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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.

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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)

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.

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Hebron body scrubber

We stopped in a garden for respite, some drank coffee and some fresh-squeezed carrot juice (I discovered later they feed the carrot scraps to their chickens—some well-fed chickens), reviewed the walk and the AVP workshop, found a bus, and finally made it home. Another long, tiring, fulfilling day on the road.

LINKS

Inside The West Bank: The Troubled City Of Hebron (a dual narrative tour) by Matthew Karsten (

Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat HaMachpelah)

Baruch Goldstein by Matt Plen

Destroying History by Ahmad Sub Laban (2004)

Hebron Rehabilitation Committee: Architectural Preservation of the Old City of Hebron

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

September 12, 2018, Wednesday, Bethlehem

(My field notes only until I review the audio recording.)

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First woman I’ve photographed for this set. Nidal Al Azraq’s mother, 9 years old when she fled during the Nakba in 1948.

Remind Nidal to send medicines with next person coming (which could be me).

Her home village, Al Qabu is now Begin Park, one hell of an irony (since Begin, a former prime minister of Israel, organized terrorist groups to end the British Mandate and form the state of Israel. This is not the much larger Menachem Begin Park near Tel Aviv.)

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Al Qabu

Since expulsion she has never visited.

Fled first to Bethlehem, then to Aida camp.

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Aida refugee camp

Sad when contemplating home.

Feels her health deteriorated from sadness over loss.

Wants to see my photos, either prints or files, ask Nidal and Mousa (my assistant and translator) how to do this.

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Mohammed (Mousa) Al Azzeh, one of my organizer sand translators, an accomplished photographer-videographer working for the Lejee Center in Aida

Wants me to cut a sliver of a fig tree in her village and bring it to her to plant.

I’d asked her if there were something of hers she’d like me to deposit in the village. Answered no.

I told her she is beautiful, her mouth especially.

While photographing in the house I spotted a woman in bed with an electronic device who quickly turned away from me.

Five of her children born in one room, others in other places in the house.

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In a photograph on the wall one of her sons, 21 years (?) in prison; she stands with him (also in another photo with his father).

I feel project has finally, fitfully begun; I’ve met actual people and heard their stories.

Whether to video or photograph?

How to use narration, get it translated?

Not particularly pleased with my first photos.

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Her home

I might return to photograph full frontal view, she looking directly into camera, as an opener and closer of this and all sessions.

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LINKS

Al Qabu

More about Al Qabu

Zochrot tour to al-Qabu village by Zochrot (video, 2016)

Al-Qabu tour by Zochrot – Report

Photo-story: A Trip to al-Qabu

Al Qabu Becomes Mevo Beitar: Palestine Becomes Israel by Skip Schiel (video, 2018)

About the Jewish National Fund (JNF) which funds many of the parks and other architectural instruments making Arab villages disappear, by BADIL the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights

Aida Refugee Camp (UNRWA) 

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands.

PHOTOS  (partial archive of earlier 2018 photos in Palestine)

During the winter of 2018 a key organizer of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Joe Digarbo, invited me to join the AVP team in Palestine. To photograph and video the launch of the Palestine-based branch in Gaza in late spring 2018. I happily agreed.

I remembered my old friend Yousef X from Gaza who now lived in Norway and after many attempts was on his way to citizenship. We knew each other for years when he was in Gaza. He’d suffered thru the violence of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 and then the debacle of Operation Protective Shield in the summer of 2014, when many more were killed, injured, and made homeless by Israel’s relentless air and ground invasions.

Assuming this would be a short visit either on my way into or out of Palestine, he readily agreed to a visit, an opportunity not only for old friends to reunite but for Yousef to show me his favorite places in Norway, and introduce me to some of his friends, many of them like him refugees. I’d meet his new Norwegian wife. I could reside with them for a week or so. What bliss!

Building on this prospect, realizing Yousef’s long experience as a refugee but most importantly his training in international relations and his services to incoming refugees, plus my rapidly growing concern about refugees generally, I asked him if he’d like to help me begin a photographic project in Norway locating, interviewing, and photographing Palestinians.

Yousef liked the idea. Thru numerous Skype conversations and email exchanges we worked out a substantial plan for my visit and project.

In early April during the burgeoning campaign for the Palestinian right of return, violence mushroomed in Gaza (continuing to this day). The Great March of Return, initially nonviolent, taken over by Hamas and other militant groups and individuals, swept away AVP’s chances to enter Gaza in the spring. We postponed that trip to the fall, hoping for a decrease in fence violence and a higher likelihood of entering Gaza.

With a different time frame, the project grew in scope. I’d add Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands, countries relatively friendly to refugees to photograph for much of the summer. In late spring I created a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign offering the idea of a two part photographic project: part one in Europe beginning in Norway, working with Yousef; in the fall part two initially with AVP but extending my trip to begin photographing internally expelled Palestinians in the West Bank.

 

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Yousef asked me to remove all identifying signs

All went well until in early June, days away from my departure to Norway, I was hit by two challenges, urinary bleeding and Yousef’s sudden withdrawal from my project. This was a treacherous moment, worry about my urinary condition and whether it would force postponement of my trip, and my feeling of betrayal by a close friend and potential colleague. In response, I went on retreat for one week to the sacred waters of Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts, and the equally sacred community of Agape.

Luckily the bleeding stopped, causes were proposed, I seemed to be healthy, I had the AVP team to work with in the fall, I would support and be supported by them, and most crucially I had contacts in the States and Palestine who would help me with my refugee project.

So, inwardly thanking Yousef X for his role in the formation of my project, still not in touch with him, hoping he has a secure route to citizenship and has not suffered from what I feel he did to me—perhaps a result of trauma he suffered from Gaza and his hopes for respite and safety in Norway—I launched my project in September. My experiences with Yousef, tho often painful, were a major part of what led me to this project. Thank you good friend, survivor, suffering soul; may your life continue to improve.

LINKS

Alternatives to Violence Project

Refugees in Norway (2018)

Further info about Norway

Great March of Return (Gaza)

Further info about the Great March

Human Flow, a movie by Ai Weiwei (about the global refugee crisis, 2017)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands.

PHOTOS 

Solidarity is the political version of love.

—Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz

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

Ayed invited me to visit a Bedouin community displaced from Ein Gedi during the Nakba in 1948. This would be a novel sort of story. Ein Gedi, the paradise beside the Dead Sea that I’ve visited at least twice and photographed extensively. Never knew there had been Bedouins there. The potential cost of this excursion presents a challenge. When Ayed posed this I thought he meant it as between two friends, as I’d offered to show around a Palestinian during his Cambridge visit in the spring. Altho the visitor, Mohammed, never accepted my offer, the idea of money never presented itself to me. Charge him for showing him around Cambridge? Absurd. I’m not in the business of tour guide.

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Ayed, living in the Aida refugee camp, faces much different conditions than I do. Yet at first I thought his proposal was too high, despite the potential value of the meeting: the drive across the desert itself could provide many opportunities to photograph, plus being with Ayed who I truly like and seem liked by added value. But then I reconsidered. OK, maybe, $150 is fair for what could be a rare opportunity. Plus, and this clinched my equivocation, the cost was the equivalent of about 3 nights in cheap housing in Palestine. (I pay $30 nightly here in the refugee camp, nearly $50 nightly at the Golden Gates hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem.) Comparatively speaking, why not? Also it gives me a reason to return later to Ein Gedi with a new perspective.

After some discussion (we lived in the same building in the Aida refugee camp) we agreed that for the 45-minute drive each way (a considerable effort) 300 shekels for gas and car, and 100 for fruit and chocolate as gifts to the family. And then maybe a cash gift to the Bedouins, let’s say 50 shekels more; add 100 more as a special gift to Ayed. Which makes 550 shekels or about $150 for this interview.

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Aida refugee camp

Now I wonder, do the people I’ve interviewed so far expect payment? Should I offer payment to my assistants, Mousa and Murad?

I’m sure this is a continually vexing issue for any cross-cultural work. Only a rare bird, living in poverty, would turn down cash, or even not ask for it, or not suggest it.

October 8, 2018, Monday, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem

Another big day of exploration: with Ayed to a Bedouin camp in the Judean Desert, to meet this large family expelled from Ein Gedi. The patriarch, Khalil Mohammed Rashida (Abu Daifallah), 98 plus years old, a jovial, lively fellow missing most of his teeth, deaf, told his story as I’m sure he’s told it many times, at least within the family. He’s been deaf since his early 20’s, a result of a sheep kicking him in the head. First his son, then his grandson interpreted for him using grand gestures and slowly mouthing words so he could understand, this alone a remarkable achievement. Ayed also needed help with the Bedouin dialect. Four generations, 25 people live in this compound.

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Khalil Mohammed Rashida

Khalil’s original family had lived in Ein Gedi while shepherding sheep and goats in the desert high above the only oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea. They lived with Jews as neighbors and apparently had good relations until the Nakba. Among the armed men driving them from the village, he said he noticed Jews, former neighbors. Much later his son has been able to look down from cliffs above Ein Gedi to view their former home site. Precisely what these homes consisted of and how many Bedouins actually resided or based in that oasis, I’m not sure, or why Bedouins, being traditionally nomadic (altho this has been changing), would base themselves in a village or town. Using Bedouin and Ein Gedi as search terms I found mainly sites offering “Bedouin experiences” around Ein Gedi, meaning camping or simulations of Bedouin communities. I found nothing historical.

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Apartheid Wall around Aida refugee camp (click here for enlargement)

Driving there with Ayed, several times people riding camels (we stopped to photograph one group, the lead man had his phone out and I believe photographed me photographing him) he explained the series of displacements, from region to region, until Bedouins are again spread out over much of the desert region. This particular family is about 80 km northwest of their original home site.

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One of the first displacement sites was a series of blockhouses provided by Israel. Other Palestinians, not Bedouins, drove them out, demolishing their homes, claiming ownership of this land. Ayed stopped here to explain and I photographed. A young, very dark-skinned boy approached us, examined us. Ayed explained who we were. (I believe Ayed’s dark skin is an asset here, and of course his Arabic language and general appearance. How would I ever do this alone?)

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Earlier dwellings Israel built for expelled Bedouins

After our interview and dinner the son offered us a tour of the desert, ending at a former Jordanian military barracks, long unused and mostly ruined, with some gorgeous graffiti. Israel uses the entire region for military exercises. We stopped at a site with large concrete slabs. For tents, Ayed explained. Then the son offered to drive us to the cliff overlooking Ein Gedi, a 1 hour ride each way from the camp, but, sun descending, hour late, haze prevailing, I declined. We’d already driven nearly an hour to reach the family and had yet to return to Aida camp in the dark.

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Former Jordanian military barracks

Because I recorded audio of the interview potentially I will be able to pick up relevant details, more of Khalil’s story and those of his descendents, especially his grandson who studies at Beersheva Open University to become a Palestinian security officer. Because I asked few questions and the talk centered on Ayed, I was free to roam with my photography and catch details of the milieu, including another son and some of the great grand children of the main man. After our desert tour, photography continued when they sat us down to a meal of goat head (I tried the eyeball, fatty and stringy rather than meaty), stuffed intestines, stuffed grape leaves (my favorite), onions, and various other ingredients that remain a mystery to me. I photographed as we ate and the kids played around us, the son occasionally picking out food to give to the aged one and the kids. I thought of Native Indians on the Great Plains, me a guest from another world, sitting down to a meal of bison.

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Goat head stew

LINKS

Negev/Naqab Bedouin

Israeli control and displacement of Palestinian Bedouins

Ein Gedi

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands.

PHOTOS 

I am here because I care.

—Rachel Corrie

My Own Housing is at Risk

I am a low-income photographer, reliant on Social Security, photographic project funding, and until recently slender earnings from teaching (I left teaching due to enrollment decline and complicated scheduling). For many of my 30 years in a decent section of Cambridge I’m able to afford my 700 square feet apartment thanks to a Section 8 Housing Voucher. However, funding this benefit depends on city, state, and federal administrations. Each change of leadership—the current federal leadership terrifies me—reminds me of how precarious my situation is. A friend I’d shared this home with for a few years always declared, if they boot me out, I’d find a shelter to live in. I feel somewhat the same way, even tho shelters are chronically overcrowded and dangerous.

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My home in Cambridge Massachusetts (click here for enlargement)

My neighborhood in Cambridge, and also the Boston metro area, as well as much of our country, is currently gentrifying at an alarming rate. Gentrification means displacement, much as Israel displaced Palestinians during the Nakba. Less violent here perhaps, with some meager means of redress, but thousands are pushed from their homes as entire regions become too expensive to live in. A national crisis, a result of income and wealth inequality, exacerbated by the current federal government.

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My neighborhood, looking west

Because of the uncertainty of my housing I feel more sensitive to the precariousness of the housing of others. In East Jerusalem and in Area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank, Israel constantly demolishes Palestinian homes.

What about housing in the refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank? Currently the United States administration calls for the United Nations Refugee Works Administration (UNRWA), the main agency providing housing, food, and medical and legal assistance to the camp residents, to be defunded. The possible result—maybe intentional—is killing the refugee programs in Palestine, including housing, thereby squelching the demand for the right of Palestinian return.

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Gaza, 2010, photo by Skip Schiel © 

In 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield, purportedly in response to suicide operations by Palestinian militants, Israel invaded the 7 most populous regions in the West Bank, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Nablus among them. They destroyed much of the infrastructure, including housing. During that spring I recall going to bed thinking—fantasizing of course, but deeply concerned—that during the night, someone would demolish my home. Then awakening, my home intact, I offered thanks for another night and perhaps day in my home. I might not be able to afford increasing rents or the loss of my housing subsidy, but no one’s going to demolish it—yet it is a constant threat and a connection with Palestinians.

