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Palestinian Refugees in Gaza & the West Bank

SECOND PHASE OF THE PROJECT—UPDATED: MARCH 30, 2019

We must never ignore the injustices that make charity necessary, or the inequalities that make it possible.

—Michael Eric Dyson

To donate please go to my GoFundMe campaign

LATEST

Since returning home in mid October 2018 I have steadily selected, processed, and posted photos, movies, and writing from my two months in Palestine-Israel—and  now I’m about to return.

During that two-month autumnal period—one of the most beautiful seasons in the region—I interviewed and photographed twelve Palestinians, mostly first generation refugees (expelled during the Nakba in 1947-48, the Palestinian Catastrophe coincident with the foundation of the Israeli state); four were second and third generation refugees. I also located all the destroyed villages they’d lived in, eight of them, an arduous process because of deliberate disappearance and replacement by Israeli communities and parks, and because of their new names, the process of Judaization.

I plan to return to the region from mid May to mid July 2019 to continue my project. Simultaneously I’ve been commissioned to document the work of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), especially in Gaza if our entry application to Israel is accepted, also in the West Bank and Israel. AVP teaches—with local partners—non-violent resolution of conflict. This continues the documentation I began last fall in Hebron, Ramallah, and Bethlehem.

I’ve consulted closely with a Palestinian raised in the Aida refugee camp, a Palestine-American academic and anthropologist, and an Jewish American-Israeli who is working on a parallel project. All three live near me in the Boston area. I’ve applied for an internship with BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, hoping to mutually fertilize our work. I will again consult with Zochrot, an Israeli NGO that advocates for the Palestinian right of return. I hope to also coordinate with B’Tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Right in Israel.

As far as I know I am the first to attempt a photographic project about this theme.

Please see: recent photography and recent blogs

Directory  of those photographed

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Rowaida Al Azzeh (Um Waleed), eighty three years old, coming from a village near Bethlehem, Beit Jibreen

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Former mosque, village of Al Qabu, Israel

BACKGROUND OF THE PROJECT

The issues erupting from Palestine-Israel have troubled me for decades, as they have the world community. Mainstream media tends to justify Israel’s positions. Currently and alarmingly the United States’ president and Israel’s prime minister are particularly close, heading largely right-wing governments. Inflaming the conflict, our president has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and sanctioned Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights. He has also cut all funding for UNRWA, the UN Refugee Works Administration responsible for refugees services. Many think this is a prelude to ending the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Most of the international community rejects these decisions. Policies of my administration and much of the congress are counterproductive to fostering justice, peace, and security for the region.

Since 2003 I’ve visited the region to witness and interpret conditions, making many friends and colleagues among both Palestinians and Israelis. And I’ve photographed Palestinian refugees in camps in Gaza and the West Bank, but their diaspora extends worldwide, forming the largest and longest-lasting case of displaced persons in the world today.

For my interim report (written on December 4, 2018) and discussion about my choice to render portraits in black and white, and current living conditions of those I’ve met, interviewed, and photographed, as well as their regions of expulsion, now in Israel, in color, please see my blog, Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Lands (or On Our Way Home)—part 8—INTERIM REPORT & BLACK AND WHITE VS COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Many times in the entire region, many photos, writing, and movies later, I now attempt to broaden the constricted picture many North Americans have of the overall Palestine-Israel situation.  Major questions: what happened during the expulsions? What were their lives before the Nakba? How did people travel to sites of refugee, what could they bring with them, have they ever returned to visit? How do people forced from their homelands presently live compared with Israelis in those former Palestinian homelands? How are the stories transmitted thru the generations? Do they wish to return, under what conditions? And generally how might a right of return for Palestinians work?

* (Great March of Return)

I hope to contribute my small effort to resolving the conflict, fostering justice, security, equality, and freedom for all human beings in that troubled region.

SKIP SCHIEL


I’ve been a photographer, filmmaker, and writer for most of my adult life. Struggles for justice and peace in different parts of the world have been my main concentration.

While in South Africa in 1990 and then again 8 years later during one of several of my international pilgrimages, I began to understand the parallels between conflicts in South Africa and Palestine-Israel. Apartheid, an Afrikaner word meaning separation—which I interpret it as Separation with Hate—operates in various forms in both regions. In Auschwitz in 1995 I learned more directly about the holocaust, which helped propel the creation of the Israeli state. I was raised Catholic and imagined Jesus walking thru the dusty Holy Land with his disciplines. Thus grew my curiosity, leading to my concern about that region. And then finally in 2003, during the end of the Second Intifada (Palestinian Uprising), the year an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer crushed and killed Rachel Corrie as she protected a Palestinian home, I was on my way East. This began one of the most meaningful journeys of my life.

I’ve photographed widely in Israel and Palestine, many different populations, many different activities: Israelis training as first responders, Palestinians living in tents, Israelis walking and shopping in Jerusalem and Haifa, Palestinians studying at various levels and ages, and Israeli middle school students investigating local archeology. I’ve explored all the areas of Israel, West Bank, and Gaza (except for the Sinai which is currently too dangerous to enter). For this project I hone my focus: refugees inside Palestine-Israel.

