Posts Tagged ‘aida’

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.


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 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.)


1948 Palestinian Exodus (expulsion)

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


Aida refugee camp


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Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles


July 4, 2009, Thursday, Al Rowwad, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem:

This dream: P and I were standing along a riverfront, maybe the Charles River at the South Natick dam. It was late winter, early spring, river ice was receding. She wore hiking boots. We stood about 3 m up from the water, boys were nearby playing. We might have discussed the ice, how thin it looked. The thinness did not seem to daunt her. She quickly and without conversation went down to the ice and slowly walked out onto it, toward the thinnest part. She seemed to be courting her own death. I quickly brought out my camera, made series as I thought for sure the ice would crash beneath her and she’d fall in. But she didn’t; with a self satisfied smirk, she strolled back to the shore.

I’ve commented on the curious absence of people in my dreams, who’s present, who’s absent. This morning I notice the curious absence of themes: no Israel-Palestine that is immediately evident, no water, no airplane travel, nothing or little that can be unarguably linked with what I’m doing. No grander themes, no insights, no revelations of character—a desert as far as dreaming goes. Let’s hope this changes. I rely on my dreams.

The main event of yesterday—other than meeting Z, a young woman from Scotland, now living in the guesthouse with Akram and me—was walking to Solomon’s Pools. Told by someone I met as I left the camp they were about 8 km south of Aida camp in Bethlehem  and I could take a taxi, I brazenly said, I’ll walk. Turned out to be a very long walk, either much longer than 8 km or my age is catching up with me. Allowing for the hour or so I stopped for lunch (at the Italian restaurant our Cambridge Bethlehem delegation had patronized in 2007) it must have taken some 2 hours. I’d forgotten my sunscreen, mistakenly wore my black Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Dream Now t-shirt in the hot sun, and generally was not functioning yesterday with all my senses. Perhaps my muses were fatigued, took the day off (anticipating July 4th).


But I made it. I was glad I made it, not so much for the self-satisfaction of completing an arduous walk but because the site is grand. Yes, pools, plural: pools. Three of them, descending in elevation, huge, maybe 1/3 km wide, 10-20 meters deep, each hewn from the limestone and faced with something resembling concrete. Apparently the 2 upper pools were constructed during Roman times 2000 years ago and the lowest during the Ottoman period, about 300 years ago. The ruins of pumping stations date back to the British Mandate period, early 20th century. Why Solomon? No one knows, maybe from  the following reference: I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. (Ecclesiastes 2.6)


Their original form may be unknown. Did a type of facing material exist then, like concrete?


Pumping station from the British Mandate period, early 20th century


Looking north toward Bethlehem and Jerusalem, direction of the outflow

Many more questions: How were they dug? How did all this function hydrologically? Why so far from Jerusalem? What was the water source? The pools are now empty, altho a photo I’ve seen shows water as late as 1900—Z told me she met someone who remembers a time when water filled the pools, but the authorities drained the pools because of the many drowning. How did the pools connect? How did the water reach Jerusalem? ( By gravity I suppose) What channel did the water flow in, a conduit specially constructed for this purpose or a natural ravine ? (No sign of either at the lowest pool, or the lowest one I scouted) Is this now something of a park area, a recreation area, used for picnics, parties, etc? (I spotted a few parked cars suggesting this, and trails into higher ground which I did not explore) And what would I have discovered if I’d continued walking downhill along the road? (By now I was tired and had to at least walk up the hill to the main road.).

Solomon's Pools, 1900

The Pools in 1900

I made an extensive set of photos, probably joining 1000s of others, mostly tourists, maybe some like me fascinated by hydrology. Using the wide angle lens for the walk in and the 50 mm for the walk out, they might seam well together. The light was harsh, as it usually is at this time of year, bright shadowy Mediterranean light, the light of summer. Altho I carried my infrared filter I found nothing to use it on. Had I thought more about this maybe it would have enhanced the set of photos I made of an adjoining modern structure, one so pathetic to observe and investigate as to nearly bring tears to my eyes.



