Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
July 11, 2009, Friday, Jenin Creative Cultural Center:
Plans yesterday shifted moment to moment, as happened on the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage when it disturbed me so much, but now, aging, mellowing, I seem not to mind as much as I did 10 years ago. At one point Sophie said Yusef might drive us to the country for a rural walk. Or that we, the Gang, would go out together in the evening for a rural stroll. Neither materialized. So I followed my muses and waited till the sun began setting, the air cooling, and went sauntering not knowing where or for how long. Knowing why however—to discover. That seems to be a main quest of my life, to discover, and with that to photograph. To be surprised. And then to surprise others. (I am simply a story machine, engaging in activities that generate stories.)
Last evening as I reached the end of one of the main streets, crossing to look for shuwarma or falafel, I noticed the video crew from German TV. Hello, fancy this, meeting each other.
They recognized me. We sat down for tea outside the noisy coffee house. And here’s part of what I discovered:
They, V and B, work for one of the 2 independent German channels, with broadcast of their show about the Freedom Theater scheduled for late August. This is their first time in the region. They seem to have been together for at least 3 years, telling me stories of other projects, including one in Cuba which landed them in some hot water after they’d been noticed videoing in a jail. They claim Israel can not confiscate tapes or any other materials, they can only look at them. They sent out their tapes with their soundman, straight thru the airport, no problems. She also said there is little coverage of news from Israel-Palestine in Germany, which surprised me, since I’d thought Europe to be more enlightened. In fact, V said, the commercial channels carry very little news of any sort, let alone investigative reporting.
They’d not heard of Edward R Murrow, but they had seen the film, Good Night and Good Luck, about him. So I guess they are somewhat tuned to their counterparts’ experiences in the USA.
He incessantly videos, breaking from the conversation to leap up and tape: across the street, the coffee house, playing cards; a horse on a trailer; etc. He left without bidding me goodbye, his friend apologized.
I learned that the light on my first day of photographing at the theater was unusual: the main lights had gone out, they only had the natural light passing thru the single open side door. He said this was far better lighting than on other days with the stage lights on. For me, the photos assume a special quality because of this natural light.
They’ve not been able to tape an interview with the man who allegedly Juliano hired as theater director. They explained, he is more a protector to intervene with Hamas and other radical groups who oppose the theater and Juliano, who is threatened partly because of his mixed Arab-Jewish background. A report I found on the web reminded me that the theater had been firebombed in April, apparently a result of resistance by elements of the resistance. Life is not easy for the political artist anywhere, but especially in Israel-Palestine if your politics do not come up to certain heavily enforced standards. What a pity.
Apparently the article I linked to, about the new director, has errors. The publication corrected them, but only in Arabic. She pushed him on his statements about using a gun. He did not retract them, but went somewhat further by saying, if a settler appeared within shooting distance and someone decided to shoot, I would not get in the way.
B and V told me Juliano is flamboyant, especially at checkpoints, and especially when the camera is running. He taunts the soldiers, yells at them. I asked, let’s assume he’s acting, he is an actor, was there consonance between his true feeling and his appearance? They gave mixed responses to this question. They don’t know. They felt he was reacting to the camera, which led to a discussion about gaining permission to photograph and tape and what to do when people seem to be playing roles other than themselves.
Juliano is a person of fierce opinions. I told them about Peter Schumann, the director of Break and Puppet Theater, his strong opinions, and about Gertrude Stein’s remark to Picasso after he’d shown her some of his poems. Pablo, you are an extraordinary person, and you are extraordinarily limited.
Their main camera broke down, just quit working. They thought maybe a crucial component had melted in the sun and heat. Juliano confirmed that the same exact thing happened to one of their cameras. This warns me to keep my cameras shielded form the sun and as cool as possible.
They also told me about the photography instructor, Mustafa, his recent experience in Bil’in during a non violent demonstration against the Apartheid Fence: doused with a chemical the odor of shit. Hard to see coming, hard to wash off, maybe mixed with tear gas, the more potent and dangerous kind. And I want to visit Bil’in and photograph? I should wear a wet suit, or at least send for my bicycle rain gear, or carry an extra set of clothing sealed in a plastic bag, or remain far from the action—the latter not an option.
On a very personal level I was curious about how the couple works together, collaborates, and how this seams into their personal lives. But I didn’t ask, I didn’t pry, I only observed. And also imagined what I’d be like with such a partner, whether in truth I wish this for myself. I fantasize about it; am I capable and willing?
We were together 2 hours, the evening flew by, we were like local people just sitting around sipping tea.
We noted the noise. They told me their soundman who had to listen to everything thru headphones was deeply disturbed by the ambient noise here. As we sat outside, hoping to find a quiet spot, sirens wailed, people yelled, cars roared, kids shouted. It was cacophony. And rarely stops. One of my reasons for loving walking in the morning is that most people are sleeping, thus quiet reigns, wondrous silence.
