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Posts Tagged ‘bethlehem’

World Refugee Day 
20 June 

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

PHOTOS

A few stone houses still stand on the village site [original Al Walaja land]. Otherwise, the site is covered with stone rubble, and with almond trees that grow on the western terraces of the village and to the north. A spring in a valley west of the site still flows out of a stone-and-concrete structure. The 1948 Armistice line passed through the southern lands of the village. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) built refugee shelters and an elementary school on the land that became part of the West Bank. There is a white marker on the grave of one village woman; her first name, Fatima, is visible on it, but her last name is illegible. The village area is used as an Israeli picnic site; the Israeli Canada Park now lies north of it.

—Walid Khalidi, 2006 or earlier

To reach my rendezvous point with Meras in Aida refugee camp who had arranged today’s session [June 8, 2019] with Omar Hajhajleh in Al Walaja village (suggested by Nidal), I tried to grab a service taxi at the bus station in Bethlehem. Many others had the same desire. Some were families that I didn’t want to push ahead of. Some asked the driver where he was going and either jumped in or waited for a different taxi. I was perplexed and finally decided to walk. That is one hell of a walk—2 km or 1.2 miles—especially with my photo and audio equipment, up and down the Bethlehem slopes, grand view, but tiring. Returning I considered finding a service near the checkpoint which would probably be much easier, but then decided buying beer and bread took presence.

Walaja aerial SM

Yellow indicates Palestinian village and Blue Israeli settlement/colony

After picking up Meras’ friend, Nadeem, to help with the interview and audio recording, I would finally meet, interview, and photograph Omar Hajhajleh. Meras phoned, after several tries we finally reached him. At first, he told us he’d broken the key (I assumed metal, but learned electronic) and we’d not be able to visit; we might interview and photograph thru the gate. Then, surprising us, he opened the gate, releasing himself from his prison, sat on one of the two car seats, and began a much-practiced monologue about his condition, with questions later from me. We had a relaxed interview, helped partially by Meras and Nadeem (in the car, I’d talked earlier with Nadeem about how he can assist). All 4 of us marveled about the absurdity of Omar’s situation.

Meras photographed and filmed and promised to send me the photos after I’d sent him my email address (which I did; he hasn’t yet.). I could use photos of Omar’s house and fields, if we don’t return (or find them on the internet). I hope to discover a satellite image of the area, pinpointing his isolated house, what remains of Al Walaja, the expanding Har Gilo settlement, and the various fences and walls. (I forgot to photograph the electronic key—except at a distance when he left us.) Leaving us, he entered the tunnel beneath the fence and security road, as if he disappearing into a dark pit

His story from my notes (later to be checked against the audio recording):

  • Father was raised in the original village; he’s now dead, displaced during the Nakba.
  • Father built a new house where Omar has lived since the 1950s, born there?
  • Omar is a farmer with some 40 dunams of land, raises animals, gardens, has olive trees.
  • Once worked construction jobs in Israel but now because of his imprisonment no longer.
  • Israel covets his house and land. They will pay any price and offered him 4 options: sell it for a price he names, rent it out for a price he names, organize a partnership with Israel, and one other I’ve forgotten.
  • Has a wife and 3 sons, 10-16; how do they feel about their imprisoned lives and Omar’s resistance?
  • Sons attend school, meet the bus at the gate, but friends can’t visit and play.
  • Recently punished with 8 days of internal detention (house arrest) because he’d installed a buzzer outside the gate (he shows us) so his kids could beckon their mother after school—now ripped out by Israel.
  • He is much visited by the media.
  • Internationals and old people in the village help him with materials and I suppose farm labor.
  • Can’t be off the premises past 10 pm.
  • Someone always must be in the house to protect it; for, if unoccupied for more than about 60 hours, Israel considers it abandoned and will take possession.
  • Asked why he stays, I think he said because the land and house are mine; I own them; I have a right to live here (i.e., simple justice).
  • The larger context of his personal story is encroachment by the huge Har Gilo settlement and the separation wall. Plus the On Going Nakba, Israel’s conquest of everything for the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Bethlehem map SM.jpg

  • NGO’s help minimally.
  • Friends painted Gaza mural outside the fence; it’s a new type of fence, tall with razor wire, not electronic.
  • Har Gilo and beautiful terraces lie on the other side of the fence—as does freedom and his family’s original home in the now-shrunken Al Walaja.
  • Maps are vital to explaining his story and the overall situation, Al Walaja and beyond, The On-Going Nakba
  • How might I visit the house; can I find it on maps?
  • He asked me to help him travel to the States (for visit, talks, residency?)
  • He tells his story calmly, without exaggeration, unlike many who’ve suffered greatly, and finally have an opportunity to speak their story, and then become so emotional the story’s power diminishes.
  • I felt bonded with him as I commiserated and felt some parallels (minor suffering on my part).
  • I recall visiting Al Walaja at least twice earlier, once with the Palestinian News Network (PNN) to cover a Catholic mass held to protest land confiscation, and another time for a demonstration, both apparently in 2013.

