Written to a friend who’s contemplating a trip to Palestine/Israel when I expect to be there.
Among the problems remaining to me as I plan my next journey to Israel-Palestine for fall and winter this year is understanding how to tread that thin line between courage and foolishness, particularly thin—almost non existent—when I’m photographing in violent conditions and wish to get as close as possible for the best photo I can make.
I’ll be careful on my next journey–not too much, just enough to hopefully survive. Is this a death trip I’m on? Foolish and pointless? Or an act of much needed bravery to help peel back the facades plastered onto us by the lying administrations and media? Who knows? Only the still small voice inside knows.
Entering Gaza (teeksaphoto.org)
I’ve been heartily motivated by the example of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Among his many teachings: “those who have nothing they’re willing to die for are not fit to live. “Harsh words indeed, not his usual style, but an actual quote. On one of my last trips to Palestine/Israel I met another luminary, Art Gish, serving with the Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron. His wife, Peg, has been with the CPT contingent in Iraq. They’re probably in their 70s (I’m in my 60s but in that same bracket, much unlike your situation.) His words, an encapsulation of King’s: “Free to die, free to live.”
You have children, husband, friends, as you mentioned, and a career that promises enormous benefits to others. My two daughters are launched. I’m a granddad. I have close friends, students, peers, but no wife, no one depending on me like you might have. A different condition. Plus, I have the perturbing model of Jesus Christ. Too bad for some of us Christians who might take his example too seriously. But I confess (confession a practice forced on me during my Catholic days): he influences me. Martin is the present day incarnation of Jesus, in my view.
Thus: my willingness to try to face squarely the possibility that altho as you mention I might be run over by a truck as I saunter down my beloved and seemingly safe Sacramento St, or while I cruise the streets of Cambridge on my bike (I dreamt last night I was nearly killed biking), the likelihood of injury is probably significantly greater in certain regions and during certain periods in Israel-Palestine. Especially Gaza. Especially in the sort of photography I find myself doing.
Then there is the psychic violence that deeply concerns me. What some call secondary trauma—you may experience this yourself: trauma induced in the observer when in the presence of another’s suffering. I felt this acutely on my first trip into Gaza in 2005, going with the Gaza Community Mental Health Program staff to assess psychological damage to children hit by Israeli sniper fire. I nearly burst into tears while photographing (the experience repeated in Shifa one year later). But I held back. I remember vividly that when I was in the taxi with my colleagues what felt like a mighty surge of water hit me behind the eyes, nearly bursting out thru my eyeballs. I held it back until I was private then I gushed. And I continue to gush—at surprising moments, often for no apparent reason. The 2006 summer was the worst period so far, during the siege on Gaza and the Hezbollah-Israel debacle.
This secondary trauma (or mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a clear and present danger to anyone doing what you and I attempt: witness. And it might be more serious and more insidious than the more obvious physical dangers we face. I wonder if this affects you and if so how you deal with it.
Let me know your views please, if you wish.
Shifa hospital, Gaza, May 2006 (teeksaphoto.org)