Please see my blog for more about my motivations for this project .

PALESTINIANS

Many families are from villages and rural areas now in Israel. This includes regions in southern Israel, where some 75% now in Gaza once lived, like Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Jaffa; where many now in the West Bank once lived, their original homes now in Israel’s central region, Lodz and Ramla, for instance; and internally displaced persons in northern Israel, Ein Hod, now an Israeli art colony, and Safad. Those from the north often fled to refugee camps in Lebanon and other countries. According to the latest estimates from BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, in 2015 there were 334,600 internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian occupied territories. With an additional 384,200 internally displaced persons in Israel, which for this trip if time allows I may explore. (A person is an internally displaced refugee if expelled from one’s original home and not allowed return, otherwise an internally displaced person.)

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Short Walk Home, Long Walk to Freedom 95 Palestinians Killed in Gaza by Israel during the March of Return, April 1, 2018-May 26, 2018. As of March 22, 2019 about 271 Palestinians have died. (Click for full view of this graphic )

Palestinians are one of the longest colonized populations— in 1948 and again in 1967 during the Six Day War by Israel, meaning the occupation of the West Bank and later the siege of Gaza—and still living in diaspora. I have shown the reality of the matrix of control, walls and fences, checkpoints, permits, home demolitions, restricted roads, inordinate fines, deportations, targeted assassinations, leveling of entire neighborhoods, violent repression of nonviolent demonstrations, etc. As well as survival mechanisms, the family, faith communities, organizations, political action, etc. Now I have the opportunity, thanks to contacts in Gaza and the West Bank, to show more widely the consequences of colonization and expulsion.

One in three refugees in the world are Palestinian. Nearly seven million Palestinian refugees live in some 14 countries. (UN Refugee Works Administration and UN High Commission on Refugees)

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Israeli mortar shell fired at Palestinian village in Gaza


After an attack by the Israeli military on a government building in Gaza

LOGISTICS

In mid May 2019, I return. Assuming Israel grants me an entry permit, I will enter Gaza; if unable to enter Gaza I will concentrate on the West Bank, expecting to complete the project after several more trips by the middle of 2021.  Despite the recurring turmoil in that region, I’ve always managed entry to Israel, the West Bank and periodically Gaza. I can’t guarantee entry this time, only that I will try my best. Despite the political uncertainties I intend to maintain focus on Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. This is a multi-year project.

As in the past, I will create exhibits, slideshows, blogs, movies, and ultimately a multi platform book (meaning full use of print and the internet). As with all my projects I will post photos and writings on my website and blog—dispatches from the field.

BUDGET FOR THE SECOND PHASE: $9,000

·      Airfare -$1500
·      Transport in country – $1000
·      Compensation and donations to  colleagues – $1000
·      Contributions to organizations working for Palestinian rights in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel- $1000
·      Food and lodging – $1500
·      Photographic equipment and supplies – $1000
·      Post production—developing, editing, printing, slideshow making, etc –  $2000

GOALS

By presenting powerful and contrasting images of life in the current and original sites of internally displaced Palestinian refugees, I hope to build awareness and inspire action. The end result: beyond coexistence to a breath-taking sharing of the region, its resources, histories, luminaries, and potential. A true Holy Land.

* The plea of refugees in Gaza to return to their ancestral villages now in Israel is the central focus of the Great March to Return. It began on April 2, 2018, was planned to end on May 15, 2018, but as of this writing (April 1, 2019) is ongoing. These dates mark two important historical events, Land Day when 6 Palestinians were killed as they attempted to return to their villages in 1976, and Nakba Day marking the beginning of The Catastrophe, or the Grand Dispossession in 1948.

Between March 30, 2018 and March 22, 2019 Israeli army snipers have killed nearly 271 Palestinians, mostly unarmed, with approximately 29,187 wounded, including 25% wounded by live ammunition, many with life-threatening injuries often caused by exploding bullets. Nearly 5,000 of the injuries and 41 of the fatalities were children. This overwhelms the already stressed medical system. Compared with 2 Israeli deaths and 56 injuries. (UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Because of the ongoing violence we may need to postpone entering Gaza until violence abates. In that case I will be mostly in the West Bank and Israel.

Here precisely is why entering Gaza is now nearly impossible (but we keep trying), partly a result of Israel’s alleged use of exploding bullets:

…Many of the injured suffered extensive bone and tissue damage from gunshot wounds, requiring very complex surgeries. Between 30 March 2018 and 28 February 2019, 120 amputations took place as the result of injuries sustained during demonstrations, including 21 children, with 22 people paralyzed due to spinal cord injuries and nine people suffering permanent sight loss. The Health Cluster estimated that by the end of 2018, over 1,200 patients with limb injuries would require complex and timely limb reconstructive surgery; these are highly complex injuries that, if not treated, may heighten the risk of secondary amputations.