This structure, about 5 levels high, very wide, with alcoves, walkways, places for plants, is called a Palace. It is loosely attached to a building once used as a khan or way station for travelers, the Castle, erected about 400 years ago during the reign of the Ottomans. It reminded me of Jersash, the ancient Roman city of Jerash originally part of the Decapolis League, the 10 main Roman cities in this region. I visited it in 2003. Jerash had been a complex of shops, temples, amphitheaters, and as far as I know thrived as a metropolitan center. It now is mostly abandoned, a standing memory of another era, another people. Unlike Jerash, the Palace at Solomon’s pools is memory reversed: nothing ever happened here once the Palace was built, as far as I know. Its intended purposes were never fulfilled. It might have evolved during the Oslo period, when hopes were high, money was plentiful, the Matrix of Control had eased somewhat, dreams soared. And then the 2nd Intifada and the failure of the Palace. Shops decayed, never used. The amphitheater might have seen a few shows, and then none. Weeds grow thru cracks, limestone facing falls off walls, electrical fixtures dangle from ceilings, doors are locked, barricades erected. This is very sad—a testament to he occupation.


I wonder how many tourists and other visitors to the pools photograph the Palace, and if they do, how do they do it, with what motivation, what intention? Mine is to create the semblance of a fantasy, a failed fantasy, which demonstrates clearly the cost of the troubles in this pained land.


Reaching this place makes scant story, just long, hot, mostly uphill, nothing much to photograph. The lunch delicious (chicken over veggies, sitting out on the patio alone as Friday prayers finish and men stream out of the nearby mosque). Transitioning from commercial-residential to mostly industrial and less built up. Past Dheisheh refugee camp, but I felt I’ve seen it enough times so I didn’t stop in.

I noticed in the many produce stands not one banana. Raising the obvious question: what happened to all the bananas? When I arrived 2 weeks ago, there was plenty of bananas, I ate one a day. I need them for the potassium to inhibit my night leg cramps.


Returning to the camp was more a story, not much but a story. I was determined not to walk, a yellow service taxi pulled up, I said Aida? Going to Aida? They 2 young men consulted each other, speaking Arabic of course, I understood nothing, heard an occasional shekel, thought they might be considering driving me—it was Friday, not many people were looking for service taxis, business was slow—and if so how much to charge me. They finally looked at me and I thought said, arba, 4. I held up 4 fingers to confirm this (and 4 seemed reasonable since the man who’d directed me here said he thought I could find a taxi for 2, he might have meant a service and these guys were now operating as a special taxi, price goes up, but still, 10 shekels I thought was the upper limit for anywhere in Bethlehem, oh the joys of being a foreigner).

So I got in, they indicated I should wear my seat belt (Ramzi had told me that the Palestinian Authority now required seat belts), no problem from me here, we drove less than 1/2 km when we stopped and the men chatted with an older guy in a taxi. You can get out and ride in my taxi, the older fellow commanded, I’m driving to Aida, I live there. Just pay this driver who is my son.

So I found a 5 shekel coin, handed it over, the driver looked puzzled. More conversation. Oh, not 4, arba, but 40, he exclaimed.

What?! I thought we agreed to 4. I held up my fingers to confirm. I realized holding up 4 digits might signal either 4 or 40 or 400 or 4000, makes no difference.

More conversation.

Ok, arba. So the driver returned 1 shekel and I felt miserly.

Do I pay again at the end of your ride? I asked the elder. No. you’ve paid.

So he drove me directly to the camp, refused my tip of 5 or 10 shekels I forgot what I drew out, I was trying to redeem myself. He told me his son was one of the debke dancers about to leave for the US on tour. He knew many of the staff, seemed very grateful for the program, explained to me that he’d spoken to the parents of kids going on tour, alerting them to the realities of life in America. I told him about my work with the Center, and I believe now he refused payment because of our mutual connection with Al Rowwad.

I’ll save writing about Z for another time (if ever, same old story).

Today: last day at Aida, for now, depending. I might return if Gaza does not work out. Call Amal to see about the permit, call Yusef to learn how to reach Jenin, maybe put up one more subsite, one more blog from aida, help Chris with the photography teaching, and gird myself for another ride thru the Valley of Fire, to Ramallah.

Including the old photo and link to history

Map of the region

Wikipedia’s view

Other links:


Two (with drawings)

What happened to the convention hall-crafts shops’ project?


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Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles


July 2, 2009, Thursday, Al Rowwad, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem:

Mainly, in the grander scheme of things—how the occupation works with a personal slant from my heavily biased reporting—yesterday was the story of Ramzi, the tour guide and olive woodcrafter whom I’d met in late 2004 during the Steps of the Magi pilgrimage across the Judean Wilderness Desert. On none of my last trips before this one did I seek him out, even when in Bethlehem with the delegation in 2007, primarily because of my laziness. This time, sauntering thru town few days ago, I stopped at a large souvenir store, inquired about the guide who works in olive wood and whose grandfather invented the process. Oh yes, that’s Ramzi and here’s his number.