Context of my Palestine-Israel Work

I have studied, visited, photographed, filmed, written about, and presented about Palestine-Israel since the fall of 2003 when I participated with a delegation from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I felt compelled to witness for myself the reality of life in Palestine-Israel, to pass thru checkpoints, to be harassed by Israeli soldiers, to confront the Separation Wall. Initially the reasons I offered for why I am so attached to this project were four:

  • Oppression: during my experience in South Africa in 1990 and 1998 I began to understand the parallels between the two apartheid systems—and the close links between the two countries, South Africa and Israel. Which helped open my eyes to the brutal and illegal injustice perpetrated on the Palestinians by the Israelis. I was outraged, angry, burned inside. I needed to channel my anger, and decided, well I photograph, let’s try it there.
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South African during the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1999, photo by Skip Schiel © 

  • Jesus: I’m a follower of that great Jewish mystic and teacher, Yeshua, aka Jesus Christ. I don’t believe literally the supernatural parts of his story (not even sure he existed since the historical record is so sketchy) like the Immaculate Conception and Resurrection. I do attempt to follow his ethical teachings, non-violence and unconditional love in particular, which continue to affect me deeply. I’d grown up as a Catholic with images of the Holy Land in my schools, and—thanks to the Way of the Cross or Via Dolorosa—in the churches themselves, rendered in stained glass. The dust, donkeys, arches, wide expanses, hills, water, luminous sky all drew me, the Roman occupation itself. What’s it like there now? I had to experience the land of Jesus for myself. He lived during the Roman Occupation; I shall experience the Israeli Occupation.
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Jesus condemned by the  Sanhedrin (a Jewish judicial body)

  • The Mediterranean Light: photography depends on light, as does vision, not only neurological vision but philosophical vision, wisdom. From my first trip, that unearthly light continues to draw me back. What does it mean, how can I best work with it, how will others respond to my renderings of light? And why so many luminaries from such a small region? Not only Jesus, but Moses, Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, and all the prophets, male and female, and finally, because of his legendary night journey to visit God in heaven, the founder of Islam, one of the three Abrahamic faiths, Mohammed himself. Why so many, and yet there is no agreement on distribution of power?
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Mediterranean Sea, Gaza, Palestine
  • Rachel Corrie: In March 2003, a young woman took a leave of absence from college in Olympia Washington to heed the call of a friend in Gaza. She joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), entered Gaza, and stayed with a Palestinian family to protect their home from demolition. Wearing a bright orange reflective vest and shouting thru her bullhorn, Rachel Corrie stood in front of a gigantic Caterpillar D9 bulldozer (made by a US corporation) whose Israeli army soldier was about to demolish the home she protected. He crushed her, running the blade twice over her body. She became a shaheed, a martyr. Six months later, 14 months since Operation Defensive Shield, I made my first trip to Palestine-Israel.
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Rachel’s mother, Cindy, carrying the poster

Right of Return

All Jews anywhere, whatever their historic connections with Israel might be, have the right of return (Aliyah in Hebrew, “the act of going up”), with citizenship if desired and benefits such as housing, medical, educational, and others. Palestinians, despite their verifiable connections with the region, even when they can prove land ownership, cannot return to their original homes that existed before the Nakba in 1948. Is this not a massive contradiction, evidence of clear hypocrisy, unsustainable by international law?

The Law of Return was passed unanimously by the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, on July 5, 1950, 2 years after the Nakba, this date chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Zionist visionary Theodore Herzl.

It declared: “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh (immigrant).” Furthermore, in a declaration to the Knesset, the then Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion asserted that the law did not bestow a right but rather reaffirmed a right Jews already held: “This law does not provide for the State to bestow the right to settle upon the Jew [A Jew is defined as a person with a Jewish mother.] living abroad; it affirms that this right is inherent in him from the very fact of being a Jew; the State does not grant the right of return to the Jews of the diaspora. This right precedes the State; this right builds the State; its source is to be found in the historic and never broken connection between the Jewish people and the homeland.” (My emphasis)

In 1970 the Knesset extended this right to people with one Jewish grandparent and a person who is married to a Jew, whether or not he or she is considered Jewish under Orthodox interpretations of Halakha (collective body of Jewish religious law).

The refusal of the right of return plays an essential role in the apartheid regime by ensuring that the Palestinian population in Mandate Palestine does not grow to a point that would threaten Israeli military control of the territory and/or provide the demographic leverage for Palestinian citizens of Israel to demand (and obtain) full democratic rights, thereby eliminating the Jewish character of the State of Israel….

In 1948, General Assembly resolution 194(III) resolved that “the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so” and that compensation should be provided to the rest. Israel has rejected the application of that resolution on security grounds and on the basis of the “demographic threat” of a Palestinian majority: in the unlikely event that the entire Palestinian population of refugees and involuntary exiles returned to Palestine en masse, the Palestinian population under Israeli rule would total some 12 million, electorally overwhelming the 6.5 million Jews in Israel. Even if that refugee population returned in numbers sufficient only to generate a Palestinian majority (as is far more likely), Israel would be forced into either adopting an explicitly apartheid policy in order to exclude them, and abandoning democracy altogether, or enfranchising them and abandoning the vision of Israel as a Jewish State….

Report by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, commissioned by the Economic ad Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA0), published in 2017, and then under pressure withdrawn.

Grief & Outrage

Dear Friends,

The news of the mass shooting during shabbat services at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this morning is simply terrifying. 

News is still coming in, but we know that at least 10 people have been killed, that the shooter was a white man who entered the sanctuary yelling “kill all the Jews,” and that he might have specifically been motivated by the synagogue’s work supporting refugees and immigrants. 

I want first to send love, strength and solidarity to our beloved Jewish communities facing fear and harm today.  

Please join JVPers [Jewish Voice for Peace participants] tomorrow, Sunday October 28th [2018] at 12 pm PST/3pm EST for a virtual grief ritual with Rabbi Margaret Holub of the JVP Rabbinical Council. We will hold space to grieve and mourn and rage together.  

Register now: Mourning and Healing in the Times of White Supremacy and Antisemitism with Rabbi Margaret Holub. 

I know everyone at JVP is committed to fight white supremacy and anti-Jewish hatred, and I definitely know that we need everyone – including you – there with us. We must rely on each other, especially in an era when national leaders foment this type of violence.

May the memories of those whose lives were lost this morning be for a blessing.

With love and rage,
Alissa

My concluding motivation is finally recognizing the grief and outrage I feel about expelled Palestinian refugees. I first felt this—minimally, largely subconsciously—when researching the topic, meeting and interviewing real people, photographing them, visiting their sites of expulsion, and now, during post production, reviewing their stories, looking into their eyes, posting their images publicly.

The slaughter of 11 Jews in the Tree of Life (ironic name) synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 exposed my grief. I wept nearly uncontrollably about the Pittsburgh news and almost every time the topic arose. Why, I asked myself, do I feel so strongly about this mass murder when there have been so many others in recent years and I’ve not responded so dramatically? Yes, I have close Jewish friends, Sy, Shola, Stan, Rebecca, Laura; they could be threatened. The day after that massacre I joined an online virtual grieving session organized by Jewish Voice for Peace. During a breakout group, as I prepared to offer a thumbnail of my feelings, the reason for my current grief suddenly cleared to me.

To my colleagues who lived in different parts of the world and were probably mostly Jewish I said that I felt so strongly about the 11 Jews murdered, and their family and friends who also suffered loss, because until this moment I’d not yet fully acknowledged my grief about the Palestinian refugees. The 11 deaths in the synagogue—and the news that the murderer picked that particular Jewish group because it supported immigrants, Jewish and non-Jewish—keyed my feelings about the deaths suffered by the Palestinians, not only their homes, and in some cases actual lives, as result of the expulsion, but the loss of their ancestral homelands, regions of the earth, sacred to them, owned for centuries, perhaps millennia, ripped from them, as the lives of the Jewish synagogue members and their families and friends were tragically redirected.

Irrational tho it may be, I finally understood more of why I engage in this project.

  • 11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts, by Campbell RobertsonChristopher Mele and Sabrina Tavernise (Oct 27, 2018)
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) (Supported by the Tree of Life Synagogue and referred to by the alleged shooter)
    HIAS works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of who they are, including ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. For more than 130 years, HIAS has been helping refugees rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.

Postscript: On one of my much earlier work trips I inadvertently drove past a sign announcing Canada Park in Israel. I’d heard about it, built with money donated by Canadians, on land previously owned by Palestinians. Now forested to erase the history, I drove in briefly. I didn’t realize then this was my first attempt on the project I began many years later, “On Our Way Home.”

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Lake near the Date Palm Spring, Ayalon Canada Park, photo by Yaakov Shkolnik

ADDITIONAL LINKS

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  • A Jew Reflects on the Nakba, by Noam Sheizaf (May 2011)
    Denying the Nakba—forgetting our role in it and ignoring its political implications—is denying our own identity.
  • American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup, by Jonathan Weisman, the deputy Washington editor of The New York Times (January 2019)
    Is the world ready for another Great Schism?

    Promised Land, by The Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience
    The Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience was founded to provide a Jewish perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Jewish perspective is rooted in Jewish values, to treat our neighbor as we would want to be treated.

    THE LAST OF MY MOTIVATION SERIES BUT I WILL CONTINUE MY MAIN SERIES ABOUT INTERNALLY EXPELLED PALESTINIANS.

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands.

PHOTOS

The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.

—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Linda Dittmar and her Memoir Project: Destroyed Arab Villages

Thanks to a dear friend, several years ago I met Linda Dittmar, an Israeli Jew who grew up during the Nakba and lives now in Cambridge. I’d heard that she was writing her memoir and it was in large part about the expulsion of the Palestinians and the destruction of their villages during and after the 1948 war. She partnered with a friend, Deborah Bright, a well-known photographer, who made images of the destroyed villages. Just the term “destroyed Arab villages” and the conjunction of Israeli Jew sparked my interest. Last summer we spoke and wrote and compared our projects. She’s provided me numerous leads and resources, such as the book, All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, by Walid Khalidi which I thoroughly devoured as my project evolved.

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Linda Dittmar

We now share our writing and my photography. I feel we are partners in our separate but deeply related undertakings She offers a Jewish Israeli perspective living thru the Nakba, the Palestinian expulsion, expressing her earliest and then more recent perspectives on what her country did to force Palestinians from their homelands. I am more distant, less directly involved. I bring understanding and expression of this same phenomenon. I feel we inspire each other, we are mutually supportive, we provide contrasting points of view.

Separately we’ve both visited the site of the notorious massacre of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem. We’ve yet to compare our experiences but will. I can imagine returning with her to the entire region and visiting the sites of expulsion, hearing her describe her experiences, as I share mine.

Her account is first person, as a young Israeli, including her period in the Israeli army, and mine is the third person observer, involved by being a United States’ citizen, complicit in the ongoing Nakba by my nation’s unwavering support of apartheid Israel. If she feels guilty, it is as an Israeli. I don’t feel guilty; I do accept responsibility because of my citizenship.

I’ve arranged for her to speak at my Quaker meeting on March 17, 2019, Sunday, 1 PM.

While this work continues to be extremely painful for me, it is an ethical and political necessity–an acknowledgement, apology, and reparation that we, Israelis, owe the Palestinians, along the lines of South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation” hearings and the Arab conciliation ceremony. “Sulkha.” Like others, I see acknowledgement as crucial to Israel’s survival, whatever form it take.

—Linda Dittmar

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Qula, near Lydd (Lod), 2010, photo by Deborah Bright/Zochrot

Since 2005, Deborah Bright, photographer and retired academic, and Linda Dittmar, writer and film scholar, have collaborated on a project titled “Destruction Layer,” documenting sites in Israel where Palestinian Arab villages and urban neighborhoods existed prior to 1948. The project brings together Bright’s long-standing interest as a photographer in how landscapes are continually rewritten to tell particular stories of heritage and nationhood, and Dittmar’s perspective as a third-generation Israeli who writes about issues of memory and identity in contemporary Israeli and Palestinian personal documentary films. (From a notice of a talk they gave in 2009)

Points of Departure — Part 2, by Linda Dittmar (November 5, 2017)
A Jewish Israeli Encounters the Nakba (in Jewish Currents)

Deborah Bright’s photos, “Nakba”

Detroit—Coming Home: Johnny, my Detroit Neighbor

 

Since 2010 I’ve photographed regularly in Detroit, Michigan, unsure until recently why I’ve been so drawn to this city. Initial reasons I thought of are the flat land and distinctive Midwestern accent (familiar from growing up in Chicago), a city in change (improving conditions in the largely white central core, persisting suffering in the remaining mostly black 80% of the city), a sense of entrapment (Detroiters restricted by poverty from moving out or significantly improving their conditions), neighboring Dearborn (where I visit and photographer regularly, the region[Metro Detroit] with the largest Arab-American population in the United States, sending the first Palestinian American to Congress in 2018; Palestinians were among the first Arabs to settle in Dearborn, drawn by the young automobile industry) and the water crisis (shutoffs in Detroit and poisoned water in nearby Flint—water has been a major theme for my photography). What might link Detroit and Palestine? I’ve asked myself. Is there any connection? Palestinians are highly restricted, in the West Bank by the Occupation, and in Gaza by the siege, unable to leave or re-enter. And by water injustice in Detroit and Palestine; Israel completely controls Palestinians’ water.

However another connection occurred to me one year ago while I interviewed my African-American neighbor and good friend in Detroit , Johnny Price, about his—or our—neighborhood: I have finally come home. Come home to the Southside of Chicago, Detroit as Chicago. Finally, after my earlier years of self-exile, and then the curiosity of what actually living again on the Southside might feel like, here I am home again, if only periodically. In Detroit, as if in Chicago.