After the interview and portrait session, I asked Meras, how would you like to arrange payment for your help? He said 200 shekels for time and taxi, then when I fiddled with my purse, he said dump it all here (in his hand) for the driver. Which made a grand total of 250 shekels or $70 for about 3 hours work which includes maybe 1h our driving. Let’s say $25/hr which I suppose is reasonable. (I should compare with what I paid last year, suggested by Nidal, always a murky issue. Especially when Palestinians prefer to settle after the work rather than before.)

Now I wonder if we might return, especially to see the house, meet and photograph his family, and whether there are others in Al Walaja with different stories (to avoid repetition). I’d definitely love to find the original house in old Al Walaja, before Omar lived in this current house, and asked Meras about it. He’s not sure where the first house is, whether it still exists, or whether Omar could find it or be allowed to take us there (it is probably now in Israeli).

I’ve begun uploading my more politically sensitive photo sets to the Cloud, such as yesterday’s set from Al Walaja, Sheik Jarrah, Asem, and Jerusalem Day. I don’t expect Israel would block or confiscate these photos, but I prefer to allay my worries. With the speedy internet connection at Casa Nova [the pilgrim guest house in Bethlehem where I temporarily live], I can easily push these photos to the Cloud. In addition, I have them backed up on two external hard drives, one my complete laptop hard drive, the other only photos, audio, and journals. That one I plan to mail home.

Today: with Ayed to various camps, including Beit Jibreen and Dheisheh. Renewing my work and friendship with Ayed should be satisfying. He so wishes to travel with me to destroyed villages. And then on Monday with Fareed to various refugee camps, a full 3 days of work.

Thanks to Meras Al Azza who brought me to this section of Al Walaja and introduced me to Omar; to Nadeem Abu Rasme Fayz Arafat assisting me to interview, translate, and operate the audio recorder; and Nidal Al Azraq who lined up Meras to work with me.

About settlement expansion and corresponding shrinkage of Palestinian land:

Picture this (something I would like to actually do): a time-lapse aerial video of the West Bank since 1967 showing multiple settlement expansions, like mudslides. Roughly, it might be possible from Google Earth imagery which can provide a slider to show earlier views (under “view”).

(Quiz: where does Google Earth take you when you search for “Palestine”? Click here or try yourself to learn.)

 

I think this absurdity [the occupation and siege] is going to lead to a real awakening and people will eventually hang their heads and say, ‘What were we thinking?’ 

—Diane Buttu

LINKS

In photos: al-Walaja village faces “slow death” as Israel takes its land, by Anne Paq (2014)

Seven decades of struggle: how one Palestinian village’s story captures pain of ‘Nakba’ by Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem, and Pablo Gutiérrez (2018)

Welcome To al-Walaja

First Israel Locked This Palestinian Family Out of Its Home. Now It Locked the Gate Connecting Them to Their Village by Nir Hasson (May 2019)

Al-Walajah village explores theater as a form of resistance by Ben Rivers (2012)

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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.

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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

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Political power is controlled by the corporate elite, and the arts are the locale for a kind of guerilla warfare in the sense that guerillas look for apertures and opportunities where they can have an effect.

—Howard Zinn

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Young man in a park, Gaza City

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Inbal Yahav, telling how she lost a close friend in a Gazan mortar attack, Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav (cooperative agricultural community) next to the Gaza Strip

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During a trauma healing session in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip

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Nader Abu Amsha, director of YMCA Rehabilitation Program & Beit Sahour Branch

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West Jerusalem

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Watching a performance of the Jenin Freedom Theater at a water rights demonstration in the Jordan River Valley

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Coaches at a training for the Quaker Palestine Youth Program, Gaza City

PHOTOS

An interlude in my series of journal extracts about my recent trip. That series will continue.