When I phoned, reaching his wife who speaks fairly clear English, she didn’t remember me, nor did Ramzi precisely when we spoke by phone. However when he pulled up last evening around 7:30 at the “Key to the Camp,” our assignation point, he enthusiastically told me, Now I remember you, everything about you, meeting you near Jericho, downloading your photos onto my computer, you staying with my brother and family in the family house.

A highlight of last evening, besides the scrumptious chicken veggie dinner over rice—and the large bottle of Holland-produced beer (a true gift to the spirit since I’ve refrained from beer while living in the camp, self denial as painful as other vices I’m giving up while residing in the camp)—was meeting Iliana. She is 9 years old and her personality soars, and with that her character. Her pronunciation was difficult to understand, despite being first in her class in English. She often exclaimed Wow (but never Cool) and I love such and such. She’s been to France, Germany, speaks German and I think she said French as well (Ramzi studied French, is fluent, and mostly guides French groups).


Iliana (not a common Arabic name, the family is Christian) wants to own 2 businesses when she grows up and be rich; altho her uncle, Ramzi’s brother, sitting with us for a short while (the entire extended family lives in this 4 story complex, with the oldest on the first floor) pointed out mostly to me that being rich is not the only worthy goal in life, not even a worthy one. Whether Iliana will grow out of this stage is to be seen. From what Ramzi and others have told me no one in the family is rich, altho most are entrepreneurs.

On the way from collecting me we’d driven toward Har Homa, a massive Israeli colony, to pick up Ramzi’s wife and daughter who were at a relatives for some celebration. They live in new housing, very elegant housing, on the hill just down from the settlement. Not dangerous here, Ramzi told me. I asked him about the housing complex erected by the Greek Orthodox Church, the man we’d visited in 2004, his house under demolition orders. The same, Ramzi confided, no change, still threatened, they never know.

Now about Ramzi: he told me tourism is down, seriously down, a result of the recent violence in Gaza and the global economic catastrophe, or The New Nakba. And this affects Israel also. Confirming what I’ve heard elsewhere, few people visiting Bethlehem stay overnight. He avoids political discussions while touring because this might endanger his permit to guide in Israel. Whereas his brother, also a guide, specializes in the political, guiding mainly American and Irish groups, and he does not have permission to guide in Israel. So this is one of the throttle points Israel has to cut risks from an otherwise insurrectionary vocation: tour guiding.


Water—my main reason for coming at this time of year—is definitely a problem for Ramzi and family and I arrived at a perfect moment to try to show how this problem manifests. The family had exhausted its water supply and none would arrive until Saturday which is too long to wait. So they ordered a tanker full and it arrived with me. By now darkness had fallen, so the lighting, mainly from a portable fluorescent lamp, made a set of dramatic images. Tanker on street level, high above the house, can’t be seen in the photos, long thick pulsating wide hose, ending in one of 3 metal tanks on the ground. Water gushing forth. 3 tanks so the worker and Ramzi had to move the hose periodically which threatened me with showering and provided more grist for the photo mill.

The brother explained later that all the water used in Bethlehem and probably thru the territories collects in aquifers under the West Bank but is stolen by Israel and resold to Palestinians—usually at rates exceeding those charged t Israelis. The charge for I believe he said 50 cubic meters was $80. What this is in terms of number of tanks I’m not sure but can find out.



All the while the family was apologizing for delaying the dinner. No problem, no problem at all, I’d like to photograph all this.

One brother had tried to set up an olive wood export business in Europe, from what Ramzi said, and tended to live high, hotels, restaurant, and he barely broke even. Thus a failure. Ramzi’s mother, by contrast, apparently did fairly well on her trip to the USA around the time I first met Ramzi. Now however, with the current tourist and economic slumps, business is way down.

Ramzi, I inquired as we slurped down our delicious dinner, the elderly gent in his perpetual pajama top (that’s how I remember Ramzi’s father from my first visit) at one end of the table, Ramzi’s slender wife diagonally across from me next to Ramzi, their very active boy child grabbing and nabbing food willy nilly next to Ramzi (the boy is recovering from very painful chick pox, as is his sister), grandma playing solitaire on the computer, having cooked and eaten, What do you do when touring near the wall? How do you avoid politics?


I say this is the wall of separation. And if they ask how the wall is affecting life for Palestinians? It is making it very difficult, and I give examples. And if they ask how Israel justifies the wall? I tell them Israel says it is for security, and indeed suicide attacks are down. And about Palestinians attitudes now about suicide attacks? No one supports this failed policy anymore.

