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Only by awakening can you know the true meaning of that word. —Eckhart Tolle

PHOTOS

From early March thru end of May I photographed, videoed, and wrote in Palestine-Israel, north to south, east to west, Israel and Palestine, wet and dry, happy and tragic, brightly lit (oh that Mediterranean Light!) and dark. With what I hope is an open heart, available to all parties, a fair-eyed and handed treatment of different experiences.

Highlights include:

  • Nearly one month along the Jordan River from its headwaters on Mt Hermon to its tragic termination in the dying Dead Sea.

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Mt Hermon, headwaters of the Jordan River, Israeli surveillance center

  • Organized annually by the illustrious Freedom Theater of Jenin, the two-week Freedom Bus Ride thru the West Bank visited inspiring nodal points of suffering and resistance such as Bil’in, Tuwani, Nabi Salih, and the Jordan Valley, often staying for several days while sleeping on floors.

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Bil’in

  • Teaching photography to young adults for two weeks thru the Freedom Theater in Jenin’s refugee camp.

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Two of my photo students in Jenin

  • Exploring the eastern sector of Jerusalem by photographing for Grassroots Jerusalem, while residing for one month in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

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Examining how Israel dominates Jerusalem’s eastern sector, nominally Palestinian

  • 5 days with Israelis who live on the Gaza border, often attacked by home-made rockets and mortars launched by Gazan militants, photographing and filming there (on kibbutzim and moshavim, i.e., cooperative agricultural communities) an organization called Other Voice, Jewish Israelis calling for negotiations rather than war to resolve the conflict.

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Looking from Israel into Gaza, less than 2 kilometers from each other

  • Photographing two conferences, one about coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis, the other about cohesion of the various Palestinian groups in 1948 israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

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An Israeli and a Palestinian together at Global Village Square, Bethlehem Palestine

Problems occurred during the photography training when apparently I did not satisfy students’ wishes for more advanced training. Altho one of the Theater’s requests was to fully explore light in photography, one of my most practiced photographic elements, I might have failed to help them understand how light works. Given the conditions, expectations, and my expertise in photography I did my best. Another problem was that I was not able to enter Gaza. The organization I usually work with that can get me a permit, the American Friends Service Committee, did not need my services. Also since the summer 2014 Gaza war, Israel has tightened entrance. I was close to Gaza when with Other Voice, and phoned my good friend in Gaza, Ibrahim, which only exacerbated my (and his) frustration.

Was my trip a success? How measure this? Achievements? Photo and movie production? Insights? Survival in relatively good health?

Was my trip useful? Will it help end the conflict, assure security for the Israelis and justice for the Palestinians?

What is the point of my work? An adventure, a vacation, a wish to demonstrate my bravery? I answer, respectively: Maybe, time will reveal. Possibly, I undertook it with good intentions. A compulsion, an itch, a need, unfathomable.

Conditions In Gaza (Gaza Blockade In Numbers) are the worst since the 1948 birth of Israel and the catastrophe it caused for the Palestinians, the Nakba. Altho unable to witness Gaza directly, thru study and conversation I learn virtually nothing has been rebuilt, Israel continues to block entrance and exit (my case), and altho fighting has not resumed in this past year, most people I spoke with, inside and outside Gaza, expect another war, possibly more devastating than the one last summer. Unless major compromises are made by all contending parties.

In the West Bank and Israel conditions vary according to location (mid June 2015 UN report here). As I wrote in more detail here, most Israelis seem oblivious about the occupation, not affected directly by it, even if in West Bank settlements (as long as there is “quiet”). For Palestinians in the West Bank, especially the regions the Freedom Bus Ride visited, including Jerusalem, the tight Israeli military and economic control continues. I’ve heard that Hamas, ruler of Gaza, is losing support and people are outspoken about that. And in the West Bank where Fatah rules, many people have abandoned the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, the Authority without authority, handmaiden to the Israeli government.

Struggle against oppression continues, but it is localized to a few key points in the West Bank, and virtually absent in Gaza. Or put differently, it seems effective and strategic in only a few places. Otherwise, West Bank resistance seems pro forma: a group gathers in protest, maybe against land loss or prison conditions. The process may begin nonviolently (this as a value and tactic is much debated) but usually boys, the shabab, throw rocks and the soldiers fire, depending on who is among the protesters, live ammunition, rubber-covered metal bullets, tear gas, skunk water (chemically treated to resemble sewage and stick to clothing and skin) or stun grenades. Quid pro quo. Predictable and pointless. Or so some, including me, think. I search for strategic resistance with a vision for the future and found it among all the groups visited by the Freedom Bus Ride.

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Women’s Day March on Kalandia Checkpoint

I hope my materials give a deeper sense of my experiences and perspectives.

I end this report with an idea: one’s perspectives are generated not only by relevant experience, study, and influence—my trip in this case—but by personal points of reference, often subconscious, often not related directly to one’s opinions.

