Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
June 20, 2009, Saturday, Ramallah Friends School flat:
Dreaming last night about a set of babies that I was somehow responsible for. Wrestling with one of them she fell over me and banged her mouth, knocking out a front tooth. She cried. She bled. I picked up the tooth, said, Not to worry, this is a temporary one. Another will grow back later.
Contrasting with the night before, it was quiet. Some singing until about midnight, and then blissfully silent. Cool, safe, secure, Ramallah at its best—Ramallah, the best of the worst (quoting Walid, the stationary shop owner who feeds me vital leads).
Leaving the grounds yesterday morning I ran into George, the school custodian. George, I said, What was all that noise from last night, a graduation?
Oh no, my friend, it was a wedding. They’d blocked off all the streets in the old city. And by the way, they’re shooting a movie about the Intifada in Manarah today. You may want to take a look.
So, what I thought might have been gunshots were in reality fireworks. George indicated and B later confirmed that shooting guns into the air is now prohibited. As is carrying firearms. I’d noticed only a few police now carry those intimidating and relatively useless Kalashnikovs.
So George told me about the “movie set.” They’d staged a demonstration, with small girls, young adult men, banners, kaffiyas, and burning tires. Opposing this array were Israeli soldiers, played by Palestinians, complete with helmets, M16 rifles, khaki uniforms, boots, and vehicles. Departing from what I’d seen real soldiers wearing were the black helmets some toy soldiers wore, altho maybe this is new gear Israel issues for potential riot situations. The sound bombs did not explode, no shots were fired: in fact the sound was decidedly fake. Maybe all that is to be dubbed in.
I wondered what this evoked for the Palestinians watching the spectacle. Whether, if they’d had actual experience with Israeli soldiers, they’d find themselves sweating, trembling, hating, fearing?
I sought a good camera position, impeded by the requirements of the set—I can’t be part of the movie. Follow the light. The light is harsh, creates burning highlights and deep shadows. How to best work with this light? Trying first for the conventional view, I quickly saw this was fruitless and chose a position behind the crowd to show them watching and some using mobile phones to make photos. A photo of making a photo of making a movie.
Is this what the 2nd intifada has boiled down to: a movie of the Intifada rather than the real act?
The day before I’d shot my own movie at this same location, using my Canon still camera with video capability. A simple pan, lasting one minute, from behind the pedestrian railing, slowly panning from one end to another, showing at both ends men standing languidly, themselves watching as I was now watching. A movie watching men watching.
Had I not bumped into George at that particular moment I might still think the previous night’s noise was from a graduation and I might have missed the movie. Thank George and thank my muses.
Similarly, had I not been sitting at the Pronto Café doing my email and webwork yesterday late morning I might not have met Mark, a theology prof from Nebraska, and been invited for a sumptuous lunch at B’s home—B, who was also at the Pronto, who I’ve met on other visits, introduced us. I think I was coat tailing on Mark’s long friendship with B.
B lives in an elegant flat in a relatively new building and neighborhood with his wife and 2 high school age daughters and 2 sons. This is their summerhouse, they also own a home in East Jerusalem, Beit Hanina, and the children attend school at an American style secondary school in E. Jerusalem. One boy has ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, takes medication. The boy, G, and his 2 older sisters all seemed fairly shy around us, talking very little, not interacting much. Is this common in Palestine, or specific to this set of kids?
B is a relatively free Palestinian. By living in E. Jerusalem he has Israeli citizenship (by being born in Jerusalem), drives a car with Israeli yellow plates, can go anywhere in Israel and usually in Palestine. He is not the usual Palestinian.
B explained, when I asked about the water tanker, that Mekerot sells water once per week thru pipes, but if someone needs more they must buy from a tanker. The cost is 500 NIS (New Israeli Shekels, common to both Israel and Palestine, roughly 4 shekels to the US dollar) for the equivalent of 4 large roof tanks, and the water comes free from a source owned by a Christian church, not sure where and what. The 500 NIS fee is to pay for the transport, not the water itself. Ah, there is much beneath the surface here, and each explanation needs testing against other explanations, an endless process.
