my tooth.

So I wrote SF. Earlier I’d posted my first photo set to my site but hadn’t announced it. So, in my email to SF, I sent her the link.

Next morning [May 18, 2019] I write sitting alone on the porch, the world relatively quiet, many still sleeping (day after holy Friday), sun enough to strike me hard on the back of my head, relatively serene, and, despite my tooth, happy enough to go on living. OK, a few flies buzz me and slurp up the remains of my meager breakfast (yogurt and banana, notably soft) but I persist. Despite it all, he persisted.

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Asem and Karim, sons of Inas Margieh, Shuafat, Palestine, near Jerusalem

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The photographer, photo by Kareem

LINKS

Palestinians need a state, not a ‘business plan’ by Sam Bahour (May 20, 2019)

Danger: Peace Combatants (May 3, 2019)

Humanitarian snapshot: Casualties in the context of demonstrations and hostilities in Gaza | 30 Mar 2018 – 30 Apr 2019 (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

My Father Dreamed of Returning to His Palestinian Village. When He Did, It Became His Prison, by Leila Farsakh (May 24, 2019)

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in transition with the resignation of Rebecca Vilkomerson after 10 years of highly successful movement building (May 23, 2019)

Jewish Voice for Peace updates (May 23, 2019)


TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.


I saw myself, sharply, as a wanderer, an adventurer, rocking through the world, unanchored.

—James Baldwin

May 14, 2019, Tuesday, Cambridge, MA

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Over Boston, around noon

PHOTOS (sky views)

The count down is nearly finished. I leave tomorrow [May 15, 2019]—inshallah, no bleeding, no heart attack, no trip cancellation, no one pulling out at the last moment, not missing my flight because I’d read my ticket wrong. Tomorrow around this time I will do my final packing, await Susan R, drive to the airport with her, check in, go thru security, and finally board, inshallah. At the other end, about 12 hours later, inshallah, I hope to glide thru—as if on ice skates—passport control and head for Jerusalem and my first 4 days and nights in the Old City, interspersed with the Nakba Day commemoration in Jaffa. Oh, if only, I pray.

My equipment seems happy to once again be on the road, making what I hope are exquisite photos. I trained myself further with the Tascam audio recorder, hoping not to be such a klutz in front of people as during last year’s trip. I cleaned lenses, the equivalent of oiling gears. I imagined where and what I’d be photographing and chose settings. I even reset the date for the local time. I calculated my need for pills and organized them, biking over to the hospital for a finasteride refill and Inman Pharmacy to refill my pravastatin. I made doubly certain I had sufficient magic pep pills to survive, Today I lay out all my gear on my bed (which I might have done in the past on Jim’s bed when he was away and I was traveling), sort it out, decide what can remain here, and pack it. So tomorrow morning I will be ready and not frantic to depart 9 Sacramento Street [my home].

Nidal has not come thru, despite his promises and intimations, maybe later. Zochrot writes they are blazingly busy, especially with their Nakba Day in Jaffa, maybe later. Sahar V is in touch, reliably. I have a place to stay and AVP [Alternatives to Violence Project] to work with later, but otherwise, not much is set up. I am a wanderer, eventually into oblivion. Happy as is possible, improvising.

Yesterday morning broke with some sun, finally. Today, I told myself, probably my last chance to plant my 18 tomato plants. So a little after noon I planted, the ground dried enough for this earthly work, soon to be once again soaked by relentless rains, not heavy luckily, not causing problems, but consistently wet, dark, and cool. I’d strolled earlier, soaking up the short-lived sun, bidding goodbye to my beloved neighborhood.

To SF, a close friend:

yes, indeed, s, i arrived safely yesterday morning (middle of the night your time), passed easily thru airport security (no questions asked when i applied for a visa, not even “purpose of your visit?”), settled in one of my homes away from home, the golden gate hostel in the muslim quarter of jerusalem’s old city, and began my work. today i conferred with one of the owners of the internationally acclaimed educational bookshop in east jerusalem (in the palestinian section of jerusalem) about my refugee project. he, mahmoud muna, provided numerous leads, something i need desperately. 

it’s hot here, but dry, and this is the first week of ramadan, which means many sleepy people awaiting the evening iftar dinner. today, coming back from the bookshop, i found myself jammed by thousands of palestinians returning from early afternoon prayer at the al aqsa mosque on what the jewish israelis call the temple mount, palestinians the al haram ash sharif (the noble sanctuary), in any case the supposed site of the two temples and the actual site of the dome of the rock. jammed, barely able to move, i found refuge in a small space set aside as a garden (without plants). there i sat for about one hour, reading news on my phone and the new yorker until the crowd cleared.

as you know well, such travel is taxing, with few certainties. for instance, getting to jaffa tomorrow for a nakba commemoration. it’s shabbat so the israeli buses and trains don’t run. i learned there might be palestinian shuttles but because of today being muslim prayer day, i couldn’t find the shuttles [because the israelis had cordoned off some areas for crowd control, notably the shuttle stop]. the hostel has a lovely porch which cools suddenly with sunset but tonight, being the evening of the muslim holy day, it was crowded with guests and neighbors. no place for me to set up my computer. then in all the tumult i cracked a tooth. dang!

so tomorrow i search for a dentist (or decide to do nothing until i return home), hoping this tooth is repairable—but it could mean eventually another crown. i also hold out some hope for a shuttle to jaffa.

aside from the uncertainties, i am fine. and hope you are as well.

flight photos

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Over the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 4 hours later

 

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Over the Mediterranean Sea, sunrise, near the end of a 14-hour journey, Boston to Tel Aviv, via Toronto Canada

 

LINKS

Madonna sparks flag controversy at ‘non-political’ Eurovision (in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2019)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I plan a return journey from May 15 thru July 10, 2019 (including two weeks with the Alternatives to Violence Project team). Please see my updated GoFundMe campaign for details of the next trip, a review of the last, and an appeal for financial help.)

Large [Palestinian Arab] villages crowded in population and surrounded by cultivated land growing olives, grapes, figs, sesame, and maize fields … Would we be able to maintain scattered settlements among these existing villages that will always be larger than ours? And is there any possibility of buying their [land]?… and once again I hear that voice inside me calling: evacuate [ethnically cleanse] this country.” (emphasis in the original)

— Yosef Weitz, Expulsion Of The Palestinians, 1941, p. 133

PHOTOS

October 17, 2018, Wednesday, Jerusalem, Old City

Using maps, ignoring maps, gassing up in Bethlehem where I’d been based (gas is definitely cheaper in Palestine than in Israel, more than half, or so I rudely calculate), knowing the terrain well enough that I can simply drive north from my hotel straight thru the whitewashed checkpoint (literally whitewashed), and find—after a great deal of traffic and perhaps some miscalculated map directions, that’s the harrowing part, stuck in traffic, missing turns, backtracking, passing two accident sites: this is how many Jerusalemites live 5 days per week, making the self-reported stress level because of traffic higher than that from security issues, yes, truly, so a recent poll among Israelis found—the site of Deir Yassin, now the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center. The center was first built from converted Arab housing, allowed to deteriorate, then, after an outcry (not about the massacre there but about the conditions and treatment), renovated again. Oh, if only I could enter (not as a patient, but if needed—it once treated people for the Jerusalem syndrome, people believing they were the reincarnated Jesus)—a patient, with cameras ablazing.

