Posts Tagged ‘jesus’

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


I am here because I care.

—Rachel Corrie

My Own Housing is at Risk

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


My home in Cambridge Massachusetts (click here for enlargement)

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

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My neighborhood, looking west

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

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

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Gaza, 2010, photo by Skip Schiel © 

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

Context of my Palestine-Israel Work

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

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

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

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

Right of Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief & Outrage

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love and rage,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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The city of Hiroshima Japan, August 1995

The Hiroshima Dome, one of the few buildings that survived the atomic attack on August 6, 1945 and the creation of the Peace Park

Peace Crane, in the tradition of the young Japanese girl, Sadako, irradiated, surviving the initial blast, folding cranes to protect children from death, finally succumbing to her injuries

Lotus blossom, Hiroshima Peace Park, August 6, 1995, the lotus is a Buddhist symbol of compassion and enlightenment

©All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

…resistance as spectacle has cut loose from its origins in genuine civil disobedience and is becoming more symbolic than real. Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are fun and vital, but alone they are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircraft, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe.

—Arundhati Roy

Rosa Parks arrested during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on his way to the Birmingham Alabama jail, 1958. Photo by Charles Moore

Dorothy Day arrested and jailed at age 75  protesting with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers supporting grape workers in California. Age 20 she was arrested with a group of suffragists who were demonstrating at the White House in favor of giving women the right to vote. Photo by Bob Fitch

John Pendleton arrested at the Pentagon for blockading the doors, Slaughter of the Innocents action to end war, 1980 c.

Puppet of Oscar Romaro by Bread & Puppet Theater, 1992 c.

Now Jesus from the gospel of Luke. Then about Hiroshima, the conclusion of this series.

Now as He drew near, He saw the city (Jerusalem) and wept over it. Saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side. And level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it.

—Luke, 19: 41-45

One of the fathers of atomic weaponry, Robert Oppenheimer, said while watching the desert explosion of the first bomb, blasphemously named Trinity,

If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of worlds.

He was quoting the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text.

As most of us realize, today [August 6, 2005, the day I delivered this keynote] is the 60th anniversary of the United State bombing Hiroshima, killing some 140,000 people outright, mostly civilians, innocents, and another 40,000 or so in the following year. Three days later this nation dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing upwards of 70,000 people. More than one-third million cremated bodies are enshrined in the Hiroshima Peace Park sanctuary. This follows the vicious fire bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, and Dresden and other German cities. We must commemorate this particular atrocity—this series of horrific terroristic attacks on innocent people— and look deeply at its horror, grieve for the victims which include citizens of our own country who might persist in not only denying the reality of the event, but professing a willingness to develop and use weapons of mass destruction. We must understand their motivation, rationale, and actions and their consequences—and take appropriate action. Yearly Meeting’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee and I invite you into this commemoration following my presentation. Which is very simple. Look deeply into your own hearts to disclose what happened, what you and we can learn from it, and what next steps we shall all take, individually and collectively to move toward a better world.

From Unforgettable Fire, Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb Survivors, Edited by Nippon Hoso Shuppan Kyokai, 1977

We are not helpless in the face of possible catastrophe, but we must all understand the picture, and move toward changing it. We could join the Mayors for Peace campaign initiated by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It now numbers some 60 US mayors, including the mayor of Cambridge. Or we could encourage our legislators to reverse the drift toward war, partly by demanding that the US join most of the enlightened global community by ratifying various treaties and agreements that work toward abolishing war. Or we could reflect on and retell the story of Sadako, five years old when bombed in Hiroshima, using the Japanese origami tradition of paper cranes to call for no more killing, no war, let children ripen into wise adults. Or we could remain a few more minutes together in a joint effort to remember some of our past and commit to move toward a better world.