I speculate that those tilting toward Israel in their perspectives share points of reference, whereas those tilting toward Palestine might not. Jews usually tilt toward Israel by referencing anti-Semitism, the horrors of the holocaust, and persistent, nearly existential fear of Iran (going back to the days of exile in Persia?). A tilt toward Palestine could be from a variety of points of reference. One person might have experienced oppression, as with African Americans. Or being raised during the 1960s, radicalized by the Vietnam-American war and the Freedom Movement like me. Paradoxically Jews might also tilt toward Palestine if not for their Jewishness—Jewish proclivity toward justice could be a key point of reference but Jewish fear for their own and Israel’s survival overrides their sense of justice.

My reference points are—altho I shouldn’t be too hasty to decide—Wounded Knee, my early Zionism, the African American Freedom Movement, and a dream I had in South Africa about Martin Luther King Jr. I came of age thru Wounded Knee: playing the cowboy who killed Indians when we played; my early Badlands experience, near the massacre site, with my family; later reading books such as Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee; and then my first visit to the actual site in 1982 while roaming the Great Plains alone. One year later I lived and photographed on the reservation with the Jesuits. Seven years after that in 1990 I was on the Pine Ridge reservation again in South Dakota with my partner for the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee. These adult experiences led to a major photographic project.

Thru this process I learned compassion for the “extreme other”—people not in any of my circles, not in my family, neighborhood, or ethnic group. They were on the other side of the planet (or a different planet), not my skin color or sharing my first language, etc. Wounded Knee victims were truly the “extreme other.” As the Palestinians had been other to me—until I visited in 2003 and met real Palestinians.

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Wounded Knee, 1890

Secondly, my early Zionism—growing up admiring the kibbutz, the pioneer, the tanned and muscled young man with a rifle over his shoulder, working the land with an array of similarly tanned and muscled beautiful young women with rifles over their shoulders (oh how I desired to join them); then teaching at Maimonides School in 1966-67, celebrating the outcome of the Six Day War; later the period of Munich and airplane hijackings; and slowly shifting direction as I observed parallels between South African apartheid and Israel while visiting South Africa.

Pioneer Rudi Weissenstein

Zionist Pioneer

Thirdly, the African American Freedom Movement interwove with my Zionism, especially during the mid 1960s when I contemplated going south for Freedom Summer but feared and refused, forever regretful. Now I discover that regret leads to my willingness to enter danger zones in Palestine-Israel.

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Freedom Movement

Finally, the dream about Martin Luther King Jr. I dreamt he appeared to me and in effect said, while he tapped me on the shoulder, “Skip, I’m dead, you’re alive, it is now your turn.” Which meant: utilize his analysis of the triplet of racism, militarism, and extreme consumerism to struggle for justice. He did not point me at Palestine-israel; only later did I make this connection.

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A button I proudly wear

What next? Lots of work this summer and into the fall preparing exhibits, slideshows, movies, blog, website, and eventually touring in the USA to show my results. Which is where you, dear reader, comes in.

Would you like to sponsor a presentation?

Here are some of my current projects, slideshows, movies, and prospective photographic exhibitions:

Thru my Lens: Palestine-Israel
The look and feel and meaning of the situation in this troubled region. Based on my recent three-month journey of faith in action, I will show and discuss my photographs about coexistence, Palestinians in Jerusalem, nonviolent resistance to the occupation in the West Bank, and other topics.

Freedom Bus Ride thru the Palestinian West Bank
A slideshow by Skip Schiel about Palestinians under occupation practicing exemplary strategic nonviolent resistance. The renowned Freedom Theater of Jenin West Bank organized a two-week bus journey inspired by the Freedom Movement and Bus Rides in the United States, some 60 international and Palestinian riders, to explore some of the most attacked and resilient communities in the West Bank—Bil’in, Tuwani, Nabi Salih, the Jordan Valley, and Jerusalem itself, known by thousands for their creative struggles against oppression.

Jerusalem Day: the Controversial March of Flags
A slideshow-movie by Skip Schiel about the annual celebration of Jerusalem’s “reunification.” In reality, Jerusalem is not unified, but in the eyes of many of its Palestinian residents, it is occupied. All governments refuse to locate their embassies there, but instead base in Tel Aviv. The march provocatively begins in Sheik Jarrah, a contested Palestinian neighborhood, marches thru the eastern, largely Palestinian sector of Jerusalem, thru the Damascus Gate, and into the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall. I photographed and videoed this year’s march, trying to carefully depict both sides of the controversy.

Other Voice: Gaza’s Israeli Neighbors
A movie by Skip Schiel about courageous Israelis advocating for talks, not tanks, diplomacy, not war. Living within two miles of Gaza, these Israelis suffer the brunt of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, most recently infiltration as well. Yet they call for an intelligent response to the violence in their neighborhood, in league with similarly minded Gazans.