These challenges come on top of existing, systemic challenges to Gaza’s health sector in the context of more than eleven years of blockade. Since 2006-7, there has been a reduction in human resources for health, per head of the population; long-term shortages and depletion of essential medicines and medical supplies; and electricity shortages and power fluctuations causing dependence on emergency fuel for generators and resulting in damage and the reduced lifespan of sensitive hospital equipment.  Since mid-2017, in the context of the intra-Palestinian divide between the Ramallah and Gaza authorities, medicines and other medical supplies, salaries for medical staff, funds for auxiliary medical services such as sterilization at hospitals, delays in countersigning of referrals, and fuel for energy that supports critical health facilities have been reduced, which has hampered the ability of the health system in Gaza to adequately respond to needs….Home

 

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Refugee camp in Gaza


Demonstration for human rights in Gaza, a Die-In in Boston, April 2018

SAMPLES OF MY WORK

Book  (Eyewitness Gaza)

Movie (same title as book, Eyewitness Gaza)-link on the thumbnail immediately below.

Photographs

Blog

TESTIMONIALS

Skip Schiel has been documenting the Palestinian and Israeli reality through photographs and journal postings since 2003. They contribute 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, Holocaust survivor

Skip Schiel photographs not only with his eyes but with his heart.

—Fares Oda, former staff American Friends Service Committee, Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories

It saddens me to hear of the difficulties Skip is going through [finding an audience]. This is discouraging for us who are struggling in the situation. I never would have suspected that his pictures were not balanced. The first act of nonviolent resistance is to tell the truth. His pictures shared that. Let’s pray our dear friend does not give up!

—Jean Zaru, Palestinian Quaker and activist, Ramallah, Palestine

Skip’s creative ministry has challenged, informed and inspired our [Quaker] Meeting for many years. His work is a visual reminder to us of the importance of remaining faithful to our peace and social justice testimonies.

—Cathy Whitmire, Former presiding clerk, Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quaker)

You capture such powerful, symbolic moments in your work, that reach beyond the context they are in. I admire your brave tenacity and commitment to documentation of this struggle for justice.

—Marjorie Wright, filmmaker (Jews Step Forward) and activist

Your sensitivity to light and emotion is dramatic, the brilliant daylight framing the sad courageous eyes and brave determined expressions of our Gaza neighbors, as they face such a cruel, demented, and terrifying adversary.

I think you are very brave too, and I thank you deeply for shining a true light on [the situation].

—John Paulman

SELECTED PHOTOS FROM MY WORK IN GAZA


Relative of family member imprisoned by Israel


In a refugee camp trauma treatment program


A celebration at the Qattan Center for the Child


Limited free desalinated water


At the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, picking thru garbage

EXTRA INFORMATION

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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  (partial archive of earlier 2018 photos in Palestine)

During the winter of 2018 a key organizer of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Joe Digarbo, invited me to join the AVP team in Palestine. To photograph and video the launch of the Palestine-based branch in Gaza in late spring 2018. I happily agreed.

I remembered my old friend Yousef X from Gaza who now lived in Norway and after many attempts was on his way to citizenship. We knew each other for years when he was in Gaza. He’d suffered thru the violence of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 and then the debacle of Operation Protective Shield in the summer of 2014, when many more were killed, injured, and made homeless by Israel’s relentless air and ground invasions.

Assuming this would be a short visit either on my way into or out of Palestine, he readily agreed to a visit, an opportunity not only for old friends to reunite but for Yousef to show me his favorite places in Norway, and introduce me to some of his friends, many of them like him refugees. I’d meet his new Norwegian wife. I could reside with them for a week or so. What bliss!

Building on this prospect, realizing Yousef’s long experience as a refugee but most importantly his training in international relations and his services to incoming refugees, plus my rapidly growing concern about refugees generally, I asked him if he’d like to help me begin a photographic project in Norway locating, interviewing, and photographing Palestinians.

Yousef liked the idea. Thru numerous Skype conversations and email exchanges we worked out a substantial plan for my visit and project.

In early April during the burgeoning campaign for the Palestinian right of return, violence mushroomed in Gaza (continuing to this day). The Great March of Return, initially nonviolent, taken over by Hamas and other militant groups and individuals, swept away AVP’s chances to enter Gaza in the spring. We postponed that trip to the fall, hoping for a decrease in fence violence and a higher likelihood of entering Gaza.

With a different time frame, the project grew in scope. I’d add Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands, countries relatively friendly to refugees to photograph for much of the summer. In late spring I created a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign offering the idea of a two part photographic project: part one in Europe beginning in Norway, working with Yousef; in the fall part two initially with AVP but extending my trip to begin photographing internally expelled Palestinians in the West Bank.

 

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Yousef asked me to remove all identifying signs

All went well until in early June, days away from my departure to Norway, I was hit by two challenges, urinary bleeding and Yousef’s sudden withdrawal from my project. This was a treacherous moment, worry about my urinary condition and whether it would force postponement of my trip, and my feeling of betrayal by a close friend and potential colleague. In response, I went on retreat for one week to the sacred waters of Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts, and the equally sacred community of Agape.

