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Posts Tagged ‘jerusalem’

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands. (and as I photograph the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) trainings at least in Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, Gaza as well if I get my permit from Israel)

A day or so after entry I wrote a few friends and family:

Dearest friends and family,

I write you happily from the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. At airport security, possibly because of the huge tourist influx, many drawn by the upcoming Jewish high holidays, I passed thru passport control with no questions, no suspicious looks, no requests to stand interrogation, no need for my various stories and contacts, no smiles, no welcomes, no shalom’s, just a simple handing back my passport with the treasured three-month visa. That three month period would get me past my December birthday, in case I wanted to celebrate it here.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I’ve met a portion of my AVP team members (Alternatives to Violence Project), we expect to visit the kotel or western or wailing wall this evening, and tomorrow head to Bethlehem to set up trainings, and then to Hebron. We do not yet have our Gaza permit, but I at least remain hopeful. 

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AVP team, Rebecca Hecht, Joe DiGarbo, Steve Alderfer

On the airplane, Lufthansa, Boston to Munich to Tel Aviv, I made a slew of iPhone photos, my first ever with such a handy device, over the once warring Balkan region, and then over the even earlier warring Italian-Greek peninsula, site of the origins of so much we value in western civilization. Odd, thought I, that I’m flying on a German plane, stopping over in the fire-bombed Munich which also was the site of violence toward Israel by the Palestinian liberation organization (PLO), into Israel, with that history very current in my thinking and experience.

FLIGHT PHOTOS

Earlier today I met with owners of Educational Bookseller in Jerusalem, an exemplary approach to draw attention to life in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Mahmoud, one of the brothers, filled me in on details of the reality, especially the lethally faulty Palestinian Authority, notably with no authority. He told me various ministries had been created in anticipation of a state. Now a separate state seems a vanishing prospect so the ministries have absolutely nothing to do. A waste of money and personnel. Vast structures in the stratosphere suspended without foundations. 

Weather is fine here in Jerusalem, windy, dry, cool. Most everything else needs some work.

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Israeli settlement/colony in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City

Thanks so much for your concern for the issues I’m working on, including internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the west bank, and their ancestral homelands now in Israel, and in my well-being. You all are what make a major part of my life possible.

Alternatives to Violence Project

TO BE CONTINUED

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Only by awakening can you know the true meaning of that word. —Eckhart Tolle

PHOTOS

From early March thru end of May I photographed, videoed, and wrote in Palestine-Israel, north to south, east to west, Israel and Palestine, wet and dry, happy and tragic, brightly lit (oh that Mediterranean Light!) and dark. With what I hope is an open heart, available to all parties, a fair-eyed and handed treatment of different experiences.

Highlights include:

  • Nearly one month along the Jordan River from its headwaters on Mt Hermon to its tragic termination in the dying Dead Sea.

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Mt Hermon, headwaters of the Jordan River, Israeli surveillance center

  • Organized annually by the illustrious Freedom Theater of Jenin, the two-week Freedom Bus Ride thru the West Bank visited inspiring nodal points of suffering and resistance such as Bil’in, Tuwani, Nabi Salih, and the Jordan Valley, often staying for several days while sleeping on floors.

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Bil’in

  • Teaching photography to young adults for two weeks thru the Freedom Theater in Jenin’s refugee camp.

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Two of my photo students in Jenin

  • Exploring the eastern sector of Jerusalem by photographing for Grassroots Jerusalem, while residing for one month in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

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Examining how Israel dominates Jerusalem’s eastern sector, nominally Palestinian

  • 5 days with Israelis who live on the Gaza border, often attacked by home-made rockets and mortars launched by Gazan militants, photographing and filming there (on kibbutzim and moshavim, i.e., cooperative agricultural communities) an organization called Other Voice, Jewish Israelis calling for negotiations rather than war to resolve the conflict.

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Looking from Israel into Gaza, less than 2 kilometers from each other

  • Photographing two conferences, one about coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis, the other about cohesion of the various Palestinian groups in 1948 israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

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An Israeli and a Palestinian together at Global Village Square, Bethlehem Palestine

Problems occurred during the photography training when apparently I did not satisfy students’ wishes for more advanced training. Altho one of the Theater’s requests was to fully explore light in photography, one of my most practiced photographic elements, I might have failed to help them understand how light works. Given the conditions, expectations, and my expertise in photography I did my best. Another problem was that I was not able to enter Gaza. The organization I usually work with that can get me a permit, the American Friends Service Committee, did not need my services. Also since the summer 2014 Gaza war, Israel has tightened entrance. I was close to Gaza when with Other Voice, and phoned my good friend in Gaza, Ibrahim, which only exacerbated my (and his) frustration.

Was my trip a success? How measure this? Achievements? Photo and movie production? Insights? Survival in relatively good health?

Was my trip useful? Will it help end the conflict, assure security for the Israelis and justice for the Palestinians?