Holy Land Water
Hydropolitics in Palestine-Israel, from Mt Hermon, the headwaters of the Jordan River, to the dying Dead Sea, the River’s terminus.

In addition I circulate these earlier photo presentations GeneralTour2014AnnouncementSchielSM. i hope to hear from you. You can email me.

I’m now photographing for a Palestinian organization in East Jerusalem, Grassroots Jerusalem, to support their various projects. One crucial project remaps Jerusalem, intending to counter the conventional image of The Holy City (Al-Quds) as purely Jewish Israeli, erasing Palestinian presence. As part of my work, I’ve compiled some of my photos that relate to Jerusalem. PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO LINKS.

Wujood book cover

The organization recently published a guide book about the city, Wujood, the Grassroots Guide to Jerusalem, that is definitely worth reading (It will be available online once they’re launched their new website.). Here’s a review from This Week in Palestine to give you some idea of the book and the organization. Wujood-Grassroots book

Women’s Day March on Kalandia (the major checkpoint between Jerusalem and ramallah, west bank side)
Silwan (south of Jerusalem)
Photo from Silwan
Old City Jerusalem
Old City Jerusalem-2
Sheik Jarrah (neighborhood in East Jerusalem, 2015)
Sheik Jarrah (family in protest tent, 2009)
Annexation Wall
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Annexation Wall-3
Jerusalem Gate (ongoing popular resistance to confiscation of more Palestinian land around Jerusalem, 2015)
Mount of Olives
South of Jerusalem (a walk thru former Arab and Jewish neighborhoods)
Jahalin Bedouin (near Jerusalem)
Jerusalem Light Rail (2012)

Jerusalem map Grassroots
SheikJarrahPalestine_Israel_Jerusalem-1196In Sheik Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem threatened by Israeli colonists, March 2015
LINKS

Justice is Love made Public

—Dr. Cornell West

PHOTOS

Based on my current work in Palestine-Israel March – May 2015, my view of the situation depends on my location.

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If in Israel, I do not notice the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, nor does most of the population. If noticed, the Israeli Jewish citizens and the leadership largely support the injustice—95% of Jewish Israeli’s were in favor of last summer’s attacks on Gaza. The recent elections that returned Prime Minister Netanyahu to office are confirmation; they mark another step toward a right-wing government. Exceptions exist of course, and I try to locate and support them—Gush Shalom is one, led by Uri Avnery.

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Purim in an East Jerusalem settlement, March 2015

If in the West Bank, again depending on location, I learn that the occupation can be tolerable and mostly invisible, as in Jenin, where there are no neighboring settlements (altho the Israeli Occupation Force regularly raids the refugee camp looking for people, usually young men, that they accuse of threatening Israel). Or it may be a huge annoyance, as in Ramallah, especially if one needs to pass thru the notorious Kalandia checkpoint into Jerusalem. It can be regularly violent, as in Hebron where the settlers are particularly vicious or in the villages of Nabi Salih and Bil’in near Ramallah which every Friday for years mount nonviolent demonstrations to regain their ancestral lands. They’ve had some success. I visit and support the activists there. Or the occupation may be a continual threat, as in Sheik Jarrah, a district in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews frequently take over Palestinian homes with army and police protection.

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Downtown Jenin, April 2015

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A nonviolent demonstration, Nabi Salih, March 2015

And if in Gaza (I was last there in 2013), the region is not only the largest open air prison as it’s commonly called, but a graveyard, as a friend confided to me during my first trip there in 2004. Last summer some 2,500 people were killed during the Israeli assault, about 75% of them civilian. Entrance and exit are now so tightly restricted that I’ve not been able to enter on this trip and many notable Gazans such as Dr. Mona al Farra, who was to speak at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts in May 2015 as part of a tour, are unable to leave. (Two Boston-based friends and colleagues of mine, Alice Rothchild and Bill Slaughter, both medical professionals and thus more able to visit Gaza, may speak at my meeting in Mona’s place.)

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Trauma program, Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza, 2013

On my current journey, my 9th since 2003, I’ve attended a 2-day conference called Global Village Square in Bethlehem drawing some 70 young Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, and West Bank Palestinians to work together on solutions. I’ve ridden the Freedom Bus thru the West Bank to learn about popular resistance in villages and East Jerusalem. In Jenin in the northern section of the West Bank thru the renowned Freedom Theater I’ve taught photography to young adults who are already very proficient in the craft but need encouragement and tools to portray their experiences under occupation. I’m about to photograph more of the Jordan River and Dead Sea, a project combining hydrology, history, geology and politics in a multi-layered approach. I will photograph for Grassroots Jerusalem as part of their political mapping project to portray Palestinian experience in East Jerusalem. And finally, if plans hold, I will be with Israeli Jews living within 2 miles of Gaza, often attacked, but who formed an organization called Other Voice courageously critical and outspoken about much of Israeli policy.

