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

PHOTOS

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

—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Linda Dittmar and her Memoir Project: Destroyed Arab Villages

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

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Linda Dittmar

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

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

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

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

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

—Linda Dittmar

Zochrot Deborah Bright : Qula, near Lydd (Lod), 2010 ADJ SM

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

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

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

Deborah Bright’s photos, “Nakba”

Detroit—Coming Home: Johnny, my Detroit Neighbor

 

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

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

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

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

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

Curiosity: Human Beings and their Ancestral Homelands

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

Part 3 of motivations coming soon.

 

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

PHOTOS

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

—Mahmoud Darwish

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

Self exile from Chicago’s Southside

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

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

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

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

AH to Southside

Arlington Heights to Chicago’s Southside via public transport

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

Enveloping global refugee and immigrant crisis

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

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

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

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

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

The Great March of Return in Gaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First part of this interim report

LINKS

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

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

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Campus Safety and Security is available 24 hours a day to ensure a safe and secure environment for all City College students, staff members, and visitors.

—Truman College, Chicago

Truman_College_Building

Truman College is a Chicago community college a few blocks from St Francis House of Hospitality where I periodically stay in the Uptown neighborhood on the North Side. Since the early 1990s Truman College has been an oasis for me. I’ve attended workshops and talks there, perused the walls for information about community events, eaten in the cafeteria, and read quietly and peacefully. Truman College hosted an exhibition of my photographs about Native Americans. A few days ago, I’d hoped to visit Truman for many of the same reasons, especially to learn about community events.

St Francis House-Jimmy

The late house resident, Jimmy, on the porch of St Francis House of Hospitality

A big change: security. Private uniformed security officials sat at a desk immediately inside the main entrance, a twisted form of “Welcome Desk.” Electronic turnstiles admitted only those with sufficient credentials. I asked, may I come in? Why? To check bulletin boards for local events and grab a cup of coffee. No. Sorry.

Truman College, a public institution, is now gated. As is much of our nation.

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Train platform, Wilson Station

Perhaps an incident occurred at the college that precipitated this security. A robbery or violent assault. Such incidents are often used to justify increased security. The “Shoe Bomber,” carrying an explosive of some sort, apparently attempting to blow up a plane, led to x-raying removed shoes at airports. Are such incidents, often leading to irreversible policy changes, sufficient reason to dramatically increase security?

Or the neighborhood which draws unhoused or homeless people. Are they a threat? They could be offered a safe place out of the maddening crowd, warm, a place to rest, use the toilet, perhaps sold a moderately priced cup of coffee. Similar to the neighborhood McDonald’s which seems, by comparison, inordinately hospitable.

As of this writing, of the 77 Chicago community areas, Uptown ranked between 39th (violent crime) and 61st (property crime), hardly a high crime area.

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Wilson Station being renovated

I recall airports with minimal security. No need to remove shoes, laptops, jackets, etc, to be scanned. I recall universities with open libraries for browsing (for decades I visited the architecture library at MIT to explore photography books, a major form of my photographic education.) I recall state and federal office buildings without security. I recall neighborhoods, including the South Side of Chicago where I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, where we kids played freely late into summer evenings. And I recall a time, an era, that was happily relatively open,relatively welcoming, relatively fearless.

The police fear Black people; thus we experience a wave of police murdering African-Americans, usually Black Males, often females as well, not as well-known. On my first evening in Chicago I attended a police accountability meeting in Uptown, one in a series to increase civilian supervision of police activity.

This nation, the most powerful in history, with a military costing more than the militaries of the next 8 nations combined, has become a people suffocated in fear. The president calls for a 10%, $54 billion increase in the military budget, while slashing money for housing, medical care, education, the environment. The military now demands more than $600 billion annually, enough to build thousands more schools, tens of thousands more homes, develop hundreds of miles of regional public transportation, and easily pay for an exterior paint job for St Francis House.

Fear rules the soul but wisdom can overcome fear. Wisdom, courage, bravery, and insight can open the doors of community resources. Truman College can once again be a refuge, a center of community activity, a beacon of what is best in the American people—welcoming, trusting, loving.

Since 1976, Truman College has been a vibrant and vital part of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, delivering high-quality, innovative, affordable and accessible educational opportunities and services.

—Truman College

LINKS

Is Uptown Safe?