What is the point of my work? An adventure, a vacation, a wish to demonstrate my bravery? I answer, respectively: Maybe, time will reveal. Possibly, I undertook it with good intentions. A compulsion, an itch, a need, unfathomable.

Conditions In Gaza (Gaza Blockade In Numbers) are the worst since the 1948 birth of Israel and the catastrophe it caused for the Palestinians, the Nakba. Altho unable to witness Gaza directly, thru study and conversation I learn virtually nothing has been rebuilt, Israel continues to block entrance and exit (my case), and altho fighting has not resumed in this past year, most people I spoke with, inside and outside Gaza, expect another war, possibly more devastating than the one last summer. Unless major compromises are made by all contending parties.

In the West Bank and Israel conditions vary according to location (mid June 2015 UN report here). As I wrote in more detail here, most Israelis seem oblivious about the occupation, not affected directly by it, even if in West Bank settlements (as long as there is “quiet”). For Palestinians in the West Bank, especially the regions the Freedom Bus Ride visited, including Jerusalem, the tight Israeli military and economic control continues. I’ve heard that Hamas, ruler of Gaza, is losing support and people are outspoken about that. And in the West Bank where Fatah rules, many people have abandoned the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, the Authority without authority, handmaiden to the Israeli government.

Struggle against oppression continues, but it is localized to a few key points in the West Bank, and virtually absent in Gaza. Or put differently, it seems effective and strategic in only a few places. Otherwise, West Bank resistance seems pro forma: a group gathers in protest, maybe against land loss or prison conditions. The process may begin nonviolently (this as a value and tactic is much debated) but usually boys, the shabab, throw rocks and the soldiers fire, depending on who is among the protesters, live ammunition, rubber-covered metal bullets, tear gas, skunk water (chemically treated to resemble sewage and stick to clothing and skin) or stun grenades. Quid pro quo. Predictable and pointless. Or so some, including me, think. I search for strategic resistance with a vision for the future and found it among all the groups visited by the Freedom Bus Ride.

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Women’s Day March on Kalandia Checkpoint

I hope my materials give a deeper sense of my experiences and perspectives.

I end this report with an idea: one’s perspectives are generated not only by relevant experience, study, and influence—my trip in this case—but by personal points of reference, often subconscious, often not related directly to one’s opinions.

I speculate that those tilting toward Israel in their perspectives share points of reference, whereas those tilting toward Palestine might not. Jews usually tilt toward Israel by referencing anti-Semitism, the horrors of the holocaust, and persistent, nearly existential fear of Iran (going back to the days of exile in Persia?). A tilt toward Palestine could be from a variety of points of reference. One person might have experienced oppression, as with African Americans. Or being raised during the 1960s, radicalized by the Vietnam-American war and the Freedom Movement like me. Paradoxically Jews might also tilt toward Palestine if not for their Jewishness—Jewish proclivity toward justice could be a key point of reference but Jewish fear for their own and Israel’s survival overrides their sense of justice.

My reference points are—altho I shouldn’t be too hasty to decide—Wounded Knee, my early Zionism, the African American Freedom Movement, and a dream I had in South Africa about Martin Luther King Jr. I came of age thru Wounded Knee: playing the cowboy who killed Indians when we played; my early Badlands experience, near the massacre site, with my family; later reading books such as Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee; and then my first visit to the actual site in 1982 while roaming the Great Plains alone. One year later I lived and photographed on the reservation with the Jesuits. Seven years after that in 1990 I was on the Pine Ridge reservation again in South Dakota with my partner for the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee. These adult experiences led to a major photographic project.

Thru this process I learned compassion for the “extreme other”—people not in any of my circles, not in my family, neighborhood, or ethnic group. They were on the other side of the planet (or a different planet), not my skin color or sharing my first language, etc. Wounded Knee victims were truly the “extreme other.” As the Palestinians had been other to me—until I visited in 2003 and met real Palestinians.

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Wounded Knee, 1890

Secondly, my early Zionism—growing up admiring the kibbutz, the pioneer, the tanned and muscled young man with a rifle over his shoulder, working the land with an array of similarly tanned and muscled beautiful young women with rifles over their shoulders (oh how I desired to join them); then teaching at Maimonides School in 1966-67, celebrating the outcome of the Six Day War; later the period of Munich and airplane hijackings; and slowly shifting direction as I observed parallels between South African apartheid and Israel while visiting South Africa.

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Zionist Pioneer

Thirdly, the African American Freedom Movement interwove with my Zionism, especially during the mid 1960s when I contemplated going south for Freedom Summer but feared and refused, forever regretful. Now I discover that regret leads to my willingness to enter danger zones in Palestine-Israel.

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Freedom Movement

Finally, the dream about Martin Luther King Jr. I dreamt he appeared to me and in effect said, while he tapped me on the shoulder, “Skip, I’m dead, you’re alive, it is now your turn.” Which meant: utilize his analysis of the triplet of racism, militarism, and extreme consumerism to struggle for justice. He did not point me at Palestine-israel; only later did I make this connection.