Well, then Ramzi my friend, is the intifada finished? No, it continues in many communities, in many forms.

And conditions now, under occupation, better or worse than one year ago? Better. Fewer checkpoints, more freedom, I guess the Israelis do not fear us as much.

I felt this as well, traveling between Ramallah and Bethlehem. Not one checkpoint. However, conditions in Gaza are worse then ever, perhaps at the nadir of its history. And much of the Matrix of Control, the term Jeff Halper gives to the mechanism of occupation, has tightened and become less visible.


Watching a video of a ceremony for Ramzi’s daughter

Next Tuesday Ramzi leaves for nearly one month of guiding, 3 groups, some of them French. I should have asked how lucrative the job is, thinking it might be very, especially if in business for oneself.

Iliana, living on the top floor, where I believe I stayed when here (I remember it as fairly barren, maybe they’d just moved in, and with one lonely Christmas tree in the main room, lights twinkling thru the night), wandered in and out, finally joining us for the ride back to Aida camp (along with the mother and her 2 children, a curious group to accompany me home). I asked Iliana if she’d like to see photos of my family, she nodded an excited yes, and after studying them responded with, These are beautiful, thank you for showing them to me. Very polite. I’d also brought gift photos, the girl in a Gaza hospital, and gave one to Iliana, inscribing it from me to her. I thought this a particularly apt gift, girl to girl, about the same age, both Palestinians, both suffering.

Before heading back, we talked about the camp. Iliana has never been to one, doesn’t know anyone from them, and Ramzi, when I suggested we could stroll thru the camp before saying good night, suggested this would not be appropriate at her age. In school soon she will earn about camps, refugees, history of the Nakba, and the school will tour them. I wonder about this, should corroborate it with Samira. As we drove past the never used Pope’s platform against the wall, we noticed a throng of teens. Ramzi discovered it was some sort of festival. I decided not to join, the hour late, having to arise fairly early this morning for the walk to Robin’s office.


In retrospect, the evening was extraordinarily rich, more than the food, the beer, the night out, the opportunity to connect deeply with a Palestinian family was vital. We hit it off, you might say, and they extended to me what I understood to be a life long invitation to return. Ramzi insisted I call him in August so we can arrange another meeting.

Ramzi and family were not the entire day. I also made a short walk in the early afternoon heat (probably nearing 90 F, but dry) to the Key, thru the cemetery, charting out my walk of today to Robin’s office. I hadn’t realized how near Rachel’s tomb is to the camp, borders it. I saw the globular roof, high walls, and towers, double and triple security fences. Was the Muslim cemetery originally sited to be near the tomb? And now it is cut off from it. I also wondered if any of the watch towers were staffed, whether anyone was peering at me, wondering who I was, what I was up to, whether I constituted a threat, maybe should be shot. A scary prospect, and a laughable irony if they did shoot me: American photographer killed while walking thru a Muslim cemetery just outside Rachel’s tomb. That would make a story—or maybe not, given Israel’s impunity.


Rachel’s tomb on the Israeli side of the Separation Wall from the Muslim cemetery

At the Center, working yesterday morning in the rehearsal room where I get decent but slow wifi, a most elegant slender longhaired woman strolled thru a few times. I was tempted to introduce myself, but didn’t, being shy. And curious, what could I learn about her by pure observation? Two Palestine men soon joined her, one the rotund sweet fellow that photographed me at the festival. She brought out plastic tubes and appeared to be training them in using them. Then a hoard of small kids, ages about 5-8 years, descended on the room. They screamed, they scampered, one grabbed my Nikon from the table next to me and began trying to use it. Rather than objecting I attempted to play along, giving a number of these rambunctious mischievous children a chance to use a professional camera. As it developed I saw she must be a trainer of trainers, showing them how to use the plastic tubes to build observation, rhythm, play skills. All perhaps pre-theater training.

Finally the kids concentrated, their energy razor sharp on the tubes and what they could do with them. Needless to say, I made a few photos.

Minor point but could be major, I learned what the problem is with my phone giving me a zero balance immediately after recharging it. Somehow I have 2 accounts, the first or primary one does not get recharged and constantly shows zero balance. My secondary account is at 181 shekels or minutes—I’m not sure they’re equivalent. Without much trouble I reached a live support person, an Israeli woman with broken English, who explained to me this odd system and how to access it. She also told me that the balance would be put in storage if elapsed after one month, but could be rejuvenated by recharging. All this is a huge mystery to me. Exactly how much I’m paying for this phone is an unknown.

