Archive for the ‘Photography workshops’ Category

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Gaza (once I can enter) and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

I draw this short update from my journal about a presentation I made recently to a photographers’ group I belong to, Whitelight. One of three presenters, I showed samples of what I’ve done since I returned home on October 19, 2018 after 6 weeks in Palestine-Israel. I then facilitated a discussion about black and white vs color photography, a topic affecting many photographers now that digital technology makes conversion so simple.

PHOTOS (latest photo post, as of December 3, 2018)

November 20, 2018, Tuesday, Cambridge MA (journal)


Last evening [November 19, 2018] at Whitelight, I presented my prints from the refugee series, sequencing them earlier, offering in words just the title and the subtitle (“On Our Way Home,” about internally displaced Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, later Gaza), holding each print of the nine up and passing them around. (I wish to resist the incessant and often self-defeating habit of many photographers, “This is a photograph of… I made it when….It is about…”) 

I then described how I made the series and what I intend, with lots of discussion. One central question is my BW-color scheme, how well does this works (Sy noticed the partial BW-partial color image from the Bedouin series, no discussion of this unfortunately.) I’d forgotten that I’d sent a sample comparison series to the Whitelight group earlier while in Palestine-Israel, getting feedback only from Suzi.


Yousef Albaba in color and black and white

Questions included (some during my presentation, some later in the evening)—how I gain access to people; how I develop trust; honoring requests to not include certain photos (like N’s impaired brother and nephews which he feels would embarrass the family); whether BW accentuates suffering and thus distorts the reality of lives, extending or magnifying them, thereby falsifying their lives; and a variety of other issues about BW-color.

I did not show my directory which helps me keep track of who and where I’ve photographed, or my crude mockup of how a page might look in the book I intend to publish.

Mock up of page showing BW-color schema

Nor did I show the information I’d compiled to aid my search for ancestral locations. In this I’d added BW historic photos to orient me to what I might find at the sites.

Refugee project locations

And we ran out of time to watch a representative video of my tour thru Mevo Beitar, an Israeli agricultural community (moshav) built on or near the destroyed Arab village of Al Qabu. I videoed and photographed in several Israeli communities and will include these in the final book.



Which led directly to the second half which I facilitated, BW and color. I chose to use the popular education model which draws out what people already know by fostering interaction. Brainstorm: what comes to mind when you hear BW, graphically and emotionally? Who comes to mind as exemplars of BW photography? Questions for discussion: why choose one modality over another? Can you switch your seeing modes when choosing one over another? Is there a difference between choosing a scene to later convert to BW and deciding only later in post production to convert? This seemed rich to me. (Now I regret I’d not asked someone who could print better to transcribe the responses, and I regret not making a record of the responses because they were helpful.) I then showed examples of BW photography, many new to me that I’d uncovered researching the topic.

Among my discoveries and questions from this conversation, during the analog era when we had to choose BW or color film, did this choice affect what we photographed? That the brain may respond dramatically differently to color vs BW. And that there are grades or variations of BW renderings. Consider the differences between Sabastiao Salgado, W. Eugene Smith, and Dorothea Lange—silvery, chiaroscuro, and flat, respectively.

I believe people appreciated the open discussion following this more formal part. My challenge as facilitator was to open the floor to all without anyone dominating or remaining quiet. Some of my colleagues are chatter boxes, some pontificate, while others remain silent. Some offer astute observation and ask searching questions. I could have handled this problem better. I also forgot to invite people to exhibit their BW photos they brought in; I’d earlier sent an email inviting all to bring their own prints.

Earlier, at the end of Sy’s presentation about Christian churches, I asked him, Sy, with your background what motivated you to photograph churches? I felt a slight gasp from the group, as if I’d opened something others were thinking about but were embarrassed to say. Well, he explained (paraphrasing), Jewish services and synagogues tend to be rather dour; I find the Christian churches full of life and color. Plus, they’re exotic to me who grew up with synagogues.

Likewise, during Rich Lapping’s presentation I asked him if he knows before he goes out to photograph whether he’ll render color or BW. I believe he answered that he carries two cameras, one adapted for infrared, the other for BW or color and makes the decision in the field.

Godafoss, Richard Lapping

This morning [November 20, 2018] I reviewed what I and the group did last evening for next steps in my refugee project:


For more feedback show this initial set of prints to Nidal and Amahl (who are Palestinian American; Nidal was born in Aida refugee camp where I photographed and resided), and perhaps others locally who struggle for Palestinian rights, like Rick, Steve and Barbara, and the media group of Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston. Maybe form a focus group (oh, Louise, where are you now when I most need you?) with specific questions.

Use the set to form a photographers’ group, inviting people working on a specific project—Jon, Linda, Melinda, Suzi, others from my recent photography workshops; Sy, Rich, Carla, of Whitelight; Lou, Don, Reggie, others from the old Struggles Against Racism Collective; Social Documentary Network and the Photographic Resource Center.

What next to print? What videos to edit? To write? To research? To seek feedback on and from? Any interim versions like slideshows or print exhibits while heading toward publication of a book? When to return to the region, to do what? How to enter Gaza? How to effectively raise the obvious question of why Jews everywhere have the right of return to Israel, even if they have no provably connection, while Palestinians in Palestine-Israel and the diaspora, even if they have documentation of residency in the general region, have absolutely no right of return? Why do so few question Israel’s right to control access to Gaza, which affects me since I need to enter Gaza for my project?

MAP-Expropriated land by JNF

Jewish National Fund (JNF) confiscated 2,500,000 donums (1 donum=1/4 acres) which belonged to 372 Palestinian villages, comprising 55% of the registered refugees. Source of Parks’ identification: Noga Kadman, “Erased from Space and Consciousness-Depopulated Palestinian villages in the Israeli-Zionist Discourse” (Master’s thesis in Peace and Development Studies), Dept of Peace and Development research, Goteborg University, November 2001.


What motivates me to do all this?


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The Tetons & the Snake River, Grand Tetons National Park, 1942 c, Ansel Adams


Mobile Homes. Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973, Robert Adams

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics


Social landscape photography portrays the effects of human beings on the earth; it is photography of the human-built or human-altered landscape. It may incorporate the natural landscape, the usual domain of landscape or nature photography—but it is most distinctly not about the natural world. In the more traditional approach human beings, any sign of human beings like roads and cabins, and any human effects on earth are notably absent. I believe this general attitude is a deliberate absence.

Consider the work of the exceptionally talented—and exceptionally limited—photographer, an American icon producing iconic photographs of the American landscape, Ansel Adams. Despite my love of his photos, Adams rarely shows people (and when he does, as in his Manzanar Japanese-American internment camps series, they look like rocks).


Dust Bowl, Dallas, South Dakota, 1936, uncredited


Yakima Washington, 1939, Dorothea Lange

Sharply contrasting with Adam’s photos are those from the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. These vividly and intentionally portray the effects of human beings on the earth—sand storms, fleeing farmers, destroyed farms. This is the crux of social landscape photography—how we human beings interact with the earth. This expanding awareness reflects our larger concerns with global climate change.


Point de vue du Gras, France, 1826 or 1827, Joseph-Nicephore Niepce


Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838. Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre


Nelson’s Column under construction, Trafalgar Square, England, 1844, William Henry Fox Talbot

Social landscape photography has been around since the first photographs—or heliographs as they were first called. Consider the first photographs by Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot. All involved buildings and people, implicitly the interaction between human beings and the earth.


Quai d’Anjou du Matin, Paris, 1924, Eugène Atget


New York City, 1888 c, Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives

Consider Eugene Atget at the turn of the last century. Recognizing the massive changes on Paris and environs created by the industrial era—and for other reasons, financial in particular—he assiduously photographed “The City of Light.” Likewise, his contemporary, Jacob Riis, newly emigrated from Denmark to the United States, photographed tenements in New York City which resulted in major changes in housing laws and the end of the most dangerous housing.

For contemporary examples, look at the aerial photos of numerous photographers like Alex McLean; Marilyn Bridges with her book, Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes, and the highly popular series called The Earth From Above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.