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A button I proudly wear

What next? Lots of work this summer and into the fall preparing exhibits, slideshows, movies, blog, website, and eventually touring in the USA to show my results. Which is where you, dear reader, comes in.

Would you like to sponsor a presentation?

Here are some of my current projects, slideshows, movies, and prospective photographic exhibitions:

Thru my Lens: Palestine-Israel
The look and feel and meaning of the situation in this troubled region. Based on my recent three-month journey of faith in action, I will show and discuss my photographs about coexistence, Palestinians in Jerusalem, nonviolent resistance to the occupation in the West Bank, and other topics.

Freedom Bus Ride thru the Palestinian West Bank
A slideshow by Skip Schiel about Palestinians under occupation practicing exemplary strategic nonviolent resistance. The renowned Freedom Theater of Jenin West Bank organized a two-week bus journey inspired by the Freedom Movement and Bus Rides in the United States, some 60 international and Palestinian riders, to explore some of the most attacked and resilient communities in the West Bank—Bil’in, Tuwani, Nabi Salih, the Jordan Valley, and Jerusalem itself, known by thousands for their creative struggles against oppression.

Jerusalem Day: the Controversial March of Flags
A slideshow-movie by Skip Schiel about the annual celebration of Jerusalem’s “reunification.” In reality, Jerusalem is not unified, but in the eyes of many of its Palestinian residents, it is occupied. All governments refuse to locate their embassies there, but instead base in Tel Aviv. The march provocatively begins in Sheik Jarrah, a contested Palestinian neighborhood, marches thru the eastern, largely Palestinian sector of Jerusalem, thru the Damascus Gate, and into the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall. I photographed and videoed this year’s march, trying to carefully depict both sides of the controversy.

Other Voice: Gaza’s Israeli Neighbors
A movie by Skip Schiel about courageous Israelis advocating for talks, not tanks, diplomacy, not war. Living within two miles of Gaza, these Israelis suffer the brunt of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, most recently infiltration as well. Yet they call for an intelligent response to the violence in their neighborhood, in league with similarly minded Gazans.

Holy Land Water
Hydropolitics in Palestine-Israel, from Mt Hermon, the headwaters of the Jordan River, to the dying Dead Sea, the River’s terminus.

In addition I circulate these earlier photo presentations GeneralTour2014AnnouncementSchielSM. i hope to hear from you. You can email me.

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I’m now photographing for a Palestinian organization in East Jerusalem, Grassroots Jerusalem, to support their various projects. One crucial project remaps Jerusalem, intending to counter the conventional image of The Holy City (Al-Quds) as purely Jewish Israeli, erasing Palestinian presence. As part of my work, I’ve compiled some of my photos that relate to Jerusalem. PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO LINKS.

Wujood book cover

The organization recently published a guide book about the city, Wujood, the Grassroots Guide to Jerusalem, that is definitely worth reading (It will be available online once they’re launched their new website.). Here’s a review from This Week in Palestine to give you some idea of the book and the organization. Wujood-Grassroots book

Women’s Day March on Kalandia (the major checkpoint between Jerusalem and ramallah, west bank side)
Silwan (south of Jerusalem)
Photo from Silwan
Old City Jerusalem
Old City Jerusalem-2
Sheik Jarrah (neighborhood in East Jerusalem, 2015)
Sheik Jarrah (family in protest tent, 2009)
Annexation Wall
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Annexation Wall-3
Jerusalem Gate (ongoing popular resistance to confiscation of more Palestinian land around Jerusalem, 2015)
Mount of Olives
South of Jerusalem (a walk thru former Arab and Jewish neighborhoods)
Jahalin Bedouin (near Jerusalem)
Jerusalem Light Rail (2012)

Jerusalem map Grassroots
SheikJarrahPalestine_Israel_Jerusalem-1196In Sheik Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem threatened by Israeli colonists, March 2015
LINKS

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In an Israeli shopping mall 

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Model of Yad Vashem

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

March 6, 2015, Friday, Golden Gate hostel, Old City, Jerusalem, Israel-Palestine

PHOTOS:

(Warmer, low 60s, sunny, calm.)

“I’m sure [my memory] only works one way,” Alice remarked. “I can’t remember things before they happen.”

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.

“What sort of things do you remember best?” Alice ventured to ask.

