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

PHOTOS 

I am here because I care.

—Rachel Corrie

My Own Housing is at Risk

I am a low-income photographer, reliant on Social Security, photographic project funding, and until recently slender earnings from teaching (I left teaching due to enrollment decline and complicated scheduling). For many of my 30 years in a decent section of Cambridge I’m able to afford my 700 square feet apartment thanks to a Section 8 Housing Voucher. However, funding this benefit depends on city, state, and federal administrations. Each change of leadership—the current federal leadership terrifies me—reminds me of how precarious my situation is. A friend I’d shared this home with for a few years always declared, if they boot me out, I’d find a shelter to live in. I feel somewhat the same way, even tho shelters are chronically overcrowded and dangerous.

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My home in Cambridge Massachusetts (click here for enlargement)

My neighborhood in Cambridge, and also the Boston metro area, as well as much of our country, is currently gentrifying at an alarming rate. Gentrification means displacement, much as Israel displaced Palestinians during the Nakba. Less violent here perhaps, with some meager means of redress, but thousands are pushed from their homes as entire regions become too expensive to live in. A national crisis, a result of income and wealth inequality, exacerbated by the current federal government.

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My neighborhood, looking west

Because of the uncertainty of my housing I feel more sensitive to the precariousness of the housing of others. In East Jerusalem and in Area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank, Israel constantly demolishes Palestinian homes.

What about housing in the refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank? Currently the United States administration calls for the United Nations Refugee Works Administration (UNRWA), the main agency providing housing, food, and medical and legal assistance to the camp residents, to be defunded. The possible result—maybe intentional—is killing the refugee programs in Palestine, including housing, thereby squelching the demand for the right of Palestinian return.

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Gaza, 2010, photo by Skip Schiel © 

In 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield, purportedly in response to suicide operations by Palestinian militants, Israel invaded the 7 most populous regions in the West Bank, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Nablus among them. They destroyed much of the infrastructure, including housing. During that spring I recall going to bed thinking—fantasizing of course, but deeply concerned—that during the night, someone would demolish my home. Then awakening, my home intact, I offered thanks for another night and perhaps day in my home. I might not be able to afford increasing rents or the loss of my housing subsidy, but no one’s going to demolish it—yet it is a constant threat and a connection with Palestinians.

Context of my Palestine-Israel Work

I have studied, visited, photographed, filmed, written about, and presented about Palestine-Israel since the fall of 2003 when I participated with a delegation from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I felt compelled to witness for myself the reality of life in Palestine-Israel, to pass thru checkpoints, to be harassed by Israeli soldiers, to confront the Separation Wall. Initially the reasons I offered for why I am so attached to this project were four:

  • Oppression: during my experience in South Africa in 1990 and 1998 I began to understand the parallels between the two apartheid systems—and the close links between the two countries, South Africa and Israel. Which helped open my eyes to the brutal and illegal injustice perpetrated on the Palestinians by the Israelis. I was outraged, angry, burned inside. I needed to channel my anger, and decided, well I photograph, let’s try it there.
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South African during the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1999, photo by Skip Schiel © 

  • Jesus: I’m a follower of that great Jewish mystic and teacher, Yeshua, aka Jesus Christ. I don’t believe literally the supernatural parts of his story (not even sure he existed since the historical record is so sketchy) like the Immaculate Conception and Resurrection. I do attempt to follow his ethical teachings, non-violence and unconditional love in particular, which continue to affect me deeply. I’d grown up as a Catholic with images of the Holy Land in my schools, and—thanks to the Way of the Cross or Via Dolorosa—in the churches themselves, rendered in stained glass. The dust, donkeys, arches, wide expanses, hills, water, luminous sky all drew me, the Roman occupation itself. What’s it like there now? I had to experience the land of Jesus for myself. He lived during the Roman Occupation; I shall experience the Israeli Occupation.
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Jesus condemned by the  Sanhedrin (a Jewish judicial body)

  • The Mediterranean Light: photography depends on light, as does vision, not only neurological vision but philosophical vision, wisdom. From my first trip, that unearthly light continues to draw me back. What does it mean, how can I best work with it, how will others respond to my renderings of light? And why so many luminaries from such a small region? Not only Jesus, but Moses, Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, and all the prophets, male and female, and finally, because of his legendary night journey to visit God in heaven, the founder of Islam, one of the three Abrahamic faiths, Mohammed himself. Why so many, and yet there is no agreement on distribution of power?
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Mediterranean Sea, Gaza, Palestine
  • Rachel Corrie: In March 2003, a young woman took a leave of absence from college in Olympia Washington to heed the call of a friend in Gaza. She joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), entered Gaza, and stayed with a Palestinian family to protect their home from demolition. Wearing a bright orange reflective vest and shouting thru her bullhorn, Rachel Corrie stood in front of a gigantic Caterpillar D9 bulldozer (made by a US corporation) whose Israeli army soldier was about to demolish the home she protected. He crushed her, running the blade twice over her body. She became a shaheed, a martyr. Six months later, 14 months since Operation Defensive Shield, I made my first trip to Palestine-Israel.
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Rachel’s mother, Cindy, carrying the poster

