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.
Yesterday [May 19, 2006] Marwan [from the Gaza Community Mental Health Center, a friend and colleague of the woman, Ragdha, who invited to her home in the camp] picked me up from my flat. We sped south thru the city, about 5 km to the Bureij camp with his 2 boys, one crying the entire trip. More
Netzarim Junction, once a notorious Israeli checkpoint/strangulation point
In the streets of Bureij refugee camp, Gaza Strip, May 2006
Two dreams: in one I was with a woman I’d just met and we’d decidedly come together, with some intimacy expected. We laughed, spoke deeply, sat next to each other, and found some strong affinity. But then I might have reached too far: I nudged her under the table with my leg, a form of caress, and she looked horrified, moved away. Was this the end of our dalliance?
In a 2nd dream, possibly related, I was either reading something a well known Israeli activist had written, or was actually helping him write it. He confessed that he’d … someone, a woman, using a term that I can’t now recall which we understood to be code for attracted. I was puzzled. Wasn’t he happily married? Had his wife died? Had they separated? Was he engaging in adultery?
Yesterday’s 2 shows, Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University, went very well. About 10 for the first, 60 for the second, the first in a medium sized room, the “Lanier Suite,” in the student center, and the 2nd in a large auditorium. Both Gaza shows looked and sounded good, and I do believe I’m perfecting my acting-performing style. It’s as if I’ve learned the script and I’ve polished my act.
The GSU showing, attended by an equal mixture of white and black people, was sponsored by the newly formed Progressive Student Alliance, organized thru the good offices of the local American Friends Service Committee, thru Tim, the peace action man. The students seemed well versed in the history and general reality of Israel-Palestine, indicating by their questions their comprehension and passion. One Black man in particular asked me about the role of the French and British. I misunderstood, thought he’d asked about their contemporary role, and so I went off the mark in detailing their current roles. He corrected me by mentioning the word Balfour. We then discussed the onset of Zionism and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, a direct precursor to the current debacle raging in the Mid East.
Three AFSC staff attended, B, with an alluring mouth, but suggesting she is demoralized, depressed, hopeless, L, who read the Dr. Mona part in my show, and R. I learned later that E, who’d volunteered to read the parts of Yusef and Belal, is a history prof there and faculty adviser for the group. He seemed moved to tears during his reading. After one of his long silences while reading I offered to find someone else. He soldiered thru, and later bought 2 of my large photos.
I think this show resonates with college students. The AFSC’s Popular Achievement program is college and high school students, and Belal, Adham, and Yusef are roughly the age of this audience. Plus Rachel Corrie. A captivating linkage, perhaps.
The evening show brought out a rabbi who’d been at other similar presentations. He questioned me on my interpretation, laying out the case for Israel much as Dershowitz does. Rather than debate him I asked if anyone would like to respond. And a man with roots in Gaza did, cogently and gently. I wonder, however, if I’m ducking my responsibility by using this deflecting technique. My intention is to engage more members of the audience in conversation, turning it from them to me, to them to them.
I noticed that he’d not seen what I’m sure I showed and seen what I’m sure I didn’t show. Instances: he said I’d not said that Egypt sealed the border after The Great Breakout of January 2008 when Hamas broke thru the barrier between Gaza and Egypt—I had. He said I’d not shown the fighting between Fatah and Hamas—I had. He asserted that I’d not admitted that rockets target civilians—I had and shown a corpse from such a rocket attack. As if he came with his own presentation embedded in his mind and projected this over what I showed. A powerful form of self-deceit that I’m sure I myself suffer regularly.
The second man responding was also from Gaza. I’d asked during my intro who’d been to the region, who might be Palestine, who from Gaza? And the 2 had self-identified. I learned later that Mai Carter was in the audience, about to publish a book about Israel-Palestine peace and justice groups, probably arriving late and leaving early so I never had a chance to thank her for helping me find venues. I’ll do this by email.
Community water, probably not safe to drink without treatment
A major highlight was fostering the meeting of a Muslim and a Jew with promises that they might more regularly attend each other’s events and might collaborate on a joint event. The Jew, a young man, very sweet and loving and humble, told me he was with campus Hillel, the Israel advocacy committee chair. He spoke with the 2 men with relatives in Gaza. I thought of my meeting with Alex during the vigil for Gaza at Harvard’s graduation, the two of us calmed down when Hilda intervened by asking if we’d read Sandy Tolan’s extraordinary book, The Lemon Tree.
The main links currently that help find venues seem to have come thru AFSC, showing once again the power of community.