“Oh, things that happened the week after next,” the Queen replied in a careless tone.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

Building on my idea yesterday [March 5, 2015] to ride the rails of Jerusalem’s 3 year old light rail system, connecting settlements, aka “neighborhoods,” and Palestinian towns, not sure where or why, completely spontaneously, drawn magnetically, Yad Vashem turned into the main event. As I wrote to a close friend first and then adapted for others (one of the greatest gifts of digital writing):

today i visited yad vashem, my third time (my first was in 2003 with a delegation and later with a friend around 2008). now completely redone, it’s designed as a prism by moshe safdie whose modular homes i love.

this museum is truly, in my view, too much: not the topic but the quantity of exhibits—repetitive, floor to ceiling photos, media blasting out everywhere. i doubt many can take in more than a morsel or two. a separate art exhibition of drawings, paintings, frescoes, etc helped me much more to understand the holocaust. many pieces were profound in tone, execution, technique, and meaning. art became a survival tool, not only of the individual artist’s spirit but of the suffering itself—a powerful visual testimony. i think you would have been very interested in it.

unfortunately yad vashem refuses to expand “never again for jews” to “never again for anyone,” ie, there is only one holocaust and nothing is comparable. a docent was fired in 2009 for mentioning deir yassin village and the nakba, not as equivalent horrors but as related atrocities.

i chanced onyadvashem. my mission was riding thejerusalem light rail from end to end, disembarking occasionally to walk thru a variety of neighborhoods, palestinian and israeli jewish, making and expressing thru photography differences and similarities. the day was crisp, sunny, dry, virtually cloudless, the beginning of early spring and the dry season. wildflowers bloomed, the air smelled fresh. nibbling on anything green, 4 goats crossed my path in a jewish neighborhood, heedless of me and traffic,.

The name Yad Vashem derives from a biblical account; it is not a translation of holocaust memorial museum as I’d wrongly supposed. The name emphasizes transforming anonymous victims into human beings by remembering and recording their names.

And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem), an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

—Isaiah 56:5

How do others view Yad Vashem? Most reviews are respectfully affirmative: a highly emotional experience, well thought-out displays, good information, etc. Nothing about either the holocaust message in the context of the occupation or the esthetics of museumship. Here’s one lonely contrary review, by Michael Ratner, a Jew with holocaust roots:

…As saddened and horrified as we were by what we had just experienced [visiting the museum], we were all struck by the contradiction of having the museum in Israel, a country forged out of the theft of other people’s land and homes, a nation whose treatment of Palestinians had echoes of what we had just seen: walled-in ghettos, stolen houses and land, a segregated population….

Read more of Ratner 

Jerusalem light rail map SM

I rode the tram on the Jewish holiday known as Purim—the holiday commemorates Jewish survival in the 4th century BCE when in exile in Persia and threatened with annihilation, a Jewish woman, Esther, orchestrated resistance that led to the slaughter of many Persians. (One might note the parallel to the recent speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the US Congress comparing Iran to various radical and brutal Islamic entities like ISIS.) Israeli kids were out of school, many including adults wore costumes such as fairy outfits, flaming red hair, angels etc. I photographed kids jumping on an air-filled device behind a school and in a mall receiving balloon crowns from a jester, while a stilt walker frolicked behind them. No sign of the holocaust today.

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In an Israeli Jerusalem settlement

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Mt Herzl Park

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Monument to Jewish soldiers, one of many to Jewish victims along a path to Yad Vashem

Leaving the train at Mt Herzl station, the last station south and west, I walked thru the park, admired its landscaping, stopped at the grave of the founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, passed graves of other Zionist notables, noticed signs about Yad Vashem, and eventually realized the museum must be nearby. Checking maps and asking direction of 2 women, I learned about a connecting path and walked the 2 km or so to the museum. There I had the experience I wrote about. Along the way I observed many monuments to Jewish suffering connected not only with the holocaust but with ongoing onslaughts. A life—a long history—of oppression. How odd, I’m not the first to note: these people, so long and so viciously oppressed, have turned into the opposite. Of course, in all the monuments, not a mention of the occupation of Palestine and the siege of Gaza.

Rarely remarked: the museum is near the site of Deir Yassin, while Yad Vashem itself is alleged to be built on an Arab village.

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Exiting Yad Vashem, facing west, the new life—also presenting a view of Deir Yassin, scene of a massacre during 1948

In the museum I photographed models of the gas chambers and furnaces at Auschwitz. (I did not see the exhibit about the Warsaw ghetto wall that I photographed on my first visit in 2003, while Israeli high schoolers listened to their teacher or docent explain about walls, but probably not about Israel’s construction of the “security barrier,” aka apartheid wall.) These models brought me painfully back to Auschwitz, my time there while on pilgrimage in 1995, living with the truth of the holocaust and my German people’s role in it. An eerie confluence of feelings struck me: Jews as victims, Jews as perpetrators of suffering, Germans as operators of the death apparatus, me as German, me possibly as Jewish. Perhaps this day will stand out as an early high point of my trip, reminding me of multiple truths coexisting in one organism—and one people.

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Model of the gas chamber at Auschwitz

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Yad Vashem art exhibition, The Anguish of Liberation as Reflected in Art, 1945-47 

Yad Vashem fires employee who compared Holocaust to Nakba” by Yoav Stern

Israelis wounded in Jerusalem ‘terror attack'” by Palestinian motorist (March 6, 2015)
A Palestinian motorist rammed his vehicle into a group of pedestrians standing near a Jerusalem tram stop on Friday, injuring at least four, Israeli police said….

