At home in Cambridge Massachusetts I am now recounting my trip to southeast USA with my photographic presentations about Palestine & Israel, in 15 parts, one for each day.
Three days before Christmas, 2007, on winter solstice, an exploration of the holy city: ruins and potentials
Shepherds’ Field near the Greek Orthodox complex, Beit Sahour
Byzantium church ruins, about 400 CE, at Shepherds’ field (#1)
Chapel in the cave beneath the church ruins
Skulls of monks killed by Persians in the 7th century CE
One dream before the usual meanderings: with a much younger man (Igor?) we’d climbed high up some tower. Time to go down. How to go down? I spotted a stack of chairs that reached nearly to us. However reaching the chairs required a leap across about 4 feet of space and the belief that the chairs were intertwined enough to remain intact, not crumble to the ground. Seemingly with much deliberation and with no discussion with me my friend leaped across the chasm, grabbed and then stood on the chairs, and the chairs held. He’s succeeded. Could I?
My turn. Would I or would I not leap? A classic dilemma. I hesitated, thinking to myself, I’m much older than he, I might not be able to stretch far enough, I might not have enough strength to hold on to the chairs, the chairs might collapse under my weight. For a rare dream occasion, this dream did not end before resolution. I chose not to leap. I was afraid.
I am back in North Carolina, in the western mountains, crossing the border, driven by David B, a 50 year old (looking much younger) man who is graciously attending to my every need. Today he will take me hiking into an area known for its many waterfalls. Precisely why Dave M, my organizer, lined up this location which requires so much extra driving and difficulty in finding overnight hospitality puzzles me. But I’ve been able to present Gaza to 2 more venues, College Walk, a retirement community, and Brevard College, known apparently for its fine music training. Old and young. Great contrast.
Some 60 elders turned out for the afternoon show at College Walk, many, Phyllis, my overnight host, tells me from outside. I intended to truncate the show more severely than usual because of the audience’s age, but I clicked the wrong button and found myself in the hospital section, maybe not a very good choice for folks who might be ill and close to death. Despite this, the show seemed reasonably well received. All stayed, the conversation was heated.
A slender handsome white mustached man wearing a tan sweater asked for the microphone during the discussion, and then strode up to the front of the group. He had a frozen expression, a serious grimace. I sat down, expecting a discourse. Which he gave: a very well presented justification for Israel, and a condemnation of my viewpoints, the usual claim that I’m biased and angry and unfair. I am a propagandist, a skilled, highly intelligent propagandist. Why had I included so little of Israel’s position in the show?
Rather than attempt to debate him, refute point-by-point, I turned the question to the audience: Was I fair or not? I asked. Heads nodded both ways. I was tempted to ask for a show of hands. Fair or unfair? I didn’t, hoping others would express a variety of viewpoints. And they did, a split decision. I was tempted to rebut with Carter’s line: You don’t believe me? Go there yourself, see for yourself. But, given the age of most—at least mid 70s—I doubt this would be appreciated.
I’d prefaced my show with remarks about age, how many stellar activists are the age of many in the audience. Art and Peg Gish, Uri Avery, quoting Art about Free to die, then free to live. (In my leap dream I had not reached the point of “free to die.”)
This was easily one of the most spirited discussions of the tour. I’m grateful. It is in sharp contrast with the discussion at the evening show, or the past 2 discussions at private colleges. Those latter were mostly zero discussion, no controversy. Boring. Last night at Brevard College not quite that, a series of probing questions after we emerged from what might have been stunned silence following the show. Very quiet. An elder with a heavy British accent said, I think we need silence. We’re shocked.
Har Homa Israeli settlement (or colony)
Ending with Rachel Corrie’s martyrdom does not generate vociferous audience applause.
It did however lead last night to a discussion about martyrdom. This was a result of an observation about how we malign Islam in the West, distorting its principles. I offered a case study: martyrdom. We claim the 911 attackers believed they’d go to paradise and have easy access to virgins. True or not they were willing to give their lives for their ideals.
We dismiss this. And forget that early Christian tradition is replete with martyrs—and possibly with equally implausible expectations. Also Jewish resistance to Roman occupation. Also the Quaker tradition with the Valiant Sixty. Martin and Malcolm were shaheed, martyrs, as were the Kennedy brothers.
I wish not to myself readily dismiss criticism like that at the elder show. And I admitted: by being so strong with my positions I might alienate some audiences, turn them off. Horrible. I only wish to be faithful to the truths I’ve discovered.
Second Shepherds’ Field
Roman Catholic version of Shepherds’ Fields
Beneath the ruins
Contemporary Roman Catholic church
At Brevard, tho a college, among the group of some 20, only 2 students showed up. One darted out during the history section, then lingered to peer thru the window of the door. He entered once more, sat for about 5 minutes, fled. The other, a pudgy fellow with a sweet but uncomely face, unable to look me in the eye (autistic?), said he is from Syria, of mixed parentage. He is angry at how distorted Islam and Arabic culture are in the West. He offered that so few students attended the presentation because of the short notice and “most don’t care.”
And so it is, and so it was, and so it will be.
I reside with Phyllis S divorced 20 yrs ago, not remarried or partnered, her ex dying 2 years ago, no relations with him. We agreed that the single life offers much. She’s been in this home in the retirement community for some 6 years, knows everyone, and referred several times yesterday to how transient the population is. This has to be one of the core experiences of living in such a community: coming and going, the ultimate going.
She and David are part of the local Quaker community. Apparently some were at the afternoon show yesterday. And they with the Greenville Quaker community were able to pull together hospitality for me tonight—back to Greenville. The Brevard Quakers, mostly David, on very short notice, organized yesterday’s 2 shows. The Quakers meet at College Walk retirement community. Such is the power of community.
David B is an appealing character, forthright, honest, impassioned, confused. He is reeling from a recent separation. His wife took their 2-year-old daughter to live in LA. He is working with something called Brainscape, a technology whose founder claims to solve brain related problems, such as depression, and—thinking of M, asking him specifically about her problem—insomnia. With this technique he assesses brain patterns, inserts the findings into a computer program which outputs music of certain patterns. Music is the healing agent. I asked, Any clinical studies?
In the works. Some 10,000 people have experienced the technology, many of them partially or whole healed.
Beit Sahour, a section of Bethlehem
I feel a cold coming on, thru my throat. I owe M a letter for a change, and today might be the day.
Bethlehem at night
After breakfast at the Breakfast Skillet, known for its early morning cuisine, sharing it with Ann and Jason, my host at Converse College, he drove me for 2 hours to my next stop, Spartanburg. We discussed his work at Converse as campus minister, who he counsels and what problems they bring. He concentrates on problems of the spirit, belief, faith. So we discussed how we learn faith. I told him my story about the Middle Passage pilgrimage—coming to faith the long way.
I’d surveyed the student center where his office is. And where my Gaza exhibit hangs, along a hallway, usually devoted to student work—about 20 photos, proudly living there for 2 weeks. I’ll make sure friends in Gaza know about this. The girl in hospital, who smiled so delicately at me, is among the community at the college. Is she alive, is she ill, is she home?
—February 7, 2009, Saturday, Brevard, NC