Right of Return

All Jews anywhere, whatever their historic connections with Israel might be, have the right of return (Aliyah in Hebrew, “the act of going up”), with citizenship if desired and benefits such as housing, medical, educational, and others. Palestinians, despite their verifiable connections with the region, even when they can prove land ownership, cannot return to their original homes that existed before the Nakba in 1948. Is this not a massive contradiction, evidence of clear hypocrisy, unsustainable by international law?

The Law of Return was passed unanimously by the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, on July 5, 1950, 2 years after the Nakba, this date chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Zionist visionary Theodore Herzl.

It declared: “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh (immigrant).” Furthermore, in a declaration to the Knesset, the then Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion asserted that the law did not bestow a right but rather reaffirmed a right Jews already held: “This law does not provide for the State to bestow the right to settle upon the Jew [A Jew is defined as a person with a Jewish mother.] living abroad; it affirms that this right is inherent in him from the very fact of being a Jew; the State does not grant the right of return to the Jews of the diaspora. This right precedes the State; this right builds the State; its source is to be found in the historic and never broken connection between the Jewish people and the homeland.” (My emphasis)

In 1970 the Knesset extended this right to people with one Jewish grandparent and a person who is married to a Jew, whether or not he or she is considered Jewish under Orthodox interpretations of Halakha (collective body of Jewish religious law).

The refusal of the right of return plays an essential role in the apartheid regime by ensuring that the Palestinian population in Mandate Palestine does not grow to a point that would threaten Israeli military control of the territory and/or provide the demographic leverage for Palestinian citizens of Israel to demand (and obtain) full democratic rights, thereby eliminating the Jewish character of the State of Israel….

In 1948, General Assembly resolution 194(III) resolved that “the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so” and that compensation should be provided to the rest. Israel has rejected the application of that resolution on security grounds and on the basis of the “demographic threat” of a Palestinian majority: in the unlikely event that the entire Palestinian population of refugees and involuntary exiles returned to Palestine en masse, the Palestinian population under Israeli rule would total some 12 million, electorally overwhelming the 6.5 million Jews in Israel. Even if that refugee population returned in numbers sufficient only to generate a Palestinian majority (as is far more likely), Israel would be forced into either adopting an explicitly apartheid policy in order to exclude them, and abandoning democracy altogether, or enfranchising them and abandoning the vision of Israel as a Jewish State….

Report by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, commissioned by the Economic ad Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA0), published in 2017, and then under pressure withdrawn.

Grief & Outrage

Dear Friends,

The news of the mass shooting during shabbat services at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this morning is simply terrifying. 

News is still coming in, but we know that at least 10 people have been killed, that the shooter was a white man who entered the sanctuary yelling “kill all the Jews,” and that he might have specifically been motivated by the synagogue’s work supporting refugees and immigrants. 

I want first to send love, strength and solidarity to our beloved Jewish communities facing fear and harm today.  

Please join JVPers [Jewish Voice for Peace participants] tomorrow, Sunday October 28th [2018] at 12 pm PST/3pm EST for a virtual grief ritual with Rabbi Margaret Holub of the JVP Rabbinical Council. We will hold space to grieve and mourn and rage together.  

Register now: Mourning and Healing in the Times of White Supremacy and Antisemitism with Rabbi Margaret Holub. 

I know everyone at JVP is committed to fight white supremacy and anti-Jewish hatred, and I definitely know that we need everyone – including you – there with us. We must rely on each other, especially in an era when national leaders foment this type of violence.

May the memories of those whose lives were lost this morning be for a blessing.

With love and rage,
Alissa

My concluding motivation is finally recognizing the grief and outrage I feel about expelled Palestinian refugees. I first felt this—minimally, largely subconsciously—when researching the topic, meeting and interviewing real people, photographing them, visiting their sites of expulsion, and now, during post production, reviewing their stories, looking into their eyes, posting their images publicly.