Often while photographing in Palestine-Israel for 3 months this spring I despaired. For several reasons: in Gaza and the West Bank, the paucity of popular unarmed resistance to the occupation; by Israeli Jews, the absence of awareness about the occupation and siege; and my own sense of futility about my work. There are exceptions of course, Gush Shalom, Other Voice, and Emek Shaveh for instance in Israel, and some local popular resistance groups in Palestine, such as struggle in the villages of Bil’in, Budrus, Al Masara, Al Walaja, and Nabi Saleh in the West Bank and a few locations in Gaza. Yet, in my 8 trips there since 2004 I’ve never felt so crushed.

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Beneficiary of the East Jerusalem YMCA’s rehabilitation program

However, I returned to my home in the USA to join with activists on campaigns such as BDS—Boycott-Divest-Sanction. I work with Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights and other local and regional organizations struggling to bring justice with peace and security to all parties in Israel-Palestine. This work nourishes me, offers me ways to use my photography, provides hope. As a friend, Loretta Williams, signs her letters, “In Struggle is the Hope.”

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Watching the Holy Fire Eastern Christian Orthodox Holy Fire procession on Easter, Beit Sahour (Bethlehem)

To be precise about my itinerary: 1 week in Jerusalem to acclimate politically and historically to the region, 4 weeks in Gaza to photograph the activities of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program and to teach photography to young adults, 4 weeks in Bethlehem to work (nominally—I’ll explain this later) with the Palestine News Network, 2 weeks in Ramallah with the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in the West Bank to photograph their work and teach, and in Jerusalem with the American Friends Service Committee to photograph for their BDS campaign. During my final week of 12, I explored the northern Mediterranean coast, the Israeli borderlands with Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and trace the Jordan River from headwaters on Mt Hermon where it dumps (theoretically) into the Dead Sea.

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Watching a man being fitted for a suit, Gaza City

A friend asked, what surprised you, Skip? Some people I met such as Jen Sieu from the USA who volunteered with me as a photographer and reporter at the Palestine News Network. We gave each other leads such as the Battir terraces threatened by the planned Israeli separation wall and early morning at the Bethlehem checkpoint. And Ayman Nijim, a psychosocial worker in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza. He introduced me to a young men’s debka touring group and brought me to photograph his trauma healing program in the camp. And an old friend, Fareed Tawallah in Ramallah, with whom I shared the farmers’ market he co-founded, Sharaka.

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Fatma M. Khateib, Project Coordinator at the psychosocial service agency, Afaq Jadeeda Association (New Horizons), in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip

Some places surprised me. For instance Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav hugging the Gaza wall, often targeted by Gaza mortars and militants. There I met Roni Keider and her daughter, Inbal Yahav. Inbal lost a close friend in a mortar attack. And the border zones mentioned earlier, actually viewing fences and army patrols, while I was able to look into neighboring countries, including Syria where violence rages. And the Battir terraces, ancient agricultural terraces that utilize natural water flows and could be partially destroyed if Israeli’s plans for extension of the separation wall succeed.

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Men’s-only pre-wedding party, Gaza City

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Taher Mhanna and his son Hesham

In Bethlehem I was chagrined to learn that the Palestine News Network made little use of my photos, offered virtually no support, and exhibited what I feel is a self-destructive policy of eschewing connections with Israeli organizations—the normalization policy—that persuaded them against using my and Jen’s photos about the Battir terraces. The reason? The project involved Friends of the Earth Middle East, a joint Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian environmental effort to foster justice and peace thru concentration on the environment.

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Hamas security officers, Gaza City

Three final surprises: the major direction and staff changes in the American Friends Service Committee and Quaker programs which I will report on separately. And my friendship with a woman with whom I wrote and Skyped regularly, a very personal connection to home that warmed my heart. My daughter Katy as well, who cared so lovingly for my home and business.

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Participants in a water rights march in the Jordan River Valley

I’ve made many photos, written some blog entries, made some friends, and raised within myself many questions. For a few: what is the strategy of Palestinian unarmed resistance? Are Israeli occupation and settlement policies suicidal? Why is Gaza so often the center of resistance and the target of Israeli attacks? How does the terrain reflect the politics, especially the control of water? How much should I concentrate my photography on conflict vs ordinary life?

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Drinking water from a school pure water installation provided by the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip 

Photography is one of my primary lifelines, for my own psychic survival at least. I must believe it has some value, even tho I am often disappointed with reactions to it—and my own self evaluations. I am nourished by the awareness that I am not alone in photography and activism. I photograph shoulder to shoulder with some of my mythical photographic mentors—Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, and W. Eugene Smith for 3 who are long dead, and Sebastião Salgado very much alive. And in politics I walk with Martin Luther King Jr and Jesus Christ, partners as teachers and martyrs.

