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Jaffa, from the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel

Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

August 29, 2009, Saturday, Shabbat, Jaffa, Israel, on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel:

This singular, and perfectly appropriate dream: about Hilda Silverman. I’d made a movie or slide show, was showing it to friends including Y, and came to the part about Hilda’s Buddhism. This section surprised people and I wasn’t sure I’d used suitable graphics to show her particular brand of Buddhism. [The irony here is Hilda was a very active Jewish activist and good friend and mentor. Her combination of passion, wisdom, knowledge, and commitment to Palestinian rights was exemplary. Hilda was not a Buddhist.]

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Jaffa

Y wrote wondering what had happened to me in and since Gaza. I apologized for not streaming news constantly but wrote that I thought I’d implied my safe condition and new location thru the few messages I did send. Her concern gratifies me. She is preparing for homecoming as I am, determined to move to the opposite coast by December, whether or not she’s bought housing. That’s her persistence.

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DN showed me the synagogue and yeshiva that exists in an area Irving Moskowitz, a rich Jewish business man from the United States who desires to Judicize all of Jaffa-Tel Aviv, hopes to purchase so he can develop housing for Jews only. We concluded the trip with a visit to the Shimon Peres Peace Center, if I have the name correct. Unfinished, using much glass, near the coast, on top of cleared Arab land, the project ran out of money. And now the building sits idle and empty, its glass a ready target for Arab youth. Nearby is an apartment complex lived in by Palestinians. To not embarrass the Center, the city renovated one side only of the complex, the side facing the Center. This became the subject of jokes. Eventually the city renovated all the sides.

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Shimon Peres Peace Center, Jaffa

While photographing, Ibrahem phoned to return my call that I’d made to say goodbye, voice to voice. He asked me where I was. You’d never believe—Jaffa. Oh Jaffa! he exclaimed  in appreciation. As if to say, that is one of my favorite spots in Israel-Palestine. I hesitated to express too much enthusiasm about my locale, to not make him overly jealous. But there we were, not more than 70 km apart, in better times an easy 45 minute drive—and those better times were not so long ago. Eric told me just 21 or so years ago, before the First Intifada began when the wall was not there, Israeli Jews would visit Gaza to shop, swim, see friends, and Palestinians would come to Israel to work. Could happen again.

But for now, Ibrahem is trapped in Gaza; most of us cannot enter easily, especially Israelis.

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Nearly back to the hostel, almost depleted of energy gas, I heard music, a cross between klezmer and jazz. Why not check this out? Dancing in the streets, a Lindy Hop troupe of scantily dressed women, kids dancing, everyone smiling, what joy! Can this ever happen in Gaza? Even in Ramallah? Not with the current political and cultural controls. What a pity. Another major difference between life in Gaza and life just a few kilometers north.

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August 30, 2009, Jaffa, Israel, on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel:

Where in the territories my usual wake up call was from the muezzin, around 4 AM, here in this more “civilized” part of the world, at least in Tel Aviv, at that same time I hear the roar of aircraft landing at Ben Gurion. Each plane probably includes at least one tremulous traveler, worried about getting thru security and into the country. I am imagining myself as  that person on each incoming flight.

The day was mostly exploring the coast, starting at the viewing platform near the hostel, first south toward Gaza, the old port, retracing my route to head north into Tel Aviv proper. Many fishing boats in the old port, a tour boat or two, one seafood restaurant, lots of walkers, bathers, bikers, tanners (I was amazed at the high number of beach goers who lie or sit or walk in open to the sky regions, no tents and few umbrellas, much different from Gaza), and someone had accidentally or purposefully left a box of nut treats on a ledge. I helped myself.

The day was again hot, bright sun, fatiguing but rewarding walking. And my legs did not hurt me for a change. Perhaps something to do with lightening my load.

The beach north repeated the beach south, with large numbers of families with small children romping in the sand and water. Finally, after some 5 weeks in coastal territory I entered the water. It was grand. Salty, refreshing, warm, full of high waves that I played in—along with 100s of others, mostly frolicking Israelis. Occupation? What occupation? Gaza? Where is Gaza? Most Israelis, including David Nir and the Wesley’s report that most Israelis have stripped out any awareness of Palestinians and the occupation.

Just 50 km south of here, dear friend. You’ve heard of it? Gaza. Any idea how people live there? What their beach is like? Their food supply? Their employment? Their security? Their love lives?

One surprise on the walk north yesterday—a playground with a few younger and elder youth along with adults playing on the equipment. As always when I observe such scenes I think of my grand kids, me playing with them. The equipment was novel and included swings that many could sit on simultaneously, another swing more like a long log that several could ride on, and various sorts of merry go rounds. I hesitated to photograph here, not knowing what to expect from kids and their parents. I anticipated they’d not be eager for photography, might even object. No one objected, no one seemed eager. A nonchalance that is perhaps characteristically Israeli?

As usual on this trip, summer time, the light was harsh, not the Mediterranean light that I often work with, think about, talk about. Clouds formed in the morning, dissipated by late morning.