Thru this process, this powerful experience of the heart, I gain some awareness of what return to homeland could mean for the expelled Palestinians and their families. How they had been ripped from their villages, lost most of their possessions and all of their land, ended up as refugees, often unable to return home, usually without even photos of their families, longing, dreaming, maybe even hoping for justice. Oh to return, not only to visit but to remain. As I, in my imagination, returned to live in Chicago by regularly visiting Detroit.

Detroit rallies largest turnout for Palestine in years, by Jimmy Johnson (July 2014)

Palestinian-American candidate (now Congresswoman) Rashida Tlaib is source of West Bank pride, by Mohammed Daraghmeh (August 2018)

Curiosity: Human Beings and their Ancestral Homelands

Simple curiosity, not sufficient for this project, but necessary, a fundamental driver.

Who are these people, these refugees, those expelled? Where do they live, what are their conditions, how is their health, how is it affected by their expulsion, what do they remember, how do they feel about their losses, are they embarrassed by their classification as refugees, is their suffering visible, would they like to return and if so would they like to travel with me, how do the generations preserve and propagate their stories, how did they physically move themselves and the few belongings they carried when expelled, what do they think of the Israeli’s, what form would justice take for them?—a plethora of topics to inquire respectfully about.

In addition, those homes they lost, their ancestral homelands. Where are they, how do I reach them, can I access them, how do they appear now, can I photograph them, what remains of the buildings, what would those I interview like me to bring back from their homelands or deposit there from where they live now, are the people memorialized or publicly remembered in any way by the Israeli’s, what would Israeli’s I meet say if anything when I visit these sites and tell them why I’m photographing, would they prevent me from photographing if they knew?—another set of curiosities.

And a third, my capability to carry this off. Can I effectively show people while talking with them, photographer, interviewer, and audio engineer simultaneously? Will I intrude across cultural barriers if I photograph their home interiors? This black and white-color schema that I’ve adopted, how effective is it? Who can offer useful feedback about it and about the photographs generally? And the home sites, many of them rubble, touching but photographable? Can I show rubble powerfully? Or parks or new Israeli communities built on or near the original sites? Should I use video at any point? How can I be sure what I claim to be homeland is actually homeland? Israel has Hebraized almost all names, Al-Qabu becomes Mevo Beitar. Many of the maps are only in Hebrew. How well will my Google Maps direct me to these sites? Will I run out of money? Can I ask funders to dig deeper?

This curiosity in all its manifestations motivated me to begin, now motivates me to continue my project. I read a great deal prior to my first visit in the fall of 2018, assuming the project would require a series of visits. Linda had suggested and I avidly read Erased from Space and Consciousness, by Noga Kadman; Return, a Palestinian Memoir, by Ghada Karmi; Palestine Reborn, by Walid Khalidi; and Palestine Walks, by Raja Shehadeh. I researched while living in Palestine-Israel. I recorded with an audio recorder the interviews, hoping to flesh out my photography later. I carried a laptop with me to the homelands so I could make use of research I’d collected and raise new questions that occurred to me on the road. Home now, preparing for a return next spring, new questions arise, so I do more research. Curiosity spawns curiosity. It never ends.

LINKS

Between anger and denial: Israeli collective memory and the Nakba (2012)
A new documentary aims to decipher some of the anxiety that accompanies the Israeli debate over the events of 1948.

ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD – Short Version from Naretiv Productions on Vimeo.

Part 3 of motivations coming soon.

 

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands.

PHOTOS

I am the one who says to himself: From the smallest things are born the largest thoughts.

—Mahmoud Darwish

I’ll attempt to list my motivations in order, not of priority, but chronologically as I changed over my 78 years, led (as Quaker say) or dragged (which may be more accurate) to my current photographic project, “On Our Way Home,” about internally displaced (expelled would be more accurate) Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and eventually Gaza.

Self exile from Chicago’s Southside

First, my own personal homeland, the Southside of Chicago.

As a prelude to this section I’ll describe much revelry one night from my backyard at the end of last summer. A barbecue, possibly by the Somalian family, talking, laughing, the odors of meats wafting thru my small apartment in Cambridge Massachusetts, gave me great pleasure, even if I didn’t personally attend. That they can live here, enjoy a relatively safe and free life, my neighbors. It provokes me to wonder: how many of my Southside Chicago neighbors were recent immigrants when I grew up there in the 1940s and 1950s? Zolly, or Zoltan, for instance, last name Rinkach, possibly East European, possibly fleeing the holocaust? Then the boy from Hungary escaping the Soviets in the early 1950s. Becky Caravassas’ family, from an impoverished Greece? Oh, to return, not only to return to my original neighborhood, my homeland, but to return as it was then and interview people to learn their stories of migration.

An explanation about growing up on the Southside: from 1942 to 1955 I lived with my family in an all-White neighborhood near Avalon Park. African-Americans began moving into neighborhoods near ours. My parents worried about violence, feared decaying public education opportunities, and expected falling real estate values; so we moved to an all-White suburb, Arlington Heights, northwest of Chicago. This was curiously the same summer—1955—Rosa Parks helped spark the bus boycott in Montgomery Alabama, oppressed South Africans drafted their Freedom Charter in Soweto which charted their drive to end apartheid, and White extremists murdered Emmett Till (who also lived on the Southside) in Money, Alabama. This was the year our family became, ignobly, the first White family to flee our neighborhood, a decision that excluded me, a life-changing decision that to this moment I regret. Truly 1955 was a momentous year.

For several years I returned to my old neighborhood to visit friends I’d grown up with since kindergarten, Tom, Mitch, Ise, Green, Tim, Kruli, Becky, Pat, Sandy, Lynn, and Jack Kosina. None of their families had left. About 8 years later, probably in the early 1960s, on my way from Arlington Heights to the Southside, I needed to transfer commuter rail trains downtown in the Loop. Asking a policeman where to catch the Southside train he said, Southside? I wouldn’t advice it, too dangerous, lots of Black people. That began my expulsion from my homeland—of my own making, from fear. I exiled myself. By my own decision, I could not return to my homeland.

AH to Southside

Arlington Heights to Chicago’s Southside via public transport

In 1982, about twenty years later, thanks to my courageous and sensitive 13 year old daughter, Katy, she said when we were visiting my family in Arlington Heights, dad, I believe you’d like to visit your old neighborhood in Chicago; let’s borrow grandma’s car and drive down together. Which ended my self-imposed exile of some 2 decades. This experience sensitized me to the plight of refugees and immigrants—it began my slowly evolving process.

Enveloping global refugee and immigrant crisis

the-italian-coastguardmassimo-sestini-hundreds-of-refugees-and-migrants-aboard-a-fishing-boat-moments-before-being-rescued-by-the-italian-navy-as-part-of-their-mare-nostrum-operation-in

Hundreds of refugees and migrants aboard a fishing boat moments before being rescued by the Italian Navy as part of their Mare Nostrum operation in June 2014. Photo by The Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini

Over the last 25 years wars have raged in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, often USA inspired; Syria exploded; the climate crisis manifests dramatically with droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other environmental disasters; economic conditions in the southern hemisphere deteriorated, often again because of USA policies; and people fled, creating a momentous army of migrants, forced by conditions to abandon homes, livelihoods, families, and ancestral regions, overwhelming countries like Norway and Sweden which had historically welcomed refugees and immigrants. Nearly all countries have invoked harsher measures to block newcomers seeking refuge.

I viewed the black and white images of the brilliant Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his Human Migration Project, moved deeply by the suffering of these human beings forced to flee desperate conditions. Several years ago the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), as part of their fundraising campaign, mailed me a photograph made in 2014 by the Italian photographer, Massimo Sestini. From above it shows a boatload of some 200 people, different colors, different stories, all smiling and waving, hoping, praying. I hang this photograph over my kitchen door to remind me and guests of this phenomenon, this crucial and expanding need.

In late spring 2017, Ana, threatened with deportation, fled her home near Boston, fearing for her life if our country deported her back to her homeland, Ecuador. She is now in sanctuary in a Cambridge church where I volunteer for protective duty, part of a coalition of Christian and Jewish communities in Cambridge. I face her regularly; I am a tiny part of her survival. She is a refugee, like those sung about by Woody Guthrie in his majestic song, “Deportee.” She embodies the issue.

The Great March of Return in Gaza

VP-GazaReturnMarch-Refinements-20180503 copy

Now [December 12, 2018] the death toll is nearly 200 and still climbing.

Gaza-border-women-soldiersCROP-SM copy.jpg

In late march 2018, hundreds of mostly young Palestinians in Gaza began a weekly series of nonviolent marches to the fence between Gaza and Israel. They named it the Great March of Return, calling for return to their homelands, many within a few miles of Gaza. Refugees in Gaza make up some 80% of the two million population. From the beginning of the march Israeli army snipers wounded and killed Palestinians.

[As of December 12, 2018] according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, 194 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since March 30.

Of them, 141 were killed during demonstrations, including 28 children, one woman, two journalists, three paramedics and three differently abled people.

Another 9,970 were injured, including 1,815 children, 419 women, 114 paramedics, and 105 journalists. Of those injured, 5,645 were hit by live fire, including 919 children and 113 women.

One Israeli soldier has died after being shot on July 20, 2018, during the protests.

Later some Palestinians used violent tactics such as flying incendiary kites and balloons into Israel. As of this writing these homemade weapons have destroyed some 1,200 hectares (nearly 3,000 acres) of Israeli farms and forests, more than half of the forested land in the region. Perhaps Hamas, classified by some as a terrorist organization while in fact they are the legally and openly elected government, contributed to this series of protests by providing tents and transport, maybe also inspiration to use violent tactics. Regardless of how precisely the protests were directed, many Palestinians continue to suffer under massive oppression, sanctified by my government.

I was distraught. I’ve been in Gaza 6 times since 2004, photographing programs of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), photographing conditions there generally, and publishing a book called Eyewitness Gaza. I have many friends with whom I continually communicate like Amahl, Ibrahem, Ban, Montaser, and Mustafa, and I’ve broadened my view by regularly meeting Israelis living within rocket range of Gaza, Nomika, Yeela, and Eric. These Israelis suffer attacks from the homemade rockets and mortars crudely aimed but often hitting civilian areas. I’ve made a movie called Gaza’s Israeli Neighbors: Other Voice which features a small group of courageous Israelis who call for their country to negotiate rather than bomb and invade. I try to show some of the consequences of the ongoing, seemingly unquenchable anger and violence, such as the high rate of PTSD suffered by neighboring Israelis —they call this the “Invisible Illness. Estimates claim between one-third and two-thirds of children in the city of Sderot suffer PTSD. In Gaza I am convinced the proportion is much higher.

Are any of the protesters in Gaza my former students, friends, colleagues, or families of those people? What about the young family of Ban and Islam? Thru my teaching I helped the parents meet each other. Or Ibrahem and his new family, Ibrahem once bemoaning to me the pain of still being single while in his 30s. Or Marwan crafting the publicity for the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, who is reliably in touch with me? In the fall of 2018 he offered to help host me on my recent attempt to enter Gaza for my refugee project.

This is personal. Regardless of the exact methodology and leadership of the Great March of Return I realized in March I could leap over that fence—as a photographer, a proxy Palestinian—with my international, White, American privilege to return to those homelands many in Gaza were ejected from since 1948. After interviewing and photographing refugees in Gaza I could then photograph their homelands, later return to Gaza with an exhibit, and eventually broadcast my findings to a wider audience. I would use the photosphere to help argue for their right of return, as verified by numerous UN resolutions.

Next: part three of my interim report, further discussion of my motivations

First part of this interim report

LINKS

A movie by Skip Schiel about courageous Israelis advocating for talks, not tanks, diplomacy, not war.

Living within one mile of Gaza, these Israelis suffer the brunt of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, most recently infiltration as well. Yet some have formed an organization called Other Voice that calls for an intelligent and humane response to the violence and injustice in their neighborhood, in league with similarly minded Gazans.

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Gaza (once I can enter) and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

I draw this short update from my journal about a presentation I made recently to a photographers’ group I belong to, Whitelight. One of three presenters, I showed samples of what I’ve done since I returned home on October 19, 2018 after 6 weeks in Palestine-Israel. I then facilitated a discussion about black and white vs color photography, a topic affecting many photographers now that digital technology makes conversion so simple.

PHOTOS (latest photo post, as of December 3, 2018)

November 20, 2018, Tuesday, Cambridge MA (journal)

REPORT

Last evening [November 19, 2018] at Whitelight, I presented my prints from the refugee series, sequencing them earlier, offering in words just the title and the subtitle (“On Our Way Home,” about internally displaced Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, later Gaza), holding each print of the nine up and passing them around. (I wish to resist the incessant and often self-defeating habit of many photographers, “This is a photograph of… I made it when….It is about…”) 

I then described how I made the series and what I intend, with lots of discussion. One central question is my BW-color scheme, how well does this works (Sy noticed the partial BW-partial color image from the Bedouin series, no discussion of this unfortunately.) I’d forgotten that I’d sent a sample comparison series to the Whitelight group earlier while in Palestine-Israel, getting feedback only from Suzi.

yousef-color-bw

Yousef Albaba in color and black and white

Questions included (some during my presentation, some later in the evening)—how I gain access to people; how I develop trust; honoring requests to not include certain photos (like N’s impaired brother and nephews which he feels would embarrass the family); whether BW accentuates suffering and thus distorts the reality of lives, extending or magnifying them, thereby falsifying their lives; and a variety of other issues about BW-color.

I did not show my directory which helps me keep track of who and where I’ve photographed, or my crude mockup of how a page might look in the book I intend to publish.

Mock up of page showing BW-color schema

Nor did I show the information I’d compiled to aid my search for ancestral locations. In this I’d added BW historic photos to orient me to what I might find at the sites.

Refugee project locations

And we ran out of time to watch a representative video of my tour thru Mevo Beitar, an Israeli agricultural community (moshav) built on or near the destroyed Arab village of Al Qabu. I videoed and photographed in several Israeli communities and will include these in the final book.

