The Ongoing Nakba: My colleague and friend, Fareed Taamallah-part two

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

PHOTOS

We shall have to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.

—Theodor Herzl, Diaries

June 23, 2019, Monday, Ramallah, Occupied West Bank

Trying to recall significant details about the 3 people Fareed and I met last Thursday [June 19, 2019] proved futile. Even with the aid of the photos and the few notes—names, places, and dates, mostly—I couldn’t recall much of significance. Partly this is because interviewing 3 in a row without breaks to record merges those individuals. They all mix together. Who had lived in a village near Jews but had no interaction? Who lived near Jews and had lots of interaction? Who had the father who returned to retrieve property? Etc. So far Fareed wrote that he doesn’t have time to write speaker notes from his notes. He’ll save the notes if I have questions later.

Nakba-Amari-refugee-Palestine-Israel_DSC3406
Khadija Mohammad Al-Azza (Um Ghazi) in the Amari refugee camp

I considered asking him to photograph the notes and send me the photos, for possible later translation, but he might have scribbled so that anyone trying to decipher the notes may not be able. Luckily, I have the audio recording with his periodic translations, so, when needed, I can refer to that. All I need at this early point in developing the series is a few brief quotes, not a summary, but a few dramatic and distinctive details. Bits of stories.

Had I asked the questions rather than he I might have better recall. While he interviewed one person I spoke casually with her daughter, that beauty who I failed to photograph well (blurry). I heard her story clearly and was able to record her stories in my speaker notes. About her wish to move out of the Amari refugee camp and how dangerous playing is for the kids. By the way, I asked about the Amari Play Center, once connected with Friends (Quakers), either the Ramallah Friends School or Ramallah Friends Meeting or both. An old woman ran it, Rosi Greenberg organized a mural-making project. I recall it well. What became of it and the center? I could ask at the school or search my website.

Otherwise I believe I made a decent set of photos.

Fareed asked for photos of himself with the people, which I provided yesterday, in color and black and white, unsure which he’d prefer, and also curious about how they’d look in black and white. I began new collections with these sample photos. (And sent the zip file to Minga a few minutes ago with an invite to swim and bike when I return home, spurred by the recent news that the Charles River annual swim was at first postponed and then finally cancelled because of heavy rains—which can pollute the river, an indicator both of the climate so far this summer in New England and the vulnerability of the river to pollution.)

Fareed with Khadija Mohammad Al-Azza (Um Ghazi) in the Amari refugee camp

June 30, 2019, Sunday, Old City of Jerusalem, Palestine-Israel

Yesterday [June 29, 2019] with Fareed was my final day photographing Nakba survivors; tomorrow with a rented car I begin phase two, find their original sites, Arab villages destroyed by Israel in 1948, and make landscape photos that connect with the portraits. We were in Tulkarm, near the sea, thus flatter, warmer, and much more humid. During the second of 3 interviews, I became drowsy and nearly fell asleep. This loquacious guy, the man we interviewed—Fareed told me later—extended stories past their breaking points. He also insisted on elaborating contexts rather than specifying experiences or stories.

As I mentioned to Fareed later in reviewing our work, when he delays translations I tend to lose interest. The session becomes boring to me. I’ve run out of photographic ideas and struggle to maintain my concentration. I only snapped back when I thought of 3 questions to add to the interview: one was about mode of transport, how people moved themselves and belongings; another I’ve forgotten; and the third, one I’ve never asked before, motivated by a statement someone made to me at lunch during the war and law conference held in Israel Jerusalem, was, would you like to move out of the camp, and if so, why don’t you?

The obvious answer is expense. Land is very expensive, even in Tulkarm which seems not a highly desirable area (unlike Jerusalem and Ramallah, more like Jenin). In my answer, I mentioned outside pressures and governmental restrictions, which might corroborate what the Israeli asking me the question assumed: that the Palestinian Authority forces people to live in the camps to make a political point.  Fareed and I discussed this at length later. The man we interviewed of course would deny governmental pressure. Fareed told me he rephrased the question to our sitter so it would not appear political. He explained that had he asked it straight, does anyone force you to live in the camp, the man would automatically say no because even if someone did force him, he would be at risk politically if he admitted it.

(Later, asking Fareed to clarify this question of political influence, he wrote: “I don’t think that the Palestinian Authority forces people to stay at the camp, most likely the poor people stay at the camp because they can’t afford buying an apartment in the city, while the middle class and rich people move without any problem.”)

The other question might have been about his political activity, in the form of, did you resist the occupation? He said he had, experienced many years in prisons, as had his sons. When I asked specifically what did you do to resist, he said, I worked for Fatah. Fareed explained later that activists cannot be more specific without risking Israel learning about them. So I gather that even tho he’d been punished and was now a very old man, in his 80s, full admission would put him at risk by the Israelis.

Fareed’s father with his grandson, Mohammad
Fareed’s home in the village of Qira, Occupied West Bank—the huge settlement of Ariel in the background

I’ll save further details about the people for my speaker notes. Fareed promised to send me names of people and places by the end of today, and I promised to send him photos of him with the people. We visited 2 refugee camps in Tulkarm, looking much like the other camps—building up, narrow streets, many people, a smattering of shops. The main difference might be the weather.

Fareed told me he’d written on Facebook about another person we’d interviewed and photographed. I should compile his posts, even tho he writes in Arabic. The automatic translation feature might bring back details I’d overlooked. He is surely invested in this project. I think of the first man I interviewed for my coordinator “position,” Mohammed who I’d met outside the Ramallah Friends Meeting and briefly considered working with. Among other benefits Fareed brings to the project—besides expertise, knowledge, investment—he is affable, trustworthy, gregarious, genuine. And he exudes this with people we meet, our local guides and the people we interview and photograph. Whereas all of my previous assistants, such as Mousa, Murad, Ayed, Meras, knew the people we met and thus had already established trust, in most cases with Fareed we had to develop trust instantaneously.

LINKS

Facebook page of Fareed Taamallah

Water in Salfit, sewage from Israeli settlements—my blog in part about Fareed as he guided a small group of us investigators/activists in 2007

Palestinian refugees and the right of return (American Friends Service Committee)
Approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced and became refugees as a result of the 1948 war which led to the founding of Israel. None of these displaced persons were ever allowed to return to the homes or communities from which they were displaced and the Palestinian refugee population has continued to grow in the time that has passed since 1948….

Palestinian Refugees (contrary view by the Anti-Defamation League)
The Palestinian refugee issue originated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when five Arab armies invaded the State of Israel just hours after it was established. During the ensuing war, as many as 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled their homes in the newly created state as a result of many factors….

Israel’s ‘Independence’ Day, by Ramy Tadros (1995)

To be continued

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