From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands.
Solidarity is the political version of love.
October 7, 2018, Sunday, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem
Ayed invited me to visit a Bedouin community displaced from Ein Gedi during the Nakba in 1948. This would be a novel sort of story. Ein Gedi, the paradise beside the Dead Sea that I’ve visited at least twice and photographed extensively. Never knew there had been Bedouins there. The potential cost of this excursion presents a challenge. When Ayed posed this I thought he meant it as between two friends, as I’d offered to show around a Palestinian during his Cambridge visit in the spring. Altho the visitor, Mohammed, never accepted my offer, the idea of money never presented itself to me. Charge him for showing him around Cambridge? Absurd. I’m not in the business of tour guide.
Ayed, living in the Aida refugee camp, faces much different conditions than I do. Yet at first I thought his proposal was too high, despite the potential value of the meeting: the drive across the desert itself could provide many opportunities to photograph, plus being with Ayed who I truly like and seem liked by added value. But then I reconsidered. OK, maybe, $150 is fair for what could be a rare opportunity. Plus, and this clinched my equivocation, the cost was the equivalent of about 3 nights in cheap housing in Palestine. (I pay $30 nightly here in the refugee camp, nearly $50 nightly at the Golden Gates hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem.) Comparatively speaking, why not? Also it gives me a reason to return later to Ein Gedi with a new perspective.
After some discussion (we lived in the same building in the Aida refugee camp) we agreed that for the 45-minute drive each way (a considerable effort) 300 shekels for gas and car, and 100 for fruit and chocolate as gifts to the family. And then maybe a cash gift to the Bedouins, let’s say 50 shekels more; add 100 more as a special gift to Ayed. Which makes 550 shekels or about $150 for this interview.
Now I wonder, do the people I’ve interviewed so far expect payment? Should I offer payment to my assistants, Mousa and Murad?
I’m sure this is a continually vexing issue for any cross-cultural work. Only a rare bird, living in poverty, would turn down cash, or even not ask for it, or not suggest it.
October 8, 2018, Monday, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem
Another big day of exploration: with Ayed to a Bedouin camp in the Judean Desert, to meet this large family expelled from Ein Gedi. The patriarch, Khalil Mohammed Rashida (Abu Daifallah), 98 plus years old, a jovial, lively fellow missing most of his teeth, deaf, told his story as I’m sure he’s told it many times, at least within the family. He’s been deaf since his early 20’s, a result of a sheep kicking him in the head. First his son, then his grandson interpreted for him using grand gestures and slowly mouthing words so he could understand, this alone a remarkable achievement. Ayed also needed help with the Bedouin dialect. Four generations, 25 people live in this compound.
Khalil’s original family had lived in Ein Gedi while shepherding sheep and goats in the desert high above the only oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea. They lived with Jews as neighbors and apparently had good relations until the Nakba. Among the armed men driving them from the village, he said he noticed Jews, former neighbors. Much later his son has been able to look down from cliffs above Ein Gedi to view their former home site. Precisely what these homes consisted of and how many Bedouins actually resided or based in that oasis, I’m not sure, or why Bedouins, being traditionally nomadic (altho this has been changing), would base themselves in a village or town. Using Bedouin and Ein Gedi as search terms I found mainly sites offering “Bedouin experiences” around Ein Gedi, meaning camping or simulations of Bedouin communities. I found nothing historical.
Driving there with Ayed, several times people riding camels (we stopped to photograph one group, the lead man had his phone out and I believe photographed me photographing him) he explained the series of displacements, from region to region, until Bedouins are again spread out over much of the desert region. This particular family is about 80 km northwest of their original home site.
One of the first displacement sites was a series of blockhouses provided by Israel. Other Palestinians, not Bedouins, drove them out, demolishing their homes, claiming ownership of this land. Ayed stopped here to explain and I photographed. A young, very dark-skinned boy approached us, examined us. Ayed explained who we were. (I believe Ayed’s dark skin is an asset here, and of course his Arabic language and general appearance. How would I ever do this alone?)
After our interview and dinner the son offered us a tour of the desert, ending at a former Jordanian military barracks, long unused and mostly ruined, with some gorgeous graffiti. Israel uses the entire region for military exercises. We stopped at a site with large concrete slabs. For tents, Ayed explained. Then the son offered to drive us to the cliff overlooking Ein Gedi, a 1 hour ride each way from the camp, but, sun descending, hour late, haze prevailing, I declined. We’d already driven nearly an hour to reach the family and had yet to return to Aida camp in the dark.
Because I recorded audio of the interview potentially I will be able to pick up relevant details, more of Khalil’s story and those of his descendents, especially his grandson who studies at Beersheva Open University to become a Palestinian security officer. Because I asked few questions and the talk centered on Ayed, I was free to roam with my photography and catch details of the milieu, including another son and some of the great grand children of the main man. After our desert tour, photography continued when they sat us down to a meal of goat head (I tried the eyeball, fatty and stringy rather than meaty), stuffed intestines, stuffed grape leaves (my favorite), onions, and various other ingredients that remain a mystery to me. I photographed as we ate and the kids played around us, the son occasionally picking out food to give to the aged one and the kids. I thought of Native Indians on the Great Plains, me a guest from another world, sitting down to a meal of bison.
Israeli control and displacement of Palestinian Bedouins
TO BE CONTINUED
3 thoughts on “Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Lands (or On Our Way Home)—part 12—Khalil Mohammed Rashida of the Bedouins”
Skip-what is Murad’s last name? I may know him. Loving your posts ♥️ kathy
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murad mater in gaza
correction: murad abusrour, photographer with al rowwad in aida camp.