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From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. I now begin making plans to return in fall, 2021.

My major intention is to convey perspectives expressed by the people I interview, as I understand them, allowing for translation problems, misinformation on the parts of all people involved, and my own biases and ignorance. The histories they present, for instance, I may not agree with. I feel accuracy in reporting what people tell me is more important than the accuracy of their statements. Rather than insert my disagreements with their statements, which could be regarded as an act of white, Eurocentric, male supremacy, I hope to provide open platforms for those I meet.

Hands on our hearts, how many of us can whole-heartedly say we are sure that we would have acted differently from most Germans at the time? How many of us would really have endangered ourselves by opposing the regime? I came to the conclusion that only if I could place morality and justice before all other considerations, and not allow my national or other loyalties to obscure my moral judgement, would I perhaps be able to give an affirmative answer to this tormenting question.

Amos Gvirtz, Don’t Say We Didn’t Know

PHOTOS

In July 2019 during a conversation with Amos, who I met during my first trip to the region in 2003 in his kibbutz, Shefayim, and listening to his friend, Aziz Al-Touri, near the Bedouin village of Al Araqib in the Naqab/Negev desert, I heard two major claims: from Amos that one’s life is concretely determined by where and when one is born, yet new directions are possible, and from Aziz that Bedouins are an inseparable part of this land and will remain here.

AMOS GVIRTZ

For a little more detail: Amos was born into a secular Jewish family. Altho he attended a conventional Israeli school, he could never master the rote learning about Judaism forced on him. He hated this education, would cry because of it, had nightmares.

He said, paraphrasing, central facts are imposed on us, who our parents will be, what country we’re born into, our religion, the historical period, our social environment. When we mature and have more control over our lives, we can open our eyes and comprehend larger realities. A key question is first whether we will ever experience this moment, and if we do what we will do with this potential revelationI am a Jewish Israeli, Aziz a Palestinian Bedouin, and, I noted, they were born in the same century and in the same general region. Most Jewish Israelis believe what they’re told and taught, same with most Bedouins. His government and military apparatus are trying to remove Aziz and the Bedouins from their ancestral homelands.

The legal system imposed on the Bedouins by Israel prevents fair litigation. As Amos said, the context of this struggle is the legal system controlled by Israel that legalizes removal and relocation of the Bedouin people. Similar to your country’s treatment of Native people, he pointed out.

Criminalizing the victim—Amos’ term for Israel’s treatment of Bedouin, by selectively making laws, Israel converts victims into criminals.

Amos claims that in Israel racism is governmental, to be distinguished from popular racism which he feels by comparison is minor—i.e., the state policy is racist, supported by the people thru elections and lobbying; different from racism in the U.S. which is more populist and widespread, with aspects of racism in government.

Amos explained that during the Ottoman period the government required Bedouins register their lands for tax purposes. Who wants to pay taxes? Amos asked, laughing. So there was very little registration. Thus when Israel demands proof of ownership there is nothing on paper. Furthermore, I suspect Bedouins do not share western concepts of ownership. Rather, shareship. Much like American indigenous people and probably more traditional people everywhere.

He explained further how Israel forces Palestinians (not only Bedouins) to either demolish their own homes or, if Israel demolishes, pay all fees, for the demolition crew and the police and army. This smells like Jews who, he said, after the Kristal Nacht had to pay huge sums of money to help German insurance companies pay the damage that neighbors of the Jewish business had caused. I have learned that during the holocaust the Nazis forced Jews in Warsaw and other sites of Jewish imprisonment to build their own walls, and, most sinisterly, dig their own graves. The parallels are breathtaking. I wonder if anyone has extensively researched the topic and written about these parallels. The big one of course is ghettoization. The crucial element underlying this is othering, or regarding the other as subhuman. Unworthy of human rights because subhuman. Is this generational trauma?

Amos has discovered moral depths outside of traditional religion. I believe he considers himself a socialist (maybe a humanist), close to traditional communist (he lives on a kibbutz which has socialist roots), while opposing the doctrinaire and often-brutal methods of many Communists regimes like the Soviet Union and China. Strongly dedicated to nonviolence, Amos is a founder of Palestinians and Israelis for Non-Violence, former Israeli representative of International Fellowship of Reconciliation and co-founder and former chairperson of the Committee Against House Demolitions. In 2019 he published his first book Don’t Say We Didn’t Know, available free on Kindle.  He maintains an email list with the same title, which is how I stayed in touch with his thinking and advocacy since meeting him nearly 20 years ago. He remains active with the Negev Co-Existence Forum supporting Bedouin people.

Most importantly, Amos is able to pierce the curtain of Israeli denial and deceit that envelops most Israeli Jews, the current right-wing government and its many supporters within the country and elsewhere like my country. When I asked him how he pierced, despite the resistance of many fellow Jewish israelis, he threw up his hands, and said something like, how could I not? I joked that maybe he’s the crazy one, not his fellow Jews. Laughter.

He leaves me with the question of how do people embedded in their personal and collective histories claw their path out from the obfuscating haze of denial, confusion, fear, and self-interest?

Amos Gvirtz

AZIZ AL-TOURI

Aziz Al-Touri

Aziz, a member of the Committee for the Defense of al-Araqib, was born into a Bedouin family, linked inextricably to the land, generations of his family living not as nomads, the usual image, but as semi nomads, as agriculturists, as shepherds and dry land farmers. His ancestors have lived in the same general area for centuries.

Everything dramatically changed in 1948, the year of Nakba, and the founding of the Israeli state. Successive Israeli administrations with a series of laws attempted to assert control over all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and from the Lebanese border to the Egyptian. Israel uprooted Bedouin communities, forced them to move, and requires they live in towns which are equivalent to refugee camps, Native American reservations, and South African apartheid townships (known as Siyāj).

Aziz recounts this poignantly. Paraphrasing, the Israelis ripped out our trees, usually fruit trees like olive, and planted forests, usually water-sucking eucalyptus, over our land and declare it state land; we lose our land rights. We need permits to enter these lands. If we try to feed our animals and lack a permit, Israel can confiscate our animals. Israelis divorced us from the source of our livelihoods and forcibly, often violently, try to push us into towns they create. Or they declare our lands “closed military zones,” and we cannot enter. We would be divorced from the land, forced into unskilled labor.

Previously, we raised everything we needed, animals like sheep, goats, chickens, and vegetables, fruits, and olives.We had eggs and made cheese. We never worried about food. In the towns, separated from our lands, now we need cash to supply our needs. My family requires each day around 100 shekels ($25) for bread, milk, other food. How else could we earn money than by working for Israelis?

Consider my uncle. He rents land from a Jew. Ten years ago, he could rent one dunam (1000 square meters or ¼ acre) for 6 months to plant his wheat and barley. This would cost him 100 shekels ($25). Now it’s 200. And this is Bedouin land, confiscated by Israel. The Jew wants to become a businessman, increase his income.

This usually means the men leave their homes for their jobs at 6 in the morning, return tired, dirty, and hungry 12 hours later. They need to shower, to rest. There is no time for their children, their wives, their homes and land, if any land remains. No time to tell and listen to stories. Relations within families deteriorate. Couples do not have time for discussions, for raising children, for making love. What happens when my wife becomes frustrated, or I do? Sleep with someone else outside the family perhaps?

Another factor is leadership. Previously our “big man” or sheikh was the person who best cared for the community, not who owned the most land or had the most money. The sheikh would ask, would you like a cup of coffee or tea? What can I do for you, how can I help you? This too is being destroyed as Israel separates us from our traditional ways.

In 2018 Hassina Mechai of the Middle East Monitor reported Aziz telling a conference in Paris: I went to court to defend my rights. In 1973, my grandfather asked the authorities to recognise our land. They still haven’t replied. They want the old people to die, and the young ones to forget. But we will always fight for our rights. We need help, not for us but for the future generations.

I went to court to defend my rights. In 1973, my grandfather asked the authorities to recognise our land. They still haven’t replied. They want the old people to die, and the young ones to forget. But we will always fight for our rights. We need help, not for us but for the future generations.

Aziz Al-Touri speaking at a conference in Paris, 2018, reported by Hassina Mechai of the Middle East Monitor

CONCLUSION

Aziz’s father, Sayeh Abu Madi’am, the sheikh of Al Araqib, had been in prison for arguing for his people’s human rights—10 months when I met Aziz.

After the demonstration and to reach the village where discussion and perhaps a ceremony (I wasn’t clear) would be held, Amos suggested young Mohammed, son of Aziz and grandson of the Sheik, ride with me to give me directions. Mohammed, 13 years old, in 7th grade (my granddaughter Eleanor’s age at the time) spoke adequate English to guide me to the site. I wish we could have had a fuller discussion—about his life in the village, how he handles the trauma of repeated home demolitions, etc.

Yossi, another Israeli at the demonstration, told me that SodaStream, a target of the BDS campaign, has moved out of the illegal industrial park of Mishor Adumim in the West Bank to Rahat in the Negev desert in 2015, near Al Araqib, and into an area near Lehavin Junction, presumably in “official Israel.” Yossi told us that he’d noticed new fencing around the new site which may mean eventual confiscation of Bedouin property.

Aziz and other villagers had planned a ceremony to remember and honor the imprisoned sheik, his father, Sayeh Abu Madi’am,in the evening, lighting a number of candles or some other form of lights for the number of days he’d been imprisoned. I hope Aziz and Amos were not disappointed or offended when I left around 7 pm (the vigil began at 4:30), but as I explained to Amos I hoped to return before dark, a long drive back to the Jaffa Hostel where I was staying. I explained, I have vision problems at night, making it up as a lame excuse, but then when on the road as the light waned I remembered that I do have vision problems in low light. I need my old glasses, which I’d left in the hostel.

As of July 20, 2021 when I write this, Israel has destroyed his village 186 times, the most recent during Ramadan in April 2021. The unrecognized village of Al Araqib consists of sheet metal huts, adjoining lands and cemetery. Aziz himself has suffered incarceration for his activism. Thanks to the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality which brings Jews and others from Israel to support the Bedouins—and of course Amos himself—I was privileged to attend this strategically placed demonstration at a major crossing in the Negev and the later discussion with Aziz.

Al Araqib

LINKS

On the Map: the Arab Bedouin Villages in the Negev-Naqab: al-ʿArāgīb (Al-Araqib)
Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality

Life in a Bedouin village that’s been destroyed 101 times
Skylar Lindsay (2016)

‘I became an invader in my own land’ — a Palestinian Bedouin’s struggle
Hassina Mechai (2018)

108th Demolition of al-Araqib – 12.01.2017 (video)
Negev Coexistence Forum (2017)

Destruction and Return in Al-Araqib
Forensic Architecture

Al-Araqib
The Electronic Intifada

al-Araqib
Zochrot

Al Araqib Photo Gallery
BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights (2011)

Why I Stopped being a Zionist
Amos Gvirtz (2020)

Articles by Amos Gvirtz

A Second Possibilitarian: Amos Gvirtz, Kibbutz Shefayim
Skip Schiel (2004)

(The Agape Community published an earlier version in The Servant Song, summer 2021)

When passion can’t flow easily into policymaking, it congeals as angry protest, growing wilder and more paranoid.

Daniel Immerwahr

Climate justice or justice for Palestine? Which for me will take precedence in my activism? With limited energy and time remaining in my life (I am 80 years old), should I choose one or stretch between both? Should I watch for the intersections and concentrate on them? The two issues strain and squeeze me.

Outrage is my key motivational word—and what can flow from it. I am deeply troubled by how rapidly our planet is broiling, the recent ongoing heatwave thruout the western part of our continent and much of equatorial Africa, and the flooding in Germany and Belgium. I am equally troubled by the oppression forced upon the Palestinians by Israel. In particular, how some Palestinian friends of mine are threatened with evictions by Israeli settlers from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah (a Jerusalem neighborhood).

Climate troubles my mind, Palestine my heart. Thinking about the climate crisis, I understand that life on earth is threatened by the extraction, transportation, and use of fossil fuel; the production, shipment, and consumption of food; by destroying green spaces thru clear-cutting Amazonian rain forests for mining and cattle and paving with impermeable asphalt, etc. I understand that, I think about that, and I imagine the utter destruction of life on earth. I am outraged by how we humans destroy our earth—and by the lack of informed, committed, universal action for climate justice.