C hosted the first show, a very young shy woman, slightly overweight, wearing boots, short skirt, low bodice blouse with bulging breasts. She was one of the main initiators of the Alliance. T hosted the Kennesaw show, a philosophy prof, tall, with long hair, stately, handsome, teaching a philosophy of peace class that drew many of the students.
The entire day unfolded mysteriously. To the last minute I wasn’t sure where to go, how to get there, who’d meet me. Everything worked perfectly—from meeting the bus to the Atlanta Marta station at the last minute, finding the venue at GSU, arranging the equipment, resting at the AFSC, eating there, finding a ride to Kennesaw thru Tim at the AFSC, a young energetic peace builder with a knack for community organizing, meeting a young sparkling Iranian woman, Ozzie or Azita, riding with Tim to Kennesaw, meeting T at Kennesaw, then riding home with G who hopes to start a small business combining peace building with tourism. Providence ruled mightily.
Students at GSU, reinforced by Tim later, told me about plans for local BDS, Boycott-Divest-Sanction, campaigns. Apparently the CEO of Starbuck’s is a major supporter of Israel, recently devoting one day’s profit to the state. Home Depot’s CEO purportedly does the same. There’s a local linkage between the police in Atlanta and in Israel, sharing technology and techniques. This needs to be revealed. And of course there’s Motorola and Caterpillar, which most people tuned at all to Palestine-Israel seem to know about. This idea of linkage and BDS seems to be mainly what grips students. It recalls the anti-apartheid days and the campaigns against clothing produced in sweatshops.
Manager of an athletic club, now largely unused because of the tightened restrictions preventing teams from playing outside Gaza
I wrote M a relatively perfunctory letter (compared with the volumes I once wrote), acknowledging her writing about Bread and Puppet Theater and insomnia (forgetting to mention her loving how well her nephew performed in a play) and not asking a single question (such as about her survey). I think this is an improvement and shows I’m making progress toward slicing away, distancing, erasing her from my obsessive focus. Indeed, I think of her only during a rare fleeting moment. I am an enigma to myself: how I seem to forever remain at the stage of pubescent adolescence, unable to manage my emotions. Is this contorted loving related to secondary trauma? Will I succumb and become helpless and destitute, or will I survive and finally grow up, settle down, raise a family?
Too bad I don’t have more down time in Atlanta. Walking briskly from GSU to AFSC with L and B, I remembered my few days here 2 years ago during the US Social Forum, how hot it was, how I was coming to terms with separation from Y, meeting her new man friend D, living at the Atlanta Buddhist dojo, walking thru poison oak with D, suffering for weeks later. And beginning the first of my 3 southern tours. I remembered an earlier trip, in 1999, in Atlanta for about one month as I prepared for a 4-month sojourn thru the south volunteering my photography and retracing parts of the Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage in reverse.
I’d like to visit First Iconium church, renew my friendship with its pastor, Tim McDonald, chat with Utsumi and Denise (the monk and nun who I think are at the Oak Ridge pagoda now), and wander around the neighborhood of Southeast Atlanta. But especially, explore Sweet Auburn once again, the homeland of Martin Luther King Jr.
Alas, today I leave for Athens Georgia. Someone is picking me up at 11 this morning, driving me to Emory (I must rehearse the Bethlehem show, which I’ve not shown since December). Then the Athens show this evening and staying somewhere yet a mystery to me. Tonight I meet Dave M, tomorrow in Aiken SC, then back to Georgia and eventually to Florida.
Shop, empty shelves because of the blockade
Proprietor of the shop showing his credit ledgers—”If I have the items they want to buy and they don’t have the money, I always extend credit.”
I often think of my dad in his business travels. How long was he away? Did he miss his son and daughter and wife? What did he do on those trips? Was he faithful or was he more like me, independent and yearning? I recall appreciating his absence, since we had a troubled relationship. I remember mom taking Elaine and me to a small neighborhood restaurant on Stony Island Avenue (I could probably find the building now, long changed). I’d eat the same meal each time: hot turkey sandwich, probably accompanied by powdered potatoes. Unlike my father I have no one waiting for me to return, other than perhaps Kate and Ella.
The weather has been seasonably mild, chilly at night. Last night was full moon, the sky was hazy, occluded. Full moon means my moon-mother returns. At this moment, Y is either asleep or preparing for her upcoming trip to Ethiopia. I hope to see her before she leaves. Soon I will hike over to the community room for wifi and email and webwork, then pack, then leave.
B and K have been generous hosts, B preparing me yesterday with maps and directions for my uncertain journeys, K giving Gail directions last evening. Each day I march with a new parade of people, each with their own story, each solidly or tangentially linked to Palestine/Israel and me.
—February 10, 2009, Tuesday, Atlanta, with B and K