The Ongoing and Relentless Nakba—notes from the past pointing to the future (part 2)

From my journal, 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 based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. With the pandemic crisis easing, I now plan to enter Palestine-Israel in mid May 2022 for two months. I reflect in this next series of posts my experiences nearly 3 years ago, mostly in and around Bethlehem where I plan to land to begin my next journey.

To be Palestinian is to be an outlaw.

—Edward Said

PHOTOS: Besieged Bethlehem—the Annexation Wall, by Skip Schiel from 2007

June 12, 2019, Wednesday, Palestine-Israel, Bethlehem, Casa Nova (more from this journal entry in my next blog post)

Yesterday [June 11, 2019] I was able to begin the new directory of people and places photographed and learned about. As with the one in the fall of 2018 I expect this will help me keep people straight, and will help Fareed (my West Bank Palestinian colleague) identify the people whose names are lost to me because of my poor interviewing methods.  (Not asking for defining info at the beginning) However, I have yet to try to recall stories. As expected, running thru the photos brings much memory back. I should devote myself to this task today, despite the expected entrance of Joe and Steve (my Alternatives to Violence Project colleagues) and my strong wish to visit Saint Jerome in his cave.

The meeting with BADIL, Palestinian Resource Center for Palestinian Refugee Residency and Rights, Lubnah and Ahmad in particular, yesterday was helpful—currently and potentially. They agreed to consult with me about the direction of my project, they agreed that I should expand it to expellable (incessantly threatened with expulsion) Palestinians, they felt strongly I should omit the photo of the boy with the toy gun because it could be used by others to prove “they’re all terrorists, look at how they grow up, playing with guns” (and yet boys universally play with guns and most do not become terrorists), Ahmad agreed to look for refugees from Lifta and Deir Yassin, and to send me contact info for someone in BADIL who can grant me access to photo archives held by UNRWA and the Red Cross, and generally I feel they appreciate my photo techniques. They agreed with my black and white-color schema (black and white for portraits, color for destroyed villages and towns).

More notes from our meeting:

  • Jewish Voice for Peace’s Ongoing Nakba campaign
  • A good title, which BADIL coined, but doesn’t need attribution
  • Find another title related but different to not confuse multiple campaigns
  • Use the word perpetual, the word homesick
  • The Nakba is current! Now!
  • Examine Palestine Remembered for leads and maybe photos
  • BADIL has access to partially online archives in UNRWA and Red Cross
  • Can use freedom of information demands for access to Israeli archives
  • BADIL once had an online education site that included a map clickable for personal stories, but without funding they couldn’t maintain it and so they removed it

At the end of the discussion I asked them what are your stories? Big grand question I know but it challenges (I recall when meeting my current primary care doctor, Susan H, for the first time, her opening question was what is your story?) Lubnah was born in Palestine, but raised in the States thru her college years. She returned to Palestine to live twice, once as a child with her parents shortly after the Oslo Accords but this didn’t work out and then about 10 years ago. She is married and has almost adult children who she raised here. I mentioned Sam Bahour and Maia Zaru as parallel cases; she knows of Sam and doesn’t know Maia. She joked that when she discloses her Palestinian origins to people outside Palestine they either express complete ignorance about Palestine—you’re from Pakistan!—or question her decision—why’d you ever decide to return to Palestine?!

Ahmad was raised in Deheshe refugee camp where he continues to live. He grew up knowing he would be politically active but was unsure of his direction until he encountered BADIL. He studied international relations. Altho I didn’t hear anything about his media studies, he is BADIL’s media coordinator. He was relatively quiet during the discussion but took notes about what we agreed he would do.

Bought a can of Amstel beer on my return (5 shekels, 10 in Jerusalem), fresh fruit drink with orange, carrot, and ginger (20 shekels, more than Ramallah), and a chicken shuwarma with all the trimmings (15 shekels, 25 in Jerusalem). Later, when the day had cooled, I picked up a bag of fruit (5 shekels, weighed the entire bag, no separate prices for different sorts of produce) in the souq/market (which I don’t think I’d ever discovered earlier), and a chocolate ice cream. Cash from the ever-reliable cash machine in Manger Sq.

To date, half way thru this two month trip I’ve spent $2082 or $500 a week, food, lodging, and transport, which I can easily calculate because I pay all my expenses with money from cash machines and these appear neatly tallied on my bank statement. Nothing yet charged, but when I pay for Casa Nova this will be a big charge.

Not sure exactly which phone plan I have with Pelephone I recharged yesterday. I’ve yet to receive a phone call, but I use data extensively. How much data in my account? I believe I paid 40 shekels for 5 GB. Phone and Internet are off and on in my room, not causing any significant problems.

Exploring one of the souvenir shops in the square I discovered some clever juxtapositions of traditional Christian imagery and the occupation. I bought one to inspire me. The post card is titled, Palestinian Modified Version of the Deposition (Christ into his grave, his temporary grave as I recall), it shows the deposition as painted by Raphael in 1507, with the addition of two Israeli soldiers carrying a body, presumably an injured not yet dead body. The upper part of Christ’s limp body, carried by friends, lines up with the lower half of the Palestinian’s body, carried by soldiers. This is the best of the lot; the others are weaker. Artist not credited.


BADIL, Palestinian Resource Center for Palestinian Refugee Residency and Rights

Palestine Today: Facing Coronavirus and Colonialism, by Massachusetts Peace Action, May 3, 2020, with Lubnah Shomali, Advocacy manager for BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Bethlehem, and others

Tarek Bakri
A Palestinian born researcher based in Jerusalem who was moved by the nostalgia and emotion still held by many displaced Palestinians for their former homes and villages. After graduating from Al-Ahliyya University in Jordan as a Computer Engineer, he developed the idea of documenting these personal stories and the displaced Palestinian villages through a personal initiative of visual documentation and thus his 8-year ongoing project of “We Were and Still Are… Here” was launched.

(An Israeli organization I hope to work with on my next exploration.)
About once every two months Zochrot hosts tours to the sites of destroyed Palestinian localities, which are free and open to the public. There are about a hundred participants at each tour, Arabs and Jews from different backgrounds — students, activists, artists, journalists, refugees, residents and others. For more information:


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