Crime in Uptown

Uptown

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Detroit-Rasmea_Odeh-8702

The trial of Rasmea Odeh in Detroit concluded on Monday, November 10, 2014. The federal government charged her with a fraudulent naturalization application. She had declared in 2004 that she had no arrests, convictions, or imprisonments. The trial is in Detroit because she first settled and applied for citizenship here. A Palestinian, she’d been convicted by a military court in  Israel for coordinating two bombing attacks that killed two people. Allegedly she  falsely confessed after coerced by torture and rape. Her defense in this current trial is not fully understanding the application instructions, whether “ever” means “ever anywhere” or only in the United States.

The larger issue is justice.

She was convicted of one count of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization. She plans to appeal.

“No,” said the priest, “you don’t need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.” “Depressing view,” said K. “The lie made into the rule of the world.”

― Franz Kafka, The Trial

National Week of Action to #FreeRasmeaNow

PHOTOS

Notes from my journal:

November 7, 2014, Friday

Rasmea Odeh (pronounced raz-mee-a o-day), on trial for alleged naturalization application fraud, has instead, I do hope, put the Israeli government and the USA intelligence apparatus themselves on trial. Because of Judge Gershwin Drain’s rulings (which might become the basis of an appeal), the trial avoided the larger issue—justice generally, but, in this case, her treatment by the Israelis and their occupation of Palestine and her subsequent contributions to Arab-American society in Chicago. Little mentioned, the fact that the trial grew out of the investigation and threatened prosecution of 23 anti-war and Palestinian community organizers in Chicago and Minneapolis in 2010, many of them under continuing surveillance by the FBI and Homeland Security.

Arriving a little late on Thursday, November6, the third day of the trial, not sure where the federal courthouse was, or the specific courtroom, I finally entered the actual room only to learn they allowed no more visitors and I would be able to observe in the overflow area. With wide-screen TV and good audio I might have seen and heard better in this room than in the actual courtroom.

I won’t detail the proceedings because Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) where Rasmea works, and others have done a fine job.* I will write about photographing the rally, followed by my thoughts springing from witnessing the trial.

Detroit-Rasmea_Odeh-8746

Hatem Abudayyeh

First Rasmea. initial impression: this woman has suffered; suffering defines her; her face, twisted and lined, perhaps aging beyond he actual years (67), reveals her suffering. Yet a fascinating face, one I photographed extensively. Then the rally group, some from my hometown of Chicago; others from Minneapolis, the site of FBI interrogations; and me, from Cambridge Massachusetts (here to photograph aspects of the city): energetic, committed, caring, devoted not only to Rasmea but to the cause: justice for immigrants and activists, for all.

Detroit-Rasmea_Odeh-8577

I felt welcomed, nor did any seem suspicious of me, altho I might have been a government agent. I noticed one young woman wearing a hijab concealed her face with her poster when I turned the camera toward her. Otherwise, no exclusion, no hiding from the camera.

Detroit-Rasmea_Odeh-8607

The lead defense lawyer, Michael Deutsch from Chicago, tall and with a white beard, long involved in human rights campaigns, spoke mostly about the case and strategies; Rasmea thanked the group, promising to remain strong; Hatem emphasized how important support is; and Invincible Ill Weaver, a renowned local rapper and activist, who I’d met earlier and spoke to about Grace Lee Boggs, roused the crowd. They all concentrated on prospects and gratitude.

Inviinciple Ill Weaver, Detroit activist with the Boggs Center

Invincible Ill Weaver

Michael Deutsch, lead attorney

Michael Deutsch, lead defense attorney

November 8, 2014, Saturday

As I wrote SF:

i’ve just returned home from my second and possibly final day at the rasmea odeh trial [friday, november 7]. cross examination of rasmea, closing arguments, and the judge’s instructions to the jury occupied the morning. outside some 60 supporters, including a large contingent from chicago, rallied before and after. i photographed as much as i could—outside only because of the proscription against cameras and other recording devices.

the jury returns monday to continue deliberations. her lawyer, michael deutsch, did a top notch job closing today, trying to lift the argument from the narrow issue of lying on her naturalization application to fairness and justice…

A few ideas occurred to me while observing the trial.

1. Another way to decide Rasmea’s case would be: suppose she is declared guilty. She will be removed from her community and the country, no longer able to provide services or advocacy. She could suffer prison for some 5-10 years, a huge fine, and then deportation. Where will she go? How will this contribute to the community’s—and the country’s—well being and security?