Fleet of B-52 Bombers at the “Bone Yard,” Tucson, Arizona, 1991, Alex MacLean


Mesoamerica, 1986 c, from Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes by Marilyn Bridges


Icebergs & Adelie penguin, Adelie Land, Antarctica, date unknown, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

In 1975, confirming the need for an expanded sense of landscape photography, the prestigious photographic venue, The George Eastman House, in Rochester NY, presented the startling exhibit, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Oddly enough, given last names, one of the featured photographers was Robert Adams, no relation to Ansel—a dramatic contrast. Attesting to the importance of this genre, since 1981 various adaptations of the original exhibit have been circulating worldwide. In 2013 Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach edited and published Reframing the New Topographics, which brings the genre up to date.


In my own work and teaching, motivated primarily by the global climate crisis, I detect a clue to my new direction, long nascent, but now more clearly evident: Social Landscape Photography.

Downtown development

Downtown development in Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel


The New Topographics, on artsy.net

New Topographics: “Landscape and the West – Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography” by Kelly Dennis

Deadpan Geometries: Mapping, Aerial Photography, and the American Landscape” by Kim Sichel

“What is landscape – further thoughts” by Bob Coe

Photos of Boston’s new Seaport district

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42 Brattle Street Harvard Square Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
PO Box 9113 Cambridge, MA 02238-9113
Phone: 617-547-6789 Fax: 617-497-7532

Spring Light: Photographing Massachusetts Audubon Society wildlife sanctuaries
A field trip-based workshop for students beyond the basic level—how to work photographically with summer light.
Three Fridays, July 11, 12-3, July 18, 5:30 pm-8:30, and July 25, 5:30 am-8:30 with review sessions on three Thursdays, 6-8:30 pm at 56 Brattle St, Cambridge, July 17 and 24, and August 14. (Please save Sunday, July 13, 12-3, for a rain date.)

Street Photography
How to photograph people we meet on our explorations outside our private domains—field trips, lectures, demonstrations, and reviews.
Four Tuesdays, 3-6 pm. Begins July 1.

Night Photography
Explore the equipment and techniques of night photography thru lectures, demonstrations, and field trips.
Four Wednesdays, 7:45-9:45 pm. Begins July 2.

Summer Photography Intensive Retreat
Taught jointly by Melinda Bruno-Smith & Skip Schiel
Deep seeing, effective camera use, composition, visual literacy, and post production processes—to learn skills that express your vision, feelings, and thoughts.
Five days, July 28-August 1, 10 am-4 pm

Although I enjoy taking photographs on my own, Skip Schiel’s classes give structure and direction, which adds another dimension to the experience. He also does these wonderful awareness exercises that help me look at things differently. It’s an experience I take into other areas of my life. (Sy Friedland, Fall Light 2013)

I have owned a Lightroom tutorial video for 3 years—but the class was orders of magnitude more useful. (Adobe Lightroom Essentials, 2014)

Skip gave us ideas to think about while we were shooting. Shooting objects from different perspectives instead of just blasting away. One of the best things was that Skip was out there shooting with us. We could see after what he was looking at and what he was thinking. I have never had an instructor do that. (Winter Light, 2012)

Skip challenged us, gave thoughtful feedback and facilitated great discussions. The format of the class offered a mix of feedback, learning new techniques, seeing the work of other artists, and field trips to practice what we learned. The class flew by and I would have enjoyed a couple more sessions. (Night & Low Light Photography, summer 2011)

More testimonials

Photography workshop

Emerald Necklace, Boston, Winter Light, January 2014, photo by Skip Schiel

Photos from this workshop

Contact Skip Schiel

View his photographs

His teaching philosophy

Along the Mediterranean Coast: To learn photography (teaching in Gaza, Occupied Palestine)

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…There are ten measures of hypocrisy in the world—nine in Jerusalem and one in the rest of the world…

—Avot D’Rabbi Natan

Popular Achievement training session at Birzeit University, a program of the American Friends Service committee in the West Bank and Gaza

Landfill in the Jordan Valley, nominally Palestinian Territory in the West Bank, operated by Veolia, a corporation under sanctions by Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, and other BDS (Boycott-Divest-Sanction) movement organizations

At a protest by Bedouins in the Negev and their Israeli supporters in opposition to land confiscation and village destruction


On May 28, 2012, my last day of seventy in the land of promise and trouble I wrote to my dear friend and partner, M:

i sit on the floor of the ben gurion airport after a night of relatively solid sleep in my car. in the parking lot of the rental agency no one bothered me. i rocked the seat back, cracked the windows open, put on my mosquito lotion, and slept well. a bit dazed when i awoke at 5:30—like you early to enjoy a bird chorus—i struggled to remember where i was, what i needed to pack and do, and how to formulate my story when confronted by airport security. trucks delivering airport construction materials lumbered by as I groggily checked out at the Avis rental office. now i wait until the airport check-in opens for my flight, three hours prior.

my last full day was monumental—mainly with bedouins in the negev desert and their israeli supporters. it was a fit finale to my ten-week journey of discovery. i photographed a long discussion about strategy to stop the land confiscation and forced removal from homelands (reminding me of american indians of course), followed by a fairly large demonstration at a major highway intersection. a bus pulled up and disgorged about thirty bedouin youth who then drummed, chanted, clapped, and smiled at the passing motorists.

i’d hoped to photograph bedouin communities, which i did earlier during the discussion (i couldn’t follow the hebrew of course). instead what i showed were mostly buildings, tents, toilets, animal pens, solar panels, fences, a cemetery and goats, sheep, and horses—not people. the demonstration provided the people, most vitally the women who usually don’t allow their photos to be made. the demo is public; thus they’re more willing.

so that was the kernel of my last day. i’m eager to prepare the photos. i have much to do when home as follow up. i’ve made many promises and received some praise. the work now continues, in many ways harder than while traveling because of other paths, not necessarily conflicting paths, but hopefully always mutually supporting ones.

Near Bethlehem, in the shadow of surrounding settlements-colonies, the weekly protest Catholic Mass at the Cremisan Monastery

As Martin Luther King Jr claimed, those with nothing they’re willing to die for are not fit to live. A harsh statement perhaps but, to me, convincing. The question of Palestine and Israel is my issue, I am fortunate to engage.

This was one of my best trips of seven. Why? Mainly because my nine-year-long accruing experience in Palestine-Israel generates insights, trust, motivation, ability to anticipate, navigational skills, multiple and often contradictory perspectives, and a clearer sense of what is best to show and how best to show it. As I wrote M, I know not to photograph traditional Muslim women unless they are in public situations like the demonstration or if I’ve been invited into their homes. Contacts have led to contacts. David N, an Israeli activist who I met on my first trip in 2003, led me to Haya N and the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, which in turn led to the Bedouins. Gilat B from Friends of the Earth Middle East led me to Tal H and not only the community garden project near southern Gaza but to the party at the swimming pool in a settlement to celebrate Shavuot. My many months in Gaza during previous trips generated a desire to explore the militarized perimeter from the Israeli side—a personal highlight, dangerous, delicate, revealing, a theme rarely photographed. Quakers in Palestine-Israel and at home continue to be a huge help. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Ramallah Friends School, Ramallah Friends Meeting, Friends International Center in Ramallah (FICR), my home meeting of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, etc. provided prayers, guidance, leads, and much appreciated financial backing.

On the Israeli side of the militarized barrier between Gaza and southern Israel

I am also slowly learning how to confront my anxieties. A list from this trip might inspire laughter: denied entry at the airport arrested, detained, deported or shot by the Israeli army; run out of gas; lose the car keys; fillings fall out or need a root canal; heart attack; misplace my passport; money and cards stolen; computer breaks or is lost; camera equipment malfunctions; etc. Some of this actually happened—my laptop’s hard drive failed, my credit card inexplicably stopped charging, my memory cards suffered corrupted files, and I had minor problems with a lens. However, I never ran out of gas, I never lost my car keys, I was not injured or arrested, and I experienced no thefts. As Mark Twain said, I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

Bethlehem checkpoint

My primary impressions about the Palestine-Israel situation are these: First, Israel is a laudable country, successful and innovative in so many ways such as agriculture, transport, art and science, image building, and yet the incontestable fact remains that its success is to some extent based on the oppression of another people who have equal if not greater rights to that land. Israel relies—not entirely—on the resources and labor of the Palestinians.