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Participants in a Quaker Palestine Youth Program in occupied Palestine, West Bank

My next steps? Exhibit portraits at a regional Quaker gathering in August 2013, produce new slide shows and supplement old ones for upcoming national tours, perhaps publish a second book (the first is Eyewitness Gaza, available at blurb.com), post more blog and website entries, and develop new print exhibitions. The usual.

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Avi, proprietor of Abraham’s Tent, housing for travelers in the Golan, near Mt Hermon

I’ll end with some insights from James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:

For in the immediate world, everything is to be discerned, for him who can discern it, and centrally and simply, without either dissection into science or digestion into art, but with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of the consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.

That is why the camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time; and is why in turn I feel such rage at its misuse: which has spread so nearly universal a corruption of sight that I know of less than a dozen alive whose eyes I can trust even so much as my own.

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The photographer resting in a field of aloes, West Jerusalem

I can imagine how tough it was to be over there. It’s reached a state of stasis, maybe. All the power held by Israel. All the Palestinian strategies of the past have failed in the face of that really evil state-power/religious-zealot-power/dysfunctional state/helped by holocaust drums and US Jews and Christian Zionists. And the Palestinians, too, in their government apparently tribal (legacy of the Tripoli-Arafat approach–non democratic really). Yikes.

—a friend (in a recent email to me)

Ramadan

Courtesy of Islam Madhoun & AFSC Gaza

A Long, Slow, Soft Landing in Boston

THIS SERIES WILL BE CONTINUED

LINKS

To learn more about Palestinian unarmed resistance to occupation (American Friends Service Committee):

“A brief overview of the situation in Palestine-Israel” by Skip Schiel

Playground Tour of Palestine” by Ilse Cohen

“Life Is A Catastrophe Now” by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, May 2013

“Israel is Outgassing its Unhealed Trauma,” by Paul Levy

“Why Land Day still matters,” by Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis, March 30, 2012

“In Their Shoes (Obama in Israel & Palestine)” by Uri Avnery April 2013

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We at the East Jerusalem YMCA, and as an active and indigenous segment of the Palestinian social movement, contribute to the reconstruction of Palestinian society, which has been facing decades of systemic destruction, dispersal, and violations of its national, legal, and human rights. Within this current political situation we perceive the need to concentrate local, regional, and international efforts in order to recover the just rights of our people and to build a democratic state where transparency, equity, and social justice may prevail.

—Policy mandate statement

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Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel

May 16, 2013, Thursday, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem Occupied Palestine

PHOTOS

There are many sides to the various stories emanating from this region. One not often heard or seen is how Palestinian society deals with the effects of occupation: trauma, physical injury, loss of work, degraded dignity, and despair (for a short list).

Thanks to my geographical proximity to the East Jerusalem YMCA (despite the name, the organization serves the entire West Bank of Occupied Palestine), a 20 minute walk down the main road of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem—plus my intimate experience with the Y during my early university years—I finally thought, hey, the local Y, let’s investigate how it manifests its “aim of positively contributing to the physical, mental and spiritual development of children, youth and the community at large…”

(The site is also the third of 3 purported shepherds’ fields sites, significantly less visited than the Latin/Catholic and Greek Orthodox sites but touching nonetheless.)

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Raed Abu Jriers, the East Jerusalem YMCA’s’s affable media and communication coordinator, set up 2 visits to people benefitting (beneficiaries) from the rehabilitation program. First to Raed Ateyyah, a 37-year-old who at the age of 17 was shot by Israeli soldiers—not during a demonstration but when local settlers attacked his village. His mobility was impaired, he could only work common labor jobs where he didn’t have to stand or walk, but now, with the help of counseling and vocational training, he is employed in a small garment factory producing clothing for “export.”

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Benificiary of the Rehabilitation Program, Raed Ateyyah, severely injured by Israeli soldiers, with Abdullah, his social worker (middle),
and Raed Abu Jries (left)

His case manager or guide, a social worker, Abdullah, explained that currently after one month of work, Raed only earns 35 NIS (about $9.50 daily) but pays roughly half of that for transport to and from his village near Bethlehem. Leaving a net gain of some 20 NIS or $5 for a day’s labor. Where are these garments sold? I asked. —We export them. —And where is that? —Israel. —And what  label does Israel sew in? —“Ketty, made in Israel.”