2. Did she actually help organize the bombing of the Jerusalem supermarket in 1969 that she was convicted of? Was she a member of a banned, so-called terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine? An interview with the brother of one of the two victims, Basil Joffe (the brother, Eddie Joffe, has attended the trial) suggests she is guilty of the bombing. What evidence is there? What media exists from that period? She claims she was arrested in a wide sweep which included her father, and then falsely accused and convicted after torture and rape. What is the truth? If guilty, might she eventually confess? Is her benevolent work a form of repentance?

3. The prosecutor repeated numerous times the phrase, “convicted of two bombings that killed two innocent people.” In his concluding statement, the defense attorney, Michael Deutsch, used the frequency of that phrase to demonstrate how slanted the prosecution’s case was. In effect, without using the T word, ruled out by the judge, the implication was “terrorist.” In contrast Judge Drain ruled against allowing Rasmea’s claim that Israel tortured and raped her to coerce a confession. Had this been allowed, the defense would have used a different strategy, emphasizing her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how this affected her application.

Nadine Naber, University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) professor, character witness

Nadine Naber, University of Illinois-Chicago professor, character witness

4. One factor deciding the outcome of this case might be the jurors’ feelings about Israel, whether supportive or opposed. If opposed they might understand that most likely Rasmea, if guilty of the bombing, was acting in defense of her people against the occupation, and, if not guilty, which is quite likely given Israel’s documented use of torture and brutal interrogation and imprisonment, a victim of a large sweep as she claimed. If supportive of Israel, then the opposite. They might believe she is a terrorist killing innocents. And should be punished and expelled from the United States.

5. What threat does Rasmea pose to out country? Living here she has never been arrested, tried, convicted, or jailed, but the FBI and Homeland Security sucked her up during a dragnet in 2010 of anti-war and Palestinian rights’ activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. To the contrary she was honored with the Mosaic Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Chicago Cultural Alliance for her work with immigrants from Arab-Muslim countries, primarily women and youth.

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6. If her original alleged crime had occurred in another country such as Libya or Syria or Iran, a so-called “enemy entity,” part of the new Mideast “axis of evil,” the arguments would have taken different forms. She might have been viewed as a freedom fighter, exercising her people’s right of self-defense.

7. Is this case propelled by Israel, materially aided by Israel (they furnished documents of her 1970 trial), fully supported by the US intelligence apparatus?

8. Supporters claim she is being targeted because she is Palestinian. Yet as far as I know her work in this country has not been primarily for Palestinian rights. It has been more general, in support of Arab-Americans. Why consider her dangerous?

Rasmea Odeh

9. As David Sole, active with citizens’ groups about Detroit’s bankruptcy, pointed out to me, our government has allowed entrance of German Nazis and Cuban “freedom fighters.” Where’s the consistency?

10. As for observing the trial itself, I compare that experience to setting up and shooting a Hollywood movie scene—tedious, endless detail, shots repeated. Or to reading an academic text—repetitive, poorly edited. Not at all exciting as some courtroom dramas can be. (David Sole also compared parts of the trial to the Three Stooges. I suggested Jon Stewart would have a delightful time with the story on the Daily Show.)

The drama occurred later, out of my range, off stage—the deliberation of the jury, and the suffering of Rasmea. What did they all feel this past weekend pondering outcomes?

11. I have been searching for links between Detroit and Palestine-Israel where I also continue my long-term photographic work. The main link is imprisonment, especially true for the Palestinians in Gaza, but also for those in the West Bank and even Palestinian Israelis—gross denial of human rights, including freedom of movement. In the case of Detroit, economic and racial conditions prohibit full exercise of human rights. The worst case is denial of water, affecting hundreds of thousands of Detroiters, all or mostly all Black. Many Detroiters live in such rotten economic conditions they have little freedom of movement, geographical and societally. And now a vivid case of imprisonment in Detroit: Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian, convicted and jailed.

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Gaza City, Palestine, 2010, photo by Skip Schiel

12. The lobster boat-coal barge story** from New England is an example of how a prosecutor can be enlightened in the course of his work. Could that happen with the prosecutors of Rasmea?

13. Brecht’s play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, speaks to the larger issue of justice. Judge Azdak, attempting to decide which of two women claiming to be the mother of a child, draws a circle, places the child in it, and requests the two women decide. He decides for the woman who refuses to hurt the child by pulling it out—not the actual mother who is selfish and cruel, but the one who treated the child well, the maternal one. (When I told this story to supporters they added that it is a version of the biblical story of Solomon in a similar situation—“Cutting the child in half.”

