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Go where you are least wanted; for there you are most needed.

— Abby Kelley Foster (Quaker, anti slavery and women’s rights activist)

This is my new project, an extension of the work I’ve been doing in Palestine since 2003.

I’m raising money thru Gofundme. Click here if interested.

PROJECT

Gaza, 2006

The issues erupting from Palestine-Israel have troubled me for decades, as they have the world community. Mainstream media coverage tends to justify Israel’s positions. Currently and alarmingly the United States’ president and Israel’s prime minister are particularly close, heading largely right-wing governments. This does not provide hopeful context to create justice, peace, and security for the region.

Since 2003 I’ve visited the region to document conditions, making many friends and colleagues among both Palestinians and Israelis. And I’ve photographed Palestinian refugees in camps in Gaza and the West Bank, but their diaspora extends worldwide, forming the largest and longest-lasting case of displaced persons in the world today.

Many families are from villages and rural areas now in Israel. In fall 2018 I will locate, interview, and photograph internally displaced Palestinians (IDPs) living in Palestine, learn where their families originated, presumably now in Israel, and then visit those regions—their homelands—to photograph current conditions and people.

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This will include regions in southern Israel, where some 75% now in Gaza once lived, like Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Jaffa; where many now in the West Bank once lived, their original homes now in Israel’s central region, Lodz and Ramla for instance; and in northern Israel, Ein Hod, now an Israeli art colony, and Safad. Those from the north often fled to refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. According to estimates from the Palestinian NGO BADIL the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, on 2015 there are 334,600 IDPs in the Palestinian occupied territories. (With an additional 384,200 IDPs in Israel, which for this trip I do not plan to explore.)

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Where the families of 95 of the Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israel during the Great March of Return (up to May 26, 2018) are from, now in Israel. As of August 13, 2018, more than 170 have been murdered.

In early September I will leave for Israel, and hope to enter Gaza with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) which trains people to use nonviolent methods, such as trust dialog, to resolve conflicts. In Gaza I will photograph these trainings, as well as the general situation there, including refugee camps. I will investigate how conditions differ between refugee camps and the homelands. I expect to work closely with the Israeli organization, Zochrot (a Hebrew word which means remember) which works with the Palestine right of return by organizing tours of former Arab villages for Israelis and Israeli Palestinians.

Many times in the entire region, many photos, writing, and movies later, I will broaden the constricted picture many Americans have (thanks to Israel-centric media) of the overall Palestine-Israel situation. A major lacuna: how do people forced from their homelands presently live compared with Israelis in former Palestinian homelands? (As far as I know there is no major media project about this theme.) Other questions are: how is life for Israelis living where the Palestinians once lived, how did Palestinians and their families live when in their original villages and rural areas? Do they wish to return, under what conditions? And generally how might a right of return for Palestinians work? * (March of Return)

I hope to contribute my small effort to resolving the conflict, fostering justice, security, equality, and freedom for all human beings in that troubled region.

SKIP SCHIEL

I’ve been a photographer, filmmaker, and writer for most of my adult life. Struggles for justice and peace in different parts of the world have been my main concentration.

While in South Africa in 1990 and then again 8 years later during one of several of my international pilgrimages, I began to understand the parallels between conflicts in South Africa and Palestine-Israel. Apartheid, an Afrikaner word meaning separation—which I interpret it as Separation with Hate—operates in various forms in both regions. In Auschwitz in 1995 I learned more directly about the holocaust, which helped propel the creation of the Israeli state. I was raised Catholic and imagined Jesus walking thru the dusty Holy Land with his disciplines. Thus grew my curiosity, leading to my concern about that region. And then finally in 2003, during the end of the Second Intifada (Palestinian Uprising), the year an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer ran over and killed Rachel Corrie as she protected a Palestinian home, I was on my way East. This began one of the most meaningful journeys of my life.

I’ve photographed widely in Israel and Palestine, many different populations, many different activities: Israelis training as first responders, Palestinians living in tents, Israelis walking and shopping in Jerusalem and Haifa, Palestinians studying at various levels and ages, and Israeli high school students learning archeology. I’ve explored all the areas of Israel, West Bank, and Gaza (except for the Sinai which is currently too dangerous to enter). For this project I will hone my focus: refugees inside Palestine-Israel and outside.

PALESTINIANS

Palestinians are one of the longest colonized populations—most recently in 1948 by Israel, meaning the occupation of the West Bank and later the siege of Gaza—and still living in diaspora. I have shown the reality of the matrix of control, walls and fences, checkpoints, permits, home demolitions, restricted roads, inordinate fines, deportations, targeted assassinations, leveling of entire neighborhoods, violent repression of nonviolent demonstrations, etc. As well as survival mechanisms, the family, faith communities, organizations, etc. Now I have the opportunity, thanks to contacts in Gaza and the West Bank, to show more widely the consequences of colonization and displacement.

One in three refugees in the world are Palestinian. Nearly seven million Palestinian refugees live in some 14 countries. (UN Refugee Works Administration and UN High Commission on Refugees)

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Israeli mortar shell fired at Palestinian village in Gaza


After an attack by the Israeli military on a government building in Gaza

LOGISTICS

In September 2018, assuming Israel grants us entry permits, I will enter Gaza; if unable to enter Gaza I will concentrate on the West Bank, expecting to complete the project after several trip by the middle of 2020.  Despite the recurring turmoil in that region, I’ve always managed entry to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. I can’t guarantee entry this time, only that I will try my best. Despite the political uncertainties I intend to maintain focus on Palestinian refugees in the diaspora and internally. This is a multi-year project.

As in the past, I will create exhibits, slide shows, blogs, books, and movies. As with all my projects I will post photos and writings on my website and blog—dispatches from the field.