Campus of Ramallah Friends (lower) School
Much simpler in some aspects is love. At times, low times, I find myself realizing: Skip, you are nearly 70, with not many more years left. You’ve led a decent life, been married the equivalent of twice (when asked here, Married? I usually answer, Not currently, single, married twice, not wishing to explain my relationship with Y), raised 2 exemplary daughters, fostered 3 grand kids, found a path that seems suitable for you, and a home and community. Why would so and so, in X’s case nearly 40 years your junior, give even a shred of thought to hooking up with you? What drives this insanity of yours, to for one moment think she might be interested in more than a casual student-teacher interest?
Ditto for most of the other women you find yourself irresistibly attracted to. Even M, who not only is younger—ok, in this case, by a mere 20 years—but is in effect unavailable. You are totally bonkers, a basket case, living out the SE syndrome big time. Haven’t you learned anything from your dear eternally frustrated buddy?
Making matters worse—or better, I’m not sure—is the presence of music given me shortly before I left and now on my computer. I listen to every note, every word, and think, She is sending me secret messages. If only I could decipher them.
Downtown Ramallah, near the souq (market)
Back to reality, harsh reality: the Israeli DD wrote to my Facebook wall a scathing note accusing me of mistreating Israel by joining a group advocating removing all Israeli products from the shelves of Trader Joe’s. He argues, rightly, this is a blunt instrument, why not a selective boycott, why hurt innocents?
Not sure at first what provoked this anger, searching my Facebook page, realizing I had joined that group, I replied with the following:
I think I can understand your anger… If I were in your shoes I might feel the same way. I hesitated when joining this group because I’d prefer a selective boycott, as you suggested, one aimed at products originating in the occupied territories.
The model for this particular boycott, in my view, is the international boycott of South Africa during apartheid. I believe that such a strong boycott, rather than trying to sort out the different products, sends a more powerful message: the state of Israel is seriously misguided in many of its current policies.
So, after equivocating, thinking I might end my membership in Deshelf Israeli Products, I’ve decided to continue it for now.
You asked who I am. In the past you’ve agreed to be my friend in Israel whom I’m visiting. I asked you again for this current trip. Others I’ve asked responded favorably. I’m now in Palestine working for 3 months on my continuing photo project. For more information you can look at my website and blog listed below, should you be interested.
Thanks for your strong opinions. I’m sorry I don’t fully share this one with you. But I might change, who knows?
I’m not sure this is a model love letter, as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, but I tried. And not that I’m opposed to DD, I admire him, I think he’d been a refusnik. We’ll see how and whether he responds.
This morning before eating and writing I walked, first this building and these school grounds, which is limited walking, and then the near neighborhood, away from Pronto, up and down a few hills. The only folks on the street at this early hour (about 6:30) were 2 sets of 2 women each, covered, maybe on their way to some school. Curiously resonating with the dream about a bleeding baby, I scraped my arm against a post and it bled.
The morning before I set up for meditation, this time remembering to bring incense and finding candles in the flat. I sat quietly for nearly 10 minutes, happy to be settling into this familiar routine. I used my gratitude meditation, so grateful to be here, to be present, to be alive, to be on this mission.
To conclude my session I smudged the space with my incense and walked in meditation thru the entire flat: bathroom with its tiny shower and basket for receiving tissue I’ve wiped my ass with, rather than depositing it into the easily clogged drains (constantly forgetting to do this correctly); kitchen with its hard to use washing machine and rigid noisy cold marble counters; my bedroom comfortable and cozy, eliciting many memories of an earlier visit when I would lie awake tormenting myself about how to renew my visa; main room where I write, looking out on the veranda where I have my morning meal, and where I greet the stars in the clear night sky (as I wrote to X, I kissed the clouds goodbye over France, not expecting to see any again until I leave Palestine/Israel 3 months hence); and long wide hallway, a mark of poor design. Eventually I will meditate on my flat at home in Cambridge, imagining it in exquisite detail, not longing for it, only appreciating it and hoping it is not too lonely without me ranting about).