What there is shall belong to those who are good for it, thus
The children to the maternal . . . the valley to the waterers.

—Bertold Brecht, The Caucasian Chalk Circle

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13. As I’ve written earlier, my main observation is that trials such as this one tend to concentrate on narrow issues—whether she committed fraud in her application for citizenship or in other cases whether protesters trespassed at a military facility?—rather than larger issues such as justice and stopping militarism. (An example of the narrow issue in this case was whether she understood the directions on the application, whether ever means ever anywhere or ever in the USA?) I think of Kafka and his novel, The Trial. Poor Josef K, the chief character, his confusion, his entrapment.

“But I’m not guilty,” said K. “there’s been a mistake. How is it even possible for someone to be guilty? We’re all human beings here, one like the other.” “That is true” said the priest “but that is how the guilty speak.”

― Franz Kafka, The Trial

At the request of the prosecution, the judge revoked Rasmea’s bail. She is now in a Detroit jail awaiting sentencing due in March 2015.

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LINKS & NOTES:

Coverage of the case, thru the US Palestinian Community Network

Arab American Action Network, Chicago (Rasmea is the deputy director)

“Defense promises to appeal guilty verdict against Rasmea Odeh,” by Charlotte Silver, November 10, 2014

“Palestinian Organizer Rasmea Odeh Jailed Hours After Being Convicted by Jury of Immigration Fraud,” by Kevin Gosztola, November 10, 2014

“A political prosecution”: inside the trial of Rasmea Odeh,” by Nora Barrows-Friedman, November 9, 2014

“Admitted Palestinian terrorist may be deported from US (updated),” by the elder of zion, May 18, 2014

FBI questioning Chicago Palestinian community members,” May 7, 2014

“Activists cry foul over FBI probe,” by Peter Wallsten June 13, 2011

“FBI Raids Homes of Antiwar and Pro-Palestinian Activists in Chicago and Minneapolis,” Democracy Now, September 27, 2010

Death in the Supermarket” (Eddie Joffe was murdered in Jerusalem 45 years ago. Today his terrorist killer is lionized.” by Jillian Kay Melchior, May 21, 2014

“Jerusalem Supersol Re-opens for Business; 2 Young Bombing Victims Are Buried,” February 24, 1969

** “In May 2013, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara used a little white lobster boat, the Henry David T, to block a shipment of 40,000 tons of coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, MA, the largest coal plant in New England. They were charged with conspiracy, disturbing the peace and motor vessel violations and faced up to several years in jail.

“The Bristol County District Attorney, Sam Sutter, dropped the conspiracy charges and reduced the other charges to civil infractions this morning, saying that he saw the need to take leadership on climate change. He called climate change “one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced” and told a cheering crowd that he would join them at the People’s Climate March in New York City in two weeks.”

Lobster Boat Blockade

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The Rising of the Light:

Photography by Skip Schiel from Israel and the Occupied Territories of Palestine

October 11 – November 1, 2010

We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

—Dr Martin Luther King Jr

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Apsara Warrior, by Ouk Chim Vichet, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Art Museum

I am very grateful to all who organized and hosted for me on this tour. Without them and many others I’d not be able to do the little I’ve accomplished. I am immeasurably grateful. Unfortunately, a few who promised venues did not follow thru—usually for unexplained but I’m sure understandable reasons. Maybe next time.

—Skip

The journey—intentions, problems, meaning, and achievements?

Three weeks in the Midwest, the hinterland, mostly Cleveland, Detroit, Ann Arbor Michigan, Tiffin Ohio, and Chicago and suburbs. At 2 conferences, 1 mosque, 1 Islamic high school, 2 public high schools, 1 neighborhood center, and 2 Friends meetings. Details here.  Showing Dismantling the Matrix of Control, Gaza Steadfast, and The Hydropolitics of Israel-Palestine, also with the photo exhibitions, Gaza is Home to 1.5 Million Human Beings: How Do They Live? and Living Female in a Zone of Conflict. To approximately 600 people in live audiences, including children as young as 7 years and elders older than me—and an unknown number at former, current and future exhibitions.

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Gaza and Living Female exhibits at AFSC Chicago

My tour organizer and I found fewer venues than we’d anticipated, perhaps our lack of Midwest contacts or the economy or poor timing. At some venues, notably in Cleveland, the audiences were small (10-15 people) and relatively quiet. While in others, the 2 conferences and the Friends meeting, audiences were larger (100-200) and seemed more engaged. People frequently encouraged me to return.