Israeli middle school students help excavate an ancient cistern in the heart of West Jerusalem, a project of Friends of the Earth Middle East and Emek Shaveh

Second, referring only to the West Bank (and not Gaza which I did not enter this time), conditions superficially seem improved—slightly expanded economy and slightly more freedom of movement with fewer internal checkpoints. However, settler violence has dramatically increased, the Israeli government has shifted rightward, the Palestinian Authority appears moribund, and settlement construction continues at a high rate. Impunity and futility reign supreme.

Construction of a dormitory at the Ariel University Center of Samaria, in the settlement-colony of Ariel, deep in the West Bank

Dormitory at the Ariel University funded by the controversial Irving Moskowitz

Ariel settlement

Third, Palestine’s Second or Al Aqsa Intifada (shaking off in Arabic, or uprising) has mostly transformed into nonviolent resistance. Some regard this as the Third Intifada, and much of my photographic work aims at support.

Nonviolent demonstration in the village of Al Masara near Bethlehem

After the demonstration, the commander of the Israeli unit with Palestinian media workers

And fourth is my growing conviction that much Palestinian-led resistance—and Israel’s responses—are formulaic, lack strategy, and prove useless and counterproductive. I witnessed much back and forth between tear gas and bullets responding to rocks and sometimes Molotov cocktails responding in turn to tear gas and bullets. As my colleague Mustafa said, one Molotov cocktail and you can expect five dead or injured Palestinians. In addition I observed that media, including myself, allows itself to be sucked into coverage because of the drama. I write extensively about this in my blogs.

Prisoners’ rights demonstration at Ofer Prison, Israel

My itinerary: one month in Bethlehem with the Palestine News Network, one week in Ramallah with the AFSC and FICR, two weeks in the Jenin refugee camp with the Freedom Theater, one week in Jerusalem with Friends of the Earth Middle East and a second week again with the AFSC, and my final week in the Negev desert. My photographic themes included non-violent resistance to the occupation, corporations benefitting from and sustaining the occupation (one photo assignment was to support a limited divestment campaign), youth, arts as resistance, the environment, Quaker activities, Bedouins in the Negev, ancient habitation sites, and Christians in Bethlehem. In Jenin, Bethlehem, and Ramallah I also taught photography to adults and high school students and helped establish photo archives. I volunteered these services with funding I’d raised privately from friends and the Quaker community.

Palestinian prisoners suffering in Israeli prisons conducted a massive hunger strike which at one point included some 1,600 prisoners, more than one-third the entire Palestinian prison population. The strike elicited Israeli promises to make its policies more humane, promises yet to be realized (as of June 2012). At demonstrations I was able to intersect this theme several times, once to include my Jenin high school photo students in what some might term “an appointment with tear gas and rubber-covered metal bullets”—or “real life photography.”

One of my students at the Ofer Prison demonstration

From 13,290 photos (56 separate folders, totaling 68 gigabytes) made with what I hope is my open heart, my central task now is to supply photos I’ve promised to various organizations, put together new collections for exhibitions, slide shows, and my blog and website, update my blog with excerpts from my copious journals, and seek audiences, most immediately on the west coast in the fall of 2012 from California to Alaska and British Columbia. One way you the reader can help would be to let me know of venues that might wish to host one of my photo presentations. I can supply tour details if asked.

Thanks for following the issues and my work.

You photograph not only with your eyes but with your heart.

—Fares Oda, West Bank AFSC staff

Boys and automatic rifles

Caterpillar at work building illegal settlement-colonies (Har Homa)

Nativity Church and full moon in Bethlehem


American Friends Service Committee

Friends of the Earth Middle East

Negev Coexistence Forum for Social Equality

Palestine News Network (English)

Jenin Freedom Theater

Friends International Center in Ramallah

(With gratitude to Maria Termini for help editing this blog.)

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“9 protesters hurt in clash outside Ofer prison,” Published May 11, 2012

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Nine Palestinians were injured, including one seriously, by rubber bullets during clashes that erupted between Palestinians and Israeli forces near the Ofer prison.

The demonstration was held near the Ofar prison but the Israeli forces intervened in a sit-in by shooting tear gas and stun grenades in addition to rubber bullets and a foul-smelling liquid.

Palestinians threw rocks and empty bottles toward Israeli forces.

Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant

PHOTOS: Prisoners rights demonstration in Ramallah & Ofer Prison

May 12, 2012, Saturday, Jenin refugee camp, guest house in the Freedom Theater

Same as usual, very frustrating. Here’s what I wrote M yesterday:

we all arrived safely home a few hrs ago. 5 girls, 2 teachers, and mustafa, well known to the girls as a long term, trusted videographer and teacher at the jenin freedom theater. we suffered some tear gas, some high flying and low flying rubber-covered metal bullets, and a shot or two (at a distance) of stink water, chemically treated water that might smell like a skunk, or sewage, or shit. many injured from gas inhalation, perhaps a few from rubber-covered bullets. none seriously as far as i saw. lots of photos, but this event and ones like it deeply disappoint me. nonstrategic, more like a theater piece, tit for tat, back and forth, symbolic action, each side daring the other to take more risks. with no clear goal or method in view.

the issue is prisoners’ rights, sparked by the mass hunger strike of palestinian political prisoners in israeli jails. ofer prison, where we were today, near ramallah, is the only israeli prison in the west bank and thus the site of daily demos. good experience for the girls, i suppose. they ranged from terrified, hiding and crying, to overly gutsy, taking rash chances to merely make the same photos over and over again. i suppose a good lesson for them, regardless.

The prisoners’ rights demonstration in Ramallah yesterday began at a large parking lot in Al Bireh [near Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestine], someone speaking to a huge crowd of men sitting outside on prayer mats, a relatively small number of women sitting under a tent. The speech ended with the call to prayer. I used this occasion to make a series of photos that included the prayer, something I love doing and can rarely do in Palestine because I don’t enter mosques. I lost many of these due to a camera card failure (I hope to retrieve them.). I urged the girls to make photos during this period. They began and were stopped by some men who said, because you’re not media you can’t photograph here. The men further explained that some photographers use photographs to malign Islam. We called Mustafa to intervene but he preferred to finish prayer. By the end of prayer the men had given the girls permission to photograph. A little lesson in how to deal with obstructions. Real world photography.

Then the march. Which itself began with the “war of flags and chants.” Which flag, which chant, which political party, Fatah or Hamas, would prevail? Someone tried to confiscate all the yellow Fatah flags. A contingent wearing Hamas green barged their way into the throng. Some tussling and then it settled. One set of slogans, one flag—Palestine! We’d occasionally stop, bunch up, I’d feel claustrophobic, we’d begin to walk again. Relief! Thru a few parts of Al Bireh and Ramallah to the Manarah [center of Ramallah] and then what? Ofer prison?

But first another assembly at the Lion’s Square tent where I met Fareed and his son, photographed a guy in a wheel chair who I believe was an early Bil’in casualty [small village near Ramallah which for more than 6 years non violently resists the Annexation Barrier which confiscated much of the agricultural land] and a grandmother and granddaughter, the elder in traditional Palestine village clothing, looking regal and impressive, the younger holding a photo of a man, perhaps the grandmother’s son, granddaughter’s father.

The girls photographic workshop from the Jenin Freedom Theater

Mustafa with one of the girls

 Daneen interviewed

We’d intended to go to Bil’in, but while on the way in our hired serveece, Mustafa called to tell us the plan had changed—big presence at the prison and not in Bil’in. So after consulting Jonatan and Adnan at the Freedom Theater in Jenin we headed to Ramallah, expecting eventually to reach Ofer prison.

After the prayer and speech and subsequent march thru Al Bireh and Ramallah we called our driver and drove to Ofer prison about 3 km SW of Ramallah, near Betuniya. Fareed said he’d not go to the prison. I no longer throw rocks, I don’t support it. Remember, I was imprisoned when a boy for throwing rocks. He also asked me if I’d seen the photo of Edward Said throwing a rock from Lebanon, perhaps an indication that we must recognize the frustration of many Palestinians at the injustice they suffer—and the symbolism of the rock against a mightier force.