I feel Palestine thru the lives of people I know, photograph, and write about. For nearly 20 years working in Palestine, I’ve explored hydropolitics, nonviolent resistance, the Matrix of Control (checkpoints, barriers and walls, permit system, etc), and the situation in Gaza, among other themes. My current Palestine-Israel photographic project is titled “The Ongoing and Relentless Nakba.” (Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe) For the past 3 years, I periodically return to Palestine-Israel to locate, interview, and photograph Palestinians forcibly removed from their villages and towns when Israel created its state in 1948. I find those ancestral locations now in Israel and make photographs, a privilege the Palestinians don’t have.

I feel their removal as I consider my own precarious housing situation. And reflect on how my parents forced my own removal when I was 14 years old from what I consider my ancestral home on Chicago’s South Side, without discussion that I recall between my sister and me about the move. I feel something of Palestinian removal in my own body. I am outraged by the impunity of Israel. And I am outraged by the lack of informed, committed, universal action for justice in Palestine.

My outrage is central to why I struggle with climate justice and justice for Palestine. An incident like a heat wave or flooding or a major storm temporarily lights up the horizon and gains attention. Similarly with Palestine-Israel when violence erupts as it did in May 2021 leading to Hamas rockets into Israel and Israeli attacks on Palestinians worshipping during Ramadan in Jerusalem. Then the lightning subsides and we all tend to forget and ignore the threats.

My outrage is the spark, the pivot point, the heart attack, that frees me from my quotidian seduction—food shopping, laundry, even family and friends—for what I hope is useful political-social justice witness. I fight my own confusion, hopelessness, and despair.

There are problems with sustaining and enlarging either witness, let alone both. Two examples: several of us at Friends Meeting at Cambridge have for the past year attempted to organize a climate justice working group. I believe we’ve failed to find committed coworkers and a solid direction. We express concern about climate, but few in our congregation seem to do anything about it, to walk the talk, to live what I feel is the truth of Hampshire College’s motto: to know is not enough.

The second example portends poorly for my Nakba photographic project. To complete this I need to find venues and a publisher. Here’s the possible rub: Linda, a close Jewish Israeli friend and colleague, now highly critical of Israel, has nearly completed her book about growing up in Israel during the Nakba. So far she’s not been able to find a publisher or an agent. Reason? She believes not the volatility of the issue or the quality of her writing but, as some agents tell her, no one will buy your book, few are not interested in this topic.

How will I find an audience for my photographs and stories? How will we Quakers and others create significant movement toward climate justice? How can people be enlisted in the great army of nonviolent justice and peace activists to truly struggle for justice? How long and how meaningful will my own activism be? Will I find the energy for both themes? How far can outrage carry me?

Transform your heartache into action.

Glennon Doyle

LINKS

My photographs

My videos

Quakers Advocating Justice for Palestine

Extinction Rebellion Massachusetts

Rage on National Public Radio, July 8, 2021

From anger to action: Differential impacts of eco-anxiety, eco-depression, and eco-anger on climate action and wellbeing

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. I now begin making plans to return in fall, 2021.

My major intention is to convey perspectives expressed by the people I interview, as I understand them, allowing for translation problems, misinformation on the parts of all people involved, and my own biases and ignorance. The histories they present, for instance, I may not agree with. I feel accuracy in reporting what people tell me is more important than the accuracy of their statements. Rather than insert my disagreements with their statements, which could be regarded as an act of white, Eurocentric, male supremacy, I hope to provide open platforms for those I meet.

To commemorate World Refugee Day, June 20 (Skip Schiel’s photos)

Part one of my blog about Ibrahim Eid Nghnghia, and friend and son in Jenin

For all Israel’s vaulted strength, technological sophistication and long experience in counter-insurgency, [Israel] has not succeeded in “defeating” the Palestinians. In fact, as the French learned in the Battle of Algiers, the rate of attrition in the ability of a strong oppressor to withstand the loss of moral legitimacy that comes from massive violations of human rights, international humanitarian law and simple justice is often greater than that of the oppressed with little to loose.

Jeff Halper, War on the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification

Photos

(With major assistance from Adnan Torokman, my colleague in Jenin, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)

Continuing the story of Yahia Moneeb Al-Sadi and Ibrahim, and Ibrahim’s son Adnan Torokman, now close to two years since I met them in July 2019. How are they now, how have they survived not only the ongoing relentless Nakba, but the Covid pandemic? When Ibrahim and his family, including Adnan, arrived in Jenin in 1968 from their post-Nakba home in the Jordan Valley, the village of Jiftlik, fleeing the ongoing violence between Israel and Jordan, later the demolition of their homes, no housing was available. Adnan was 3 years old and remembers nothing from this period. They stayed with a family, Ibrahim and his family in a single room. Then into a family-sized tent in the UN refugee camp established in 1953, using toilets outside the camp. Eventually the family built larger housing.

People arrived from the Jordan Valley at different times, families searched for each other. They organized the camp by their original home regions and by families, one specifically for dark-skinned people. Ibrahim said there was no discrimination based on skin color.

Knowing that Ibrahim now owned a fair amount of property in Jenin, including apartments used by Freedom Theater personnel and the theater itself (the old railroad storage shed from the Ottoman period), I asked Ibrahem how did you do this?

I worked in Saudi Arabia painting houses. I saved and sent money back home.

Ibrahim’s family consists of 7 boys and 5 girls, with cousins and grand children. Many live in the complex with Ibrahim and Adnan (and me when I stay in the Freedom Theater guest house).

Ibrahim Eid Nghnghia (L) with his son, Adnan Torokman

After what many call The Battle of Jenin in 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield, in part Israel’s response to the Second Intifada or Uprising, Israel destroyed Ibrahim’s home because one son, a brother of Adnan, was a fighter. Did your brother live in the building? I asked Adnan. No, they destroyed it as punishment, a common occurrence. It took us 7 years to build, 1 hour to destroy—by 2 Caterpillar D9 bulldozers, made in the United States. ibrahim’s family lost 5 apartments for 5 families.

According to Human Rights Watch during that fighting at least 52 Palestinians, mostly gunmen, and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed, and unknown number injured. Israel destroyed some 500 homes. 3000 homeless.

After the Battle of Jenin, 2002

When I interviewed the family in 2019, Israel still held the brother for his past history as a fighter; he awaited his court appearance.  

Adnan did not participate in the fighting of 2002; instead he drove a tractor pulling a water tanker and sold the water. During the fighting, Israel destroyed his tractor and he began working for the municipality. In 2006 he joined the Freedom Theater as a business manager.

To rebuild the camp after the destruction in 2002, Sheikh Zaied of the Emirates contributed $30 million; the money supported rebuilding Adnan’s current house, a multistory apartment building rented to the Theater.

All three are disappointed in the lack of cohesive leadership in the Arab world to help Palestinians. Oslo is worthless, Yahia said. Adnan added, we can’t trust our divided leadership. What about our younger generation? They are even more disappointed, what are they going to do? Ibrahim believes that nothing will change, there is no hope. Adnan said, the Nakba is not just 1948, it is every day. I replied, trying to inject a source of hope they may not be aware of, we now have 2 Muslim women in United States congress; one wears a hijab, the other has family in Palestine. This is new, maybe even revolutionary. (Of course, I was referring to Ilhan Omar from Somalia representing Minneapolis and Rashida Tlaib representing Detroit. Both spoke forcefully about violence in the region last May, words that bolstered me and led to more threats against them.)

Yahia Moneeb Al-Sadi (L) with Ibrahim Eid Nghnghia

Will it make a difference? they ask. It could, I reply, both women and perhaps a growing number of our legislators loudly and boldly and courageously advocate for Palestinian rights. (I didn’t mention the House bill by Betsy McCollum, in effect, to condition military aid to Israel based on their human rights record, especially toward Palestinian children.)

You can’t easily go against a raging river, Adnan said, but we will continue to live here. Equivalent to a defiant statement I often hear and respect: to exist is to resist.

LINKS

Israel and the Occupied Territories: Shielded from Scrutiny: IDF Violations in Jenin and Nablus (Report by Amnesty International, 2002)

War on the People, Israel, the Palestinians, and Global Pacification, by Jeff Halper, 2015
This book is a disturbing insight into the new ways world powers such as the US, Israel, Britain and China forge war today. It is a subliminal war of surveillance and whitewashed terror, conducted through new, high-tech military apparatuses, designed and first used in Israel against the Palestinian population. Including nano-technology, hidden camera systems, information databases on civilian activity, automated targeting systems and unmanned drones, it is used to control the very people the nation’s leaders profess to serve. (Pluto Books)

Ihan Omar again makes history, becoming the 1st Somali-American elected to U.S. House, by Eric Golden, November 2018

TO BE CONTINUED

An analysis from Adam Keller, a Jewish Israeli in Israel, followed by a set of action items you can use to respond (U.S. based) 

The storm which Netanyahu unleashed

Adam Keller, May 12, 2021

Old City Jerusalem, photo by Ronen Zvulun | REUTERS

Yesterday morning (Tuesday) we woke up with the news of twenty one Palestinians killed in Gaza, nine of them minors, and two Israeli women killed in Ashkelon (one of them; it later turned out, was a migrant worker from India, and since then, the death toll on both sides more than doubled). Then came the email which I was expecting. Noa Levy of Hadash sent out an urgent call for emergency protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, A second message, from the Forum of Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families and Combatants for Peace, endorsed the Hadash call and added a Haifa protest venue initiated by the Haifa Women for Women Center. “The government is playing with fire – all of us get burned! In a desperate attempt to cling to power, Netanyahu is dragging us into war, into killing and suffering and pain for both peoples. Stop the escalation! Cease the fire! Stop the expulsion of families from Sheikh Jarrah, stop the police rampage in East Jerusalem. There can be no peace and no quiet as long as the West Bank lives under occupation and Gaza suffers a suffocating siege. The solution: an end to the occupation, an end to the siege of Gaza, and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with East Jerusalem as its capital. We all deserve to live in freedom and security. The time to act is now!”

And so, there were several hours of frantic work at the computer and phone, spreading the message by Facebook and Whatsapp to all who waited for such a call on such a day. And then taking the bus to Tel Aviv. The Kugel Boulevard, main Holon thoroughfare on which all buses to Tel Aviv travel, had its completely normal daily bustle. On King George Street in Tel Aviv there were already several hundred people gathered outside the Likud Party headquarters. Among them familiar faces, the determined minority of Israelis who always show up on such days, as in 2014 and 2009.. “Stop the fire, stop the bloodshed!” chanted several hundred throats. And “On both sides of the border / Children want to live!” and “Sheikh Jarrah, don’t despair / We will end the occupation yet!” and also “Gaza, Gaza, don’t despair / We will end the siege yet!” and “Netanyahu, Netanyahu / The Dock at the Hague waits for you!”.

READ MORE

Displaying
Sheikh Jarrah—photo by Yonatan Sindel & Flash90

What you can do (from the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine and Nancy Murray)

TAKE THIS ACTION FOR PALESTINE!

Once again, Israel and Palestine are back in the headlines and once again, people around the world are taking to the streets to demand justice and freedom for Palestinians.  

It is now 73 years since the Nakba (Catastrophe) which drove 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.  Since the conception of the State of Israel in 1948 until now, Israeli occupation forces have deprived Palestinians of their land, their security, their dignity and all the rights we as Americans take for granted: freedom of expression and assembly, freedom from arbitrary arrest and torture, freedom of movement and civil and political rights. 

Because American taxpayers give Israel $10 million every day, we are complicit in what Human Rights Watch has termed Israel’s Apartheid policies.  

Without unstinting US support, it is hard to see how Israel would have had the impunity to stage repeated attacks on Ramadan gatherings in East Jerusalem or to unleash advanced US-supplied military weapons on civilians that it has confined for 14 years in the ‘open air prison’  that is the Gaza Strip.

For decades, the US media has honed in on homemade rockets fired from Gaza and stones thrown at Israeli soldiers in the effort to justify the ferocity of Israel’s suppression of Palestinians.    

But over the last few weeks, some media outlets have featured Palestinian voices, enabling Americans to learn more about the root cause of the conflict: the ongoing dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

For instance, here on Democracy Now! you can learn about the attempted settler takeover of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem from one of its residents, Mohammed el Kurd. And hereNoura Erakat and Mariam Barghouti write about Sheikh Jarrah in The Washington Post. 

