The Ongoing and Relentless Nakba: Adventure or Ordeal?–Part Three

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. Previous dispatches were based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. Now drawing from my recent journal entries I write about how I decided to cancel my long-anticipated return for two months which was to have begun May 19, 2022.


In his book The Meaning of the Nakba (Ma‘na al-Nakba), published in August 1948, Constantine Zurayk argued that the effects of the Nakba could be overcome in two closely connected ways. The first was cultural renewal, meaning that Arabs had to keep up with the current age and create within their countries advanced and scientific societies. The second was nation building, meaning the establishment of a progressive, united national Arab entity….

—Institute for Palestine Studies

Journal of May 13, 2022, Friday, Cambridge MA

For the first time in perhaps months I dreamt voraciously and seemed able to recall them all. This may be a gift of my new sleep routine: no nap, only a mid afternoon rest in bed with meditation and prayer; no caffeine or alcohol after 1 pm; no medication like Melatonin, CBD, CBN, and Trazodone; light physical exercise before bed; none of my usual techniques I usually deploy during awake periods like pod casts and music (except for deep breathing, usually counting my breaths). I keep two sleep diaries, one on the CBT-i, Cognitive Behavior Therapy-insomnia app, the other in my notebook. Last night I was close to a panic or anxiety attack when I worried that a close friend might not invite me to an event we often attend together.

Hour of the Wolf

Since 2015 I’ve been afflicted with a form of insomnia that I call The Hour of the Wolf, or HOW. The name and idea come from an Ingmar Bergman movie, The Hour of the Wolf, made in 1968 about a man beset with nightly existential fears. I believe Bergman borrowed the title from a Swedish folk belief about demons, ogres, ghosts, and other terrifying apparitions that typically occur near the end of the sleep period.

Bergman wrote:

The hour between night and dawn … when most people die, sleep is deepest, nightmares are most real. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their worst anguish, when ghosts and demons are most powerful. The hour of the wolf is also the hour when most babies are born.*

max von sydow
Max von Sydow in Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf

Typically I awaken during the night with fierce anxiety, stirred by something I’d promised to do but hadn’t done, something I’d done incorrectly, failing to find and organize guides to destroyed Palestinian sites in Israel, or larger fears like climate destruction, nuclear holocaust, or the complete collapse of the world economic system. A hoard of bees stings my scalp. Needles penetrate my super alert but crazed and rudderless brain. So to work on my insomnia I’ve researched my HOW history by combing thru my journals.

Courtesy of iStock

The episodes go back to 2017, making some 5 years of this self-torture. I first spoke with my primary care doctor in 2018, not so much about the HOW’s but about insomnia. Am I now on to a solution, paradoxically experimenting with ditching the meds and techniques I thought would help? Has the overnight sleep test—without those meds, naps, techniques during the night like listening to podcasts, meditation, stretches, and no alcohol and caffeine when I slept better than in months—led me to at least a partial recovery?

Decision point

I’m asymptotically close to a decision about adventure or ordeal, go or stay? I anticipate that the trip would most likely be an ordeal, so cancel, stay home, hope for other ways to later travel to Palestine, and enjoy the expanded time available to me now. My doctor is willing to write me a letter about my condition that I can use to request a refund for my airfare. Yesterday morning at the B’s, JVB counseled me by playing back what he’d heard me state (as S.R. did earlier), skip, I hear you say you want to cancel. Then when his wife and my close friend, M., returned from helping a friend and we engaged in Quaker style “worship” I or she raised the question of stay or go again. More discernment. A friend of theirs from Maine, M.H., chimed in. This added to the nearly 15 people I’ve consulted with; I don’t recall ever consulting with so many people about a difficult decision.

Flight confirmation
Flight confirmation

I intend to continue my adventure or ordeal? blog series at least one more time—about the sketchy results of my sleep test, and my pending decision.

