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Posts Tagged ‘ein gedi’

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

PHOTOS 

Solidarity is the political version of love.

—Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz

October 7, 2018, Sunday, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem

Ayed invited me to visit a Bedouin community displaced from Ein Gedi during the Nakba in 1948. This would be a novel sort of story. Ein Gedi, the paradise beside the Dead Sea that I’ve visited at least twice and photographed extensively. Never knew there had been Bedouins there. The potential cost of this excursion presents a challenge. When Ayed posed this I thought he meant it as between two friends, as I’d offered to show around a Palestinian during his Cambridge visit in the spring. Altho the visitor, Mohammed, never accepted my offer, the idea of money never presented itself to me. Charge him for showing him around Cambridge? Absurd. I’m not in the business of tour guide.

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Ayed, living in the Aida refugee camp, faces much different conditions than I do. Yet at first I thought his proposal was too high, despite the potential value of the meeting: the drive across the desert itself could provide many opportunities to photograph, plus being with Ayed who I truly like and seem liked by added value. But then I reconsidered. OK, maybe, $150 is fair for what could be a rare opportunity. Plus, and this clinched my equivocation, the cost was the equivalent of about 3 nights in cheap housing in Palestine. (I pay $30 nightly here in the refugee camp, nearly $50 nightly at the Golden Gates hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem.) Comparatively speaking, why not? Also it gives me a reason to return later to Ein Gedi with a new perspective.

After some discussion (we lived in the same building in the Aida refugee camp) we agreed that for the 45-minute drive each way (a considerable effort) 300 shekels for gas and car, and 100 for fruit and chocolate as gifts to the family. And then maybe a cash gift to the Bedouins, let’s say 50 shekels more; add 100 more as a special gift to Ayed. Which makes 550 shekels or about $150 for this interview.

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Aida refugee camp

Now I wonder, do the people I’ve interviewed so far expect payment? Should I offer payment to my assistants, Mousa and Murad?

I’m sure this is a continually vexing issue for any cross-cultural work. Only a rare bird, living in poverty, would turn down cash, or even not ask for it, or not suggest it.

October 8, 2018, Monday, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem

Another big day of exploration: with Ayed to a Bedouin camp in the Judean Desert, to meet this large family expelled from Ein Gedi. The patriarch, Khalil Mohammed Rashida (Abu Daifallah), 98 plus years old, a jovial, lively fellow missing most of his teeth, deaf, told his story as I’m sure he’s told it many times, at least within the family. He’s been deaf since his early 20’s, a result of a sheep kicking him in the head. First his son, then his grandson interpreted for him using grand gestures and slowly mouthing words so he could understand, this alone a remarkable achievement. Ayed also needed help with the Bedouin dialect. Four generations, 25 people live in this compound.

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Khalil Mohammed Rashida

Khalil’s original family had lived in Ein Gedi while shepherding sheep and goats in the desert high above the only oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea. They lived with Jews as neighbors and apparently had good relations until the Nakba. Among the armed men driving them from the village, he said he noticed Jews, former neighbors. Much later his son has been able to look down from cliffs above Ein Gedi to view their former home site. Precisely what these homes consisted of and how many Bedouins actually resided or based in that oasis, I’m not sure, or why Bedouins, being traditionally nomadic (altho this has been changing), would base themselves in a village or town. Using Bedouin and Ein Gedi as search terms I found mainly sites offering “Bedouin experiences” around Ein Gedi, meaning camping or simulations of Bedouin communities. I found nothing historical.

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Apartheid Wall around Aida refugee camp (click here for enlargement)

Driving there with Ayed, several times people riding camels (we stopped to photograph one group, the lead man had his phone out and I believe photographed me photographing him) he explained the series of displacements, from region to region, until Bedouins are again spread out over much of the desert region. This particular family is about 80 km northwest of their original home site.

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One of the first displacement sites was a series of blockhouses provided by Israel. Other Palestinians, not Bedouins, drove them out, demolishing their homes, claiming ownership of this land. Ayed stopped here to explain and I photographed. A young, very dark-skinned boy approached us, examined us. Ayed explained who we were. (I believe Ayed’s dark skin is an asset here, and of course his Arabic language and general appearance. How would I ever do this alone?)