Luckily the bleeding stopped, causes were proposed, I seemed to be healthy, I had the AVP team to work with in the fall, I would support and be supported by them, and most crucially I had contacts in the States and Palestine who would help me with my refugee project.

So, inwardly thanking Yousef X for his role in the formation of my project, still not in touch with him, hoping he has a secure route to citizenship and has not suffered from what I feel he did to me—perhaps a result of trauma he suffered from Gaza and his hopes for respite and safety in Norway—I launched my project in September. My experiences with Yousef, tho often painful, were a major part of what led me to this project. Thank you good friend, survivor, suffering soul; may your life continue to improve.

LINKS

Alternatives to Violence Project

Refugees in Norway (2018)

Further info about Norway

Great March of Return (Gaza)

Further info about the Great March

Human Flow, a movie by Ai Weiwei (about the global refugee crisis, 2017)

TO BE CONTINUED

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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 

I am here because I care.

—Rachel Corrie

My Own Housing is at Risk

I am a low-income photographer, reliant on Social Security, photographic project funding, and until recently slender earnings from teaching (I left teaching due to enrollment decline and complicated scheduling). For many of my 30 years in a decent section of Cambridge I’m able to afford my 700 square feet apartment thanks to a Section 8 Housing Voucher. However, funding this benefit depends on city, state, and federal administrations. Each change of leadership—the current federal leadership terrifies me—reminds me of how precarious my situation is. A friend I’d shared this home with for a few years always declared, if they boot me out, I’d find a shelter to live in. I feel somewhat the same way, even tho shelters are chronically overcrowded and dangerous.

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My home in Cambridge Massachusetts (click here for enlargement)

My neighborhood in Cambridge, and also the Boston metro area, as well as much of our country, is currently gentrifying at an alarming rate. Gentrification means displacement, much as Israel displaced Palestinians during the Nakba. Less violent here perhaps, with some meager means of redress, but thousands are pushed from their homes as entire regions become too expensive to live in. A national crisis, a result of income and wealth inequality, exacerbated by the current federal government.

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My neighborhood, looking west

Because of the uncertainty of my housing I feel more sensitive to the precariousness of the housing of others. In East Jerusalem and in Area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank, Israel constantly demolishes Palestinian homes.

What about housing in the refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank? Currently the United States administration calls for the United Nations Refugee Works Administration (UNRWA), the main agency providing housing, food, and medical and legal assistance to the camp residents, to be defunded. The possible result—maybe intentional—is killing the refugee programs in Palestine, including housing, thereby squelching the demand for the right of Palestinian return.

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Gaza, 2010, photo by Skip Schiel © 

In 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield, purportedly in response to suicide operations by Palestinian militants, Israel invaded the 7 most populous regions in the West Bank, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Nablus among them. They destroyed much of the infrastructure, including housing. During that spring I recall going to bed thinking—fantasizing of course, but deeply concerned—that during the night, someone would demolish my home. Then awakening, my home intact, I offered thanks for another night and perhaps day in my home. I might not be able to afford increasing rents or the loss of my housing subsidy, but no one’s going to demolish it—yet it is a constant threat and a connection with Palestinians.

Context of my Palestine-Israel Work

I have studied, visited, photographed, filmed, written about, and presented about Palestine-Israel since the fall of 2003 when I participated with a delegation from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I felt compelled to witness for myself the reality of life in Palestine-Israel, to pass thru checkpoints, to be harassed by Israeli soldiers, to confront the Separation Wall. Initially the reasons I offered for why I am so attached to this project were four:

  • Oppression: during my experience in South Africa in 1990 and 1998 I began to understand the parallels between the two apartheid systems—and the close links between the two countries, South Africa and Israel. Which helped open my eyes to the brutal and illegal injustice perpetrated on the Palestinians by the Israelis. I was outraged, angry, burned inside. I needed to channel my anger, and decided, well I photograph, let’s try it there.
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South African during the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1999, photo by Skip Schiel © 

  • Jesus: I’m a follower of that great Jewish mystic and teacher, Yeshua, aka Jesus Christ. I don’t believe literally the supernatural parts of his story (not even sure he existed since the historical record is so sketchy) like the Immaculate Conception and Resurrection. I do attempt to follow his ethical teachings, non-violence and unconditional love in particular, which continue to affect me deeply. I’d grown up as a Catholic with images of the Holy Land in my schools, and—thanks to the Way of the Cross or Via Dolorosa—in the churches themselves, rendered in stained glass. The dust, donkeys, arches, wide expanses, hills, water, luminous sky all drew me, the Roman occupation itself. What’s it like there now? I had to experience the land of Jesus for myself. He lived during the Roman Occupation; I shall experience the Israeli Occupation.
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Jesus condemned by the  Sanhedrin (a Jewish judicial body)