Each of us has a role to play in bringing this US-enabled injustice to an end.  Let us join our voices to those of people of conscience across the country and demand a say in how the $3.8 billion we give Israel every year is used. 

Take this demand to your Members of Congress:stop bankrolling ethnic cleansing and apartheid, and start investing in health and safety for all.

You can do so here:  bit.ly/riseupwithpalestine

See this 3 minute video for how aid to Israel from Massachusetts could be used at home.

Please raise your voice and take this action now!

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. I now begin making plans to return in fall, 2021.

My major intention is to convey perspectives expressed by the people I interview, as I understand them, allowing for translation problems, misinformation on the parts of all people involved, and my own biases and ignorance. The histories they present, for instance, I may not agree with. I feel accuracy in reporting is more important than the accuracy of their statements. Rather than insert my disagreements with their statements, which could be regarded as an act of white, Eurocentric, male supremacy, I hope to provide open platforms for those I meet.

At the moment of my writing (May 12, 2021), violence reigns in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, parts of Israel including Jerusalem, and its East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the most violent period since 2014 during the Gaza Massacre. For an overview about Sheikh Jarrah, click here. And for my recent 3-part blog series about Sheikh Jarrah and my personal experiences there, click here for part 1.

#SaveSheikhJarrah – Take Action — Sign our Petition to Members of Congress! (April 3, 2021)

The photographic act … is in fact a new beginning that lacks any predictable end…. The photo acts, thus making others act. The ways in which its action yields others’ action, however, is unpredictable.

Ariella Azoulay

PHOTOS

But first I need to get to Jenin in the northern section of the West Bank, occupied Palestine. From my journal (I’d written another version of this earlier for my blog, but this account extends it to the hip-hop concert):

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

THE CHECKPOINT

Click map to enlarge

Arriving at what I thought was the Balam or Balem checkpoint, trying to enter the West Bank from northern Israel to visit a friend, Mouwia, and the Jenin Freedom Theater to continue my Nakba photo project, parking my car (the gate was formidably closed), at first I saw no one. I called out hello, and a drowsy-looking male border agent or policeman slowly came out of the small container serving as office and housing, tucked his shirt in, clasped his belt, and asked, who are you? I’m Skip Schiel from the United States. What do you want? Entrance to Jenin. Why? To visit a friend. Show me your ID. You mean my passport? Yes. What do you do? Photography. By now a female agent had joined us. She adamantly said, you can’t come in. Why not? Not allowed. You can’t come in here. How am I supposed to get into Jenin? I don’t know. Are there other checkpoints I could use? I don’t know. Call your friend.

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

Turn around! Go go go! she said, close to shouting, on the verge of screaming. By now both had put on their bulletproof vests, knapsacks, and had their machine guns strapped threateningly across their chests.  No helmets. As if to add credibility to their commands. What had they been doing before I arrived at this lazy border crossing? I pondered to myself.

CheckpointJenin_5911-Edit.jpg
Looking south at the Salem checkpoint with the West Bank north of Jenin in the background; the luxurious-looking homes in the upper left are presumably in an Israeli settlement

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

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

Conversing with Mouwia (luckily I had data coverage, close enough to Israel to provide this), after consulting with others (I sensed that Mouwia rarely leaves Jenin or works with people, guests of the theater, who need travel info.), he directed me to another checkpoint, what I heard as the Jeffrey checkpoint [turned out to be the Jalameh checkpoint] from the Israeli town of Afula south. Without clear information anywhere—online or personally—I wasn’t sure as I was stuck in traffic whether the checkpoint would be open or closed (various views), and if open, whether I could pass, with my car or without (no online info even tho B’tselem [an Israeli human rights organization] has a list of the checkpoints. Comparatively, this second checkpoint was a breeze—going in. Coming out, if I use it, might be much different. Being rush hour, not only was road traffic generally heavy, but the checkpoint was crowded with workers returning home. I watched as long lines of mostly men entered; cars jockeyed for passage. One cursory stop, then the traffic, and I was in. Glory be! My next task was finding the camp and the Freedom Theater and Mouwia himself.

WHERE IS THE REFUGEE CAMP, THE FREEDOM THEATER, AND MOUWIA?

Photography students of Skip Schiel, Jenin Freedom Theater, 2015
Mays, Jenin, 2012, photo by Skip Schiel

Which as one might guess was complicated. By two factors: virtually no one I met in Jenin spoke English and I lost coverage of data and phone. In addition, my phone translator app didn’t work because date coverage had ceased, and the map pointer was erratic and untrustable. I asked several: where is the refugee camp? And people at best would try to repronounce the statement. Where is the refugee camp? No one understood me. Ok, I can drive around until I spot something familiar. Since I’d been many times to Jenin, I have scenes in my head, not only the camp, but the road to it, a main center with the fruit drink shop, a line of large stores, the souq, a cemetery for British soldiers or airmen, etc. But now I recognized nothing.

Until I decided to park my car and simply ask people until I found someone who spoke English. Immediately, walking into a food shop, I found someone—and the shop looked familiar. I’ve been here before! Internet data popped back just in time to phone Mouwia and ask him to speak with the fellow I’d bumped into who seemed to have some English. Here, talk with my friend, tell him where I am.

After a convoluted conversation between Mouwia and my improvised local guide; eventually the man asked to join me in my car. He directed me to the camp, which was within walking distance, a route I’ve taken before to load up on food. In a few minutes, I recognized another landmark, the Palestinian Authority headquarters and prison. As he left the car he directed me with hand signals, and sure enough: the camp, the theater, first an actor who recognized me and remembered my name, hey skip, welcome! And then I found Mouwia himself, sweaty, in the control booth about to produce a hip-hop show.

One key to surviving such incidents is avoiding panic. No, this is ok, I’ll get thru. Another is self reliance, trusting myself (and my muses) to come up with some solution. I sometimes visualize a blissful moment, say the Haifa guesthouse the night before, or refuge in the refugee camp with Mouwia and the theater.

What a contrast between morning and evening: Haifa in the German Colony and my new friend and guest house owner and host, Andrew Haddad, who I interviewed and photographed—such pristine quarters—and Jenin and my old friend and colleague, Mouwia. The difference between freedom and imprisonment—Israel and Palestine.

THE HIP-HOP CONCERT

Before I could fully settle myself in my new residence last evening I attended the hip-hop concert. As Mouwia said, this is noisy. As I say, this version of hip-hop is all about energy, frenzied energy. Plus, the repetition, same lines repeated without much variation, shouted, ad infinitum. It reminds me of young Jewish Israelis circle dancing and chanting in their febrile manner, as if to declare their possession of the lands. Same age group, different purposes.

Mist added charm, amplification added ear pain, stage lights added color, hands thrusting upwards and heads bobbing added silhouettes. I tried my best to appreciate the scene thru photographing it, a version of what I do to endure the Valley of Fire ride (a treacherous road I needed to travel between Bethlehem and Ramallah). Eventually and before the end of the concert, I escaped. Luckily I bumped into Mouwia who graciously left his post at the hip-hop concert to assist me in dropping my luggage in my room. I went for food, some from the nearby camp store (including eggs which formed the backbone of this morning’s breakfast, aided by an orange I’d picked up along the road driving past a Palestinian housing complex) and then the street kabob, me the main attraction to Jenin residents as I ate. A man offered me a cold drink, later charged me 10 shekels (nearly $3). Which I believe is high. But the teen boy who made the kabobs treated me to two rollup kabob sandwiches.

I remain mindful that most in the hip-hop audience had lived thru the 2002 fighting during Operation Defensive Shield, called The Massacre of Jenin (17 years old and older), and the construction of the wall (same year). Their own form of holocaust.

National Reading Campaign/Palestinian Children’s Day

LINKS

On April 4, 2011, revolutionary activist, director, and actor, Juliano Mer-Khamis, was shot dead by masked gunmen outside the Freedom Theatre in Jenin that he founded and nurtured. His work there positively impacted the lives of many Palestinian children mostly from Jenin’s refugee camp, and his killing was a shock. Now (April 2012), Palestinian hip hop group, DAM, has released a new single and commemorating Juliano’s life and calling for those responsible for the murder to be found and prosecuted. It is titled “Juliano’s Way.”

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. I now begin making plans to return in fall, 2021.

My major intention is to convey perspectives expressed by the people I interview, as I understand them, allowing for translation problems, misinformation on the parts of all people involved, and my own biases and ignorance. The histories they present, for instance, I may not agree with. I feel accuracy in reporting is more important than the accuracy of their statements. Rather than insert my disagreements with their statements, which could be regarded as an act of white, Eurocentric, male supremacy, I hope to provide open platforms for those I meet.

These gatekeepers [B’Tselem, Machson Watch, Breaking the Silence] are the ones that still confront us with a kind of mirror of you we are…. After all, [these] are the organizations that still enable us to maintain some kind of connection with reality…. [I]f we lose them, then I say that we truly become like animals or any other comparisons or adjectives that might suit us. At the moment that isn’t the situation—only because of them.

Major General Ami Ayalon, former Israel Securities Authority head

Click poster for more info and to register

PHOTOS

Three steps to activism, including a “heart attack.”

I’ve followed the Sheik Jarrah story and a multitude of similar stories since I began my photographic witness in the region in 2003: the word impunity for me sums up some of the policies and behaviors of the Israeli government toward the Palestinians—generally widely support by Jewish Israelis. And strong support from the United States administration (including the current Biden administration) and congress. With notable and possibly expanding exceptions.

Nabeel Al-Kurd shows me the remains of his protest tent, burned by invading Israelis

I use the term, “heart attack” or assault on one’s heart to describe what I believe are the three stages of political action:

The first is awareness—reading, hearing others, watching videos, following the news. The third step is activism—doing something like lobbying legislators, joining street demonstrations, donating money, visiting the region, and enlisting whatever tools you have such as writing, speaking, making art to foster structural change, in this case, the end of occupation and siege, gaining equal rights for all people in the region, with freedom and security for all.

What then, you ask, is the second step that moves you from the first to the third? The heart attack, an assault on your heart, a piercing, a febrile feeling that might keep you up at night, force you to think you’ve been mystically visited, believe you’ve been touched so deeply that you decide: now is the moment I take my next step. Action.

An Israeli occupying a former Palestinian home across the street from Nabeel’s home

1. Awareness—the embers

2. Heart attack, i.e., something so throbbing that you can no longer remain inert—the irresistible spark

3. Activism—the fire in the belly, unquenchable

In my view, heart attack—not suffering one but encouraging one, being vulnerable to one—is the key factor shifting you from thinking to doing, from talking the talk to walking the talk. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, those who have nothing they’re willing to die for are not fit to live.

A Palestinian resident of Sheik Jarrah

An example of this sequence from my own life.

I’ve been aware of Israel since my early teens, then impressed with the pioneer Israelis, open-shirted, arms bare, tan, and muscled, carrying rifles, forging “a land without a people for a people without a land.” They lived in agricultural coops, kibbutzim; I wanted to join them. This changed when I realized thru my travels in South Africa in the 1990s there is a parallel between how the white South Africans treated South African people of color and Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. My second version of awareness.

In 2002, in large part responding to surging Palestinian violence against injustice during the Second Intifada or Palestinian Uprising, Israel invaded all the major Palestinian centers like Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, and most viciously Jenin. They demolished homes and agricultural lands. Safely at home, I went to bed fitfully, magically worried that the Israelis would come for me and my home—this waking vision was powerful, as if feasible while realizing it was imaginary—and I’d lose my home and possibly my life. One year later, an Israeli soldier cut into Rachel Corrie with a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, American-made, heavily armed and armored, slicing thru her, breaking her back, killing her. I felt it. I was Rachel Corrie. I’d experienced my heart attack.

Now what? Do something. Don’t merely continue studying the situation, but do something. Since my calling is photography, I asked myself, can I photograph the situation? Maybe, but doesn’t that require I travel to the region? Of course. Isn’t that dangerous? Possibly. OK, try it. I joined a delegation organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and began my project, continuing to this moment. I became active.

The three steps: awareness, heart attack, activism.

LINKS

My words when I signed an earlier petition: I have multiple personal connections with Palestinians living in Sheik Jarrah, visiting and photographing them for nearly two decades. They suffer constant threats from settlers who are supported by the Israeli government. They dispute the Israeli position that Jews own the land and insist they have legal rights to ownership.