The day before I bought my first installment of groceries—lacking any fresh produce, since I plan to leave soon for a 2-week stay in Bethlehem. I purchased boxed milk from Palestinian (I make sure I only buy Palestine products when possible, sometimes mislead myself with Hebrew labeling, which doesn’t necessary indicate made in Israel), hummus spiced with peppers, flat bread, coffee (Israeli, but what else is there, short of buying a larger than needed quantity from a grinder?), olive oil (Holy Land, made in Palestine), olives (not knowing, I chose the ones with jalapeno peppers inserted), mushroom tomato sauce (to pour over the pasta I’d make from the huge supply of pasta I found in the kitchen), among my 160 NIS worth of sustaining food (about $40). Outside from a vendor I bought my first Arabic sweets on this trip, 15 NIS for a batch of about 15 baklava type little turnovers.
N had invited me to possibly have tea with him yesterday afternoon but he never confirmed this so I felt free to linger all afternoon with Mark and B over lunch at B’s home—a form of Palestinian pizza, named something like mousaka, with lots of fried onions, a salad, and fresh fruit dessert with coffee. I showed him my Fadia memorial site on my blog, and he cruised thru a few of my photos on teeksaphoto.org, expressing little interest or commentary. The wide screen TV stayed on continually. Soap operas made in Turkey and dubbed into Arabic, featuring men angry at women for committing infidelities, or was it the other way around? We also watched portions of Al Jezeera English, which B told us is completely different from the Arabic version.
N also told me about a concert last night at the Ramallah Cultural Palace but since I returned home around 6 pm and the concert was to begin at 7 and I’d probably have to walk there, which might require nearly one hour, I decided to opt out. Trying to phone him on my mobile I got a network busy signal, which might also mean I’m out of airtime, and my home phone wouldn’t connect. The number of items that in the States I’d expect to work flawlessly, here either are dead or dying. No Internet in my flat or on any of the teachers’ computers, no phones of any kind, water could run out at any moment, etc. But my cameras all seem to be operating, as is my computer.
Football field at the Ramallah Friends (upper) School
About next week I’m unsure, whether Al Rowwad Cultural Center in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem will respond to my email yesterday and confirm that I’m on for a 2 week gig there, or not, meaning I find an alternative activity, is still an unknown. I hope for confirmation today so I can plan.
I’m in good touch with dearly beloved Y who responds thoughtfully to all my messages and I to hers, I hope. For the moment, she is my most reliable correspondent.
Today: sort thru my papers, begin review of Arabic, plan my schedule in more detail, over to Pronto for webwork and email, upload a new subsite and blog entry, hope for some response from yesterday’s postings, mainly the Manarah video, hope also for love notes from at least one of my many fruitless tries at a distant relationship (laughable), wander the streets looking for more photos, plow into finishing the editing of the Freedom and Justice Crier for our Quaker network, and discover what happens that I can’t possibly now predict.
One of the great joys of this travel is that even more than when I’m home I can’t anticipate all that will occur in one day—where I’ll find myself, how the muses will direct my life. Today I might enter nirvana, or hell. I might meet my mate for life, or not. I might unlock the secret of the occupation and end it in a flash, or plant seeds that will end it. I may die, or I may find new life. All unknown.
Israeli illegal settlement/colony/”neighborhood”
Learn this word:
(of a person) tending to find fault or raise petty objections.
ORIGIN late Middle English (also in the sense [intended to deceive someone]): from Old French captieux or Latin captiosus, from captio(n-) ‘seizing,’ (figuratively) ‘deceiving’ (see caption ).
Some might find me in my work concerning Israel-Palestine a captious person.