BUDGET

·      Airfare – $2500
·      Transport in country – $1000
·      Compensation and donations to colleagues – $1000
·      Food and lodging – $1500
·      Photographic equipment and supplies – $500
·      Post production—developing, editing, printing, slide show making, etc –  $2000

GOALS

By presenting powerful and contrasting images of life in the current and original sites of internally displaced Palestinian refugees, I hope to build awareness and inspire action. The end result: beyond coexistence to a breath-taking sharing of the region, its resources, histories, luminaries, and potential. A true Holy Land.

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Refugee camp in Gaza


Demonstration for human rights in Gaza, a Die-In in Boston, April 2018

* The plea of refugees in Gaza to return to their ancestral villages now in Israel is the central focus of the Great March to Return . It began on April 2, 2018, was planned to end on May 15, but for now (August 15, 2018) is ongoing. These dates mark two important historical events, Land Day when 6 Palestinians were killed as they attempted to return to their villages in 1976, and Nakba Day marking the beginning of The Catastrophe, or the Grand Dispossession in 1948. The violence of this effort—as of August 9, 2018, Israeli army snipers have killed 172 mostly unarmed Palestinians, with nearly 17,504 wounded (more than 1000 of them children), many with life-threatening injuries, overwhelming the already stressed medical system—makes the Gaza portion of my plan uncertain. We may need to postpone entering Gaza until violence abates. In that case I will be mostly in the West Bank and Israel.

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Gaza Community Health Program

SAMPLES OF MY WORK

Book  (Eyewitness Gaza)

Movie (also titled Eyewitness Gaza)


Photographs

Blog

TESTIMONIALS

Skip Schiel has been documenting the Palestinian and Israeli reality through photographs and journal postings since 2003. They contribute a better feel for the detailed texture of life in Gaza and the West Bank than any appearing in US media.   Schiel spends time where most journalists dare not tread, amidst ordinary Palestinians, sharing in the dangers and frustrations of their lives.

His work has been invaluable for my own. As a writer for a Buddhist publication whose parents were victims of the Holocaust, I try to convey a view of the conflict that differs from the US media’s, which obfuscates the injustices and sufferings inflicted on the Palestinians by Israel. Through his portraits of Palestinian men, women, and children striving to maintain ordinary routines despite harassment and attacks by Israel’s military, Skip reveals to us the true face of Palestinians.

—Annette Herskovits, Consulting Editor, Turning Wheel, the Journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Holocaust survivor

Skip Schiel photographs not only with his eyes but with his heart.

—Fares Oda, former staff American Friends Service Committee, Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories

It saddens me to hear of the difficulties Skip is going through [finding an audience]. This is discouraging for us who are struggling in the situation. I never would have suspected that his pictures were not balanced. The first act of nonviolent resistance is to tell the truth. His pictures shared that. Let’s pray our dear friend does not give up!

—Jean Zaru, Palestinian Quaker and activist, Ramallah, Palestine

Skip’s creative ministry has challenged, informed and inspired our [Quaker] Meeting for many years. His work is a visual reminder to us of the importance of remaining faithful to our peace and social justice testimonies.

—Cathy Whitmire, Former presiding clerk, Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quaker)

You capture such powerful, symbolic moments in your work, that reach beyond the context they are in. I admire your brave tenacity and commitment to documentation of this struggle for justice.

—Marjorie Wright, filmmaker (Jews Step Forward) and activist

Your sensitivity to light and emotion is dramatic, the brilliant daylight framing the sad courageous eyes and brave determined expressions of our Gaza neighbors, as they face such a cruel, demented, and terrifying adversary.

I think you are very brave too, and I thank you deeply for shining a true light on [the situation].

—John Paulman

SELECTED PHOTOS FROM MY WORK IN GAZA


Relative of family member imprisoned by Israel


In a refugee camp trauma treatment program


A celebration at the Qattan Center for the Child


Limited free desalinated water


At the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, picking thru garbage

EXTRA INFORMATION

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It is estimated that more than 6 million Palestinians live in a global diaspora.

(Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics)

The countries outside the Palestinian territories with significant Palestinian populations are:

Jordan 3,240,000
Israel 1,650,000
Syria 630,000
Chile 500,000 (largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East).
Lebanon 402,582
Saudi Arabia 280,245
Egypt 270,245
United States 255,000 (the largest concentrations in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles (History of Palestinians in Los Angeles)-San Diego).
Honduras 250,000
Guatemala est. 200,000
Mexico 120,000
Qatar 100,000
Germany 80,000
Kuwait 80,000
El Salvador 70,000
Brazil 59,000
Iraq 57,000
Yemen 55,000
Canada 50,975
Australia 45,000
Libya 44,000
Puerto Rico est. 30,000
Greece est. 30,000
United Kingdom 20,000
Peru 19,000
Denmark 15,000
Colombia 12,000
Japan est. 10,000
Paraguay 10.000
Netherlands 9,000
Sweden 7,000
Algeria 4,030
Austria 4,010
Norway 3,825

(Wikipedia)

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

June 24, 2018, Sunday, Cambridge

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More than 15,000 children have been detained when they tried to cross the southern border of the United States unaccompanied

I notice the propensity of many to use compressed (or short cut) thinking rather than extended (or deep) thinking. Example: immigration. Compressed thinking concentrates on the presence of immigrants only and how to block entry to the United States. Extended thinking incorporates why they are refugees and what to do about that. In many cases of immigrants and refugees at our border we consider only the fact that they plead for entrance. We disregard not only their personal reasons for entry but, more deeply, what generated those reasons, namely in many cases how our government treated their country.

Proximal problem (using dental terminology): immigrants and refugees appear at the border. Medial problem: because of conditions in their country and what they seek. Distal problem: inter-hemispheric relations, exacerbated by the foreign policy of the United States.