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2013 may be the big year of transitions for Quaker and Quaker-related institutions in Palestine-Israel. First the Friends International Center in Ramallah (FICR) is currently evolving, having been initially an experiment in connecting better with the local community. Its founding coordinator, Kathy Bergen, has retired. FICR had become a significant source of transformation in the West Bank thru its cultural, educational, and political programs. The FICR board and the Ramallah Friends Meeting are currently working toward clearness on what will come next. I am exceedingly grateful to have been in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel during spring 2013 while some of this transition emerged.

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Ramallah Friends Meeting House, photo by Anarchopacifist

The American Friends Service Committee has ended its main project, Popular Achievement, after nearly 10 successful years and will turn over implementation of several new directions and funding to Palestinian organizations. While the Ramallah Friends Meeting continues to provide an invaluable spiritual base for residents of Palestine and international visitors, regularly hosting groups such as the Christian Peacemakers teams, when I attended, the majority of participants were internationals. The Ramallah Friends School and the main regional AFSC office continue, both as far as I can determine, with strength and stability.

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Kathy Bergen, retiring FICR coordinator

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Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting

A little more detail: FICR was affected from two directions. The bank that had been serving the Ramallah Friends Meeting and FICR was undergoing an international investigation for some possible irregularities. Because it was found that the Ramallah Friends Meeting account had been operating a sub account for FICR, the bank examiners determined that this presented a problem and closed the account.  At the same time, the Israeli authorities responsible for issuing long-term visas would not provide any response to questions about whether Kathy’s shortened visa was a sign of termination or if renewal might be a possibility. Such uncertainty made it impossible to plan for a future that required keeping a non-citizen as a Program Coordinator.

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Jean Zaru with Saida Khader, West Bank AFSC staff person, in front of the Ramallah Friends Meeting annex

The FICR Steering Committee is presently in a period of expectant waiting and looking forward to the planning meeting with members of Ramallah Friends Meeting in October. Possibilities that have been suggested by the community would be short-­term Friends in Residence, Muslim/Christian conversations around specific subjects of direct concern to Palestinians, ongoing conflict reduction/Alternatives to Violence programs, and spiritual foundations of peace-­making. In general, requests from the community have been for going deep in a few specific things rather than going broadly in many. Most agree that the Meeting and FICR are one entity so another outcome is likely to be a name that reflects the unity going forward.

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Deborah First, clerk of FICR’s board

At Kathy’s goodbye party in April 2013 (which I attended) when she was feted and lauded for her 7 years of devoted work, many of us felt that if the energy present at that party could be focused into leadership—preferably not an individual but some form of collective—FICR would continue. To further quote Deborah First in a recent email to me:

…We (the Meeting and FICR) have retained Hekmat [a local woman] …at least through the end of December [2013] and perhaps for much longer. Plans for ongoing spiritually connected workshops (that is a vital connection for the maintenance of our church status) will unfold this fall. Meanwhile, much repair work is happening on the Meetinghouse and the Annex ­roof tiles, leak, irrigation system, and so on ­ and the stream of visitors keeps coming. Hekmat has been arranging, and is present for, hospitality at the rise of Meeting each Sunday and is glad to do so. There is a sense of peace about the slow and steady work of the spirit….

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Omar Barghouti, founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel 

As for the AFSC: since 2004 the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza and the West Bank has concentrated on training youth, college age and high school. In an interactive and playful manner its Popular Achievement Program taught leadership and community building skills to volunteers. Once the graduates (now termed coaches) had successfully completed this training, the program required they recruit a group of high school youth to train in the same manner. The coaches then helped the younger youth design and implement a community service project such as a library, landscaping, first aid workshop, and conversion of an abandoned Israeli military base into a football (soccer) field. The AFSC joined with 11 strategic partners including NGO’s and universities to train more than 6000 young people.

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Gaza office of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program

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Popular Achievement programs in Gaza and the West Bank

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Photography workshop students (and friends) in Gaza taught by Skip Schiel

The new direction has 4 main goals, all in my view characterized by enhanced political content: challenging and transforming militarized societies in Israel, Palestine, and the US; fostering cohesion of disparate Palestinian groups (West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the diaspora); supporting the boycott-divest-sanction (BDS) international campaign as called for in 2005 by Palestinian civil society; and supporting active nonviolence and social change movements to transform the occupation and inequality generally.