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Global Village Square, Bethlehem, March 2015

Here in Palestine-Israel, the vision is bleak. I doubt I can find many who believe the conflict will be resolved soon, if at all. To counter this despair I tell people about the hope I feel erupting in the USA because of growing awareness, more frequent visits to the region, increasing activism among young Jews and others of Arab descent, and most importantly the growing BDS movement—boycott, divest, sanction—with its accompanying support of the One State Solution: one land, multiple peoples, with equal rights for all.

I joyfully wear my Martin Luther King Jr button. Many notice and either recognize or ask. I answer, a great leader, a man of love, compassion, intellect, and sumud. Steadfast in his quest for justice. He died for his truth, a shaheed, a martyr. And people seem to instantly recognize his value.

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TO BE CONTINUED

Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel

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 Bassam Tamimi with his daughters

Photos

The Freedom Bus project was not started as a way of doing touristic and artistic tours of the West Bank. And this is not why we joined either. It is helping us to understand more fully this occupation and to speak to Palestinians first hand. Our role as witnesses is to go home and share the reality on the ground, which is way too often distorted in mainstream media. We are not innocent and have to transform knowledge into action – action that has been called for by the locals themselves. They are asking for political support, which can be demanded and fought for back in our own countries. They are also asking for the support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which should be implemented on a personal level as well as in our schools, supermarkets, offices and nationally. As internationals we have a role and we can work in solidarity with the Palestinians to make a difference.

—Sama, one of the bus riders

March 20, 2015, Friday, Cinema Jenin Guest House, Jenin, Palestine

Cool, low 50s, 80% cloudy with altocumulus, slight breeze.

Yesterday [March 19, 2015] was another full day: breakfast at 8; at 9 various warm ups for team building on the outdoor stage of Cinema Jenin (touch-don’t touch partner’s knees; call out names during a rhythm game; stretch together; shake out; breathe, stop-go, down-up, referring to the occupation, and then the reverse as resistance; and share a feeling with the group; all good techniques to use during my later photography teaching); a lecture demonstration by Eyad Burnat from Bil’in about what to expect at today’s Nabi Salih demo (gas, bullets, arrests, etc); lunch at the Freedom Theater with an intro to the theater and freedom ride by Joanna; tour of the refugee camp including the cemetery with its martyrs’ markers, then to the horse statue (made of pieces of shattered ambulances, pointing north toward liberation); a brief talk by a bureaucrat about maintaining the camp; a stunning musical performance by beginning and advanced students at the Al Kamanjati music school; a playback performance there (I offered my Gaza kidnapping story); dinner at the cinema garden (sitting with lubna, the translator, and the shy quiet woman from Acca), and finally, after staff twice grabbed the wrong DVD’s, a screening of Arna’s Children about the founding of the Freedom Theater.

I’d seen the movie before so it looked familiar, but I recalled very little of it. I was puzzled by the time sequence and asked Jonathan, the managing director of the Freedom Theater, who suddenly appeared for the discussion, about this. Most takes place during the battle for Jenin in 2002. Arna died in the late 1990s of cancer, and the Freedom Theater opened in 2006. I set myself in the movie’s time frame and realized I may have visited the camp with the delegation one year after the fighting, and the theater opened during my early period in Israel-Palestine. In fact I may have first visited shortly after it opened.

Trying to sort out what I will bring on the Freedom Ride, realizing I may lack some vital things (like a sleeping pad, suggested by Bryan), with all we human beings jockeying for space, with virtually no sort-out space like my bed available, is—as was true during my various pilgrimages—daunting. But rather than this lasting for 1 year as with the Middle Passage Pilgrimage (retracing the transatlantic trade journey), this is only 12 days. Thus it is tolerable.

Maybe differing from the pilgrimages, especially the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, is the feeling of camaraderie, mutual support, shared mission, and above all else, exceptionally fine organizing. Unlike that pilgrimage this is not a first time effort. This tour is the 4th annual.

March 21, 2015, Saturday, Guest House/school, Bil’in, Palestine

Cool, mid 40s, clear, slight breeze.

We are in Bil’in (pronounced with the accent on the 2nd syllable, and adding a sort of grunt at the ‘ —Bil-hi-een.). I believe we are in a school or community room, men in the main room, women in 3 separate rooms, all on the floor, luckily with plenty of mattresses and cushions, relatively quiet after about midnight (Fidaa asked for quiet around 11, reminding me of when I tried this on the Middle Passage Pilgrimage and was angrily opposed), me again next to Bryan (as I’d been in the Jenin guest house, after I seemed to have swiped, in his view, his corner space and his cushions, a very curious relationship), all leading to a fair night’s sleep (but short, 6 hours). I am back in pilgrimage mode.