A few power skis, one of two sail boats way out, a unique lifeguard technique of using something like a large surfboard the attendant perched on, propelling himself with a long double bladed oar. His only duty seemed to be shepherding people back to the guarded swimming zone. The life guard station, high and of wood, resembled that of Gaza, but with better construction and loudspeakers rather than bullhorns. No Israeli navy gunboats patrolled along the horizon.

Women wore bikinis, and the young ones exhibited tremendously healthy and seductive bodies. The men tended to wear long shorts, like mine, and only a rare one wore the tight form of body revealing short shorts. This pleased me since I fit right in with my baggy shorts. No tops for the men of course, unlike Gaza, and if there were Muslims swimming in this potpourri, no women wore the traditional long gowns. I’ve asked about water quality and usually hear either I don’t know or it’s good. So I felt safe wading.

People played paddleball, mostly young virile strong men, also a few women. The sound of these bouncing balls permeated and defined the aural atmosphere of the beach, along with joyful cries of kids.

I note that I’ve not written about big sections of my experience, entire lacuna of important experiences is missing, notably: Nomika, Husam, David Nir. How to retrieve this, when?

August 31, 2009, Monday, Protea Village, north of Jaffa-Tel Aviv, with Beny Gefen:

Yes, Beny Gefen, who I met in about 2004 while helping Palestinian farmers harvest their olives. We’ve stayed in touch these 5 years, and he responded with an invitation to visit when I sent out the word that I could visit people along the coast. I’d been curious about him for many reasons—his Palmach background, work with Palestinians, but especially his Chinese girl friend whom he frequently mentioned.

He is retired from a life of farming. Born near where he lives now, east of Natanya, moving to the Galilee for some years, farming there, married 10 years, several children including a son who died while in the army in or near Lebanon, a string of younger girl friends who he’d frequently travel with, and he now lives in a retirement community named Protea because of all the South Africans who live here. We met one while waiting for the pool to open this morning. A genial fellow with a strong South African accent, he explained that he moved prior to the end of apartheid exactly because of apartheid (he pronounced it apart-hate, as I’ve heard most South African’s pronounce it, opposed to how non South African’s usually say the word, apart-hide). I identify more with Israel than I ever did with South Africa, he confessed.

Beny is a delight: 83 years old, looking a decade younger, a very youthful spirit, active in resistance to his country’s apartheid, a total secularist interested in evolution, lover of plants (his house is adorned with them, his porch especially, as are most porches in this community; one plant, with white flowers and a yellow interior, 5 petals, he places in honor of his brother who also has died in some tragic manner), small, clean, neat, well organized apartment (2 bedrooms, a combined living-dining-cooking area, the porch, a toilet with shower, expensive to live here, he told me), he has photos and drawings on every possible wall space, along with books pinned open to photos, usually nature scenes. Featured prominently: Ming Mea, his 34-year-old Chinese girl friend.

Beny seems to be a student in philology. We discussed what he believes is the origin of the written language, occurring in this region about 3500 years ago, a mixture of Phoenician and Canaanite, with influences from the hieroglyphics of Egypt. All leading to Aramaic, the lingua franca of the region then, and eventually to the Semitic languages of Arabic and Hebrew, later to all the other written languages. Quite profound, if true.

In pictures he showed me how Hebrew letters evolved, 22 of them, all from signs which earlier indicated  concepts. Demonstrating on his full first name, Binyamin, he broke it down into about 4 syllables, each syllable representing the first letter of a word that the letter looked like.

He also proved to me the closeness of Hebrew and Arabic by sounding the words for the numbers—some are identical, like arba for four, and most others sound similar.

Perhaps one reason I like him so much, other than his politics and background, is how much he resembles my favorite grand pa, Ed Sage. I remember grandfather when he was older, and I think he looked much like Beny looks now. I should compare portraits and tell Elaine [my sister] about this. It’s not only the physical resemblance, but something about essence, deeper spirit, their humanity. In other details like work, politics, etc, they are not similar.

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His Palmach experience is equally fascinating. He joined in 1944, and saw combat against the Brits. The organization was initially formed, he explained, to resist the Germans under Rommel who at one time during the war were thought to be able to invade Israel. When invited, Beny later joined the paratroopers, among the most elite of the fighters. He served in the reserves until the age of 57. On his front door he showed me a photo of an invitation for a reunion of one of his units—it shows the young Beny with colleagues he standing, the others sitting, looking into the distance..

During one of these tours he observed Israeli soldiers murdering Egyptian prisoners. He objected and was able to stop the killing. Another incident like this occurred later. I presume these experiences were part of what turned him from fighter to activist for Palestinian rights.

He’d been enthusiastically describing two friends of his, Buma, a younger man, and a woman. Buma joined us, carrying a notebook that contained letters and photos of his work. He has many contacts in higher echelons of Israeli bureaucracy so is able to procure permits for ailing Gazans to reach Israeli hospitals. He also brings West Bank children into Israel, using this same access. And he is always on call to help any Palestinian requesting help. I am one person, he proudly declared, not an organization, yet people find me, those that need me, and those that wish to help my projects offer funding. He showed me a letter from an official in Mattel toys, potentially offering to send toys.

Driving here was easy—the roads are well maintained, the signage clear (often in Hebrew, Arabic, and English), traffic controls effective. I didn’t see any police vehicles. Which reminded me that such vehicles are unmarked, so I use caution and obey the rules. I’m trying to be extra vigilant in my driving practice since I have a $450 deductible insurance agreement. The car is small, a Hyundai, auto shift, air conditioned, and might be my bedroom if needed. Cost is about $380 for 10 days, assuming no mishaps. Plus gas and tolls.

This rental and the driving reminds me of 2 similar experiences in South Africa: the first with Tom Sander in 1990 when we rented a car to drive from Jo’burg to Cape Town, and then 9 years later with Y on a blissful trip down the Indian Ocean coast, stopping at several resorts for overnights. I recall especially worrying about crime, and thinking the so-called “flying squadron” was a joke. By being named “flying squadron” this service might lead me to believe, an emergency? No problem. Call the flying squadron and they’ll be here instantaneously to assist. We chose not to rent a mobile phone so how would we call them—if they even existed.

September 1, 2009, Tuesday, Nazareth, roof of Sisters of Nazareth Convent hostel:

I explored Caesarea (pronounced, if I recall correctly, ceez-ar-eea, with 2 long e’s). Once a prime coastal city because of its port, its beauty, grandeur, influence, and population waned and waxed for over 2500 years. Originally a small town, possibly Phoenician, known as Strato’s Tower, successively it was Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Ottoman, British, and now Jewish Israeli, reflecting the history of the region generally.

Viewing the reconstructions thru drawings and films I was reminded of the White City of turn of the century Chicago, the World’s Fair that prompted massive building, most of which vanished not long after the Fair closed in 1893. Same with the port, the city, most of the features of the most impressive period of Caesarea—lost to wanton destruction as in the case of some Arab groups and the Crusaders, and the “sands of time,” literally, the sand, water, winds and perhaps stones blown ashore by storms. One very interesting section of the site showed stratigraphy, how many different layers had been deposited onto the original constructions, after the constructions.

I walked the length of the hippodrome (in Latin, circus, not what we think of as circus with clowns, trained animals, trapeze acts, etc, but spectacles for the masses, such as gladiatorial contests, torture of despised groups like Jews and early Christians, etc), imagining the chariot races, the slaughter of captured people, and other entertainments for the population then.

I ate lunch (chicken snitzel and fried potatoes with greens, for 55 NIS) overlooking the old port. It is now not only a tourist attraction, but a major swimming and relaxing place with maybe 100 people including small children under beach umbrellas, enjoying the view, the history, the water, the wine. How vastly different from Gaza beaches.

Eating at this restaurant, with Israelis serving me, eating with me, cooking for me, and profiting from me, I had to wonder: what am I doing spending my money in Israel, adding to the country’s survival, in effect, validating its existence? This is a problem, it was a problem for me when I first visited apartheid South Africa in 1990, during the boycott. Some thought, Skip, with your views about the apartheid regime, why are you going there now? You’re validating and supporting the government’s existence.

Feebly I responded with, I’m a witness, going to observe and report. Is that a sufficient rationale?

Crusader walls; a mosque built in the last century for Bosnian immigrants, itself over church ruins, over earlier mosque ruins, perhaps over a Roman shrine; the remains of sunken gardens and palaces; an array of ruins that were once buildings on the inner harbor (here I made a panoramic photograph, click to view it); the Roman theater, heavily damaged by time and deliberate destruction, and then reassembled into a huge fancy venue; and, best of all, the Time Trek audio visual display. This consisted of what they termed “holograms,” actors voicing answers to questions the viewer might ask, playing characters like rabbis, queen and empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, and I assume Roman soldiers and leaders, plus a movie that for me was the single most important interpretative device. Using animation, it simulated the various time periods, making them more vivid.

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Ceasarea hippodrome

Much to photograph, and even more to think about. The power of place. The passage of time. Immortality. Visions of grandeur. Decay due to natural forces, decay due to human forces. All for the price of 18 NIS (I qualified for a “pensioner” discount, even tho it’s meant only for Israeli elders), much walking, the sun, and some confusion. Few others were with me and when I inquired about this to a young man staffing the movie, he said, During the week it’s pretty quiet, our busiest times are the weekends. I was surprised, I thought such a magnificent site with such excellent interpretation would draw 1000s daily. Maybe later. As I’ve noticed and written many times, the Israelis are good at archeology and museum building, despite their propensity—which is not unique to them— to remake their own history thru their discoveries and analyses.

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Roman aqueduct near Ceasarea

Not to overlook the Roman aqueduct, fitting precisely into one of my main themes, water, hydropolitics. In my guidebook I read about the aqueduct which brought water some 17 km to the city from mountain springs. Parts of it are well preserved, others seem to have disappeared either beneath the sand or washed away by the sea. This was truly a delight to photograph. Not far from there, on the highway, I fleetingly noticed another aqueduct, not as prominent, maybe a section of the same one, and next to it—modern pipes, maybe carrying water. That would have made a great photo but I didn’t see it in time, couldn’t stop, couldn’t easily turn around. Lost the prize-winning fish, the big one got away.

Napping yesterday afternoon in Nazareth, the thought occurred to me: I’m in a mixed Muslim Christian Jewish town (of about 6,000, 2/3’s the size of my town), my t shirt has Hebrew lettering (perfect for Caesarea) and I’m wearing the type of shorts that would be verboten in the West Bank and Gaza, will I get into trouble walking around Nazareth? I asked the sister at the desk, she thought, not a problem, people wear all types of clothes here. And so it was, altho I still felt noticed, not as much as in Gaza or some parts of the West Bank, Jenin notably. But I’m slowly looking more ordinary, more a tourist.

After the walk I noticed that the outdoor only mosque in front of and down from the Basilica was thronged with mostly men, standing, sitting, bowing, prostrating. I remembered that when I was last here local Muslims were attempting to build a regular mosque at this site, conspicuously close and in front of the Annunciation Church or Basilica, one of the holiest places in Christendom. Is this battle? A local woman confirmed for me that indeed there had been some controversy over this placement but now it is settled. She thought they prayed only on Friday’s and was surprised when I told her they were praying big time last night. The battle for god continues.

September 2, 2009, Wednesday, Tabgha, NW shore of Sea of Galilee, Karei Deshe Guest House, my room:

I’m near Capernaum, my main target for yesterday, a place I’ve longed to explore since it might have been part of my first awakenment as a Christian, a Christ lover and follower. This is lodged in me deeply and it may have emerged when I visited Capernaum yesterday—along with hundreds of other tourists and pilgrims.

One dream of possible significance, about Andy Towl whom is vital in my life yet whom I rarely dream about. I had forgotten to mention him when I listed my friends who liked using cameras. Despite this slight he gave me one of his old cameras, it looked like a super 8 movie camera. He was explaining its idiosyncrasies. I felt very warm toward him. Is he a sort of Christ figure to me?

The main sites of exploration yesterday—long hot day, I surmise that as we lose elevation the climate warms, becoming closer to the Jericho climate with its intense summer heat and humidity—Tiberias, Cana, museum of the ancient boat, Capernaum, Mt of Beatitudes, and this guest house/youth hostel.

Cana was a drive thru, saw little, mostly a rough village, missed the churches listed that mark the site of an early Jesus miracle, water into wine (a miracle I’d love to be able to do, substituting beer for wine).

My muses kicked in for a perfect short walk along the shore road south of Tiberias. There I discovered Roman ruins, mostly a commercial district with market and shops. Men were restoring some of the main walls. They directed me in and higher to see other remains. The shore front is now mostly privatized, which I’ve heard is causing some controversy. Spotted along the way were public areas. I saw very few people swimming here, but it is midweek. A main hit seemed to be the water park, filled with rides, umbrellas, frolicking families. This reminded me of Aqua Land in Gaza, on a much grander scale.

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The Romans founded Tiberias, allegedly because of the hot springs. I didn’t find the springs that are in use, but did find an old hamam that is part of an Israeli national park. Inside the remains of the hamam or bath, reminding me strongly of the hot springs at Tenakee Springs in Alaska that I visited with Elaine and Bob last fall.

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Capernaum was larger than I’d expected, consisting mainly of a recently built Christian (Franciscan? Always a good guess here because they seem to control so many of the Christian holy sites, Francis might be repulsed by the aggressive acquisitiveness of his descendants.) church over the site of another church or series of churches dated to about the 4th century; the “white synagogue” built a few centuries earlier and said to be built upon the synagogue Christ as a boy taught at; and a complex of ruins which were once the town. The community had been extensive at some period, and then they disappeared, the site never again inhabited (except by the keepers of the holy sites).

Inside the church, pilgrim-tourists like me prayed, stood in silence, photographed, and generally, with great reverence, contemplated where they were, and what had reportedly occurred here. I am continually mystified at the power of place, how it energizes our imaginations to penetrate the veil of history. Or at least give us that feeling of penetration.

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The builders used a curious black stone, probably basalt, which indicates volcanism in this region’s past. I notice the terrain change from coastal sand, to rock, mainly limestone I’m guessing, or sandstone, very hilly as I entered the Nazareth region. More hills, more stone, and then the sand once again at the lake’s periphery.

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Driving north to this region, I noticed a water carrier on the right or east side of the highway. Stopping, I photographed but I doubt it will look like much more than a long concrete square shaped thing. I included pipes at one point to better signify this object’s use. But I’m not sure what it carries, perhaps water from the Galilee Sea?

More vegetation as well, but I’m not keeping track of the exact changes. Had Y been with me on this part of the journey she’d know.

At a different site, a museum which featured a partially reconstructed fishing boat from the era of Jesus (talk about resurrection!, from the depths of history and decay), the museum dedicated to one of the founders of the Palmach. Many tourists here, which I photographed as they rummaged thru the gift shop. I rummaged myself later and picked up an historical atlas of the region. (I was tempted to buy another book, about exploring the temple mount, but cost and bulk dissuaded me.) The museum had several art exhibits about kibbutzim, photos of people in silly poses and artwork made with cotton patches, none of which struck me as profound or even interesting. I missed the main exhibits because of the cost—“man” in the Galilee, and something about the history of kibbutzim.

Because the museum offered free internet I checked my email, wrote Suzanne who’d asked 4 questions: are you home, are you suffering, are you whole, and one more I’ve forgotten. Perfect questions at a perfect moment, inspiring me to sum up in an unusually pithy manner what my experience has been. Later in my room at the guesthouse, I wrote another long letter to ME, who’d recently and uncharacteristically written shortly after another letter from me. Writing to her brings out the best in me, makes me feel very articulate and loving. I hope she feels not only this in and from me but in herself as well when writing me. Maybe because she writes so infrequently she doesn’t. Writing her also puts me in her presence, and she in mine—I can almost taste her. We are together again. Ah, imagination, ah lust! The story continues. (It’s been more than 3 years since meeting.)

Then the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus made his grand debut with his sermon on the mount. It’s slightly north of Capernaum, a gently rising hill or mountain from the Capernaum side, sharper incline west of the mountain, the road curving and steeply inclined. Because of the small notations on my maps and the sometimes-ambiguous directions in my guidebook, I had to drive along the Capernaum road several times before discovering the main road up the mountain and the cutoff to the Mount of Beatitudes. Worth the anguish. Another church, another vista, another opportunity to imagine more of the life of Jesus. And to ask questions: where on the mountain exactly was he, how many were in the audience, how could they hear him, precisely what did he say, is the rendition we know even close to his message? All probably eternally unknown—unless someone journaled reliably (not someone like me who fabricates and has a rotten memory) and that journal is discovered hidden somewhere in something like an urn, like the Dead Sea scrolls—another resurrection.

A group from either Italy or Romania that I’d noticed at the museum was at the mountain  also, shepherded off down a path away from the church for a special service.

And then my final destination, the Karei Deshe-Yoram guesthouse. I’d read about it in the guidebook, cheap, lovely, accessible, but where is it? The map and directions were not much help, and even less help was the woman I repeatedly spoke with at the guesthouse who seemed to confuse north and south, junction names, etc. Or more likely this is just my poor hearing. Frustration set in to the point of framing an alternative plan, driving further north, looking for a camping spot I read about. However, this was not needed, I found it, [clearly marked I later discovered], off the main road. Who’d know?

During the pit of this experience I berated my muses and Christ: where the heck are you now that I need you? What sketchy friends! And then they came thru. Was this because I’d turned critical and demanding?

This place is grand, palatial, in the Mediterranean style. Said to be on the site of an older khan or guest house from the Mameluke period, the 12th century, it is huge, encloses a courtyard which itself is filled with palms and other trees and shrubs as well as a multitude of birds. It sits near the shore, which now, because of depletion of the lake, has receded to about 1 km from the hostel. I’ve noticed in all my views of the lake that the shore area is expanding. I’ve tried to show this. What once might be called a sea, now is more properly a lake, and could, unless remediation is applied quickly, turn into a pond and then a marsh, and then be dry. Is this part of the fate of the earth?

One clear sign of shore recession is the beach facilities like lifeguard stations. Here the earlier one, well built, handsome, with a pole like those in fire stations for quick descent and rescue is far from the shoreline. A new structure is in place, rudimentary compared with the old one. This morning, as the sun rose (around 5:30) I climbed the steps of the old station to gain a better position for the photos. Also grassy areas, newly seeded, and different types of sand and gravel mark the changes. All this occurred recently I believe.

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At the guesthouse (for about 110 NIS, breakfast included, an extra 50 for dinner, coffee and tea and a fridge in the room) I ate with about 20 others, mostly 2 groups of young people, both sounding German. One group sang their grace in perfect harmony, filling the dining hall with lilting music. A backpacker sat by himself, another man sat, like me, alone. One family is here with small children, and a group of 4, 2 couples from France also share the facility.

This meal came at a perfect moment for me: I’d inadvertently fasted most of the day since breakfast. One green apple and one peanut brittle constituted my late lunch. Then the evening feast. This going without food is part of this form of travel: when will I be able to buy a sandwich or groceries or a beer? I saw few opportunities for either along this route.

Rooms, numbering some 100, are dorms like mine (4 beds, I slept alone), singles and doubles, on 2 levels, most looking out or into the courtyard. Everything is air conditioned. Wifi is extra (about $5 per hour.

Swimming was glorious. This marks my 3rd entrance into the water, the first was the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, the 2nd the pool at Protea Village with Beny. In both cases I didn’t worry about water purity. Warm water, very salty in the first case, fresh in the 2nd and 3rd , and auspicious in all cases, especially the 3rd. At the guesthouse beach a sign declared, swimming absolutely forbidden! What?! The counter person had told me swimming is possible. So I checked with someone beachside who replied, of course, swim. Is this another Israeli trait—to declare and not mean seriously?

This morning, up at my usual time, about 5:30 (no matter what time of year, when I’ve gone to bed, how well I’ve slept, I’m up). This time to stroll down to the beach at that magical hour before sunrise. No definitive sunrise this morning,  but a slowly brightening glow from across the water. I photographed this from various angles as time passed, the light changing. I didn’t photograph the twinkling lights to the west, running up hill, many homes, maybe Tiberias?

I’ve managed to photograph, write in my journal, download images into the computer,  back them up, and quickly survey them, but I’ve done little blogging or web maintenance. This might have to wait for Ramallah, or later, Cambridge. Unless I take a day off from driving and stay somewhere 2 nights.

I feel this leg of the 3 month journey of discovery is something I’ve long yearned to do: the coast, Galilee and hopefully the Golan and then the river valley. As if primordial in my being, going back to childhood. Key words kick me off: Galilee, Capernaum, Tiberias, Mediterranean, River Jordan, Golan Heights, etc. These words are markers in my experience, in forming my perspectives, my maturation, and now, as if discovering the root of recurring dreams, I’m there-here.

When I write others, like Suzanne and earlier the Boston Lighters, I try not to boast, but to admit that what I’m doing is a special grace not available to all. 

As lonely as I can be on journeys like this, I’ve come to realize I never travel alone. Always with me: muses, memories, dreams, desires, and the tools I have to share my experiences. Would I be as motivated to share if I were traveling with a real person? If Y were with me or X or ME or one of my daughters and her family. The incentive to broadcast—in effect to create travel companions—might vanish.

Swimming beach by the Kerei Deshe Guest House

This sort of travel is a joy, so far, very relaxed and happy, compared with my previous travels on this particular trip. Those usually involved complicated transport, as in the West Bank, often harrying, as were the shared taxi rides between Ramallah and Bethlehem, or the travel to various areas of Gaza usually with friends as we observed the unreconstructed carnage.

Adding to the intrigue of this journey is planning for my next southern tour in the US. Dave asked me to decide when I’d arrive in Raleigh, and by what transport. So I reserved a seat on the train from Boston for Saturday, October 17, arriving the next day, first show on the day following, all this in less than 2 months. Mind bending.

LINKS:

The Peres Center for Peace

Irving Moskowitz

Hilda Silverman

Protea Village

Beny Gefen

Palmach

Caesarea

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Gaza

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Sderot

Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

August 27 & 28, 2009, Thursday & Friday, Sderot, Israel, in the home of Nomika Zion & Jaffa, Israel, on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel:

Yes, arrived in Israel. With much to show and tell. But first a dream, particularly powerful last night:

In one I was watching a movie in which a young man had tragically died, his family in grief. They either extracted him from the grave or were bringing him home for burial. I knew it was a film and I became very critical of the veracity of it when I saw the dead man, naked, scratch himself. What a cheap shot, I thought. And then he moved again so it became clear the intent was to show he was not dead at all. The family was amazed. Either a resurrection or a case of mistaken death.

The course of yesterday’s events unfolded in mysterious and heavenly ways. First the leave taking at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program office, a gift of my girl in hospital photo to the staff, clearing up the pay question at Al Aqsa (if I send them my bank info they promise a bank transfer of $300, this after I thought Mohammed had said no money available), waiting for Islam to finish the DVD writing of the Popular Achievement movie and my backed up photos, waiting for the taxi which I thought would be driven by the crazy and irrepressible Awni (it wasn’t, damn, someone new, without the chutzpah of Awni), final packing, bye to Hassen the building owner, then ride with Mosab, a quiet Mosab, to Erez. Rolling my black hard plastic luggage over all the gravel, rejecting an offer from one of the porters, this time unwisely, I ruined one wheel. I’ll probably have to replace the luggage or find a way to repair it or live with it till home.

Erez was fairly easy this time, the staff more polite than I recall from before. The same body X-ray device with the whirling doors, the same thorough scanning of all luggage, the same opening of most of my luggage to hand inspect—I watched them, they seemed nonchalant, didn’t look thru everything, didn’t seem to care, no one asked any questions, I probably could have brought the video tapes Raghda had asked me to bring to her brother in Ramallah—, the same series of gates and pens, and the same final stamp in my passport, “Erez.” And I’m in another world.

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Gaza—on the way to Erez crossing point to Israel

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Sderot, Israel

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Eric Yellin, the founder of Other Voice, from Sderot, met me; we drove the 3 km or so to Sderot and there the fantastical experience began. The distance is so small, the situation so different that I gasped. Luckily I could process this with Eric who delighted in showing me around the town. He took me to several hills overlooking Gaza where we could see Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya, Jabalia, and Gaza City itself, places I’ve visited and photographed and heard stories about, places where I’ve met people affected by policies of Israel and supported by many in Sderot. Not supported by Eric however, or his colleague in Other Voice, Nomika Zion, in whose home I slept last night, where I’m writing now.

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On the 2nd of two hill visits the sun was setting. As I photographed, using my long lens, we heard the muezzin call everyone to prayer; everyone in Gaza was at this moment sitting down to break the fast, the Iftar, just as I’d done with the Popeye crew on the previous 2 evenings, and with Mohammed and family in Jabalia camp on the first night of Ramadan. Behind us was a reservoir of about 100 meters across, round and lined, with the water level down by about 10 meters. Eric explained that this had an illustrious history, attacked by Arabs during the early days of Israel, another case of historic hydropolitics.

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Gaza from Sderot

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Jabalia from Sderot

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Jabalia, The Gaza Strip, in the distance, water reservoir in the foreground

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Comparing Gaza with Sderot (some features are a result of the occupation, some are cultural and religious differences): Sderot residents are free to go anywhere in the world, if they have the necessary means (many are impoverished, recent immigrants themselves, and those holding Israeli passports, including Israeli Palestinians, cannot enter many Arab countries). Building materials are plentiful (if they can be afforded) so the damage from rocket attacks can be swiftly repaired (I saw no damage, did see ongoing construction of safe rooms.) The Internet is faster than anywhere else in this trip’s experience, and twice I’ve found free neighborhood networks to use. I can wear shorts outside during the day and drink beer and other alcoholic beverages. Malls. Larger cars. Elegant homes. Grassy expanses, trees, well tended palms. Fairly equal women’s rights. Good educational system. Drinkable water out of the tap. On and on. But, I wonder, how do people deal with cognitive dissonance, if any—the gap between the fiction of much of the conventional Israeli narrative and the truth of the suffering of the Palestinians, largely at the design of the Israeli government, voted into power by its citizens, in the “only true democracy in the Middle East.”

Fear is similar (and could unite the two populations). Gazans obviously live in constant dread of more attacks, and suffer from their loss of freedom and the continuation of the siege—these are defining elements in Gazan experience. For Sderotians they also fear: the renewal of rocket attacks, bigger and more accurate rockets. Altho the city of 22,000 has provided much shelter—this could be an entire story in itself: safe rooms added on to older houses, the requirement of a safe room beginning in 1990 during the first Iraq war, sealable against gas attacks, concrete walls some 1 meter thick in all new construction, the varieties of street shelters, protective roofs over existing buildings like schools, complete rebuilding of some structures like some schools to be rocket proof, for some instances—and at large cost (many donations came in from people around the world), no one can predict whether attacks will resume and if they do what will be fired next.

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One style of rocket shelter

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Protected high school

This might be compared to a more universal fear of nuclear holocaust—or catastrophic climate change, or a total and uncorrectable economic collapse—but it is more immediate. The rockets have affected everyone. Eric was at an intersection about 50 meters from a rocket that struck a car instantaneously killing its female passenger. Nomika told me about a rocket hitting a home near her, demolishing a major portion of it. I forget the exact figures but something like 8 people have died in the last 8 or so years, with many injuries. Wikipedia claims: [Rockets] have killed 13 residents, wounded hundreds, caused millions of dollars in damage, and disrupted daily life as well as the local economy. No rockets since May 19, 2009. But the degree and type of fear these attacks induce can’t be quantified. It is significant.

Nomika described for me two cases of women, both with children, whose fear piled up so high that suddenly both decided, separately, to flee. Eric estimates about 5,000 residents left during the recent assault, some now returning. That’s 20% of the population. Furthermore, those leaving, Nomika told me, were the “stronger” elements of the population, meaning those with stronger economic means. So poor people tended to be trapped here, they and the elderly. Had I been a resident, I too might have been unable to leave, suffering greatly from not only the entrapment but my feebleness. If I lived in an older building without safe areas, without nearby large shelters, I’d have only the basement for refuge. If I lived more than a few floors up, the warning (if it occurred at all, the rocket that killed the woman in the car arrived with no alert, alerts provide about 15 seconds warning) probably would not give me enough time in my weakened aged condition to reach the basement. What would I do? Tremble and pray.

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Home of Nomika Zion

As might be expected during war conditions, many supported powerful retaliation. And some, Nomika told me, tended to become more extreme. She outlined the case of a man in the neighborhood, the kibbutz—more about this tantalizing aspect of life in Sderot later—who when in his 20s, in the army, refused deployment to the territories. And was imprisoned, if I remember the story correctly. And now: wipe them out, yes all of them, including the children, if they fire one more rocket at us.

And he’s not alone. Which makes Other Voice, the organization that Eric founded and Nomika participates in even more impressive. They speak as Sderotians who deplore the use of violence to bring peace, who attempt to bridge the differences between themselves as Israelis and their Gazan neighbors across the road, the fence, the wall, the gulf created by more than 20 years of violence. Eric believes the consistent Israeli policy of violent retaliation lacks an end game, a purpose. It is based primarily on fear, not so much hatred. A fear that he says, is in the DNA of Jews everywhere, having experienced 2 millennia of persecution, climaxed by the holocaust. His wife lost many in her family. He did not.

Nomika is well known internationally, having written an article during the assault that was widely circulated (linked below). Hundreds of journalists interviewed her, she won a prize, visited NYC and DC when she received it recently (her first trip to the USA), and now is scorned by many in her town. What motivates her? I might ask her again to try to explain that most vexing of all questions to anyone daring to speak out.

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Nomika Zion

Eric recently took a group of Gazan children to the West Bank, with permission of the Israeli government. He seemed thrilled when I put him on the phone yesterday to Belal in Gaza. I’d called Belal to say goodbye more personally than by chat. I know Belal loves and misses me. Since Eric was standing nearby, on an impulse hard to explain, I told Belal where I was, who I was with, and then suddenly burst out with, and would you like to talk with this guy? Of course, he said. And Belal is one of the best of my friends to do this: articulate, impassioned, obviously and publicly suffering.

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Eric Yellin on the phone with Belal Badwan in Gaza

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Belal Badwan, 2006

I was impressed with Eric’s response, listening respectfully, apologizing for what Israelis had done to Belal and his people, and promising to stay in touch. This might be a connection, because of Belal’s position as teacher, that could flourish in bridge building. Yet to be seen.

Eric was born in Israel, lived here to the age of 5, raised by his father I think he said, parents divorced, mother living in Green Gulch Buddhist community near San Francisco (maybe Y knows her) for decades, father in Vermont (he formerly a photographer, helping make a book about Johns sea coast island in South Carolina, a book Eric proudly showed me, also founded a blue grass band), then back to the States till he was 17 when he chose to return to Israel, serve in the Israeli army (after first being posted as a prison guard, his elder son told me, himself imprisoned for refusal to continue that assignment, and then requesting a position as military investigator in Gaza, just as the first intifada began, many stories here), marry a 2nd generation Israeli, raise boys (twins 13, another 15 who wishes to become a combat soldier despite saying he shares his father’s politics), and enter his life as activist.

He said, I’ve considered leaving the country, I might someday, but I love the intensity of living here. I couldn’t remain here without the work I’m doing as an activist. On this we seem to agree (on much we agree, I found him very compatible with my views. I also would not wish to continue living in the States, or perhaps living anywhere, if I weren’t doing the work I do thru photography and writing. That is, we are both courting despair by examining so closely the suffering of others, by living in lands of cognitive dissonance. And we might succumb if we didn’t have an action channel.)

Eric agrees that Israel is self-corrosive, and might be doomed. Yet he is hopeful. He has recently taken a part time position with an organization that does peace activism. I should get the name again, and I assume he’s active with Other Voice. Also he is part of a start up software or computer company based in the kibbutz. He is responsible for the network at the kibbutz.

Eric told me he hates the word normalization, because it is inaccurate, almost a slur on the idea of pairing. Opposing normalization, a view taken by most Palestinians I know, means that there should be no partnerships between Palestinians and Israelis, unless the Israelis agree with the call to end the occupation and act on it. He believes strongly, as I think Nomika does and I certainly do, in the value of personal exchanges, interactions, human to human. How else develop trust? This is part of a long-range strategy and I believe has been part of all justice movements. Gandhi for instance, as far as I know, never hesitated to meet with adversaries. I wonder what he’d say about normalization. Or Martin Luther King Jr? In South Africa the kononia (kononia means communion by intimate participation) movement played a role in ending apartheid—families dining together from across the political and social divisions. Also in the United States the Kononia Farm brought European and African Americans together in shared living, demonstrating (at some cost to the residents) that coexistence was possible.

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Migvan kibbutz

To embody this principle of sharing experiences, both Nomika and Eric live in a kibbutz, and work to foster relations between widely divided adversaries, namely Gazans and Israelis. They suffer for this, ostracized from some neighbors who might not share their values. All buildings are duplexes, and, judging from the homes of Nomika and Eric, vary in size and quality, also how they’re furnished. Nomika’s is elegant and appealing, filled with art, plants, fine kitchenware, kept clean, a model of simple yet luxurious living. I found Eric’s to be messy, perhaps more from the presence of their 3 boys than anything native to the adults. How would my home look if I lived there, I pondered?

And so, the kibbutz: the Hebrew word means come together. This one, Migvan, is unusual in its being relatively young and in an urban environment. Founded by Nomika, Migvan moved from an apartment complex with tiny units to its present, spacious, tree lined site in 2000. (She’s lived in Sderot since 1988.)

And I’m afraid I now don’t have time to write about Nomika, maybe another time. She can speak for herself thru her powerful article “War Diary from Sderot.”

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Inside Eric Yellin’s home

I just learned that Ted Kennedy, my senator from Massachusetts, died at age 77, from his brain cancer—and accolades are pouring in, rightly. Like his 2 brothers he is a great man. Too bad he wasn’t more astute and courageous about Israel-Palestine. In fact, a friend just emailed a quote from the website of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Action Committee:

Senator Edward Kennedy, A Great Friend of Israel


Sen. Kennedy was a longstanding supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship.


AIPAC joins all Americans in mourning the loss of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and a true and longstanding friend of America’s pro-Israel community.


During his more than four decades in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Kennedy consistently supported American assistance to Israel, particularly during the Jewish state’s most trying times, in the wake of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. He led the fight against U.S. arms sales to Israel’s enemies, spoke out forcefully against the Arab League boycott of Israel and was a fierce critic of the United Nations’ isolation of the Jewish state; he urged his colleagues to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, and warned of the dangers of global terrorism.


Sen. Kennedy became the leading champion for persecuted Soviet Jewry, advocating on behalf of refuseniks and those Jews wishing to leave the Soviet Union, personally raising their issues with Soviet leaders at every possible opportunity, and demanding that the United States provide loan guarantees to Israel to absorb Jewish refugees.

Senator Kennedy’s legacy of leadership on these issues and his lifelong support for one of America’s closest allies are hallmarks of his historic career devoted to serving the best interests of the American people and our values. He will be sorely missed.

LINKS:

Israel’s ‘other voices’ go unheard
By Rachel Shabi in Israel

Kibbut Nir Am and Sderot – the human side of towns under fire
By Donna Zeff

Other Voice

Sderot

Photos by Jessica Griffin
Generally good photography, might be working in Gaza

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