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.
Suppose, without consulting you, without your permission, with no valid legal basis, through your city another city authority decides to remove two of the four lanes of your major highway—to build a light rail system. They say, “No problem, your people can use it too.” However past behavior suggests this is an empty promise. The train may run but you will not be riding it: ultimately. Such is the case in East Jerusalem, nominally Palestinian with illegal Israeli settlements pock marking the city. The system will connect Jewish West Jerusalem with settlements in East Jerusalem.
Light rail thru East Jerusalem: before construction, already jammed with traffic
Now I’m in Valdosta, a fairly large city in the southern section of Georgia. The land has turned to sand, very flat, open, homes in my neighborhood spacious, on large plots of land. I recall this being the way of Florida. I’m with M, from Tulkarem Palestine, and his wife, S, a fiery woman active on many issues. M teaches political science at a local community college, and I believe he said geography also; S has jobs but I’m not sure in what. She’s told me of numerous campaigns she’s been part of or initiated, including divestment thru her Episcopalian church; blocking the development of a stretch of earth along a local stream; and stopping the use of Styrofoam in the schools, using and then discarded by pulverizing the plastic dishware and then flushing it.
She set up a venue for me here in a church owned coffee house, Hildegard’s, perhaps named after the mystic. Downtown, large, excellent electronic facilities including a huge screen, strong sound system, good coffee, the Gaza show last night drew one of my largest crowds, maybe 60 or more. And most were young, college age almost looking like they were out for a date. Valdosta is also a college town, hosting a state university. M had warned me earlier that an event held a few days ago, a forum about Palestine/Israel, had been raucous. A group of rabbis showed up who challenged some of the speakers including him. Nothing like that last night. Despite the presence of several prominent Jews who sat silently thru the show and then left before the discussion.
Questions included how do you speak with someone with extremely supportive of Israel views, and Christian Zionists (fumbling for the answer we finally collectively landed on be respectful and listen), what to do generally in the realm of legislative pressure when the region is so conservative (form coalitions to then visit the legislators), does the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement have any real effect (slowly)? And here I mentioned Hampshire College apparently divesting from 6 companies that profit from the occupation including Motorola, Caterpillar, General Electric and others. When I learned about this yesterday I sent out a notification to my lists raving about Hampshire, suggesting this might be the beginning of a USA wide college based action. (I learned later the college claimed they’d not actually divested from all these corporations, and those divested from were not because of Palestine/Israel.)
I’m coming to know my show. I have nearly memorized my part, Obama. M read Yusef and Belal in his strong Palestinian accent (one of their sons is named Yusef, he hates the name, poor lad, only about 8 years old), S declined to read Dr Mona but we found a portly young woman who read beautifully. The color from the projector was distorted. I didn’t notice this until the photo of the oranges—no orange. They’d turned pale blue. Later, mentioning this to M he claimed not to have noticed. And S stated the many of the photos looked like Van Gogh’s. Perhaps I should set future showings to this off color balance.
I am winding down, not fatigued by this chore at all, but missing my privacy and freedom. Yesterday I had to truncate my journal writing, miss my emailing, jump into the car with Chris and Taylor, tear off to Macon to catch my bus. We were a planned 1.5 hours early so had time to chat with local homeless Black men hanging out at the station. Stephen, maybe high on drugs or booze, a voluble fellow who seemed to love everyone. He asked for precisely $4.13 to buy something I couldn’t understand. His accent was thick. Taylor gave him at least $2.
At a stop for lunch along the bus route I was able to make one of my rare photos: grain elevators backlit, near the parking lot.
In the car we’d discussed local organizing and their college and career plans (international work I believe, both studying Arabic and the Middle East), continuing the conversation as they waited with me for the bus counter to open. We sauntered over to the local fast food emporium, something like IHOP, for egg sandwiches and hash browns. 4 hours later, the equivalent of a ride between Boston and NYC, I landed in Valdosta and eventually met my host here, the harried S driving a huge van with many bumper stickers. She complained about her eldest son, R, whose room I’m using, “acting out” at school.
M, born in 1959 in Palestine, is on fire about his home, but wishes not to return to his homeland despite most of his family living there. It raises pain, he said, and I told him about Jean Zaru not wanting to travel between Ramallah and Jerusalem because she’d then have to witness the wall and Kalandia, ripping out her heart.
M, Susan, and I discussed how to activate, how to discuss, agreeing respect and good listening skills are vital, as is powerful speech—lessons from the notebook of Thich Nhat Hanh. They conveyed feedback to my show from a friend: Slow down your speaking, Northerner.