But I managed. I first went behind the large complex, thinking I’d be less noticed, and photographed the fence and thru the fence. Several Orthodox Jewish schools sit behind the site; kids sounded joyful. What, dear teacher, do you teach about the complex and its history? I noticed men carting what looked like construction debris out of one building, possibly further renovation, possibly carrying remnants of the history. I was careful to not be spotted. Mostly I show backs of buildings, not ideal. But for any glimpse, no matter how cursory, I am indeed grateful. Then the front, thru the fence again, and as I drove off, one hand on the wheel, the other operating the camera, swiftly to not be noticed, stopped and forced to delete images, I made a small set of seriously overexposed views of the gated entrance.

 

I’d not realized how high Deir (Deir in Arabic means monastery) Yassin (a surname) had been, a hilltop, with views in all directions. Spectacular. How much can current internees, patients, see from this hilltop? How aware are they and the staff of the site’s history. How much do neighbors know? What are they willing to admit? What about former residents of Deir Yassin? Have they returned? Has anyone organized a pilgrimage? My visit felt like a private pilgrimage, to be shared with others thru my photography and writing, if anything useful emerges. A fine culmination for my two-month tour of photographic duty.

Earlier while near the site of another destroyed Arab village, Beit Nattif, having just discovered the utility of GPS coordinates (I found recent posted photos of the site, cisterns, etc, and used them to locate the village site), Ayed, my friend and confidant from Aida refugee camp, phoned to ask how I was, where I was and what I was doing. I told him about my new idea to add another dimension to the expulsion stories: how had the expelled people traveled from their villages to eventually reach a refuge? That maybe we could work together, he for pay, for us to re-interview people about this new dimension. He was excited. He offered that he thought maybe many had collected together and walked to Hebron. Then to their refuges, possibly using motorized or animal-propelled transport. I’d like to research this. During another phone call with Ayed while I was exploring destroyed villages, across the impenetrable by him Green Line separating the West Bank from 1948 Israel, he’d reminded me how desperately he wished to join me in my return to Palestinian homelands. Unfortunately, despite his family’s original home being in what is now considered Israel, across the Green Line, he is unable to join me.

Another time, Ayed, hoping.

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Ayed Al-Azzeh with his daughter, Rowaida, third generation refugee

 

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Less than 1 mile straight line, less than 3 miles by official roads separates Deir Yassin and Yad Vashem. A visitor to to the Holocaust Memorial can look out over the valley and beyond to see the site of Deir Yassin. (Click/tap map for enlargement)

 

LINKS

A Circle of Violence: Deir Yassin to Har Nof, by James M. Wall (2014)

Palestinians mark 68th anniversary of Deir Yassin massacre (2016), by Kate

Born in Deir Yassin, a video by Neta Shoshani (2016)

Yad Vashem Sited on Deir Yassin Massacre Site

Deir Yassin: There was no Massacre, by Eliezer Tauber (2018)

A Borrowed Village, A film by Shirli Michalevicz / Israel (2010)

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Palestinian Refugees in Gaza & the West Bank

SECOND PHASE OF THE PROJECT—UPDATED: MARCH 30, 2019

We must never ignore the injustices that make charity necessary, or the inequalities that make it possible.

—Michael Eric Dyson

To donate please go to my GoFundMe campaign

LATEST

Since returning home in mid October 2018 I have steadily selected, processed, and posted photos, movies, and writing from my two months in Palestine-Israel—and  now I’m about to return.

During that two-month autumnal period—one of the most beautiful seasons in the region—I interviewed and photographed twelve Palestinians, mostly first generation refugees (expelled during the Nakba in 1947-48, the Palestinian Catastrophe coincident with the foundation of the Israeli state); four were second and third generation refugees. I also located all the destroyed villages they’d lived in, eight of them, an arduous process because of deliberate disappearance and replacement by Israeli communities and parks, and because of their new names, the process of Judaization.

I plan to return to the region from mid May to mid July 2019 to continue my project. Simultaneously I’ve been commissioned to document the work of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), especially in Gaza if our entry application to Israel is accepted, also in the West Bank and Israel. AVP teaches—with local partners—non-violent resolution of conflict. This continues the documentation I began last fall in Hebron, Ramallah, and Bethlehem.

I’ve consulted closely with a Palestinian raised in the Aida refugee camp, a Palestine-American academic and anthropologist, and an Jewish American-Israeli who is working on a parallel project. All three live near me in the Boston area. I’ve applied for an internship with BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, hoping to mutually fertilize our work. I will again consult with Zochrot, an Israeli NGO that advocates for the Palestinian right of return. I hope to also coordinate with B’Tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Right in Israel.

As far as I know I am the first to attempt a photographic project about this theme.

Please see: recent photography and recent blogs

Directory  of those photographed

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Rowaida Al Azzeh (Um Waleed), eighty three years old, coming from a village near Bethlehem, Beit Jibreen

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Former mosque, village of Al Qabu, Israel

BACKGROUND OF THE PROJECT

The issues erupting from Palestine-Israel have troubled me for decades, as they have the world community. Mainstream media tends to justify Israel’s positions. Currently and alarmingly the United States’ president and Israel’s prime minister are particularly close, heading largely right-wing governments. Inflaming the conflict, our president has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and sanctioned Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights. He has also cut all funding for UNRWA, the UN Refugee Works Administration responsible for refugees services. Many think this is a prelude to ending the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Most of the international community rejects these decisions. Policies of my administration and much of the congress are counterproductive to fostering justice, peace, and security for the region.

Since 2003 I’ve visited the region to witness and interpret conditions, making many friends and colleagues among both Palestinians and Israelis. And I’ve photographed Palestinian refugees in camps in Gaza and the West Bank, but their diaspora extends worldwide, forming the largest and longest-lasting case of displaced persons in the world today.

For my interim report (written on December 4, 2018) and discussion about my choice to render portraits in black and white, and current living conditions of those I’ve met, interviewed, and photographed, as well as their regions of expulsion, now in Israel, in color, please see my blog, Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Lands (or On Our Way Home)—part 8—INTERIM REPORT & BLACK AND WHITE VS COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Many times in the entire region, many photos, writing, and movies later, I now attempt to broaden the constricted picture many North Americans have of the overall Palestine-Israel situation.  Major questions: what happened during the expulsions? What were their lives before the Nakba? How did people travel to sites of refugee, what could they bring with them, have they ever returned to visit? How do people forced from their homelands presently live compared with Israelis in those former Palestinian homelands? How are the stories transmitted thru the generations? Do they wish to return, under what conditions? And generally how might a right of return for Palestinians work?

