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.

PHOTOS: Bethlehem—Anticipating Christmas from 2007

June 12, 2019, Wednesday, Palestine-Israel, Bethlehem, Casa Nova (continued from my last blog post)

Concerning the half way slump moment, to my support group (Susan D, JVB, George Cap) I wrote:

thanks again, dear friends, for being with me during my tortured period a little more than one month ago, then feeling alone and stranded.

i’m making steady progress on my refugee project, finally with plenty of people to meet, interview, and photograph. this thanks to 2 old friends and 1 new one. from this past saturday to monday, i visited al walaja, and the refugee camps azza, deheshe, balata and jalozone. 8 souls, nearly 1/2 women, all first generation, and mostly with good, clear, and sometimes impassioned minds.

my 2 avp (alternatives to violence project) buddies arrive tomorrow, we stay in bethlehem (i’m now at the casa nova pilgrim guest house), and for two weeks we travel together, they give the workshops, i photograph and video when needed, while combining with work on my project. altho we still hope to enter gaza this friday for 3 days, me longer, the likelihood is slender. 

i’ve been able to attend ramallah friends meeting 3 of the 4 sundays i’ve been in the region. each time settling into silence, some singing, always meeting old friends like the matriarch of the meeting jean zaru (who might be live via skype to neym [new england yearly meeting of quakers] sessions this summer) and new ones, often international visitors. all this during ramadan and its nearly weeklong follow up celebration known as iftar eid. first the fasting, then the jubilation with sweets, gifts, colored lights, and family visits (given the israeli-imposed restrictions). in a journey the halfway point can be a downer, but for me this time i feel exhilaration. the presence of the holy is one reason. just can’t escape it being virtually on top of the alleged birth site of jesus christ and up to last saturday, his death site in the old city of jerusalem. this is powerful presence. more broadly, one might claim this is where quakerism truly began.

A few more tidbits from my travels with Fareed (friend and colleague living in Ramallah who helps me find Nakba survivors to interview and photograph):

  • About 3 weeks ago F had asked, how many refugees would you like me to find? As many as possible, I’d answered. He was puzzled about why later I restricted the number to only a few. I explained, because when you first asked I was desperate, had then found virtually no one to photograph, and I had plenty of open time. Now I’m fairly well booked.
  • He explained the sources of fruits and vegetables in the West Bank: if in season, as now with apples, reliably Palestine, otherwise Israel. Even tho boxes include Hebrew writing they may not contain Israeli produce; Palestinians buy boxes from Israel and fill them with their own produce.
  • He vows never to leave Palestine. A matter of land and justice and struggle.
  • Several times he told me about people he and others had helped, usually agriculturists on both ends. One in particular, a farmer whose house (we drove by it twice) is threatened by Israel (like Omar in Walaja) but he refuses to leave. Unlike Omar, this man is nasty, perpetually angry, does not like journalists—what’s the point? he asks; nothing ever changes.
  • F knows many people in many areas, all bonded thru their activism. A submerged network, hard to crack by Israel.
  • Collaboration (in the sense of spies for Israel) is a big problem, especially for young men who waver in their commitment to the struggles. Israel has never tried to solicit him, knowing he’s a lost cause, a difficult case. But he is targeted, as is Abed, in subtle and sometimes dramatic ways, like denied exit or access.
  • He is indispensible in his job as main media person for the Palestinian Authority’s Election Commission.
  • He moved his family from his village of Kira to Ramallah because of all the travel restrictions.
  • We compared the electoral systems of our two countries. Palestine since the PLO, Palestinian Liberation Organization, has had only 3 elections, the most recent installed Abu Mazen after the death/assassination of Arafat. The other two installed Arafat. He was curious about the United States Electoral College and in trying to explain it I felt deficient and ignorant. I expect a candidate for USA citizenship, because of the test, knows more about that insane “college” than I do, same for most birthright citizens. I need to study.

He’s aware of money in politics in my country, and voter suppression, but maybe not fully. I tried to explain this.

Zakiyya Mohammad Hamad with Fareed Taamallah-Kalandia Camp-from Saress Village-Photo by Skip Schiel

Fareed’s home town of Qira, with the Israeli colony of Ariel in the background-Photo by Skip Schiel

After meeting and photographing Omar Hajhajleh of Walaja, because Nidal set this up I wrote him. For the subject line I used About as nutty as it gets: the Al Walaja story.

He’s refused multiple offers from Israel to buy, rent, or enter a partnership with him. His claim: justice, this is my land and homePhoto by Skip Schiel

While waiting with Fareed for the contact person in Balata camp, F suggested I have a look at the Church of Jacob’s Well. I recall visiting here about 8 years ago with a tour Max Carter organized. The small lower room housing the well was jammed with tourists, buying souvenirs and taking turns dipping a bucket into the well. A grand church, owned by the Greek orthodox community, lives above the well. And so near the Balata camp, part of Nablus. I wonder how many tourists are aware of the church’s neighbors?

Church of Jacob’s Well-Photo by Skip Schiel

Balata refugee camp-Photo by Skip Schiel


Palestinian Oral History Archive (American University of Beruit)

Landscape as Palestinian Resistance in the West Bank by Hubert Murray (June 2021)

Fareed Tammallah on Facebook


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