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Nabi Salih and the colony of Halamish

Yesterday we were at the village of Nabi Salih most of the day, for the demo, village walk around, and dinner. We heard of course from Bassam Tamimi, probably the chief leader, who gave a nuanced discourse about resistance. He joked that “we don’t need more tears, we have the tear gas.” Apparently he is originally from this village settled by Tamimi’s and is now filled with them, but in 2009 when the settlers in Halamish took over the village spring (on the other side of a divide), he returned to lead the resistance. His children are in the forefront of the struggle and were clearly the main presence at the demo when they loudly confronted the soldiers, all 4 sisters, ranging in age from about 6 to 11.

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Halamish upper left, spring middle right, demonstration in the middle, Nabi Salih behind the photographer

As the sisters scurried up the hill, warned by the soldiers to leave within minutes or they’d be tear gassed, breathlessly one told me she could speak Hebrew and told the soldiers this was not their land, no one invited them here, the Palestinians were the rightful owners, and the soldiers and settlers should leave. To me she spoke in good English. Later she and 2 of her sisters spoke to our group, encouraged by their father and mother, electrifying us with their courage and articulation of the struggle.

Their mother, Nariman, was injured fairly recently, shot in the leg at close range with a tear gas canister. She used leg braces but attended the demo.

Unlike last week when the Israelis arrested 2 women and injured a boy, yesterday [March 20, 2015] they merely shot opening salvos of tear gas, and then allowed resisters to approach to about 5 meters, the kids closest, face-to-face with the army. I remained back, not at the very back where many stood on cliffs, but about 300 meters from the front line. Partly because I have trouble navigating the rocky hills, and mainly because I appreciated the new vantage point afforded by the elevation. Maybe a little confusion and fear as well.

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Tamimi girls confront the soldiers

There I perched for about 30 minutes using primarily my telephoto lens, chatting with Lorenza, a young woman from Switzerland. So she could see the action better thru my long lens, we shared my camera from time to time. I felt I was photographing a tableau—lines of people constantly changing their geometry. (I thought of Henri Cartier Bresson, known for “the decisive moment,” his use of evolving human geometry in photography.) The kids, the acrobatics from one of the Freedom Theater members, the casually positioned soldiers, and the spring off to one side now developed by settlers. I used my wide lens to show the positioning of settlement, confrontation, and spring. I’d read about this but now could picture it.

Would the solders attack? A key question. This time, no, perhaps influenced by the large number of internationals, or perhaps wisely realizing, as police in the United States seem to be doing more now, that waiting out the demo is simplest, cheapest, and least likely to lead to negative publicity.

Writing this entry in the early morning, I sit now in the main room of the Bil’in center, leaning against the wall, cushioned by a pillow, on my sleeping bag and blanket (kindly lent by Ayman from the Jenin guest house), while others slowing awaken and rise.

Last night traveling here from Nabi Salih, the driver became lost. Which seemed to lead to a raucous songfest that disturbed me. I was sitting alone in the front, about 5 seats back, the front seats occupied by Palestinians, when they began singing. One woman in particular, who I’d earlier noticed seemed depressed, sitting sullenly and separately with her phone in hand, maybe not loving the bus experience, suddenly became suffused with wild energy. She jumped about, screamed, clapped her hands madly about her head, and was eventually subdued by the Palestinian with dreads. I thought she might be manic-depressive.

Later one of the men explained they sang traditional songs, often sung at weddings, similar perhaps to folksongs in the USA. This episode reminded me of terrible moments on previous trips, pilgrimages, especially the Middle Passage one, where the new living mode I’m subjected to just does not appeal. Let me off this bus, please!

During the spring of 1961, student activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched the Freedom Rides to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals. Traveling on buses from Washington, D.C., to Jackson, Mississippi, the riders met violent opposition in the Deep South, garnering extensive media attention and eventually forcing federal intervention from John F. Kennedy’s administration. Although the campaign succeeded in securing an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ban on segregation in all facilities under their jurisdiction, the Freedom Rides fueled existing tensions between student activists and Martin Luther King, Jr., who publicly supported the riders, but did not participate in the campaign.

—Freedom Rides in the United States during the freedom movement

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On the wall of the Tamimi home

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Freedom Bus blog

Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel

Palestine_Israel_Women_s_Day_Kalandia-1417

PHOTOS

March 8, 2015, Sunday, Golden Gate hostel, Old City, Jerusalem, Israel-Palestine

(Warm, low 60s, sunny, calm—other than the temperature this might be the usual report.)

Yesterday [March 7, 2015], one day before the official International Women’s Day, I arrived at the checkpoint, the site of the march and demonstration well, before the slated start time of 11 am. Thanks to Sahar V, a Jewish Israeli woman with the American Friends Service Committee in East Jerusalem, who told me about the demonstration and suggested I participate on the Palestinian-West Bank side, I met an extraordinary Israeli Jewish woman, Tamar. I’d noticed her talking with Palestinians—short blond hair, jeans, lightly built, she reminded me from a distance of Lynn. Believing she was present for the demo I walked near her to possibly strike up a conversation. She invited me to have coffee from a stand she sat at.