* (Great March of Return)

I hope to contribute my small effort to resolving the conflict, fostering justice, security, equality, and freedom for all human beings in that troubled region.

SKIP SCHIEL


I’ve been a photographer, filmmaker, and writer for most of my adult life. Struggles for justice and peace in different parts of the world have been my main concentration.

While in South Africa in 1990 and then again 8 years later during one of several of my international pilgrimages, I began to understand the parallels between conflicts in South Africa and Palestine-Israel. Apartheid, an Afrikaner word meaning separation—which I interpret it as Separation with Hate—operates in various forms in both regions. In Auschwitz in 1995 I learned more directly about the holocaust, which helped propel the creation of the Israeli state. I was raised Catholic and imagined Jesus walking thru the dusty Holy Land with his disciplines. Thus grew my curiosity, leading to my concern about that region. And then finally in 2003, during the end of the Second Intifada (Palestinian Uprising), the year an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer crushed and killed Rachel Corrie as she protected a Palestinian home, I was on my way East. This began one of the most meaningful journeys of my life.

I’ve photographed widely in Israel and Palestine, many different populations, many different activities: Israelis training as first responders, Palestinians living in tents, Israelis walking and shopping in Jerusalem and Haifa, Palestinians studying at various levels and ages, and Israeli middle school students investigating local archeology. I’ve explored all the areas of Israel, West Bank, and Gaza (except for the Sinai which is currently too dangerous to enter). For this project I hone my focus: refugees inside Palestine-Israel.

Please see my blog for more about my motivations for this project .

PALESTINIANS

Many families are from villages and rural areas now in Israel. This includes regions in southern Israel, where some 75% now in Gaza once lived, like Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Jaffa; where many now in the West Bank once lived, their original homes now in Israel’s central region, Lodz and Ramla, for instance; and internally displaced persons in northern Israel, Ein Hod, now an Israeli art colony, and Safad. Those from the north often fled to refugee camps in Lebanon and other countries. According to the latest estimates from BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, in 2015 there were 334,600 internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian occupied territories. With an additional 384,200 internally displaced persons in Israel, which for this trip if time allows I may explore. (A person is an internally displaced refugee if expelled from one’s original home and not allowed return, otherwise an internally displaced person.)

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Short Walk Home, Long Walk to Freedom 95 Palestinians Killed in Gaza by Israel during the March of Return, April 1, 2018-May 26, 2018. As of March 22, 2019 about 271 Palestinians have died. (Click for full view of this graphic )

Palestinians are one of the longest colonized populations— in 1948 and again in 1967 during the Six Day War by Israel, meaning the occupation of the West Bank and later the siege of Gaza—and still living in diaspora. I have shown the reality of the matrix of control, walls and fences, checkpoints, permits, home demolitions, restricted roads, inordinate fines, deportations, targeted assassinations, leveling of entire neighborhoods, violent repression of nonviolent demonstrations, etc. As well as survival mechanisms, the family, faith communities, organizations, political action, etc. Now I have the opportunity, thanks to contacts in Gaza and the West Bank, to show more widely the consequences of colonization and expulsion.

One in three refugees in the world are Palestinian. Nearly seven million Palestinian refugees live in some 14 countries. (UN Refugee Works Administration and UN High Commission on Refugees)

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Israeli mortar shell fired at Palestinian village in Gaza


After an attack by the Israeli military on a government building in Gaza

LOGISTICS

In mid May 2019, I return. Assuming Israel grants me an entry permit, I will enter Gaza; if unable to enter Gaza I will concentrate on the West Bank, expecting to complete the project after several more trips by the middle of 2021.  Despite the recurring turmoil in that region, I’ve always managed entry to Israel, the West Bank and periodically Gaza. I can’t guarantee entry this time, only that I will try my best. Despite the political uncertainties I intend to maintain focus on Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. This is a multi-year project.

As in the past, I will create exhibits, slideshows, blogs, movies, and ultimately a multi platform book (meaning full use of print and the internet). As with all my projects I will post photos and writings on my website and blog—dispatches from the field.

BUDGET FOR THE SECOND PHASE: $9,000

·      Airfare -$1500
·      Transport in country – $1000
·      Compensation and donations to  colleagues – $1000
·      Contributions to organizations working for Palestinian rights in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel- $1000
·      Food and lodging – $1500
·      Photographic equipment and supplies – $1000
·      Post production—developing, editing, printing, slideshow making, etc –  $2000

GOALS

By presenting powerful and contrasting images of life in the current and original sites of internally displaced Palestinian refugees, I hope to build awareness and inspire action. The end result: beyond coexistence to a breath-taking sharing of the region, its resources, histories, luminaries, and potential. A true Holy Land.

* The plea of refugees in Gaza to return to their ancestral villages now in Israel is the central focus of the Great March to Return. It began on April 2, 2018, was planned to end on May 15, 2018, but as of this writing (April 1, 2019) is ongoing. These dates mark two important historical events, Land Day when 6 Palestinians were killed as they attempted to return to their villages in 1976, and Nakba Day marking the beginning of The Catastrophe, or the Grand Dispossession in 1948.

Between March 30, 2018 and March 22, 2019 Israeli army snipers have killed nearly 271 Palestinians, mostly unarmed, with approximately 29,187 wounded, including 25% wounded by live ammunition, many with life-threatening injuries often caused by exploding bullets. Nearly 5,000 of the injuries and 41 of the fatalities were children. This overwhelms the already stressed medical system. Compared with 2 Israeli deaths and 56 injuries. (UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Because of the ongoing violence we may need to postpone entering Gaza until violence abates. In that case I will be mostly in the West Bank and Israel.

Here precisely is why entering Gaza is now nearly impossible (but we keep trying), partly a result of Israel’s alleged use of exploding bullets:

…Many of the injured suffered extensive bone and tissue damage from gunshot wounds, requiring very complex surgeries. Between 30 March 2018 and 28 February 2019, 120 amputations took place as the result of injuries sustained during demonstrations, including 21 children, with 22 people paralyzed due to spinal cord injuries and nine people suffering permanent sight loss. The Health Cluster estimated that by the end of 2018, over 1,200 patients with limb injuries would require complex and timely limb reconstructive surgery; these are highly complex injuries that, if not treated, may heighten the risk of secondary amputations.

