From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.
Special note: World Refugee Day, June 20, 2019
Artists are here to disturb the peace. They have to disturb the peace. Otherwise, chaos.
― James Baldwin
May 18, 2019, Saturday, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Old City (continued)
Aside from my tooth, which history will not remember, I dropped in on Mahmoud Muna, one of the owners of the Educational Bookshop in the eastern section of Jerusalem. His shop is part of the American Colony Hotel, always a joy to visit, the shop and the hotel—despite some of my negative connotations of “American” and “colony.” He provided me many suggestions, among them:
- To find people to photograph in camps, establish a link in a camp (Freedom Theater in Jenin for a strong example), visit community centers (such as for women), ask for contacts and a place to stay (I should try today to reach Mowia in Jenin.)
- Photograph refugee achievers such as Abed and people he and others might suggest (as I’ve already done with Abed, Ayed, and others, none first generation; are there any?). Not only those like Abed who are achievers in the resistance movement, but professionals, artists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. Include the interior photos I’ve made to help undercut stereotypes (refugee housing is dirty, cramped, junky).
- Connect with the Institute of Palestinian Studies, headed by Walid Khalali (who lives in Cambridge MA, why have I not sought his counsel yet?), based in many places including Ramallah, for contacts but also for archival photos of the villages before Nakba.
- Same with UN and UNRWA.
- Consult Salman Abu Sitta for an argument for return, read his new book, The Geography of Occupation.
- For people who’d lived in Deir Yassin, Lifta, etc, contact associations formed to remember those Nakba disasters.
- Zochrot is mainly about the villages, not the former residents, and tends to concentrate on the north, the Galilee, etc.
He confirmed what he told me on my last visit, that mine is probably the first photographic treatment of the theme.
When asked about the effect of digital technology on publishing and booksellers like his he agreed that for many books digital has a strong impact. But he’s convinced other kinds of books, like photography, will remain popular. Because people like to have the pages in front of them. We’ll see. He was not familiar with my concept of a multi-dimensional multi-platform book, in print but also linked to the Internet, or maybe purely digital.
He seemed to like the photos I showed him online. I mentioned my online booklet but we didn’t pursue it. I feel I can consult with Mahmoud regularly, even when I’m home in Cambridge MA.
Ironic that he is among my first strong contacts on this trip, as he was on my fall trip.
While scouting the American Colony Hotel looking for the bookshop I discovered a small exhibit of photos and texts about the founding of this place. Around the late 1800s, a small group from Chicago, my home town, mainly Swedes, pioneered. They encouraged friends to immigrate and eventually discovered a Jerusalem mansion they could first rent and then buy—the present building. I thought of joking with Suzanne and Brayton about immigrating Agape to here, founding the Agape Colony in Jerusalem. But, alas, they’re too old for this adventure, as are now most of my peers for such pathfinding.
After meeting with Mahmoud I sat in the garden across from the main building, enjoying its serenity and peace. I ate an apple and checked my mail, made a photo or two as well. I wondered, what would a single room for one night cost me? $330 average, a bit beyond.
A major achievement after a boondoggle: the main page of my website. This is a result of working between two computers, desk and laptop, not fully sharing all the files. Yesterday as I attempted to post my new flight photo set to my site, I inadvertently uploaded the old main page which dates back to about Nov 2018. I couldn’t reverse the save or retrieve the latest page so I needed to remake the page. I doubt I did it totally accurately but good enough to allow me to post my new sets. When I return home I can access the page I need and complete the restoration. Or so I pray.
Today [May 18, 2019, Saturday] I plan to announce this new set and possibly begin my first blog entry.
Today I’d hoped to join Zochrot in Jaffa for the Nakba tour. How to reach Jaffa from Jerusalem? While home I’d imagined riding either the Israeli bus or train, walking or taxiing to the central Jerusalem bus-train station, then, arrived in Jaffa, figure out how to meet the tour. Belatedly I’d remembered: oh shit, Shabbat, no Israeli trains or buses until late afternoon today. Rent a car? Couldn’t contact Good Luck car rental because it is Friday, Muslim holy day, and they’re closed. Then, running this question by Mahmoud, he replied, easy, use the shuttle near the Damascus Gate. He explained Palestinian entrepreneurs run shuttles to various locations in Israel, Jaffa for sure, on Fridays and Saturdays because of the absence of regular Israeli transport over Shabbat.
I searched the area I thought he told me where I could find the shuttle—to inquire about how early they run on Saturday (I’d need to be at the Jaffa port by 9 am, a daunting task, given the trip there takes 1 hour easily)—but because of Muslim holy day and the huge crowds going to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque, the area had been cordoned by the Israelis: no shuttles to be found. By now, altho I could have inquired, I concluded the Nakba tour would not be worth the effort. Plus, after I’d damaged my tooth yesterday, I realized today, Saturday, I will search for a dentist.
And what about this holy day crowd. As I mentioned to SF, I was caught in the “Al Aqsa prayer crush.” Coming and going. Inadvertently I’d timed my exit from the Golden Gate hostel with the entrance of praying people, and my return to the hostel with their exit. The latter was the worst. Altho I’d tried to sit out the rush from the mosque, I missed the moment. A little past the American Colony I encountered thousands going to their buses to return to places all around the West Bank and (someone told me) Gaza as well. I could manage until I got nearer the Damascus Gate. Before reaching it I realized I could video this. So I tried, holding a position or walking into the crowd. Once past the gate, the corridor constricted, I soon was trapped. Zero motion. (What if someone set off a bomb to eliminate the maximum number of Muslims (and tourists and locals)? I panicked.
Trying my usual technique—walking behind bolder walkers than me—didn’t work. We were stuck, we did not move. Luckily I could peel off into a sort of garden or park where I found shade. I sat, read, waited until I felt the crowd had shrunk enough for me to actually make headway. What a contrast when I walked a similar path later, around 9 pm, stopping at the Sepulchre Church to honor my departed teacher.
Last night I experienced a large scale HOW, Hour of the Wolf, about 1 hour long. My mind races uncontrollably, the throttle dismantled, no more serial, control thinking, but a barrage of unrelated thoughts, terrifying at worst, enlightening at best. But I can’t sleep. I tried the Cannabidiol, or CBD oil Katy had given me. Little effect that I noticed. Eventually, I slept—god given!—waking around 6:30 am to the noise of the two large black men sharing the dorm with me packing and leaving.
I think I’ve found relatively safe storage for my gear, finally remembering what I’ve done in the past: into my luggage, secured with a small lock, tucked under my bed. In it, large camera, iPad, and laptop when I’m not using it or in the hostel. Rather than in the office in my large knapsack where anyone can easily steal it.
Now, presently, at the moment, relative bliss. It is 8:07 am, I am alone on the porch with only the flies (large ones drawn by the remnants of my yogurt and banana). The sound only of shopkeepers opening for the day. Not a bad life if only I can have my tooth repaired.
Booklet: On Our Way Home, photographs by Skip Schiel (On Google Drive)
If you’ve not seen the movie One Day in Gaza, about the May 14, 2018 juxtaposition of the Great March of Return viciously attacked by Israel and the opening of the USA Embassy in Jerusalem, please have a look. Click here for an intro from Haaretz (possibly behind a paywall, here for the movie (you don’t need to log in), and here for Alison Weir’s perceptive analysis. I deeply laud Alison and If Americans Knew (her website) for her courage, knowledge, and dedication.
TO BE CONTINUED