The audiences were mostly welcoming, with a few exceptions—someone at a mosque misinterpreted my Gaza slide show to be siding with Israel, propounding its point of view. A man shut down that show. Later several participants from the mosque apologized and told me this man did not speak for their community. In addition a Jewish adversary from the Boston area, long critical of me, sent a letter to key leaders of a suburban community claiming I was partisan against Israel and worse. The high school at which I was to appear canceled my presentation. Local organizers felt this was not in response to the letter, but to what they thought were my slanted views displayed without sufficient context. No easy road—threading thru a tortured terrain.

I’ve lost friends and supporters as I’ve photographically engaged with Palestine/Israel. And I’ve gained many new ones, especially on this last tour.

Not to take sides is to effectively weigh in on the side of the stronger.

—William Sloan Coffin, Credo

I connected with various people in the progressive Jewish movement who are in the forefront of Jewish activism about Palestine/Israel. I co-presented with Mark Braverman (author of Fatal Embrace, Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, highly recommended) in Tiffin OH, Rabbi Michael Davis in Downers Grove IL, and Rabbi Brant Rosen (co-founder of Fast for Gaza and the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace) of the Evanston Illinois Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. The Chicago regional office of the American Friends Service Committee’s Mideast program honored Rabbi Rosen, Shirien Damra (a Muslim American graduate student organizer for Palestinian rights), and me with their annual Inspiration for Hope award.

Zionism always was, despite strategically motivated denials and brief flirtations with other objectives [e.g., bi-nationalism], an attempt to establish Jewish sovereignty over Palestine. This project was illegitimate. Neither history nor religion, nor the sufferings of Jews in the Nazi era, sufficed to justify it. It posed a mortal threat to the Palestinians, and it left no room for meaningful compromise. Given that the Palestinians had no way to overcome Zionism peacefully, it also justified some form of violent resistance.

—Neumann, Michael: The Case Against Israel

The Muslim and Arab communities are on the rise, organizing and participating in events like mine, and boldly speaking out against injustices in Palestine/Israel. Potentially they form a funding and political bloc which could influence the course of events in the Mideast.

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Various activists housed and fed me, treating me to tours of their regions. Hospitality seemed limitless, as did love, commitment, and appreciation. Hosts and organizers taught me about issues local to their region, and what’s being done. For example, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor I attended what I call The Red Shirt Affair, a dramatic opposition to a campaign by Israel to rebrand itself by sending current and former soldiers to campuses to propound views supportive of Israel. (Photos here, included in part 1 and part 2 of a 2 part series of my photos from the trip. )

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University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

As if riding thru neighborhoods and homes on a railroad train, I sampled lives as I tunneled thru.

A highlight was exploring my hometown of Chicago—childhood on the Southside and high school years in the northwest suburb of Arlington Heights. Roots and influences. A rich heritage. I hope to return soon to this vibrant and often overlooked sector of the nation.

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Security officer, Cabrini Green, Chicago

Confirming the observations of others in the United States, I’ve noticed a shift in perception about Palestine/Israel. People are more willing to criticize Israel, demand the application of international law, understand the complicity of the United States government in fostering the oppression, and most importantly (thanks in large part to Mark Braverman) realize that the silence of the Christian church community enables Mideast horrors to continue. As evidenced by the people I’ve mentioned, Jews and Muslims and Arabs play a major role in this perceptual and activist shift, standing up for human rights despite the opprobrium this generates in their own communities.

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Prison, Detroit

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My temporary neighborhood in Detroit

My main hope for this journey was to broadcast as widely as possible my images and stories collected over the past 7 years, enhancing the struggle for Palestinian dignity, human rights, and justice, while acknowledging the suffering and rights of Jews and others in that region. And to do this by concentrating on international law, holding accountable all parties in the conflict.

Both Israel and Hamas have failed to meet their obligations under international law to conduct credible and independent investigations [into the assault on Gaza by Israel named Operation Cast Lead from late 2008 to early 2009]. “The Human Rights Council must therefore assess these domestic proceedings and report accordingly to the UN General Assembly and Security Council,” said [Wilder Tayler, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists]. “The Security Council must take concrete and robust measures to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for victims, and to this end consider the options at its disposal to break the cycle of impunity prevalent in this conflict, including by referring the situation in Gaza to the International Criminal Court,” concluded Tayler.