The slaughter of 11 Jews in the Tree of Life (ironic name) synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 exposed my grief. I wept nearly uncontrollably about the Pittsburgh news and almost every time the topic arose. Why, I asked myself, do I feel so strongly about this mass murder when there have been so many others in recent years and I’ve not responded so dramatically? Yes, I have close Jewish friends, Sy, Shola, Stan, Rebecca, Laura; they could be threatened. The day after that massacre I joined an online virtual grieving session organized by Jewish Voice for Peace. During a breakout group, as I prepared to offer a thumbnail of my feelings, the reason for my current grief suddenly cleared to me.

To my colleagues who lived in different parts of the world and were probably mostly Jewish I said that I felt so strongly about the 11 Jews murdered, and their family and friends who also suffered loss, because until this moment I’d not yet fully acknowledged my grief about the Palestinian refugees. The 11 deaths in the synagogue—and the news that the murderer picked that particular Jewish group because it supported immigrants, Jewish and non-Jewish—keyed my feelings about the deaths suffered by the Palestinians, not only their homes, and in some cases actual lives, as result of the expulsion, but the loss of their ancestral homelands, regions of the earth, sacred to them, owned for centuries, perhaps millennia, ripped from them, as the lives of the Jewish synagogue members and their families and friends were tragically redirected.

Irrational tho it may be, I finally understood more of why I engage in this project.

  • 11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts, by Campbell RobertsonChristopher Mele and Sabrina Tavernise (Oct 27, 2018)
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) (Supported by the Tree of Life Synagogue and referred to by the alleged shooter)
    HIAS works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of who they are, including ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. For more than 130 years, HIAS has been helping refugees rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.

Postscript: On one of my much earlier work trips I inadvertently drove past a sign announcing Canada Park in Israel. I’d heard about it, built with money donated by Canadians, on land previously owned by Palestinians. Now forested to erase the history, I drove in briefly. I didn’t realize then this was my first attempt on the project I began many years later, “On Our Way Home.”

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Lake near the Date Palm Spring, Ayalon Canada Park, photo by Yaakov Shkolnik

ADDITIONAL LINKS

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  • A Jew Reflects on the Nakba, by Noam Sheizaf (May 2011)
    Denying the Nakba—forgetting our role in it and ignoring its political implications—is denying our own identity.
  • American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup, by Jonathan Weisman, the deputy Washington editor of The New York Times (January 2019)
    Is the world ready for another Great Schism?

    Promised Land, by The Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience
    The Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience was founded to provide a Jewish perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Jewish perspective is rooted in Jewish values, to treat our neighbor as we would want to be treated.

    THE LAST OF MY MOTIVATION SERIES BUT I WILL CONTINUE MY MAIN SERIES ABOUT INTERNALLY EXPELLED PALESTINIANS.

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

PHOTOS

The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.

—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Linda Dittmar and her Memoir Project: Destroyed Arab Villages

Thanks to a dear friend, several years ago I met Linda Dittmar, an Israeli Jew who grew up during the Nakba and lives now in Cambridge. I’d heard that she was writing her memoir and it was in large part about the expulsion of the Palestinians and the destruction of their villages during and after the 1948 war. She partnered with a friend, Deborah Bright, a well-known photographer, who made images of the destroyed villages. Just the term “destroyed Arab villages” and the conjunction of Israeli Jew sparked my interest. Last summer we spoke and wrote and compared our projects. She’s provided me numerous leads and resources, such as the book, All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, by Walid Khalidi which I thoroughly devoured as my project evolved.

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Linda Dittmar

We now share our writing and my photography. I feel we are partners in our separate but deeply related undertakings She offers a Jewish Israeli perspective living thru the Nakba, the Palestinian expulsion, expressing her earliest and then more recent perspectives on what her country did to force Palestinians from their homelands. I am more distant, less directly involved. I bring understanding and expression of this same phenomenon. I feel we inspire each other, we are mutually supportive, we provide contrasting points of view.

Separately we’ve both visited the site of the notorious massacre of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem. We’ve yet to compare our experiences but will. I can imagine returning with her to the entire region and visiting the sites of expulsion, hearing her describe her experiences, as I share mine.

Her account is first person, as a young Israeli, including her period in the Israeli army, and mine is the third person observer, involved by being a United States’ citizen, complicit in the ongoing Nakba by my nation’s unwavering support of apartheid Israel. If she feels guilty, it is as an Israeli. I don’t feel guilty; I do accept responsibility because of my citizenship.

I’ve arranged for her to speak at my Quaker meeting on March 17, 2019, Sunday, 1 PM.

While this work continues to be extremely painful for me, it is an ethical and political necessity–an acknowledgement, apology, and reparation that we, Israelis, owe the Palestinians, along the lines of South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation” hearings and the Arab conciliation ceremony. “Sulkha.” Like others, I see acknowledgement as crucial to Israel’s survival, whatever form it take.