No definite word yet from that sleep test. A doctor is to inform me thru my doctor with the final assessment, which would be after my scheduled departure on May 19. So, recalling Maureen’s (the overnight tech person) statement that her cursory reading of the 300 pages of data did not suggest immediate problems (like what, failing brain?), I can guess the study will reveal nothing or very little about my insomnia. The main benefit might simply be that I should abandon my usual devices for encouraging sleep.

Today [May 13, 2022] I decide and announce my decision, most likely cancel. With some disappointment, but no heartbreak. No Alternative to Violence Project buddies, no Gaza, no more destroyed sites, no Inas or Amos or Nir or Fareed, my Palestinian and Israeli friends—this time, there may be a next time under different conditions—and no vacation from my home quotidian pursuits. But also no panic thru the flight, the entry to Israel, finding the sites, etc. I think the balance sheet clearly indicates ordeal if I decide to go; therefore stay home.

Decision factors

Two factors are part of my decision making process. One, I’ve consulted more people for this decision than I remember ever consulting for other decisions, and some were momentous decisions like participating in my two main pilgrimages, Auschwitz to Hiroshima in 1995 and The Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage in 1998. Maybe because I was then so intimate with L.D., my partner at the time, I felt I didn’t need much other input. She was wise, reliable, and available. (I did consult with her about my current decision.) Two, Vladimir Putin oddly influenced my process. Apparently he’s moderated his campaign to dominate Ukraine, for the moment not threatening nuclear holocaust or total invasion of Ukraine. As he is not blindly forging ahead on that issue, I am persuaded to perhaps not blindly forge ahead and go to Palestine.

Next steps

Of the various potential gains from cancellation: work on the next stage of my Nakba project, meaning collation, sequencing, interpreting etc. I will make a slideshow for possible showing at a Quaker gathering this summer in Vermont, where I can hopefully for the first time exhibit my Nakba prints. I can toy with the idea of roughing out a self-published book. M.T. was extraordinarily helpful with my first book, Eyewitness Gaza, published in 2011. Can I find someone of equal skill and interests? Further, I can do more Extinction Rebellion media work, deal with the termination by Google of my YouTube account, prepare for the Quaker gathering, make a retreat at Agape Community, be with family and friends, and look forward to visiting family in Alaska later this summer. I might also frame a slideshow that summarizes my life in photography (and video?) much like Ed Boches did for our recent Whitelight photographers’ session.

To my two daughters, K. and J. (who have helped me make this decision) in response to J. asking me about my decision, to be later modified for others like S.F. who wonder about my decision:

j and k, I’m on the verge of canceling my trip. final results from my overnight sleep study on tues evening and night won’t be available for several weeks. altho the tech attending me said she’d noticed nothing grossly abnormal (like sleep apnea), I’m hesitant to endure what could be trauma induced by persisting insomnia. i will decide today, pronto, probably to cancel. with deep regrets. i don’t know if either of you read my most recent blog, adventure or ordeal? written before the test. i plan to add more installments. thanks for asking and for your earlier help.

Someday we will return to our quarter
and drown in the warmth of hope
we will return, however much time passes
or distance comes between us.

—Harun Hashim Rashid, later sung by Fairuz


The Hour of the Wolf, by Ingmar Bergman (to watch click on “Watch on YouTube” above)

* Bergman on hour of the wolf, in The Passion of Ingmar Bergman by Frank Gado (1986)

CBT-i, Cognitive Behavior Therapy-insomnia Coach

Brain inflammation may strike the uninfected [by Covid 19], by Tracy Hampton, February 23, 2022
Living through the pandemic linked to stressors in the brain that can affect mental health

Palestinian Journeys: timeline and stories
a joint project of the Palestinian Museum and the Institute for Palestine Studies, powered by Visualizing Palestine. Palestinian Journeys strives to tell a comprehensive Palestinian narrative through a growing pool of collaborations and partnerships with kindred projects, institutions, and groups which produce knowledge on Palestine and the Palestinians.


2 thoughts on “The Ongoing and Relentless Nakba: Adventure or Ordeal?–Part Three

  1. Skip- what you have done is remarkable! What you will do will be remarkable– regardless if you make it back or not. Shalom!


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