Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Homes-From the last day in the Occupied Territories (but not the last blog on the theme)

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.

PHOTOS

Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

— Amjad Iraqi, writing about Israel sealing documents that record the atrocities of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe in 1948 that enabled the creation of Israel

Winding down after a fruitful and frustrating 2 months in the Never Neverland of the Holy. Free for some, prison for others. Split down the middle, half Jewish Israelis, half Palestinians. Don’t take sides, some advisors tell me, but not my primary Quaker mentor, old John Woolman. I doubt he’d ever advise that. I side with the ever-present John.

Thanks to many supporters I’ve been able to complete another phase of my photographic mission about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank.

Here’s one recent highlight as I searched for the destroyed Arab villages where the refugees I’ve been interviewing and photographing lived before the expulsion of the Nakba.

In the West Bank city of Jenin, for one week I stayed in the refugee camp (with a violent history, especially during the Second Intifada in 2002, Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield), based at the Freedom Theater, hoping Mouwia, my local coordinator (fixer is the professional term: finds people to interview and photograph, fixes a date and place, introduces me, translates, and helps interview) can find me a few more people to meet. Partly because of confusion between us about whether first generation only, or second and third, and because first-generation people are old and often in poor health, we’ve had a slow go finding people. Plus the theater’s Wi-Fi sucks, days are hot, and I’m frustrated. At our first photographic session the man’s son and grandson joined the crowd.

Jenin_6004
Jenin

After Jenin, using a rental car, maps, and general info, I attempted to locate the original villages. I found about half of the 12 or so on my list. Many are now major Israeli cities and towns like Tel Aviv, Ramle and Lydda, completely erasing their Arab history. A few are parks where I’ve discovered remnants like cacti and rock walls. I may return next fall. I desperately need a professional fixer who I’d hire to travel with me. Someone who knows where these villages are—and where in the village sites are remains like cemeteries, mosques, other buildings, wells, cisterns. cacti, rock walls, rock debris, and remnants of buildings, the usual telltale signs I search for.

On the plus side: Haifa, a gorgeous coastal mixed city (Israelis and Palestinians) where I stayed in a lovely guesthouse in the German Colony (interviewing the owner, Andrew Haddad, a Palestinian with a rich expulsion history); the sites of Ein Hod (now an Israeli artist colony) and its neighbor, Ein Hawd (where the Palestinian residents of Ein Hod fled when kicked out during the Nakba); and finally reaching Jenin and the theater after an arduous route thru the checkpoints and into a very crowded, busy, noisy, congested, large Palestinian city. With excellent shuwarma and fresh-squeezed fruit drinks.

Haifa_5800
Haifa

One major negative factor has been connecting with potential allies. For instance (I mention this mainly because I believe it is a major factor impeding progress in activist circles generally), two strong and natural potential allies for my project are BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. And Zochrot (remember in Hebrew), ­­an Israeli NGO that, among other tasks, leads tours to destroyed Arab villages. For various understandable reasons, these organizations didn’t fulfill their promises in the first case or didn’t respond to my phone and email requests in the second. Likewise with individuals who might have helped with the project—no response. Sure: general busyness, a crisis within the organization, or people not knowing or trusting me could all help explain the silence. That Deep Dark Pit that good intentions often disappear into.

In contrast I’ll mention several crucial allies: Fareed Taamallah, a farmer activist with contacts thruout the West Bank; Ayed Azzeh, resident of the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem who introduced me to refugees in several camps; Nidal Al Azraq, cofounder of the organization 1for3 who helped me significantly; and Amos Gvirtz who brought me to the Al Araqib Bedouin vigil and village and introduced me to one of the leaders, Aziz; plus a few others. Without them I would not be able to create this project.

Then there’s the climate: slowly warming and drying out. Despite drip irrigation, desalination, and illegal theft of water. A recent prediction claims that by 2100 this region’s summers will be 2 months longer. Maybe that would offer a resolution of the conflict: uninhabitability. A vacant land, at last as it once was before human beings were born south of here.

If interested in reading my personal story about a Jenin checkpoint encounter, as a sampler of life in the occupied territories, please write me thru this blog’s comment section.

LINKS

Burying the Nakba: How Israel Systematically Hides Evidence of 1948 Expulsion of Arabs, Hagar Shezaf (Haaretz, July 05, 2019—may be behind the paywall)

The Nakba Documents, a proposed movie by Benny Brunner about hiding the Nakba documents. He needs initial funding. The Nakba Documents (Boston) for more info.

Israel Saw Significant Rise in Temperature in Recent Decades, Study Shows, by Zafrir Rinat (Haaretz, June 25, 2019)

Censored Voices by Mor Loushy (2015) about experiences of Israeli soldiers during the Six Day War, which includes references to Palestinian refugees (similar to what happened 19 years earlier during the Nakba)

TO BE CONTINUED

3 thoughts on “Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Homes-From the last day in the Occupied Territories (but not the last blog on the theme)

  1. Sure I am interested in your check point experience Skip. We (22 UUs who went to the West Bank in 2013) met with Zochrot. I would think they would be a great resource. Sorry you were unable to connect with them. Have safe trip back. Peter

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