Edward Said at the Lebanon border with Israel, 2000

Far fewer people at the prison, site of daily protests sparked by the hunger strikers. Two prisoners have passed the 70-day mark and are reportedly near death. Others are in the 30s. Some 1,500 men are striking from a total prison population of about 4,000. There is huge attention on this issue, at least in Palestine. Doubtful about Israel and the rest of the world. The issues are as follows:

1. End the solitary confinement and isolation

2. End the policy of isolation for all prisoners

3. End the policy of systematic humiliation by the occupation army against the Palestinian people at checkpoints and crossings, particularly targeting visitors to prisons, and end the arbitrary denial of visits to the prisoners, especially the prisoners from the Gaza Strip. End the humiliation and abuse of prisoners during transfer.

4. End the policy of administration detention.

(from one source)


Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel are demanding an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention, allowing visits to Gaza Strip Detainees, provision of medical care and education, and an end to strip searches of their families before visits. All demands are consistent with International law and the 4th Geneva Convention.

(from a second)

Mustafa adjusting the face mask kaffiyeh of one of the girls—to help protect from tear gas and to not be identified by Israelis

Here the deterioration of the demonstration, in my view. Lack of strategic planning on all parties. Palestinians throw a rock—Israeli soldiers retaliate with a tear gas canister or a cluster of them. Burn a tire—the army shoots skunk water. Heave a Molotov cocktail and as Mustafa said, you may count 10 dead Palestinians. Exciting? Yes. Wise? I doubt it. Ditto for the media drawn to such actions—me included—as if a whirlpool sucks us into its center and we drown.

At least at some demonstrations there is a clear, recognizable, reasonable objective that a larger audience can understand. Such as at Al Masara. The immediate objective is to reach the agricultural lands now blocked by the wall or fence. More widely the end of occupation. Or at Bil’in the same, reach village land, the fence itself, and tear it down. And at the recent women’s demonstration at the Jenin muqata (municipal headquarters),  deliver a message to the Palestinian Authority officials in their offices. And Cremisan winery and monastery which I photographed in Bethlehem, a Catholic mass in full view of the settlers. Going back decades, the sit-ins at lunch counters, the Montgomery bus boycott, occupation of factories to shut them down, etc. And more recently the occupation of numerous public sites around the world during the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement. But Ofer prison? To reach the prison? I do not see the point.

Instead yesterday, tumult. How near the gate can we get? How much firepower do we need to turn these Palestinians back? Will that bullet reach me? Will the wind switch direction so the gas reaches the protesters and not us? Am I out of range, behind effective cover? How can I increase the range of this rifle?

I felt the zing of adrenalin, as I’m sure the older girls did when they lunged ahead, sucked by that whirlpool. Thank god for Mustafa who has the charisma, experience, methodology, and above all else love for the girls. He shepherded them very effectively and might make a centerpiece of my photography. I suspect for the girls showing the action was paramount. Maybe this is good, a first step, but not sufficient. We can discuss some of these issues tomorrow when we evaluate the photos. [We never discussed the issues.]

Early into this scene I noticed a young man grimacing while holding his shoulder. Apparently a rubber-covered metal bullet had struck him. I tried to photograph him. Then the men in the field and beyond them the soldiers. A man angrily approached me, no photos! Mustafa had warned us not to photograph faces of rock throwers because later Israel might identify and prosecute them. But distance photos of soldiers? Problems with this? Thought I: this guy’s an ass hole. I’ll defy him at every turn. Not long after this altercation I spotted a woman on the ground, gassed, others attending to her. I tried to photograph this. The same guy grabbed my camera. Luckily Mustafa was nearby and intervened. Then this mini saga concluded when I observed a man on the ground, thought back to what Mustafa had told us that if hurt, fall to the ground and someone will help you. I photographed him lying there. Turned out he was the guy who’d stopped me from photographing. No one came to his assistance.

I plan to tell the students about the Lakota warrior society, maybe called the Buffalo Society, which comprised older men, respected warriors, whose main job was to moderate and direct the younger men. Otherwise, if left alone, their youthful boundless courage would possibly cause needless injury to themselves and their tribe.

Mustafa tear gassed


Al Masara blog with photos: Al Masara: Boys with signs, soldiers with machine guns

“16 injured at protest at Ofer prison,” February 12, 2012
Popular Struggle Coordination Committee for Alternative Information Center

“Clashes in front of Ofer prison during demonstration for Khader Adnan,” with photos, February 21, 2012

Hunger-striking detainees sign deal with prison authority

Time for a Change!” Nakba message from Mazin Qumsiyeh

“Edward Said Accused of Stoning in South Lebanon,” by Sunnie Kim, July 19, 2000

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Gaza, 2010

I have followed Skip’s activities through his email newsletter which has kept me up to date through the personal contacts he has made with peacemakers. From living [myself] in a situation of violence and change in South Africa I know how valuable it is to have the kind of support he is offering to peacemakers in Israel and Palestine—getting out the everyday stories of life, thought, and peace and justice making that don’t make the international headlines. It helps keep the people on the ground going.

—Jeremy Routledge, former director of the
Quaker Peace Center in Cape Town, South Africa

Dear friends:

In various ways, I’ve faithfully reported to many people about my work concerning Palestine/Israel. For the past nine years, not only while I was most recently in the region in 2010, but subsequently with my US-based work, I’ve tried to keep people informed and motivated thru my photos and stories.

Later this month I will begin my 7th journey of photographic discovery and exposure of conditions and struggles in Palestine/Israel. I hope you can join me, as a viewer and reader—and as a financial supporter.

Yaffa/Tel Aviv, Israel, 2010

Gaza, 2010

For this 10-week trip I plan to volunteer my photographic services again with the American Friends Service Committee in Gaza and the West Bank, Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, Al-Rowwad in a Bethlehem refugee camp, Friends of the Earth Middle East in both Israel and Palestine, and the Jenin Freedom Theater, as well as other organizations who request my services. Mainly I will photograph for them and also, when asked, teach photography to  high school and university age youth. The AFSC plans a traveling exhibit about the occupation; they’ve sought my photographic contributions. All this is at no or minimal charge to the organizations. Thus I need financial help.

Public opinion in the US is slowly becoming more responsive to Palestinian experiences, the numerous violations of human rights and international law, and the expanding non-violent resistance against the injustice perpetrated by the Israeli government (with corresponding violence and sometimes criminal actions by Palestinians). The United States and many European governments mutely accept most of the illegal and unjust Israeli policies. Slowly, incrementally, a mild trickle of awareness is percolating into what could become a torrent of support for Palestinian rights. On March 30 international organizers plan The Great March on Jerusalem into Israel across the borders of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. I plan to be there to photograph. I hope to be part of the larger movement for human rights and accountability to international law. With your help I can achieve this.

Gaza, 2010

Airfare is roughly $1300, accommodations, food and local transport will cost me approximately $1400, photo equipment and supplies another $500, and miscellaneous about $300 for a grand total of $3500. I’d deeply appreciate any sort of contribution, large or small, whether money, airline ticket benefits, equipment (photographic or computer) and prayers. I welcome your suggestions about making this journey. You could also help by organizing a showing of my up to date slide shows or photo exhibitions.

Checks can be made out to me, Skip Schiel, mailed to 9 Sacramento St, Cambridge MA, 02138 USA, or you can use PayPal on my website, teeksaphoto.org. I’m not able to offer you a tax deduction.

Thank you so much for your support.


Dr. Mona Al Farra, Gaza, 2009

Kalandia Checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, Ramadan, blocked from attending Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, 2009

You might want to visit these internet sites to view and read what I’ve done over the past 9 years on this project.

teeksaphoto.org (photos)

skipschiel.wordpress.com (writing and photos, plus movies)

eyewitnessgaza.net (movie by Tom Jackson about my work)

www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2902195 (recently published book of my Gaza photos)

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Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.


Have you ever heard of the hour of the wolf? … It’s the time between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning. You can’t sleep, and all you can see is the troubles and the problems and the ways that your life should’ve gone but didn’t. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart.

(Commander Susan Ivanova in an episode of the science fiction television show Babylon 5 entitled “The Hour of the Wolf” and from Swedish and Finnish folk religion, also the title of a horror film by Ingmar Bergman where I first learned the term and phenomenon.)

