Only by awakening can you know the true meaning of that word. —Eckhart Tolle
From early March thru end of May I photographed, videoed, and wrote in Palestine-Israel, north to south, east to west, Israel and Palestine, wet and dry, happy and tragic, brightly lit (oh that Mediterranean Light!) and dark. With what I hope is an open heart, available to all parties, a fair-eyed and handed treatment of different experiences.
- Nearly one month along the Jordan River from its headwaters on Mt Hermon to its tragic termination in the dying Dead Sea.
Mt Hermon, headwaters of the Jordan River, Israeli surveillance center
- Organized annually by the illustrious Freedom Theater of Jenin, the two-week Freedom Bus Ride thru the West Bank visited inspiring nodal points of suffering and resistance such as Bil’in, Tuwani, Nabi Salih, and the Jordan Valley, often staying for several days while sleeping on floors.
- Teaching photography to young adults for two weeks thru the Freedom Theater in Jenin’s refugee camp.
- Exploring the eastern sector of Jerusalem by photographing for Grassroots Jerusalem, while residing for one month in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
- 5 days with Israelis who live on the Gaza border, often attacked by home-made rockets and mortars launched by Gazan militants, photographing and filming there (on kibbutzim and moshavim, i.e., cooperative agricultural communities) an organization called Other Voice, Jewish Israelis calling for negotiations rather than war to resolve the conflict.
- Photographing two conferences, one about coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis, the other about cohesion of the various Palestinian groups in 1948 israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
Problems occurred during the photography training when apparently I did not satisfy students’ wishes for more advanced training. Altho one of the Theater’s requests was to fully explore light in photography, one of my most practiced photographic elements, I might have failed to help them understand how light works. Given the conditions, expectations, and my expertise in photography I did my best. Another problem was that I was not able to enter Gaza. The organization I usually work with that can get me a permit, the American Friends Service Committee, did not need my services. Also since the summer 2014 Gaza war, Israel has tightened entrance. I was close to Gaza when with Other Voice, and phoned my good friend in Gaza, Ibrahim, which only exacerbated my (and his) frustration.
Was my trip a success? How measure this? Achievements? Photo and movie production? Insights? Survival in relatively good health?
Was my trip useful? Will it help end the conflict, assure security for the Israelis and justice for the Palestinians?
What is the point of my work? An adventure, a vacation, a wish to demonstrate my bravery? I answer, respectively: Maybe, time will reveal. Possibly, I undertook it with good intentions. A compulsion, an itch, a need, unfathomable.
Conditions In Gaza (Gaza Blockade In Numbers) are the worst since the 1948 birth of Israel and the catastrophe it caused for the Palestinians, the Nakba. Altho unable to witness Gaza directly, thru study and conversation I learn virtually nothing has been rebuilt, Israel continues to block entrance and exit (my case), and altho fighting has not resumed in this past year, most people I spoke with, inside and outside Gaza, expect another war, possibly more devastating than the one last summer. Unless major compromises are made by all contending parties.
In the West Bank and Israel conditions vary according to location (mid June 2015 UN report here). As I wrote in more detail here, most Israelis seem oblivious about the occupation, not affected directly by it, even if in West Bank settlements (as long as there is “quiet”). For Palestinians in the West Bank, especially the regions the Freedom Bus Ride visited, including Jerusalem, the tight Israeli military and economic control continues. I’ve heard that Hamas, ruler of Gaza, is losing support and people are outspoken about that. And in the West Bank where Fatah rules, many people have abandoned the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, the Authority without authority, handmaiden to the Israeli government.
Struggle against oppression continues, but it is localized to a few key points in the West Bank, and virtually absent in Gaza. Or put differently, it seems effective and strategic in only a few places. Otherwise, West Bank resistance seems pro forma: a group gathers in protest, maybe against land loss or prison conditions. The process may begin nonviolently (this as a value and tactic is much debated) but usually boys, the shabab, throw rocks and the soldiers fire, depending on who is among the protesters, live ammunition, rubber-covered metal bullets, tear gas, skunk water (chemically treated to resemble sewage and stick to clothing and skin) or stun grenades. Quid pro quo. Predictable and pointless. Or so some, including me, think. I search for strategic resistance with a vision for the future and found it among all the groups visited by the Freedom Bus Ride.
I hope my materials give a deeper sense of my experiences and perspectives.
I end this report with an idea: one’s perspectives are generated not only by relevant experience, study, and influence—my trip in this case—but by personal points of reference, often subconscious, often not related directly to one’s opinions.