  • The Mediterranean Light: photography depends on light, as does vision, not only neurological vision but philosophical vision, wisdom. From my first trip, that unearthly light continues to draw me back. What does it mean, how can I best work with it, how will others respond to my renderings of light? And why so many luminaries from such a small region? Not only Jesus, but Moses, Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, and all the prophets, male and female, and finally, because of his legendary night journey to visit God in heaven, the founder of Islam, one of the three Abrahamic faiths, Mohammed himself. Why so many, and yet there is no agreement on distribution of power?
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Mediterranean Sea, Gaza, Palestine
  • Rachel Corrie: In March 2003, a young woman took a leave of absence from college in Olympia Washington to heed the call of a friend in Gaza. She joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), entered Gaza, and stayed with a Palestinian family to protect their home from demolition. Wearing a bright orange reflective vest and shouting thru her bullhorn, Rachel Corrie stood in front of a gigantic Caterpillar D9 bulldozer (made by a US corporation) whose Israeli army soldier was about to demolish the home she protected. He crushed her, running the blade twice over her body. She became a shaheed, a martyr. Six months later, 14 months since Operation Defensive Shield, I made my first trip to Palestine-Israel.
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Rachel’s mother, Cindy, carrying the poster

Right of Return

All Jews anywhere, whatever their historic connections with Israel might be, have the right of return (Aliyah in Hebrew, “the act of going up”), with citizenship if desired and benefits such as housing, medical, educational, and others. Palestinians, despite their verifiable connections with the region, even when they can prove land ownership, cannot return to their original homes that existed before the Nakba in 1948. Is this not a massive contradiction, evidence of clear hypocrisy, unsustainable by international law?

The Law of Return was passed unanimously by the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, on July 5, 1950, 2 years after the Nakba, this date chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Zionist visionary Theodore Herzl.

It declared: “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh (immigrant).” Furthermore, in a declaration to the Knesset, the then Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion asserted that the law did not bestow a right but rather reaffirmed a right Jews already held: “This law does not provide for the State to bestow the right to settle upon the Jew [A Jew is defined as a person with a Jewish mother.] living abroad; it affirms that this right is inherent in him from the very fact of being a Jew; the State does not grant the right of return to the Jews of the diaspora. This right precedes the State; this right builds the State; its source is to be found in the historic and never broken connection between the Jewish people and the homeland.” (My emphasis)

In 1970 the Knesset extended this right to people with one Jewish grandparent and a person who is married to a Jew, whether or not he or she is considered Jewish under Orthodox interpretations of Halakha (collective body of Jewish religious law).

The refusal of the right of return plays an essential role in the apartheid regime by ensuring that the Palestinian population in Mandate Palestine does not grow to a point that would threaten Israeli military control of the territory and/or provide the demographic leverage for Palestinian citizens of Israel to demand (and obtain) full democratic rights, thereby eliminating the Jewish character of the State of Israel….

In 1948, General Assembly resolution 194(III) resolved that “the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so” and that compensation should be provided to the rest. Israel has rejected the application of that resolution on security grounds and on the basis of the “demographic threat” of a Palestinian majority: in the unlikely event that the entire Palestinian population of refugees and involuntary exiles returned to Palestine en masse, the Palestinian population under Israeli rule would total some 12 million, electorally overwhelming the 6.5 million Jews in Israel. Even if that refugee population returned in numbers sufficient only to generate a Palestinian majority (as is far more likely), Israel would be forced into either adopting an explicitly apartheid policy in order to exclude them, and abandoning democracy altogether, or enfranchising them and abandoning the vision of Israel as a Jewish State….

Report by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, commissioned by the Economic ad Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA0), published in 2017, and then under pressure withdrawn.

Grief & Outrage

Dear Friends,

The news of the mass shooting during shabbat services at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this morning is simply terrifying. 

News is still coming in, but we know that at least 10 people have been killed, that the shooter was a white man who entered the sanctuary yelling “kill all the Jews,” and that he might have specifically been motivated by the synagogue’s work supporting refugees and immigrants. 

I want first to send love, strength and solidarity to our beloved Jewish communities facing fear and harm today.  

Please join JVPers [Jewish Voice for Peace participants] tomorrow, Sunday October 28th [2018] at 12 pm PST/3pm EST for a virtual grief ritual with Rabbi Margaret Holub of the JVP Rabbinical Council. We will hold space to grieve and mourn and rage together.  

Register now: Mourning and Healing in the Times of White Supremacy and Antisemitism with Rabbi Margaret Holub. 

I know everyone at JVP is committed to fight white supremacy and anti-Jewish hatred, and I definitely know that we need everyone – including you – there with us. We must rely on each other, especially in an era when national leaders foment this type of violence.

May the memories of those whose lives were lost this morning be for a blessing.

With love and rage,
Alissa

My concluding motivation is finally recognizing the grief and outrage I feel about expelled Palestinian refugees. I first felt this—minimally, largely subconsciously—when researching the topic, meeting and interviewing real people, photographing them, visiting their sites of expulsion, and now, during post production, reviewing their stories, looking into their eyes, posting their images publicly.

