Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Click for interactive map
Beit Hanoun, Gaza, August 2009
First the nuts and bolts about my recent 5 week tour of my photos from Israel-Palestine to the southern regions of the United States:
approximately 30 showings in almost as many venues to about 1200 people, in colleges and universities, mosques and churches, and seniors’ residential centers. Mainly the photo presentation Gaza Steadfast, but also Quakers in Palestine/Israel, Bethlehem the Holy, and The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel.
Jenin, West Bank, Palestine, July 2009
Beginning in the triangle area of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh), south to Miami, across the Gulf Coast to New Orleans, northeast to Birmingham Alabama, and concluding in Columbus Georgia at the School of the Americas Watch vigil and procession to the gates of Fort Benning.
Residing mostly in homes, also a few hotels and motels, traveling by rides provided by hosts, along with the train and bus.
After viewing an exhibit about hidden people at one of my university venues I began introducing my shows with the frame of hidden or obscured people. Examples would include American Indians, people worldwide living in poverty, victims of color in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, indigenous Mayans in Guatemala—and of course, Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians, and especially Gazans. Hidden in a subtle way: not overtly hidden but disguised, distorted, transformed, their true humanity masked by being turned into savages (indigenous people), criminals (black residents of New Orleans), and the notorious terrorists firing rockets into civilian areas of Israel.
Indeed, Gaza militants fire rockets into southern Israel, probably a war crime, but this does not define all Gazans. Who are they, how do they live, what is their fundamental nature? Gaza Steadfast!
Legislative building, Gaza City, Gaza Strip, August 2009
I also used a second frame: the rise of the international court system and its application to Israel’s attacks on Gaza and the rocket fire from Gaza. This development in Gaza is unprecedented, a significant step in the history of Israel-Palestine but also for humanity. Despite the Obama administration and US House rejecting the report, the recommendation to take the case to the International Criminal Court in the Hague is a significant step. (At this writing, the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have endorsed the report and the Security Council is poised to consider it—with a US veto expected.)
Gaza City, out the window of Dr. Mona Al-Farra, August 2009
First aid workshop, Popular Achievement, American Friends Service Committee, Beit Hanoun, Gaza, August 2009
Beit Hanoun, Gaza, August 2009
Raghda Al-Jedeli, Bureij refugee camp, Gaza, August 2009
A few impressions from the tour:
For the first time in my 4 tours to the south, more Muslim-Arab groups organized shows, both students and adults; more individuals from these populations attended; and I noticed somewhat more activism among this population at mosques and higher education institutions.
The tour was in the shadow of the Richard Goldstone report about Gaza commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, with the shameful responses by the Obama White House and the House of Representatives, both denying the validity of the exhaustive and fair-minded report. The latter, HR 867, was voted on while I was in Florida, the home state of the representative authoring the resolution, Ilena Ros-Lehtinen. I feature the Goldstone report in my Gaza Steadfast show. Much rich discussion about the report and responses followed each show.
Audience response was usually warm. No hostility, no incivility, little sharp criticism—with a few exceptions. On occasion after the public discussion individuals expressed opposition to some of my claims and perspectives. Among them: I’ve not seriously regarded Israeli justifications for their policies and actions (these remarks usually from supporters of Israel), I’ve not fully acknowledged the right of an oppressed population to resist by any means available (usually supporters of Palestine, and often Muslim Arab).
Mangroves, Tampa, Florida—Click for enlargement
One highlight was showing at mosques. In most cases this was in a community room, but in Birmingham Alabama, they hosted me in the mosque itself. A gorgeous spacious cavernous room, once a Christian church, elegantly transformed into the simple space of Islamic worship. I felt honored. And here I was most seriously questioned about including the suffering of Jews in relation to that of Palestinians. My Gaza show ends with a depiction of life under the Gaza rockets—the Israeli town of Sderot, just one mile from the northern strip. I’m still not sure about this ending, I need to digest my experiences using it.
From a young man at the mosque, Abu Ibrahim Ismail:
You gave a very good presentation the other day. You’ve taught me a lot, and that’s good ’cause I usually think I know it all.
Please keep up the good work. You are doing something very important that not many people have the opportunity to do.
He also stated on his blog:
I had the chance to see something not too many people see: astonishing Gaza photos of the destruction caused by the Israeli siege earlier this year.
At the Birmingham Islamic Center in Hoover, Alabama, photographer Skip Schiel showcased his photos of the aftermath of Israel’s war against Hamas. He gave a pretty balanced presentation as he also displayed photos of the damage caused by Hamas rockets into Israel.