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SodaStream (targeted by the BDS campaign) factory in an illegal settlement industrial park in the West Bank,

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Landfill illegally operated by Veolia (also targeted by the BDS campaign) in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank

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Sahar Vardi, AFSC staff, East Jerusalem, at a demonstration in Al Masara

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Al Masara, near Bethlehem

To implement this new direction AFSC will close down its West Bank and Gaza offices (West Bank immediately and Gaza in 3 years, altho the Gaza office may transition into an NGO with AFSC support), devolve direction to local partners (such as Baladna and Pal Vision), and continue funding. It will maintain its East Jerusalem office. The new program, “Palestinian Youth: Together for Change,” is slated to run until 2016. Quoting the regional director, Patricia Sellick, directly:

This is the context in which we are working:

20 years after Oslo the Israeli military occupation is entrenched and conditions of Palestinians are deteriorating Israel remains a highly militarized society and is attempting to extend a militarized civilian service to its Palestinian citizens US continues to support Israel with military aid The vulnerability of Palestinian refugees across the region has been highlighted by the predicament of the stateless Palestinians living in Syria

Within this context, AFSC reviewed its plans for Israel and Palestine programming in June 2012 and identified the following priorities (explained further in the attached document):

Demilitarization Economic Activism Non-violence and social change Palestinian cohesion

These strategic priorities have led to the redesign of our Israel, Palestine and US programs. These three programs are coordinated but separate.

…The new project started July 2013 and like the previous project has funding from Bread for the World. I would like to emphasize that our overall funding for the Palestine Program has increased. Staff cuts do not mean budget cuts, they reflect the fact that the Middle East region will now be spending a greater proportion on our partners and a smaller proportion on AFSC staff.

I raise the question: how can AFSC effectively end control and influence while it maintains funding? What if a partner wishes to advocate or at least allow a more militant approach to resistance, one that contradicts AFSC’s non-violence principles? Another question: if the direction is more political, ie, toward ending the occupation and siege, will Israel allow the AFSC the latitude it’s experienced over its more than 60 years in Palestine-Israel? To compile this report I’ve spoken with most staff, including Patricia Sellick, and the general secretary, Shan Cretin. I’m in touch with key people for constant updates. AFSC has produced an exciting new newsletter specific to the region.

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Shan Cretin, General Secretary, AFSC

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Patricia Sellick, Regional Director, AFSC

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Amal Sabawi, director of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

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Ibrahem Shatali, program officer, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

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Islam Madhoun, Intelligence Technology office, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

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Firas Ramlawi, business officer, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

From most Palestinian staff I heard some hard feelings. Some claimed they’d not been consulted and of course they were not happy about losing their jobs (altho some may transition into new AFSC positions or be able to use their expertise with other organizations). To some it felt like a classic top down decision-making process. Ms. Sellick claimed all staff had been consulted and AFSC was responding to suggestions and requests made by Palestinian organizations. Furthermore she said the big picture is hard to view from a staff position. I am happy to wait and see, revise my thoughts as new programs unfold, and support them in any way possible with my photography. I am grateful to be a small part of a large process, one that dates back to 1869 when 2 Quakers from my region of New England, Eli and Sybil Jones, met a young Arab girl in Ramallah. They asked, what can we do? She answered, provide education for girls. From such a humble origin, great and worthy institutions formed. They will continue. Contact info for the AFSC: regional director Patricia Sellick (p.sellick@afsc.org) and her team in the Middle East Regional office. And for FICR, board clerk Deborah First, (deborahfirst@mac.com).

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Early 20th century

LINKS

AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) in Palestine-Israel

FICR (Friends International Center in Ramallah) Popular Achievement Program

AFSC position paper-2013 (also available in Arabic)

AFSC-BDS Campaign

Quakers in Israel & Palestine—Timeline by Skip Schiel

Notes on My Quaker Connections in Palestine 

Photos by Skip Schiel

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Political power is controlled by the corporate elite, and the arts are the locale for a kind of guerilla warfare in the sense that guerillas look for apertures and opportunities where they can have an effect.

—Howard Zinn

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Young man in a park, Gaza City

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Inbal Yahav, telling how she lost a close friend in a Gazan mortar attack, Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav (cooperative agricultural community) next to the Gaza Strip

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During a trauma healing session in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip

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Nader Abu Amsha, director of YMCA Rehabilitation Program & Beit Sahour Branch

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West Jerusalem

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Watching a performance of the Jenin Freedom Theater at a water rights demonstration in the Jordan River Valley

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Coaches at a training for the Quaker Palestine Youth Program, Gaza City

PHOTOS

An interlude in my series of journal extracts about my recent trip. That series will continue.

Often while photographing in Palestine-Israel for 3 months this spring I despaired. For several reasons: in Gaza and the West Bank, the paucity of popular unarmed resistance to the occupation; by Israeli Jews, the absence of awareness about the occupation and siege; and my own sense of futility about my work. There are exceptions of course, Gush Shalom, Other Voice, and Emek Shaveh for instance in Israel, and some local popular resistance groups in Palestine, such as struggle in the villages of Bil’in, Budrus, Al Masara, Al Walaja, and Nabi Saleh in the West Bank and a few locations in Gaza. Yet, in my 8 trips there since 2004 I’ve never felt so crushed.