I used these terms, proximal, medial, and distal, with Sh. last evening over dinner at Zoë’s (sitting two tables away from Cornel West) to help explain my hypothesis about my urinary bleeding [possibly stress-related from my project to photograph Palestinian refugees]. Proximal cause: urethral wall irritation. Medial: stress from planning the European trip, spiked by Yousef’s betrayal. Distal: universal dread hinging on the 3 potential catastrophes we face, economic collapse, nuclear war, and climate crisis. I had discussed it extensively with many people while on retreat at Agape.

Similarly, Israel uses compressed thinking in response to the Great March of Return, of Palestinians in Gaza who struggle non-violently (mostly) for their Right of Return and the end of the blockade. Stop them at the fence! Don’t ask why they are at the fence. Disregard the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe begun in 1948 when Israel was declared a state and expelled many Palestinians. Forget about the role of the world community—especially the United States—which either ignores or exacerbates the conflict and injustice.

For my Friends Meeting at Cambridge summer potluck submission on the theme of cycles and circles, I’ve decided to submit twin photographic panoramas from Quabbin, a wintry view of the frozen water body with a few figures on it in the distance, and a dramatically altered rendition of a recent view of the water and sky, put thru an infrared simulation filter. The idea stemmed from first, the overall exhibit theme of cycles (summer-winter), second, what I can easily access (Quabbin), and third, what will most surprise viewers (the juxtaposition and the two photos separately). I believe I’ve made a good choice and await the verdict of others, shamelessly dependent on comments.

I’ve completed the retreat photo series, posted to my website, announced to the Mission Council, and later will announce via MailChimp to my limited audience. I’ve titled the series, Witness to the Light, and begin it with the puzzling photo of about 10 people gazing off and up. Second photo shows the object of their intense stare—the new solar panels on Bridget House. I follow this introduction with forest elements, lichen, ferns, chestnut tree leaves, then old trees, finally the water itself, shown in multiple ways, with my Canon and phone cameras. I include two short videos, one of lapping gurgling water, the other of light playing thru the clouds and trees on the back of the hermitage.

Somewhere in my blog I might use the following (which I used in some emails) in my announcement:

From the sacred depths of Holy Quabbin Reservoir, reflecting the overhead in its deepest memories, as it fosters life for those of us who drink its waters.

PHOTOS

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Where the families of 95 of the Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israel during the Great March of Return (up to May 26, 2018) are from, now in Israel. As of August 13, 2018, more than 170 have been murdered.

In a few weeks I leave the United States for nearly two months in Palestine-Israel, hopefully also Gaza, to photograph internally displaced Palestinian refugees and their homes of origin, now in Israel. Earlier info here (to be updated soon).

THIS IS THE LAST OF SIX EPISODES ABOUT MY RETREAT AT AGAPE-QUABBIN.

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS (A Vital Conversation: Ecology, Justice and Peace—St. Francis Day, 2014)

June 22, 2018, Friday, Cambridge

In last night’s dream I was photographing in a strange land; it felt a little like Jenin in the West Bank. Boys swarmed around me, like gnats; men worked on a mechanism with brightly shining metal pipes; sand was everywhere. I was with others. We tried to photograph but the boys kept interfering, pushing sand into our gear. I fiddled with a bag of small pills, spilling them onto the sand. As usual I was totally frustrated.

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Jenin refugee camp, my photography workshop students, 2015, photo by Skip Schiel

Finally, I am home from 6 days abroad, i.e., Central Massachusetts with Agape and Quabbin. Am I healed, have I recovered, did I make starting discoveries?

I feel healed, for now. Someone from my urologist Dr. Das’ office left a phone message that the ultrasound of a few weeks ago reveals thickened bladder walls. So they want to do a CAT scan. This is mildly alarming, but it also may lead to some certainty about what caused the urinary bleeding. Maybe it’s not so simple as stress somehow causing the urethral wall irritation.

I feel recovered, at least partially, from the trauma of a broken summer photo plan. Still no word from Yousef (around whom I built my entire summer photographic project about Palestinian refugees in Europe), with none expected, merely hoped for. To more fully recover perhaps I should have sipped the healing waters of Quabbin, rather than only immersed myself. I’ve talked out my trauma with numerous others at Agape, received a compassionate ear, especially from S. whose special gift—among many—is compassionate listening.

Did I make any startling discoveries? I tried out my idea of global terror or angst or dread on several people, B., D., probably B. and S. With some agreement, some new ideas. I also tested my idea of immigrants and refugees as the New Jews during morning prayer, with some acknowledgment. I opened that up a little more with D. as he drove me to the Worcester train station yesterday. Jews are disproportionately represented at our local sanctuary church, more than their congregation numbers would predict, possibly because of their long-suffering as a displaced or confined people, in fact, as internally displaced refugees. That is, within their own country of origin, say Russia, they’d been relegated to the Pale, and thruout Europe to the ghettos.

Jews perennially have often been regarded as subhuman. Similarly, many believe immigrants and refugees to be subhuman, dehumanized, so they can be treated inhumanely. Witness the current separation of children from immigrant parents at our border, an abomination.

How else are immigrants and refugees the New Jews? They’re understood by many to be the major threat to this nation, imagined as a flood of aliens infesting the purity of our America Made Great Again. Similar to how Nazis used Jews as the hated poison; they contaminate the purity of the native stock. Jews are used to build political power. They are forced into unwanted jobs. Many parallels, a startling realization. And I’m certain I’m not the first to make this connection.

I plan to use excerpts from the White Rose leaflets (German resistance group opposing the Nazis) as my email footers, with a note about the movie, Sophie Scholl, the Final Days. In this movie, a key moment energizing her activism was learning how the Nazis killed the undesirables, the infirm mentally and physically. Might the current brutal, inhuman, immoral, illegal treatment by our government of immigrant families inspire a similar movement in this country?

