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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.

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

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

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

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

REPORT

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

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

yousef-color-bw

Yousef Albaba in color and black and white

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

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

Mock up of page showing BW-color schema

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

Refugee project locations

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

 

DISCUSSION OF BLACK AND WHITE VS COLOR

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

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

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

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

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

Godafoss, Richard Lapping

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

NEXT STEPS

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

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

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

MAP-Expropriated land by JNF

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

NEXT BLOG

What motivates me to do all this?

LINKS

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

PHOTOS

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

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

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

 

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

Ajjur:Agur-BethlehemWalk

Ajjur Bethlehem trek

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

1948 Palestinian Exodus (expulsion)

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

Ajjur 

Aida refugee camp

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

September 14, 2018, Friday, Bethlehem

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

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9387.jpg

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

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

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9392.jpg

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

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

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

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9415.jpg

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

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

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

LINKS (new ones)

TO BE CONTINUED

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

September 12, 2018, Wednesday, Bethlehem

PHOTOS

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

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1677.jpg

Ahmad Ali Dawoud

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

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1621.jpg

Key to his ancestral home

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

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1672.jpg

His village

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

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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

September 18, 2018, Tuesday, Hebron

PHOTOS

Palestine-Refugee-Halhul__DSC9967.jpg

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

Palestine-Refugee-Halhul__DSC9976

With Eman Wawi

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

Halhul map-OVAL.jpg

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

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

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

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

Palestine-Refugee-Halhul__DSC9984.jpg

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.

oldcity_jerusalem_map-oval.jpg

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.

Palestine-Refugee-Halhul__DSC9999.jpg

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

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

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

September 27, 2018, Thursday, Jerusalem, Old City

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

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

Dearest friends and family,

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

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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

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AVP team, Rebecca Hecht, Joe DiGarbo, Steve Alderfer

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

FLIGHT PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

Alternatives to Violence Project

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS (Flight)

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

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

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

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

September 5, 2018, Wednesday, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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

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

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

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

 

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My bed at home with a small portion of my gear

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED

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

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

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

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

PROJECT

Gaza, 2006

The issues erupting from Palestine-Israel have troubled me for decades, as they have the world community. Mainstream media coverage tends to justify Israel’s positions. Currently and alarmingly the United States’ president and Israel’s prime minister are particularly close, heading largely right-wing governments. This does not provide hopeful context to create justice, peace, and security for the region.

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

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

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This will include regions in southern Israel, where some 75% now in Gaza once lived, like Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Jaffa; where many now in the West Bank once lived, their original homes now in Israel’s central region, Lodz and Ramla for instance; and in northern Israel, Ein Hod, now an Israeli art colony, and Safad. Those from the north often fled to refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. According to estimates from the Palestinian NGO BADIL the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, on 2015 there are 334,600 IDPs in the Palestinian occupied territories. (With an additional 384,200 IDPs in Israel, which for this trip I do not plan to explore.)

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

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

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

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

SKIP SCHIEL

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

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

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

PALESTINIANS

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

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

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Israeli mortar shell fired at Palestinian village in Gaza


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

LOGISTICS

In September 2018, assuming Israel grants us entry permits, I will enter Gaza; if unable to enter Gaza I will concentrate on the West Bank, expecting to complete the project after several trip by the middle of 2020.  Despite the recurring turmoil in that region, I’ve always managed entry to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. I can’t guarantee entry this time, only that I will try my best. Despite the political uncertainties I intend to maintain focus on Palestinian refugees in the diaspora and internally. This is a multi-year project.

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

BUDGET

·      Airfare – $2500
·      Transport in country – $1000
·      Compensation and donations to colleagues – $1000
·      Food and lodging – $1500
·      Photographic equipment and supplies – $500
·      Post production—developing, editing, printing, slide show making, etc –  $2000

GOALS

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

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Refugee camp in Gaza


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

* The plea of refugees in Gaza to return to their ancestral villages now in Israel is the central focus of the Great March to Return . It began on April 2, 2018, was planned to end on May 15, but for now (August 15, 2018) is ongoing. These dates mark two important historical events, Land Day when 6 Palestinians were killed as they attempted to return to their villages in 1976, and Nakba Day marking the beginning of The Catastrophe, or the Grand Dispossession in 1948. The violence of this effort—as of August 9, 2018, Israeli army snipers have killed 172 mostly unarmed Palestinians, with nearly 17,504 wounded (more than 1000 of them children), many with life-threatening injuries, overwhelming the already stressed medical system—makes the Gaza portion of my plan uncertain. We may need to postpone entering Gaza until violence abates. In that case I will be mostly in the West Bank and Israel.

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Gaza Community Health Program

SAMPLES OF MY WORK

Book  (Eyewitness Gaza)

Movie (also titled Eyewitness Gaza)


Photographs

Blog

TESTIMONIALS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—John Paulman

SELECTED PHOTOS FROM MY WORK IN GAZA


Relative of family member imprisoned by Israel


In a refugee camp trauma treatment program


A celebration at the Qattan Center for the Child


Limited free desalinated water


At the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, picking thru garbage

EXTRA INFORMATION

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

(Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics)

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

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

(Wikipedia)

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

June 24, 2018, Sunday, Cambridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

June 22, 2018, Friday, Cambridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— 2nd leaflet of the White Rose

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

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

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

My earlier Quabbin photographs

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy of Agape Community, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

MAYBE ONE MORE EPISODE

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

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

June 21, 2018, Thursday, Agape 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Click for movie

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

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

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Sophie Scholl, German Gestapo photo, 1942

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Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, Trailer

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

—Sophie Scholl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ONE MORE INSTALLMENT OF THIS BLOG COMING

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

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

Agape Community

June 20, 2018, Wednesday, Agape  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s Skip? Maybe someone should check.

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

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

Photo courtesy of Agape Community, 2018 (more info)

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

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

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Trail between Hermitage and Francis House in the winter 2014

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTOS FROM WINTER 2018 (Agape Community & Quabbin Reservoir)

June 19, 2018, Tuesday, Agape

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

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

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

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Courtesy of Agape Community

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

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

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

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Storm over Quabbin Reservoir, courtesy National Weather Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who and what once existed below the waters of Quabbin

MORE TO FOLLOW

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

PHOTOS

June 17, 2018, Sunday, Agape

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

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

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

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

Click here to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 18, 2018, Monday, Agape

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Hermitage

Warmer night in the Hermitage, calm, some clouds.

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

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

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Click for expanded view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mission Council, AKA, Steering Committee, of Agape

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

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

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

Obituary of Alden W. Poole

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

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

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Maria Termini, 2011, photo by Skip Schiel

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

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Shola Friedensohn, 2014, photo by Skip Schiel

Oh, how inexorably wishes become memories, memories wishes.

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

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

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

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

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STAY TUNED FOR PART 2

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

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