—Linda Dittmar

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Qula, near Lydd (Lod), 2010, photo by Deborah Bright/Zochrot

Since 2005, Deborah Bright, photographer and retired academic, and Linda Dittmar, writer and film scholar, have collaborated on a project titled “Destruction Layer,” documenting sites in Israel where Palestinian Arab villages and urban neighborhoods existed prior to 1948. The project brings together Bright’s long-standing interest as a photographer in how landscapes are continually rewritten to tell particular stories of heritage and nationhood, and Dittmar’s perspective as a third-generation Israeli who writes about issues of memory and identity in contemporary Israeli and Palestinian personal documentary films. (From a notice of a talk they gave in 2009)

Points of Departure — Part 2, by Linda Dittmar (November 5, 2017)
A Jewish Israeli Encounters the Nakba (in Jewish Currents)

Deborah Bright’s photos, “Nakba”

Detroit—Coming Home: Johnny, my Detroit Neighbor

 

Since 2010 I’ve photographed regularly in Detroit, Michigan, unsure until recently why I’ve been so drawn to this city. Initial reasons I thought of are the flat land and distinctive Midwestern accent (familiar from growing up in Chicago), a city in change (improving conditions in the largely white central core, persisting suffering in the remaining mostly black 80% of the city), a sense of entrapment (Detroiters restricted by poverty from moving out or significantly improving their conditions), neighboring Dearborn (where I visit and photographer regularly, the region[Metro Detroit] with the largest Arab-American population in the United States, sending the first Palestinian American to Congress in 2018; Palestinians were among the first Arabs to settle in Dearborn, drawn by the young automobile industry) and the water crisis (shutoffs in Detroit and poisoned water in nearby Flint—water has been a major theme for my photography). What might link Detroit and Palestine? I’ve asked myself. Is there any connection? Palestinians are highly restricted, in the West Bank by the Occupation, and in Gaza by the siege, unable to leave or re-enter. And by water injustice in Detroit and Palestine; Israel completely controls Palestinians’ water.

However another connection occurred to me one year ago while I interviewed my African-American neighbor and good friend in Detroit , Johnny Price, about his—or our—neighborhood: I have finally come home. Come home to the Southside of Chicago, Detroit as Chicago. Finally, after my earlier years of self-exile, and then the curiosity of what actually living again on the Southside might feel like, here I am home again, if only periodically. In Detroit, as if in Chicago.

Thru this process, this powerful experience of the heart, I gain some awareness of what return to homeland could mean for the expelled Palestinians and their families. How they had been ripped from their villages, lost most of their possessions and all of their land, ended up as refugees, often unable to return home, usually without even photos of their families, longing, dreaming, maybe even hoping for justice. Oh to return, not only to visit but to remain. As I, in my imagination, returned to live in Chicago by regularly visiting Detroit.

Detroit rallies largest turnout for Palestine in years, by Jimmy Johnson (July 2014)

Palestinian-American candidate (now Congresswoman) Rashida Tlaib is source of West Bank pride, by Mohammed Daraghmeh (August 2018)

Curiosity: Human Beings and their Ancestral Homelands

Simple curiosity, not sufficient for this project, but necessary, a fundamental driver.

Who are these people, these refugees, those expelled? Where do they live, what are their conditions, how is their health, how is it affected by their expulsion, what do they remember, how do they feel about their losses, are they embarrassed by their classification as refugees, is their suffering visible, would they like to return and if so would they like to travel with me, how do the generations preserve and propagate their stories, how did they physically move themselves and the few belongings they carried when expelled, what do they think of the Israeli’s, what form would justice take for them?—a plethora of topics to inquire respectfully about.

In addition, those homes they lost, their ancestral homelands. Where are they, how do I reach them, can I access them, how do they appear now, can I photograph them, what remains of the buildings, what would those I interview like me to bring back from their homelands or deposit there from where they live now, are the people memorialized or publicly remembered in any way by the Israeli’s, what would Israeli’s I meet say if anything when I visit these sites and tell them why I’m photographing, would they prevent me from photographing if they knew?—another set of curiosities.

And a third, my capability to carry this off. Can I effectively show people while talking with them, photographer, interviewer, and audio engineer simultaneously? Will I intrude across cultural barriers if I photograph their home interiors? This black and white-color schema that I’ve adopted, how effective is it? Who can offer useful feedback about it and about the photographs generally? And the home sites, many of them rubble, touching but photographable? Can I show rubble powerfully? Or parks or new Israeli communities built on or near the original sites? Should I use video at any point? How can I be sure what I claim to be homeland is actually homeland? Israel has Hebraized almost all names, Al-Qabu becomes Mevo Beitar. Many of the maps are only in Hebrew. How well will my Google Maps direct me to these sites? Will I run out of money? Can I ask funders to dig deeper?