Now it is a question of mutually coming to our senses, of mutually keeping one another informed…. If a wave of insurrection surges through the country, if “it is in the air,” if many join us, then this system can be cast aside with one last mighty effort. An end with terror is always better than terror without end.

— 2nd leaflet of the White Rose

Another discovery was the burbling sound of the Quabbin shore. I made several videos of this, as much to listen as to see. Holding the camera vertically I thought I’d wasted the chance for a useable video. (Same with the video of the back of the Hermitage as light, modulated by clouds and trees, played on the wall.) Examining the files yesterday, I discovered I could rotate them 90 degrees to make them horizontal. Whether this holds when viewed by others I’ll have to test. I also made panoramas at the shore on my last day at Quabbin, with my Canon and iPhone. Both might be useable.

For years I’d been claiming full credit for suggesting we locate Agape near Quabbin. My story is that B. told me he and S. were interested in homesteading, but weren’t sure about the location. At the time in the early 1980s I was photographing Quabbin; so I naturally suggested they look there. To test the idea, B. and I drove to the region, found a realtor, and checked various sites, partly for “perking” [to determine whether the land would percolate i.e., support a septic system, a requirement.]. We landed where we now are.

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The intake station in August 2001, now off limits after September 11, 2001

My earlier Quabbin photographs

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Topographic map—Quabbin Reservoir is the light blue vertical region slightly left of the center of the state (above the CH in Massachusetts).

Second version, from B. himself: inexplicably he’d received a flyer in the mail advertising property for sale in the Quabbin region. He asked me if I knew anything about the area. I told him about my photo project. One day we explored together. In this version I am not the sole inventor of the placement; I hitch on to the mysterious flyer.

S., his wife, remembers my version. How can we discover the absolute truth, if there exists such an absolute truth?

Riding the commuter train home yesterday (delayed 40 minutes by an outbound train, which was never explained), I suddenly thought, I‘ve missed a signal opportunity for another Agape photo series, what I might title, “The Don’t Smile Agape Portrait Series.” I would ask individuals like S., B., D., etc, and T., O., and any guests to pose for me and not smile. This would counter Agape’s usual style of smile broadly, hug each other. OK, I can do this next time.

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Photo courtesy of Agape Community, 2017

A final discovery concerns my revised Palestinian refugee photo project, dealing with the threat posed by publicly announcing myself as photographer-proxy for those trapped in Gaza. I could omit discussion of the second part of this project, in effect, photographically hopping the fence to enter the original lands now in Israel of Palestinian Gazan’s. I’d serve as their photographic proxies. Simply say that I’d like to meet people in Gaza whose origins are elsewhere; 75% of Gaza residents are refugees, internally displaced refugees. Or if that project becomes impossible because I can’t enter Gaza (needing permission from Israel), I could pursue the alternative L. earlier suggested, that would be easier on my stress-prone system, to photograph Palestinian immigrants in the United States, mostly in Dearborn Michigan where I visit regularly as part of my Detroit project. This would probably not raise alerts from Israeli antennas searching for any sign of security threat.

I have to reframe my project, develop two ways of writing about it, one that is public and another closer to the truth, the first I would use when writing to friends in Gaza and for possible funding, and the second closer to my intention, the deeper truth.

Which brings me home, where I stand at this moment, writing this journal entry. How do I feel? Relatively safe, satisfied, alert, ready for the next phase of my life.

Last night as a minor rite of passage, I downloaded all my text and photo files to my big iMac, converted where necessary, examined, and pondered: what does all this mean? This morning I struggled with Word file types, doc and docx, my old iMac not quite as supple as my new in opening files. Eventually I overcame technical glitches. I reviewed important email, aghast at how much is in my Forum, Update, Promotion, Social, and Scam folders. Little by little I get thru it. One important aspect of my retreat was utter refusal to look thru most of these folders, opening only the most important in the folder marked Important.

Ditto for restricting myself from web exploration. About the only time I researched was for the question of what constitutes the Quabbin watershed? This kept me in the retreat mode. I should apply some of this discipline now when home.

MAYBE ONE MORE EPISODE

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS: Agape’s Francis Day Celebration: Muslim Voices in an Election Year (2016)

June 21, 2018, Thursday, Agape 

Last morning in the sunroom.
Summer solstice.
Fog over the garden.
After mistakenly dumping the fresh coffee grounds D. had thoughtfully loaded into the pot the night before, another in my long series of mistakes caused by faulty assumptions.

Finally, yesterday I found my photographable topic while on this retreat: sky, not any sky, but a radiant sky, clouds radiating from many points. And not only that sort of unusual sky, but sky over Quabbin. I’d hiked the newly raked Hermitage trail to Lyman Road, proud of myself for finding the trail, not losing myself in the Quabbin Wilds, down the road thru Gate 45, further on a rough gravel road, as I swatted, dodged, swore at myriad insects, mostly large, nasty, persistent, biting deer flies, and found the swimming spot B. recommends and I’ve used before. I’d forgotten my paper map but had it memorized (probably poorly). Plus I once again had scant Internet coverage (along with phone), enough to activate my phone map. Down the trail-road to the shore, from about 300 feet scan the shore for the sandy spot I’d used before, spot it, and shift myself around a rocky point to be less noticeable.

Now the question became to swim or not to swim? It’s a chilly day, the water is cold, I’d need to remove my clothing and then spray repellant over my skin again after I’d dried off. I have grown wobbly in my old age, less sure of my footing on rocks. I’m alone and might drown or slip and crack my head or have a heart attack, to be found floating lifeless in the Quabbin, a corpse polluting the pure sacred waters I so love. How ironic.