These challenges come on top of existing, systemic challenges to Gaza’s health sector in the context of more than eleven years of blockade. Since 2006-7, there has been a reduction in human resources for health, per head of the population; long-term shortages and depletion of essential medicines and medical supplies; and electricity shortages and power fluctuations causing dependence on emergency fuel for generators and resulting in damage and the reduced lifespan of sensitive hospital equipment.  Since mid-2017, in the context of the intra-Palestinian divide between the Ramallah and Gaza authorities, medicines and other medical supplies, salaries for medical staff, funds for auxiliary medical services such as sterilization at hospitals, delays in countersigning of referrals, and fuel for energy that supports critical health facilities have been reduced, which has hampered the ability of the health system in Gaza to adequately respond to needs….Home

 

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Refugee camp in Gaza


Demonstration for human rights in Gaza, a Die-In in Boston, April 2018

SAMPLES OF MY WORK

Book  (Eyewitness Gaza)

Movie (same title as book, Eyewitness Gaza)-link on the thumbnail immediately below.

Photographs

Blog

TESTIMONIALS

Skip Schiel has been documenting the Palestinian and Israeli reality through photographs and journal postings since 2003. They contribute a better feel for the detailed texture of life in Gaza and the West Bank than any appearing in US media.  Schiel spends time where most journalists dare not tread, amidst ordinary Palestinians, sharing in the dangers and frustrations of their lives.

His work has been invaluable for my own. As a writer for a Buddhist publication whose parents were victims of the Holocaust, I try to convey a view of the conflict that differs from the US media’s, which obfuscates the injustices and sufferings inflicted on the Palestinians by Israel. Through his portraits of Palestinian men, women, and children striving to maintain ordinary routines despite harassment and attacks by Israel’s military, Skip reveals to us the true face of Palestinians.

—Annette Herskovits, Consulting Editor, Turning Wheel, the Journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Holocaust survivor

Skip Schiel photographs not only with his eyes but with his heart.

—Fares Oda, former staff American Friends Service Committee, Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories

It saddens me to hear of the difficulties Skip is going through [finding an audience]. This is discouraging for us who are struggling in the situation. I never would have suspected that his pictures were not balanced. The first act of nonviolent resistance is to tell the truth. His pictures shared that. Let’s pray our dear friend does not give up!

—Jean Zaru, Palestinian Quaker and activist, Ramallah, Palestine

Skip’s creative ministry has challenged, informed and inspired our [Quaker] Meeting for many years. His work is a visual reminder to us of the importance of remaining faithful to our peace and social justice testimonies.

—Cathy Whitmire, Former presiding clerk, Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quaker)

You capture such powerful, symbolic moments in your work, that reach beyond the context they are in. I admire your brave tenacity and commitment to documentation of this struggle for justice.

—Marjorie Wright, filmmaker (Jews Step Forward) and activist

Your sensitivity to light and emotion is dramatic, the brilliant daylight framing the sad courageous eyes and brave determined expressions of our Gaza neighbors, as they face such a cruel, demented, and terrifying adversary.

I think you are very brave too, and I thank you deeply for shining a true light on [the situation].

—John Paulman

SELECTED PHOTOS FROM MY WORK IN GAZA


Relative of family member imprisoned by Israel


In a refugee camp trauma treatment program


A celebration at the Qattan Center for the Child


Limited free desalinated water


At the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, picking thru garbage

EXTRA INFORMATION

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

We [the Haganah, precursor to the official Israeli military, IDF] adopt the system of aggressive defence; during the assault we must respond with a decisive blow: the destruction of the [Arab] place or the expulsion of the residents along with the seizure of the place.

—David Ben Gurion, leader of the Jewish community in Palestine and later Prime Minister, December 19, 1947, cited in Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Reality

 

 

October 15, 2018, Monday, Bethlehem

PHOTOS 

Yesterday [October 14, 2018] I found or believe I found Al Qabu, the village of Nidal Al-Azraq’s family. I’d first first explored the nearby Israeli village/moshav/kibbutz, Mevo Beitar. And also Ilar/Alar/Ellar (alternate English spellings of Arabic names), the village of Ahmad Ali Dawoud’s (who I’d interviewed and photographed). Plus the Israeli site, Bar Giora. I need to consult my photos with the GPS coordinates to pinpoint reliably were I was, except maybe in the case of Qabu. Because of alternate transliterated spellings, Hebrewized names, lack of experience with Arabic and Hebrew names generally, and the intentional erasure of Arab villages, this is one of the most complicated photographic projects of my life.

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Al Qabu/El Kabu, Ottoman period, 1870’s (click map to enlarge)

 

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(Click map to enlarge)

Qabu presented a special challenge: where exactly was or is the site? As often happens (me searching for Rachel Corrie’s death site in Gaza for instance), various people had various ideas. A woman in a gas station, the station rumored to be near the site, confirmed that yes, this is the site. So I surveyed from a distance an open field, gently sloping, with curious concrete platforms and possible stone markings—and occasional clumps of prickly pear cactus, otherwise known as sabra (which is also the name of first generation Israelis).

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Prickly pear cactus/sabra/צברtzabar)

Driving thru an open gate, thinking, yes, Qabu, let’s find the Crusader church reported to still exist in Qabu—over rough roads, oh valiant friends—I ended up at a cemetery. Cars were parked outside, a woman told me it was not the church but a Jewish cemetery, and thus I concluded, this is not Qabu.

Out comes my laptop; up comes the info I’d collected; no help. Then I remembered Nidal’s description: immediately right after the checkpoint. Going which way? I emailed him, no answer. I guessed: coming from the West Bank. So I went thru the checkpoint on the 48 Armistice Line, headed into the West Bank, noticed as I passed (not sure I’d be stopped, questioned, what I’d claim), a forest area on my left, which would be on the right coming into Israel. Now in the West Bank I turned around, slowed down after the checkpoint (no interrogation, the guards looked bored, as guards often do, devoting eons of their lives to just waiting for something to happen, trying to remain awake and vigilant), videoed the fence which I thought would prohibit me from entrance, considered hopping the fence, decided against it, and then saw a sign to “Begin Park.” Once in the park I learned it commemorated the former Prime Minister and possible war criminal, Menachem Begin.

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“In Memory of Aliza and Menachem Begin,” the latter a former Prime Minister of Israel, known for leading a terrorist group to establish the state of Israel

How ironic, if this is Qabu. Exploring, I found a shrine and several other Arab indicators, a stonewall, a pool possibly for collecting water or bathing. Because the day waned, the light faded, I decided not to search further for the church. My mission is not to find historic sites, but to establish contact with ancestral sites and make some good photos.

Earlier, maybe at Mevo Beitar or Bar Giora (they merge in memory), I’d sought overnight housing. A young pregnant woman I asked turned her infant over to her grandmother (life goes on), walked me to a home she thought might offer housing. The woman in the house phoned someone, her sister-in-law I think she said, and put me on the phone. 550 shekels/$150. Beyond my budget, I answered. What is your budget, thinking, calculating—200 shekels/$50. Sorry no deal, she said. I drove on.