The slaughter of 11 Jews in the Tree of Life (ironic name) synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 exposed my grief. I wept nearly uncontrollably about the Pittsburgh news and almost every time the topic arose. Why, I asked myself, do I feel so strongly about this mass murder when there have been so many others in recent years and I’ve not responded so dramatically? Yes, I have close Jewish friends, Sy, Shola, Stan, Rebecca, Laura; they could be threatened. The day after that massacre I joined an online virtual grieving session organized by Jewish Voice for Peace. During a breakout group, as I prepared to offer a thumbnail of my feelings, the reason for my current grief suddenly cleared to me.

To my colleagues who lived in different parts of the world and were probably mostly Jewish I said that I felt so strongly about the 11 Jews murdered, and their family and friends who also suffered loss, because until this moment I’d not yet fully acknowledged my grief about the Palestinian refugees. The 11 deaths in the synagogue—and the news that the murderer picked that particular Jewish group because it supported immigrants, Jewish and non-Jewish—keyed my feelings about the deaths suffered by the Palestinians, not only their homes, and in some cases actual lives, as result of the expulsion, but the loss of their ancestral homelands, regions of the earth, sacred to them, owned for centuries, perhaps millennia, ripped from them, as the lives of the Jewish synagogue members and their families and friends were tragically redirected.

Irrational tho it may be, I finally understood more of why I engage in this project.

  • 11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts, by Campbell RobertsonChristopher Mele and Sabrina Tavernise (Oct 27, 2018)
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) (Supported by the Tree of Life Synagogue and referred to by the alleged shooter)
    HIAS works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of who they are, including ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. For more than 130 years, HIAS has been helping refugees rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.

Postscript: On one of my much earlier work trips I inadvertently drove past a sign announcing Canada Park in Israel. I’d heard about it, built with money donated by Canadians, on land previously owned by Palestinians. Now forested to erase the history, I drove in briefly. I didn’t realize then this was my first attempt on the project I began many years later, “On Our Way Home.”

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Lake near the Date Palm Spring, Ayalon Canada Park, photo by Yaakov Shkolnik

ADDITIONAL LINKS

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  • A Jew Reflects on the Nakba, by Noam Sheizaf (May 2011)
    Denying the Nakba—forgetting our role in it and ignoring its political implications—is denying our own identity.
  • American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup, by Jonathan Weisman, the deputy Washington editor of The New York Times (January 2019)
    Is the world ready for another Great Schism?

    Promised Land, by The Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience
    The Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience was founded to provide a Jewish perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Jewish perspective is rooted in Jewish values, to treat our neighbor as we would want to be treated.

    THE LAST OF MY MOTIVATION SERIES BUT I WILL CONTINUE MY MAIN SERIES ABOUT INTERNALLY EXPELLED PALESTINIANS.

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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

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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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Go where you are least wanted; for there you are most needed.

— Abby Kelley Foster (Quaker, anti slavery and women’s rights activist)

This is my new project, an extension of the work I’ve been doing in Palestine since 2003.

I’m raising money thru Gofundme. Click here if interested.

PROJECT

Gaza, 2006

The issues erupting from Palestine-Israel have troubled me for decades, as they have the world community. Mainstream media coverage tends to justify Israel’s positions. Currently and alarmingly the United States’ president and Israel’s prime minister are particularly close, heading largely right-wing governments. This does not provide hopeful context to create justice, peace, and security for the region.

Since 2003 I’ve visited the region to document conditions, making many friends and colleagues among both Palestinians and Israelis. And I’ve photographed Palestinian refugees in camps in Gaza and the West Bank, but their diaspora extends worldwide, forming the largest and longest-lasting case of displaced persons in the world today.

Many families are from villages and rural areas now in Israel. In fall 2018 I will locate, interview, and photograph internally displaced Palestinians (IDPs) living in Palestine, learn where their families originated, presumably now in Israel, and then visit those regions—their homelands—to photograph current conditions and people.

Map6_RefugeesRoutes.gif

This will include regions in southern Israel, where some 75% now in Gaza once lived, like Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Jaffa; where many now in the West Bank once lived, their original homes now in Israel’s central region, Lodz and Ramla for instance; and in northern Israel, Ein Hod, now an Israeli art colony, and Safad. Those from the north often fled to refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. According to estimates from the Palestinian NGO BADIL the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, on 2015 there are 334,600 IDPs in the Palestinian occupied territories. (With an additional 384,200 IDPs in Israel, which for this trip I do not plan to explore.)

VP-GazaReturnMarch-Refinements-20180503 copy

Where the families of 95 of the Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israel during the Great March of Return (up to May 26, 2018) are from, now in Israel. As of August 13, 2018, more than 170 have been murdered.

In early September I will leave for Israel, and hope to enter Gaza with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) which trains people to use nonviolent methods, such as trust dialog, to resolve conflicts. In Gaza I will photograph these trainings, as well as the general situation there, including refugee camps. I will investigate how conditions differ between refugee camps and the homelands. I expect to work closely with the Israeli organization, Zochrot (a Hebrew word which means remember) which works with the Palestine right of return by organizing tours of former Arab villages for Israelis and Israeli Palestinians.

Many times in the entire region, many photos, writing, and movies later, I will broaden the constricted picture many Americans have (thanks to Israel-centric media) of the overall Palestine-Israel situation. A major lacuna: how do people forced from their homelands presently live compared with Israelis in former Palestinian homelands? (As far as I know there is no major media project about this theme.) Other questions are: how is life for Israelis living where the Palestinians once lived, how did Palestinians and their families live when in their original villages and rural areas? Do they wish to return, under what conditions? And generally how might a right of return for Palestinians work? * (March of Return)

I hope to contribute my small effort to resolving the conflict, fostering justice, security, equality, and freedom for all human beings in that troubled region.

SKIP SCHIEL

I’ve been a photographer, filmmaker, and writer for most of my adult life. Struggles for justice and peace in different parts of the world have been my main concentration.

While in South Africa in 1990 and then again 8 years later during one of several of my international pilgrimages, I began to understand the parallels between conflicts in South Africa and Palestine-Israel. Apartheid, an Afrikaner word meaning separation—which I interpret it as Separation with Hate—operates in various forms in both regions. In Auschwitz in 1995 I learned more directly about the holocaust, which helped propel the creation of the Israeli state. I was raised Catholic and imagined Jesus walking thru the dusty Holy Land with his disciplines. Thus grew my curiosity, leading to my concern about that region. And then finally in 2003, during the end of the Second Intifada (Palestinian Uprising), the year an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer ran over and killed Rachel Corrie as she protected a Palestinian home, I was on my way East. This began one of the most meaningful journeys of my life.

I’ve photographed widely in Israel and Palestine, many different populations, many different activities: Israelis training as first responders, Palestinians living in tents, Israelis walking and shopping in Jerusalem and Haifa, Palestinians studying at various levels and ages, and Israeli high school students learning archeology. I’ve explored all the areas of Israel, West Bank, and Gaza (except for the Sinai which is currently too dangerous to enter). For this project I will hone my focus: refugees inside Palestine-Israel and outside.

PALESTINIANS

Palestinians are one of the longest colonized populations—most recently in 1948 by Israel, meaning the occupation of the West Bank and later the siege of Gaza—and still living in diaspora. I have shown the reality of the matrix of control, walls and fences, checkpoints, permits, home demolitions, restricted roads, inordinate fines, deportations, targeted assassinations, leveling of entire neighborhoods, violent repression of nonviolent demonstrations, etc. As well as survival mechanisms, the family, faith communities, organizations, etc. Now I have the opportunity, thanks to contacts in Gaza and the West Bank, to show more widely the consequences of colonization and displacement.

One in three refugees in the world are Palestinian. Nearly seven million Palestinian refugees live in some 14 countries. (UN Refugee Works Administration and UN High Commission on Refugees)

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Israeli mortar shell fired at Palestinian village in Gaza


After an attack by the Israeli military on a government building in Gaza

LOGISTICS

In September 2018, assuming Israel grants us entry permits, I will enter Gaza; if unable to enter Gaza I will concentrate on the West Bank, expecting to complete the project after several trip by the middle of 2020.  Despite the recurring turmoil in that region, I’ve always managed entry to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. I can’t guarantee entry this time, only that I will try my best. Despite the political uncertainties I intend to maintain focus on Palestinian refugees in the diaspora and internally. This is a multi-year project.

As in the past, I will create exhibits, slide shows, blogs, books, and movies. As with all my projects I will post photos and writings on my website and blog—dispatches from the field.

BUDGET

·      Airfare – $2500
·      Transport in country – $1000
·      Compensation and donations to colleagues – $1000
·      Food and lodging – $1500
·      Photographic equipment and supplies – $500
·      Post production—developing, editing, printing, slide show making, etc –  $2000

GOALS

By presenting powerful and contrasting images of life in the current and original sites of internally displaced Palestinian refugees, I hope to build awareness and inspire action. The end result: beyond coexistence to a breath-taking sharing of the region, its resources, histories, luminaries, and potential. A true Holy Land.

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Refugee camp in Gaza


Demonstration for human rights in Gaza, a Die-In in Boston, April 2018

* The plea of refugees in Gaza to return to their ancestral villages now in Israel is the central focus of the Great March to Return . It began on April 2, 2018, was planned to end on May 15, but for now (August 15, 2018) is ongoing. These dates mark two important historical events, Land Day when 6 Palestinians were killed as they attempted to return to their villages in 1976, and Nakba Day marking the beginning of The Catastrophe, or the Grand Dispossession in 1948. The violence of this effort—as of August 9, 2018, Israeli army snipers have killed 172 mostly unarmed Palestinians, with nearly 17,504 wounded (more than 1000 of them children), many with life-threatening injuries, overwhelming the already stressed medical system—makes the Gaza portion of my plan uncertain. We may need to postpone entering Gaza until violence abates. In that case I will be mostly in the West Bank and Israel.

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Israel Palestine-Gaza-2193

Gaza Community Health Program

SAMPLES OF MY WORK

Book  (Eyewitness Gaza)

Movie (also titled Eyewitness Gaza)


Photographs

Blog

TESTIMONIALS

Skip Schiel has been documenting the Palestinian and Israeli reality through photographs and journal postings since 2003. They contribute 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, Holocaust survivor

Skip Schiel photographs not only with his eyes but with his heart.