This curiosity in all its manifestations motivated me to begin, now motivates me to continue my project. I read a great deal prior to my first visit in the fall of 2018, assuming the project would require a series of visits. Linda had suggested and I avidly read Erased from Space and Consciousness, by Noga Kadman; Return, a Palestinian Memoir, by Ghada Karmi; Palestine Reborn, by Walid Khalidi; and Palestine Walks, by Raja Shehadeh. I researched while living in Palestine-Israel. I recorded with an audio recorder the interviews, hoping to flesh out my photography later. I carried a laptop with me to the homelands so I could make use of research I’d collected and raise new questions that occurred to me on the road. Home now, preparing for a return next spring, new questions arise, so I do more research. Curiosity spawns curiosity. It never ends.

LINKS

Between anger and denial: Israeli collective memory and the Nakba (2012)
A new documentary aims to decipher some of the anxiety that accompanies the Israeli debate over the events of 1948.

ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD – Short Version from Naretiv Productions on Vimeo.

Part 3 of motivations coming soon.

 

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

PHOTOS

I am the one who says to himself: From the smallest things are born the largest thoughts.

—Mahmoud Darwish

I’ll attempt to list my motivations in order, not of priority, but chronologically as I changed over my 78 years, led (as Quaker say) or dragged (which may be more accurate) to my current photographic project, “On Our Way Home,” about internally displaced (expelled would be more accurate) Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and eventually Gaza.

Self exile from Chicago’s Southside

First, my own personal homeland, the Southside of Chicago.

As a prelude to this section I’ll describe much revelry one night from my backyard at the end of last summer. A barbecue, possibly by the Somalian family, talking, laughing, the odors of meats wafting thru my small apartment in Cambridge Massachusetts, gave me great pleasure, even if I didn’t personally attend. That they can live here, enjoy a relatively safe and free life, my neighbors. It provokes me to wonder: how many of my Southside Chicago neighbors were recent immigrants when I grew up there in the 1940s and 1950s? Zolly, or Zoltan, for instance, last name Rinkach, possibly East European, possibly fleeing the holocaust? Then the boy from Hungary escaping the Soviets in the early 1950s. Becky Caravassas’ family, from an impoverished Greece? Oh, to return, not only to return to my original neighborhood, my homeland, but to return as it was then and interview people to learn their stories of migration.

An explanation about growing up on the Southside: from 1942 to 1955 I lived with my family in an all-White neighborhood near Avalon Park. African-Americans began moving into neighborhoods near ours. My parents worried about violence, feared decaying public education opportunities, and expected falling real estate values; so we moved to an all-White suburb, Arlington Heights, northwest of Chicago. This was curiously the same summer—1955—Rosa Parks helped spark the bus boycott in Montgomery Alabama, oppressed South Africans drafted their Freedom Charter in Soweto which charted their drive to end apartheid, and White extremists murdered Emmett Till (who also lived on the Southside) in Money, Alabama. This was the year our family became, ignobly, the first White family to flee our neighborhood, a decision that excluded me, a life-changing decision that to this moment I regret. Truly 1955 was a momentous year.

For several years I returned to my old neighborhood to visit friends I’d grown up with since kindergarten, Tom, Mitch, Ise, Green, Tim, Kruli, Becky, Pat, Sandy, Lynn, and Jack Kosina. None of their families had left. About 8 years later, probably in the early 1960s, on my way from Arlington Heights to the Southside, I needed to transfer commuter rail trains downtown in the Loop. Asking a policeman where to catch the Southside train he said, Southside? I wouldn’t advice it, too dangerous, lots of Black people. That began my expulsion from my homeland—of my own making, from fear. I exiled myself. By my own decision, I could not return to my homeland.

AH to Southside

Arlington Heights to Chicago’s Southside via public transport

In 1982, about twenty years later, thanks to my courageous and sensitive 13 year old daughter, Katy, she said when we were visiting my family in Arlington Heights, dad, I believe you’d like to visit your old neighborhood in Chicago; let’s borrow grandma’s car and drive down together. Which ended my self-imposed exile of some 2 decades. This experience sensitized me to the plight of refugees and immigrants—it began my slowly evolving process.