Life is tough on the Israeli road when not in the cities.

Yesterday or the day before, Ayed in Aida refugee camp had written me, in support and yearning:

Hello my friend skip. I hope that things are going well with you. I couldn’t be with you Saturday even though I am dying to visit beit jibreen and other villages. Lucky you, my friend. I am so thrilled, honored and happy about meeting you and knowing you. I wish all the best.

Me:

Hello dear friend, ayed. I too am sad we couldn’t be together THIS TIME, maybe later. I explored ajjur today, now sit in the new moshav of agur, wondering where to go next. Maybe beit jibreen.

Earlier, before I’d located Qabu, in what is probably another destroyed Arab village, now called Britanya, at the first picnic site, I sat along the road beside my car eating my lunch. Gradually joyful sounds came closer to me until they came from directly behind me. I turned around and discovered a children playing in a large tree, the same family I’d spotted earlier at a picnic table and surreptitiously photographed. A boy about 14 years old asked me what I was doing (the only inquiry so far, and not with suspicion or rancor). I answered photographing beautiful nature (a half-truth, or one-quarter truth. Consulting with some of the adults he recommended about five sites including the Dead Sea. Later the two families set off on a hike into the valley. I learned that this trail system is art of a cross-nation trail. I’ve seen lots of bikers and signs warning of cyclists. A physically healthy and happy nation, or so it seems.

I pondered asking the boy, say, do you know anything about the history of this park, did anyone live here long ago?

My excursion provokes several thoughts. What was life on the road for the refugees of 1948 and 1967, in the Qabu to Bethlehem case, a climb and descent of 200 meters or 650 feet, and a distance of 14.3 km or nearly 10 miles? Carrying the little luggage and valuables they could carry, possibly carrying the elderly. Unsure if they’d ever return to their homes. Where to go for refuge? How to establish a new home? Where’s the justice in all this? Would they survive? Living in a tent, in a camp, in the winter. With many other families. All we want is to be ordinary, said Darwich.

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Another thought: homeless in the USA, the richest country in the world, perhaps, and in history, perhaps. Yet people live on the streets, Chip for instance, thru the year, in the winter, Chip apparently sufficiently provisioned even if minimally so.

Another: displacement because of gentrification. The folks who consulted with me about 11 Sacramento St, Cambridge Massachusetts, my new neighbors, and now have moved in, may have displaced Nicole and Ronen. Where do Nicole and Ronen go, why was they displaced? Or Stan, my buddy Stan, who by now may be out of his apartment, maybe in Arlington elderly housing with much less space? I wrote him a few days ago, hope to hear at least moderately good news from him. I may write his daughters.

Or me, potentially, forced out because of gentrification. Or earlier as a 14-year-old boy—not forced displacement for my parents—but for me moving from Chicago’s South Side, away from friends I’d grown up with for 10 years, this was an abrupt and painful displacement.

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Jalila Al Azraq (Um Qasim), 80 years old, from the village of Al Qabu—photographs by Skip Schiel

LINKS

Al Qabu (Wiki)

Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Lands (or On Our Way Home)—part 14—Jalila Al Azraq (Um Qasim), 80 years old, from the village of Al Qabu by Skip Schiel

In Menachem Begin’s Rise, Lessons for the #Resistance to Trump, By Liel Leibovitz

Mevo Beitar, an Israeli cooperative village (Moshav Shitufi) built on former Al Qabu land (click for video tour of Mevo Beitar)

Farming while Palestinian: a World Water Day outrage by  )

A Conversation With The Palestinian Non-Violence Activist Who Sparked Gaza Marches by Steve Bynum (

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

Amongst ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. After the Arabs are transferred, the country will be wide open for us; with the Arabs staying the country will remain narrow and restricted … There is no room for compromise on this point … land purchasing … will not bring about the state … The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. Not a single village or a single tribe must be left. And the transfer must be done through their absorption in Iraq and Syria and even in Transjordan. For that goal, money will be found – even a lot of money. And only then will the country be able to absorb millions of Jews … there is no other solution.

—Yousef Weitz, diary, December 20, 1940

PHOTOS

October 13, 2018, Saturday, Jerusalem, Old City, Golden Gates Hostel

I’ve done a fair amount of research about locations and routes. Nidal helped last night when I belatedly realized I’d not included his family’s origin site, Al Qabu (spelled Gabu in my notes), near Tsar Hadassah, which is near Wadi Fukin on the West Bank side of the Green Line. Most of these destroyed arab villages are near each other, which makes sense because all the folks I recently interviewed live in Aida refugee camp, proximate to the origin sites. To a large extent I expect to rely on Google Maps on my iPhone, rather than the paper maps and guidebook I brought. So much for paper, lightens the load. And perhaps directions I ask but I will need to exercise care in what I ask for, not the Arabic name, but the newly crafted Hebrewized Israeli name.

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Al Qabu/El Kabu, Ottoman period, 1870’s (click map to enlarge)

I look forward to discoveries, disappointments, good food, overnights in moshav guesthouses (no hostels that I discovered reviewing my literature last evening), and even in my car, if I can rock the seat back and sleep comfortably. I plan to go light, leave most of my luggage at the Golden Gate hostel, and hope I decide correctly what to bring.

Thinking I’m at a crossing point in this project, thus a good time to send a dispatch as I’d promised to my financial benefactors, yesterday I wrote a string of people, virtually the same message each time, personally adjusted to each person. Starting with Paul D, my first donor, followed by Shola, my second, and ending with my last so far, Diane M. They qualified by donating $25 or more. I was heartened by the list, by the image of each person, as if I carry them with me, and they carry me. I don’t recall ever doing this sort of fundraising before, where the mechanism creates a digital trail that I can readily access. Unlike earlier when I sent a physical asking letter, deposited checks, kept a record, left it at home when I traveled here, thanked only once upon receiving the money.

The message core:

diane,

thanking you again for your support and for being a neighborhood inspiration.

from the old city of jerusalem after one week in the aida refugee camp in bethlehem, now during a day off: finished with photographing (for now) internally displaced palestinian refugees in the west bank (blocked from entering gaza, maybe next spring), finished with photographing and videoing trainings of the alternatives to violence project (avp) in 3 west bank cities, now about to drive to some of the villages the people i met were expelled from in 1948 and 1967. 

samples below at the links.

onward. and later, when home in six days, i begin the next phase of this multi-trip journey: post production. as a wise person once stated, falling out of an airplane is the easy part of the trip, the hard part is when the trip ends.