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Raed endured my photography, never offered much affect, a withdrawn expression on his face. This perhaps is an indicator of his trauma. Images of tranquil nature scenes covered one wall of the shop, which made a powerful counterpoint to the machinery and workers. A sister-brother team apparently owns the facility. (Background on what I photograph is often scant and since I’m not writing I do not apply myself very diligently to that aspect.)

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Co owner of the garment factory

Our second visit was to Jamil Al-Wahsh, his older son, Ali, and the little one, Muhammad, in the village of Za’tara. Jamil is in his 40s, born with a major defect that rendered his feet splayed out, his legs akimbo, thereby severely cutting down his walking ability. Three of his 7 children have the same malady. Luckily for my photography they were home from school—Nakba Day—and so could demonstrate for me how they walk. The rehab program first counseled the father, and then installed additions that offered the family a more comfortable existence. Namely an entrance ramp, a sit-down toilet (vs. the squat), and for the youngest boy leg braces (which he refuses to wear). Contrasting with Raed Ateyyah, the garment worker, this man and his entire family were jovial, outward, and seemed to play to the camera.

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Jamil Al-Wahsh, his older son, Ali, a daughter, and the youngest son, Muhammad, in the village of Za’tara—all 3 males have congenital leg problems.

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On the ramp constructed by the Y program

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Ali

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With the family’s social worker

Preceding the tour, the director of the program, the humble and highly articulate Nader Abu Amsha, explained the genesis of the program. I was struck by how exploratory and experimental it was, beginning in 1989 as a response to injuries from the First Intifada, (“shaking off” or uprising, which began 2 years earlier), learning as they developed (he was first a volunteer, then paid staff), and then evolving into what appears to be a comprehensive program addressing many aspects of suffering: counseling, vocational training, physical services, advocacy, and general education. Some 50,000 children and youth were injured during just the first year of the First Intifada (roughly 1987-1993), or, according to Save the Children, over the first two years, an estimated 7% of all Palestinians under 18 years of age suffered injuries from shootings, beatings or tear gas. By 1993, the YMCA had shifted its treatment approach from the individual to a more holistic one, involving the entire family and perhaps the community, schools in particular.

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Nader Abu Amsha, director of YMCA Rehabilitation Program
& Beit Sahour Branch

According to an estimate by the Swedish branch of Save the Children, as many as 29,900 children require medical treatment for injuries caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers during the first two years of the Intifada alone. Nearly a third of them are aged ten or under. Save the Children also estimates that between 6500-8500 Palestinian minors were wounded by Israeli gunfire in the first two years of the Intifada.

—Institute for Middle East Understanding

I asked, how do assess the presence and severity of trauma? Answer: from the point of view of resilience. We first discuss options with the beneficiary. We build trust. We share stories. We ask what they think and feel, which is usually revenge at first. Boys often manifest the “hero” complex, overrating their strength. We don’t give advice. We ask questions. We ask our beneficiary to report their suffering—Israel arrests an average of 700 children aged 12-17 every year. And we develop criteria for improvement. Obviously, the earlier the intervention the better, otherwise they become sick and need serious treatment. (paraphrasing)

Needless to say, I was impressed. So when Nader told me other agencies outside Palestine often invite staff to do trainings, like in Columbia, I was not surprised.

Rather than attempt to write a full account of the riches of this interview with Nader—a pity my news agency chose not to cover it, seems like poor judgment—I’ll simply refer my readers to the website listed below.

During the Second Intifada (roughly 2000-2005) as of January 2004, the Palestinian child rights organization Defense for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI/PS) had documented the deaths of over 500 Palestinian children (under 18). These deaths were the result of Israeli occupation policies implemented in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip since September 2000. DCI/PS reports that an estimated 10,000 children were wounded during that period.

If Americans Knew

After nearly 45 minutes of this introduction I asked, has anyone ever written a book about all this or made a comprehensive movie? No book but several movies, mostly by the Y rehab program itself. (I list several on-line below.) My general impression of Nader is that he is sharp, talented, dedicated, and works hard. I enjoyed listening to him but found photographing him at the same time a challenge. He admitted he was distracted when I brought out my camera so I doubt I have any photos useful of him. And my writing is so fragmentary. I am torn between practicing my photographer’s eye and my writer’s ear. And I fail to understand the apathy about this story by the news agency I volunteer for. Maybe limited time and scant staff. Or maybe an inability to recognize a good story.

I walked to the Y in a drizzle, under nearly overcast skies, a stretch of my legs that is a good way to begin the day. A little after noon I walked back, again in some drizzle speckled with bright sun, and found a 3-person olive wood factory (factory is too grand a name, how about the less imposing and vaguer manufactory?) with the participants either eager to be photographed or quiescent. Two were smoothing out contours with tools that may have originally been dentist drills, while the third, a young man chain-smoking, operated a duplicating machine. The operator, a sort of magician, multiple times resurrected the dead and wood-embalmed Jesus with this clever machine. He gently traced shapes and 2 rasping drills dutifully followed instructions and carved out—resurrected— many Christ’s.

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I photographed freely, and when finished the man nearest the door who’d beckoned me in gave me a little gift: a patriarch statue, maybe King David himself or perhaps one of the Wise Men adoring Christ. The face is too old to be that of Christ. He looks sad. His right hand has a hole in it, perhaps it once held a staff. What looks like a nail protrudes from the base, making the statue unstable. I treasure this artifact and introduced it to the other elements of my altar: Christ, Buddha, jasmine (in season), stun grenade, 2 cartridges, 2 candles, incense, various political lapel pins, photos of family and friends, Mediterranean sea shells from Gaza, and the ceramic plate AFSC staff gave me when I left Gaza. All treasures.

I ponder: are any of these olive wood workers beneficiaries of the Y’s rehab program? How have they been affected by the occupation? If not for the occupation what lives would they now live? Will their conditions be any different when free?

And further: as the wood workers can in effect resurrect Jesus, does the YMCA rehabilitation program resurrect—positively transform lives shattered by onerous conditions—its beneficiaries?

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TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program

Their movie links:

Coming Home

Buds of Hope

The Suffering of the Palestinian Child Under the Israeli Occupation by Ahmed El Helal and Mariam I Itani

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On Holy Saturday, May 4, 2013, the Holy Fire arrived in Beit Sahour from Jerusalem at approximately 3:00 pm. The Holy Fire appears annually at the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem during a special ceremony performed by the Greek Orthodox priests. It is then carried and distributed to all the churches in the West Bank and to other churches in around the Orthodox world.

Thousands of locals and internationals joined in the joyous celebration in front of the Greek Orthodox Church. Local scouts and marching bands created a festive atmosphere.

Beit Sahour is a model of cooperation and brotherhood between Christians and Muslims. Throughout the troubled and turbulent history of the land, the people of Beit Sahour have always stood firm as a united community. Today, Beit Sahour is home to just under 14,000 residents, 80% Christian and 20% Muslim.

Dimitri Diliani, head of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, said Israeli forces deployed heavily in Jerusalem’s Old City. He accused Israel of trying to stop Christians from performing rituals for Holy Saturday and of trying to erase the Christian identity in Jerusalem.

(Drawn from various news sources)

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Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel

May 5, 2013, Sunday, Bethlehem, the Tawil apartment, kitchen table

I engaged in Holy Fire for the second time yesterday, in Beit Sahour (last year in Beit Jala, both villages adjoin Bethlehem), an easy walk from my home near Shepherds’ Fields to where the action would happen. Someone at the market told me to wait at the Hotel Ararat and there I discovered a high vantage point. Altho the building is about 10 stories high only a few levels have finished rooms. So I climbed stairs to the 4th floor and leaned out a window to show the growing crowds. I then joined in on street level, sauntered back and forth to do my favored grab shot photography (aka hip pocket photography, aka wild mind photography), chatted awhile with a man who splits time between Virginia and Bethlehem (he works for GE medical), and eventually joined the throng to greet the priest with the holy fire.

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I observed Muslims along the Holy Fire route, some of them simply watching, another group throwing hard candies at the car with the fire. Whether to honor the tradition or tease the priest I wasn’t sure. We walked by a mosque next to the Greek Orthodox Church. The procession seems a strong sign of religious co existence.

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While waiting for the Holy Fire I noticed many drummers playing their instruments, about 6 small groups in my locale, from different bands. They all played separately. No one played together. I remembered drumming circles at home in the States where first one person showed up with a drum, then another, and more, and soon the large group would drum together, drawing more and more people, including dancers and other musicians—a large joyous circle. So I asked the guy from Virginia and Beit Sahour, you’ve lived in both places, ever seen drumming circles in the states?—No.—Could you imagine one?—Yes.—Have you noticed here that no one joins with others to drum?—I have, it is very peculiar.