I decided not to swim. I sat in the fluctuating shade and finally the idea emerged: photograph the sky. I did, first with my Canon camera, slicing vertically thru the atmosphere for maximum pixels and to show maximum sky (because everywhere above me the sky spread its strands), and second—as the sky slowly clouded up—with my iPhone. I will have two versions to compare. [Later, a third after I’d reworked one.]

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A series of vertical exposures with a compact camera (Click to enlarge)

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Made with the panoramic mode of iPhone (Click to enlarge)

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Reworked in Lightroom, using Infrared simulation (Click to enlarge)

This pleased me greatly, as if a hungry man, nearly starved to death, finally found food. Not just dumpster food (which can be delicious in my experience), or home-cooked food, or restaurant food, but elegant food, perfectly cooked.

I scanned the rocks looking for one that called to me as a gift to my altar at home. I recalled being here a few years ago on another trip, probably a winter retreat. Also looking for rocks. But during that period I had a prospective partner, Sh., and chose a second rock, a companion for the first, as a gift to her. This time I only chose one, thinking, I do not have that hoped-for partner. A second rock would be meaningless. Thus my current station in life, my current thinking about my current station in life.

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Click for movie

On the walk in, I’d noticed recent truck tracks and wondered, is anyone here, will anyone spot me, will I acquire a shore companion, will I be booted out and possibly fined by the environmental police? I saw and heard no one. Another memory came to me, biking along this shoreline road, and perhaps, preceding that event, walking this same route with L. She’d grown tired and found a napping spot on the ground. This must have been before the widespread infestations of deer ticks. Or during a season absent of insects. So yesterday’s walk evoked many memories and speculations. Quabbin is a repository for memories, it nourishes the heart as it quenches thirst.

Last night I showed the movie, Sophie Scholl, the Final Days, to B., D., A., and T. (About the White Rose, a student-led, non-violent anti-Nazi resistance group; many paid with their lives.) Even upon my second viewing the movie maintains its importance, as both a well-crafted piece of art and a message for our times. The acting again stands out, in all parts. The sequencing. The lighting. But above all else the meaning. This woman and her colleagues courageously understood the truth of Nazism, contrasting with many of their peers—and stood for it, risked their lives. Seemingly a hopeless cause, their lives continue to resonate.

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Sophie Scholl, German Gestapo photo, 1942

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Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, Trailer

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?

—Sophie Scholl

Watching it with 2 young women, I wondered, would either of them so absorb the story that someday they will be called to a similar action? And I wondered about the two men in the audience who’d done something related and suffered arrests and jail (B. and me), would this be a model for something we might do later, as a version of Nazism possibly envelops our country?

A story plays in the past, but also in the present. One can’t easily escape the “what if” effect. What if that had been me in those times, or what if those times hit us now? No better place than Agape to ponder these questions and no better time, on retreat.

Before dinner—S. and B. had graciously invited me to dine with them separately from A. and D.—B. and I sat in the gazebo drinking beer, his cold, mine room temperature, Harpoon IPA, with the young buoyant O. swirling around us providing “tea.” “Just water,” she reminded us, “we will pretend.” B. and I discussed the Irish Troubles because he and S. have had extensive first hand experience in Ireland and with some of the participants in the Troubles. He told me they’d once joined a Zen peace effort which brought together 2 IRA members and 2 Provisionals from Northern Ireland.

We were unsure of the utility of comparing Palestine-Israel with Ireland but I continue to read the book, “The Northern Ireland Peace Process: Ending the Troubles,” by Thomas Hennessy, in hopes of discovering something useful in that story to apply to Palestine-Israel. And besides, I’m curious how the peace, precarious as it might be (especially with Brexit) was achieved. B. thinks major breakthroughs occurred when rival leaders were brought together. This was done in stages, and in the earlier phases, in secret. Much as Mandela spoke with De Klerk in secret before public talks in South Africa began. (Both were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.)

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Dinner conversation, because of O.’s presence, was necessarily truncated. B. and S. are devoted grandparents so O. was allowed to participate on her own level. Our general conversation theme was aging. How to incorporate various Agape participants who, in their aging, are becoming more and more needy. Who would care for B. and S. when they become seriously ill? How effective could their daughter be? Would the large community of Agape rally for B. and S. as it did for Wally and Juanita Nelson? (I happen to believe yes.) And what of Agape itself?

OliviaPoolSM

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The late Pat Tracy, devoted Agape Community member, at workday, 2014

For some reason, perhaps mistaken (again making faulty assumptions), I seem not overly worried about my own endgame. Who will help me? Daughters? Quaker community? Personal friends? Some combination?

I have my community, as S. and B. have theirs. I have my photo-film-writing archive. They have their Agape archive (soon in the form of a published memoir). Agape might end with their end. As my archive might end with my end. Truly, among the mysteries of life, continuance and succession.

As I write, email from Agape tings my little iPhone alert bell, while either S. or B., most likely S., in the basement office below me bulk emails Agape missives. The current themes are American Indians, incarcerated immigrant children, and Catholics. Sun slowly cracks thru the fog. “That is how the light gets in, there is a crack in everything,” sings Leonard Cohen.

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ONE MORE INSTALLMENT OF THIS BLOG COMING

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS FROM WINTER 2018 (Agape Community & Quabbin Reservoir)

June 19, 2018, Tuesday, Agape

Sitting in the “sun room,” frogs croaking outside my window.

Morning light streams in behind me, cool-warm and muggy air, after a torrential rain fall and electrical storm last evening.

Yesterday I worked in the garden, more than I’d ever worked that garden before. When I came to B. to discuss clearing the trail to Quabbin from the Hermitage, he said, “this is urgent, the garden is dry, we need to water”—this despite the forecast of heavy rain. (B. does not trust forecasts, believes they’ve gotten worse. I checked. A recent study suggests they’ve improved, dramatically in some cases like one-day forecasts, marginally for 9-day forecasts.)

