Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant
Slide show: Good Friday in Bethlehem (you may have to scroll up, depending on your browser)
April 7, 2012, Saturday, my home in Bethlehem
A huge day yesterday for photography, in part because it was Good Friday. A blazing schedule:
Around 9 am as I sat at the PPN office computer pondering what to work on, my colleague B phoned to ask, you awake yet, Skip? Oh good, and at the office? Double good. We’ve got a few jobs for you. 10 am over to the Bethlehem Bible College where Naomi Tutu [daughter of former Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa] is speaking. 11 am to Beit Jala and the Cremisan monastery where they will hold an outdoor Stations of the Cross procession for Good Friday. They do this to oppose the Israeli takeover of the monastery grounds.
That surprised me but I was very ready for it. In part because the Good Friday event paralleled what M and Agape were doing that same day, maybe 8 hours later, commemorating Good Friday in Boston, with M giving the 10th station talk. Also it fit with my resistance photographic theme.
Following all that, at 5 pm a Good Friday service at St Catherine’s Church beside the Nativity Basilica, and later yesterday, 8 pm, another mass at an Eastern Catholic church near Manger Sq. All in one day! I used nearly all my camera memory cards to do this. Luckily I was not exhausted. I had broken for lunch at the Peace Restaurant on Manger Sq, meeting T accidentally who told me about her anxiety over her graduate paper about media representation of the struggle. Then a nap in the TV studio at PNN before the evening events.
The Good Friday Stations of the Cross at Cremisan drew many photographers and videographers, among them Musa, N’s father, whom I’d met earlier that week. I watched him in action, as I watched other photographers, only to notice once again the propensity of most photographers to obsessively check their camera monitors. Later I considered the difference between film and digital: no chance to instantaneously see what is photographed during film days. One must develop a feel for the lens and camera to sync the eye with what and how the camera sees. Does this anticipation produce better photos? Is checking the screen anything like watching where one places one’s fingers if a pianist or cellist or violinist—in those cases I believe this would be discouraged. I should ask a musician about this.
The procession was deliberately staged along a road in view of major settlements. Each station might have been connected with some aspect of the occupation, or maybe not. I should ask B. I miss much without Arabic. He did report that at several stations the priest mentioned people who needed prayers. B also gave me his interpretation of the large back-story.
In his view the big leaders of the monastery—and this might be partially true of other churches—tend to not be Palestinians. The Israelis offered the monastery a choice: give us control of your land, we will pay you a fee (a bribe?), you can remain there, but we will annex it to Israel with the separation wall. Or we will simply take your entire property and drive you out. In either case control shifts to Israel. And in the first case, which reportedly is frequent, the monastery leaders are enriched. He claimed many are corrupt, or at the very least do not have the deeper interests of the Palestinians at heart.
Already Israel controls the winery for which the monastery was most famous. Next the monastery itself.
The St Catherine’s Good Friday Stations reminded me of the Christmas midnight mass I attended here in about 2005 when I walked with and photographed the Steps of the Magi walk. Crowded, boisterous, jumbly. Which worked very well for me and photography. I arrived at 4 pm, my assigned time and learned the service would begin at 5. I believe the partially filled church members were chanting the rosary because I heard repeatedly, Mariam and salaam. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…and blessed is the fruit thy womb Jesus…now and at the hour of our death…. My early Catholicism was returning. Mostly women, the church gradually filled.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
I’d chosen a seat at the end of a pew or bench to have some mobility. Two folding chairs were placed next to me and were alternately sat in by a boy who kept touching my camera lens and an older woman, heavy-set. When she sat down as the spaces filled, I realized I’d be trapped and could do little photography. So I stood and discovered this was the correct move. Altho when I asked earlier and the head priest had seemed to grant me only marginal rights, I noticed other journalists hovering, roaming, charging, and decided, me too, why not? So I had mostly free range. I eagerly anticipate examining my photos.
Like the rosary Stations also returns me to my childhood Catholicism. I suspect one big reason I’m so attracted to the Palestine-Israel work is this notion of Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering, the Way of the Cross. Its reenactment and wide metaphoric resonance. Christ on the cross, the Palestinians on the cross. The Israelis the new Romans.
The evening service at a small eastern Catholic church near Manger Sq was a blend of eastern and western Catholicism, the icons and chants of the Eastern Orthodox, and the incense (Gloria?) and maybe altar of the west. I’d never experienced anything like this before. The mass—was it another Good Friday-specific service?—was nearly all in chant. At first I swam in the very beautiful lush resonant chant, call and response, with some stringed instruments, maybe a cello, flute or recorder, and something that produced a drone sound. I never fully saw the musicians. There was much repetition which for me eventually bored me so I left before the end. I had no idea how long this would continue. I noted the song books or hymnals held by most congregants, and, remembering that Arabic flowed right to left, I concluded there were many more pages to go.
At this church I was the only media person and the only observer-tourist. I carefully chose my moments to photograph, wishing not to disturb others. I do not look forward to reviewing this these photos.
And then on the pleasant stroll home, heavily loaded with all my camera gear, I discovered one more service, this at a Catholic church in Beit Sahour near where I live. It ended with a street procession just as I walked by. They carried Christ on his funeral bed. Oh, how I wish I’d anticipated this and could have chosen a position better. I believe I missed it. [I discovered later when reviewing my photos that indeed I’d shown a glimpse of this macabre scene.]
So that is day one of what might become a series of spring Holy Week events, more tonight and next weekend for Orthodox services.
St Catherine’s Church
Even choosing a Holy Land wine is political (A proposed separation wall near Bethlehem may jeopardise a famous altar wine produced at the Cremisan Monastery)
Christian community divided by Israeli separation barrier, by Hugh Naylor–Nov 17, 2011
Israel as Refuge for the Jews, The Magnes Zionist, Self-Criticism from an Israeli, American, and Orthodox Jewish Perspective, March 30, 2012