This morning for my ritual walk I headed south, on a main road out of town. Past the fire station; past the “cliff houses” amidst limestone outcroppings; past the billboards with their ubiquitous image of a woman folding laundry, smiling contentedly; past two boys riding donkeys; past men sitting together or alone doing nothing, the endless doing of nothing, the doing of endless nothing; past people waiting for service taxis to fill up; past a cemetery with hundreds of stones, all facing east, Mecca; past trash; past closed shops, some of them slowly opening for the day; and past history that I can not easily access.
Some of this I photographed.
Nearing home—I can barely get the word home out, it is so unhomey—I stopped for hummus in the local shop, met the shop owner, a portly gentleman wearing a dress shirt, tie, and suspenders, very regal, especially for a shop owner. He spoke English. We chatted. Friends of his from the US visited a few years ago and all wept when they departed. They are part of an international Palestinian support group, I wasn’t familiar with the name. He concurred with the general observation that life on the ground has improved considerably. Security is better, that is, the security provided by the Palestinians themselves, the Palestinian Authority trained and armed by the US. As we spoke a contingent jogged by, chanting.
The day I’m sad to say was mostly putting up another subsite, my 2nd from Jenin, and the accompanying blog, mostly about the theater. All day on this, which helps me escape the sun and heat, but diminishes my experience among Palestinians. What to do about this dilemma?
I asked Katy how to convert a WordPress blog into a website, so I can make some tangible progress at the Center on their site. She responded instantaneously, thanks to Google Chat, pointing me to a template that worked for her. (I’d seen she was on line, so I barged in, 6:30 AM her time.)
I also renewed my experimentation with noise reduction, since this has been such a big problem for me and generally for digital photography. Downloading and installing Noise Ninja, one of the more highly recommended programs, I made a test on 2 images. Neither showed much improvement. I intend to try 2 other programs recommended by Tim Gray and decide, yes or no on any program, and if yes, which one.
I talked with Rob with the group of young people sharing the Center with me, the Gang, tall and slender Rob from the UK, yesterday. For a career path he hopes to work with the British Council, maybe teach. I complemented him on his teaching of French. After this gig he will intern with the Irish Council to see if this might be his true calling. Like Sophie and like Charley, also I presume Lucas, all are budding internationalists. A good sign. I offered to put him in touch with Robin Twite, formerly of the British Council, now with IPCRI and helping me with my water theme.
This morning, unable as usual to resist the temptation to open email before journaling, hoping for a love letter, at minimum a note, or a grant confirmation, I’m not sure which I desire more, I found this hefty remark to an earlier blog:
I would love to comment about several things you have noted but would first like to ask: How many times have you been to the region? How much time did you spend amongst people with a different viewpoint?
Your initial labeling of a “Settlement” as “illegal” betrays your inherent bias. There has never, ever been a nation called “Palestine,” nor has ANY Arab Nation ever existed on one iota of land there. Ergo, labeling a Jewish Community sitting atop land that has only ever held Jewish Nations as an “Illegal settlement” is fantasy at best, ignorance or malice more probablly.
My name is Rachamim Ralanan Ben Ami and my ancestral home is in Hebron. My family lived there from the Biblical Era until 1929 when my grandfather, Rabbi Slonim Dwek was butchered on the front steps of our home. My eldest uncle, in his arms at age 3, was but into pieces and discarded as rubbish.
The British expelled my father (several months old) and the rest of my family for “our safety” and from 1929 until 1967 noone in my family could even eneter the city.
Today Jews LIKE ME living there are called, by people LIKE YOU, “illegal settlers.” This despite Arabs now having 22 nations of their own to call home. This despite Arabs being native only to al Hajaz, a tiny reagion in what is today Saudi Arabia.
Settlers DO live on the land but they are NOT Jews. You like taking pocitures? Next time you take a vacation to my country let me know, I will make sure you get to take photos of the doorstep where my grandfather and uncle were butchered…
All you foreigners do is make things worse, you have np understanding of even the most basic facts, associating with hard-leftist groups like Machshon (beautiful thing they did with the “Violin Scandal” among aothers) and do not stop for a second to realise that were Israel even 10% as oppressive as these groups claim, they could not be taking you around on tours!
Nasty, I’d claim, but inviting. I will respond at some length later, I enjoy such dialog, even if painful.
Today: meet with Yusef about the site, try to make some progress before that meeting, visit the theater again, this time to photograph a photo training, something I missed doing last week, and as usual, expect surprises.
Max and Jane Carter were scheduled to arrive yesterday with their work camp group from Guilford. I hope to eventually meet them.