 

DISCUSSION OF BLACK AND WHITE VS COLOR

Which led directly to the second half which I facilitated, BW and color. I chose to use the popular education model which draws out what people already know by fostering interaction. Brainstorm: what comes to mind when you hear BW, graphically and emotionally? Who comes to mind as exemplars of BW photography? Questions for discussion: why choose one modality over another? Can you switch your seeing modes when choosing one over another? Is there a difference between choosing a scene to later convert to BW and deciding only later in post production to convert? This seemed rich to me. (Now I regret I’d not asked someone who could print better to transcribe the responses, and I regret not making a record of the responses because they were helpful.) I then showed examples of BW photography, many new to me that I’d uncovered researching the topic.

Among my discoveries and questions from this conversation, during the analog era when we had to choose BW or color film, did this choice affect what we photographed? That the brain may respond dramatically differently to color vs BW. And that there are grades or variations of BW renderings. Consider the differences between Sabastiao Salgado, W. Eugene Smith, and Dorothea Lange—silvery, chiaroscuro, and flat, respectively.

I believe people appreciated the open discussion following this more formal part. My challenge as facilitator was to open the floor to all without anyone dominating or remaining quiet. Some of my colleagues are chatter boxes, some pontificate, while others remain silent. Some offer astute observation and ask searching questions. I could have handled this problem better. I also forgot to invite people to exhibit their BW photos they brought in; I’d earlier sent an email inviting all to bring their own prints.

Earlier, at the end of Sy’s presentation about Christian churches, I asked him, Sy, with your background what motivated you to photograph churches? I felt a slight gasp from the group, as if I’d opened something others were thinking about but were embarrassed to say. Well, he explained (paraphrasing), Jewish services and synagogues tend to be rather dour; I find the Christian churches full of life and color. Plus, they’re exotic to me who grew up with synagogues.

Likewise, during Rich Lapping’s presentation I asked him if he knows before he goes out to photograph whether he’ll render color or BW. I believe he answered that he carries two cameras, one adapted for infrared, the other for BW or color and makes the decision in the field.

Godafoss, Richard Lapping

This morning [November 20, 2018] I reviewed what I and the group did last evening for next steps in my refugee project:

NEXT STEPS

For more feedback show this initial set of prints to Nidal and Amahl (who are Palestinian American; Nidal was born in Aida refugee camp where I photographed and resided), and perhaps others locally who struggle for Palestinian rights, like Rick, Steve and Barbara, and the media group of Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston. Maybe form a focus group (oh, Louise, where are you now when I most need you?) with specific questions.

Use the set to form a photographers’ group, inviting people working on a specific project—Jon, Linda, Melinda, Suzi, others from my recent photography workshops; Sy, Rich, Carla, of Whitelight; Lou, Don, Reggie, others from the old Struggles Against Racism Collective; Social Documentary Network and the Photographic Resource Center.

What next to print? What videos to edit? To write? To research? To seek feedback on and from? Any interim versions like slideshows or print exhibits while heading toward publication of a book? When to return to the region, to do what? How to enter Gaza? How to effectively raise the obvious question of why Jews everywhere have the right of return to Israel, even if they have no provably connection, while Palestinians in Palestine-Israel and the diaspora, even if they have documentation of residency in the general region, have absolutely no right of return? Why do so few question Israel’s right to control access to Gaza, which affects me since I need to enter Gaza for my project?

MAP-Expropriated land by JNF

Jewish National Fund (JNF) confiscated 2,500,000 donums (1 donum=1/4 acres) which belonged to 372 Palestinian villages, comprising 55% of the registered refugees. Source of Parks’ identification: Noga Kadman, “Erased from Space and Consciousness-Depopulated Palestinian villages in the Israeli-Zionist Discourse” (Master’s thesis in Peace and Development Studies), Dept of Peace and Development research, Goteborg University, November 2001.

NEXT BLOG

What motivates me to do all this?

LINKS

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Gaza (once I can enter) and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

PHOTOS

October 4, 2018, Thursday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

With Mousa’s help (my arranger and translator), yesterday [October 3, 2018] I photographed Fatima Al Khawaja from the destroyed village of Ajjur. For the first time in this series 4 generations showed up: Fatima who is about 102, her son, his son, and the grandson’s 2 sons and 1 daughter. She stressed the rural quality of village life, how close to the earth they’d lived. Spontaneously Fatima and the great grand kids posed for a final photo. The son and grandson did not allow me to photograph them, but the grandson, contravening another order from someone else, allowed me to photograph the bedroom of the son.

As Mousa and I left, the son spontaneously said I’d love to go with you to the village. Previously he and his son had shown me on their phones photos they’d found on the Internet. I responded, yes, when? Which seemed to startle him and caused a conversation in Arabic between him and Mousa. Well, I’m not sure, I’ll think about it, I’ll be in touch with Mousa. I’d never anticipated this prospect, one of the families I’d photographed going with me to the ancestral site.

 

This site, Ajjur (renamed by Israel Agur), north of Hebron, is accessible with a permit by former residents, and the oldest 3 generations have all visited. They tell me that Israeli Jews live there now, mostly in new buildings, the old ones torn down, but a few remain like the school and the mayor’s home. Repurposed I surmise. Fatima had fled first to Halhul, where Yousef Albaba (who I’d photographed earlier) is from and now lives, but she didn’t know him. The youngers said they’d heard all these stories before, from when they were very young.

Ajjur:Agur-BethlehemWalk

Ajjur Bethlehem trek

Ajjur to Bethlehem, a climb of 840 meters or more than 500 feet

For a 102-year-old woman she seemed reasonably coherent. This all in translation of course. Mousa told me during the interview she often repeated stories but her memory seemed sharp. I believe she said she thinks about Ajjur every day, which is a common thread among my interviews. I meant to ask her about her health, and how she thinks her experience of expulsion influenced her health, a question I’ve asked of others or without me asking they spoke to. She would like me to bring to her some cactus from Ajjur.

Outside, after dark, I photographed the building with its eerie red glow induced by the street lighting.

The long trek, the long and winding road. This refers also to the trek those expelled from their homelands made to their eventual refuges, their new homes, often in refugee camps such as Aida where Fatima now lives. In many cases, walking, bringing only what they could carry. I plan to later extend the interviews to learn how they moved.

(By the way, the son who’d offered to return to Ajjur with me never followed up.)

LINKS

1948 Palestinian Exodus (expulsion)

Palestinian refugees and the right of return (American Friends Service Committee)

Ajjur 

Aida refugee camp

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza (once I can enter) and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

PHOTOS

September 14, 2018, Friday, Bethlehem

Yesterday afternoon [September 13, 2018] I photographed and interviewed Mousa’s grandmother, Rowaida Al Azzeh (Um Waleed). Unfortunately at 83 her memory is failing (death and debilitation make this project particularly urgent). Mousa [my arranger and translator] told me later that he’d not realized how much memory had disappeared since her last interview. He told me also that living in the camp shortens one’s age. The slow death.

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9387.jpg

His grandmother came from a village about 25 km southwest of Aida refugee camp where she now lives, Beit Jibreen (renamed by the Israelis and built over: Beit Givrin). She’s visited several times after expulsion, most recently in 1991, because then Israeli invoked fewer restrictions on return. She lives in a relatively large house built after the family leveled their first UN-provided tiny concrete block house to build a new larger, more modern home. Twelve years old when the Israeli military expelled the family, they went first to Jericho, then Jordan after being confronted and nearly blocked by Jordanian soldiers. They settled in a UN refugee camp still existing in Jordan, Al Wihdat. Despite many Palestinians fleeing/immigrating to Jordan, her family wished to remain in the shriveled portion of historic Palestine left after partition in 1947 by the UN and Israel’s military conquest in 1948. They wished to stay among friends and family so they returned to Palestine.

Despite anticipating sadness, she wants to see photos of her village—what remains. (Which I hope to provide in part two of this project, photographing what remains, mostly in 1948 Israel.

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9392.jpg

She used her hands effectively, communicating what words might fail to transmit, especially in translation. With my camera I concentrated on them.

During this interview, Mousa’s aunt, the grandmother’s daughter, Nisreen, maybe in her 40s, dark, thin, conducted and translated most of the interview. To support her ailing mother she lives in the same building on the first floor. Other family share the home on upper levels. (I reside in the Aida camp in an apartment across the street from the family home provided by Rowaida’s son, Ayed, who has been extraordinarily helpful in clarifying details and assuring that I honor cultural norms.)

Nisreen is a supervisor with the health services for the Palestinian Authority’s school system in Bethlehem. When photographing the house—which to most people seems a strange request (one of my visions for this series was to follow and photograph people as they lived, in the manner of Gene Smith and his seminal photo series, “The Country Doctor,” and I still might if I find the right person; could be Eyad himself, or Abed, the founder-director of the Al Rowwad Art and Cultural Center in the Aida Camp)—I included, with her permission, her room. (Later I deleted the photos at her request because of privacy considerations). After I thought I’d finished photographing 3 rooms, Nisreen suggested I include a large photograph of Mousa’s great grandfather, Rowaida’s father, Adel Majed Al Azza (Abu Awni), looking very regal. I did that as well.

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Mousa (Mohammed) Al Azzeh (L), Nisreen Al Azeeh (C)

Compared to what some might expect in a refugee camp, her house is grand. Baronial even. I could live in such a house.

I have persisting problems with the audio recorder, perhaps now rivaling Studs Terkel, the famed interviewer, writer, and radio host, in klutziness (not in interviewing skill). Partially because of translation, also in some cases my age, and definitely without much corollary experience, I’m having a tough time simultaneously interviewing and photographing. I need to think about the recorder, the camera, the photography, the person, his or her story, the context, what I’ve already asked, etc. Making this an unpleasant experience. I’d much prefer working with a partner who interviews while I photograph. Despite that problem, the first set of the first woman which I’ve sent to others for comments seem a little better than decent.

LINKS (new ones)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

September 12, 2018, Wednesday, Bethlehem

PHOTOS

Maybe for this writing, only notes, because I meet the team in 1 hour for breakfast and then hurry off to our first AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) training. Luckily my equipment is ready: I’d prepped it for Mousa [arranger and translator] and then didn’t use it because he was late and I’d left. And yesterday I used the audio recorder in the field for the first time with our meeting with Ali Abu Awwad and his organization Taghyeer south of Bethlehem.

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1677.jpg

Ahmad Ali Dawoud

  • Man, 90 yrs old, 22 when fled
  • From village of Ellar/’Illar/Allar southwest of Jerusalem
  • Lives in one room, shares kitchen, family in same building, wife dead
  • No photos of family because they won’t care for him (did I hear that correctly?)
  • Went back multiple times for food, equipment, etc, at night avoided streets, never caught
  • Once shot at, hit in the shoe, uninjured (shows foot)
  • Active politically, demos etc
  • Theme of key
  • Had money, could rent, but first space was offered free
  • Both he and wife came to Bethlehem first because of proximity to village
  • Vibrant way of speaking, which I tell him I notice
  • Often interviewed because of his age
  • Compliment him on his memory
  • Thinks about village every day
  • It is now Israeli and built up
  • Wishes to return with me, possible because he’s old and won’t be stopped (another virtue of age)
  • Mousa would not be able to go (too young and without a permit)
  • Village near Bethlehem?

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1621.jpg

Key to his ancestral home

  • Feel project has finally, fitfully begun, actual people and stories
  • Whether to video or photograph?
  • How use narration, get it translated?
  • Not particularly pleased with my first photos
  • Return to photograph full front, into camera, as a starter and finisher

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1672.jpg

His village

  • Odd juxtaposition of my project and Taghyeer (Ali Abu Awwad’s resistance organization using nonviolence)
  • Mousa and I work reasonably well together, given the language and cultural differences
  • Finally know my way between Aida refugee camp where I photograph and Casa Nova guest house on Manger Sq where I reside with the AVP team—what a contrast!

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

 

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands. (and as I photograph the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) trainings at least in Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, Gaza as well if I get my entry permit from Israel)

September 18, 2018, Tuesday, Hebron

PHOTOS (of Yousef Albaba)

PHOTOS (of the Jaffa Gate/Bab al Khalil area where he was expelled from in 1948)

Palestine-Refugee-Halhul__DSC9967.jpg

Palestine-Refugee-Halhul__DSC9974.jpgThis afternoon’s mission had begun as part of my project, to meet, interview, and photograph Eman Wawi’s grandfather. (She was one of the translators and facilitators for our Alternatives to Violence Project [AVP] trainings.) I’d asked earlier and she’d agreed. Initially she suggested her grandfather but she changed that to another old man with better memory. Now we waited in her home with her family for her cousin who would drive us to meet the man in Halhul where he lived. Thanks to Rebecca who grew tired and impatient waiting for the cousin, she persuaded Eman to phone someone and so we finally departed after meeting her father, enjoying the family’s hospitably. We moved on.

Palestine-Refugee-Halhul__DSC9976

With Eman Wawi

Growing up in Halhul she seemed to know most everyone we met on the street. She hailed a friend to drive us to meet a taxi. The old man we were to meet, Yousef Albaba, was waiting for us with a retinue of family. Perhaps they expected a professional crew of moviemakers, not we simple people with limited equipment and skills.

Halhul map-OVAL.jpg

Once again I proved the signature klutz in operating equipment. On my new audio recorder I’ve mastered the settings, for now, but forgot again that Standby mode, means for a sound check, and is not the Operation mode. So the first part of this energetic tale, aided considerably by Eman and the man’s son, later by Rebecca, is forever lost. Luckily I eventually noticed the recorder was resting, switched it from Standby to Record, and tried to recover some of the loss by re-asking some key questions.

The essence of his story is that he was raised in Halhul, moved to the Old City of Jerusalem in the mid 1940s, apparently posted there as a Palestinian policeman, shifted into some commercial work selling and transporting grapes grown in his village, and two years later Israel displaced him and his entire neighborhood at the start of the Nakba. His is a much different story than the usual: He had a home to return to. Does he qualify as internally displaced?