(Click here for an enlargement)

November 23, 2010, Tuesday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

I’m nervous this morning, for a variety of reasons. 1. I teach the first session of the photographic workshop tomorrow [November 24, 2010]. Altho I feel very prepared and confident enough I always feel nervous beginning a workshop series. I focus more on past failures than successes, on my problems at Birzeit University and with the Haifa Israeli Arab youth when I taught at both sites, rather than the long string of successes at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program (QPYP), Cambridge Center for Adult Education and Harvard University. 2. My computer problems. 3. My flashlight’s bulb seems to have burned out, not a big deal but precipitating a return of my Hour of the Wolf syndrome, keeping me awake with flooding thoughts, visions, worries. 4. Where in Gaza can I find an ATM for cash? 5. The money transfer question. All of these swamped me last night as I struggled to return to blissful sleep—and eventually did.

I am befuddled by the weekly schedule here. Week begins on Sunday, Friday is a holiday. I have to shift my thinking from Monday begins the week, Saturday and Sunday are holidays.

A dream despite or inspired by the problems of the night: true to my habit (and I’m thankful for this one) I was preparing to teach a photo workshop, not in Gaza but at home. Working around my wife, a stand-in for my former wife, I gathered materials including an old digital camera that I’d dismantled, blank film, cords, and other paraphernalia that if I were actually home and about to teach I’d collect. A bulb had burned out. My wife provided me one. I inserted it and I could see better what I was collecting. Last night I devoted myself mainly to preparing for the workshop tomorrow and I’m certain the dream was an offshoot of that. Unlike at home, I don’t have the materials I dreamt about gathering.

The second dream was about gathering a woman to me—another sort of gathering—inviting her into my intimate circle. She was young, desirable, available. I’d arranged for her to sit with others in a sort of pit. The pit began enclosing her and others. I jumped in. Some in the pit became food. She finally agreed to be with me intimately. I felt mutual love. Patricia Watson, an old dear Quaker friend and mentor, entered the story somehow; maybe it referred to her without her actual presence. How strange this one was. Unlike any dream I can recall having and definitely unlike any known courtship procedure.

November 24, 2010, Wednesday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

What provoked last night’s episode of the Hour of the Wolf was the following extremely vivid dream: I was meeting my workshop group for the first time. It was set in Gaza, large, around 15, the usual mix of people. For some reason a pole or column separated them into 2 smaller groups, which made seeing them at one time difficult. One of the students rudely and demonstratively played the piano loudly in the back of the room. I asked her to stop. Sullenly, she complied.

I was using my seminar approach, asking questions in the Socratic manner, mostly about photographic design. As an illustration I used  the element of repetition. I didn’t have actual pictures to look at, a major omission. At first I thought this was going very well, not plunging directly into the nuts and bolts of making photos but delving into some of the deeper topics—I love doing this. I felt I was doing it expertly. Gradually I noticed some of the students shaking heads at each other, a condemnatory shake, expressing, this sucks. This guy is a total shit. I do not like being in this workshop. I knew I was on the wrong path, not sure how to find the right one. I awoke with a sudden thud. Oh, oh, I said to myself, don’t take that road today when you teach, anything but that road.

On my morning walk a few minutes ago I realized I should begin the workshop by thanking everyone for the opportunity to work with them, for their choosing to enroll, do the work, and share my passion for photography, to give me a chance to learn from them. Yes, be very thankful and humble. To confess my gratitude, dependence on them, willingness to learn. Then to ask them to introduce themselves, with specific reference to photography. Tell us what you’d like to learn and why. The take away, the payoff. This will be challenging because of language barriers. (I’m hoping for good translation, which I had last year, making a huge difference.) Then maybe look at their photos, if they brought them as I asked Islam to invite them to do. At least look at my prints.

Then maybe a how to see deeply exercise, a guided meditation, and run thru the camera settings (how do this without the AV camera cable?). Concentrate on providing them many opportunities to actually photograph and later review their photos. To state this at the outset: make and comment on photos, the spine of the workshop. That usually works in most settings.

The QPYP staff were surprised to see me show up so early yesterday, ready to teach. Then I realized my mistake—I was one day early, one more night to suffer thru, the Hour of the Wolf will come again. I confided to Amal, the director of the program, how nervous I am. She is my mother in absentia. The moon, recently full, is waning. On the next full moon night I may either be preparing to leave Gaza or preparing to leave Yaffa and Israel, homeward bound.

Ibrahem Shatali and Amal Sabawai, program officer and director, respectively

November 25, 2010, Thursday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

~~Electricity just went kaput as I was beginning this entry. Last night in an adjoining neighborhood near the sea, the power was out. Off at 7:20 pm, we’ll see how long before the generator kicks in.~~

The workshop yesterday, in my preliminary and self-interested perspective, went surprisingly well. 10 of the 12 enrolled attended, about half arrived on time, the others within 10 minutes of start time. They seemed engaged for the most part, those without English struggling to keep up. Rana and Hesham shared translation duties. All but one had cameras and that one used his mobile phone camera which apparently is fairly sophisticated. I lectured about a few basic digital principles like the difference between a photograph, a print, a file, and an image. For a later session we’ll discuss bits, bytes, and pix, color space, calibration, etc, rudimentary concepts that I find fascinating and vital to understand. Will they?

Because I lacked my AV cable allowing me to show camera settings, I lectured on the topic and had them follow with their cameras: auto, P for program, A for aperture priority, etc, leaving for later when and why these different settings are useful. All basic stuff. The students are less advanced than I’d assumed after talking with Amal and Islam. I thought they said these would mostly be practicing photographers who wished to upgrade their skills. Not so—some entry level, a few more advanced.

I’d laid out prints I brought of family and the coast, had them observe, comment on what they noticed, discuss how to improve certain photos, much like what I do at home. (No one else brought photos, even tho I’d requested it.) I also showed the slide show of photos from last year’s photo workshop, Starting Point, commending the photos and hoping to raise a standard. So that—and I tried to lay this out provisionally, not a promise or commitment—that if their photos are good enough we can have an exhibition at the Windows from Gaza gallery.

Maybe the hit of the 3-hour session was actually making photos, first in the room we worked in, and then the roof where I’d been several times with other groups. [A sampling of student photos from the entire workshop is at the end of this blog.] On the roof I challenged them to effectively show a vista and to make use of the high roof position. I’m saving my schema for making a good photo—be aware, observe the light, choose a camera position and shutter release moment, etc—for later. Returning down the stairs, I pointed out the viewpoint someone previously had discovered for making an abstract photo: straight down the stairwell. They all tried it, I photographed them trying it.

~~7:30, power returned a mere 10 minutes later, thanks to a local generator I’m certain. Last year the generator was nearly outside my door, loud and smelly, small also. It remains but is not used. I have no idea where the working generator is, probably on the rooftop. I’ve never heard or seen it. [Later I learned the building’s owner has tied into another neighborhood’s power lines so that when that neighborhood has electricity our building is powered.]~~

I introduced myself, very personally—grandpa, divorced, love Gaza, photographing since my dad gave me my first camera at age 7, etc—and they did the same. They are young, perhaps between about 18 and 25, most are college students, a few in business administration, a few in media. Some work for partner agencies. Hesham works with the guy I’ll probably hire as cameraman, Yousef.

So I’m relieved, greatly relieved. From time to time during the session, silently I compared the nightmare vision I’d had the 2 nights before to what was transpiring in front of me: night and day, night and day. I slept very well last night.

At times I’m frightened by the situation here. I read reports from the Gaza NGO Safety Office, GANSO, such as:

At approximately 1550 hrs on 7 October 2010, an IAF [Israeli Air Force]  drone fired a missile targeting a private vehicle carrying Palestinian militants affiliated to Al Nasser Salah Ad Din Brigades on Al Mughraqa Bridge, between Al Nuseirat and Al Zahra, North West of Al Nuseirat. However, the missile failed to hit its intended target, and instead exploded in front of a passing vehicle, injuring 5 civilian passengers, and 1 seriously. Similarly, at 1130 hrs on 3 November 2010, a private vehicle was targeted by the IAF in the vicinity of the de facto security services headquarters in Gaza City, N of Al Azhar University, killing an Army of Islam operative driving the vehicle, with injuries sustained by a passerby. And just last week (17 November) at 1640 hrs, a private vehicle was again targeted by the IAF on Al Wihda Street in Gaza City, resulting in the deaths of 2 Army of Islam operatives.