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Earlier dwellings Israel built for expelled Bedouins

After our interview and dinner the son offered us a tour of the desert, ending at a former Jordanian military barracks, long unused and mostly ruined, with some gorgeous graffiti. Israel uses the entire region for military exercises. We stopped at a site with large concrete slabs. For tents, Ayed explained. Then the son offered to drive us to the cliff overlooking Ein Gedi, a 1 hour ride each way from the camp, but, sun descending, hour late, haze prevailing, I declined. We’d already driven nearly an hour to reach the family and had yet to return to Aida camp in the dark.

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Former Jordanian military barracks

Because I recorded audio of the interview potentially I will be able to pick up relevant details, more of Khalil’s story and those of his descendents, especially his grandson who studies at Beersheva Open University to become a Palestinian security officer. Because I asked few questions and the talk centered on Ayed, I was free to roam with my photography and catch details of the milieu, including another son and some of the great grand children of the main man. After our desert tour, photography continued when they sat us down to a meal of goat head (I tried the eyeball, fatty and stringy rather than meaty), stuffed intestines, stuffed grape leaves (my favorite), onions, and various other ingredients that remain a mystery to me. I photographed as we ate and the kids played around us, the son occasionally picking out food to give to the aged one and the kids. I thought of Native Indians on the Great Plains, me a guest from another world, sitting down to a meal of bison.

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Goat head stew

LINKS

Negev/Naqab Bedouin

Israeli control and displacement of Palestinian Bedouins

Ein Gedi

TO BE CONTINUED

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Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians are currently planning accelerated development around the Dead Sea, which would result in massive construction of new hotels, expansion of industry and enhanced mineral and water extraction. The various new endeavors currently proposed for the region demonstrate not only woefully insufficient consideration of even basic ecological principles, but also a lack of basic coordination between sectors and between the three relevant governmental authorities.
See also Red Dead Conduit.

—EcoPeace-Middle East

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

PHOTOS

Yesterday’s first task was thinking about how far south I’d travel and where I might stay the night. Then a visit to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.

I’d stopped by on an earlier Dead Sea journey but for reasons I don’t recall did not enter. This time I had time for a leisurely stroll up Wadi David to the first set of waterfalls. I was not alone: numerous tour groups also visited.

Thru Wadi David

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Most walked only the minimum distance, to the first fall. Some stopped to pray and sing, I assume they were Christian altho I don’t know the Christian significance of this area. I overheard the words David and his men, meaning King David, alleged to have hidden here. On the trail I remet the young couple from the Netherlands who I’d shared quarters with at the hostel and then drove them to the nature reserve. They intended to take a longer route to caves and other sites. I had neither the time, nor interest, nor knees for that journey.

Since water is one of my main themes I felt at home on this walk. Multiple falls (I showered in the first one, before and after photographing a woman and her infant playing in the water), exquisite rock or clay formations (what keeps the structures in place, how dangerous is walking here, what if an earthquake happened? I did see a sign with the words Escape Route), striations showing millennial changes (2 million years ago this area was covered with water that connected to the Mediterranean), well made and tended trails with handrails and steps, birds and one gruesome looking rodent with sharp teeth that I photographed, views to the Dead Sea and back toward the Negev Desert heights, and a comfortable climate—not too hot, nor too cold, no hint of rain, some clouds.

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To escape from falling rocks (and pehaps flash floods)

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Rock Hyrax/Rock Badger

Then, to the car and off I spin south. With a long stop at the Ein Bokek hotel complex which I visited a few years ago. Here a room would cost me upwards of $300! On my last visit I could walk easily into a hotel (and surreptitiously photograph) with the story that I was considering an overnight stay. Not so this time—it is Israel’s Independence Day holiday. The hotels are loaded, not quite full. I found a friendly security man who let me park and escorted me to reception where I spoke with a dark-skinned young woman. After inquiring about prices I asked, might I look around? Help yourself. This after a rebuff at the first hotel I tried, the Leonardo.

I photographed and tried to imagine staying here, even if on a corporate budget. Would I? Why? So dismal, so dry, so too perfect. Not for me. Money or not.

One of numerous high end hotels in Ein Bokek

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Near the Ein Bokek hotel complex in the southern sea, the sea level continues to fall. Thus, a new road LOWER than the old.

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Paradoxically, while water from the northern section is pumped into the southern to be evaporated for mineral extraction, the sea level is rising in some places because of the build up of salt deposits that remain after mineral extraction. Thus, a new road, higher than the old.

Where will I sleep tonight? How about the beach, in my car? I scouted various locations, spoke with numerous people, and learned essentially I could car camp most anywhere in Israel and not be bothered. Where would I find minimal facilities like an unlocked toilet in the morning for a commanding call? That is not so easy. I spotted a couple, she with head covered, apparently car camping. I could pull up beside them, spoil their privacy, and have little of my own.