Clearer is my bank and visa accts. I remembered to check them both, paid on line. Swiftly, cleanly, a gift of the Internet.

Today, another possibly rich meeting, this time with Robin T who on some previous trips has been noticeably absent from my life. I will walk from the guest house, under the Key, past the cemetery, left on the main road (the old path between Jerusalem and Hebron, Bethlehem a way point), along the Wall, to the checkpoint, thru the checkpoint and down the main road to Jerusalem, the same road I walked along 2 years ago on my solo Xmas pilgrimage to Shepherds’ Fields. Akram is due here this evening, so I will have to end my nude romps thru the guesthouse. I will have to wear pants, at least when I enter public spaces.

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Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem





Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles


July 1, 2009, Wednesday, Al Rowwad, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem:

One scant dream, about watching M perform in a play. I was sitting with P, I knew something special was about to happen with M, and sure enough, bare-chested (or maybe entirely nude)—I noted to myself that this was the first time I’d seen her breasts—she flew off, over the stage and above the audience, on wires. P also discovered that M practiced yoga, she could tell from her performance.

Otherwise the calmest quietest coolest (yet hot) most comfortable night yet in the camp. Sleeping in the front room, subject to street sounds, there were only a few. The grating sound that woke me yesterday morning, I discovered by noticing all the water hoses lying about and pumps running, was indeed, as suspected, a water pump filling the roof tanks. Not even the muezzin seemed to disturb me. Roosters crowed at the appropriate moment but these are lilting sounds, lulling sounds, reminding me of farms. No problem here.


Yesterday began calmly enough until Ahmed came by to tell me, Can you be ready to go in a few minutes, you can come with us to set up for the festivities. I still wasn’t sure where and what the festivities were, imagining something joyous, outside, and based on hands on work with kids, maybe art and performance activities. This I gleaned from the brochure Samira had given me. So I rapidly put away my journal writing (when Ahmed arrived I was bare bottomed, but luckily I’d left my key in the lock so he couldn’t immediately enter, I had time to put on my shorts, look decent.) did my toilet, packed my gear, and set off…to wait.

How typical—and this is not meant as criticism of the Center’s practices, I encounter it regularly while on the road: hurry up and wait. Plans change. I’ve become much more patient and understanding about this, I carry a book, snacks, water, and I always have my camera, so I can entertain myself if needed. I waited one hour for a bus to arrive, boarded it with many kids and a few staff and then rode thru town to a social center. More waiting as staff set up chairs, kids flowed in. By the coordinator’s reckoning they totaled 700, some 150 for each of 5 sites, mostly refugee camps in the area, I think I heard as far away as Hebron. Kids were young, between about 5 and 12 years old, most wore the white t-shirts of Al-Rowwad, some wore the tan caps of the Center. This is a program called Mobile Beautiful Resistance which I think consists mainly of art and culture training at various sites. It is funded by “Her Highness Shekha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al-Qasimi, wife of the Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al-Qasim, member of the Higher Council and Ruler of Sharjah.” Never heard of any of it, might be an oil-based Arab kingdom.

Lots of noise, lots of waiting—the show finally began around 10:30—and lousy light. I’d brought the wrong equipment, no external flash which I left in Ramallah, and no fast lens which I didn’t think I’d need if we were to be outside. I did bring the Canon camera and so could use its telephoto function.  Otherwise, looking at the photos later I was disappointed—reddish, blotchy, too many too wide, not enough concentration on single kids, little action, too much sitting around. Yuck!


Debke, Palestinian national dance


The early events—a bunch of talks by elders, including Abed—did not exactly ignite the audience. Children were restive, noisy, playful, but respectful. Only when children themselves took the stage, giving readings, singing, and finally the ultimate: the debke, did the children pay much attention. Watching debke, kids in the back stood on chairs, clapped wildly. I hope I show some of this excitement.


During a pause I noticed a startlingly gorgeous—how else describe her classic beauty?—young Western woman sitting with a small child, the child snuggling up to the woman. I was attracted as much by her beauty as by the meaning of this singular event, the touch between younger and older. Unfortunately a head intervened and blocked a clear view of the scene. I tried, but the scene had ended by the time I found a good position. Plus I did not want to be noticed gawking.