She told me she is a presence at the checkpoint every Sunday, on her own apparently, not part of Machsom Watch, the Israeli women who monitor and report on checkpoints, or other organizations. She makes photos of the boys who flock around her and then gives them prints the following week. This she says in lieu of giving them money which she feels they would give to their fathers. When she first started appearing, they’d beg, she’d refuse, they’d grow angry, and then she thought of the photography. She touched each one of them in greeting, very motherly, expressing deep love and solidarity.

Belatedly I thought, since I am now on the Ramallah side of the Green Line/Wall, why not visit Ramallah, then why not visit friends, why not visit Jean and Fareed? Trying to phone them, I discovered my phone’s minutes had disappeared. I was stranded. Tamar let me borrow her phone. I reached Fareed who agreed to meet me later.

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The women arrived, some 300 of them, males mixed in. I’m not sure of their starting point, possibly the Kalandia refugee camp. The media presence was large. Most wore helmets, bulletproof vests, and carried tear gas masks. Am I prepared for this? The women marched right up to the closed, heavily patrolled checkpoint and confronted the soldiers. Media rushed to the front of the line, cameras high above their heads. Suddenly someone fell down, a heavy-set woman; others clustered around her, including media. I tried to photograph from outside, not effectively. I smelled a slight tinge of tear gas. Had gas been used? Why so quickly? I did not see stones hurled at the army.

People regrouped, more confrontation, this time I came closer and might have made better photos. A stand-off—the soldiers and police; their commanders at least, older, seemed cool and poised. I wandered around looking for context photos—the wall, observation tower, graffiti—and human detail, faces, mainly faces. I concentrated on faces from the beginning, as the march approached, and believe these will be among my best photos.

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At one point everyone fled, laughing, to return, I with them. Not nearly as limber as I once was, unsure of my footing, I was more attentive to my safety than to photographing. Then gas again, much gas, this time with tear gas canisters exploding all around me, immersing me in stinging stinky gas, a smell I abhor. My eyes teared up so I couldn’t see well; I gasped for breath, wishing to breathe only thru my nostrils but unable to resist opening my mouth as wide as possible to inhale the most oxygen possible (and the most gas).

I stumbled in retreat, not even thinking about photos. The wind blew with us, from the soldiers, not the best direction. More gas ahead, swerve, avoid it. People helped each other. I empathized with the obese and aged. Finally out of range, I tried to show people struggling with the gas, aided by others. I made a series of photos without the viewfinder and then noticed that the camera was not operating. Either I’d run out of battery or memory or I now had a defective camera. Checking, I discovered that I’d jarred open the door to the battery and memory card. Closing it, I tested, found my camera did operate, and resumed photography. My camera almost a casualty.

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Oh yes, the stones. Someone, probably the shabab, the young boys, began throwing them shortly before the main gas attack. Lobbed over the fence in a wide arch they were hardly threatening, yet they became the impetus for the gas. Once again, a futile exchange of power, messages from the mute, on both sides.

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Since Kalandia was closed, traffic toward Jerusalem backed up for what may have been kilometers. Toward Ramallah, likewise, it only creeped. I walked. I found a toilet in a gas station, relieved myself, and then noticed a few serveeces (shared taxis) were moving toward Ramallah. I boarded one. And soon found myself in central Ramallah. After a delightfully ample turkey shuwarma followed by chocolate ice cream at Rukabs, I borrowed the Rukab man’s phone and reached Fareed. Let’s meet at Rukab’s, I suggested. He replied, I’ll be there in a few minutes. He was.

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On the wall of Kalandia refugee camp

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS 

Palestinian, Israeli protest marks Women’s Day.” by Zena Tahhan

Hundreds of Palestinian women march on Qalandia to protest Israeli occupation,’ by Anne Paq and Ahmad Al-Bazz

In Photos: Int’l Women’s Day in Israel-Palestine,” by Activestills

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In an Israeli shopping mall 

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Model of Yad Vashem

Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel

March 6, 2015, Friday, Golden Gate hostel, Old City, Jerusalem, Israel-Palestine

PHOTOS:

(Warmer, low 60s, sunny, calm.)

“I’m sure [my memory] only works one way,” Alice remarked. “I can’t remember things before they happen.”

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.

“What sort of things do you remember best?” Alice ventured to ask.