The central concern with respect to these attacks is that they occurred during daylight hours and, most particularly with respect to the two most recent incidents, in built up areas. In the previous Bi-Weekly Safety Report (17 – 30 October) GANSO highlighted the danger of internal hazards and their unpredictability. Much of the advice imparted on that occasion can also apply in this context, though tempered perhaps by an even greater degree of unpredictability. At this juncture, the most effective mitigation measure that GANSO can suggest is that NGO’s clearly mark their vehicles (particularly from an aerial perspective) when travelling throughout the Gaza Strip, while organisations are also strongly encouraged to keep a First Aid Kit and fire extinguisher within their vehicles at all times (and ensure staff are aware of how to safely and effectively use the equipment).

This bothers me—first aid kit and fire extinguisher, big help, forget it! Reminds me that if I happen to be out walking or with someone driving, at exactly the wrong moment and place, I could be hit, hurt, killed. Damned luck. I’m not sure my muses can do much about this. I’m not sure how cognizant they are about either the Israeli military or the Palestinian militants. The OP’s, Palestinian Operatives, to use the language of GANSO.

From Prof. Abdelwahed, published July 18, 2009:

“Gaza war in child’s memory (True story),”

Raid Fattouh is a Palestinian. He is married to Natasha, a Ukrainian woman. They live in Gaza with their four children: Karma 13, Jabr 10, Diana 6 and Hakeem 1. Two weeks ago, Raid and his Natasha wanted to travel to Ukraine after 13 years stay in Gaza. It was so hard for the parents to convince their children that traveling by airplane is comfortable and safe! Children could not sleep well for long nights before their land trip to Amman. They were scared of the airplane! Their persistent question was on their situation if the airplane bombed somewhere and killed innocent people like what it did in Gaza during the war! The image of the airplane was an image of a machine to kill the people in the streets and at homes! It was enormously difficult for the parents to convince the kids to step up into the airplane at Amman airport. The nightmare remained, and children were really horrified; they cried until they were on board. Their father told me that the most pathetic moments where those when kids were going upstairs the airplane! Once they were in they believed their parents.

—Prof. Abdelwahed, Department of English, Faculty of Arts & Humanities,Al-Azhar University of Gaza, Gaza is phoenix in burning flame


STUDENT PHOTOS (click photo for enlargement):

Photos by Samah Ahmad

Photos by Rana Baker


Photos by Omar Shala


Photos by Meslah Ashram

Photos by Lina Abd Latif


Photos by Khaled El Rayyes


Photos by Hesham Mhanna


Photos by Abd Nassla


Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

My photo workshops in the United States

My teaching philosophy

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TODAY: I dedicate this blog entry to the release of colleague, Vittorio Arrigoni, a journalist and human rights defender working in the Gaza Strip, who was kidnapped by Salafists, members of a very small extremist group in Gaza.


UPDATE: He’s been murdered, allegedly by members of a Palestinian Islamic splinter group in Gaza. However, questions remain: who benefits from his death, why was he killed hours before the deadline, and why Vittorio?

Testimonial from Jeff Halper

Vittorio on the right, with Adie Mormech of the International Solidarity Movement, during a meeting with farmers in the eastern buffer zone

Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.


The ultimate wisdom of the photographic image is to say: “There is the surface. Now think—or rather feel, intuit—what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way.”

—Susan Sontag

December 7, 2010, Tuesday, Gaza City, my apartment in Rimal

Yesterday people were very late to the photo workshop, #4 in the 8 part series, despite our new policy [We look only at the photos of those who show up first. Late? Too bad, can’t review your photos.]. 10 AM, start time, no one there. I looked out the window and saw one young man languidly entering the lower entryway, slowly making his way to class. He arrived at about 10:10. He was not one of those with adequate English. This could be a problem. Let’s start, I said, what do you have to show us? Student #2 walked in at about 10:15, another without much English. Luckily student #1 had some good photos from our trip last week to the crafts village, but wished to show us something else, some location, also very good architectural photos. I commented but without translation so there is no knowing how much came or went thru.

~~There were to be 2 more paragraphs continuing this story but MS Word froze, as it’s been doing off and on during this trip. I lost the paragraphs. Are they recoverable thru my personal memory? Let’s give it a whirl. But remember: save more often!~~

By 10:30 all of the 7 of the regulars (out of the initial 12) eventually appeared. Including Ahmed and M, 2 of the more involved and vocal students, along with R. No H today: can’t make it in, sorry, he texted me.

Despite the upsetting beginning—I had begun ruminating, has the workshop collapsed? How are we to make the movie about me teaching if I have no students?—the session turned out very well indeed. R said later, this session was amazing. We discussed beauty along with beauty and horror mixed, depth of focus (only a beginning, more on this next time), backlighting (ditto), showing one’s political and social reality, independent projects, portraiture (the main theme of the morning), exemplary portraits from Dorothea Lange (Migrant Mother with the story of Dorothea’s persistence which resulted in making her fine iconic photo—which none present had ever seen or heard about, a completely different cultural context) and W. Eugene Smith (from his Minimata series, mother and daughter in a tub, resembling the pieta which also was new to my students), and other related matters. Much energy this morning, I felt, even tho all were tardy.

Later from Islam I learned about cases of absentees—Sharek Youth Forum closed by Hamas, schedule conflicts, illness, without anyone admitting the workshop was not to their tastes, or too hard, or too soft, or just not right thing at the right moment. This is the first time I’ve gotten such feedback. And it is because of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program’s IT officer Islam’s devotion to the program. A stellar man.

To the mina, or port, which seemed to excite everyone. Rain had fallen that morning, the first rain of the season. I’d tried photographing and videoing it outside on the my home plaza. Stills failed, motion worked. And I showed both to the students, with the challenge of how can you show rain with stills, and, beyond that, show the first rain of the season? Key questions, I believe, that shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of the photographic medium. These themes, water, rain, challenges, might have helped inspire the field trip. 2 exercises (or 3 if I count the awareness exercise): cardinal direction awareness, in place, one of the 4 directions at a time, scan from low to high, repeat; followed by find a location, make at least 10 different photos from that one spot (I chose the new construction, showing lots of cement and a crane, very unusual for Gaza), and one frame, multiple moments for an emphasis on time (I chose flapping fabric as an illustration, doing this in 2 different locations).

New fishers’ shacks

The sky added to the thrill of the trip, large, roiling, scurrying clouds covered the entire sky. And receded as we worked, always varied, always wondrous. We were well positioned—coastal—to view the entire sky.

We concluded at the breakwater where other students had discovered the huge breaking waves. Here we romped, as if kids, playing, having fun, dodging the water (several were doused). We photographed each other photographing each other and the sea. The port is archetypal for Gazans—its freedom primarily, and the blockage of freedom, knowing the fishing industry, once thriving, is for now dormant, ruined. A complex mixture of joy and sorrow.

Skip Schiel, photo by Mesleh Al Ashram

A personal gain was discovering two men in one of the fisher shacks. I’d noticed a cat eating the remains of a fish dinner. Thinking I was alone—I’d seen no one else in this extensive series of shacks, thought they were all abandoned, perhaps people waiting for the opening of a new set which I also photographed—I spoke gently to the cat. Then I heard soft talking from the other side of the wall. Someone was there. They probably heard me. I looked around, said marhaba, continued on, heard one man say, chai?

Initially I declined, walked on, then thought, hey guy, this is an invite, not only for tea but possibly for photos. So I sat with them a while, drank the tea (la sukkar-no sugar), and was surprised when the host pointed at his friend and my camera, indicating, make a photo of him. Friend demurred, so, miming, I asked the host if he’d allow a photo of himself and off we went. Merrily along with the fishers.

At the end of this session I felt relieved, energized, happy. Truly mubsut-happy. If only they’d show up on time, if only everyone would attend, if only they’d do the assignments, if only, if only. Why worry, revel in the moment instead.