Samira pleaded with me to download all the photos immediately into one of their computers, not to wait the one day I’d requested so I could select and process (Hurry and wait) because “the TV stations need them.” I did this, noting to Murad that most of the photos are in Raw file format and therefore not easily useable. He seemed undaunted, claimed to know what to do with them. After downloading into my computer so I could work on them at home, I put them on the Center’s computer, leaving the card and reader downloading while I left for home, thoroughly fatigued.

Working late last night, they now do not seem half bad, but oh, so much better had I thought to ask more about the event, bring the proper equipment. Lesson learned: ask first, discover enough about the photo session to anticipate all needs.

I should finally download a noise reduction plug-in to see if it makes a difference. This is a continually vexing problem for me, low light, blotchy reddish images. I can remove the red, not the blotches.



Then on the other side of the event—I’m still not sure what they call it, festivity, celebration, commencement, opening?—more waiting. By now I was exhausted, spent, depleted, had had enough kids, enough tumult, enough cacophony and chaos. Our Aida camp group was among the last to leave. Buses came, went, returned. However as I lingered I might have made some of my best photos of the entire day: the drumming and singing, kids hanging on adults, the balloon breaking game. Staff seemed very resourceful in finding activities while waiting. While someone was face painting next to me, she spilled yellow paint on my bag. I have this as a souvenir. Also, while photographing the drumming, a staff member, a rotund smiling friendly guy, asked to borrow my camera and photographed me clapping my hands in time with the drumming and singing—a cameo appearance of the photographer.

M commented on my taxi video, observing that the objects dangling from the rear view mirror showed the taxi’s motion. I’d not noticed this, either in the taxi or the video, but it helps portray the speed and curviness and danger of the ride. The video had reminded her of a similar ride on narrow roads in Pakistan with her sister, the same terror. I asked if she’d been chanting Namu myoho renge kyo then and wrote how it helped save me.

I contacted Robin T and set up an appointment tomorrow at his office. I hope he gives me many water leads. I may be strongly reminded of ME since I assume this is where she worked when here 3 years ago interning.


Today: computer work at the Center, maybe more work on yesterday’s photos with Murad, for sure give him a set of altered photos from last night, dinner with Ramzi at his house tonight, maybe a walk around town. Oh yes, the Freedom and Justice Crier, let’s see if I can finish it today. Plus backup everything made to date in Bethlehem.

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Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles


June 27, 2009, Saturday, Al Rowwad, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem

A remarkable set of dreams about ME: I saw her from a distance, she was as usual lovely and irresistible, but this time she sat next to a young man about her age, resembling her. Might have been her brother but more likely I thought it might be her beau. The setting was a Quaker meeting, I’m not sure she noticed me.

The scene shifted abruptly. We were together; I was peering into her face, drawn irrevocably to her beauty and tenderness. I loved her fully and wished to join with her carnally. I’m not sure about her reaction.

In the meeting there was much talk just in the introductory section. A few windbags went on and on. ME sat in on all this. When my turn came I had only 2 words to express my being: joy and despair. I added that joy was multi colored and despair was a dull shade of gray. I threw in a rant about people talking too much. ME faded in importance in this part of the dream.

Next I was with family at some sort of military demonstration. The soldiers may have been US or Israeli. They shot thru a metal door, making a loud noise. And then everything turned into a festival for African tribal kings in their regalia. I brought my grandson into the massive toilet facility to pee. My credit card and other important papers fell from my pockets, and in the confusion picking them up I lost him. So when I joined with his mother later in her broken down truck I realized, no C.


In panic mode I told J we didn’t have C and we turned around. Night had fallen. We were lost. I was to meet ME for dinner at a place and time we’d not yet decided. I had no way to contact her, or her me. My only thought was she might try to reach me at my home phone but I wouldn’t be home. I was out of the country. Oh shit, disaster, a chance to link with ME and I’d blown it.

J seemed relatively unperturbed, whereas I was close to falling apart.

Yesterday, being Friday, was a day off. I wrote and downloaded, then edited my photos for most of the morning. The facilities are decent at the Al Rowwad Center, Ahmed installed Photoshop CS 4 so I could work with my raw files, I installed software from Nikon so I could review thumbnails of the raw files. I’m pleased with what I’ve done here so far. Contrasting with the urbanity and pleasantries of Ramallah, these photos show scenes that are gritty, confined, dusty, horrible, yet with their own beauty—the refugee camp that is, and the little I’ve photographed so far.