Regardless of his actual story, he is a radiant man, often with a wry smile, 90 years old, a walker beside him, wears an unusual cap, uses his hands effectively, family around him, apparently practiced in telling his story. I notice that such stories are part of family lore; they are not hidden, not now at least. Contrasting with the first generation of holocaust survivors in Israel whom the new generation of Jewish Israelis badly treated, discrediting them, their stories submerged.

Urged by his family, he showed me the key to one of his houses. Which one? In the Old City most likely. Reviewing the photos later I realized to my horror that he held the key with the notched part hidden in his palm, the round end exposed. I should have noticed and asked him to hold the key so we could view it is a key, not a rod with a round object on one end.

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He and his son tried to make perfectly clear where he’d lived in Jerusalem’s Old City. Near the Bab al Khalil, they said, the gate of the road to Hebron, now known as the Jaffa Gate. He claimed his original site is now in the Jewish Quarter. (Later, while photographing that thriving, busy, hectic area just inside the Gate I learned that Bab al Khalil opens to the Armenian Quarter to the south, and the Christian Quarter to the north.) When I asked if there was anything I might bring from his current home to deposit at his home site in the Old City, or bring from there to return to him in his current home, he explained that nothing remains. To the victors go the land.

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Red = Christian Quarter, Green = Armenian Quarter, Tan = Jewish Quarter, Yellow = Muslim Quarter (however Israel fully controls the entire Old City, and Jewish Israelis slowly encroach on the various quarters thru illegal confiscation of property)

Asked about dreams, he said he had none, or so I gathered from Eman’s translation. Even after I tried to inspire him by telling my story of frequently dreaming of my old Chicago home which centered on Caldwell School, the boys’ toilet area. (However, I didn’t tell him that once I actually visited my old school, decades after I’d graduated, that dream cycle vanished—no more images of the school.) Such a return visit would be impossible for most internally displaced Palestinian refugees.

Rebecca is an asset. She asked good questions, became more of the focal point of the interview which relieved me of that role so I could concentrate better on the photography, and she is affable. The daughter-in-law of the man gave her a beautiful embroidered tissue paper holder.

Unfortunately, in the rush to leave I forgot to ask if I might photograph inside the house.

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(Later I intend to post my photos and videos of the Jaffa Gate area as it exists today, including a portrait of a Palestinian man who’s lived there since 1942.)

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands. (and as I photograph the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) trainings at least in Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, Gaza as well if I get my entry permit from Israel)

September 27, 2018, Thursday, Jerusalem, Old City

PHOTOS

Big day yesterday [September 26, 2018] for the refugee project: photographing the Jahalin Bedouin threatened with removal by the Israelis. In particular the band of Khan al-Ahmar between two large illegal settlements, Ma’ale Adumin and Kfar Adumin. Belatedly I’d remembered Angela works with them and had brought me with a group there where I photographed them in 2013. When I wrote her about visiting the village she responded immediately with an offer to pick me up and introduce me there. Which she did. We met at a bus stop near the American Colony Hotel, and drove what someone had written was “a few kilometers”—more like 20 (a few kilometers I could walk, not 20)—out the main road to Jericho and the Dead Sea, down the first part of the steep decline that eventually would reach the lowest point on earth, and found a large gathering of Palestinians in support of the Bedouin.

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A map showing Khan al-Ahmar (top-right arrow) and Arab Jahalin—Al-Jabal (bottom arrow), where Israel wants to forcibly move the residents of Khan al-Ahmar. (OCHA-OPT)

The villagers worry about yet another removal (think South Africa, “the Black Spots”). The kids might lose their very lovely school which looks hand-built, richly decorated by handprints, camels, hearts, and other markings of the people. From my first trip here I recall learning how proud they are of their school. Angela graciously introduced me to what might have been the headman, explained the rules of photo interaction (no women, including female teachers; no children over the age of about 14, and only with permission—she checked first with someone in charge, maybe the head mistress), and then brought me to the school. She explained, the kids are traumatized, journalists are here all the time photographing and filming, please be careful.

Entering a classroom filled with about 12 boisterous kids appearing to be about 4th grade, maybe 9 years old, the boys flocked around me, poked me, asked what’s your name? repeatedly, and generally distracted me. I waited, watched, and began photographing, mainly the girls who seemed involved in a writing exercise. Under the casual tutelage of their male teacher, they wrote on a white board, and, with guidance from a woman, maybe one of the kids’ mothers or a second teacher, drew maps and flags, all indicating Palestinian freedom. One might claim this was also a political lesson. Of course, I couldn’t read the writing but might ask later someone who can.

For my first attempt at photographing the school (it had been closed on our first trip), maybe I made a few useable photos. But the combination of poor light, tight quarters, distracting kids, and back button focusing [a special method of focusing a single lens reflex camera] may have prevented better photography. I hope to return with Angela’s help.

As I was about to leave with Angela’s’ friend, Ben, I met a group of about 5 cyclists (pedaled, not powered by an electrical motor, the rage in Palestine-Israel) who were biking along the path of the separation wall, north to south, and stopped by the site in solidarity. I met one young Palestinian woman, Nima, from Balata refugee camp in Nablus who bikes secretly because of cultural restrictions. I made a portrait and wished I could interview her, not only about displacement, but about her biking. She loves the freedom afforded by the bike, and must hide her bike when home. I have her contact info and might try later about the refugee project, or about biking (a new project?)

(As of this writing, the deadline for self-demolition of the village set by Israel is October 1, 2018. Today I learned Israel declared the entire region a “closed military zone,” and blocked access roads, yet 100s of people entered the area for Friday prayers and a march.)

LINKS

Israel seals off, declares Khan al-Ahmar closed military zone (September 28, 2018)

Communities facing expulsion: The Khan al-Ahmar area (B’Tselem, October 10, 2017, updated September 5, 2018)

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands. (and as I photograph the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) trainings at least in Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, Gaza as well if I get my permit from Israel)

A day or so after entry I wrote a few friends and family:

Dearest friends and family,

I write you happily from the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. At airport security, possibly because of the huge tourist influx, many drawn by the upcoming Jewish high holidays, I passed thru passport control with no questions, no suspicious looks, no requests to stand interrogation, no need for my various stories and contacts, no smiles, no welcomes, no shalom’s, just a simple handing back my passport with the treasured three-month visa. That three month period would get me past my December birthday, in case I wanted to celebrate it here.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I’ve met a portion of my AVP team members (Alternatives to Violence Project), we expect to visit the kotel or western or wailing wall this evening, and tomorrow head to Bethlehem to set up trainings, and then to Hebron. We do not yet have our Gaza permit, but I at least remain hopeful. 

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AVP team, Rebecca Hecht, Joe DiGarbo, Steve Alderfer

On the airplane, Lufthansa, Boston to Munich to Tel Aviv, I made a slew of iPhone photos, my first ever with such a handy device, over the once warring Balkan region, and then over the even earlier warring Italian-Greek peninsula, site of the origins of so much we value in western civilization. Odd, thought I, that I’m flying on a German plane, stopping over in the fire-bombed Munich which also was the site of violence toward Israel by the Palestinian liberation organization (PLO), into Israel, with that history very current in my thinking and experience.

FLIGHT PHOTOS

Earlier today I met with owners of Educational Bookseller in Jerusalem, an exemplary approach to draw attention to life in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Mahmoud, one of the brothers, filled me in on details of the reality, especially the lethally faulty Palestinian Authority, notably with no authority. He told me various ministries had been created in anticipation of a state. Now a separate state seems a vanishing prospect so the ministries have absolutely nothing to do. A waste of money and personnel. Vast structures in the stratosphere suspended without foundations. 

Weather is fine here in Jerusalem, windy, dry, cool. Most everything else needs some work.

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Israeli settlement/colony in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City

Thanks so much for your concern for the issues I’m working on, including internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the west bank, and their ancestral homelands now in Israel, and in my well-being. You all are what make a major part of my life possible.

Alternatives to Violence Project

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands. (and as I photograph the Alternatives to Violence (AVP) trainings at least in Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, Gaza as well if I get my permit from Israel)

PHOTOS (Flight)

September 3, 2018, Monday, Cambridge Massachusetts (two days before departure)

My entire project about displaced refugees in Palestine-Israel might concentrate on what emerges from the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem and my contacts there, and Ayn Hawd/Ein Hod in the Carmel Mountain Range south of Haifa. The first because I have experience in the camp and Nidal and Mousa have promised help, with perhaps Abed, if he responds, who might help as well. Ayn Hawd/Ein Hod because I’ve been to the first, an unrecognized village (around 2008 on the Magi Walk), observed from there at a distance Ein Hod, which is the former site of Ayn Hawd, now converted into an Israeli arts center, and even tho as Linda wrote the sites are not representative they may present a curious case.

Elaine H suggested I contact Sara Roy, who may be a good contact for Gaza. Still no word about the Gaza permit. Joe and Steve (partners with the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP) leave for Palestine-Israel tomorrow, me the day after, and I believe Rebecca (another partner) a day or so after that. So by end of week, this Friday, 5 days off, we may be together in the Holy City, Al Quds, Jerusalem.

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As departure day approaches (in 2 days) I feel a little more stressed, sleep is slightly more difficult. I feel decently prepped with equipment, leads, packing, prepping the house and garden.

September 5, 2018, Wednesday, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Today I leave for 6 weeks in the Holy Troubled Land, eager to live again in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, even for short periods, and definitely in Gaza, should we get our permit. Alan M tried to help with the Gaza entrance, feeding me leads in Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), which I may try later. Joe and Steve are now in Jerusalem a few days early. I arrive tomorrow. As I mentioned to Shola last night in a brief phone conversation, I seem to have passed the point of terror in my planning to now be able to feel some excitement. That is, the massive cloud of unknowing—how’s my health, what photo-video-audio equipment to bring, did I forget anything, what story to tell at passport control, how get to Logan airport, how from Ben Gurion to the Old City, etc—has not exactly lifted but thinned out. I can now view the horizon, Palestine/Israel and me in it.

Thus I feel spacious enough to write in this journal, but not quite spacious enough to go on my early morning walk, that maybe later if time. Writing first.

I reflect once again how such trip prep is akin to dying. In both cases, invariably, much will remain unfinished; there will be multiple regrets; there may be goodbyes, many of them soulful; there may be relief. In the case of a trip, relief that I do not have to deal with the quotidian, the perplexing and apparently unsolvable, the boring. My life becomes exciting. I can experience this while on a trip, whether I can experience much in dying remains to be seen, about the afterlife as well. I am curious how this Palestine-Israel trip will turn out, as I am curious about how dying will feel, and what might greet me, if anything, post dying.

Today I double-check and assemble my gear, both personal and professional, my carry on gear, personal like ticket, passport, reading, eye mask, snacks, water, Hebrew prayer for travelers, what to do if questioned, etc; and my valuable equipment, Canon and Nikon cameras, standard zoom lens, 50 mm prime lens, no other lenses, small flash, audio recorder, camera bag, laptop, iPad, phone, etc. Going as light as feasible, what a laugh. Then I choose and pack clothing, hoping all fits into my large rolly and large backpack, and perhaps my shoulder bag. Much to remember, much to carry.

 

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My bed at home with a small portion of my gear

Invariably I will forget something. What this time? Later I’ll make a list which usually causes me to laugh. Most I can replace, some maybe not easily or at all. Contact info, pills, especially that magic pep pill so needed by some of us older guys, crucial for a pleasant journey. I believe this is my first international trip with a smart phone. How to make it work once in country?

I was able to check in with Lufthansa airline last night, choose window seats on both legs of the flight to Munich and Tel Aviv, confirm, and print boarding passes. Something I often forgot to do earlier, or couldn’t. Another gift of the Internet. And DIY, Doing It Yourself, rather than going thru Chris as much as I love her as my many-year travel agent. (How can she manage to keep her travel business afloat competing against DIY?)

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At Boston’s Logan airport (photo by Susan Redlich)

TO BE CONTINUED

Go where you are least wanted; for there you are most needed.

— Abby Kelley Foster (Quaker, anti slavery and women’s rights activist)

This is my new project, an extension of the work I’ve been doing in Palestine since 2003.

I’m raising money thru Gofundme. Click here if interested.

PROJECT

Gaza, 2006

The issues erupting from Palestine-Israel have troubled me for decades, as they have the world community. Mainstream media coverage 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. This does not provide hopeful context to create justice, peace, and security for the region.

Since 2003 I’ve visited the region to document 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.

Many families are from villages and rural areas now in Israel. In fall 2018 I will locate, interview, and photograph internally displaced Palestinians (IDPs) living in Palestine, learn where their families originated, presumably now in Israel, and then visit those regions—their homelands—to photograph current conditions and people.

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This will include 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 in northern Israel, Ein Hod, now an Israeli art colony, and Safad. Those from the north often fled to refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. According to estimates from the Palestinian NGO BADIL the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, on 2015 there are 334,600 IDPs in the Palestinian occupied territories. (With an additional 384,200 IDPs in Israel, which for this trip I do not plan to explore.)

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Where the families of 95 of the Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israel during the Great March of Return (up to May 26, 2018) are from, now in Israel. As of August 13, 2018, more than 170 have been murdered.

In early September I will leave for Israel, and hope to enter Gaza with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) which trains people to use nonviolent methods, such as trust dialog, to resolve conflicts. In Gaza I will photograph these trainings, as well as the general situation there, including refugee camps. I will investigate how conditions differ between refugee camps and the homelands. I expect to work closely with the Israeli organization, Zochrot (a Hebrew word which means remember) which works with the Palestine right of return by organizing tours of former Arab villages for Israelis and Israeli Palestinians.