—Skip (from the Old City of Jerusalem, occupied territory)

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While eating a delicious chicken dinner with salad and bread that I’d picked up at the local family restaurant about 200 meters to the south of the GG hostel, and reading the latest bulletin from Friends Meeting at Cambridge (FMC), my phone rang. Minga! She dropped in via Whatsapp, asked what I was doing, heard my news, asked about my (Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) experience, who I’d met, given her cards to, and told me about recent FMC news, the Quaker birthday timeline that Chris J put together for the family meeting (which included me), and her uncertainty about going to the Texas border, El Paso for accompaniment, or to El Salvador for AVP. She then put JVB (her husband and my good friend, Jonathan) on who asked that we switch to video. I showed him around the hostel, introduced him to Lutfe, the hostel manager, who they both knew from previous stays here, and asked that we have a conversation, the 3 of us, shortly after I return, “to talk all about me,” I said. Meaning a decompression period, a digestion period, a time of reflection. I reminded him that he and Minga are the only Quakers who share so many details of Palestine-Israel experiences. Including the Christian Peacemakers Teams, Hebron, Ramallah, Jean Zaru, Ramallah Friends School, Ramallah, and right on down to the GG hostel.

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Minga via Whatsapp

Minga asked what I’d like her prayers for. Mostly in the realm of open heart, open eyes, good health, and relative safety, not too much safety, just enough. She asked me if I minded traveling alone. I answered no. Maybe now, in my current station in life, I might even prefer it. As the joke goes about the 102 yr old woman: anything good about being so old, yes, no peer pressure.

Traveling alone means no wrangling with a partner about where, when, why, and how. I recall all the fights Louise and I experienced driving cross-country in 1990, and yet, despite our fights, that trip led to one of the highlights of my experience with her, the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee. And the drive itself was monumental and unforgettable.

Also traveling with the AVP team earlier on this journey was a delight and I miss them constantly.

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Alternatives to Violence Project team at a memorial for a friend of Skip’s, Jerusalem Old City

Leaving Bethlehem thru the checkpoint I’d thought earlier I might write Katy [one of my two daughters] another note with some more photos but didn’t really have the chance. I made a few surreptitious photos as I went thru the vast mechanism, turnstiles, waiting people, and workers rebuilding the checkpoint, probably all Palestinian, and might consider, if I have time, sending her one or two with a brief account. I might include several acts of gentle kindness I experienced during this brief trip.

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Palestinian worker,  Bethlehem checkpoint 300

Among these acts of kindness:

As I stood outside my Aida guest quarters waiting for Mousa to drive me to the checkpoint, a man pulled up before the house, picked some people up, and then asked me if he could help. I told him I was waiting for Mousa. He phoned Mousa who told him he, Mousa, was waiting for me to phone him that I was ready. I didn’t know this requirement. Without that surprise benefactor I might have been waiting much longer: where the heck is Mousa?

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My luggage outside the guest house, waiting for Mousa

Mousa himself of course who’d offered to drive me when I’d asked about taxis.

Mohammed (Mousa) Al Azzeh, my organizer and translator, an accomplished photographer-videographer working for the Lejee Center in Aida-Palestine-Aida-refugee-IMG_1602 SM.jpg

Mohammed (Mousa) Al Azzeh, my organizer and translator, an accomplished photographer-videographer working for the Lejee Center in Aida refugee camp

Waiting outside the checkpoint for the big bus to Jerusalem, a long line of older folks presumably going to Al Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers, I wondered how to signal the driver to open the luggage compartment and not lose my place in line, risking he’d drive off without me and with my luggage? After I’d loaded my luggage from the outside a man told me to enter the bus ahead of others, but in effect regaining my place in line.

On the crowded bus, standing room only, me with my heavy bulky backpack and second small pack, a man who looked at least as old as me wearing a sort of turban, motioned for me to take his seat for the relatively short ride to Jerusalem. No thanks, I motioned back, pointing to my pack. Too much trouble but thanks anyway.

Maybe because it was Muslim prayer day or simply natural good heartedness and Arab hospitality, I was richly treated.

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

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October 5, 2018, Saturday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

PHOTOS (of Abdel)

ABDEL

Abdel was a delight and a challenge. He insisted on talking; he was loud and energetic, especially at his age of 84; he used his hands well, an animated figure; the background was both distracting and intriguing (a small shop with a variety of objects; apparently he sells them, it might be called a junk shop); he was fully engaged with Murad who introduced me to Abdel, translated, and asked his own questions—in effect, conducted the interview—which allowed me more photographic flexibility; and his story, altho conventional, is good to consider. 

A few twists: an Egyptian helped his family flee. Jordanian soldiers worked with the Israelis to expedite removal. For a time the family lived in the forest which later became the huge settlement of Har Homa. He was shot in the knee, I’m not sure when or why, whether during expulsion or later. When seated, which was mostly when I photographed him, he looked sturdy and hearty, but when he rose with the help of his cane, he looked in pain and infirm. I try to show this contrast. Like the family of Abed Abusrour, his nephew, his original village was Beit Natiff which I plan to visit soon, if I can find it.

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Later, as we finished, a friend dropped by and asked to be photographed with the Abdel and Murad. While doing this the newcomer showed me a scar on his upper chest. To insert batteries, he explained. I nearly died. In a coma for a few hours, just collapsed. Now I feel fine. He is about 5 years younger than me. Another result of expulsion or the usual aging process?

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That was pretty much the day, along with working on my new blog about Yousef Albaba from HalHul which is nearly finished. A task for today.

October 6, 2018, Saturday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

PHOTOS (of Asaed)

ASAED

Merrily we roll along. I feel good about the project, the use of black and white for portraits, my various collaborators, slowly accommodating to the triple tasks of photographer-interviewer-sound engineer. Yesterday with Murad I interviewed a relatively young man, Asaed Abusrour, in his 50s, good in English, a former English teacher, more of an intellectual than any of the others interviewed. He dodged most or all of my questions about emotions, launching instead into analyses. For the first time I did not need to rely on translation but could speak directly, even tho Asaed was too young to have experienced the expulsion.

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His parents are also from the village of Beit Natiff which he told me is now totally destroyed and remade as an Israeli area. Complicating his family tree, both his mother and father married twice; I’m not sure why. Asked whether he was hopeful, he pointed to the grand perspective—his strong belief that this current situation cannot be sustained and will eventually resolve into some form of coexistence. Luckily I have the audio to refresh me. Trying to photograph and record and ask at the same time is daunting. I’ve never been a particularly good listener (ask Louise) but the recording, if audible, might clarify haziness.

Murad remained mostly in the background for this interview, attentive but quiet until I asked him if he had any questions or remarks to add. He asked Asaed, what would you like to see for our future? Which led Asaed to his remarks about the occupation and siege being unsustainable. And to my separate conversation with Murad about his, Murad’s—way of working toward liberation—media and teaching.

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After the interview we toured Asaed’s home, apparently living on one level with the prospect of a second, the home very large and clean. He lives there with his wife and a few children. He had no reservations about me photographing in and from the house. Again I forgot to photograph the entire building. I did photograph the roof and ground level garden from the roof.