“Oh, things that happened the week after next,” the Queen replied in a careless tone.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

Building on my idea yesterday [March 5, 2015] to ride the rails of Jerusalem’s 3 year old light rail system, connecting settlements, aka “neighborhoods,” and Palestinian towns, not sure where or why, completely spontaneously, drawn magnetically, Yad Vashem turned into the main event. As I wrote to a close friend first and then adapted for others (one of the greatest gifts of digital writing):

today i visited yad vashem, my third time (my first was in 2003 with a delegation and later with a friend around 2008). now completely redone, it’s designed as a prism by moshe safdie whose modular homes i love.

this museum is truly, in my view, too much: not the topic but the quantity of exhibits—repetitive, floor to ceiling photos, media blasting out everywhere. i doubt many can take in more than a morsel or two. a separate art exhibition of drawings, paintings, frescoes, etc helped me much more to understand the holocaust. many pieces were profound in tone, execution, technique, and meaning. art became a survival tool, not only of the individual artist’s spirit but of the suffering itself—a powerful visual testimony. i think you would have been very interested in it.

unfortunately yad vashem refuses to expand “never again for jews” to “never again for anyone,” ie, there is only one holocaust and nothing is comparable. a docent was fired in 2009 for mentioning deir yassin village and the nakba, not as equivalent horrors but as related atrocities.

i chanced onyadvashem. my mission was riding thejerusalem light rail from end to end, disembarking occasionally to walk thru a variety of neighborhoods, palestinian and israeli jewish, making and expressing thru photography differences and similarities. the day was crisp, sunny, dry, virtually cloudless, the beginning of early spring and the dry season. wildflowers bloomed, the air smelled fresh. nibbling on anything green, 4 goats crossed my path in a jewish neighborhood, heedless of me and traffic,.

The name Yad Vashem derives from a biblical account; it is not a translation of holocaust memorial museum as I’d wrongly supposed. The name emphasizes transforming anonymous victims into human beings by remembering and recording their names.

And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem), an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

—Isaiah 56:5

How do others view Yad Vashem? Most reviews are respectfully affirmative: a highly emotional experience, well thought-out displays, good information, etc. Nothing about either the holocaust message in the context of the occupation or the esthetics of museumship. Here’s one lonely contrary review, by Michael Ratner, a Jew with holocaust roots:

…As saddened and horrified as we were by what we had just experienced [visiting the museum], we were all struck by the contradiction of having the museum in Israel, a country forged out of the theft of other people’s land and homes, a nation whose treatment of Palestinians had echoes of what we had just seen: walled-in ghettos, stolen houses and land, a segregated population….

Read more of Ratner 

Jerusalem light rail map SM

I rode the tram on the Jewish holiday known as Purim—the holiday commemorates Jewish survival in the 4th century BCE when in exile in Persia and threatened with annihilation, a Jewish woman, Esther, orchestrated resistance that led to the slaughter of many Persians. (One might note the parallel to the recent speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the US Congress comparing Iran to various radical and brutal Islamic entities like ISIS.) Israeli kids were out of school, many including adults wore costumes such as fairy outfits, flaming red hair, angels etc. I photographed kids jumping on an air-filled device behind a school and in a mall receiving balloon crowns from a jester, while a stilt walker frolicked behind them. No sign of the holocaust today.

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In an Israeli Jerusalem settlement

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Mt Herzl Park

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Monument to Jewish soldiers, one of many to Jewish victims along a path to Yad Vashem

Leaving the train at Mt Herzl station, the last station south and west, I walked thru the park, admired its landscaping, stopped at the grave of the founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, passed graves of other Zionist notables, noticed signs about Yad Vashem, and eventually realized the museum must be nearby. Checking maps and asking direction of 2 women, I learned about a connecting path and walked the 2 km or so to the museum. There I had the experience I wrote about. Along the way I observed many monuments to Jewish suffering connected not only with the holocaust but with ongoing onslaughts. A life—a long history—of oppression. How odd, I’m not the first to note: these people, so long and so viciously oppressed, have turned into the opposite. Of course, in all the monuments, not a mention of the occupation of Palestine and the siege of Gaza.

Rarely remarked: the museum is near the site of Deir Yassin, while Yad Vashem itself is alleged to be built on an Arab village.

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Exiting Yad Vashem, facing west, the new life—also presenting a view of Deir Yassin, scene of a massacre during 1948

In the museum I photographed models of the gas chambers and furnaces at Auschwitz. (I did not see the exhibit about the Warsaw ghetto wall that I photographed on my first visit in 2003, while Israeli high schoolers listened to their teacher or docent explain about walls, but probably not about Israel’s construction of the “security barrier,” aka apartheid wall.) These models brought me painfully back to Auschwitz, my time there while on pilgrimage in 1995, living with the truth of the holocaust and my German people’s role in it. An eerie confluence of feelings struck me: Jews as victims, Jews as perpetrators of suffering, Germans as operators of the death apparatus, me as German, me possibly as Jewish. Perhaps this day will stand out as an early high point of my trip, reminding me of multiple truths coexisting in one organism—and one people.

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Model of the gas chamber at Auschwitz

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Yad Vashem art exhibition, The Anguish of Liberation as Reflected in Art, 1945-47 

Yad Vashem fires employee who compared Holocaust to Nakba” by Yoav Stern

Israelis wounded in Jerusalem ‘terror attack'” by Palestinian motorist (March 6, 2015)
A Palestinian motorist rammed his vehicle into a group of pedestrians standing near a Jerusalem tram stop on Friday, injuring at least four, Israeli police said….