Many times in the entire region, many photos, writing, and movies later, I will broaden the constricted picture many Americans have (thanks to Israel-centric media) of the overall Palestine-Israel situation. A major lacuna: how do people forced from their homelands presently live compared with Israelis in former Palestinian homelands? (As far as I know there is no major media project about this theme.) Other questions are: how is life for Israelis living where the Palestinians once lived, how did Palestinians and their families live when in their original villages and rural areas? Do they wish to return, under what conditions? And generally how might a right of return for Palestinians work? * (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 ran over 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 high school students learning 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 will hone my focus: refugees inside Palestine-Israel and outside.

PALESTINIANS

Palestinians are one of the longest colonized populations—most recently in 1948 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, etc. Now I have the opportunity, thanks to contacts in Gaza and the West Bank, to show more widely the consequences of colonization and displacement.

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 September 2018, assuming Israel grants us entry permits, I will enter Gaza; if unable to enter Gaza I will concentrate on the West Bank, expecting to complete the project after several trip by the middle of 2020.  Despite the recurring turmoil in that region, I’ve always managed entry to Israel, the West Bank and 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 in the diaspora and internally. This is a multi-year project.

As in the past, I will create exhibits, slide shows, blogs, books, and movies. As with all my projects I will post photos and writings on my website and blog—dispatches from the field.

BUDGET

·      Airfare – $2500
·      Transport in country – $1000
·      Compensation and donations to colleagues – $1000
·      Food and lodging – $1500
·      Photographic equipment and supplies – $500
·      Post production—developing, editing, printing, slide show 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.

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Refugee camp in Gaza


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

* 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, but for now (August 15, 2018) 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. The violence of this effort—as of August 9, 2018, Israeli army snipers have killed 172 mostly unarmed Palestinians, with nearly 17,504 wounded (more than 1000 of them children), many with life-threatening injuries, overwhelming the already stressed medical system—makes the Gaza portion of my plan uncertain. We may need to postpone entering Gaza until violence abates. In that case I will be mostly in the West Bank and Israel.

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Gaza Community Health Program

SAMPLES OF MY WORK

Book  (Eyewitness Gaza)

Movie (also titled Eyewitness Gaza)


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

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It is estimated that more than 6 million Palestinians live in a global diaspora.

(Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics)

The countries outside the Palestinian territories with significant Palestinian populations are:

Jordan 3,240,000
Israel 1,650,000
Syria 630,000
Chile 500,000 (largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East).
Lebanon 402,582
Saudi Arabia 280,245
Egypt 270,245
United States 255,000 (the largest concentrations in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles (History of Palestinians in Los Angeles)-San Diego).
Honduras 250,000
Guatemala est. 200,000
Mexico 120,000
Qatar 100,000
Germany 80,000
Kuwait 80,000
El Salvador 70,000
Brazil 59,000
Iraq 57,000
Yemen 55,000
Canada 50,975
Australia 45,000
Libya 44,000
Puerto Rico est. 30,000
Greece est. 30,000
United Kingdom 20,000
Peru 19,000
Denmark 15,000
Colombia 12,000
Japan est. 10,000
Paraguay 10.000
Netherlands 9,000
Sweden 7,000
Algeria 4,030
Austria 4,010
Norway 3,825

(Wikipedia)

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.

June 24, 2018, Sunday, Cambridge

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More than 15,000 children have been detained when they tried to cross the southern border of the United States unaccompanied

I notice the propensity of many to use compressed (or short cut) thinking rather than extended (or deep) thinking. Example: immigration. Compressed thinking concentrates on the presence of immigrants only and how to block entry to the United States. Extended thinking incorporates why they are refugees and what to do about that. In many cases of immigrants and refugees at our border we consider only the fact that they plead for entrance. We disregard not only their personal reasons for entry but, more deeply, what generated those reasons, namely in many cases how our government treated their country.

Proximal problem (using dental terminology): immigrants and refugees appear at the border. Medial problem: because of conditions in their country and what they seek. Distal problem: inter-hemispheric relations, exacerbated by the foreign policy of the United States.

I used these terms, proximal, medial, and distal, with Sh. last evening over dinner at Zoë’s (sitting two tables away from Cornel West) to help explain my hypothesis about my urinary bleeding [possibly stress-related from my project to photograph Palestinian refugees]. Proximal cause: urethral wall irritation. Medial: stress from planning the European trip, spiked by Yousef’s betrayal. Distal: universal dread hinging on the 3 potential catastrophes we face, economic collapse, nuclear war, and climate crisis. I had discussed it extensively with many people while on retreat at Agape.

Similarly, Israel uses compressed thinking in response to the Great March of Return, of Palestinians in Gaza who struggle non-violently (mostly) for their Right of Return and the end of the blockade. Stop them at the fence! Don’t ask why they are at the fence. Disregard the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe begun in 1948 when Israel was declared a state and expelled many Palestinians. Forget about the role of the world community—especially the United States—which either ignores or exacerbates the conflict and injustice.

For my Friends Meeting at Cambridge summer potluck submission on the theme of cycles and circles, I’ve decided to submit twin photographic panoramas from Quabbin, a wintry view of the frozen water body with a few figures on it in the distance, and a dramatically altered rendition of a recent view of the water and sky, put thru an infrared simulation filter. The idea stemmed from first, the overall exhibit theme of cycles (summer-winter), second, what I can easily access (Quabbin), and third, what will most surprise viewers (the juxtaposition and the two photos separately). I believe I’ve made a good choice and await the verdict of others, shamelessly dependent on comments.

I’ve completed the retreat photo series, posted to my website, announced to the Mission Council, and later will announce via MailChimp to my limited audience. I’ve titled the series, Witness to the Light, and begin it with the puzzling photo of about 10 people gazing off and up. Second photo shows the object of their intense stare—the new solar panels on Bridget House. I follow this introduction with forest elements, lichen, ferns, chestnut tree leaves, then old trees, finally the water itself, shown in multiple ways, with my Canon and phone cameras. I include two short videos, one of lapping gurgling water, the other of light playing thru the clouds and trees on the back of the hermitage.

Somewhere in my blog I might use the following (which I used in some emails) in my announcement:

From the sacred depths of Holy Quabbin Reservoir, reflecting the overhead in its deepest memories, as it fosters life for those of us who drink its waters.

PHOTOS

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Where the families of 95 of the Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israel during the Great March of Return (up to May 26, 2018) are from, now in Israel. As of August 13, 2018, more than 170 have been murdered.

In a few weeks I leave the United States for nearly two months in Palestine-Israel, hopefully also Gaza, to photograph internally displaced Palestinian refugees and their homes of origin, now in Israel. Earlier info here (to be updated soon).

THIS IS THE LAST OF SIX EPISODES ABOUT MY RETREAT AT AGAPE-QUABBIN.

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.

PHOTOS (A Vital Conversation: Ecology, Justice and Peace—St. Francis Day, 2014)

June 22, 2018, Friday, Cambridge

In last night’s dream I was photographing in a strange land; it felt a little like Jenin in the West Bank. Boys swarmed around me, like gnats; men worked on a mechanism with brightly shining metal pipes; sand was everywhere. I was with others. We tried to photograph but the boys kept interfering, pushing sand into our gear. I fiddled with a bag of small pills, spilling them onto the sand. As usual I was totally frustrated.

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Jenin refugee camp, my photography workshop students, 2015, photo by Skip Schiel

Finally, I am home from 6 days abroad, i.e., Central Massachusetts with Agape and Quabbin. Am I healed, have I recovered, did I make starting discoveries?

I feel healed, for now. Someone from my urologist Dr. Das’ office left a phone message that the ultrasound of a few weeks ago reveals thickened bladder walls. So they want to do a CAT scan. This is mildly alarming, but it also may lead to some certainty about what caused the urinary bleeding. Maybe it’s not so simple as stress somehow causing the urethral wall irritation.

I feel recovered, at least partially, from the trauma of a broken summer photo plan. Still no word from Yousef (around whom I built my entire summer photographic project about Palestinian refugees in Europe), with none expected, merely hoped for. To more fully recover perhaps I should have sipped the healing waters of Quabbin, rather than only immersed myself. I’ve talked out my trauma with numerous others at Agape, received a compassionate ear, especially from S. whose special gift—among many—is compassionate listening.

Did I make any startling discoveries? I tried out my idea of global terror or angst or dread on several people, B., D., probably B. and S. With some agreement, some new ideas. I also tested my idea of immigrants and refugees as the New Jews during morning prayer, with some acknowledgment. I opened that up a little more with D. as he drove me to the Worcester train station yesterday. Jews are disproportionately represented at our local sanctuary church, more than their congregation numbers would predict, possibly because of their long-suffering as a displaced or confined people, in fact, as internally displaced refugees. That is, within their own country of origin, say Russia, they’d been relegated to the Pale, and thruout Europe to the ghettos.

Jews perennially have often been regarded as subhuman. Similarly, many believe immigrants and refugees to be subhuman, dehumanized, so they can be treated inhumanely. Witness the current separation of children from immigrant parents at our border, an abomination.

How else are immigrants and refugees the New Jews? They’re understood by many to be the major threat to this nation, imagined as a flood of aliens infesting the purity of our America Made Great Again. Similar to how Nazis used Jews as the hated poison; they contaminate the purity of the native stock. Jews are used to build political power. They are forced into unwanted jobs. Many parallels, a startling realization. And I’m certain I’m not the first to make this connection.

I plan to use excerpts from the White Rose leaflets (German resistance group opposing the Nazis) as my email footers, with a note about the movie, Sophie Scholl, the Final Days. In this movie, a key moment energizing her activism was learning how the Nazis killed the undesirables, the infirm mentally and physically. Might the current brutal, inhuman, immoral, illegal treatment by our government of immigrant families inspire a similar movement in this country?

Now it is a question of mutually coming to our senses, of mutually keeping one another informed…. If a wave of insurrection surges through the country, if “it is in the air,” if many join us, then this system can be cast aside with one last mighty effort. An end with terror is always better than terror without end.

— 2nd leaflet of the White Rose

Another discovery was the burbling sound of the Quabbin shore. I made several videos of this, as much to listen as to see. Holding the camera vertically I thought I’d wasted the chance for a useable video. (Same with the video of the back of the Hermitage as light, modulated by clouds and trees, played on the wall.) Examining the files yesterday, I discovered I could rotate them 90 degrees to make them horizontal. Whether this holds when viewed by others I’ll have to test. I also made panoramas at the shore on my last day at Quabbin, with my Canon and iPhone. Both might be useable.

For years I’d been claiming full credit for suggesting we locate Agape near Quabbin. My story is that B. told me he and S. were interested in homesteading, but weren’t sure about the location. At the time in the early 1980s I was photographing Quabbin; so I naturally suggested they look there. To test the idea, B. and I drove to the region, found a realtor, and checked various sites, partly for “perking” [to determine whether the land would percolate i.e., support a septic system, a requirement.]. We landed where we now are.

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The intake station in August 2001, now off limits after September 11, 2001

My earlier Quabbin photographs

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Topographic map—Quabbin Reservoir is the light blue vertical region slightly left of the center of the state (above the CH in Massachusetts).

Second version, from B. himself: inexplicably he’d received a flyer in the mail advertising property for sale in the Quabbin region. He asked me if I knew anything about the area. I told him about my photo project. One day we explored together. In this version I am not the sole inventor of the placement; I hitch on to the mysterious flyer.

S., his wife, remembers my version. How can we discover the absolute truth, if there exists such an absolute truth?

Riding the commuter train home yesterday (delayed 40 minutes by an outbound train, which was never explained), I suddenly thought, I‘ve missed a signal opportunity for another Agape photo series, what I might title, “The Don’t Smile Agape Portrait Series.” I would ask individuals like S., B., D., etc, and T., O., and any guests to pose for me and not smile. This would counter Agape’s usual style of smile broadly, hug each other. OK, I can do this next time.

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Photo courtesy of Agape Community, 2017

A final discovery concerns my revised Palestinian refugee photo project, dealing with the threat posed by publicly announcing myself as photographer-proxy for those trapped in Gaza. I could omit discussion of the second part of this project, in effect, photographically hopping the fence to enter the original lands now in Israel of Palestinian Gazan’s. I’d serve as their photographic proxies. Simply say that I’d like to meet people in Gaza whose origins are elsewhere; 75% of Gaza residents are refugees, internally displaced refugees. Or if that project becomes impossible because I can’t enter Gaza (needing permission from Israel), I could pursue the alternative L. earlier suggested, that would be easier on my stress-prone system, to photograph Palestinian immigrants in the United States, mostly in Dearborn Michigan where I visit regularly as part of my Detroit project. This would probably not raise alerts from Israeli antennas searching for any sign of security threat.

I have to reframe my project, develop two ways of writing about it, one that is public and another closer to the truth, the first I would use when writing to friends in Gaza and for possible funding, and the second closer to my intention, the deeper truth.

Which brings me home, where I stand at this moment, writing this journal entry. How do I feel? Relatively safe, satisfied, alert, ready for the next phase of my life.

Last night as a minor rite of passage, I downloaded all my text and photo files to my big iMac, converted where necessary, examined, and pondered: what does all this mean? This morning I struggled with Word file types, doc and docx, my old iMac not quite as supple as my new in opening files. Eventually I overcame technical glitches. I reviewed important email, aghast at how much is in my Forum, Update, Promotion, Social, and Scam folders. Little by little I get thru it. One important aspect of my retreat was utter refusal to look thru most of these folders, opening only the most important in the folder marked Important.

Ditto for restricting myself from web exploration. About the only time I researched was for the question of what constitutes the Quabbin watershed? This kept me in the retreat mode. I should apply some of this discipline now when home.

MAYBE ONE MORE EPISODE

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.

PHOTOS: Agape’s Francis Day Celebration: Muslim Voices in an Election Year (2016)

June 21, 2018, Thursday, Agape 

Last morning in the sunroom.
Summer solstice.
Fog over the garden.
After mistakenly dumping the fresh coffee grounds D. had thoughtfully loaded into the pot the night before, another in my long series of mistakes caused by faulty assumptions.