I speculate that those tilting toward Israel in their perspectives share points of reference, whereas those tilting toward Palestine might not. Jews usually tilt toward Israel by referencing anti-Semitism, the horrors of the holocaust, and persistent, nearly existential fear of Iran (going back to the days of exile in Persia?). A tilt toward Palestine could be from a variety of points of reference. One person might have experienced oppression, as with African Americans. Or being raised during the 1960s, radicalized by the Vietnam-American war and the Freedom Movement like me. Paradoxically Jews might also tilt toward Palestine if not for their Jewishness—Jewish proclivity toward justice could be a key point of reference but Jewish fear for their own and Israel’s survival overrides their sense of justice.
My reference points are—altho I shouldn’t be too hasty to decide—Wounded Knee, my early Zionism, the African American Freedom Movement, and a dream I had in South Africa about Martin Luther King Jr. I came of age thru Wounded Knee: playing the cowboy who killed Indians when we played; my early Badlands experience, near the massacre site, with my family; later reading books such as Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee; and then my first visit to the actual site in 1982 while roaming the Great Plains alone. One year later I lived and photographed on the reservation with the Jesuits. Seven years after that in 1990 I was on the Pine Ridge reservation again in South Dakota with my partner for the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee. These adult experiences led to a major photographic project.
Thru this process I learned compassion for the “extreme other”—people not in any of my circles, not in my family, neighborhood, or ethnic group. They were on the other side of the planet (or a different planet), not my skin color or sharing my first language, etc. Wounded Knee victims were truly the “extreme other.” As the Palestinians had been other to me—until I visited in 2003 and met real Palestinians.
Wounded Knee, 1890
Secondly, my early Zionism—growing up admiring the kibbutz, the pioneer, the tanned and muscled young man with a rifle over his shoulder, working the land with an array of similarly tanned and muscled beautiful young women with rifles over their shoulders (oh how I desired to join them); then teaching at Maimonides School in 1966-67, celebrating the outcome of the Six Day War; later the period of Munich and airplane hijackings; and slowly shifting direction as I observed parallels between South African apartheid and Israel while visiting South Africa.
Thirdly, the African American Freedom Movement interwove with my Zionism, especially during the mid 1960s when I contemplated going south for Freedom Summer but feared and refused, forever regretful. Now I discover that regret leads to my willingness to enter danger zones in Palestine-Israel.
Finally, the dream about Martin Luther King Jr. I dreamt he appeared to me and in effect said, while he tapped me on the shoulder, “Skip, I’m dead, you’re alive, it is now your turn.” Which meant: utilize his analysis of the triplet of racism, militarism, and extreme consumerism to struggle for justice. He did not point me at Palestine-israel; only later did I make this connection.
A button I proudly wear
What next? Lots of work this summer and into the fall preparing exhibits, slideshows, movies, blog, website, and eventually touring in the USA to show my results. Which is where you, dear reader, comes in.
Would you like to sponsor a presentation?
Here are some of my current projects, slideshows, movies, and prospective photographic exhibitions:
Thru my Lens: Palestine-Israel
The look and feel and meaning of the situation in this troubled region. Based on my recent three-month journey of faith in action, I will show and discuss my photographs about coexistence, Palestinians in Jerusalem, nonviolent resistance to the occupation in the West Bank, and other topics.
Freedom Bus Ride thru the Palestinian West Bank
A slideshow by Skip Schiel about Palestinians under occupation practicing exemplary strategic nonviolent resistance. The renowned Freedom Theater of Jenin West Bank organized a two-week bus journey inspired by the Freedom Movement and Bus Rides in the United States, some 60 international and Palestinian riders, to explore some of the most attacked and resilient communities in the West Bank—Bil’in, Tuwani, Nabi Salih, the Jordan Valley, and Jerusalem itself, known by thousands for their creative struggles against oppression.
Jerusalem Day: the Controversial March of Flags
A slideshow-movie by Skip Schiel about the annual celebration of Jerusalem’s “reunification.” In reality, Jerusalem is not unified, but in the eyes of many of its Palestinian residents, it is occupied. All governments refuse to locate their embassies there, but instead base in Tel Aviv. The march provocatively begins in Sheik Jarrah, a contested Palestinian neighborhood, marches thru the eastern, largely Palestinian sector of Jerusalem, thru the Damascus Gate, and into the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall. I photographed and videoed this year’s march, trying to carefully depict both sides of the controversy.
Other Voice: Gaza’s Israeli Neighbors
A movie by Skip Schiel about courageous Israelis advocating for talks, not tanks, diplomacy, not war. Living within two miles of Gaza, these Israelis suffer the brunt of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, most recently infiltration as well. Yet they call for an intelligent response to the violence in their neighborhood, in league with similarly minded Gazans.
Holy Land Water
Hydropolitics in Palestine-Israel, from Mt Hermon, the headwaters of the Jordan River, to the dying Dead Sea, the River’s terminus.