Political power is controlled by the corporate elite, and the arts are the locale for a kind of guerilla warfare in the sense that guerillas look for apertures and opportunities where they can have an effect.
Young man in a park, Gaza City
Inbal Yahav, telling how she lost a close friend in a Gazan mortar attack, Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav (cooperative agricultural community) next to the Gaza Strip
During a trauma healing session in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip
Nader Abu Amsha, director of YMCA Rehabilitation Program & Beit Sahour Branch
Watching a performance of the Jenin Freedom Theater at a water rights demonstration in the Jordan River Valley
Coaches at a training for the Quaker Palestine Youth Program, Gaza City
An interlude in my series of journal extracts about my recent trip. That series will continue.
Often while photographing in Palestine-Israel for 3 months this spring I despaired. For several reasons: in Gaza and the West Bank, the paucity of popular unarmed resistance to the occupation; by Israeli Jews, the absence of awareness about the occupation and siege; and my own sense of futility about my work. There are exceptions of course, Gush Shalom, Other Voice, and Emek Shaveh for instance in Israel, and some local popular resistance groups in Palestine, such as struggle in the villages of Bil’in, Budrus, Al Masara, Al Walaja, and Nabi Saleh in the West Bank and a few locations in Gaza. Yet, in my 8 trips there since 2004 I’ve never felt so crushed.
Beneficiary of the East Jerusalem YMCA’s rehabilitation program
However, I returned to my home in the USA to join with activists on campaigns such as BDS—Boycott-Divest-Sanction. I work with Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights and other local and regional organizations struggling to bring justice with peace and security to all parties in Israel-Palestine. This work nourishes me, offers me ways to use my photography, provides hope. As a friend, Loretta Williams, signs her letters, “In Struggle is the Hope.”
Watching the Holy Fire Eastern Christian Orthodox Holy Fire procession on Easter, Beit Sahour (Bethlehem)
To be precise about my itinerary: 1 week in Jerusalem to acclimate politically and historically to the region, 4 weeks in Gaza to photograph the activities of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program and to teach photography to young adults, 4 weeks in Bethlehem to work (nominally—I’ll explain this later) with the Palestine News Network, 2 weeks in Ramallah with the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in the West Bank to photograph their work and teach, and in Jerusalem with the American Friends Service Committee to photograph for their BDS campaign. During my final week of 12, I explored the northern Mediterranean coast, the Israeli borderlands with Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and trace the Jordan River from headwaters on Mt Hermon where it dumps (theoretically) into the Dead Sea.
Watching a man being fitted for a suit, Gaza City
A friend asked, what surprised you, Skip? Some people I met such as Jen Sieu from the USA who volunteered with me as a photographer and reporter at the Palestine News Network. We gave each other leads such as the Battir terraces threatened by the planned Israeli separation wall and early morning at the Bethlehem checkpoint. And Ayman Nijim, a psychosocial worker in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza. He introduced me to a young men’s debka touring group and brought me to photograph his trauma healing program in the camp. And an old friend, Fareed Tawallah in Ramallah, with whom I shared the farmers’ market he co-founded, Sharaka.
Fatma M. Khateib, Project Coordinator at the psychosocial service agency, Afaq Jadeeda Association (New Horizons), in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip
Some places surprised me. For instance Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav hugging the Gaza wall, often targeted by Gaza mortars and militants. There I met Roni Keider and her daughter, Inbal Yahav. Inbal lost a close friend in a mortar attack. And the border zones mentioned earlier, actually viewing fences and army patrols, while I was able to look into neighboring countries, including Syria where violence rages. And the Battir terraces, ancient agricultural terraces that utilize natural water flows and could be partially destroyed if Israeli’s plans for extension of the separation wall succeed.
Men’s-only pre-wedding party, Gaza City
Taher Mhanna and his son Hesham
In Bethlehem I was chagrined to learn that the Palestine News Network made little use of my photos, offered virtually no support, and exhibited what I feel is a self-destructive policy of eschewing connections with Israeli organizations—the normalization policy—that persuaded them against using my and Jen’s photos about the Battir terraces. The reason? The project involved Friends of the Earth Middle East, a joint Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian environmental effort to foster justice and peace thru concentration on the environment.
Hamas security officers, Gaza City
Three final surprises: the major direction and staff changes in the American Friends Service Committee and Quaker programs which I will report on separately. And my friendship with a woman with whom I wrote and Skyped regularly, a very personal connection to home that warmed my heart. My daughter Katy as well, who cared so lovingly for my home and business.
Participants in a water rights march in the Jordan River Valley
I’ve made many photos, written some blog entries, made some friends, and raised within myself many questions. For a few: what is the strategy of Palestinian unarmed resistance? Are Israeli occupation and settlement policies suicidal? Why is Gaza so often the center of resistance and the target of Israeli attacks? How does the terrain reflect the politics, especially the control of water? How much should I concentrate my photography on conflict vs ordinary life?
Drinking water from a school pure water installation provided by the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip
Photography is one of my primary lifelines, for my own psychic survival at least. I must believe it has some value, even tho I am often disappointed with reactions to it—and my own self evaluations. I am nourished by the awareness that I am not alone in photography and activism. I photograph shoulder to shoulder with some of my mythical photographic mentors—Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, and W. Eugene Smith for 3 who are long dead, and Sebastião Salgado very much alive. And in politics I walk with Martin Luther King Jr and Jesus Christ, partners as teachers and martyrs.
Participants in a Quaker Palestine Youth Program in occupied Palestine, West Bank
My next steps? Exhibit portraits at a regional Quaker gathering in August 2013, produce new slide shows and supplement old ones for upcoming national tours, perhaps publish a second book (the first is Eyewitness Gaza, available at blurb.com), post more blog and website entries, and develop new print exhibitions. The usual.
Avi, proprietor of Abraham’s Tent, housing for travelers in the Golan, near Mt Hermon
I’ll end with some insights from James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:
For in the immediate world, everything is to be discerned, for him who can discern it, and centrally and simply, without either dissection into science or digestion into art, but with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of the consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.
That is why the camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time; and is why in turn I feel such rage at its misuse: which has spread so nearly universal a corruption of sight that I know of less than a dozen alive whose eyes I can trust even so much as my own.
The photographer resting in a field of aloes, West Jerusalem
I can imagine how tough it was to be over there. It’s reached a state of stasis, maybe. All the power held by Israel. All the Palestinian strategies of the past have failed in the face of that really evil state-power/religious-zealot-power/dysfunctional state/helped by holocaust drums and US Jews and Christian Zionists. And the Palestinians, too, in their government apparently tribal (legacy of the Tripoli-Arafat approach–non democratic really). Yikes.
—a friend (in a recent email to me)
Courtesy of Islam Madhoun & AFSC Gaza
A Long, Slow, Soft Landing in Boston
THIS SERIES WILL BE CONTINUED
To learn more about Palestinian unarmed resistance to occupation (American Friends Service Committee):
- Check out this new AFSC background paper on popular resistance
- View this slideshow on popular resistance recently produced by AFSC, or
- Take action by calling on congress to support a just and lasting peace in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
“Life Is A Catastrophe Now” by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, May 2013
“Israel is Outgassing its Unhealed Trauma,” by Paul Levy
“Why Land Day still matters,” by Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis, March 30, 2012