Finally, yesterday I found my photographable topic while on this retreat: sky, not any sky, but a radiant sky, clouds radiating from many points. And not only that sort of unusual sky, but sky over Quabbin. I’d hiked the newly raked Hermitage trail to Lyman Road, proud of myself for finding the trail, not losing myself in the Quabbin Wilds, down the road thru Gate 45, further on a rough gravel road, as I swatted, dodged, swore at myriad insects, mostly large, nasty, persistent, biting deer flies, and found the swimming spot B. recommends and I’ve used before. I’d forgotten my paper map but had it memorized (probably poorly). Plus I once again had scant Internet coverage (along with phone), enough to activate my phone map. Down the trail-road to the shore, from about 300 feet scan the shore for the sandy spot I’d used before, spot it, and shift myself around a rocky point to be less noticeable.

Now the question became to swim or not to swim? It’s a chilly day, the water is cold, I’d need to remove my clothing and then spray repellant over my skin again after I’d dried off. I have grown wobbly in my old age, less sure of my footing on rocks. I’m alone and might drown or slip and crack my head or have a heart attack, to be found floating lifeless in the Quabbin, a corpse polluting the pure sacred waters I so love. How ironic.

I decided not to swim. I sat in the fluctuating shade and finally the idea emerged: photograph the sky. I did, first with my Canon camera, slicing vertically thru the atmosphere for maximum pixels and to show maximum sky (because everywhere above me the sky spread its strands), and second—as the sky slowly clouded up—with my iPhone. I will have two versions to compare. [Later, a third after I’d reworked one.]

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A series of vertical exposures with a compact camera (Click to enlarge)

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Made with the panoramic mode of iPhone (Click to enlarge)

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Reworked in Lightroom, using Infrared simulation (Click to enlarge)

This pleased me greatly, as if a hungry man, nearly starved to death, finally found food. Not just dumpster food (which can be delicious in my experience), or home-cooked food, or restaurant food, but elegant food, perfectly cooked.

I scanned the rocks looking for one that called to me as a gift to my altar at home. I recalled being here a few years ago on another trip, probably a winter retreat. Also looking for rocks. But during that period I had a prospective partner, Sh., and chose a second rock, a companion for the first, as a gift to her. This time I only chose one, thinking, I do not have that hoped-for partner. A second rock would be meaningless. Thus my current station in life, my current thinking about my current station in life.

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Click for movie

On the walk in, I’d noticed recent truck tracks and wondered, is anyone here, will anyone spot me, will I acquire a shore companion, will I be booted out and possibly fined by the environmental police? I saw and heard no one. Another memory came to me, biking along this shoreline road, and perhaps, preceding that event, walking this same route with L. She’d grown tired and found a napping spot on the ground. This must have been before the widespread infestations of deer ticks. Or during a season absent of insects. So yesterday’s walk evoked many memories and speculations. Quabbin is a repository for memories, it nourishes the heart as it quenches thirst.

Last night I showed the movie, Sophie Scholl, the Final Days, to B., D., A., and T. (About the White Rose, a student-led, non-violent anti-Nazi resistance group; many paid with their lives.) Even upon my second viewing the movie maintains its importance, as both a well-crafted piece of art and a message for our times. The acting again stands out, in all parts. The sequencing. The lighting. But above all else the meaning. This woman and her colleagues courageously understood the truth of Nazism, contrasting with many of their peers—and stood for it, risked their lives. Seemingly a hopeless cause, their lives continue to resonate.

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Sophie Scholl, German Gestapo photo, 1942

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Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, Trailer

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

—Sophie Scholl

Watching it with 2 young women, I wondered, would either of them so absorb the story that someday they will be called to a similar action? And I wondered about the two men in the audience who’d done something related and suffered arrests and jail (B. and me), would this be a model for something we might do later, as a version of Nazism possibly envelops our country?

A story plays in the past, but also in the present. One can’t easily escape the “what if” effect. What if that had been me in those times, or what if those times hit us now? No better place than Agape to ponder these questions and no better time, on retreat.

Before dinner—S. and B. had graciously invited me to dine with them separately from A. and D.—B. and I sat in the gazebo drinking beer, his cold, mine room temperature, Harpoon IPA, with the young buoyant O. swirling around us providing “tea.” “Just water,” she reminded us, “we will pretend.” B. and I discussed the Irish Troubles because he and S. have had extensive first hand experience in Ireland and with some of the participants in the Troubles. He told me they’d once joined a Zen peace effort which brought together 2 IRA members and 2 Provisionals from Northern Ireland.

We were unsure of the utility of comparing Palestine-Israel with Ireland but I continue to read the book, “The Northern Ireland Peace Process: Ending the Troubles,” by Thomas Hennessy, in hopes of discovering something useful in that story to apply to Palestine-Israel. And besides, I’m curious how the peace, precarious as it might be (especially with Brexit) was achieved. B. thinks major breakthroughs occurred when rival leaders were brought together. This was done in stages, and in the earlier phases, in secret. Much as Mandela spoke with De Klerk in secret before public talks in South Africa began. (Both were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.)

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Dinner conversation, because of O.’s presence, was necessarily truncated. B. and S. are devoted grandparents so O. was allowed to participate on her own level. Our general conversation theme was aging. How to incorporate various Agape participants who, in their aging, are becoming more and more needy. Who would care for B. and S. when they become seriously ill? How effective could their daughter be? Would the large community of Agape rally for B. and S. as it did for Wally and Juanita Nelson? (I happen to believe yes.) And what of Agape itself?

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The late Pat Tracy, devoted Agape Community member, at workday, 2014

For some reason, perhaps mistaken (again making faulty assumptions), I seem not overly worried about my own endgame. Who will help me? Daughters? Quaker community? Personal friends? Some combination?

I have my community, as S. and B. have theirs. I have my photo-film-writing archive. They have their Agape archive (soon in the form of a published memoir). Agape might end with their end. As my archive might end with my end. Truly, among the mysteries of life, continuance and succession.

As I write, email from Agape tings my little iPhone alert bell, while either S. or B., most likely S., in the basement office below me bulk emails Agape missives. The current themes are American Indians, incarcerated immigrant children, and Catholics. Sun slowly cracks thru the fog. “That is how the light gets in, there is a crack in everything,” sings Leonard Cohen.

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ONE MORE INSTALLMENT OF THIS BLOG COMING

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.

PHOTOS (St. Francis Day 2017: Listening to Native Voices—Standing Rock is Everywhere)

Agape Community

June 20, 2018, Wednesday, Agape  

Writing again in the sun room in the Francis House, early morning, after:

A chilly night in the Hermitage,
bothered endlessly by mosquitos and I presume spiders,
itchy all night.

Reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries, the version related to her writing assembled by her husband Leonard Woolf, I ponder, are there premonitions of her death?
Didn’t she die by suicide?
Any hints of that along the way?

All on a Tuesday morning, my 3rd day on retreat, sun at my back, chapel and prayer at my front. The day unfolds, the retreat unfolds, my life unfolds, all unfolds.

Last night I dreamt one big dream that seemed in two parts. In both parts I prepared to direct operas. One ended in a spectacular twin dance line which I photographed and later, after altering, made into an image even more impressive. Very wide, nearly panoramic, with lots of white created by dust kicked up by a long, still, solemn line of dancers, one line from an African country. The black bodies contrasted with the white dust.

As I entered the staging area of one opera I met Peter Schumann, founder-director of Bread and Puppet Theater, who asked me where I was going. “To direct an opera,” I said. He looked surprised, unbelieving. On one opera set, my father tried to move or add a watering hose; i asked him politely to please not do that because it would ruin the staging.

Unlike in many of my dreams, here I felt proud, I was accomplished, and I did not worry about outcomes. Maybe a little worried about how the operas would be received. What were the operas about? I’m afraid I have no idea, one maybe on a Classical Greek theme.

It had been a difficult night. Bugs frequently assaulted me, mosquitos and maybe spiders. I itched constantly. How could I produce a coherent (albeit based in dream logic) dream? Or perhaps, frequently waking, I had better access to my dreams. Did any of the bug assaults influence my dreams? Dreaming proves I slept at least a part of the night. The night ended not only with blazing sunlight, now unusually early—after all it is one day before summer solstice—but the nagging worry about how to implement my photographic Palestinian refugee plan. Can I make sufficient contacts in Gaza and elsewhere to actually photograph internally displaced refugees and then travel to their original sites? I should work on this immediately upon return home, writing people, organizations, etc. The challenge is how public to be since certain issues I intend to treat are so controversial?

Waking very early, I vowed to not sleep in the Hermitage tonight, my last night on retreat, to surrender to forces of the natural world and sleep in Francis House tonight. For a solid night’s sleep.

To summarize my last few days here (not including the Mission Council meeting on Saturday which began this retreat), I’ll quote myself writing to Sh.:

My retreat goes well, bike rides every day, visits to the Quabbin Reservoir nearly every day (and immersing myself there one time, a form of baptism), sleeping in our remote cabin called the Hermitage, experiencing a massive rain storm last night, with lightning flashes and crashing thunder, working daily in the garden, eating delicious home-baked bread and other nummies, and hanging out with S. and B. and others here. I’m reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries (the version edited by her husband) and an account of how people resolved the Troubles in Ireland. Agape and Quabbin are prefect sites at which to heal from my disappointment over summer photo plans.

In a schematic way that sums up fairly well my experience. But what about my deep experience, the inner experience, the hidden experience. How would I sum that up?

No epiphanies. Rather an ease of living, hanging out with the earth and friends here. A slow down time, breathing out rather than breathing in (remembering how L. would often call for a breathing out time in our sometimes overheated relationship).

Last night during my bug attack agony I suddenly thought: what if I have a heart attack in my sleep? Folks in the big house will wonder where I am, late for prayer at 7:30 am, not showing up for breakfast.

Where’s Skip? Maybe someone should check.

And they’d discover me in bed, call me to wake up, worry that something tragic had happened, shake me, check for breath and pulse, discover I’ve left this planet, exactly opposite the way I’d hoped to leave: as an active shooter, camera type, definitely not in my sleep, but aware of the death process, fully awake to a signal moment in my life. Despite my disappointment, I had died in an appropriate location—a rustic cabin that I’d helped build, the woods, Agape, near Quabbin. Couldn’t ask for a better location.

More garden work yesterday, with D. and A.—not watering this time because of the previous day’s heavy rain—installing cardboard and hay on the ground into which someone will later insert plants thru holes. This to prevent weeds, and also, D. believes, to encourage the growth of earthworms because they won’t need to surface for copulation when they’d be prey (or so I dimly remember).

Photo courtesy of Agape Community, 2018 (more info)

After lunch B. and I cleared the trail between the Hermitage and the road which leads to Quabbin. B. was surprised by the amount of undergrowth, mainly ferns.

Never in my 30 year’s here have I seen so much growth, he said.

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Trail between Hermitage and Francis House in the winter 2014

He strode ahead slashing with a weed sword (modern version of the ancient scythe) while I followed behind with a rake. Working together is often a form of relationship-building, most powerful perhaps when the results are tangible and have some longevity. Next year’s leaves, branches, shrubs, and ferns probably will erase our work on this trail. Returning, I asked B. if I could lead, to test my orienteering which is abysmal. With one exception, I did not err. This gives me some confidence that today, if I choose, I might myself, alone, find the path, the road, Quabbin, and depending on weather, swim.

That left a few hours in late afternoon for free time. Trying to build a discipline of at least one bike ride per day, I hopped on, lugged up hill south toward the town of Ware, turned right onto Lyman Road, along the road past a few houses, including the one owned by the fellow who is very protective of his property and takes down B.’s trail markings, past where the Hermitage path intersects the road, slightly further, thinking, maybe I’ll walk the path tomorrow, partly as a test of my trail-finding abilities, and enjoy this section of the Quabbin.

 

S. and I discussed the topic of watershed. She told me she’s been telling people that they live in the watershed of Quabbin. I countered with my definition of watershed: the area immediately surrounding a water body which drains into that body. Think of a watershed as a bowl, with a barrier that separates the watershed from other watersheds. All water rained or snowed into that watershed drains into that watershed’s water holder, a lake, river, etc. I promised to check.

So today, my last full day, the day before summer solstice: morning prayer in a few minutes-breakfast-see what assignments B. has for my morning, if any-get to the Quabbin whether by foot via the path we cleared yesterday or in some other way-read–join with others-make photographs maybe.

Today I might be unusually tired because of last night’s sleeplessness.

PLEASE TUNE IN LATER, ONE OR TWO MORE ON THE WAY

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.

PHOTOS FROM WINTER 2018 (Agape Community & Quabbin Reservoir)

June 19, 2018, Tuesday, Agape

Sitting in the “sun room,” frogs croaking outside my window.

Morning light streams in behind me, cool-warm and muggy air, after a torrential rain fall and electrical storm last evening.

Yesterday I worked in the garden, more than I’d ever worked that garden before. When I came to B. to discuss clearing the trail to Quabbin from the Hermitage, he said, “this is urgent, the garden is dry, we need to water”—this despite the forecast of heavy rain. (B. does not trust forecasts, believes they’ve gotten worse. I checked. A recent study suggests they’ve improved, dramatically in some cases like one-day forecasts, marginally for 9-day forecasts.)

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Courtesy of Agape Community

So I happily, in thick humid heat, worked with B., D., and A. to water, plant, and weed. All very satisfying. Using the scuffle or stirrup hoe (with the flipping edge), I rapidly tore out numerous uninvited plants, vowing to use such as device at home in the community garden (If we have one. It was earlier at Agape that I discovered this magical tool.). I planted eggplant and winter squash and other seedlings, carefully as instructed carving small pits around the plants to conserve water. I used the watering can to individually water plants, and, when close enough to the spigot to minimize dragging the hose across plants, the hose and sprayer.

