Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel
March 8, 2015, Sunday, Golden Gate hostel, Old City, Jerusalem, Israel-Palestine
(Warm, low 60s, sunny, calm—other than the temperature this might be the usual report.)
Yesterday [March 7, 2015], one day before the official International Women’s Day, I arrived at the checkpoint, the site of the march and demonstration well, before the slated start time of 11 am. Thanks to Sahar V, a Jewish Israeli woman with the American Friends Service Committee in East Jerusalem, who told me about the demonstration and suggested I participate on the Palestinian-West Bank side, I met an extraordinary Israeli Jewish woman, Tamar. I’d noticed her talking with Palestinians—short blond hair, jeans, lightly built, she reminded me from a distance of Lynn. Believing she was present for the demo I walked near her to possibly strike up a conversation. She invited me to have coffee from a stand she sat at.
She told me she is a presence at the checkpoint every Sunday, on her own apparently, not part of Machsom Watch, the Israeli women who monitor and report on checkpoints, or other organizations. She makes photos of the boys who flock around her and then gives them prints the following week. This she says in lieu of giving them money which she feels they would give to their fathers. When she first started appearing, they’d beg, she’d refuse, they’d grow angry, and then she thought of the photography. She touched each one of them in greeting, very motherly, expressing deep love and solidarity.
Belatedly I thought, since I am now on the Ramallah side of the Green Line/Wall, why not visit Ramallah, then why not visit friends, why not visit Jean and Fareed? Trying to phone them, I discovered my phone’s minutes had disappeared. I was stranded. Tamar let me borrow her phone. I reached Fareed who agreed to meet me later.
The women arrived, some 300 of them, males mixed in. I’m not sure of their starting point, possibly the Kalandia refugee camp. The media presence was large. Most wore helmets, bulletproof vests, and carried tear gas masks. Am I prepared for this? The women marched right up to the closed, heavily patrolled checkpoint and confronted the soldiers. Media rushed to the front of the line, cameras high above their heads. Suddenly someone fell down, a heavy-set woman; others clustered around her, including media. I tried to photograph from outside, not effectively. I smelled a slight tinge of tear gas. Had gas been used? Why so quickly? I did not see stones hurled at the army.
People regrouped, more confrontation, this time I came closer and might have made better photos. A stand-off—the soldiers and police; their commanders at least, older, seemed cool and poised. I wandered around looking for context photos—the wall, observation tower, graffiti—and human detail, faces, mainly faces. I concentrated on faces from the beginning, as the march approached, and believe these will be among my best photos.
At one point everyone fled, laughing, to return, I with them. Not nearly as limber as I once was, unsure of my footing, I was more attentive to my safety than to photographing. Then gas again, much gas, this time with tear gas canisters exploding all around me, immersing me in stinging stinky gas, a smell I abhor. My eyes teared up so I couldn’t see well; I gasped for breath, wishing to breathe only thru my nostrils but unable to resist opening my mouth as wide as possible to inhale the most oxygen possible (and the most gas).
I stumbled in retreat, not even thinking about photos. The wind blew with us, from the soldiers, not the best direction. More gas ahead, swerve, avoid it. People helped each other. I empathized with the obese and aged. Finally out of range, I tried to show people struggling with the gas, aided by others. I made a series of photos without the viewfinder and then noticed that the camera was not operating. Either I’d run out of battery or memory or I now had a defective camera. Checking, I discovered that I’d jarred open the door to the battery and memory card. Closing it, I tested, found my camera did operate, and resumed photography. My camera almost a casualty.
Oh yes, the stones. Someone, probably the shabab, the young boys, began throwing them shortly before the main gas attack. Lobbed over the fence in a wide arch they were hardly threatening, yet they became the impetus for the gas. Once again, a futile exchange of power, messages from the mute, on both sides.
Since Kalandia was closed, traffic toward Jerusalem backed up for what may have been kilometers. Toward Ramallah, likewise, it only creeped. I walked. I found a toilet in a gas station, relieved myself, and then noticed a few serveeces (shared taxis) were moving toward Ramallah. I boarded one. And soon found myself in central Ramallah. After a delightfully ample turkey shuwarma followed by chocolate ice cream at Rukabs, I borrowed the Rukab man’s phone and reached Fareed. Let’s meet at Rukab’s, I suggested. He replied, I’ll be there in a few minutes. He was.
On the wall of Kalandia refugee camp
TO BE CONTINUED
“Palestinian, Israeli protest marks Women’s Day.” by Zena Tahhan
“Hundreds of Palestinian women march on Qalandia to protest Israeli occupation,’ by Anne Paq and Ahmad Al-Bazz
“In Photos: Int’l Women’s Day in Israel-Palestine,” by Activestills