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So I concluded, perhaps prematurely, that this separate drumming mirrors the separateness of some or most of Palestinian society. Coincidently I’ve been reading in the current issue of This Week in Palestine an analysis of separateness, swashbuckling, bravado (shatarah), and impetuousness (nazaqah). Each for oneself and to hell with the rest. Accurate or not? Recent or long-lived? Ali Qliebo in his article, “Bravado, Impetuousness, and Swashbuckling in Palestine Culture,” believes this is recent, an effect of urbanization, and a departure from the relative civility of earlier Ottoman culture. What might this imply for the Palestinian freedom movement?

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I begin to feel more of the widespread despair in Palestine. Cars are part of this—zooming thru intersections. The Palestinian news agency I volunteer for is part of this—lack of support for my work. Ayman told me that in Gaza anyone successful would not disclose the method of attaining success because the successful one did not want to share it with others. My host in Bethlehem, Johnny, is an exception in how well he treats me (while perhaps himself in deep despair at his unemployment). Have I been too long in this region, too many times here, time to move on?

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Minor coda about Palestinian fashion:

While waiting for the entrance of the Holy Fire I noticed high heels, long shiny straightened black hair, and hooked arms (not only women’s in men’s, but occasionally men’s in women’s). I am well situated to notice such cultural signs. Because I’m out of the culture, everything here is new to me, and because I deeply appreciate some of these traits. Linked arms for instance reminds me of walking with a friend a day or so before my departure. I look forward to walking this way again with her. Very very soon. Too bad we can’t do this via Skype.

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TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Holy Fire, a believer’s account

Holy Fire, a skeptic’s view

“Bravado, Impetuousness, and Swashbuckling in Palestine Culture,” by Ali Qliebo, This Week in Palestine, May 2013

Beit Sahour

“Palestinian Christians ‘mistreated’ by Israel at Easter celebrations”

Holy Fire Photos from Xinhua/Luay Sababa

Holy Fire Lights Orthodox Easter In Jerusalem’s Church Of The Holy Sepulchre (VIDEO) (PHOTOS)

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SEEKING VENUES, CALIFORNIA TO ALASKA

Photographs by Skip Schiel from Palestine & Israel

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

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

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

Jenin, West Bank, Palestine

Jerusalem, Israel-Palestine

Negev desert, Israel

A slide show of recent photographs (2012)

Photos

I will tour the West Coast this fall (2012) with my photos and would like to book presentations in the region listed below, either networks, schools, faith and community groups, or individuals.

Alaska, September 19-October 2, 2012
Seattle to San Francisco, October 3-5

California Bay Area and Northern California, October 5-17.

I’ll revise some of my shows with photos and stories from my most recent spring 2012 trip. Report here.

West Coast 2012 Tour Announcement

Jenin, West Bank, Palestine

Negev desert, Israel

With the support of many in my local and national Quaker community, since 2003 I been traveling to Israel and Palestine to investigate and portray conditions and struggles. I have worked with a variety of organizations, both Israeli and Palestinian and joint organizations (see below), volunteering to make photographs for them that I also can circulate as slide shows and print exhibitions. My hope is to open eyes and doors and windows, encouraging awareness and action.

MULTIMEDIA PRESENTATIONS Slideshows, print exhibits, and a movie featuring photos, audio & thoughtful narration, updated from my recent 10-week trip during spring 2012

Falafel, Jenin, West Bank, Palestine

Negev desert, Israel

SLIDE SHOWS

Descendants of Abraham, Sarah, & Hagar

Based primarily on my most recent trip to Palestine-Israel in spring 2012, an exploration of people and activities on different sides of the conflict.

Eyewitness Gaza

The new show concentrates on his personal experiences and its political context, 2 years after the devastating Israeli attacks of Operation Cast Lead. Youth, their conditions and struggles, child to young adult, is the main theme. I explore the lives of people still living in tents and in recently constructed rudimentary dwellings. They continue to suffer the ongoing Israeli siege and internal political violence, while being ignored by most of the international community. The American Friends Service Committee is a major segment, showing one way hope and resiliency are fostered. (I’ve published a book by the same title, available here)

On the way to Gaza

Tracing the Jordan River

A slide show exploring this historic river from one of the headwaters of the Jordan, the Banias flowing from Mt Hermon in the Golan Heights, to where the much-abused river disappears before the Dead Sea in the West Bank of Palestine. With an examination of the Sea of Galilee, especially the region of the major share of Christ’s ministry in and around Capernaum, the dying Dead Sea, well-watered Jericho, and the kibbutzim, Israeli settlements intended to reclaim land and define the contours of the forthcoming Israeli nation. A slice thru the topography, geology, hydrology, history, and politics of the region.