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To get names straight I might choose a representative photograph from each sitting and then ask Murad and Mousa to write the names, attaching names to faces. It would form a sort of directory and help me later when I try to assemble everything.

Directory

Discovered: why the variation in exposure when in the camera’s back button focusing (BBF) mode (or any mode presumably). Sometime in the past I’d set for exposure bracketing (eons ago, then forgotten). Last evening I discovered this when I finally saw a pattern of wrong exposures. A series of one dark, one light, one correct. Repeatedly. I turned off bracketing exposure, made other adjustments, retested, and now I believe I’m no longer afflicted with the problem. Similarly, the rackety noise auto focus makes when in live view video mode. Turn off the frigging auto focus and focus manually. Gotta, gotta, gotta remember this. Small steps, big results.

Nearing the end of my six-week sojourn (as a flâneur, a term I recently discovered with multiple meanings. My choice: a person who saunters around observing society.) I remain unclear about what to do next week, stay or go, remain in Aida refugee camp for more photographs of people and the camp, including Dheisheh refugee camp, also in Bethlehem, or launch the next phase, searching for the destroyed Arab villages of people I’ve interviewed and photographed by car. I am drawn to places like Lydda that I’ve heard about generally or from Linda or the people in my project specifically. Would Murad or Mousa be willing to travel with me to nearby areas germane to the people in the camp? Can they, given the occupation? I might ask.

Yesterday while awaiting Murad at Rowwad, a large group approached the building. I was sitting outside. Immediately I recognized the tour guide, Elias, formerly a guide at Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem. He’d been one of our two guides for the In the Steps of the Magi walk across the Judean Desert, a monumental trip in 2004. (Ramzi from Bethlehem for the desert, Elias for after that, Ein Hod, Hebron, etc.) He’s “filled out,” that is grown pudgy; I honored him in front of others as one of the best guides I’ve experienced. Abed then met the group and toured them thru Rowwad-2.

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While sitting outside waiting for Murad, two girls, ages 8 and 9 (they told me after they’d asked my age, 77), photographed the scene, including me. So their photos may be the only photos of me-Skip-the humble photographer resting between action.

LINKS

Report: Trump to Demand Recognized Palestinian Refugees Be Capped at Tenth of Current Number (Haaretz, August 2018)

Aida refugee camp – Most tear-gassed place in the world (Jewish Voice for Peace, June 16, 2020)

TO BE CONTINUED

 

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

PHOTOS

October 5, 2018, Friday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

Aida camp where I now happily reside seems not to have the same sort of draw as Jerusalem, the same richness of history. Altho Bethlehem is often the site of violence. Maybe it’s Rachel’s fault; her tomb is nearby.

A goldmine here of another sort: participants in my refugee project. Yesterday, thanks to Abed and Murad, I photographed Abed and later an old man who Murad helped me with, the uncle of Abed, Abdel Majid Abusrour, the brother of Abed’s mother. Among the benefits of life in a refugee camp are the extended family and a compact neighborhood where most everyone knows everyone else over a long stretch of time. Kids play unattended in the streets, much like our earlier generation could play freely on the streets of our neighborhoods. One might argue—Trump might argue—that UNRWA (UN Refugee Works Administration) is not needed to service these camps. He and other critics might argue that not only do people take advantage of the refugee benefits like medical, housing, educational services, but they prefer to stay in the camp. Much the way some think homeless people prefer to be homeless, or poor people poor. And there might be some truth to that. But the suffering of all these groups eclipses their supposed benefits.

It might be like arguing that people affected by a tsunami actually benefit because of the change in scenery.

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Once again I klutzed it with my interview with Abed. About 10 minutes in, after he’d brilliantly laid out his refugee history—mother and father born in different villages near here (including Beit Natiff which I plan to photograph later), parents married I believe before displacement, displaced, family first lived in a large tent with many families in Aida, then in a small, one room block house where Abed was raised—I noticed again that the recorder was in standby rather than record mode. (I vow to set the recorder to recorder mode before I set up, so even tho some memory space might be wasted, I will not have to remember to switch to record). I recorded the rest of his story: large family, some 12 offspring, many of whom died Abed thinks because of camp conditions, expanding the house, his wife from Silwan (near Jerusalem, across the valley from where I usually visit, the east side of the Kidron Valley, the side with the burials and death monuments), and into the present moment, his family split between Silwan and Bethlehem. Abed believe Israel punishes him because of his activism, most notably giving the introductory speech during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2009.

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I’d heard Abed tell parts of this story to various audiences but not the with this much detail. He’s not written it yet, altho he’d like to, even a book. He is a practiced speaker, cogent, lively, detailed where necessary, giving an overview when more appropriate, frequently smiling, and anticipating questions like what keeps you going? In large part, he said, community. His brothers contribute money and donated their shares of the family home, now the site of the Al Rowwad Vocational Training Center or what I call Rowwad-2.

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This new building and what it contains certainly marks a new phase for Al Rowwad, maybe also for the camp and for Palestinian refugee camps generally. Another fellow, the deputy director of Rowwad, a fast talking young man with a heavy accent which made understanding him difficult toured me thru Rowwad-2. Its lower floor incorporates a cave with two tunnels that formerly people used to flee the Israeli army. High tech equipment includes a computer-assisted 3-D printer, something that burns designs into wood or plastic, huge woodworking machines, etc. And on the two top floors quarters for volunteers that resemble fancy hotels. And restaurant facilities.

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The three-part strategy is to train, provide employment for local people, and offer services. My guide told me that the rooms could rent to others besides volunteers—a hotel in a refugee camp.

(Silently I compared where I stay currently with where I might stay if volunteering or booking housing at Al Rowwad. I prefer where I am, rougher, on a more human scale.)

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My guide reminds me of several other adamant, true believers. When I asked him if he or Rowwad would work with Israeli partners who actively opposed the occupation, he said unequivocally not—the normalization syndrome. He’s similar to the Palestinian-Canadian man I’d met at the hostel in Old City Jerusalem who spoke so assuredly about the folly of evolution and the truth that we all descend from Adam and Eve—and that Allah-God exists, “as surely as you and I exist.” For my guide, the truth of his oppression generates his fervent belief in the rightness of his struggle.

One might ask, is Al Rowwad’s new expansion wise? Is it a good investment? Earlier Abed admitted that he’d embarked on the project, expanding the family home into Rowwad-2, during a more favorable fiscal climate when money seemed guaranteed. That climate has disappeared, even before Trump, and now he can’t afford to pay salaries. Abed’s folly? Or Abed’s monumental vision?

Today, being Friday, Aida is unusually quiet. No one nearby, empty streets, I’m not sure about the Lejee Center, the other cultural and educational center in the camp (pronounced la-ghee with the emphasis on la, not la-ghay, which would be French). I meet Murad at Rowwad at 1:30 to photograph more people. And I might work this morning at Lajee—if open— for the fast internet and company, but I so love working alone at home, despite the flakey, in and out internet here, that I might remain home, enjoying my privacy. After one month it’s the first privacy I’ve experienced on this trip.