—International Commission of Jurists, September 2010

Now I bear down on plans for another trip: Gaza for 6 weeks, mainly to teach photography thru the AFSC and to make photos, in the context of a movie being made about Gaza and my photographic work there.

I’ll be blogging and posting photos on my website, so please consider signing up for the Levant list below if you’ve not already.

Levant email list: please write skipschiel (at) gmail (dot) com with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line.

Website: teeskaphoto.org

Articles:

Conference seeks to clarify Israeli, Palestinian hostilities, by MaryAnn Kromer

Cleveland Report: Space for Everyone… “New Jim Crow & 4 Apartheids” by Kim Hall

Video: Students stage intense, silent, nonviolent protest as IDF soldier appears at University of Michigan in PR campaign (“The Red Shirt Affair”)

Article about “The Red Shirt Affair” in the Arab American News, Ann Arbor M

Tour Prospectus

The prophets do not offer reflections about ideas in general. Their words are onslaughts, scuttling illusions of false security, challenging evasions, calling faith to account, questioning prudence and impartiality.

—Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

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Morton Arboretum, Downers Grove IL

All we want is to be ordinary.

—Mohmoud Darwish, the late Palestinian poet

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What
When
Where
Venue
More information
Dismantling the Matrix of Control, a slide show about Palestine-Israel
Oct 13, Wed, 7 PM
2728 Lancashire Road
216-932-1898 Cleveland Hts, OH
Space for Everyone: Examining Four Apartheids
Unitarian Unversalist Society of Cleveland
email.donbryant@gmail.com
don@immigrantsupportnetwork.org
617-441-7756 (home)/617-230-6314 (mobile)
schiel (at) ccae.org
Dismantling the Matrix of Control, a slide show about Palestine-Israel
Oct 14, Thurs, 7 PM
4427 Franklin Blvd
216- 651-6250
Cleveland, OH
Space for Everyone: Examining Four Apartheids
St. Paul’s Community Church
email.donbryant@gmail.com
don@immigrantsupportnetwork.org
617-441-7756 (home)/617-230-6314 (mobile)
schiel (at) ccae.org
Opening photo presentation: Dismantling the Matrix of Control
Workshop: The Hydropolitics of Palestine-Israel
Oct 23, Sat, 9 AM- 4:30
Tiffin, Ohio
Israel/Palestine: Pathways to Peace conference
Jo Hollingsworth, wjh@filmtecinc.com
Photo exhibit, Gaza is Home to 1.5 Million Human Beings-How do They Live?
Thru mid October
Fostoria, OH
Fostoria Community Arts Council gallery
Photo exhibit, Gaza is Home to 1.5 Million Human Beings-How do They Live?Gaza Steadfast & a slide show,
Oct 24, Sun, 1-4 PM
The Irish American Heritage Center 4626 N Knox Ave Chicago, IL See map: Google Maps
The American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East Program Fundraiser
Miryam Rashid (mrashid@afsc.org), Jennifer Bing-Canar (jbing-canar@afsc.org) or Karen Light (klight@afsc.org) with any questions.
Invitation (PDF)
Slide show about Palestine & Israel
Oct 25, Mon
Chicago area
Private Muslim girls’ school
Not open to the public
Photo exhibit, Gaza is Home to 1.5 Million Human Beings-How do They Live?Gaza Steadfast & a slide show,
Oct 26, Tues
6:30 View photo exhibit and mingle (Bring a pot-luck snack to share, if you wish.)
7:15 Program begins
8:15 Questions and discussion
Downers Grove Friends Meeting House
(same location, NEW Meeting House!)
5710 Lomond Avenue
Downers Grove, IL
Windows Into Gaza: Two Voices United for Peace
Lillian Moats, 630-852-9741
Daniel Kaplan, kapland88@gmail.com
Flyer
Various slide shows with background information
Oct 27, Wed
Oak Park, IL
Oak Park High School, Middle East classes
Not open to the public
Photo exhibit, Gaza is Home to 1.5 Million Human Beings-How do They Live?
Nov 6 – 22
Milwaukee WI
Marguette University student union gallery
Photo exhibit, Gaza is Home to 1.5 Million Human Beings-How do They Live?
December, exact dates TBD
600 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago
Columbia College Chicago
Prospectus
617-441-7756
schiel (at) ccae.org

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