Enveloping global refugee and immigrant crisis

the-italian-coastguardmassimo-sestini-hundreds-of-refugees-and-migrants-aboard-a-fishing-boat-moments-before-being-rescued-by-the-italian-navy-as-part-of-their-mare-nostrum-operation-in

Hundreds of refugees and migrants aboard a fishing boat moments before being rescued by the Italian Navy as part of their Mare Nostrum operation in June 2014. Photo by The Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini

Over the last 25 years wars have raged in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, often USA inspired; Syria exploded; the climate crisis manifests dramatically with droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other environmental disasters; economic conditions in the southern hemisphere deteriorated, often again because of USA policies; and people fled, creating a momentous army of migrants, forced by conditions to abandon homes, livelihoods, families, and ancestral regions, overwhelming countries like Norway and Sweden which had historically welcomed refugees and immigrants. Nearly all countries have invoked harsher measures to block newcomers seeking refuge.

I viewed the black and white images of the brilliant Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his Human Migration Project, moved deeply by the suffering of these human beings forced to flee desperate conditions. Several years ago the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), as part of their fundraising campaign, mailed me a photograph made in 2014 by the Italian photographer, Massimo Sestini. From above it shows a boatload of some 200 people, different colors, different stories, all smiling and waving, hoping, praying. I hang this photograph over my kitchen door to remind me and guests of this phenomenon, this crucial and expanding need.

In late spring 2017, Ana, threatened with deportation, fled her home near Boston, fearing for her life if our country deported her back to her homeland, Ecuador. She is now in sanctuary in a Cambridge church where I volunteer for protective duty, part of a coalition of Christian and Jewish communities in Cambridge. I face her regularly; I am a tiny part of her survival. She is a refugee, like those sung about by Woody Guthrie in his majestic song, “Deportee.” She embodies the issue.

The Great March of Return in Gaza

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Now [December 12, 2018] the death toll is nearly 200 and still climbing.

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In late march 2018, hundreds of mostly young Palestinians in Gaza began a weekly series of nonviolent marches to the fence between Gaza and Israel. They named it the Great March of Return, calling for return to their homelands, many within a few miles of Gaza. Refugees in Gaza make up some 80% of the two million population. From the beginning of the march Israeli army snipers wounded and killed Palestinians.

[As of December 12, 2018] according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, 194 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since March 30.

Of them, 141 were killed during demonstrations, including 28 children, one woman, two journalists, three paramedics and three differently abled people.

Another 9,970 were injured, including 1,815 children, 419 women, 114 paramedics, and 105 journalists. Of those injured, 5,645 were hit by live fire, including 919 children and 113 women.

One Israeli soldier has died after being shot on July 20, 2018, during the protests.

Later some Palestinians used violent tactics such as flying incendiary kites and balloons into Israel. As of this writing these homemade weapons have destroyed some 1,200 hectares (nearly 3,000 acres) of Israeli farms and forests, more than half of the forested land in the region. Perhaps Hamas, classified by some as a terrorist organization while in fact they are the legally and openly elected government, contributed to this series of protests by providing tents and transport, maybe also inspiration to use violent tactics. Regardless of how precisely the protests were directed, many Palestinians continue to suffer under massive oppression, sanctified by my government.

I was distraught. I’ve been in Gaza 6 times since 2004, photographing programs of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), photographing conditions there generally, and publishing a book called Eyewitness Gaza. I have many friends with whom I continually communicate like Amahl, Ibrahem, Ban, Montaser, and Mustafa, and I’ve broadened my view by regularly meeting Israelis living within rocket range of Gaza, Nomika, Yeela, and Eric. These Israelis suffer attacks from the homemade rockets and mortars crudely aimed but often hitting civilian areas. I’ve made a movie called Gaza’s Israeli Neighbors: Other Voice which features a small group of courageous Israelis who call for their country to negotiate rather than bomb and invade. I try to show some of the consequences of the ongoing, seemingly unquenchable anger and violence, such as the high rate of PTSD suffered by neighboring Israelis —they call this the “Invisible Illness. Estimates claim between one-third and two-thirds of children in the city of Sderot suffer PTSD. In Gaza I am convinced the proportion is much higher.

Are any of the protesters in Gaza my former students, friends, colleagues, or families of those people? What about the young family of Ban and Islam? Thru my teaching I helped the parents meet each other. Or Ibrahem and his new family, Ibrahem once bemoaning to me the pain of still being single while in his 30s. Or Marwan crafting the publicity for the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, who is reliably in touch with me? In the fall of 2018 he offered to help host me on my recent attempt to enter Gaza for my refugee project.