I read, at times having little else to do (without my personal computer and not having easy access to the Center’s computer center). So far: an excellent book about Maha Ghosananda, Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Cambodia, which brings back much of my Cambodian experience of 1995, Jean Zaru’s powerful book, Occupied with Nonviolence, summarizing and giving spiritual context for resistance and survival, and now a book I found in my room by Edward Said, Peace and its Discontents, mostly about the Oslo period. He is a true visionary, way out in front of his peers and excoriated for it by all parties. Now Palestinians and many others revere him. I hope to emulate him.


Poster to Palestinian martyrs

How? By declaring the two state option dead, by advocating a one state option, by portraying facts on the ground honestly, by chiding all parties when needed, including my own movement at home, and by pushing for international accountability for all actors in this tragedy-comedy.

After the computer work yesterday, and reading at home, eating late lunch of yet more delicious falafel (costing about 2 NIS each, 50 cents), I rested and then set out around 5 pm for Bethlehem. I am much more confident now about finding my way thru the camp, out to the wider Bethlehem, and around parts of the small city. I discovered that the camp, northwest of the main city, is relatively near the nativity church. Stopping inside an entryway to a home to quell the noise of the street so I could phone Yusef in Jenin, 2 young men and a boy invited me to stay for tea. This is common, the traditional Arab hospitality, with the added lure of This is a foreigner, let’s find out about him and tell him about our situation. I rarely feel endangered by these overtures.


(However, yesterday afternoon, leaving the camp for Beth, 2 girls aged about 10 years grabbed my arms and led me into a house where another girl, slightly older, maybe 12, harangued me in Arabic. I thought she might have been high on drugs or insane; I felt threatened and hassled; I pulled my arm from someone’s grasp and fled.)

One young man is in the security force of the Palestinian Authority, protecting the president, Abu Mazen. He works and lives at the Muqata presidential compound in Ramallah  for about 2 weeks and then is home for 1 week. His cousin, Awad Abu  Shaereh, works for a sort of counseling agency, Connect-Middle East. Because of the language differences, my lousy, virtually nonexistent Arabic, and their limited English, nuances were lost. I understand that they told me that Hamas is definitely bad, wishes to kill Palestinians, and works with Israel because Israel also wishes to kill Palestinians. Trying to learn what they felt about the Gaza invasion, I could only elicit more of this attitude.

The young men live in separate flats in a large building housing their extended family. Their parents are related in different ways—brothers, sisters, cousins. I understand that there might be a great deal of close family relations leading to in grown marriages. (Although this might be a faulty conclusion.)

Walking further I bumped into a handsome boy who pointed out to me a kitten near a pylon base, to photograph it. Then him. For some reason I never thought of photographing the cousins. Is this failure on my part, or just responding to my muses?


This morning early I decided to walk around the camp, hoping I could find my way home. No problem: up past the Center, and out to the Apartheid Wall and back. I like this time of day for photographing—cool air, soft light, no one out other than a boy and his father moving a bed frame. And a few wandering sauntering women covered head to foot in the Muslim costume.

I discovered a huge Italian Franciscan church and convent, heavily walled in, a sort palace in the midst of poverty. Not a good showing for the Catholic Church. Not exactly one with the people. But perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps they are very linked to camp life. Their site is opposite the wall, which I leisurely photographed this morning. The graffiti is spectacular: a supine male figure, stretching out over about 20 cement panels; a docile looking bulbous face; steps leading up and over; 2 African American boxers, one maybe Mohammed Ali; and a portrait of Mickey Mouse with the words, This is Not Disney Land; among a few.


This morning also I found an email about the Al Rowwad tour coming to Boston in mid July. I added some words about being in Bethlehem now with Al Rowwad and photographing the rehearsal yesterday and then forwarded to the list and my own Boston list.


Photographing the rehearsal I noticed the children seemed fully engaged, very expert, lively, having fun, whereas Abed, the director and possibly the author of the play, looked sorrowful, not having much fun, distracted, worried. Perhaps he’s thinking, These kids are not ready for an international tour. They’ll embarrass me and the Center. Or worried about funding for the Center. He confided to me that space is an issue—not enough.


And finally a very personal note: yesterday morning trying to fit the pot lid into the pot I accidentally pushed it thru and spilled boiling water on my left hand, scalding myself. Luckily this is not serious. I don’t even show a scar. Moreover, I’ve had migraines on both mornings here, this morning as I prepared to leave the house, that vibrating pattern that sometimes occurs, and yesterday, a fuzzy center of my vision. In both cases, I found a place to rest, closed my eyes, meditated, and within 15 minutes all that remained was a headache.