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Beneficiary of the East Jerusalem YMCA’s rehabilitation program

However, I returned to my home in the USA to join with activists on campaigns such as BDS—Boycott-Divest-Sanction. I work with Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights and other local and regional organizations struggling to bring justice with peace and security to all parties in Israel-Palestine. This work nourishes me, offers me ways to use my photography, provides hope. As a friend, Loretta Williams, signs her letters, “In Struggle is the Hope.”

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Watching the Holy Fire Eastern Christian Orthodox Holy Fire procession on Easter, Beit Sahour (Bethlehem)

To be precise about my itinerary: 1 week in Jerusalem to acclimate politically and historically to the region, 4 weeks in Gaza to photograph the activities of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program and to teach photography to young adults, 4 weeks in Bethlehem to work (nominally—I’ll explain this later) with the Palestine News Network, 2 weeks in Ramallah with the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in the West Bank to photograph their work and teach, and in Jerusalem with the American Friends Service Committee to photograph for their BDS campaign. During my final week of 12, I explored the northern Mediterranean coast, the Israeli borderlands with Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and trace the Jordan River from headwaters on Mt Hermon where it dumps (theoretically) into the Dead Sea.

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Watching a man being fitted for a suit, Gaza City

A friend asked, what surprised you, Skip? Some people I met such as Jen Sieu from the USA who volunteered with me as a photographer and reporter at the Palestine News Network. We gave each other leads such as the Battir terraces threatened by the planned Israeli separation wall and early morning at the Bethlehem checkpoint. And Ayman Nijim, a psychosocial worker in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza. He introduced me to a young men’s debka touring group and brought me to photograph his trauma healing program in the camp. And an old friend, Fareed Tawallah in Ramallah, with whom I shared the farmers’ market he co-founded, Sharaka.

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Fatma M. Khateib, Project Coordinator at the psychosocial service agency, Afaq Jadeeda Association (New Horizons), in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip

Some places surprised me. For instance Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav hugging the Gaza wall, often targeted by Gaza mortars and militants. There I met Roni Keider and her daughter, Inbal Yahav. Inbal lost a close friend in a mortar attack. And the border zones mentioned earlier, actually viewing fences and army patrols, while I was able to look into neighboring countries, including Syria where violence rages. And the Battir terraces, ancient agricultural terraces that utilize natural water flows and could be partially destroyed if Israeli’s plans for extension of the separation wall succeed.

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Men’s-only pre-wedding party, Gaza City

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Taher Mhanna and his son Hesham

In Bethlehem I was chagrined to learn that the Palestine News Network made little use of my photos, offered virtually no support, and exhibited what I feel is a self-destructive policy of eschewing connections with Israeli organizations—the normalization policy—that persuaded them against using my and Jen’s photos about the Battir terraces. The reason? The project involved Friends of the Earth Middle East, a joint Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian environmental effort to foster justice and peace thru concentration on the environment.

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Hamas security officers, Gaza City

Three final surprises: the major direction and staff changes in the American Friends Service Committee and Quaker programs which I will report on separately. And my friendship with a woman with whom I wrote and Skyped regularly, a very personal connection to home that warmed my heart. My daughter Katy as well, who cared so lovingly for my home and business.

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Participants in a water rights march in the Jordan River Valley

I’ve made many photos, written some blog entries, made some friends, and raised within myself many questions. For a few: what is the strategy of Palestinian unarmed resistance? Are Israeli occupation and settlement policies suicidal? Why is Gaza so often the center of resistance and the target of Israeli attacks? How does the terrain reflect the politics, especially the control of water? How much should I concentrate my photography on conflict vs ordinary life?

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Drinking water from a school pure water installation provided by the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip 

Photography is one of my primary lifelines, for my own psychic survival at least. I must believe it has some value, even tho I am often disappointed with reactions to it—and my own self evaluations. I am nourished by the awareness that I am not alone in photography and activism. I photograph shoulder to shoulder with some of my mythical photographic mentors—Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, and W. Eugene Smith for 3 who are long dead, and Sebastião Salgado very much alive. And in politics I walk with Martin Luther King Jr and Jesus Christ, partners as teachers and martyrs.

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Participants in a Quaker Palestine Youth Program in occupied Palestine, West Bank

My next steps? Exhibit portraits at a regional Quaker gathering in August 2013, produce new slide shows and supplement old ones for upcoming national tours, perhaps publish a second book (the first is Eyewitness Gaza, available at blurb.com), post more blog and website entries, and develop new print exhibitions. The usual.

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Avi, proprietor of Abraham’s Tent, housing for travelers in the Golan, near Mt Hermon

I’ll end with some insights from James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:

For in the immediate world, everything is to be discerned, for him who can discern it, and centrally and simply, without either dissection into science or digestion into art, but with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of the consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.

That is why the camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time; and is why in turn I feel such rage at its misuse: which has spread so nearly universal a corruption of sight that I know of less than a dozen alive whose eyes I can trust even so much as my own.