Coda:

Searching for other examples of how people have moved from awareness to action, thanks to Peterson Toscano I learned more about Walt Whitman’s early writing career. What moved him to dramatically shift his writing style, after his long prelude of failed projects?

Beauty, intense beauty as was true when in 1852 he experienced heart-searing beauty in the form of opera, the Italian Madame Marietta Alboni one key. I’ll leave that story to Peterson to tell.

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. I now begin making plans to return in fall, 2021.

My major intention is to convey the perspectives expressed by the people I interview, allowing for translation problems and misinformation on the parts of all people involved. The histories they present, for instance, I may not agree with. I feel accuracy in reporting is more important than accuracy of their statements. Rather than insert my disagreements with their statements, which could be regarded as an act of white, Eurocentric, male supremacy, I hope to provide open platforms for those I meet.

PHOTOS

To respond to the face, to understand its meaning, means to be awake to what is precarious in another life or, rather, the precariousness of life itself.

Judith Butler
Nabeel Al-Kurd with his copy of All That Remains by Walid Khalidi, an encyclopedic compilation of destroyed Arab villages and lands

Nabeel Al-Kurd was born in Nazareth, worked as a driver or courier, and then, because of the 1967 war, moved to the Jordanian-controlled Old City of Jerusalem for safety. Jordan, also controlling this section of Jerusalem, considered him and his family refugees and built housing in the 1950s in Sheik Jarrah. Because of his expanding family, in the 1980s he built an addition to his home. He’s never been allowed to use it because Israel constantly denies him a building permit—a frequent occurrence, in my view, intended to force Palestinians to leave Jerusalem, to ethnically cleanse the city. Israel demands payment of a yearly fine for building without a permit, which Nabeel pays; if he refused, Israel might demolish the addition and perhaps his original home.

He told me that a large young Israeli family moved into the addition, but, aware of its history, conscientiously moved out. Young settlers then rotated in and out, up to 12 people. They brought women, drugs, alcohol, and noise. He told me when we last met in May 2019 that Israeli security drove the settlers out and the addition he built, the small building sitting in front of Nabeel’s current home, was now guarded or supervised by what Nabeel calls a “fat Israeli from New York City.” He claimed the Zionist occupiers would open a window facing his home and shout obscenities, encourage women in the addition to bare themselves, and throw garbage toward him and his family. He erected a curtain to partially shield his family from this attempt to force evacuation. An olive tree Nabeel showed me seems to thrive, but he told me settlers destroyed a lemon tree, first with oil and other poisonous fluids, and then by ripping it out.

Nabeel, in his 70s, looks healthy but has had previous heart problems. He does not own the land his home is on but rents it from the municipality. I imagine his stress level is high. I asked him how he stays strong to fight for his rights: it’s my home, our home, our Palestinian land; I demand justice!

Mohammad Sabagh

Mohammad Sabagh is an equally skilled storyteller, having, like Nabeel, told the story many times to media, delegations, concerned people like me. Like Nabeel, equally threatened by the ongoing and relentless Nakba, he is active in the Sheik Jarrah resistance movement. So I won’t try to retell his equally compelling story.

Mohammad with Shaiya Rothberg, a Jewish Israeli supporter of the right of Palestinians to remain in their homes at a weekly protest
Weekly demonstration for Palestinian rights, 2019

I asked Mohammad if he’d mind showing me his house, which is behind and up the hill from Nabeel’s. Yes, but I don’t have much time; I need to get to the post office in 10 minutes. He explained that to house others in the family he’d expanded the small original blockhouse provided by Jordan. He showed me his guest room where he brings delegations. There I made perhaps the best photo of the set of him.

Mohammad’s guest room where he speaks with visitors and activists

Previously I’d tried photographing him as he labored with his smartphone to show me a photo of a visit from Jimmy Carter. As I told him and Nabeel, Carter is perhaps the only American president who would visit here. Can one imagine Trump coming to Sheik Jarrah to visit potentially expelled Palestinians? No; instead, if Trump came, he’d probably visit the settlers. Maybe stay overnight with them in an occupied house to get a deeper feel. How about Biden, I would ask now since he’s been elected president?

Jimmy Carter and fellow Elders join a protest in East Jerusalem, October 2010

Settlers claim the entire neighborhood is Jewish and therefore belongs to Israel. They base this on a claim that a Jewish holy man, Simeon the Just/Shimon HaTzadik, is buried in a shrine in Sheik Jarrah. Nabeel claims that the body is not Jewish but a Muslim which would give Palestinians rights to the land. Archeologists and historians have reached consensus that the body is a Roman matron. Despite this disavowal of the religious claim, settlers pray at the shrine; I once visited near it as Jewish Israelis flooded the region for a holiday and prayer. This issue has been adjudicated, always with results favorable to the settlers; now Israel is firmly in control, acting with impunity. I won’t delve further into the details; for those interested, I’ve provided links below.

Since the 1970s, resistance to Zionist incursions has taken the form of marches, weekly demonstrations, legal challenges, protest tents, and planting trees. One evicted family, the Aal-Hanoun’s, lived outside under a protest tent for weeks. Progressive Jewish Israelis often organize and support these acts of resistance.

Family of Nassar Al-Ghawi, living under a canopy in 2009, across the street from their former home, now occupied by settlers

March and demonstration co-led by Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, 2012

Mohammed Sabagh, Nabeel Al-Kurd, and me

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” It also prohibits the “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory”

The extensive appropriation of land and the appropriation and destruction of property required to build and expand settlements also breach other rules of international humanitarian law. Under the Hague Regulations of 1907, the public property of the occupied population (such as lands, forests and agricultural estates) is subject to the laws of usufruct. This means that an occupying state is only allowed a very limited use of this property. This limitation is derived from the notion that occupation is temporary, the core idea of the law of occupation. In the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the occupying power “has a duty to ensure the protection, security, and welfare of the people living under occupation and to guarantee that they can live as normal a life as possible, in accordance with their own laws, culture, and traditions.”

The Hague Regulations prohibit the confiscation of private property. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the destruction of private or state property, “except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”.

…The unlawful appropriation of property by an occupying power amounts to “pillage”, which is prohibited by both the Hague Regulations and Fourth Geneva Convention and is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and many national laws.

Amnesty International (my emphasis)

#SaveSheikhJarrah – Take Action — Sign our Petition to Members of Congress! (April 3, 2021)

Sheik Jarrah

LINKS

Facebook page of Mohammad Al-Kurd, son of Nabeel, now living and studying in the United States

For a visceral, up close view of the Al-Kurd family, you can watch this video, My Neighborhood, by Just Vision. It features Nabeel’s son, Mohammed Al-Kurd (named after his late grandfather), author of the article I quoted earlier, as an articulate teenager in Sheik Jarrah.

Home Front, a series of three videos by Just Vision about various supporters of Palestinians in Sheik Jarrah, Palestinian and Jewish israeli.

a-Sheikh Jarrah (Grassroots Jerusalem)

Tomb of Simeon the Just

For a contrasting view (SS): We all live in Shimon Hatzaddik by JPost.com staff (March 2010)

Only 3% of Palestinians have been vaccinated so far, by Mondoweiss editors (April 16, 2021)

NEXT BLOG: Three steps to activism

Zochrot (“remembering” in Hebrew) is an NGO working since 2002 to promote acknowledgment and accountability for the ongoing injustices of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 and the reconceptualization of the Return as the imperative redress of the Nakba and a chance for a better life for all the country’s inhabitants. Zochrot (“remembering” in Hebrew) is an NGO working since 2002 to promote acknowledgment and accountability for the ongoing injustices of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 and the reconceptualization of the Return as the imperative redress of the Nakba and a chance for a better life for all the country’s inhabitants.

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. I begin making plans to return in fall, 2021.

My major intention is to convey the perspectives expressed by the people I interview, allowing for translation problems and misinformation on the parts of all people involved. The histories they present, for instance, I may not agree with. I feel accuracy in reporting is more important than accuracy of their statements. Rather than insert my disagreements with their statements, which could be regarded as an act of white, Eurocentric, male supremacy, I hope to provide open platforms to those I meet.

(With major assistance from three close friends, all talented writers, LD, LD, and George Capaccio—along with Nabeel and Mohammed and other Palestinians living in Sheik Jarrah to whom this blog post is dedicated. This is a major revision of my earlier post, A brief letter about my heart attack)

When Palestinians think of themselves, they always think of “us,” the Palestinians, the afflicted, the impoverished, those robbed of home, identity and possessions, those thrown into destitution, terrorized, tortured, abandoned by the world and buried alive; they also think of themselves as dedicated, self-sacrificing, courageous, intelligent, successful, pioneering, enterprising and—despite their tragedies—robustly alive.

Salma Khadra Jayyusi

PHOTOS

Sheik Jarrah is a Palestinian neighborhood immediately north of main East Jerusalem. Jewish Israeli settlers, supported by Israeli military and police, regularly threaten the residents who have lived there for decades. Among the leaders of the resistance, Nabeel Al-Kurd and Mohammed Sabagh.

Mohammad Sabagh (left) and Nabeel Al-Kurd with a copy in his lap of All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, by Walid Khalidi

Nabeel Al-Kurd and Mohammed Sabagh, whom I consider my friends, are immediately threatened with eviction from their homes in Sheik Jarrah, where they’ve lived since the 1950s. Zionist settlers, frequently from the United States, first throw furniture, clothing, appliances, and personal goods of Palestinians into the streets. They then occupy the dwellings, forcing Palestinians to either find other housing, or, in some cases live in protest or resistance tents.

Mohammed and his home on right
Nabeel’s home, one half of his original home, the front half confiscated by Jewish Israeli settlers—even this threatened with demolition

Nabeel and Mohammed’s situation is urgent. About three weeks ago—some two years since my last visit with them—I learned that once again Israel intends to evict the Palestinians from Sheik Jarrah, and possibly demolish some of their homes. This would allow Zionist settlers to occupy the homes, occupy more and more of Jerusalem, and ultimately more and more of the West Bank—the ongoing, relentless, and merciless Nakba.

The following article is written by Nabeel’s son, Mohammed, a journalist and poet now studying and working in the United States:

Israel is committing an ongoing Nakba in occupied East Jerusalem. Settler organizations are threatening to forcibly evict 15 Palestinian families from their Jerusalem homes in the next few months. This amounts to 37 households and around 195 individuals, according to Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq. The families reside in the Karm al-Jaouni area of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the Batan al-Hawa area of the Silwan neighborhood. In November, Israeli courts ruled in favor of settler groups to evict the Palestinian families. The two groups are Nahalat Shimon International – a company registered in the United States, and Ateret Cohanim – a right-wing settlement organization. Both organizations help implement the Israeli government’s colonization of Palestinian properties in Jerusalem….

Palestinians protest against Jewish settlers who took over their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. (Photo: via ActiveStills.org)

For me, this is much more than another, easily ignored news item in my daily feeds from the region—it is personal. I have known, photographed, interviewed, and written about Mohammad and Nabeel for many years, often visiting them in their homes. This latest threat of eviction strikes me deeply.

It is the equivalent of a heart attack, an assault on my inner being, piercing my heart so severely that I cannot not act. I can no longer grow numb, discouraged, disappointed in myself, too busy, too afraid to speak out, and glide past this particular incident to get to my other, seemingly more urgent, imperatives.

I invite you, my readers, to feel the pain of others, to pay attention to the broader issues of Palestine-Israel, to be moved to act, and to work thru your legislators in our new, possibly more progressive, congress. Here is a way to immediately engage:

#SaveSheikhJarrah – Take Action — Sign our Petition to Members of Congress! (April 3, 2021)

This part of an article quoting Nabeel’s son, Mohammed, demanded my attention because of my personal connections with people write about:

Mohammed El-Kurd’s family is one of those slated to be forcibly evicted from their home in Sheikh Jarrah by 2 May. “My family specifically is currently waiting on, I don’t know, God to do a miracle,” El-Kurd, 22, told The Electronic Intifada. El-Kurd was born and raised in Jerusalem. His family has lived in their Sheikh Jarrah home since 1956. When he was 18, he moved to the United States to continue his studies. El-Kurd said he was terrified for his family, seven members of which live in the Sheikh Jarrah home. “We don’t have a place to go, we don’t have a place to stay, we don’t have the money or finances,” he told The Electronic Intifada. In 2009, El-Kurd says half of his family home was taken over by Elad, an organization whose declared objective is to “Judaize” East Jerusalem by moving in as many Israeli settlers as possible. (This refers to the 22-year-old son of Nabeel, now living in the United States. He writes for the Nation.