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“According to the Israeli group Who Profits From the Occupation? (whoprofits.org), the mud used in Ahava products is taken from a site on the shores of the Dead Sea inside the occupied territory, next to Kalia. Ahava uses Palestinian natural resources without the permission of or compensation to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel denies Palestinians access to the shores of the Dead Sea and its resources, although one-third of the western shore of the Dead Sea lies in the occupied West Bank.” 

I surveyed a small shopping mall. Remembering the boycott of Ahava cosmetics because it uses materials from the Palestinian section of the Dead Sea I photographed the Ahava retail store, trying to combine the shop, sign, and beach. I bought a beer (18 NIS/$4.50) and drank half the can in my car, then napped, awakening to heat. The shadow had shifted. I bought a small tin of instant coffee, 20 NIS/$5. And made a cup of cold coffee to rouse myself after the beer for the drive further south. I photographed the old road which is higher than the new road, indicating sea recession, and then later, further south, I photographed the new road, higher than the old, because the southern basin is rising.

This is complicated: the Sea’s northern portion is clearly receding because of diversion and drought (altho I learned huge changes in sea level are common over a long stretch of time, level much higher in the century before the era of Jesus), and apparently for a while the Sea’s south portion receded as well. Then, with the buildup of mineral deposits from mining the water for potassium, sodium, etc, the level is rising in the south. Rather than curtail the mineral deposition the government has decided to revise the infrastructure. So we have here 2 major problems caused by changes in water—sinkholes and infrastructure, which includes the hotels.

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I photographed as many manifestations of these phenomena as I could. I might have enough photos for a Dead Sea presentation alone. Include the Dead Sea works, pipes, cliffs, etc, and it may be a substantial collection. Add to that also the region I now write from, Neot haKikar, and I might have a unique collection. (I should research other photo sets from the Dead Sea. I long for aerial views, maybe next time bring a drone.)

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Pumps move water from the northern section to the south

Canals carry water to the southern section

Canals carry water to the southern section

Evaporation ponds

Evaporation ponds

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Dead Sea Works, for extracting potash, and other minerals

Last evening as I drove into the small moshav (agricultural coop), Neot HaKikar, for groceries, I noticed about 10 dark-skinned Asian men riding on a flat bed trailer pulled by a tractor. First thought: tourists. Second: they might stay where I’m staying, ghastly. Third thought as I discovered they shopped at the same “minimarket” as me and bought large quantities of beer, wine and vodka, along with some staples, Oh oh, what if they reside tonight at the camp lodge where I am? Could be rowdy and noisy. Fourth thought, as I heard their language, a singsong Cambodian-like language: Ah ha, they are foreign agricultural workers, probably from Thailand.

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Agricultural workers from Thailand in the cooperative farming village of Neot HaKikar at the southern Dead Sea tip

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Shkedi’s Camp Lodge in Neot HaKikar

I thought I might inquire of the man at checkout but this would be in the presence of the workers. Save the question for later, perhaps Gil, the lodge’s proprietor, who I’ve yet to see this morning (later he affirmed my speculation). Checking on line, I find references to Thai workers in this region. Local agriculture grows melons, tomatoes, squash, etc, that can survive on salty water.

I consider whether foreign workers throughout Israel could become a subtheme of my photography. I waited while they boarded a flatbed and then tried to follow them without being spotted. I made a few snaps, planning to scout further today. But because it might still be holiday—and the beginning of Shabbat—they may not work. Perhaps this is their reason for stocking up on booze.

Referring to my speculations about dangers from falling rocks at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve:

The Neot HaKikar disaster (Hebrew: אסון נאות הכיכר), which occurred on 30 December 1970, was until the Mount Carmel forest fire of 2010 the worst natural disaster in the history of the State of Israel. Heavy rains caused rocks to detach from an overhanging cliff and crush a dining room in an Israel Defense Forces base. 19 soldiers and one civilian were killed and ten soldiers were injured (three of them severely). (Wikipedia)

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Looking south toward the Red Sea, Dead Sea approximately in the middle, Sea of Galilee near the bottom, the Mediterranean Sea on the right

LINKS

Salt Production at the Dead Sea

“Israel Chemicals Moves Dead Sea Salt for $1 Billion,” by David Wainer, 2013

“The Dying of the Dead Sea,” by Joshua Hammer, 2005

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