A powerful update from Y about life in Oakland, filled with trauma—and I thought I had a hard life in Gaza!—and the beginning of winter. Plus one dream that I can recall, in a night of solid dreaming:

I was lecturing a group of Gazans, young adults, maybe in a university setting. Our main theme was cross cultural differences, or intercultural understanding. I used the idea of meals as a reference point, breakfast in particular. I joked with them about the words in English and Arabic that describe the same items. The lecture was extremely interactive. It was going well until I noticed a young man, resembling Ibrahem G who in real life I’d met a few days ago while walking to the souk (market), who’s been incessantly phoning me and then because of our language differences discovers I am not very communicative with him, nor warm to meeting him again. He asks me, in the most broken English, where are you, at the katiba (parade grounds)? Where are you!? I tell him I’m home working and busy. I am sure he wants to meet—but to what point? I hate being so distant but it reflects our painful reality. I believe my dream last night reflects my dilemma about Ibrahem, wishing to be close, finding it impossible. Unless of course one of us studied the language of the other.

So an “Ibrahem” type character was in my dream, joking with a male friend, and visibly not paying attention to the lecture and dialog. He was rattling me, distracting me from the event. I just wish you’d go away, is what I thought—and didn’t utter.

Despite his interruption, I carried on. The dream ended as we produced a form of chorus, not using words, but sighs. All together now, sigh.

~~Power off. Kaput. Just off. Computer continues for awhile on battery power, but because my battery is old and feeble I doubt if I have even 2 hours remaining. Plus Internet is gone, since the router is off and there is no neighborhood network I can access. Woe is me. Let’s see how long until power resumes. It is now 7:12 AM. I will open my shutters and let in the faint light of the cloudy morning. Yesterday at the office power was also out. But the generator worked immediately this time and my workshop was not impeded.~~



As an example of the work done by people such as Vittorio Arrigoni and other International Solidarity Movement workers under the direction of local Palestinian leaders, my blog about a buffer zone demonstration in Gaza

Blog: El Mina—part 1

Photos: El Mina—part 1

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Ban Al Ghussain

Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.


Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by Robert Bly

December 4, 2010, Saturday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

That day again, when I contemplate my origins in my father (a tradition I learned from Japanese friends, honoring one’s parents and other ancestors), my mother, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, my earliest friends and teachers—all to whom I owe my life, character, history, destiny, meaning, problems, not entirely but mostly. I begin my 8th decade, my 70th year, looking and usually feeling maybe 15 years younger. Feeling my age and beyond only when ill, even slightly ill as I seem to have been a few days ago, perhaps with flu. Now I am sturdy.

What are my worries, what keeps me from deep sleep thru the night (as happened again last night from 4 until I arose at 5:15)?

the photo workshop, students dropping out, not liking it, feeling they’re not learning enough to continue

losing my flash memory device and wondering about possible consequences because of my disclosures concerning my hidden sexual proclivities

mushies, i.e., shits

dying in my sleep

never finding another true love

broken or lost or malfunctioning equipment

doing a lousy job making photos and the movie

for a few of many.

Islam Madhoun & Ban
(betrothed after meeting thru one of my photo workshops in 2009)

What sustains me, helps me sleep despite the occasional short hours, keeps me fresh thru the day, cheerful despite the odds against me?






prospects for love and understanding gradually more and more about vexing thrilling topic

excitement at being in Gaza


playing with computer-based tools like software and the internet

my illustrious circle of honorable elders


hopes for when I return home.

But let’s not forget last night’s dreams, once again profuse:

With others I was either actually on or watching others on a high narrow rope ladder cross a raging river. A man fell in. I could see beneath the water, magically, that he was quickly dropping to the bottom. Another man decided to rescue him. He tore off his shoes, his pants, stating, my clothing would drown me. He dove or dropped in. I again saw beneath the water as he dove deep and grabbed the victim.

Another: talking with a man who understood about the Wounded Knee Massacre and the commemorative ride in 1990 that I participated in. He quizzed me, how did you gain the trust of the riders? referring to my photography of the ride and location. To answer I elaborated about my father, claiming he was an expert printer of flyers, posters, booklets and the like. How this related to the question escaped me but in the dream it seemed relevant. As I explained my close relations with native people, I experienced again being with them—I was actually with them. One American Indian demonstrated shooting a rifle, as if at the Wounded Knee Massacre 100 years ago himself, or at the siege in 1972 or 1973.

These dreams seem unique, unlike previous dreams altho some themes, like Wounded Knee and photography, recur . I suspect one reason I’m dreaming and remembering dreams so well is that I awaken early with my Hour of the Wolf Syndrome [insomnia for about one hour when my thought governor takes a break and numerous streams of thought, memory, strategy, reverie all mix crazily together, a notion based on a Swedish belief in the Hour of the Wolf when magic and tragedy ensue.] This usually damnable periodic sleeplessness might be turning into a gift.

Hesham Mhanna

The outing yesterday to the quay or pier or boat area or port or mina—with Hesham and Rana from the current photo workshop, Ban and Sharif from last year’s workshop, and Islam. We quickly agreed this is the place to go, safer they felt. [I’m uncertain about why they felt this way, perhaps safe from Israeli incursions and shelling, safe from factional violence, and safe from the watching waiting eyes of Hamas.] Islam drove us out to the point where I’d never been before. Someone found a boat and driver for us to wildly ride in. And after about 1.5 hours of photography they were ready to declare, we’re finished. I replied, Oh, I feel we are just beginning. Well, some have Muslim prayers, Sharif claimed.

Language plays a major role in my teaching in Gaza. In a separate workshop that I teach thru the American Friends Service Committee, we are finding adequate translation nearly impossible to do. It requires extra time, a large vocabulary about technology and esthetics, and patience on everyone’s part. One consequence of not having English fluency is not being able or willing to press me for further exercises or lessons. For instance, yesterday at El mina with my group, after one exercise (design with the principle of light on dark, dark on light), Hesham asked me for a more advanced exercise. I offered him the backlight challenge. Choose a subject brightly lit from behind. Use flash to fill in the shadows. Without English he might not have asked me, nor have understood me when I gave it to him. Similarly, Ban asked for instruction in Adobe’s photo software, Lightroom.

I discovered another group of photo students who wanted to have their photos made with me surrounded by the students. They all had single lens reflex cameras; one man was one of my students, either former or current; they seemed to be playing rather than laboring, photographing each other mostly. They delighted in showing me their photos on their camera screens. They asked to join our group and did for a fraction of a second.

I also discovered a family eating along the pier. I snuck a few photos before asking permission. Father said no, waved his finger and smiled. I nodded ok, turned to walk away when he called me back to join them for hummus and fuul, the delicious Middle Eastern fava bean, lemon juice, and garlic dish. No photos but plenty of good food.

Our group agreed to meet again on Wednesday at 1 PM after my workshop to see results. Ban and Sharif will present their work to the workshop group that morning. All this is intended to foster a photographic team that persists after I’ve departed. Good plan, now let’s see if it works. [It seems to not have.]



My spring 2011 teaching in Cambridge Massachusetts

Photography as a tool for political transformation, a workshop

My Teaching Philosophy

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My message is to show as much love as you can to your parents, because I lost my parents and I am not able to care for them anymore.

—Mona Samouni, age 11 years

Mona Samouni with the identity cards of her mother and father soon after they were both killed during the 2009 bombings (Thanks to Adie Mormech)

Kanaan Samouni

Part of the Samouni family

Kanaan Samouni

Missile damage to a home

Excerpts from my journal during a 6 week journey to Gaza.

December 19, 2010, Sunday, Gaza City, my apartment in Rimal


(Note: BDS = Boycott, Divest, Sanction, a growing international movement, requested by much of Palestinian civil society, intended to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine; and ISM = International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led, non violent movement providing international support to end the occupation and Gazan siege)

2 signal events from yesterday, both connected to ISM, (which I’m much more in contact with than on any other visit to Gaza, thanks in large part to the friendliness and accessibility of Inge Neefs and Adie Mormech) and both surprising. The first was a meeting of local university age BDS activists, a group that has recently formed.

Haidar Eid

We heard from Dr. Haidar Eid, an articulate and powerful speaker and organizer. He reported about a recent Israel-Palestine conference he attended in Stuttgart Germany. Illustrating with examples—such as the authorities not readily granting permission for a meeting site—he demonstrated the reluctance of the German government to criticize Israel. He attributes this to the guilt many Germans feel about the holocaust. Hearing him I recalled the reaction of CW, formerly of Friends Meeting at Cambridge (my Quaker community), who seemed dumbfounded by my stance as a German about Israel-Palestine. Don’t you feel shame at being German when considering the plight of the Israelis?

No, sorry, Chris, I don’t. Perhaps the opposite. I identify with the silent Germans who lived during the Nazi period, unwilling to see and speak out about the truth. That is my legacy.

From the conference report to business for our group about who’s doing what about BDS—website makers, bloggers, letter writers, video makers, connectors with the international community, etc. I suggested the tactic of culture jamming (see link below). Haidar thought it would be premature for Gaza, later maybe. I also suggested hosting a showing of the Itisapartheid contest videos that Rick had suggested I do. This caught fire and we might see some action before I leave. Israel Apartheid Week was also on the agenda.

I felt tremendous excitement during this meeting, the fact of so many that seem so energized working in Gaza to boycott Israeli products, especially when there are so few alternatives here. Some discussion about this, identifying Israel products—apparently a popular one is a fruit drink—and alternatives—fruit drinks are locally manufactured. I think I’m drinking a Gazan product this morning, an overly sweet orange confection.

Adie co-led this meeting, and the team of Haidar and Adie is strong. I also felt synergy in the room, people’s energy bouncing off each other, lighting each other’s fire. My photo student Rana attended and contributed forcefully. As did Inge and S from ISM. The group is definitely Gaza-based, Gaza-led, Gaza-inspired, and Gaza-focused. My dear buddy back home, Rick, will be very happy to learn about all this.

Thinking I was done when the meeting ended, I hung around to see if I might visit with Inge and Adie, maybe a falafel in the park in Soldiers’ Square. This notion turned out to be eating falafel on the run, stopping by their flat (not far from my house) to pick up about 5 large bags of winter coats, and deliver them to the Samouni family that 2 years ago had been herded into one building under the promise of safety and then many of them shot. I’d heard about this incident—the horror of it, the duplicity, the savagery, the senseless killing, usually of male family members and including innocent children, before the eyes of the family.

The Zeitoun neighborhood in January 2009
(last photo courtesy of the

The Samouni family lives in an outlying region of Gaza city called Zeitoun (Arabic for olive) and indeed I saw many olive trees as well as other cultivated plants. My first impression was about all the rebuilding I observed. How much was destroyed? How did people live during the immediate aftermath of the attacks during Operation Cast Lead? Why did the Israelis attack? Where’d the money for rebuilding come from? What do the survivors experience now? How deep is the suffering? How are the children doing?

Zeitoun in January 2009

To some extent I was able to begin answering these questions in a few ways: wandering around, observing, photographing what appeared to my eyes and lens; a formal interview with 2 boys about 10 years old (movie forthcoming); and a long discussion later with Adie who’s done extensive reporting on this affair and promised to send me information (linked below). I expect to research it as well, and perhaps blog and post photos about it, maybe even—because I used the video capability of my still photo camera—insert something into the main movie Tom and I are making. A pity we didn’t have our video team with us.

Trampling on the bedding of the family whose house these soldiers confiscated

Col. Ilan Malka, under investigation for ordering the Samouni massacre
(Photo by Dudu Azoulay)

The boys were very eager to use my camera. Inge had warned me about this. I’d forgotten until a boy appeared with a beautiful Canon Powershot SX 20, a recent model of what I have, the SX 3. Is this his family’s camera? was my first thought. Then I recalled seeing it with Inge, asked her, she confirmed, hers, lent to the boy who was unwilling to share it with others. We photographed each other. Eventually some boys used my camera so the photos from this session are of mixed origin. I noticed an extraordinary one of Inge that I know I didn’t make—I’m still too shy to come in too close, but one of the boys has passed thru that stage.

Kanaan in a tent some of the family lived in
while rebuilding their homes

Inge Neefs, photo by Kanaan Samouni

Adie gave an English lesson, the girls seemed very involved. Inge and I sat with one of the families outside a tent they’d used while rebuilding their home. The woman was especially gracious. She witnessed her husband’s execution, as did her children.

Adie Mochmeh giving an English lesson (while learning Arabic)

I asked Adie, what do you think the Israeli logic was that led to this killing? Hard to know. Some of the men were affiliated with Islamic Jihad but that’s true of every neighborhood. The Israelis systematically bombed, routed families, shot men and kids, destroyed buildings, prohibited emergency services from entering, left people bleeding to death, and commandeered a house and left it with shit on the floor [the mark of the most moral army in the world?] and graffiti promising to return and kill more [I’ve photographed this, heard about it, now witnessed it, assuming it was not implanted by Palestinians hoping to garner support].

Any accountability? I asked. Some very slight, he answered, one court case, probably against a soldier, not an officer.

Israeli soldiers murdered this man in front of his family

Later, reading Adie’s article, thinking about what I’d seen and who I’d met, considering the wanton, heedless, insane brutality by the Israelis, I felt deep outrage—and sorrow. Why this killing and destruction? What effect on the men who perpetrated this massacre, and on the population that supported it, the leaders that inspired and condoned it, the rabbis who blessed it? The city on a hill, a model of a democracy in the Middle East? When I’m home I plan to continue my research and advocacy, in large part, using the Goldstone report.

I was well aware that each person I met and observed had been stricken by the attacks of January 3 thru 5, 2009. What was I doing at that moment, where was I, how aware was I of what was happening in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza city?

I learned someone who’d traveled thru with a circus from the UK had raised money to purchase winter clothing for the children. Some $4000, and Adie and ISM bought the coats, all new, locally at a discount. They were of different sizes, one man with a list distributed them, one woman who’d come with us and who’d translated the interview for me aided the distribution. As we left a woman complained that the coat given her child had a broken zipper. Adie promised to replace the jacket.

The money for reconstruction had come from private Islamic agencies. And perhaps the UN had a role. I assume most of the building material comes thru the tunnels since this is not an official UN project. From what Adie told me I estimate about half the houses originally in the neighborhood were destroyed. Some 5 new ones were going up.


Unknown are the after effects of this violence. How do the kids feel about Jews, Israelis, foreigners, Arabs from other lands? I don’t have much insight into this. Perhaps the faces I show will reveal answers. Always faces, especially eyes.

Conclude with 3 dreams: in one I was with others examining the interior of a destroyed house (looking much like ones I’ve seen in Gaza, but in the dream the location was not Gaza), we decided to leave. I believe we’d entered thru a small opening in the ceiling, a few of us managed to get out thru it, but I was stuck inside. I had no idea where to place my feet. I began to panic. I felt the house might imminently collapse on me.

In another I carried a toddler on my back, old enough to talk to me, mature enough to tease me by tickling my neck. We had to cross a street with heavy traffic. I worried.

And in a third I attended a meeting or film showing about an ex soldier who’d been heroized for his bravery—not in combat but in refusing to wage war. The movie turned into the real thing, him demonstrating his bravery. The audience rose to give him a standing ovation.

So goes my dream report from last night.

Graffiti left by Isareli soldiers

“I speak English”


From Adie Mormech: Fida Qishta, an independent Gazan documentary maker made a short and very moving film “Where Should the Birds Fly?” from footage she shot during Operation Cast Lead about Mona Samouni and what happened to her family. In it, while walking through the ruins of her home, Mona recited a verse by the Palestinian writer, Lutfi Yassini:

I’m the Palestinian child,

I carried the grief early,

All the world forgot me,

They closed their eyes [to] my oppression,

I’m steadfast,

I’m steadfast.


Two Palestinian Stories: Mona Samouni and Dr Mona El Farra by Adie Mormech

Goldstone report (Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict) about the Samouni attacks, executive summary

Jeremy Bowen around the ruins of her house in his BBC documentary “Gaza, Out of the Ruins”

“Amid dust and death, a family’s story speaks for the terror of war,” by Rory McCarthy in Zeitoun, 19 January 2009 21.26 GMT

“IDF Investigates Commander in al-Samouni Gaza Massacre” Tikkun Magazine, October 2010

Culture jamming

Culture jamming applied to Israel-Palestine


Israel Apartheid Week

Rana Baker’s blog: “Palestine: Memory Drafts and Future Alleys”

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