This is personal. Regardless of the exact methodology and leadership of the Great March of Return I realized in March I could leap over that fence—as a photographer, a proxy Palestinian—with my international, White, American privilege to return to those homelands many in Gaza were ejected from since 1948. After interviewing and photographing refugees in Gaza I could then photograph their homelands, later return to Gaza with an exhibit, and eventually broadcast my findings to a wider audience. I would use the photosphere to help argue for their right of return, as verified by numerous UN resolutions.

Next: part three of my interim report, further discussion of my motivations

First part of this interim report

LINKS

A movie by Skip Schiel about courageous Israelis advocating for talks, not tanks, diplomacy, not war.

Living within one mile of Gaza, these Israelis suffer the brunt of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, most recently infiltration as well. Yet some have formed an organization called Other Voice that calls for an intelligent and humane response to the violence and injustice in their neighborhood, in league with similarly minded Gazans.

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)

REPORT

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-color-bw

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.

 

DISCUSSION OF BLACK AND WHITE VS COLOR

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:

NEXT STEPS

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.

NEXT BLOG

What motivates me to do all this?

LINKS

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

PHOTOS

October 4, 2018, Thursday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

With Mousa’s help (my arranger and translator), yesterday [October 3, 2018] I photographed Fatima Al Khawaja from the destroyed village of Ajjur. For the first time in this series 4 generations showed up: Fatima who is about 102, her son, his son, and the grandson’s 2 sons and 1 daughter. She stressed the rural quality of village life, how close to the earth they’d lived. Spontaneously Fatima and the great grand kids posed for a final photo. The son and grandson did not allow me to photograph them, but the grandson, contravening another order from someone else, allowed me to photograph the bedroom of the son.

As Mousa and I left, the son spontaneously said I’d love to go with you to the village. Previously he and his son had shown me on their phones photos they’d found on the Internet. I responded, yes, when? Which seemed to startle him and caused a conversation in Arabic between him and Mousa. Well, I’m not sure, I’ll think about it, I’ll be in touch with Mousa. I’d never anticipated this prospect, one of the families I’d photographed going with me to the ancestral site.

 

This site, Ajjur (renamed by Israel Agur), north of Hebron, is accessible with a permit by former residents, and the oldest 3 generations have all visited. They tell me that Israeli Jews live there now, mostly in new buildings, the old ones torn down, but a few remain like the school and the mayor’s home. Repurposed I surmise. Fatima had fled first to Halhul, where Yousef Albaba (who I’d photographed earlier) is from and now lives, but she didn’t know him. The youngers said they’d heard all these stories before, from when they were very young.

Ajjur:Agur-BethlehemWalk

Ajjur Bethlehem trek

Ajjur to Bethlehem, a climb of 840 meters or more than 500 feet

For a 102-year-old woman she seemed reasonably coherent. This all in translation of course. Mousa told me during the interview she often repeated stories but her memory seemed sharp. I believe she said she thinks about Ajjur every day, which is a common thread among my interviews. I meant to ask her about her health, and how she thinks her experience of expulsion influenced her health, a question I’ve asked of others or without me asking they spoke to. She would like me to bring to her some cactus from Ajjur.

Outside, after dark, I photographed the building with its eerie red glow induced by the street lighting.

The long trek, the long and winding road. This refers also to the trek those expelled from their homelands made to their eventual refuges, their new homes, often in refugee camps such as Aida where Fatima now lives. In many cases, walking, bringing only what they could carry. I plan to later extend the interviews to learn how they moved.

(By the way, the son who’d offered to return to Ajjur with me never followed up.)

LINKS

1948 Palestinian Exodus (expulsion)

Palestinian refugees and the right of return (American Friends Service Committee)

Ajjur 

Aida refugee camp

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

September 14, 2018, Friday, Bethlehem

Yesterday afternoon [September 13, 2018] I photographed and interviewed Mousa’s grandmother, Rowaida Al Azzeh (Um Waleed). Unfortunately at 83 her memory is failing (death and debilitation make this project particularly urgent). Mousa [my arranger and translator] told me later that he’d not realized how much memory had disappeared since her last interview. He told me also that living in the camp shortens one’s age. The slow death.

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9387.jpg

His grandmother came from a village about 25 km southwest of Aida refugee camp where she now lives, Beit Jibreen (renamed by the Israelis and built over: Beit Givrin). She’s visited several times after expulsion, most recently in 1991, because then Israeli invoked fewer restrictions on return. She lives in a relatively large house built after the family leveled their first UN-provided tiny concrete block house to build a new larger, more modern home. Twelve years old when the Israeli military expelled the family, they went first to Jericho, then Jordan after being confronted and nearly blocked by Jordanian soldiers. They settled in a UN refugee camp still existing in Jordan, Al Wihdat. Despite many Palestinians fleeing/immigrating to Jordan, her family wished to remain in the shriveled portion of historic Palestine left after partition in 1947 by the UN and Israel’s military conquest in 1948. They wished to stay among friends and family so they returned to Palestine.

