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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)

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.

Nakba-Palestine-Israel_IMG_6038

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. 

Naballa13

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Agape Community

Francis Day 2019 – A Short Video

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

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

(Thanks to Ayed Al Azza)

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

—Hannah Arendt

PHOTOS

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

From my journals of June 10 and 11, 2019:

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

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

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

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

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

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Beit Jibreen (press here to enlarge)

Map Beit Jibrin

One walking route to Bethlehem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Azza refugee camp

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MAP-Expropriated land by JNF.jpg

JNF = Jewish National Fund

LINKS

Bayt Jibrin by All That Remains

Zochrot about Bayt Jibrin

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

Mapping what’s been lost, by  (

Archival photographs—David Staniunas

Tour Beit Guvrin (nothing mentioned about Arab habitation)

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

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

—Edward Said

MAJOR THEMES EXPRESSED BY THE REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

 

FUNDING

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

I welcome donations.

WHAT IS MY MAJOR CURRENT PROBLEM?

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

YET TO DO

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

 

GOALS AND PURPOSE 

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

WHAT MOTIVATES ME?

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

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

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

Trial booklet from Schiel’s first season

GoFundMe appeal for Skip Schiel refugee project

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

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

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

 

(Captions indicate name-current home-ancestral village)

WHERE AND WHEN?

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

WHAT IS THE NAKBA?

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

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

 

ACHIEVEMENTS

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

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

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

DIRECTORIES

Directory of names and places from the first trip

Directory from the second trip

DISAPPOINTMENTS AND FAILURES

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

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

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

 

COLLEAGUES

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

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

—Howard Zinn

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

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

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

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

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Salem checkpoint with the West Bank north of Jenin in the background

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

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

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

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

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

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Jalameh/Mqeibleh checkpoint

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

 

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

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jenin

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

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

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Haifa

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

World Refugee Day 
20 June 

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

PHOTOS

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

—Walid Khalidi, 2006 or earlier

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

Walaja aerial SM

Yellow indicates Palestinian village and Blue Israeli settlement/colony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About settlement expansion and corresponding shrinkage of Palestinian land:

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

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

 

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

—Diane Buttu

LINKS

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

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

Welcome To al-Walaja

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

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

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

PHOTOS

MOHAMMED SABAGH

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

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

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This housing complex was once home to 8 Palestinian families.

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

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

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

First photo set

Then again in 2015

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

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

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Mohammed Sabagh (R) with Shaiya Rothberg

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

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

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

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

Additions about Nabeel from my notes:

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

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

LINKS

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

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

Sheikh Jarrah, My Neighbourhood (2013)

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

MORE COMING IN THE SERIES “ON OUR WAY HOME”

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

Special note: World Refugee Day, June 20, 2019

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

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

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

PHOTOS

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

Dream notes:

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

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

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

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

meet nabeel and mohammed of sheik jarrah:

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

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

photos enclosed.

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Nabeel Al-Kurd

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Mohammed Sabagh

NABEEL AL-KURD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

My Neighborhood, a movie by Just Vision about Sheik Jarrah

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

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

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

Special note: World Refugee Day, June 20, 2019

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

― James Baldwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Patio of American Colony Hotel

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

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

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

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

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

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Outside Damascus Gate, past the crush

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

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

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

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

LINKS

Educational Bookshop

American Colony Hotel

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

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

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

—James Baldwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On the bus from Ramallah to Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The photographer, photo by Kareem

LINKS

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

Danger: Peace Combatants (May 3, 2019)

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

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

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

Jewish Voice for Peace updates (May 23, 2019)


TO BE CONTINUED

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


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

—James Baldwin

May 14, 2019, Tuesday, Cambridge, MA

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Over Boston, around noon

PHOTOS (sky views)

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

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

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

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

To SF, a close friend:

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

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

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

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

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

flight photos

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Over the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 4 hours later

 

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

 

LINKS

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

TO BE CONTINUED

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

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

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

PHOTOS

October 17, 2018, Wednesday, Jerusalem, Old City

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

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

 

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

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

Another time, Ayed, hoping.

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

 

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

 

LINKS

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

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

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

Yad Vashem Sited on Deir Yassin Massacre Site

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Palestinian Refugees in Gaza & the West Bank

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

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

—Michael Eric Dyson

To donate please go to my GoFundMe campaign

LATEST

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

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

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

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

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

Please see: recent photography and recent blogs

Directory  of those photographed

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

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Former mosque, village of Al Qabu, Israel

BACKGROUND OF THE PROJECT

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

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

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

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

* (Great March of Return)

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

SKIP SCHIEL


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

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

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

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

PALESTINIANS

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

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

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

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

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Israeli mortar shell fired at Palestinian village in Gaza


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

LOGISTICS

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

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

BUDGET FOR THE SECOND PHASE: $9,000

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

GOALS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Refugee camp in Gaza


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

SAMPLES OF MY WORK

Book  (Eyewitness Gaza)

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

Photographs

Blog

TESTIMONIALS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—John Paulman

SELECTED PHOTOS FROM MY WORK IN GAZA


Relative of family member imprisoned by Israel


In a refugee camp trauma treatment program


A celebration at the Qattan Center for the Child


Limited free desalinated water


At the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, picking thru garbage

EXTRA INFORMATION

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

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

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

 

 

October 15, 2018, Monday, Bethlehem

PHOTOS 

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

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

 

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(Click map to enlarge)

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

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Prickly pear cactus/sabra/צברtzabar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

Al Qabu (Wiki)

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

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

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

Farming while Palestinian: a World Water Day outrage by  )

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

TO BE CONTINUED

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

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

—Yousef Weitz, diary, December 20, 1940

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

The message core:

diane,

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

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

samples below at the links.

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

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

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Click image to donate

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

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Minga via Whatsapp

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

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

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

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

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

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Palestinian worker,  Bethlehem checkpoint 300

Among these acts of kindness:

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

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My luggage outside the guest house, waiting for Mousa

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

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

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

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

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

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

PHOTOS (of Abdel)

ABDEL

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTOS (of Asaed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends Of Al Rowwad

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

Al Rowwad Vocational Training Center

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

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

PHOTOS 

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

—Jiddu Krishnamurti

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“Existence is Resistance”

September 21, 2018, Friday, Hebron

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

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

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Alternatives to Violence Project workshop in Hebron, Occupied Palestine

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

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

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

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Old City, Hebron, garbage thrown by Israeli settlers

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

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

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Shopkeeper

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

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Bullet wound in wall from Goldstein massacre in 1994

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

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

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Muslim prayer

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

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Hebron body scrubber

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

LINKS

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

Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat HaMachpelah)

Baruch Goldstein by Matt Plen

Destroying History by Ahmad Sub Laban (2004)

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

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

September 12, 2018, Wednesday, Bethlehem

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

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

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

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

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Al Qabu

Since expulsion she has never visited.

Fled first to Bethlehem, then to Aida camp.

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Aida refugee camp

Sad when contemplating home.

Feels her health deteriorated from sadness over loss.

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

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

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

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

I told her she is beautiful, her mouth especially.

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

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

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

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

Whether to video or photograph?

How to use narration, get it translated?

Not particularly pleased with my first photos.

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Her home

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

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LINKS

Al Qabu

More about Al Qabu

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

Al-Qabu tour by Zochrot – Report

Photo-story: A Trip to al-Qabu

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

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

Aida Refugee Camp (UNRWA) 

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS  (partial archive of earlier 2018 photos in Palestine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Yousef asked me to remove all identifying signs

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

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

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

LINKS

Alternatives to Violence Project

Refugees in Norway (2018)

Further info about Norway

Great March of Return (Gaza)

Further info about the Great March

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

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS 

Solidarity is the political version of love.

—Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz

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

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

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

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

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Aida refugee camp

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

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

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

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

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Khalil Mohammed Rashida

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

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

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

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

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Earlier dwellings Israel built for expelled Bedouins

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

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Former Jordanian military barracks

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

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Goat head stew

LINKS

Negev/Naqab Bedouin

Israeli control and displacement of Palestinian Bedouins

Ein Gedi

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS 

I am here because I care.

—Rachel Corrie

My Own Housing is at Risk

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

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My home in Cambridge Massachusetts (click here for enlargement)

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

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My neighborhood, looking west

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

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

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Gaza, 2010, photo by Skip Schiel © 

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

Context of my Palestine-Israel Work

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

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

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

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

Right of Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief & Outrage

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love and rage,
Alissa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon Park-Lake near the Date Palm Spring, Yaakov Shkolnik.jpg

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

ADDITIONAL LINKS

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

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

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

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

PHOTOS

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

—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Linda Dittmar and her Memoir Project: Destroyed Arab Villages

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

Linda-portrait-2-_WEB

Linda Dittmar

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

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

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

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

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

—Linda Dittmar

Zochrot Deborah Bright : Qula, near Lydd (Lod), 2010 ADJ SM

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

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

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

Deborah Bright’s photos, “Nakba”

Detroit—Coming Home: Johnny, my Detroit Neighbor

 

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

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

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

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

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

Curiosity: Human Beings and their Ancestral Homelands

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

Part 3 of motivations coming soon.

 

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

PHOTOS

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

—Mahmoud Darwish

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

Self exile from Chicago’s Southside

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

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

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

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

AH to Southside

Arlington Heights to Chicago’s Southside via public transport

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

Enveloping global refugee and immigrant crisis

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

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

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

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

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

The Great March of Return in Gaza

VP-GazaReturnMarch-Refinements-20180503 copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First part of this interim report

LINKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

REPORT

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

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

yousef-color-bw

Yousef Albaba in color and black and white

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

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

Mock up of page showing BW-color schema

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

Refugee project locations

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

 

DISCUSSION OF BLACK AND WHITE VS COLOR

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

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

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

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

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

Godafoss, Richard Lapping

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

NEXT STEPS

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

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

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

MAP-Expropriated land by JNF

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

NEXT BLOG

What motivates me to do all this?

LINKS

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

PHOTOS

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

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

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

 

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

Ajjur:Agur-BethlehemWalk

Ajjur Bethlehem trek

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

1948 Palestinian Exodus (expulsion)

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

Ajjur 

Aida refugee camp

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

September 14, 2018, Friday, Bethlehem

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

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9387.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS (new ones)

TO BE CONTINUED

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

September 12, 2018, Wednesday, Bethlehem

PHOTOS

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

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Ahmad Ali Dawoud

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

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Key to his ancestral home

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

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His village

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

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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

September 18, 2018, Tuesday, Hebron

PHOTOS (of Yousef Albaba)

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

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

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With Eman Wawi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

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

September 27, 2018, Thursday, Jerusalem, Old City

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

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

Dearest friends and family,

I write you happily from the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. At airport security, possibly because of the huge tourist influx, many drawn by the upcoming Jewish high holidays, I passed thru passport control with no questions, no suspicious looks, no requests to stand interrogation, no need for my various stories and contacts, no