Read more of the recent article quoting Mohammad about potential evictions

A 32-person Palestinian family is about to be thrown out of its home in Sheikh Jarrah for the benefit of settlers (Peace Now, January 2019)

The larger picture, provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), West Bank demolitions and displacement | March 2021

NEXT BLOG: Who are these two men?

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning.

My major intention is to convey the perspectives expressed by the people I interview, allowing for translation problems and misinformation on the parts of all people involved. The histories they present, for instance, I may not agree with. I feel accuracy in reporting is more important than accuracy of their statements. Rather than insert my disagreements with their statements, which could be regarded as an act of white, Eurocentric, male supremacy, I hope to provide open platforms to those I meet.

(With major assistance from Adnan Torokman, my colleague in Jenin, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)

Trees grow in all directions
So do Palestinians

uprooted
and unlike butterflies
wingless,
earthbound,
heavy with love
for their borders and their
misery.

no people can go forever behind
bars
or under the rain.

—Etel Adnan

PHOTOS

It is now one year and eight months since my interview and photographic session with the Jenin folks occurred, then July 4, 2019, now late March 2021. Conditions have changed dramatically. The Covid-19 pandemic still rages in the West Bank and Gaza, while Israel leads in vaccination rates. Israeli citizens—not West Bank-ers or Gazans—have voted in the fourth election in two years, perhaps re-electing Netanyahu for a record-setting sixth term as Prime Minister, despite his being under indictment for corruption. Currently and expected after the election, Israel will have its right-most Knesset (parliament) in history. This contradicts the canard that a government should always be distinguished from its people—right-wing government for a largely right-wing Jewish Israeli population.

Ibrahim Eid Nghnghia (Abu Adnan) (R) with his friend,Yahia Moneeb Al-Sadi, also a first generation Nakba survivor
Adnan Torokman (R), son of Ibrahim Eid Nghnghia—stories of the Nakba

Such is the context for my writing about Ibrahim Eid Nghnghia (Abu Adnan), his son Adnan Torokman, and Ibrahim’s friend, Yahia Moneeb Al-Sadi.

A key contextual element is that the Freedom Theater in Jenin, world renowned, has, because of the pandemic mostly, shrunk its staff to just three people. Ibrahim rents space to the theater. Now that space and its consequent rent have diminished. My friend Mowia, who’s worked with me on this Nakba project, and Adnan, colleague and friend for this episode of the Nakba blog series, lost their jobs and are now working elsewhere. Adnan travels to Israel every workday to his construction job in Afula, a distance of 22 km (15 miles), requiring about 15 minutes, thru the Jalamah checkpoint. Compared to many Palestinians, he is lucky: Palestinian workers in Bethlehem begin their travels to jobs in Israel around 4 am; travel time may be several hours, both ways.

Our session begins around 11 pm, late for me (my bedtime is usually 10 pm), ends sometime after midnight. Near us, families laugh, chat, shout, and kids play; the three interviewees talk over each other, in Arabic except when Adnan translates for me. Later, listening to the audio to write this interview taxes my concentration.

Before the Nakba in 1948, life may have been quieter in the two villages where Yahia and Ibrahim were born and lived their first few years—Al Mazar for Yahia and Al Mansi for Ibrahim. The villages were about 18 km north of Jenin, and relatively close together (ironically near Adnan’s work site). Yahia was 4 years old when Zionist militia expelled him and his village; Ibrahim was much younger.  At the time of the interview nearly two years ago, Yahia was 81, one year older than I am now, and Ibrahim, Adnan says, was 70. Which implies that Ibrahim had just been born when the Nakba thunderously struck—a lightning storm no one predicted but some may have anticipated, given the Balfour Declaration and the British and world-wide tilt toward Jews searching for their homeland.

Their families are Bedouin and lived in tents, farmers cultivating olives and wheat and raising animals, mostly cows and sheep. There were no schools; both learned reading using the Quran and other subjects from a sheik (educated person). Families had no money so they paid the sheik in food, like eggs. Yahia, the older, can recall roads, shops, buildings, and families.

Al Mazar is my family’s hometown. In 1948 the whole family of al-sadi were forced to leave. Under aref el sadi’s (el mokhtar or head man) leadership they went to neighboring Jinin for safety. till this day no Palestinian is allowed in el mazar area. I learned from my mom how beautiful it was. (Jeneen al-Sadi on July 16, 2007)

Both repeat several times, “our problems all began with Balfour.” (UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour in a letter to Lord Rothschild declared in 1917 the right to a “national home for the Jewish people”, with the little-honored caveat, “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The declaration never named the Arabs, only specified them as not Jewish, and did not reference their political rights). They told me, “now, no one listens to our stories.”

Lord Balfour (middle) in Biyamina with Vera and Chaim Weizmann, (L), Russian-born biochemist, Zionist leader and Israeli statesman who served as president of the Zionist Organization and later as the first president of Israel, and Nachum Sokolov (R), a Zionist leader, author, translator, and a pioneer of Hebrew journalism, and others, 1925

Before the Nakba, the villagers had good relations with their Jewish neighbors, a memory most of the people I’ve met have told me. Many of the Jews came from Yemen, displaced before the Nakba. Arabs were generous to Jews. I’m not clear whether the villagers knew about the holocaust.

These relationships all turned violent when the Nakba began. Jewish villagers attacked their Arab neighbors, another story I regularly heard. Fleeing, most villagers thought their exodus would be temporary; the UN promised a quick return. Yahia tells me, “As if they took all my clothes and left me naked.”

Here the stories of the two friends diverge. After two phases, several different places of refuge along the way, Yahia’s family finally arrived in Jenin in 1952 and found refuge in the storage shed of the old railroad station built by the Ottomans a few years before World War 1, “The Great War.” Multiple families divided up the shed into small one-room living spaces, each family in one room. Eventually, for more space, they made tents by sewing burlap sacks together. A few decades later, the Freedom Theater acquired the building and converted it into performance and rehearsal spaces.

In contrast, Ibrahim, an infant, with his family fled to the Jordan Valley because agricultural land was then plentiful. Some families continued their flight, settling finally in Jordan across the river a short distance. Here in a place called Al-Jiftlik, Adnan was born. Families built homes. During the fighting between the armies of Jordan and Israel, many sheep were killed in crossfire.

Al-Jiftlik, West Bank, Ottoman period building, used by the British as a prison, 2011 – Credit: Guillaume Paumier
Israeli army during a house demolition in Jitflik, 2017

“How did both families travel?” I asked. “By foot, horses, and donkeys. We carried what we could rescue from our villages. We slept under trees. We brought as many animals as possible.”

Arab refugees on the Lebanon Road after fleeing their homes in the Galilee during fighting between Israeli and Arab forces, November 1948. Credit – AP

The UN Refugee and Works Administration (UNRWA), established specifically for Palestine refugees—and existing and serving to this day, despite the Trump administration cutting all U.S. funds (to be restored apparently by the Biden administration)—now certain that return was impossible, established the Jenin refugee camp in 1953. Until the Six-Day War of 1967, Jordan ruled this area, the West Bank. During that war, Israel expelled the family from the Jordan Valley, a period known as the Naksa, meaning setback or defeat in Arabic. This was the second wave of expulsions, the ongoing Nakba. By now, the family had sold all its animals.

Jenin, 1928

Ibrahim’s family was expelled or lost their homes 3 times: Nakba in 1948, Naksa after the 1967 war, and then, because of one of his activist or fighter sons, once more in 2002, when Israel demolished his home as punishment.

The Talmud teaches: who can protest and does not is an accomplice in the act. (Sabbath, 54b)

LINKS

PART TWO IS COMING

friends in the struggles,

because of a recent discussion with quaker colleagues about how to motivate people to fight for palestinian human rights, i thought you might be interested in one of my heart connections with the issues of palestine-israel, what i call a “heart attack”—a provocation or incident that pierces my heart so fiercely that i can not not actively resist israel’s extremely unjust, inhuman, illegal, and vomit-inducing treatment of the palestinians.

i’ve met nabeel al kurd and mohammed sabagh several times over my many trips to palestine-israel, frequently dropping in on them in their homes in the jerusalem neighborhood of sheik jarrah, and joining demonstrations, often organized by jewish israelis to stop the demolitions. here’s my most recent photo set and accompanying blog, if you have time to consider what grounded my heart attack, renewed my flame of advocacy.

then this article published yesterday (March 28, 2021). it stimulated me to write you. in it you can read the most recent attempt by israel to eject palestinians from homes in sheik jarrah they’ve legally and rightfully lived in for decades. and then allow israeli settlers to move in. my two friends, nabeel and mohammad, and their families are again at risk. with the whole world mostly not watching, settlers, protected by israeli police and soldiers, frequently evict palestinian owners and residents. i’ve followed this and a multitude of similar stories since i began my photographic witness in the region in 2003: the word impunity for me sums up the policies and behaviors of the israeli government—with generally wide mainstream support by jewish israelis. and strong support from the united states administration (including the current biden administration) and congress. with notable and possibly growing exceptions.

Settlers arrive at the El-Kurd home after half of it was evicted in 2009.
 Oren ZivActiveStills

btw, i use the term to describe what i believe are the three stages of political action:

1. awareness—the embers

2. heart attack, ie, something so heart-piercing that i can no longer remain inert—the irresistible spark

3. activism—the fire in the belly, unquenchable.

in my view, heart attack—not suffering one but encouraging one—is the key factor shifting people from thinking to doing, from talking the talk to walking the talk.

Rebelled Spirits by Njat El-Taji ElKhairy

Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Homes-Threats of Expulsion in Sheik Jarrah (part one)—June 5, 2019 by skip schiel

The Case of Sheikh Jarrah (United Nations, Oct 2020)

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)

PHOTOS

The Zionist argument to justify Israel’s present occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history … not even in their own religion.

—Malcolm X (Zionist Logic — Malcolm X on Zionism)

Speaker notes and from the audio recording:
Photographed with grandson Mojahed and an unnamed boy, possibly not in family
In Jenin refugee camp
85 years old, 14 during the Nakba, in 5th grade
Jews lived nearby, good relations with them
From the village of Al Mansi, now in Israel near Medigo, about 20 km/12 miles northwest of Jenin
Harvested his olive trees for years, last visit in 1982, family had planted them about 3 years before the Nakba

Al Mansi, before the Nakba

Now can go freely because over age limit—50
Trees still there

Al Mansi

During the Nakba, he brought his animals into the refugee camp, after traveling thru 4 intermediary village
No one from family was injured during the flight, altho villagers were killed and injured
In Jenin, first resided in tents, then after 2 years built houses, UNRWA began administering the refugee camp in 1953
Never politically active, 3 sons in prison, reasons not explained

Jenin

Two years after fleeing Mansi, now living in Jenin, the Israeli army raided his home and stole papers proving his land ownership in Mansi
Unaware of international mandates about the right to return, says “Mansi is my home, I own land there, I have the basic right to return, I continue to hope”
Jewish Israelis have asked to buy his land but he refuses
One son killed during intra-camp problem, prefers not to speak about it
Survived the Israeli assault on Jenin in 2002, known as Operation Defensive Shield, house damaged or destroyed
Been interviewed many times, especially by Palestinian university students studying the Nakba
Dreams regularly about his village and returning, feels the pain of helplessness

July 4, 2019, Thursday, West Bank, Jenin, Freedom Theater guest house

Slowly again now [July 3, 2019] I’m in the refugee camp (outskirts, not the heart of the camp as I was in Aida with its noise and crowdedness) and can return to my Nakba project. One interview yesterday with a dark-skinned man (M, my colleague who introduced us, translated, and helped interview) in front of his son’s butcher shop and restaurant newly opened. With M I like the balance between me the interviewer and he the translator and interpreter, meaning beyond translation to interpreting my questions. Such as my question, what have you done to resist the occupation and struggle for the right to return?

M was puzzled by my question. I tried to explain—political activism, in prison, etc? That registered. Three of Qasem’s sons are in prison (I didn’t ask the reasons, a question some people do not appreciate.) He has been distant from the struggle. His lands are on the West Bank border. I needed M to explain that. You mean where the wall sits now? Yes. For years he returned to his olive trees to harvest them. I believe he said the trees are still there but his last visit was in 1982. The number of years is sometimes hard to translate. I believe M said I could go with the man to the area. Which is a possibility; I’ll ask M about that.

Personal pronoun confusion is frequent. Who is the referent of he, him, them? I ask M for clarification (I recall that my dear friend Louise often chided me for my ambiguous use of pronouns.)

The man’s son and grandson (or daughter, with long hair I couldn’t quite tell) gathered around, as did a few neighbors or friends. One young man about 13 videoed the entire session with his phone. The man had been interviewed many times, usually by other Palestinians. I included all this in my photos, as I had with Yousef Albaba in Hal Hul (which I believe was my first interview in the series, wondrously set up and translated by Eman who I miss, and attended by Rebecca, who I also truly miss.)

Grandson, Mojahed

Yesterday we were to have interviewed a second person. But he or she was ill and we wouldn’t know until 4 pm whether yes or no. After my walk into town (when I developed the bruise on my toe), returning by 4, rested, I waited: no word. Except from Amos Givrtz with whom I’m trying to arrange a visit to Bedouin people. Maybe I’ll go there this afternoon, depending on interviews in the camp, or Sunday which is also a demonstration to free the imprisoned village sheik. I could meet Amos in the Negev at the village of Al Araqeeb.

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

About M, my colleague in Jenin: I know he tried, but he wasn’t invested in the project the way Fareed and Ayed, my previous partners, had been; the project didn’t seem to penetrate his heart. Maybe because of his connections with the Freedom Theater he felt I’ve seen this before, nothing new here. He also seemed inordinately busy and distracted. Unlike Fareed and Ayed, he didn’t regularly keep me posted about developments, delays, new ideas, etc. He failed to understand that Adnan’s father could be a good candidate for my series, even tho he was only 3 during the Nakba (did I get this correct?) nor has M sent me the details I’ve requested, names of persons and places.

LINKS

Life at al-Mansi, by Sabri Al Jubri (2001)

Al-Mansi: Location and Description, by Sabri Al Jubri (2001)

Al Mansi (Zochrot)

‘Ayn al-Mansi (Zochrot)

1948 Destroyed Palestinian Villages, by Moslih Kanaaneh

Palestinian Refugees and International Law (second edition, 2020), by Francesca Albanese and Lex Takkenberg “Offers a clear and comprehensive analysis of various areas of international law and their relevance to the provision of international protection for Palestinian refugees, including current interpretations of Article 1D of the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and the various definitions of Palestinian refugees”

The Alienation of a Homeland: How Palestine Became Israel, by Stephen P. Halbrook

How Britain Destroyed the Palestinian Homeland, by Ramz Baroud (2018, Aljazeera)—with videos

Jenin, Jenin (Mohammad Bakri, 2002)

For Palestinian filmmakers in Israel, it’s loyalty or silence, by Suha Arraf January 15, 2021

Lift the ban on Mohammed Bakri’s Jenin, Jenin: please sign this petition

Checkpoint into Jenin (July 2019) by Skip Schiel

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)

PHOTOS

The whole idea of trying to produce two states is at an end. The Oslo peace process is really in tatters… The lives of Israelis and Palestinians are hopelessly intertwined. There is no way to separate them. You can have fantasy and denial or put people in ghettos. However, in reality there is a common history. So we have to find a way to live together. It may take 50 years. However, the Israeli experience will gradually turn back towards the world they really live in, the Islamic Arab world. In addition, that can only come through Palestinians.

—Edward Said, Christian Science Monitor, May 27, 1997

A small woman, lying in bed, her family around her as Fareed (my Palestinian colleague) and I interviewed her, Fatima told us her story. As if only days earlier, she explained how she met her husband, how the Zionist militias (How to name them? Gangs, organized bands, soldiers as precursors to the Israeli army, known by some as the IDF or Israeli Defense Forces, or the IOF, Israeli Occupation Forces) violently expelled Arab villagers from their ancestral homes, and forced them into what eventually became refugee camps. As if yesterday, emblazoned in her memory.

Stage one. In 1934, her life began in the village of Jamaseen/Jammasin along the Mediterranean Sea, near Jaffa. A flat land, planted with okra, corn, wheat and other plant food sources, they raised animals as well. The village was self-sufficient and prosperous, all the food was fresh. A Jewish cooperative agricultural community, a moshav, was nearby. Relationships were good; her mother sold tomatoes and other vegetables to the Jews. At the beginning.

Arab resident of the Beer Sheva region talks with a Jewish member of the Kibbutz Mishmar HaNegev in November 1947
Photo by Hans Pinn

Stage two, her marriage. When she was 14, she visited a nearby village where her older sister lived. A young villager spotted Fatima, and, as her story runs, fell instantly in love with her. As quickly she apparently became enamored of him. He was 4 years older, 18. The next day he proposed, her father refused the marriage, the suitor threatened to join the army which apparently meant suicide. With her father and a sheik (village leader) she visited his family, and all agreed to the marriage.

Because the villages were too far apart, they couldn’t use a horse so they borrowed a car. For the wedding, Fatima’s family bought her a pink dress with white decorations. During our interview some of her family surrounding us now broke out in laughter; they’d heard this part of the story many times, how happy she is recounting her marriage.

Click map to enlarge and then use magnifier tool to further enlarge for details about Fatima’s location—from [De] Colonizer
This map also expands when clicked—from Palestine 1948, prepared by Salman Abu-Sitta, 1998

Because of the terrain (sand?) they couldn’t drive the entire way but used 3 camels. She rode the middle one. Everyone sang for her, a wedding tradition; the mukhtar (village head, mayor) invited her and her father into his house. Someone slaughtered a sheep for the celebration.

She highlighted how people served “big meat,” not the usual small meat or small pieces. She explained that such a speedy agreement to marry is unusual. But he was so beautiful she explained, with his mustache and green eyes. I asked about another photo on the wall of a young man. He’s a shaheed, she explained, a martyr.

Stage three, the expulsion. One chilly day in May 1948, she, pregnant with her first daughter, was sitting on her porch with her family, husband, mother in law, sister, father, drinking coffee. They heard loud shouts and screams, and saw people running from the other side of her village. They learned the Zionist forces had killed two women in *Wadi Kabeera, north of her village.

Terrified, burdened by the new life within her, she discussed with her husband, father in law, and others whether to flee to the nearby village of *Madawee. They decided to join. She, being pregnant, rode on a horse to the village. She and 5 others took refuge in an old abandoned house.

The next day 4 Zionist militia members arrived in the village in Jeeps. The mukhtar welcomed them and put out chairs. The Jewish men asked for coffee; the mukhtar provided it. They asked the mukhtar if anyone had weapons. He answered yes. Can you show them to us? He refused. They tried to persuade him to bring out the weapons for over 2 hours; he continued to refuse. The Jews left.

They returned that night at 2 AM and attacked. They killed the son of the mukhtar, surrounded his house, and heard someone yell, aheem, aheem! Which means go inside the house. The men then left.

The next day, village men shot at the Jewish settlement. The mukhtar asked the villagers to delay their escape until he could bury his son. The entire village attended the funeral. They then set off, she on a horse, the rest walking to the Arab town of Tulkarm, journey of about 2 hours. They slept in the mosque the first night.

Her family had no money, they were starving. Some had given them money, the mukhtar contributed. Some people went to the mountains to gather wild herbs to sell in the city. In 1950 UNRWA (UN Refugee Works Administration) provided large tents for large families and small for smaller. They also built public toilets. Since then they’ve been poor.

Fatima’s home in Tulkarm refugee camp

Advertising nearby

Fatima has delivered 14 children, all born at home with the help of a midwife—pregnant, deliver, pregnant, deliver, she told us, chuckling. Five boys, 6 girls, and 3 who died young. Eight are still alive, she has many great grand children, too many to count, she said. Her youngest daughter added to our interview, interjecting details.

She wants us to bring her to her husband’s village now, where she lived until the Nakba, immediately! I remember everything, I can guide you. Yalla, let’s go, now! I will run there. I can describe it, our house next to the school, the large pall berry (palm tree?) next to my house. She’s never returned but was able to visit a nearby village, Sidna Ali, and prayed at a holy place there. Friends have visited Jamaseen and report a few houses remain. She also heard a recent report about the village from a Palestinian woman working in Israel.

Unfortunately, Fareed cannot cross the Green Line separating Palestine and Israel to return to his home, Haifa, and even if he could and she could (which might be possible because of her age) Israel has erased Jamaseen and the villages she told us about, now mostly buried beneath the new metropolis of Tel Aviv.

At this point Fareed sings a song, Fatima joins in. it’s about Sidna Ali. She told us it’s a holy place along the Mediterranean Sea, north of Jamaseen, near Herzliya. With a small mosque.

Sidna Ali Mosque (west of Herzlia, the most affluent city in Israel)

A grandson entered our conversation and told us that nearly every month she tells the family this story. Many people have interviewed her (true for others in this series). Last week someone from New York City interviewed her. Every year a South Korean team interviews and brings her gifts. I like their eyes, she said, laughing.

* Uncertain spelling, I spelled this village name phonetically listening to the audio recording of Fatima.

Fatima with Fareed

LINKS

Al-Jammasin al-Gharbi (Zochrot)

What was the Palestinian name of the Tel Aviv area before 1948?
Answered by Adam Heller (2019)

Detail Map Of Palestine Before al-Nakba by Palestine Remembered

Palestine Land Society maps and atlases

Mapping the Destruction
Launching the first Nakba map in Hebrew – at Zochrot and on Tel Aviv streets, by Eitan Bronstein Aparicio (2013)

Animated map of Israel taking over Palestine, by Aljazeera (2014)

Nakba commemoration ceremony at Tel Aviv University, by: Eitan Bronstein, Photography by Activstills (2012)

Hidden in Plain Sight, by Ofer Ashkenazi (2019)
The Nakba and the Legacy of the Israeli Historians’ Debate

Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries (Wikipedia)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)

Because AK chooses not to be publicly identified, I have attempted to remove all forms of identification.

For Zionism, the Palestinians have now become the equivalent of a past experience reincarnated in the form of a present threat. The result is that the Palestinians’ future as a people is mortgaged to that fear, which is a disaster for them and for Jews.

—Edward Said, After the Last Sky

June 2, 2019, Sunday, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Old City, Austrian Hospice (with later additions)

A second major achievement yesterday [June 1, 2019] (the first was Nabil and Mohammed in Sheik Jarrah): interview and photograph AK. This is a result of his daughter-in-law, IO, a friend of mine and now living with him. Unlike the week before when AK awaited me in the library annex, and I awaited him in the library, missing each other by about 5 minutes, this time I arrived at the proper spot 30 minutes early. This time I also insisted to the Israeli Border Police that I be allowed to ring the library annex bell. The building was behind a police barrier, set up to prevent non-Muslims from entering the road to the mosque compound (a rare case of Israel favoring Muslims; I’ve seen them turn away Jewish Israelis.)

AK is an effusive guy, giving an exuberant rendition of his family history in Jerusalem which he claims dates to around 600 CE, with the arrival of Arabs in the Levant. I then asked about his personal story, one I’d hoped to hear. Partly his age, 85, born in 1936, predating the Nakba by about 12 years old, partly the complexity of the story, many transitions, and partly my difficulty understanding, I needed to ask him several times for clarification. I hope to use my audio recording to clarify his story. I need to also justify why I’ve included him, other than that he is an interesting and (perhaps) lovable guy.

His Arab family came to Jerusalem in 638 CE. They lived in the city 400 years until the Crusaders arrived in 1099. The Christians fled the city for Egypt. One of his ancestors, a scribe to Saladin, is buried in Mamilla Cemetery in the heart of Israeli Jerusalem.

While in Jerusalem for these 600-700 years life was peaceful, because Islam honored Christians and Jews, “People of the Book.” Muslims don’t regard them as infidels, since they didn’t fight Mohammed during the dawn of Islam early in 600 CE.

His personal story, essentially, as I fragmentarily remember it [and later, using the audio recording, filled in blanks and tried to clarify confusing parts]:

  • His grandfather built a two-part home separated by a short distance in Katamon, in West Jerusalem, now a Jewish neighborhood. He showed me photos his daughter in the USA, an architect, had found on the Internet—early 1900s.
  • Because of World War 1, his family moved to the Old City for protection from the widespread fighting. Many famous people in his family were born here—around 1917.
  • Born in the Old City in this neighborhood (where I interviewed and photographed), near the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. We visited the building of his birth later. He lived here only a short time; he doesn’t know who lives here now, thus, we were unable to enter the building—1933.
AK’s birth home in the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Al Aqsa mosque compound and the Dome of the Rock—built in the 16th century, the Mamluke period
Grave of Amir Husam al-Din Barkah Khan and near the family home with a timeline of the family—enclosing building constructed in 1389 CE
AK’s neighborhood
  • Moved to Katamon, southwest of Jerusalem, near Talpiot—1948 (the Nakba).
  • Stayed with relatives in Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan for a short period, maybe no longer than a few months, because of the 1948 wars—1948.
  • Bought and built on property where he now lives in Shu’afat, a Palestinian town north of Jerusalem, and built the home he now lives in where I visited his daughter-in-law, a friend of mine for over 10 years, a few weeks ago.
  • Perhaps most important about AK is his dedication to his family’s library and archive, a major repository of literature about Arab-Muslim history in Palestine, located near his birth site in the Old City.

The old/new neighborhood of Katamon, then (around 1948) and now

After the interview he toured me thru his Old City neighborhood, pointing to the many buildings that once were owned by his family. No longer. He knows no one in these buildings (are any owned by Israelis? I might have asked). It is about 400 meters from the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. Despite his age, he fasts. He was most gracious with me, apologized for his lack of clarity, yet he seemed to recall most dates and names precisely, asking the woman I met last week, who digitizes the manuscripts, for help occasionally. He’d brought notes, as if prepared to teach a class, and maps and photos, but only used the graphics. He’d been a teacher of English to Arabic speakers and Arabic to English speakers at schools like Birzeit University. I asked if he’d be willing to tour me thru the Katomon neighborhood, pointing out buildings he once lived in, recalling stories from his youth; he declined, partly I surmise because of his age and declining mobility.

A side story most of which he implored me to not record is about his son, now in the USA, married to his daughter-in-law who lives currently in the family home in Shu’afat.

Most tellingly, when I asked if he feels safe, living in the Palestinian town north of Jerusalem, Shu’fat, he unequivocally answered NO! Why? I asked. Because he’s surrounded by Jewish settlements, and from time to time he’s known of if not experienced terror attacks by settlers.

Shu’afat circled in blue, settlements in red (please notice that the region east of the Old City on this Google map is virtually blank—Palestinian Jerusalem, to Google, is erased.)

Further, altho he didn’t state this, I surmise it’s because Israel fully controls all the land between the river and the sea, the Jordan and the Mediterranean, despite limited Palestinian sovereignty. Anyone not Israeli Jewish remains constantly threatened by this unrelenting control. This is part of what makes his story exceptional in my series—that and preserving Arab-Muslim history in the Levant.

How does his case fit with my overall theme of people surviving the Nakba? It illustrates another form of expulsion, not physically and violently as was usually true for the other refugees I’ve met, their homes destroyed or confiscated. But Israelis exerted pressure to force him and his family out of their early homes. The end result is not much different than for official refugees (he is an official refugee, showing me his UN Refugee Works Administration (UNRWA) certificate, but he’s never lived in a camp and never asked and probably doesn’t qualify for assistance.). He simply feels under constant threat of expulsion, awaiting the tsunami of possible eventual full Israeli occupation.

One might argue: don’t we all feel unsafe? Those of us in the United States often suffer consequences of gentrification and—long-range, maybe preventable if not capable of mitigation—the foreseeable climate catastrophe. And now, most presently, the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, afflicting some populations more than others. I could become AK. Well, there are the laws, one might counter. As AK said, everything Israel did to me and my family is legal—by Israeli law. Who makes the law? Who implements it? In the States, who makes the laws? Generally, people representing the ruling class, which would be big money, corporations in particular. Recurring questions that arise for all Palestinians, me and many as well.

LINKS

Palestinian cars and homes vandalised in ‘price-tag’ attacks in East Jerusalem, by Sondus Ewies (December 9, 2019)

Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: 10 things you need to know about “annexation” (Amnesty International, July 2, 2020)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)

PHOTOS

How I have yearned to hear ululations
Of women burdened by a thousand years
Of longing for song and celebration.

—Samih Sabbagh Al-Buqai’ah

Born in 1928 in the village of Saris, west of Jerusalem, Zakia described the village of Saris as similar to the mountains of Lebanon, with fresh air and cold weather. It was planted with trees cactus, grapes, figs, peaches, apricots and olives, in addition to wheat, barley, corn, chickpeas, lentils and potatoes. In 1948, the Nakba year, she said “We were harvesting, threshing, storing figs and grains and we were self-sufficient.”. She was married then and had two children who died of measles.

“When we fled Saris, it was the beginning of summer, the beginning of harvest,” said Zakia.”The Jewish gangs attacked the nearby village of Emwas and then Sari’s villagers were displaced to Bet Susin, Beit Mahsir and Sara’a. The Jews killed three young men who tried to defend our village, Ahmed Hassan Ziadeh, Ahmed Sajjour and Mohammed Al-Hassan. They cut the leg of Ibrahim al-Najib. As the Jews entered Saris they killed three other old women, Watfa, Fatima al-Saleem, and Hilwa al-Mustafa.” Zakia adds that they stayed for about a month in the village of Bet Susin.

Zakiyya Mohammad Hamad with Fareed Taamallah

The farmers of Saris infiltrated from Bet Susin to their fields in Saris to reap their crops at night, and hide when day came. They threshed and hammered their harvest by hands indoors, since Jewish gangs would shoot them if captured harvesting. A month later, the Zionist gangs attacked Bet Susin. Zakia fled with her family to Bethlehem, to Bir Nabala and then to Qalandia.

Displaced farmers became refugees and had to work in construction in nearby villages such as Beit Hanina, Kufr Aqab and Bir Nabala. Others worked in Qalandia airport, as night guards to the airplanes, and some as tourist guides in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Zakia visited the village of Saris after 1967 and found the village demolished, but her house located to the side of the old shrine, still existed. She also found her cactus and fig trees remained, and took seedlings from her land in Saris to plant in Qalandia refugee camp while she waited to return, but has been denied returning to her home.

Zakia’s only wish is to die peacefully, buried with dignity in Saris. “The memory of my hometown remains vivid,” she said.

(Note: Zakia had lost most of her hearing; she did not use hearing aids, so we had to shout into her ear. Her son and granddaughter helped with our interview, along with her neighbor from the same village who had been born during the Nakba, Mohammad Saleh Hussein Hammad Abu-Habsa.)

Kalandia refugee camp
Fig tree in Kalandia, possibly from the seedlings Zakiya collected from Saris

LINKS

Village of Saris (Palestine Remembered)

Searching for Saris (video) by Jinan Coulter, 2013)

K(Q)alandia refugee camp (Grassroots Jerusalem)

Bi-Weekly Brief for November 16, 2020 from the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine

(Special treat) In pictures: Olive-picking season in Gaza by Fatima Shbair (November 25, 2019)
Harvesting takes place from the start of September through to the end of November and is an economic lifeline for many families

Book suggestion: The Way to the Spring, Life and Death in Palestine, by Ben Ehrenreich (published 2016)
a first hand, up close, personal, unabridged view of life in Palestine during occupation—it is for me a review and a revelation. Nabi Saleh, for instance, the much oppressed and ever resilient West Bank village near Ramallah. I have some limited experience there and with a few of its leaders, but Ehrenreich opens the story much more widely. (Skip Schiel)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)

PHOTOS

Yigal Allon [former Foreign Minister, then General Rabin’s boss] asked Ben-Gurion [Israel’s former Prime Minister] what was to be done with the civilian population. Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture of “drive them out.’ `Driving out’ is a term with a harsh ring. Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook.

—Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, quoted in the New York Times (this quote has later been disputed by Allon)

Born in 1948 during the exile, 70 years old. From Sarees/Saris village west of Jerusalem. The family lived in tents; now lives in Kalandia refugee camp near Ramallah. He has a history with Palestinian revolutionary movements, suffering many years imprisoned. After his 21-year-old son stabbed settlers at the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, the police slashed, beat, and killed the young man. Three prior incidents of violence by Israelis against relatives and friends might have motivated the young man who never told his father or mother about his decision to violently retaliate against Israeli oppression. The Israeli army then destroyed the new addition intended for the son on top of their house. Mohammad preserved part of that destroyed addition as a memorial and museum. His wife still cries over the loss of their son. He brought us to the cemetery and explained that many martyrs—shaheed—are buried there. Later, he accompanied us as we interviewed 3 women in Kalandia refugee camp, at least one from his own village of Saris. One cried, asking him to visit her more frequently. (my notes, repeated from my photo set)

Adapted from Fareed Taamallah’s Facebook page, August 20, 2019:

Israel expelled Mohammad Saleh Abu Habsa from his village, put him in jail 14 years, murdered his son, demolished his house several times, but he still hopes for Palestinian liberation and to return to his village.

Mohammed was born during his family’s forced exodus from their village of Saris, about 10 miles west of Jerusalem, to his family’s home in the Kalandia refugee camp, a result of the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe). Inhabited by approximately 1000 Palestinians, the villagers had planted olive and fruit trees. Zionist gangs confiscated 11,000 dunums (equivalent to 4.2 square miles) belonging to the village which had been built on the ruins of two Jewish sites, Shoresh and Maaleh Hemisha.

Saris, 1948

On April 16, 1948, using heavy weaponry, 600 Zionist fighters attacked the village, defended by only 12 Palestinian fighters with rifles, many of them old and with limited ammunition. The Zionists killed 4 and wounded 2. The inhabitants fled to the nearby village of Beit Mahsir; 3 elderly blind women remained in the village. The Zionists demolished the house of one, opened fire on the eyes of the others, and killed them and uncovered their loins. They then threw them in the village square. Jewish gangs completely destroyed the village including Abu Habsa’s house. Then the Zionists continued their attack and destroyed Beit Mahsir where the Saris villagers had taken refuge, later building the Israeli colony of Beit Meir on the rubble. The two groups, inhabitants of Beit Mahsir, and the expelled residents from Siris, fled to the neighboring village of Beit Susin.

Members of Harel Brigade demolishing houses in Saris, 1948

The family remained in Beit Susin until May 30, 1948, when Zionist gangs attacked them again and destroyed the entire village (they later built the settlement of Taoz, “Oasis of Peace” on the rubble). Displaced people went through several villages before reaching their final homes, often refugee camps. He was born during this period, somewhere under a tree in the village of Beit Duqqu, west of Jerusalem. The family fled to Bethlehem and then to Abu Dis (adjacent to Jerusalem), where they stayed for a year and lived in the caves during the winter of 1949. They finally moved to Kalandia camp in 1950, where the Red Cross provided tents near Ramallah, known as the Dahiyyat Albareed neighborhood, before the camp was established.

In summary, Abu Habsa an infant, the perilous flight from Saris, to Beit Mahsir, Beit Duqqu, Beit Susin, Bethlehem, Abu Dis, and finally to the Kalandia refugee camp. With the Israeli colonies of Beit Meir and Taoz, build on the rubble of several villages. Thru expulsion and erasure Israel builds its state.

Muhammad’s father worked in stone quarries to earn his family’s livelihood. The United Nations established the UN Refugee and Works Administration, UNRWA, in December 1949, began operations in May 1950, and ran the camp—all the camps in the West Bank, to this day, with funding limited by Trump administration fiats. Mohammed and his family lived in a tent for three years in the refugee camp—no streets and minimal public facilities. UNRWA built separate public toilets for men and women (long lines early and late); a shower was allowed only once per week. Disease and insects infected the camp. Kalandia airport (now closed) was near the camp, and the main street was closed when any aircraft took off or landed.

With Fareed Taamallah

In June 1967, Muhammad Abu Habsa was about to finish his general secondary school when Israel occupied the West Bank during the Six Day War. He joined the revolution against Israel and went to the Fedayeen camps in Jordan until the massacre of Jerash in 1971, known as Black September when Jordan expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO. He then returned to the refugee camp. He was imprisoned in Israeli jails three times for six months at a time. Arrested in 1975, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1985, he was freed during a prisoner exchange between the PLO and Israel. He married and lived in the camp and had three sons and a daughter. He was imprisoned again in 1995 for two and a half years.