But there was no comparison. The damage caused by Israel’s barrage made the difficult situation in Gaza even worse. I can’t even begin to explain or describe everything he talked about. All I can say is, whatever I thought I knew about the situation was only just a glimmer of how life really is…
There is a little hope. Skip’s photos showed Gazan (is that a real word) residents engaging in learning activities, leadership classes, and he himself gave them a photography class…
In front of the Dove Outreach Church, Gainesville, Florida
Since my home community and primary practice is Quaker, I was impressed with Quakers in Miami who hosted my Quakers in Palestine/Israel show. They told me about their recent opening of a Quaker Peace Center. Good to learn about such rare meeting-wide Quaker activism.
Quoting co-clerk Warren Hoskins from the meeting:
…I’m already thinking about your next visit… you tapped on the doors of many people, and I truly expect far more to open in the future.
…you were the first speaker brought to South Florida by the Quaker Peace Center of Miami Friends Meeting. As such, you set a suitably high standard for future guests to bring talks, published books or other writings, multimedia programs and projects and other works for peace and social justice to South Florida. Thank you so much for that, too…
Much of the region I covered is little visited by people like me—it is fresh territory for artists and activists, cultural workers and witnesses. Which might partly explain why finding venues was so difficult. Student organizers cancelled at two venues when they failed to follow up on commitments. During the last 2 weeks there were many blank days which in the north might have been more easily filled. However, on several campuses student chapters of Amnesty International and Students for a Democratic Society co-sponsored shows. Despite my disappointment and thanks to the good work of my organizer, David Matos, we intend to try again next year, deepening our penetration in the Deep South and Mississippi Delta.
We ended by joining a Buddhist-led walk for immigration rights and to close the School of the Americas, AKA, The School of the Assassins (SOA).
This controversial facility at Fort Benning Georgia trains military from Central and South American countries often implicated in death squads and assassination teams.
The tour finale was a presentation of Gaza Steadfast during the workshop period of the SOA activities. To an enthusiastic crowd of about 70 people. The number and degree of participation surprised me because the SOA event concentrates on Latin America. Two organizers of the Gaza Freedom March slated to begin in late December of 2009, Medea Benjamin and Ann Wright, attended the discussion and added details about the daring and dramatic trip to Gaza organized by Code Pink and others.
Altho my primary purpose for this trip was to show photos I also learned about the region, especially southern Florida with its ethnic diversity and huge gap between wealth levels, and the lingering damage along the Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Katrina more than 4 years ago. I photographed and videoed what I could, periodically posting on my website and blog.
From Anne Remley:
A very “telling” account… you’ve chosen a difficult path, sharing your experience of Gaza and Israel, helping at a distance those loved folks like your Raghda, but as a consequence having less sharing of love-at-hand, of the kind of deeper active connections one may feel with family. (Though of course one can be lonely in the midst of family, too.)
… this is quite a saga, from the discomfort with lavish but distant hosts to the warm accounts of presentations that aroused good probing and reactions from people who clearly much needed to learn and think about the Palestinians’ life of virtual enslavement, as I think of it.
(How can our country support and enable the enslavement, degradation, and harassment of so many thousands of human beings — in the name of “friendship” for Israel and military strategy, as well– though so mistaken — since our support for this daily enslavement creates military enemies against us and hazards for us every day that we continue this special “friendship.”)
… yes, you’ve had a distant Anner friend here reading and traveling with you, appreciating the journey, resonating to the traveler’s times of loneliness (maybe an existential human condition we all share — but especially felt by One Who Journeys).
Thanks for taking your words and images and knowledge to the far reaches of Florida. This is a form of living love for R and the rest.
Earlier, about photos from Palestine/Israel:
How do you DO it, Skip. Your photos are full of surprises. Like little gift packages with unexpected, unexpectable little presents…
Such gifts are these.
“Veteran’s Celebrate Freedom,” the Sunday before Veterans’ Day, Slidell Louisiana
For our next tour Dave and I are concocting a dream journey: for 1 – 2 months. We visualize a trip beginning in Washington DC, heading southwest along the Amtrak route (so I can more easily move between venues by train) to New Orleans (on Amtrak’s Crescent), north thru the Mississippi Delta and along the river (using the legendary City of New Orleans train), with a major stop in Chicago (my hometown), and then head thru the hinterland home to Boston (on the Lake Shore Limited). A dream tour indeed. We hope this journey will happen in the fall of 2010. (If you live in that area or know people who do, you might want to contact David Matos for more information, aiken (underscore) peace (at) yahoo.com, 803-215-3263.)
My touring in the United States is the antipodal end of my yearly travel to Israel-Palestine. There I learn and make the photos, here I learn and show the photos. Both are needed.
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.
Example of my videos: Deering Golf Course, Miami Florida