 

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Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Excerpts from my journal

PHOTOS (in two parts)

November 25, 2014, Tuesday, on the train east of Cleveland heading home to Cambridge

The main event of yesterday [November 24, 2014], other than my departure from Detroit after 3 weeks (which on the universal scale counts for very little) was photographing the Boggs School, a publicly-funded charter school. Initially the head, Amanda Rosman, seemed nervous about my presence and asked me to estimate how long I’d be in the school. She also cautioned me against photographing the kids of one family whose mother refused blanket permission for photography, a prohibition that baffles me, especially at such a renowned school as the Boggs.

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I was deeply impressed with the quality of education. The teachers seemed skilled in handling their subjects and discipline problems (the latter were frequent in one art class I observed, not in others). A main pedagogical principle is place-based education, meaning the students are to learn about where they live and go to school. One group, with the theme of orienteering, went for a walk around the block. When they stepped outside, the teacher, a burly fellow with thick arms teaching gym or physical education, asked them which directions were north, east, etc. I added and he agreed, what direction are the clouds coming from? and he added, and that means the direction of the storm—all central to moment and place.

[Place-based education is] local, and it’s connected to students in a way that they can identify with. It’s either a problem in their community or an event that’s happening, or it could be a geological phenomenon. But it’s something that they’re familiar with….so it means something to them. And then we ask questions about it.

—Cay Graig, Vermont teacher

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After the walk —perfect for me because it shows the East-side neighborhood, typically deteriorated—they built something inside that I failed to locate and photograph.

Another teacher dealt with garbage, putting on the board 3 key questions: what happens to our garbage, where does it go, and what does it mean to throw it away? She had them write in their notebooks, and then read from them. Later she showed them an effecting movie about garbage.

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The school runs kindergarten thru 5th, in 3 groups, something like kindergarten, 1-2-3, and 4-5. One teacher wears a hijab, about 1/3 the other teachers are black. Amanda, now softened toward me, not overseeing me as she did at our first location, the playground, and apparently assured I will do the school well, is a cofounder. I promised to send her a selection before I post, to make sure no kids whose parents refused permission are included.

Upon entering I noticed immediately two things: pizza for lunch and the policy of choices rather than self-control. The latter came up when a teacher in a contentious situation, rather than preaching self-control, reminded the student that he had choices. This reflected a conversation with my dear friends, Anne and Fred, when Anne advocated the choices approach. A good principle to keep in mind—with one’s self as well as others.

Because Thanksgiving was later in the week, let us think about Native Americans

Other observations: the art teacher showed them drawings of Indian language symbols in the context of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. (I wonder what spin they’d put on the traditional Thanksgiving story, probably a more accurate one.) Water bottles with names were in many rooms, presumably an effort to teach conservation. On my second pass at the bottles I photographed them with neighboring houses in the background. Often I used my Canon camera’s pullout viewfinder so I could hold the camera at my waist level, thereby distracting the children so they noticed me less.

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Our challenge, as we enter the new millennium, is to deepen the commonalities and the bonds between these tens of millions, while at the same time continuing to address the issues within our local communities by two-sided struggles that not only say ‘no’ to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to crease the world anew.

—Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

Now the big story of that event, altho minor in the grand picture (too bad that I have no photos), this meant a great deal to me: wind. Gusting to more than 50 mph, swiveling between south and north, it blew me to the school, but ferociously resisted me on my little pedal machine (my folding bicycle) later when I tried to return home from the school. It nearly blew me over when I left the protection of a building and entered an intersection. I shifted down to the lowest gear to make headway against the tumultuous wind. Crackling, snapping, flaring, ripped-by-the-wind power lines forced a detour. I thought I might not make it without the intercession of either a divine being or someone like my neighbor Johnny with his huge truck. One block from the school, it blew over my bike when I stopped to photograph a recently burned house, stepping thru bags of what turned out to be shit to get a position. The wind-induced fall damaged my bike light needed in the dim, dank, afternoon darkness. Riding on the leeward side of buildings, on sidewalks, I achieved my objective: home. Thank god, humdilila. Outside my home I washed the shit off my boots and bike pedals and brought my bike inside.

My bike ride thru the wind might represent the school’s course thru the perils and challenges of troubled but perhaps recovering Detroit.

Down the street

Burnt house

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Boggs School website

Boggs School Facebook page

A story about the founding of the school

Place-based education

“The Boggs School Oral History Project: Linking Youth and Elders to the Past, Present and Future,” by Laura de Palma, December 2014

Children’s Voices, Dave Eggers Illustrates Stories by Elementary Schoolers,” by Maria Russo, December 2014

Detroit Walk-In Portrait Studio, a video about a photographic project at the school conducted by Corine Vermeulen, December 2014

New coalition on Detroit schools unveils its membership,” by Ann Zaniewski, December 2014

Activist Boggs honored for work toward social justice,” by Amy He, December 2014

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