The coach for this session

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Apartheid Wall


AbdelFattah Abu-Srour, director of the Center and the theater

Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles


June 26, 2009, Friday, Al Rowwad, Aida refuge camp, Bethlehem:

Writing from the Al Rowwad Cultural and Theater Center, not with my usual ease and fluency because of the unfamiliar computers here, and the slow Internet connection, but I try.

Getting to Bethlehem from Ramallah is not easy: the death defying service (pronounced serveece) shared taxi one hour plus ride is terrifying. Up and down monster hills, around convoluting corners, passing trucks and other slow moving vehicles, overheated smelly brakes, screeching tires as we ascend around curves, no leg room, stuffed taxi, driver using his mobile phone while driving one handed…I’d rather walk.

Watch a video: A Saturday afternoon drive thru the occupied Palestinian territories

But I arrived, found a taxi, negotiated a fee (told it would be 10 NIS, the first driver wanted 30, second 15, but he was so kind in dropping me at the exact spot I needed I tipped him 5 possibly setting off higher expectations that might boomerang on foreigners, I also recorded his name and number for later use), and arrived to be greeted by Abed, the director of the center in the Aida refugee camp. This is the second largest of 3 camps in Bethlehem, in the northern section of the city, up against the Apartheid Wall and near Rachel’s tomb. I recall that I can distinguish a camp from its surroundings by the plethora of buildings rising up rather than spreading out. Restricted space dictates much of the architecture.


After meeting others, including Chris from Germany, a volunteer or intern who is teaching one of the 2 photo sections, we headed out with 3 of about 5 students that showed up for the 2 hour long session. I quickly discovered that I might be of more service by linking with the students and myself photographing as they wander thru the camp than by actually doing much teaching. I coached Chris, who admitted he knows little about the finer points of photography—how to produce photos that mean—and solicited my support for this task. Not that I’m an expert on this topic, but I earn a small living in part by professing to teach it—a form of sophistry.

I suggested one of my favorite introductory homework assignments: photograph one of your intimate spaces, concentrating on light. At my urging we did not end the session with the camera work only but continued by downloading and beginning the editing process. Tomorrow, inshallah, students will arrive with a folder of edited processed photos to show the group.


In looking over recent photos by one of the students, seeing one of Chris and me that resembled solarization, I asked if the maker knew how to produce this effect with Photoshop. He didn’t, which launched a brief improvised lesson in how to select and operate on the selection to produce the effect. This served not only to impart info and test their prior knowledge but to help establish my credential as a competent photographer.

I’d noticed while on the field trip that some soon tired, and seemed to have lost the incentive to do much more. I commiserated with Chris about this paucity of motivation which he feels is a common problem. I rocketed ahead, to the point of climbing a rickety wooden ladder to photograph some workers laying concrete blocks to expand a dwelling. I invited my colleagues to join me, none did. I thought I would easily surpass in quality what they were making. However, back in the lab, briefly looking at some of their photos as they downloaded, I found I was mistaken: many were very good.


Listen to a report with quotes from Pope Benedict’s speech in Aida camp


I must admit that a highlight of the day for me was finding an older message from X that I might have seen but had forgotten. She wrote on June 19, 8 days earlier,

I’ve just read all your posts since you arrived.

You write so wonderfully!  Thank you thank you thank you for sharing it all – your encounters, impressions, thoughts, wonderment, etc.  I am learning, and gaining new eyes….


And then ended with this quote, which I currently use as my footer:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

This nourished me considerably. I miss our once fairly frequent communication, and wonder how she is, whether in transit to South America, hiking thru Peru, packing hurriedly.


I responded:


your proust quote is perfect for me at this very moment: working with high school age photo students in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. their assignment is to show beauty in their immediate neighborhood, and some today seemed unable to see beyond the usual. whereas for me everything is new and fresh. yet when i return home i will face what they face: the quotidian. and then the task becomes how to see beyond the obvious with new eyes.

i suspect when you are in your new region of south america you will see everything automatically with new eyes. how delicious that can be yet some sites like machu pichu have been photographed by many travelers and many of the photos look the same. why?

good luck with your new phase of life (you might be leaving this weekend?), may you see with the freshest of eyes, as if an infant,


—Skip (in Bethlehem, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)


Rehearsing “Blame the Wolf, a play-dance that tours the United States in summer 2009

There is much to write about this first day. I’ve written notes in my notebook and may save fuller writing for later.


Today: download my photos from yesterday, and edit. Later walk to main Bethlehem for a fuller exploration. Hope to weather the heat.


The Beautiful Resistance—Al Rowwad Cultural & Theater Training Center

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