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Courtesy of Agape Community

So I happily, in thick humid heat, worked with B., D., and A. to water, plant, and weed. All very satisfying. Using the scuffle or stirrup hoe (with the flipping edge), I rapidly tore out numerous uninvited plants, vowing to use such as device at home in the community garden (If we have one. It was earlier at Agape that I discovered this magical tool.). I planted eggplant and winter squash and other seedlings, carefully as instructed carving small pits around the plants to conserve water. I used the watering can to individually water plants, and, when close enough to the spigot to minimize dragging the hose across plants, the hose and sprayer.

The pleasure was not only in my contact with earth, not only in doing useful work, not only in the exercise, not only in the service to Agape, but in the camaraderie I shared with my comrades.

Then, about 6 hours later, rain fell. Heavy rain, strong winds, a tornado alert, lightning flashes and thunder crashes, unlike any storm I recall experiencing in the Boston area in recent years. We just don’t have such storms, perhaps buffered by the ocean.

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Storm over Quabbin Reservoir, courtesy National Weather Service

D. and I considered a possible power failure. If the main line went down, would we still have electricity? D. reasoned yes because we have new solar panels. I reasoned no because they are connected to the grid and there is no sun generating electricity. (On Saturday morning, before we began our Mission Council meeting, B. and S. brought us to the straw bale house to inaugurate the solar panels. We mused that here we witness twin mysteries, the sun and electricity itself. What precisely is the sun and how does its energy transform into electricity? Similarly for electricity, what precisely is it and how does it transport power?)

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The Mission Council (aka Steering Committee) views the new solar panels
on the straw bale house

About power failure I believe I had the correct interpretation: if the wires connecting us to the grid were severed by the storm, we would lose electricity. This was not to be tested because, other than a faint flicker, electricity continued. To this morning when I contentedly discovered I could make coffee with the electric coffee maker.

A retreatent faces a decision: how much to integrate into the routine of the retreat facility? Here, as S. explained, I could separate myself totally from the Agape routine, eat when and where and what I like, sleep in, rise early, engage in my own prayer cycle, go off for the entire day, stay in the Hermitage the entire day, bring in and consume booze (secretly), same for meat. Or I could completely be an Agape-er, pray at 7:30 am, eat at 12:30 and 6:30, work as assigned, etc. I choose a middle path. I meditated late with D. last night, nearly falling asleep, but I enjoyed the moment. I prayed with the group in the morning, happily considering the clash between the Hebrew testament reading about revenge and the Christian testament to offer the other cheek. I ate lunch with everyone. I cooked for the happy trio of D., A., and myself (a delicious stir fry from frozen last year’s harvest, and my signature mashed potatoes and carrots, using for my first time an immersion food blender).

I biked to the Quabbin for the second time this trip, thru Gate 43, down the long road to the boat dock, a brief foray onto a trail, and back. Not very thrilling, but loaded with memories. Most recently a bunch of us from the Mission Council (Agape’s steering committee) during our weekend retreat last spring walked to this spot and observed and photographed the dam. Bob had photographed us as a group but never sent us the photo. Earlier I was here with Sh. as part of the workday experience, probably driving to this spot to picnic. The tables we’d eaten at had vanished. (But not the memory, not yet.)

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Part of the Mission Council at Quabbin, photo by Bob Wegener

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A small section of the Quabbin Reservoir, January 2018
Click for enlargement

Despite the heat and despite the fact that I’d already expended a fair amount of energy in the morning on the garden, I felt a new ease in scaling the hills on my bike. Not as arduous as the day before; I’m getting used to these hills.

Nothing photographically. Not a pixel recorded to be later manipulated and shown. In fact, as much as I remain attentive to photo possibilities, so far on this retreat I am not strongly motivated to using my camera. If I return home with few photos, I doubt I’ll be disappointed. I’m not here to photograph; I’m here to heal, to enjoy, to serve, and to appreciate the earth.

Via email I learned that L.L. from Friends Meeting Cambridge suffered a stroke. At last word she was unconscious and expected to shift to hospice in her home. What a blow. I’m not sure what precursors existed for her, whether she had any signs of impending final days—and whether this even presages her final days—but I suspect, if she were conscious, she would be utterly surprised. As my father was when he was “stroked” by the hand of death. I recall visiting him in the ER shortly after his stroke and heart attack, how surprised and fearful he looked. He might have been thinking, “what has happened to me, why can’t I think as I was once could?”

Where I write now, in the sun room, I am surrounded by ancestors—Paul Hood, Phil and Dan Berrigan, Dave Delinger, Juanita and Wally Nelson, Tom Lewis, Rich Bachtold, Pat Tracey—all represent the dead; and Islam Mathematica, Tom Gumbleton, Charlie McCarthy, Teresa Shanley, S. and B. of course, Brother Kato, Omar, Ali, Saba—who remain alive.

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Philip Berrigan, we remember you with deep affection and remain inspired by your life. Presente 

On December 6, 2002, Philip Berrigan died of liver and kidney cancer at the age of 79 at Jonah House in Baltimore. In a last statement, he said “I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself. (Agape Community)

Like my friend L.L. and my father Fran, some of the dead may have been struck rapidly, with barely a hint of their new station in life, whereas others may have suffered long days of pain and worry—and expense.

I ponder: who of my community will die next? Me maybe, a daughter, someone here today, Sh., someone from the Quaker community?

Who and what once existed below the waters of Quabbin

MORE TO FOLLOW

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Five days at the Agape Community in Central Massachusetts, 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir. Five days to recover from the disappointment of postponing my trip in June and July 2018 to photograph Palestinian refugees in Northern and Central Europe. Instead I concentrate on water, friends, prayer, and bugs.

PHOTOS

June 17, 2018, Sunday, Agape

Chilly night in the cabin. a.k.a. the Hermitage, sunny, clear, dry, heat expected.

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I am here for 5 days, hopefully 5 blissful days. I am here to heal from the disappointment of postponing phase one of my big plan, Palestinian refugees in Europe. I am here to renew my relationship with the hallowed workers at Agape and the sacred waters of Quabbin. What are my retreat’s components?

I packed into my small, red, wheeled luggage L. had given me 8 years ago when she moved to Oakland. (At the last moment I discovered one wheel did not roll smoothly so I squirted oil and WD40 on it and eventually it freed.)

I contemplated what I would do when. When walk to Quabbin, when walk down the road (spotting a black bear near Gaudet Road), when sleep, when get out of bed, when wash, eat, etc. All on a very free schedule. No rush, no deadlines.

Click here to enlarge

I expect to be surprised (the black bear, meeting J. and A., other guests at Agape, ticks, etc).

I will read books (about solving the Irish Troubles, and Virginia Woolf’s diaries.

I will freely decline invitations to do something (last evening attend a song fest that A. and E. sang at and the 80th birthday party of Paula Green, and Catholic mass this morning).

I will photograph spontaneously (black bear, morning light on the interior of the Hermitage, Hermitage immersed in the woods, etc).

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I will only peripherally participate in my various extra curricular, time-sucking pursuits I usually do at home (Palestine-Israel work with New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, Raytheon, E., family, as important as they all are).

I will try to ignore distractions like dear O., granddaughter of S.-B., daughter of T., (O. currently plays around me with her dolls as I try to write this journal in the chapel, which I thought to be private).

June 18, 2018, Monday, Agape

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Hermitage

Warmer night in the Hermitage, calm, some clouds.

Sitting in the meditation chamber of Francis House looking to the main room, my back to the garden.

The high of the yesterday—biking to Quabbin Reservoir’s Gate 44 and nearly to the intake pipe (fenced off since September 11, 2001), with a diversion right onto the small road immediately before the fence to the water where, lo and behold, for the first time in years, maybe decades, I entered the sacred Quabbin waters, ceremoniously immersed myself in the healing waters, and lingered.

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Click for expanded view.

I had surveyed the shoreline for possible boaters and authorities, spotted only a few far off who seemed headed for the boat dock. I felt safe but had decided not to go in naked or to go deep enough to swim. A few minutes into my immersion I saw a boat with 3 men heading my way. Guessing they were environmental police and would at least scold me, at most fine me, I began crafting stories.  From total honesty: “Yes, officers, I am aware of the rule of no swimming, I am ready to accept the consequences, I love Quabbin and couldn’t bear not being fully in the water (perhaps appealing to our shared love of Quabbin).” To a lie, a probably feeble attempt to skirt punishment: “I slipped into the water, with no intention to swim. I was clambering around rocks, and being an older gent, I simply lost my footing.”

As they neared, I thought I observed that they wore brown shirts, a sure indication of a surveillance mission. But, as they closed in, clearly heading toward me, I noticed they were all bare-chested. A good sign. When they were within about 50 ft—I wasn’t sure they saw me, they might run over me—I lifted one hand out of the water (I was lying in about 8 inches, on rocks, blissfully submerged except for my head) and waved. They smiled, waved back, and put-put-putted along. No further incidents.

The next phase of this tiny but monumental ceremony was drying off. This forced me to confront the temptations of my iPhone. Mysteriously I had both phone and Internet coverage, even here in the wilds of Quabbin. And earlier I thought I’d discovered the GPS functions well without phone or Internet. While waiting for my underwear and shorts to dry so I could reapply bug lotion and find the path back to my hidden bike, I could cruise the Internet, write people around the globe, phone family to remind them of the day, Father’s Day, and otherwise engage as I ordinarily would when not on retreat. But I resisted. I kept the phone tucked away in my pack and decided to simply appreciate the long moment of sun drying my clothing and body.

Water lapped gently around me and up and down the shore, changing its rhythm with each passing boat. Sun subtly shifted; I reposed myself and adjusted my clothing’s position to accommodate. Wind alternately blew and subsided. Except for the motors, all was deep silence. For the moment I was fully tuned to the earth; Thoreau might be proud of me. What a pristine moment.

Clothing and skin relatively dry, I reapplied my bug lotion, and worried my way thru the thick brush, thick with leaves and branches as well as ticks, to the trail. I noticed, when I expanded my phone’s screen view, I could see precisely where the trail—it had disappeared in the brush—would reemerge. A new era. Does this diminish the importance of observation, leading me to not notice subtle signs of vegetation? Or can I maintain disciplined observation? What would Thoreau do if he had a smart phone? Would he be less smart?

Up the hill, retrieve my hidden bike, aim right at the main road toward the intake pipe, check for surveillance cameras, decide not to scale the short fence (about 4 ft tall, rather than the 10 ft fence I recall seeing just after 911), decide not to follow the path to the baffle dam (where B. told me later he and S. had been regularly nabbed by the green cops), bike up and down numerous hills (when is the last hill?), and home. Wondering, had E., when here in 2014 for an Agape workday, biked some of this same route? Not thru Gate 44 but thru Gate 43 and to the boat dock? I will check when home.

In discussion with J. and D. yesterday, we considered the question of community. “The Agape Community”: where is the community? A., a relatively new arrival, young, thin, and quiet, told me the day before she had expected, when locating Agape in a listing of intentional communities, that there would be a cluster of long-term people here. Other than S., B., and D., no one else lives here for more than short periods. Where are the people?

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The Mission Council, AKA, Steering Committee, of Agape

First, there is the core community of B., S., and D., and, while T., their daughter, was growing up, she as well, making 4 maximum.

Second, there are the visitors— the interns, retreatants like myself, guests like those who attend our annual Francis Day and other special events, and various other drop-ins.

And third, there is the community of memory, people who have been here and died, like Dan Lawrence who was crucial in building Francis House, Alden Poole raising money for the straw bale house, and people in my personal community who I communed with yesterday during my dip into the waters of Quabbin. L. features heavily. Love on the Hermitage floor, camping on Quabbin shores in the winter when she delighted me with special carnal attention, her thrill at meeting Quabbin for the first time, and then the many times we’ve returned here (never in my memory for Francis Day which is odd).

Obituary of Alden W. Poole

Alden Poole, former Mission Council member, World War Two veteran,
former member Veterans’ for Peace, courtesy of the 
Boston Herald

Then C. for Francis Day, me heavily anticipating (maybe she also) intimacy together for the first time. She was so excited, not by the sex which was frustrating because of my elderly problems, but by the quadruplet of earth, activist Christianity, S. and B., and carpentry (I don’t believe she resonated with Quabbin itself). One year, a few years after we’d broken up, she and I found ourselves together here in the winter when I was on retreat. She continues contact with S.

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Maria Termini, 2011, photo by Skip Schiel

And finally (for now) E. We were here in 2014 for a workday. I recall her in the garden weeding; I recall sleeping with her in the large 3rd floor room, improvising intimacy with the door open. I recall biking with her to Quabbin, maybe Gate 43, bringing food for a picnic, biking back up tough hills, walking our bikes. I praise her for giving this aspect of my life a try, but regret that it did not fully connect. Later, when asked how she felt about our visit, she said, “I like everything about Agape except the religion.”

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Shola Friedensohn, 2014, photo by Skip Schiel

Oh, how inexorably wishes become memories, memories wishes.

So, to answer A.’s question about where is the community in the Agape Community, it is multi-dimensional, a many-layered thing. It is not what most would expect but it is real and true. Just a little hard to view.

What else? A long conversation last evening with D. as we prepared and ate dinner, partly about fatherhood. I had reminded us that the day was Father’s Day; “do you have kids and what is your relation to them?” Not particularly close but his son usually remembers to check in on Father’s Day. I told him about my two daughters, how close I believe we are, but how so far they’ve not contacted me on this so-called special day for dads. No matter, I trust our relationship.

A long conversation with J., the young man with the thick black beard and long black hair, about community, his life in New Jersey, living with his family, all siblings still in one house, his doctoral program in theology. And about my work, the risks I sometimes take. T., the daughter of the co-founders and co-directors, was present as well, an unusual event. She may have heard things about me she’d never known about. That morning I’d played minimally with her adorable daughter, O., in the chapel as I tried to concentrate on my writing. A most energetic little girl, now 6 years old and very vital.

S. has foot problems, compounded by recurring Lyme disease. Last winter she broke one foot when she slipped on ice, and then, compensating, put too much pressure on the other foot, injuring it. Yesterday she was in too much pain to visit the beach with her family.

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STAY TUNED FOR PART 2

Agape Community is a lay Catholic community consisting of several community-built buildings; a core community of Suzanne and Brayton Shanley, the co-founders and directors; one permanent resident, Dixon George, and a constantly changing set of interns, volunteers, visitors, and retreatants. I am on the steering committee, known as the Mission Council. I helped find the site 3 miles east of Quabbin Reservoir, which I’d explored and photographed for years before we established the Community in 1982.

Additional info:

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Prayer is one hundred percent attention.

—Anonymous

During my first visit to Gaza in 2004, I accompanied a team of doctors and psychologists visiting hospitals. I photographed as they spoke with children wounded by Israeli soldiers. A 10-year-old boy, riding his bike in front of his house, shot in the stomach by an Israeli sniper. A 13-year-old girl, playing with her friends on her roof, her wrist shattered by a .50 caliber tank shell fired by an Israeli sniper. The doctor explained, “these wounds will heal but the trauma may never.”

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As I photographed I felt water surge behind my eyes, as if about to punch thru my eyeballs. I held the torrent back, wishing not to embarrass myself or end my photography because I couldn’t see. But when I entered the taxi to return to our office, I wept. I thought, I am so sorry, so very sorry for you. As Quakers might say, I hold you in the light—and I add—the spreading light of compassion.

Someone at my Quaker meeting had given us the profound message that tears can be regarded as prayers, a deep connection between ourselves and others who suffer, even if we do not know those people, the vast, innumerable “Other.”

Because one of my main photographic themes is depicting the suffering of others, currently mostly in Palestine and Detroit, I realize I now have secondary trauma, a mild form of PTSD. One consequence is that I weep frequently, sometimes spontaneously, often when I hear about suffering.

Currently, reading about the ongoing carnage—again—in Gaza, this time Israeli sharpshooters killing unarmed Palestinian civilians, most of them young adults, some of them children, I weep again. One may be the 12-year-old girl I photographed in 2004, now 26 years old, or the 10-year-old boy, now 24. Is the boy included in this group photo of the shaheed, or martyrs? Is a soldier who shot the children in 2004 now an officer giving orders to fire on Gazans demanding their right of return?

Gaza Martyrs

Palestinian martyrs from Gaza, shot by Israeli snipers on March 30, 2018

Despite the suffering I observe and share, my tears are sometimes tears of joy. I weep when I hear good news, as when a stranger stops to help someone. At that moment I say, I am so so happy for you. The light in me greets the light in you. We are connected thru the spreading light of compassion.

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Israeli sniper

The Great March of Return (of Gazans to their villages and towns)—Israel Threatens More Force After Gaza Protests Leave Nearly 100 Dead, 12,270 Wounded

Night in Gaza 2

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