—Fares Oda, former staff American Friends Service Committee, Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories

It saddens me to hear of the difficulties Skip is going through [finding an audience]. This is discouraging for us who are struggling in the situation. I never would have suspected that his pictures were not balanced. The first act of nonviolent resistance is to tell the truth. His pictures shared that. Let’s pray our dear friend does not give up!

—Jean Zaru, Palestinian Quaker and activist, Ramallah, Palestine

Skip’s creative ministry has challenged, informed and inspired our [Quaker] Meeting for many years. His work is a visual reminder to us of the importance of remaining faithful to our peace and social justice testimonies.

—Cathy Whitmire, Former presiding clerk, Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quaker)

You capture such powerful, symbolic moments in your work, that reach beyond the context they are in. I admire your brave tenacity and commitment to documentation of this struggle for justice.

—Marjorie Wright, filmmaker (Jews Step Forward) and activist

Your sensitivity to light and emotion is dramatic, the brilliant daylight framing the sad courageous eyes and brave determined expressions of our Gaza neighbors, as they face such a cruel, demented, and terrifying adversary.

I think you are very brave too, and I thank you deeply for shining a true light on [the situation].

—John Paulman

SELECTED PHOTOS FROM MY WORK IN GAZA


Relative of family member imprisoned by Israel


In a refugee camp trauma treatment program


A celebration at the Qattan Center for the Child


Limited free desalinated water


At the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, picking thru garbage

EXTRA INFORMATION

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It is estimated that more than 6 million Palestinians live in a global diaspora.

(Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics)

The countries outside the Palestinian territories with significant Palestinian populations are:

Jordan 3,240,000
Israel 1,650,000
Syria 630,000
Chile 500,000 (largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East).
Lebanon 402,582
Saudi Arabia 280,245
Egypt 270,245
United States 255,000 (the largest concentrations in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles (History of Palestinians in Los Angeles)-San Diego).
Honduras 250,000
Guatemala est. 200,000
Mexico 120,000
Qatar 100,000
Germany 80,000
Kuwait 80,000
El Salvador 70,000
Brazil 59,000
Iraq 57,000
Yemen 55,000
Canada 50,975
Australia 45,000
Libya 44,000
Puerto Rico est. 30,000
Greece est. 30,000
United Kingdom 20,000
Peru 19,000
Denmark 15,000
Colombia 12,000
Japan est. 10,000
Paraguay 10.000
Netherlands 9,000
Sweden 7,000
Algeria 4,030
Austria 4,010
Norway 3,825

(Wikipedia)

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Prayer is one hundred percent attention.

—Anonymous

During my first visit to Gaza in 2004, I accompanied a team of doctors and psychologists visiting hospitals. I photographed as they spoke with children wounded by Israeli soldiers. A 10-year-old boy, riding his bike in front of his house, shot in the stomach by an Israeli sniper. A 13-year-old girl, playing with her friends on her roof, her wrist shattered by a .50 caliber tank shell fired by an Israeli sniper. The doctor explained, “these wounds will heal but the trauma may never.”

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As I photographed I felt water surge behind my eyes, as if about to punch thru my eyeballs. I held the torrent back, wishing not to embarrass myself or end my photography because I couldn’t see. But when I entered the taxi to return to our office, I wept. I thought, I am so sorry, so very sorry for you. As Quakers might say, I hold you in the light—and I add—the spreading light of compassion.

Someone at my Quaker meeting had given us the profound message that tears can be regarded as prayers, a deep connection between ourselves and others who suffer, even if we do not know those people, the vast, innumerable “Other.”

Because one of my main photographic themes is depicting the suffering of others, currently mostly in Palestine and Detroit, I realize I now have secondary trauma, a mild form of PTSD. One consequence is that I weep frequently, sometimes spontaneously, often when I hear about suffering.

Currently, reading about the ongoing carnage—again—in Gaza, this time Israeli sharpshooters killing unarmed Palestinian civilians, most of them young adults, some of them children, I weep again. One may be the 12-year-old girl I photographed in 2004, now 26 years old, or the 10-year-old boy, now 24. Is the boy included in this group photo of the shaheed, or martyrs? Is a soldier who shot the children in 2004 now an officer giving orders to fire on Gazans demanding their right of return?

Gaza Martyrs

Palestinian martyrs from Gaza, shot by Israeli snipers on March 30, 2018

Despite the suffering I observe and share, my tears are sometimes tears of joy. I weep when I hear good news, as when a stranger stops to help someone. At that moment I say, I am so so happy for you. The light in me greets the light in you. We are connected thru the spreading light of compassion.

Gaza-border-women-soldiersCROP-SM copy

Israeli sniper

The Great March of Return (of Gazans to their villages and towns)—Israel Threatens More Force After Gaza Protests Leave Nearly 100 Dead, 12,270 Wounded

Night in Gaza 2

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