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A highlight yesterday was eating shuwarma on my second floor porch in the camp: cool evening, looking out at the neighborhood and the separation/annexation/apartheid wall. Two evenings ago, while sauntering to the market and cash machine and self-guided tour of the Jacir Palace, the exclusive hotel right outside the camp, I observed night football (soccer) on what may be the only football field in the camp. Play was vigorous and hot. I tried photographing with my phone, failed because of the dim light and poor zoom. Why had I forgotten my camera?

I’ve also learned about the use of names like grandma, uncle, etc. Such people may not be blood relatives; those names might be honorifics. So when Mousa earlier told me we were to meet his grandma, she was not a blood relative. Very confusing, as usual, one challenge when crossing cultures.

I should also write or see Mousa about the man who offered to go with me to his ancestral village. Follow up-follow up-follow up, one of the keys to success.

October 7, 2018, Sunday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

Researching online Rowwad’s sparkling new guest quarters, I discovered a single or double rents for $15, half what I’m paying at Lajee guest quarters. Cleaner, newer, probably everything works better, but wouldn’t I feel lonely there, with apparently so few residents? And how well does everything actually function? Where and what would I eat? An improvement over Rowwad’s old volunteer housing in the camp which I remember was long and dark with a rudimentary kitchen and one interesting housemate, someone who came and went between here and somewhere mysterious and distant. I never learned the details of his story.

Later I will seek and photograph one original site of Abed’s family, Beit Natiff. What will I find there?

Friends Of Al Rowwad

Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI at the Aida refugee camp (May 2009)

Al Rowwad Vocational Training Center

The rising of the light: Beautiful Resistance in the Aida refugee camp of Bethlehem, Occupied Territories, Palestine (by Skip Schiel, June 2009)

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

PHOTOS 

Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.

—Jiddu Krishnamurti

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“Existence is Resistance”

September 21, 2018, Friday, Hebron

Yesterday [September 20, 2018], after the celebratory conclusion of the 5-day basic-advanced Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), workshop, our team guided by Lubna toured the old city of Hebron. A region of another form of internal displacement: Israelis force Palestinians from their homes; the Israelis then occupy the homes.

We went down, down, down, and then a little up to reach the Ibrahimi Mosque, the burial site of the region’s first family, Abraham, aka Ibrahim, Sarah, Jacob, Rebecca, and others,—notably I believe, not Ishmael (where is he buried?).

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Alternatives to Violence Project workshop in Hebron, Occupied Palestine

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Lubna, AVP facilitator from Hebron (L) & Joe Digarbo, facilitator from the United States

This was deeply meaningful to me. Here, supposedly, 4,000 yrs ago, the Abrahamic tradition, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, with the later offshoot of Quakerism, my tradition, allegedly began. The decline and incline of our path reminded me of the original hilly ground Abraham located to settle down (the original settlers?). He bought land which included a cave, The Cave of Machpelah, from the local people to use as a burial site for his beloved but prone-to-jealousy wife, Sarah. Ah, how the land contains history, and how history buries the land. What’s left of this history, how accurate is this history? Jiddu Krishnamurti said, paraphrasing, “religion is a true fiction.”

The new settlers—even tho Jews were here for millennia—now steal property of Palestinians, which they claim was originally theirs. Walking the narrow path ways past numerous shops, food including expertly crafted piles of zattar; clothing including intimate clothing for females; house wares; men’s pants; shoes piled high with an occasional stitching machine to repair shoes; and other merchandise, we walked beneath wire and fabric overhead, installed to protect against the garbage, urine, and feces hurled down by Israeli settlers who’ve moved into Palestinian homes. The injustice is shockingly visible.

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Old City, Hebron, garbage thrown by Israeli settlers

Gated pathways; garbage thrown by Israelis behind fences which entices vermin, snakes, scorpions, etc; Palestinian and Israeli homes directly across from each other; Israeli flags; the periodic raid or forced closure of shops; innumerable checkpoints; and the sealed doors all bespeak impunity. I imagine Rebecca, our Jewish colleague, was even more horrified than us. My Jewish friend, Stan, might have wept.

A young stocky dark shopkeeper joined us as an informal guide, offering personal experience to underscore conditions. This is a route most tourists avoid. About the only visitors are groups like ours, such as my first encounter in 2003 with a delegation, a second one with the Magi pilgrimage, and a third I seem to recall on my own to visit the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT)in Hebron and Atwani, the Palestinian village in the Southern Hebron Hills. Maybe also in conjunction with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel . My last visit to Hebron may have been about 10 years ago. On this walk I renewed memories and updated insights.

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Shopkeeper

In the mosque, now “shared” since the Six Day War in 1967, 60% synagogue and the rest mosque, we learned about Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish medical doctor who’d moved to Israel and enacted his extreme Jewish religious and nationalistic views. Here in 1994, Baruch Goldstein perpetrated a massacre of worshipping Palestinian Muslims. A worker guided us to bullet holes surrounding the Imam’s sitting place. Goldstein entered thru that door, the guide told us, vividly, walked to this spot and with his automatic weapon killed 29 people, injured nearly 200, before his gun jammed (or he had problems loading a new clip), and he was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. All in a place of worship.

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Bullet wound in wall from Goldstein massacre in 1994

Did this incident register for me nearly 30 years ago? Did it implant a seed that now grows thru my present work? Did it bring me to this special place once again (because I’d been to the mosque several times before) with these special people?

We were long on our feet: Rebecca may have felt it the most. As others discussed history, I sat on the floor to rest against one of the monuments before retracing our route. I’d considered asking if we could walk out thru the Jewish section but this would possibly imperil Lubna who wears a hijab. On the way in we noticed the work of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, HRC, most notably the restoration of a sesame seed press. The manager—he rented from another family who’d owned it for centuries—explained to me that only about 3 groups per week visit, many more during Ramadan because of how the mosque draws, many fewer during the winter, but few buy. I suggested that for me at least, in the region for another month, buying means carrying. So I declined his offers, as did my entire group. Because the income from his shop is not sufficient, he works in a factory.

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Muslim prayer

A small achievement: after I’d asked Lubna where I might purchase an exfoliating scrubber, she found something for me. She explained that local women weave a certain plant into body scrubbers, similar in function to luffa sponges. After purchasing some in Palestine and using them for years at home, I’d searched for similar devices in the Boston area where I live, and on-line; I failed to find anything other than inferior plastic surrogates. I was not sure that what Lubna found for me was precisely what I’d searched for, but I bought 2. Ten shekels or about $3 each. To last perhaps until I expire. Watching as we strolled thru the souk, this was the only shop I spotted that carried this particular item.