Despite anticipating sadness, she wants to see photos of her village—what remains. (Which I hope to provide in part two of this project, photographing what remains, mostly in 1948 Israel.

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9392.jpg

She used her hands effectively, communicating what words might fail to transmit, especially in translation. With my camera I concentrated on them.

During this interview, Mousa’s aunt, the grandmother’s daughter, Nisreen, maybe in her 40s, dark, thin, conducted and translated most of the interview. To support her ailing mother she lives in the same building on the first floor. Other family share the home on upper levels. (I reside in the Aida camp in an apartment across the street from the family home provided by Rowaida’s son, Ayed, who has been extraordinarily helpful in clarifying details and assuring that I honor cultural norms.)

Nisreen is a supervisor with the health services for the Palestinian Authority’s school system in Bethlehem. When photographing the house—which to most people seems a strange request (one of my visions for this series was to follow and photograph people as they lived, in the manner of Gene Smith and his seminal photo series, “The Country Doctor,” and I still might if I find the right person; could be Eyad himself, or Abed, the founder-director of the Al Rowwad Art and Cultural Center in the Aida Camp)—I included, with her permission, her room. (Later I deleted the photos at her request because of privacy considerations). After I thought I’d finished photographing 3 rooms, Nisreen suggested I include a large photograph of Mousa’s great grandfather, Rowaida’s father, Adel Majed Al Azza (Abu Awni), looking very regal. I did that as well.

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9415.jpg

Mousa (Mohammed) Al Azzeh (L), Nisreen Al Azeeh (C)

Compared to what some might expect in a refugee camp, her house is grand. Baronial even. I could live in such a house.

I have persisting problems with the audio recorder, perhaps now rivaling Studs Terkel, the famed interviewer, writer, and radio host, in klutziness (not in interviewing skill). Partially because of translation, also in some cases my age, and definitely without much corollary experience, I’m having a tough time simultaneously interviewing and photographing. I need to think about the recorder, the camera, the photography, the person, his or her story, the context, what I’ve already asked, etc. Making this an unpleasant experience. I’d much prefer working with a partner who interviews while I photograph. Despite that problem, the first set of the first woman which I’ve sent to others for comments seem a little better than decent.

LINKS (new ones)

TO BE CONTINUED

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

September 12, 2018, Wednesday, Bethlehem

PHOTOS

Maybe for this writing, only notes, because I meet the team in 1 hour for breakfast and then hurry off to our first AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) training. Luckily my equipment is ready: I’d prepped it for Mousa [arranger and translator] and then didn’t use it because he was late and I’d left. And yesterday I used the audio recorder in the field for the first time with our meeting with Ali Abu Awwad and his organization Taghyeer south of Bethlehem.

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1677.jpg

Ahmad Ali Dawoud

  • Man, 90 yrs old, 22 when fled
  • From village of Ellar/’Illar/Allar southwest of Jerusalem
  • Lives in one room, shares kitchen, family in same building, wife dead
  • No photos of family because they won’t care for him (did I hear that correctly?)
  • Went back multiple times for food, equipment, etc, at night avoided streets, never caught
  • Once shot at, hit in the shoe, uninjured (shows foot)
  • Active politically, demos etc
  • Theme of key
  • Had money, could rent, but first space was offered free
  • Both he and wife came to Bethlehem first because of proximity to village
  • Vibrant way of speaking, which I tell him I notice
  • Often interviewed because of his age
  • Compliment him on his memory
  • Thinks about village every day
  • It is now Israeli and built up
  • Wishes to return with me, possible because he’s old and won’t be stopped (another virtue of age)
  • Mousa would not be able to go (too young and without a permit)
  • Village near Bethlehem?

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1621.jpg

Key to his ancestral home

  • Feel project has finally, fitfully begun, actual people and stories
  • Whether to video or photograph?
  • How use narration, get it translated?
  • Not particularly pleased with my first photos
  • Return to photograph full front, into camera, as a starter and finisher

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1672.jpg

His village

  • Odd juxtaposition of my project and Taghyeer (Ali Abu Awwad’s resistance organization using nonviolence)
  • Mousa and I work reasonably well together, given the language and cultural differences
  • Finally know my way between Aida refugee camp where I photograph and Casa Nova guest house on Manger Sq where I reside with the AVP team—what a contrast!

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED