Arm ripped off by Israeli shell when playing football (soccer) on the previous field during the last assault
Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles
August 9, 2009, Nagasaki Anniversary, Sunday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:
A relatively rich night of dreaming:
For the first time in recent memory I’ve apparently dreamt from a more Israeli point of view, something about fearing an attack from an Arab entity. I forget the details but remember the fear—powerful and all encompassing, driving me to concentrate only on it.
Another dream related to Palestine/Israel—a house I lived in, large and spreading out, with trees on one side planted by Israel, and on the other by one of their opponents. The Israeli trees were well managed, fully watered, trimmed, healthy, beautiful, while the second set of trees were haggard, wizened, dried and dying.
I can’t recall the dreams with much detail or intensity, but at least I’ve recovered the outlines. A glimpse rather than a full view.
A letter from ME, the first since June. She writes marginally about where and what, but with more details about favorite authors, suggesting some more to me. This is proving the best part of our sketchy relationship.
Another packed day with photography, late developing as usual. I expected to be with Dr. Mona and Mohammed most of the day, at one or more of her projects, but instead Ibrahem called later and invited me to accompany him and several Quaker Palestine Youth Program staff to several sites in Beit Hanoun and along the water. Glad I did, because it provided 2 platforms for photography I’ve wished for: the widespread destruction of buildings, and views from the water back to the land.
In Beit Hanoun, driving there in a taxi packed with Islam [his actual name] and 2 others, plus Ibrahem and me, we observed the first session of a 3 full day workshop in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and other first aid techniques. They live in a very dangerous area, so close to the border. The recent violence motivated this group to choose this topic, to receive training and then to train their peers so when and if another attack comes they will be able to perform at least rudimentary rescue techniques. This was lacking during the recent assault, especially because of Israel blocking the medical personnel from rapidly reaching victims. There was something grisly and awful about this first training, thinking how others might be reacting, since the instructor demonstrated on a dummy lying prone in front of everyone. Did this evoke memories of the terror and horror? Even tho I’d not experienced what they’d experienced I felt a chill run thru me when looking at the dummy.
The 2nd site was a field young men had cleared of debris to make into a football field. Their initial field had been close to the border and the Israelis had repeatedly attacked it, severing the arm of one young man and the thumb of another. Ibrahem introduced me to these two fellows and they allowed me to photograph them. By hand and with the help of a Caterpillar bulldozer they’d completed the clearing and today [August 10, 2009] plan to line the ground with a permanent playing surface and install goalposts. I’m not clear if I will return with Ibrahem today to photograph it.
Ibrahem is such a good guide, patient with me and knowing what will make good photos. He invited us to visit the site of the previous field and there in the near distance sat Sderot, the Israeli town whose residents, all civilians, have been repeatedly targeted by the homemade, poorly targeted, but terror-inducing rockets fired by Gazan militants— not more than 2 km away. I could pick it out by its greenery; it looked like a lush park compared with the surrounding terrain. I tried to show this proximity with each of my 2 lenses, wide and normal, but I doubt I have conveyed the nearness—certainly not the effect of the nearness, the fear and suspicion.
And then the climax: a wide swath of destroyed buildings, just like I’d imagined before arriving here. Wanton destruction, no apparent reason other than location—too near Israel. Not targeting of Hamas, of fighters, or because of threat to Israelis, just a group of rioting young men, soldiers, with machines, all of them lethal, under the guidance and provocation of their elders, including rabbis. Is this not a war crime? And because I was with Ibrahem who has the heart and tools and language to dig deep we met a few of those displaced, living in tents and caravans, the caravans similar to ones used by settlers stealing land for Israel. This series peaked when we cruised by a cement factory.
Ibrahem offered to stop so I could photograph with more concentration. He pointed out a cement truck that had been smashed into a portion of the factory. A decapitated truck, its head or cab with motor dangling from the rest of the body. And a tree planted recently in front of a ruined office building. Perfect: cement factory demolished, and if rebuilt, no cement allowed in. I commented to Ibrahem, Very clever of the Israelis: take out a house and you ruin life for a family, maybe 10 people. Take out a factory, especially a cement factory, and you ruin the lives of the workers, owners, and many customers. The multiplier effect. Is this partially what motivated Israel? Is this not a war crime by international law?
When I stood in the field next to the factory, gazing at the carnage in a 360-degree path, I thought, panoramic.
And finally for a pleasant respite from all this despair-inducing wreckage, the beach. But this time I had the pleasure and terror of riding in one of those large motorboats I’d observed earlier. The plan—and I wasn’t quite sure what the plan was at first—was to unfurl banners announcing the upcoming Popular Achievement festival, and ride around in the wind and waves awhile. I quickly surmised this had one or both of 2 objectives: to cruise up and down the beach advertising the festival or, since we had me and a video crew with us, make visual material that could be circulated on TV or by web.
After a harrying 15 minutes or so lurching up and down and side to side in the waves, me hoping we’d not capsize and lose all our equipment, not to mention our lives, trying different angles because the wind was so fierce often the banners were invisible, we headed to the shore. This allowed me photos from the boat inland. Walking back to the car Ibrahem asked, And what did you think? Well, Ibrahem, exciting, but what was the point? And he explained, the website.
Very clever and innovative, but effective? I’m not sure.
We’d had a speedy lunch of shuwarma and accessories in the car as we aimed at the beach, and then we dropped off some of the staff at their homes in Beach refugee camp before leaving me at my door for a much needed shower, rest, snack. Ibrahem and I later visited the nearby art gallery which was hosting a show by 6 or so artists. I wish I could report being more impressed with the art, but it struck me as either too abstract for my tastes (“fine, but not for me,” as TS Elliot put it to someone submitting to his poetry journal) or flat, generic, banal (the photos particularly—what I’m afraid my photos too often are). I had a chance to ask 3 of the artists a few questions, among them:
Why not more political content in your art?
We do, in other exhibits, very much so, but we all chose not to reference that aspect of our daily lives in this show.
Why not, I’m not sure I understood the answers, or they my continually probing question.
How do you earn money?
Part of this project is subsidized, and we all have jobs (Shareef Sarhan, painting and photography, is a UNRWA photographer; while Basel al Magossiu and Majed Shala, painting, have jobs with the government, I believe they said). I think some teach at the gallery, called Windows From Gaza and might receive funding for the gallery.
What are your relations with Hamas?
No interference but not much cooperation. We’ve invited them to submit, they haven’t. And when they invited some of us to exhibit they selected on the basis of Muslim attitudes and principles. This reminded me of the most repressive periods in Soviet art. Nazi art also, when ideology ruled, rather than esthetics.
How able are you to move your art thru the border?
Not very, but we can use the internet for this. We’ve been invited to show in several venues outside Israel-Palestine and we’ve been able to convey our work. Sometimes in the distant venue (“Al Aqsa gallery”?) they’ve printed what we sent them via email.
Their space is large and clean, the lighting good (altho electricity shut down part way thru the interview I was trying to audio record), no one else visited while we were there, yet I thought Ibrahem had told me this was the opening (meeting Stephanie later I learned it had occurred earlier), and the facility includes a digital studio for training in digital photo-making and video. We briefly discussed the slight possibility of my QPYP students having an exhibit there. And might bring them to see the current show, despite my misgivings.
A rich moment, I usually feel very brotherly toward other artists, I only regret the language barrier.
Young Adult Friends (Quakers between the ages of 18 and 35, roughly) Delegation Palestine/Israel—Summer 2010