Dismantling The Matrix of Control

An examination, based on the brilliant analysis of Jeff Halper, of the mechanisms Israel uses to maintain the occupation: checkpoints, separation or annexation wall/fence, permit system, road blocks, Israeli-only roads, military court system, closed military zones, and closures and incursions. Plus how to end it.

The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel

Israel-Palestine has scant water resources, but now with the current strife water is a dramatic mirror of power relationships. Through an examination of water in various settings—small Palestinian villages & the Gaza strip— along with large cities shared by Israeli Jews & Arabs—Haifa & Jerusalem—I portray a very difficult to visualize topic. Updated with new photos from spring 2012.

Bethlehem the Holy, the Struggle for an Ancient City

Bethlehem is rapidly becoming Imprisoned Bethlehem, surrounded on all sides by an 8-meter (23 foot) high concrete wall, with checkpoint access restricted. Thus, Christians (the population shrinking from some 30% 40 years ago to 2%) and Muslims within Palestine can rarely leave or enter Bethlehem. Nearby Israeli settlements confiscate Palestinian lands while the local economy, heavily reliant on tourism, languishes under ghetto-like restrictions. I explored this situation from November through Christmas 2008 as well as during the summer of 2009 while I lived in the Aida refugee camp. Updated with new photos from spring 2012.

Quakers in Palestine & Israel (Or John Woolman in the Land of Troubles)

What do Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends, have to do with Israel-Palestine? By following some of the activities in the Ramallah Friends School & the American Friends Service Committee’s work in Gaza & the West Bank (& with references to its efforts in Israel), I show how this numerically small but often effective group has made a difference in this land of troubles.

Negev desert, Israel

Other Presentations Available

Though unquestionably didactic, Skip Schiel’ s images are also haunting glimpses of the perilous nature of life in Gaza. The photographs never feel invasive or forced; they simply capture moments of intimate truth between photographer and subject.

—Sarah Correia (Fuse Visual Arts Review: “Gaza in Photographs: Up Close and Personal”)

Negev desert, Israel

PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITS

Female in Palestine

Women and girls attempting to live normal, free lives in the occupied territories of Palestine.

Gaza is Home to One & One-half Million Human Beings: How Do They Live?

Photos of possibilities: how people live, suffer, stay strong and determined—sumud, in Arabic, steadfast.

The Living Waters of Israel-Palestine

A print version of the Hydropolitics slide show.

DOCUMENTARY MOVIE

Eyewitness Gaza (movie)

About current conditions and struggles in Gaza based on Schiel’s photography, directed by Tom Jackson of Joe Public Films. The context is the Arab Spring. More information.

Skip Schiel in Gaza, photo by Mesleh Ashram

MORE ABOUT SKIP SCHIEL

TO BRING SKIP SCHIEL AND HIS PHOTOGRAPHS TO YOUR CHURCH, SCHOOL OR CIVIC GROUP/FOR MORE INFORMATION

Contact: Skip Schiel, skipschiel@gmail.com, 617-441-7756

Hosting Agreement

ORGANIZATIONS I’VE WORKED WITH IN PALESTINE-ISRAEL

Al Quds University (Gaza)

American Friends Service Committee

Birzeit University

Christian Peacemakers Teams

Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel

Friends International Center in Ramallah

Friends of the Earth Middle East

Gaza Community Mental Health Program

Holy Land Trust

Interfaith Peace Builders

Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information

Jewish Voice for Peace (in the United States)

Middle East Children’s Alliance

Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality

Palestine News Network

Palestinian Hydrology Group

Parents’ Circle-Families Forum

Ramallah Friends Meeting

Ramallah Friends School

Right to Education Program (at Birzeit University)

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

UN-OCHA, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

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

—Avot D’Rabbi Natan

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

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

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

PHOTOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethlehem checkpoint

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

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

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

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

Dormitory at the Ariel University funded by the controversial Irving Moskowitz

Ariel settlement

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

Nonviolent demonstration in the village of Al Masara near Bethlehem

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

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

Prisoners’ rights demonstration at Ofer Prison, Israel

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

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

One of my students at the Ofer Prison demonstration

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

Thanks for following the issues and my work.

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

—Fares Oda, West Bank AFSC staff

Boys and automatic rifles

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

Nativity Church and full moon in Bethlehem

LINKS

American Friends Service Committee

Friends of the Earth Middle East

Negev Coexistence Forum for Social Equality

Palestine News Network (English)

Jenin Freedom Theater

Friends International Center in Ramallah

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

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