The pleasure was not only in my contact with earth, not only in doing useful work, not only in the exercise, not only in the service to Agape, but in the camaraderie I shared with my comrades.

Then, about 6 hours later, rain fell. Heavy rain, strong winds, a tornado alert, lightning flashes and thunder crashes, unlike any storm I recall experiencing in the Boston area in recent years. We just don’t have such storms, perhaps buffered by the ocean.

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Storm over Quabbin Reservoir, courtesy National Weather Service

D. and I considered a possible power failure. If the main line went down, would we still have electricity? D. reasoned yes because we have new solar panels. I reasoned no because they are connected to the grid and there is no sun generating electricity. (On Saturday morning, before we began our Mission Council meeting, B. and S. brought us to the straw bale house to inaugurate the solar panels. We mused that here we witness twin mysteries, the sun and electricity itself. What precisely is the sun and how does its energy transform into electricity? Similarly for electricity, what precisely is it and how does it transport power?)

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The Mission Council (aka Steering Committee) views the new solar panels
on the straw bale house

About power failure I believe I had the correct interpretation: if the wires connecting us to the grid were severed by the storm, we would lose electricity. This was not to be tested because, other than a faint flicker, electricity continued. To this morning when I contentedly discovered I could make coffee with the electric coffee maker.

A retreatent faces a decision: how much to integrate into the routine of the retreat facility? Here, as S. explained, I could separate myself totally from the Agape routine, eat when and where and what I like, sleep in, rise early, engage in my own prayer cycle, go off for the entire day, stay in the Hermitage the entire day, bring in and consume booze (secretly), same for meat. Or I could completely be an Agape-er, pray at 7:30 am, eat at 12:30 and 6:30, work as assigned, etc. I choose a middle path. I meditated late with D. last night, nearly falling asleep, but I enjoyed the moment. I prayed with the group in the morning, happily considering the clash between the Hebrew testament reading about revenge and the Christian testament to offer the other cheek. I ate lunch with everyone. I cooked for the happy trio of D., A., and myself (a delicious stir fry from frozen last year’s harvest, and my signature mashed potatoes and carrots, using for my first time an immersion food blender).

I biked to the Quabbin for the second time this trip, thru Gate 43, down the long road to the boat dock, a brief foray onto a trail, and back. Not very thrilling, but loaded with memories. Most recently a bunch of us from the Mission Council (Agape’s steering committee) during our weekend retreat last spring walked to this spot and observed and photographed the dam. Bob had photographed us as a group but never sent us the photo. Earlier I was here with Sh. as part of the workday experience, probably driving to this spot to picnic. The tables we’d eaten at had vanished. (But not the memory, not yet.)

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Part of the Mission Council at Quabbin, photo by Bob Wegener

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A small section of the Quabbin Reservoir, January 2018
Click for enlargement

Despite the heat and despite the fact that I’d already expended a fair amount of energy in the morning on the garden, I felt a new ease in scaling the hills on my bike. Not as arduous as the day before; I’m getting used to these hills.

Nothing photographically. Not a pixel recorded to be later manipulated and shown. In fact, as much as I remain attentive to photo possibilities, so far on this retreat I am not strongly motivated to using my camera. If I return home with few photos, I doubt I’ll be disappointed. I’m not here to photograph; I’m here to heal, to enjoy, to serve, and to appreciate the earth.

Via email I learned that L.L. from Friends Meeting Cambridge suffered a stroke. At last word she was unconscious and expected to shift to hospice in her home. What a blow. I’m not sure what precursors existed for her, whether she had any signs of impending final days—and whether this even presages her final days—but I suspect, if she were conscious, she would be utterly surprised. As my father was when he was “stroked” by the hand of death. I recall visiting him in the ER shortly after his stroke and heart attack, how surprised and fearful he looked. He might have been thinking, “what has happened to me, why can’t I think as I was once could?”

Where I write now, in the sun room, I am surrounded by ancestors—Paul Hood, Phil and Dan Berrigan, Dave Delinger, Juanita and Wally Nelson, Tom Lewis, Rich Bachtold, Pat Tracey—all represent the dead; and Islam Mathematica, Tom Gumbleton, Charlie McCarthy, Teresa Shanley, S. and B. of course, Brother Kato, Omar, Ali, Saba—who remain alive.

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Philip Berrigan, we remember you with deep affection and remain inspired by your life. Presente 

On December 6, 2002, Philip Berrigan died of liver and kidney cancer at the age of 79 at Jonah House in Baltimore. In a last statement, he said “I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself. (Agape Community)

Like my friend L.L. and my father Fran, some of the dead may have been struck rapidly, with barely a hint of their new station in life, whereas others may have suffered long days of pain and worry—and expense.

I ponder: who of my community will die next? Me maybe, a daughter, someone here today, Sh., someone from the Quaker community?

Who and what once existed below the waters of Quabbin

MORE TO FOLLOW

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.

PHOTOS

June 17, 2018, Sunday, Agape

Chilly night in the cabin. a.k.a. the Hermitage, sunny, clear, dry, heat expected.

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I am here for 5 days, hopefully 5 blissful days. I am here to heal from the disappointment of postponing phase one of my big plan, Palestinian refugees in Europe. I am here to renew my relationship with the hallowed workers at Agape and the sacred waters of Quabbin. What are my retreat’s components?

I packed into my small, red, wheeled luggage L. had given me 8 years ago when she moved to Oakland. (At the last moment I discovered one wheel did not roll smoothly so I squirted oil and WD40 on it and eventually it freed.)

I contemplated what I would do when. When walk to Quabbin, when walk down the road (spotting a black bear near Gaudet Road), when sleep, when get out of bed, when wash, eat, etc. All on a very free schedule. No rush, no deadlines.

Click here to enlarge

I expect to be surprised (the black bear, meeting J. and A., other guests at Agape, ticks, etc).

I will read books (about solving the Irish Troubles, and Virginia Woolf’s diaries.

I will freely decline invitations to do something (last evening attend a song fest that A. and E. sang at and the 80th birthday party of Paula Green, and Catholic mass this morning).

I will photograph spontaneously (black bear, morning light on the interior of the Hermitage, Hermitage immersed in the woods, etc).

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I will only peripherally participate in my various extra curricular, time-sucking pursuits I usually do at home (Palestine-Israel work with New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, Raytheon, E., family, as important as they all are).

I will try to ignore distractions like dear O., granddaughter of S.-B., daughter of T., (O. currently plays around me with her dolls as I try to write this journal in the chapel, which I thought to be private).

June 18, 2018, Monday, Agape

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Hermitage

Warmer night in the Hermitage, calm, some clouds.

Sitting in the meditation chamber of Francis House looking to the main room, my back to the garden.

The high of the yesterday—biking to Quabbin Reservoir’s Gate 44 and nearly to the intake pipe (fenced off since September 11, 2001), with a diversion right onto the small road immediately before the fence to the water where, lo and behold, for the first time in years, maybe decades, I entered the sacred Quabbin waters, ceremoniously immersed myself in the healing waters, and lingered.

Quabbin map SM

Click for expanded view.

I had surveyed the shoreline for possible boaters and authorities, spotted only a few far off who seemed headed for the boat dock. I felt safe but had decided not to go in naked or to go deep enough to swim. A few minutes into my immersion I saw a boat with 3 men heading my way. Guessing they were environmental police and would at least scold me, at most fine me, I began crafting stories.  From total honesty: “Yes, officers, I am aware of the rule of no swimming, I am ready to accept the consequences, I love Quabbin and couldn’t bear not being fully in the water (perhaps appealing to our shared love of Quabbin).” To a lie, a probably feeble attempt to skirt punishment: “I slipped into the water, with no intention to swim. I was clambering around rocks, and being an older gent, I simply lost my footing.”

As they neared, I thought I observed that they wore brown shirts, a sure indication of a surveillance mission. But, as they closed in, clearly heading toward me, I noticed they were all bare-chested. A good sign. When they were within about 50 ft—I wasn’t sure they saw me, they might run over me—I lifted one hand out of the water (I was lying in about 8 inches, on rocks, blissfully submerged except for my head) and waved. They smiled, waved back, and put-put-putted along. No further incidents.

The next phase of this tiny but monumental ceremony was drying off. This forced me to confront the temptations of my iPhone. Mysteriously I had both phone and Internet coverage, even here in the wilds of Quabbin. And earlier I thought I’d discovered the GPS functions well without phone or Internet. While waiting for my underwear and shorts to dry so I could reapply bug lotion and find the path back to my hidden bike, I could cruise the Internet, write people around the globe, phone family to remind them of the day, Father’s Day, and otherwise engage as I ordinarily would when not on retreat. But I resisted. I kept the phone tucked away in my pack and decided to simply appreciate the long moment of sun drying my clothing and body.

Water lapped gently around me and up and down the shore, changing its rhythm with each passing boat. Sun subtly shifted; I reposed myself and adjusted my clothing’s position to accommodate. Wind alternately blew and subsided. Except for the motors, all was deep silence. For the moment I was fully tuned to the earth; Thoreau might be proud of me. What a pristine moment.

Clothing and skin relatively dry, I reapplied my bug lotion, and worried my way thru the thick brush, thick with leaves and branches as well as ticks, to the trail. I noticed, when I expanded my phone’s screen view, I could see precisely where the trail—it had disappeared in the brush—would reemerge. A new era. Does this diminish the importance of observation, leading me to not notice subtle signs of vegetation? Or can I maintain disciplined observation? What would Thoreau do if he had a smart phone? Would he be less smart?

Up the hill, retrieve my hidden bike, aim right at the main road toward the intake pipe, check for surveillance cameras, decide not to scale the short fence (about 4 ft tall, rather than the 10 ft fence I recall seeing just after 911), decide not to follow the path to the baffle dam (where B. told me later he and S. had been regularly nabbed by the green cops), bike up and down numerous hills (when is the last hill?), and home. Wondering, had E., when here in 2014 for an Agape workday, biked some of this same route? Not thru Gate 44 but thru Gate 43 and to the boat dock? I will check when home.

In discussion with J. and D. yesterday, we considered the question of community. “The Agape Community”: where is the community? A., a relatively new arrival, young, thin, and quiet, told me the day before she had expected, when locating Agape in a listing of intentional communities, that there would be a cluster of long-term people here. Other than S., B., and D., no one else lives here for more than short periods. Where are the people?

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The Mission Council, AKA, Steering Committee, of Agape

First, there is the core community of B., S., and D., and, while T., their daughter, was growing up, she as well, making 4 maximum.

Second, there are the visitors— the interns, retreatants like myself, guests like those who attend our annual Francis Day and other special events, and various other drop-ins.

And third, there is the community of memory, people who have been here and died, like Dan Lawrence who was crucial in building Francis House, Alden Poole raising money for the straw bale house, and people in my personal community who I communed with yesterday during my dip into the waters of Quabbin. L. features heavily. Love on the Hermitage floor, camping on Quabbin shores in the winter when she delighted me with special carnal attention, her thrill at meeting Quabbin for the first time, and then the many times we’ve returned here (never in my memory for Francis Day which is odd).

Obituary of Alden W. Poole

Alden Poole, former Mission Council member, World War Two veteran,
former member Veterans’ for Peace, courtesy of the 
Boston Herald

Then C. for Francis Day, me heavily anticipating (maybe she also) intimacy together for the first time. She was so excited, not by the sex which was frustrating because of my elderly problems, but by the quadruplet of earth, activist Christianity, S. and B., and carpentry (I don’t believe she resonated with Quabbin itself). One year, a few years after we’d broken up, she and I found ourselves together here in the winter when I was on retreat. She continues contact with S.

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Maria Termini, 2011, photo by Skip Schiel

And finally (for now) E. We were here in 2014 for a workday. I recall her in the garden weeding; I recall sleeping with her in the large 3rd floor room, improvising intimacy with the door open. I recall biking with her to Quabbin, maybe Gate 43, bringing food for a picnic, biking back up tough hills, walking our bikes. I praise her for giving this aspect of my life a try, but regret that it did not fully connect. Later, when asked how she felt about our visit, she said, “I like everything about Agape except the religion.”

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Shola Friedensohn, 2014, photo by Skip Schiel

Oh, how inexorably wishes become memories, memories wishes.

So, to answer A.’s question about where is the community in the Agape Community, it is multi-dimensional, a many-layered thing. It is not what most would expect but it is real and true. Just a little hard to view.

What else? A long conversation last evening with D. as we prepared and ate dinner, partly about fatherhood. I had reminded us that the day was Father’s Day; “do you have kids and what is your relation to them?” Not particularly close but his son usually remembers to check in on Father’s Day. I told him about my two daughters, how close I believe we are, but how so far they’ve not contacted me on this so-called special day for dads. No matter, I trust our relationship.

A long conversation with J., the young man with the thick black beard and long black hair, about community, his life in New Jersey, living with his family, all siblings still in one house, his doctoral program in theology. And about my work, the risks I sometimes take. T., the daughter of the co-founders and co-directors, was present as well, an unusual event. She may have heard things about me she’d never known about. That morning I’d played minimally with her adorable daughter, O., in the chapel as I tried to concentrate on my writing. A most energetic little girl, now 6 years old and very vital.

S. has foot problems, compounded by recurring Lyme disease. Last winter she broke one foot when she slipped on ice, and then, compensating, put too much pressure on the other foot, injuring it. Yesterday she was in too much pain to visit the beach with her family.

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STAY TUNED FOR PART 2

Agape Community is a lay Catholic community consisting of several community-built buildings; a core community of Suzanne and Brayton Shanley, the co-founders and directors; one permanent resident, Dixon George, and a constantly changing set of interns, volunteers, visitors, and retreatants. I am on the steering committee, known as the Mission Council. I helped find the site 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir, which I’d explored and photographed for years before we established the Community in 1982.

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