Mother with her dead son, 2015

In 2015, his son Annan was killed by Israeli police and military in the Old City of Jerusalem after being tortured and wounded. His body was held by the occupation authorities, then released under the condition of burial at night despite the heavy rain. In retaliation for his son’s attack in the Old City, the Israeli army demolished the part of Abu Habsa’s house built for his son. Following our interview, he brought us to the cemetery in Kalandia and showed us his son’s grave.

Demolished residence of his son, kept as a memorial and museum

Despite his years of displacement, the martyrdom of his son Anan, spending more than 14 years in Israeli prisons, and the demolition of his home, Abu Habsa still advocated for the right of return and liberation. He, like many Palestinians of the Nakba and the Naksa (displaced in 1967), believes that liberation and return to home villages are inevitable—for himself and for his grandchildren. Patience is a virtue!

In the graveyard

LINKS

Searching for Saris (video) by Jinan Coulter, 2013)

Quick Facts: The Palestinian Nakba

The Palestinian Exodus in 1948, by Steven Glazer (1979, Institute for Palestine Studies)

Palestinian Exodus

The Nakba, exhibition catalog by Zochrot (“remember”)

… such a painful journey into the past is the only way forward if we want to create a better future for us all, Palestinians and Israelis alike.
—Ilan Pappe, Israeli historian

TO BE CONTINUED

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

For Zionism, the Palestinians have now become the equivalent of a past experience reincarnated in the form of a present threat. The result is that the Palestinians’ future as a people is mortgaged to that fear, which is a disaster for them and for Jews.

—Edward Said, The Question of Palestine

PHOTOS

In the midst of her extended family, including her two great-granddaughters sitting beside her, one gradually falling asleep, we interviewed Maryam in her home in the Kalandia refugee camp near Ramaallah.

June 24, 2019, Monday, Palestine-Israel, Ramallah

The older great-granddaughter frequently peered at me, suspicious perhaps. I noticed Maryam was at times abrupt with the girls, apparently pushing them, maybe away from her. Part of her story was about hitting a settler who’d tried to interfere with her and some women from the village who’d returned to harvest olives in the early 1980s. The man returned later and retaliated. This trait of hers, apparently well known in the Kalandia refugee camp, seemed evident in how she treated the girls. Abrupt, bold, at times perhaps even mean.

She said she would forgive the Israelis but only if granted her right of return. This impressed Fareed and he said he might write about her on his Facebook page. (He later profiled her; please read about it below.) That he adds material from our work to his Facebook page demonstrates his involvement with the theme and project.

Great-granddaughters

Recently (October 14, 2020), I listened to part of the audio recording we made and learned her marriage story. A friend of hers had a brother, but Maryam oddly had never met him. Her friend told her brother about a young woman eligible for marriage, Maryam. They met, one month later they married. She also told us that the villagers had no relationship with their Jewish neighbors, who also were farmers on their own land; she saw them as human beings with a different religion; they had no problems with them, a frequent refrain from the old people we met. She added that the British empowered the Jews.

Our interview took place in the context of her entire family and several neighbors, all engaged in conversation, adding, disagreeing, filling out the story—even tho most or all of her family had not lived in the village of Saris.

Family and neighbors, including Mohammad Saleh Hussein Hammad Abu-Habsa, also from Saris village (middle with light blue shirt and mustache)

From Fareed Taamallah’s Facebook page, June 28, 2019:

Maryam Abulatefa was married and has a son named Yassin. She was living and farming in the village of ” صرعة Sara”, west of Jerusalem. Their land was fertile and located in a shallow land near the mountain, with orchards, vineyards, almonds, grapes and olives. There was a water spring called Ein al-Mardum located south of the village, as well as a water well called Bir al-Qantara to the north.

In 1948, the year of the Nakba, Maryam and her family were planting wheat, lentils and corn. They began harvesting the wheat and lentils, but could not harvest the corn because Zionist gangs attacked them during the harvest and bombarded the village using planes and tanks. The peaceful peasants fled to the mountain near the village at night. Maryam and her husband decided to escape with the people. She closed the door with the key and went. Then she remembered that she had forgotten her baby Yassin (six months old) at home. She went back and carried him and ran toward the mountain in the darkness of the night.

Maryam, her husband Mahmoud and her son Yassin stayed for two weeks with the villagers under the trees in the mountain overlooking the village, hoping to return, but the Zionist gangs came with bulldozers and destroyed the village under their eyes without the villagers being able to prevent that. People lost hope of returning, and walked on foot to the southeast, to the village of Beit Netif, but Zionist gangs followed and attacked them, destroyed Beit Netif and expelled them again, to the village of Beit Ula near Hebron.

They then fled to Jericho, and finally to Kalandia Refugee Camp north of Jerusalem, where they live today after 71 years of the Nakba.

Maryam is still confident that she herself or her grandchildren will return back home. Maryam says: “I am ready to forgive and reconcile, provided that I return to my village, even if they put me in a tent. What is important for me is to live the rest of my life and to buried in صرعة Sara .. The Lost Paradise”.

With Fareed Taamallah

Read Fareed’s post about Maryam with many comments in Arabic translated into English.

Here’s just one comment, from Monther Mohana:

This lady. in front of. all world am ready to kiss hair head and foot. those. Palestinian ladies the basic and. defence of our land. thank you my dear friend

عبد الرحمن السبععائدون لا محالحة ولكن لا امل على هذه الايادي والحكام اليوم سياتي الله في الفرج من حيث لا نعلم ولا يعلمون

LINKS

Kalandia Refugee Camp (Grassroots Jerusalem)

Horrors Of Occupation: Qalandia Refugee Camp In The West Bank by Shubhda Chaudhary (2016)

Jewish Soldiers and Civilians Looted Arab Neighbors’ Property en Masse in ’48. The Authorities Turned a Blind Eye, by Ofer Aderet (March 10, 2020, Haaretz) and attached

Searching for Saris (video) by Jinan Coulter, 2013)

My current, upcoming, and previous exhibits and shows

About Skip Schiel

Contact information

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TO BE CONTINUED

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

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

—Fareed Taamallah

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

Fareed with his certifiably organic watermelon

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

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

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

Checkpoint, Hebron, 2008 c. photo by Skip Schiel

Examining for explosive belts, Harawwa, West Bank, 2007

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

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

Farm in the Jordan Valley, photo by Fareed Taamallah

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

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

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

Skip Schiel and Fareed, 2019

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

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

LINKS

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

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

PHOTOS

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

—Theodor Herzl, Diaries

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

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

Nakba-Amari-refugee-Palestine-Israel_DSC3406
Khadija Mohammad Al-Azza (Um Ghazi) in the Amari refugee camp

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

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

Otherwise I believe I made a decent set of photos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

Facebook page of Fareed Taamallah

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

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

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

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

To be continued

My photographic life

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

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

Kodak Brownie camera
Kodak Autographic fold-out camera

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

Beauty will save the world.

—Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Idiot”

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

Website

Video

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

From Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz

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

(His recurring dream while in Auschwitz:)

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

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

PHOTOS

June 21, 2019, Friday, Palestine-Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fareed and me

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

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

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

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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

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

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

PHOTOS:

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

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

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Tal Essafi, 2013. photo by Liadmalone

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

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

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

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Ajoor/Ajjur, 2019, photo by Skip Schiel

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

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

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

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Refugee camp, Jericho, 2005, photo by Skip Schiel

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Jericho, 2015

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

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

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

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With Fareed Taamallah, my colleague, from Ramallah

LINKS

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

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

Tell es-Safi

Ibriq (Community)

Palestine Film Institute

TO BE CONTINUED

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

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Neama Zaid

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

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

PHOTOS

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1880 Palestine Exploration Fund (click map for enlargement)

Notes from our interview.

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

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

She recalls many details of her life in the village

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

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

The Jews from nearby Tel Aviv spoke Arabic.

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

Her family fled first to Budrus and then Ramallah.

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

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

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

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

Why did she settle in Jalazone?

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

Beit Nabala (Zochrot)

Beit Nabala (Palestine Remembered)

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

Also from Beit Nabala, Fatima Nakhli (Um Yousef)

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

MY POSTING DATE, MAY 15, 2020is NAKBA DAY

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

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

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

—The Song of Songs 2:12,13

PHOTOS

Family and Identity

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

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

SKIP: Your wife’s grandfather?

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

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

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

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

Your children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

You identify as Christian. What does that mean?

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

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

So you go to church?

I’m not practicing so much.

OK. Do you believe in the supernatural?

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

Like sex. (laughs)

Yeah.

And money.

Yeah.

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

Why should you need to know that?

That’s not relevant.

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

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

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

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

Okay.

Okay. That would be easier for you.

Let me pay for the breakfast.

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

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

NEXT: More Nakba survivors

LINKS

 

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

 


Adalah—The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel

 

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Association for Civil Rights in Israel

 

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

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

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

2020 coronavirus pandemic in Israel+

PHOTOS

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

Faisal-Weizmann Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Andrew pours himself a drink

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

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

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

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

Do your son and your wife share your views?

Yes.

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

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

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Conflict resolution class, Ramallah Friends School, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could you give an example?

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

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2014 (Boston)

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

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

The army?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And your son is Aseem?

 No, Essam.

And that means a proud boy?

Proud and independent.

Yeah. OK. And you’re Andrew.

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

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

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Haifa, 2013

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

LINKS

Historical Memory Project on Haifa

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTOS

Andrew Haddad, working for a new nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In what?

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

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

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

 

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Credit: Ilya Melnikov

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are they all Haddad?

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

Are they still in Jenin?

Yes.

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Jenin

Because I’m going there today.

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

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Haddad Village, Jenin (photo: Haddad Village)

I will try.

You should.

Can you go to Jenin to visit?

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

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

They don’t check your identification?

Yes, sure, they do.

But they don’t stop you.

No.

And coming back?

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

And you go to Ramallah?

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

I mean, the Palestinian Authority Palestinians.

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTOS

Andrew Haddad, about being Palestinian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haddad Guest House

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

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

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

PHOTOS

VIDEO

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

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

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

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

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

The power of symbol.

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

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

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

 

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Ein Hawd

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Ein Hod

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

February 28, 2020, Cambridge Massachusetts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On the Way to Ein Hod, Marcel Janco

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

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

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

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

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Dadalab

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

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

Rashid Khalidi, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

Ein Hod by the Lonely Planet guide book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcel Janco

Ein Hod Artists’ Village

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

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

 

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

Not on Any Mapa video about unrecognized villages in Israel including Ein Hawd, made in the mid 1900s

TO BE CONTINUED

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

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

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

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

—Barry Lopez

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before the Nakba

During and after the Nakba

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

Rabbis for Human Rights

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

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

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

PHOTOS

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

Wikipedia

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Rajab Mustafa Ghanem

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

 

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

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

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Dahmash mosque, Lod/Lydda

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

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

History of the expulsion in 1948

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

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Ramallah

Ismail_Shammout's_Where_to_1953..

Ismail Shammout’s “Where to?” (1953)

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

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

LINKS

Israel’s Law of Return

Massacre at Dahmash mosque in al-Lydd

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

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

Lydda, 1948, By Ari Shavit (2013)

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arab structure along the highway

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

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

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

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

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

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Destroyed mosque (or synagogue?), Ramla, Israel

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

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

I’ve applied to Hiba for a refund:

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

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Near the moshav, Gan Haim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ramla

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

Refugee statistics (UNHCR)

More refugee statistics (Help Refugees)

TO BE CONTINUED

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

(Thanks to Fareed Taamalla)

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

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

PHOTOS

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Palestine-refugees-Nakba-Tulkarem__DSC3110

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fatima’s son

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

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

LINKS

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

Bayt/Beit Nabala (from Zochrot)

TO BE CONTINUED

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

(Thanks to Ayed Al-Azza)

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

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

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

PHOTOS

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

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

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

Nes Harim-Dehesh-earth SM

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

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

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

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

LINKS

Deheshe/Dheisheh refugee camp

Beit Etab (video)

Al-Ahram
March 15, 2000

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

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

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

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