Courtesy of Bethlehem to Ramallah by Boat
Separation Fence, near Qalqilia, West Bank, Palestine
Israeli settlement in the background, Palestinian greenhouses in the foreground
Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
July 22, 2009, Wednesday, Jenin Creative Cultural Center:
Special thanks to Fareed Tamallah for this lead, and for many others as well.
Empty of dreams, for the most part, one fleeting thru my last phase of sleep about JC signing a check with a signature that twisted in 2 directions. What does this symbolize?
Mostly the day was cruising with a new short-term water based colleague, Miroslawa Czema (Mirka for short), from Poland, working with the Polish Humanitarian Organization, on a variety of projects which are largely about water. This one, in the small village near Qalqilia, Izbet Salman, is primarily to assess the fundability of connecting a well to existing pipes and adding a reservoir. If funded, this would be constructed in conjunction with the Palestine Water Authority. A PWA water engineer traveled with us, Kamal Isse, an affable handsome man with sharp features who later invited us to meet his family and have tea and sweets in his Salfit home.
Miroslawa (Mirka) Czerna, Acting Head of Mission, Polish Humanitarian Organization
Photographing on this theme of water politics is tough: so many pipes, tanks, irrigation hoses, greenhouses, pumps, pumping stations, pumping station attendants that to make anything vital to watch and think about presents a major challenge. One way to surmount the imminent borability of this theme is to craft the presentation around stories, sometimes stories of persons, sometimes stories of facts, for instance how Israel came to dominate the water share. And what that means to various people. Like Ramzi in Bethlehem running out of water a few weeks ago just when I visited.
So the story is first we met with the head man/school headmaster of the village, Huseen Qosmar, with a gracious big-toothed smile, decent English, friendly and warm, and of course eager to please Mirka. The group discussed the nature of the proposal, in detail, with a set of questions Mirka used to guide the discussion. Then the site visits which included a variety of water tanks ranging from decrepit to relatively new (she admonished them to periodically clean the tanks, something they don’t do, compromising the water quality), locations where the new pipes, to be all underground (as opposed to the existing mostly rubber and plastic tubing above ground, but this will be difficult since the terrain is limestone), the site of the new reservoir on a relatively high plane, several wells and pumps, meeting the attendants (and giving me more to photograph), walking thru irrigated fields of guava, banana, avocado and other produce (a highlight for me, seeing the plants, the fruits, the fruits of the water), and generally perceiving the overall situation, the setting. They’ve tested the water at the wells, and claim it is pure. But there is no testing after the tanks, and no purification, so chlorination is built into the proposal.
Proposed site of a new reservoir, beyond the cucumber field
Mirka is not trained in hydrology but rather in Mid East studies so she is fluent in Arabic and knows the culture but is learning the engineering. She is round faced, with a protruding upper lip and teeth that give her a slight lisp, adding to my troubles understanding her language since her English is heavily accented already.
She’s to contact the potential funders, present the case, answer their questions, and if funded, guide or direct the project along with the PWA engineer, Kamal, and presumably local contractors. One requirement is that only Palestinian contractors be employed on this project.
Attendant of water pumping station
Riding, I sat in the back of her small car while she chatted with Kamal, freeing me to gaze and photograph. I’ve been thru this region now so many times that I’m learning how to anticipate scenes. If I’ve missed them earlier, I might snag them on this trip. Such as the Burkan industrial settlement near Ariel. This time I think we passed it on the side opposite from the first time when with Fareed 2 years ago. I hope I’m perfecting this technique of photographing from moving vehicles: fast shutter speed, 50 mm lens, wait for the right light, keep both eyes open to anticipate. And aim, try not to rely on wild mind photography.
We feasted at what seemed to be a large rarely used restaurant with a superb view of the Separation Fence, mainly set up for hosting weddings. In this region most cooking is done, Huseen told us, by roasting the food in a closed underground container, much, I told them, like American Indians did for the clambake. They thought Mirka and I would appreciate seeing and photographing the rising of the cooked food. Very clever: a round container first stuffed with fired wood, allowed for one hour to burn to embers, food inserted on a sort of rotisserie, lid closed, bake for 2 hours, remove lid, attach chain from hoist to rotisserie, and hoist. Delicious.
Son of Kamal Isse, water engineer
Son and wife of Kamal Isse, water engineer
Traveling back I noted how near the settlements are to the Palestinian villages, just literally “a stone’s throw” away.
I found Y’s most recent comment to my blog—it had landed in my spam queue. I think because it was so laudatory. Here it is:
It looks as though your heat-sufferings are leading to engaging writing and photos that morph the mind. These are wonderful! What in the world is that substance in the background behind that bullet-hole?
I hope everyone out there in cyberspace is following more closely than I am. These are important slices of life.
And here’s a typical one from the queue:
What a blog filled with vital and important information this is .. It must have taken a lot of hours for you to write these yourself. Hats off from me for your hard work. If you got time, …[it goes on to request a link.]
So I think the selection might be based on the frequency of laudatory words. Most spam that I saw was unrealistically approving, promising that the writer would subscribe, tell all her friends, etc. Thank god most of these are blocked, and I must remember to periodically check the queue for bona fide comments.
Of course, I’m gratified to find Y’s approval. I’ve worried that maybe I’m being both too confessional and too self-restricted. I’m never sure I’ve found the proper line. Which is one of the main challenges of this sort of writing.
Israeli water pipes
Courtesy of the Polish Humanitarian Organization