the ongoing and relentless nakba: adventure or ordeal?-part One

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 are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019, and my plans to return, the pandemic easing, to Palestine-Israel in mid May 2022 for two months.

Fund Human Needs, Not the Israeli Military, organized in Boston by the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine

PHOTOS: Fund Human Needs, Not the Israeli Military (a message in Boston to Senators Warren and Markey, November 2021 (while home in Cambridge Massachusetts)

Cancel my upcoming return to Palestine-Israel?

From an email two mornings ago to my Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) teammates, May 9, 2022:

joe and steve, i’m rethinking my trip. due to leave home on may 19 to join you and the avp team, meet abed, joke around, sip a little, I am now beset with insomnia. what type and degree I’m not yet sure, but remaining awake for 2-4 hours each night is rotten. so far it seems not to affect my waking life; I don’t drag around all day. however, I do wonder about potential degradation of my mental function and what i’d do if hit hard by cognitive problems when in Palestine-israel. i believe I’m on the list for an overnight sleep exam, which means brain waves and breathing (sleep apnea could be a factor), but because of backups in the hospital due to the pandemic, it may be a long wait. I haven’t been given a date. I’m reluctant to launch my complicated, challenging two-month exploration until I have a diagnosis and begin effective treatment. another factor is my inability to confirm working with reliable guides to the destroyed homeland sites i need to photograph for my nakba project.

which means this note is simply an alert that I may not join you as planned. I’m sorry if I disappoint and more so if—as I pray for the team—you do enter Gaza. I’ll keep you informed as I learn more.

From my journal almost exactly three years ago prior to leaving for Palestine-Israel, May 14, 2019, Cambridge Massachusetts:

The count down is nearly finished. I leave tomorrow—inshallah, no urinary bleeding, no heart attack, no trip cancellation, no one pulling out at the last moment, not missing my flight because I’d read my ticket wrong. Tomorrow around this time I will do my final packing, await Susan, drive to the airport with her, check-in, go thru security, and finally board, inshallah. At the other end, about 12 hours later, inshallah, I hope to glide thru—as if on ice skates—passport control and head for Jerusalem and my first 4 days and nights in the old city, interspersed with the Nakba Day Commemoration in Jaffa. Oh, if only, I pray.

My equipment seems happy to once again be on the road, making what I hope are exquisite photos. I trained myself further with the Tascam audio recorder, hoping not to be such a klutz in front of people as I was on my last trip. I cleaned lenses, the equivalent of oiling gears. I imagined where I’d be photographing and what and chose settings. I even reset the date for the local time (7 hours ahead). I calculated my need for pills and organized them, biking over to the hospital for a Finasteride refill and Inman pharmacy to refill my Pravastatin. I made doubly certain I had sufficient magic pep pills to survive, not anticipating (as I had on a few previous trips), the need for more than for my regrettable solo sexual exile. Today I lay out all my gear on my bed (which I might have done in the past on Jim’s bed when he was away and I was traveling), sort it out, decide what can remain here, and pack it. So tomorrow morning I will be ready and not frantic to depart 9 Sacramento Street (my home).

N has not come thru, despite his promises and intimations. Zochrot writes they are blazingly busy, especially with their Nakba Day in Jaffa, maybe an internship later. Sahar V is in touch, reliably. I have a place to stay and the Alternatives to Violence team (AVP) to work with, but otherwise, not much is set up. I am a wanderer, eventually into oblivion. Happy as is possible, improvising.

Yesterday morning broke with some sun. Today, I told myself, probably my last chance to plant my 18 tomato plants. So a little after noon I planted, the ground dried enough for this earthly work, soon to be once again soaked by relentless rains, not heavy luckily, not causing problems, but consistently wet, dark, and cool. I’d strolled earlier, soaking up the short-lived sun, bidding goodbye to my beloved neighborhood.

Adventure or Ordeal?

For the nearly 20 years of my work in Palestine-Israel, I have often gauged my willingness to endure risk by asking, will this little journey be an adventure or an ordeal? For example, I need to face going thru Israeli airport security, finding colleagues for my Nakba photo project, finding housing while traveling around Israel in a rented car searching for destroyed Palestinian homelands, possibly entering Gaza, and photographing a conflict between Palestinians and the army. If I anticipate an ordeal, I pull back—usually. More often, the prospect of adventure draws me in. Sometimes, as when tear gas and rubber-covered metal bullets fly, I need to remind myself about the power of adrenaline and chutzpah: forget the forward camera position and take cover! The renowned photographer, Robert Capa, often claimed, if the photograph is not good enough, the photographer is not close enough. He died in action in French-controlled Vietnam in 1954, then known as Indochina, walking ahead of the regiment he accompanied. A mine exploded, blew off his leg, and caused a major chest wound. He is said to have died with a camera in his hand.

This affects not only my own work but generally our shared cause, the right of return for Palestinians. We are detached from each other, we fail to cooperate. This is a major weakening factor in many social-political justice organizations, enfeebling our struggles.

Such uncertainty adds to my general trip anxiety and probably is a factor in my insomnia. In fact, when about one week ago during my sleeplessness bout, the idea suddenly flashed thru my addled brain: you don’t need to do this! It brought a modicum of relief. Just the 12-hour plus flight from Boston to Tel Aviv, in a stuffed plane, in a middle seat, possibly without the requirement of masking, the risk of Covid, adds to my anxiety. What if, once in the region, virtually on my own, I wander around in brain fog, no one to help me sort out my situation, maybe help me end my trip prematurely, find a flight, get to the airport, manage to pass thru security without tough questions? Would I have become The Zombie of Jerusalem?



Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)

Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine


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