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The photographer resting in a field of aloes, West Jerusalem

I can imagine how tough it was to be over there. It’s reached a state of stasis, maybe. All the power held by Israel. All the Palestinian strategies of the past have failed in the face of that really evil state-power/religious-zealot-power/dysfunctional state/helped by holocaust drums and US Jews and Christian Zionists. And the Palestinians, too, in their government apparently tribal (legacy of the Tripoli-Arafat approach–non democratic really). Yikes.

—a friend (in a recent email to me)

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Courtesy of Islam Madhoun & AFSC Gaza

A Long, Slow, Soft Landing in Boston

THIS SERIES WILL BE CONTINUED

LINKS

To learn more about Palestinian unarmed resistance to occupation (American Friends Service Committee):

“A brief overview of the situation in Palestine-Israel” by Skip Schiel

Playground Tour of Palestine” by Ilse Cohen

“Life Is A Catastrophe Now” by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, May 2013

“Israel is Outgassing its Unhealed Trauma,” by Paul Levy

“Why Land Day still matters,” by Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis, March 30, 2012

“In Their Shoes (Obama in Israel & Palestine)” by Uri Avnery April 2013

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Tulkarem, West Bank, Palestine, 2012

Al Masaara, West Bank, Palestine, 2012

Yet it is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. It is here that you discover act without motion, labor that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and, beyond all desire, a fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity.

—Thomas Merton

DIALOG ABOUT MY ART WITH A FRIEND AND CURATOR

In this ongoing pilgrimage [to Palestine-Israel] of yours, where is the art? (Thanks to Chuck Fager)

In two places, ethics and graphics, which is precisely where art needs to be located.

In the case of ethics, I strive to ground my art in the deepest compassion and wisdom I can muster. This is particularly crucial for my work about the Middle East. Secondly, as much as possible I share experiences with those I photograph, currently mostly Palestinians, going thru checkpoints, blocked by the annexation wall, confronting the Israeli military, etc. Two quotes that might help: the first about my recent work, “You photograph not only with your eyes but with your heart.” (Fares Oda, West Bank American Friends Service Committee staff). And the second from Charlie Parker which I often use with my photo students when they ask me how they can improve their photos—“If you haven’t lived it (life), it won’t come out of your horn.”

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Cistern evacuation, Jerusalem, 2012

In the case of graphics (perhaps esthetics is a better word), I play with angles, lighting, vantage points, frame, etc, the usual techniques photographers like to concentrate on. I use what I call “wild mind photography,” a term I derived from “wild mind writing” as taught by Natalie Goldberg. No restrictions, no judges, total play and experimentation. For me my must frequent form of this is not using the viewfinder to frame or find the view, but rely on my instincts about what the camera sees. This often results in useless images which I cast away but from time to time produces something I regard to be extraordinary.

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Additionally, the Mediterranean light pervading the Levant captivates me. Light is central to photography. I strive to know it, use it, affect others by how I use it. This also is art.

Bedouin village, Negev, Israel, 2012

How has your art in this project changed over time? Has it?

I struggle to shift from the generic to the specific, from shallow to deep, from diffident to more confident, from personal to universal, and to better use metaphor and synecdoche. Whether I achieve this goal I can’t say.

Where is the spirit in it? How has it affected your life?

My response to the spirit part of this question is in my response to your first query. In addition, I pay homage to my muses and  to the endless stream of photographers which constitutes my lineage: my ancestors, my contemporaries (who I refuse to compete with, but feel they are colleagues sharing our passion), and descendants, those I teach thru my formal teaching and my photo examples. Is this spirit? You can decide.

Jenin, West Bank, Palestine, 2012

My art is central to my life. I identify first as a human being, then as a photographer. Quaker, Christian, Buddhist, lover, friend, father, etc. come later. For amplification, if you’re interested please check my artist statement on my website: teeksaphotography.org.

Thanks Friend for your questions. I hope this begins to answer.

Zohar, Negev, Israel, 2012

What most of us must be involved in—whether we teach or write, make films, write films, direct films, play music, act, whatever we do—has to not only make people feel good and inspired and at one with other people around them, but also has to educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world.

― Howard Zinn, Artists in Times of War and Other Essays

LINKS

Artists in Times of War, by Howard Zinn

Slide show: “And you will be carried where you do not wish to go,” a photographic witness &  summary (for the moment & as of 2005) of my photography

“And you will be carried where you do not wish to go,” a photographic witness 
Part 8 & earlier, added April 2 – May 24, 2010 (click on links to read earlier chapters)

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 1 
Revised and added January 16, 2010

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 2
Revised and added January 21, 2010

As an Artist, How Do I Survive & Thrive?
Revised and added February 15, 2010

Notes on My Quaker Connections in Palestine
Revised and added January 28, 2010

West Coast tour, fall 2012 (September 18 – October 18, Alaska to California)

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