Sadako Sasaki Memorial in the Peace Park, Hiroshima, August 6, 1995

This week at New England Yearly Meeting sessions our observance of the atomic bombing can take several forms: drawing shadows on the ground to mark the lives of those whose lives ended in shadows on pavement and walls, the intense light carving memory into concrete; a photo exhibit and videos and other materials; a petition; a candle light procession to the Bryant campus pond [the site of our sessions and this keynote], and finally that all important profound silence. Perhaps during the silence you can each commit to one action this coming year that will move our nation toward a higher civilization, one truly honoring the sacred in all beings by burying the weapons of war and living in peace based on justice.

Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist monks praying at the Hiroshima Dome, the end of a 9 month pilgrimage for peace and life, 1994-1995

This end image is from the first edition of John Hersey’s revealing book, Hiroshima, first published in 1948 in the New Yorker, then, with this illustration, two years later by Bantam. I quote from the book about the illustration:

When Geoffrey Biggs, a master of shadow and light technique in art, brought in his startling illustration for the cover of Hiroshima, everybody wanted to know: “Where’d you get those people…why those two?”

Biggs said he thought back to that August morning in a certain big industrial city and he imagined how universally terrifying that situation was, how it could strike fear into anybody’s bones. “And I just drew two perfectly ordinary people—like you and me—and had them portray alarm, anxiety, and yet wild hope for survival as they run from man-made disaster in a big city—a city like yours or mine.

So, let the quiet begin here and flow out thru the doors into the world, first the near world of Byrant College, then the larger world, not a silence of resignation, despair, heartlessness, but a powerful silence of resilience, fortitude, wisdom and compassion, out from our comfortable benches and into the needy world.



Sadako Sasaki

Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage, 1995

Hiroshima Peace Park

Flotilla to Gaza, May 2010

From the American Friends Service Committee:

Gaza in Crisis (PDF) – A fact sheet that includes a general overview of the conflict.

Gaza Resources (PDF) – A useful collection of films, blogs and other online resources.

Speaker Resources (PDF) – Listing of seakers knowledgeable on topics and issues surrounding Gaza.

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Dr Martin Luther King Jr

©All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

—Theodore Roethke, from “In a Dark Time”

Early Christians

These early Quaker luminaries, Margaret Fell, George Fox, the Valiant Sixty, and Mary Dyer were carried by the strength of their beliefs, by the closeness of their community, and by their repeated use of the model of early Christians, who themselves, before Constantine institutionalized the budding Christian movement, were equally willing to witness. Indeed, the word martyr stems from the Greek word for witness. Those martyrs were numerous, numbering some 2000 who died during the persecution that arose around St Stephen’s time. Their suffering was legion, manifold, endlessly varied and often unspeakably horrific.

Beheading John the Baptist

Apparently this included all of the gospel writers: Matthew, slain with a halberd (like a long hatchet with a steel spike) in the city of Nadabah, CE 60; Mark, dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria; Luke, hanged on an olive tree in Greece; also John, the author of Revelations, boiled in oil only to survive; and Paul, once Saul, dying in the first persecution, under Nero, his neck severed by a sword. And finally Peter, to whom Jesus offered the lesson of “and you will be carried,” Peter apparently was crucified in Rome by Nero, choosing to hang upside down because he said, “I am unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus.” (History of Early Christian Martyrs, European Institute of Protestant Studies)

This is dedication. Not to the degree most of us might personally undertake, but worth considering. Can change occur, true witness be presented, without risk, without courage, without a testimony that says, here I stand, this is what I stand for, and I shall not be moved?

What carried these early martyrs? What was their direction?

Jesus Christ

For some of us in the Religious Society of Friends and the wider United States community, Christ is bedrock, surely for early Friends and early Christians. We can interpret his life and its aftermath in many ways, most onerously—and I believe wrongly—as anti-Jewish and anti-Judaism. Read James Carroll’s massive book, Constantine’s Sword, for explication, or the seminal book by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, or from our own Alan Kohrman, his pithy booklet, Quakers and Jews. Christ died in part for challenging the authorities, the Roman authorities and the Jewish authorities. He spoke out. He acted, and like Martin and Malcolm, he had premonitions of his own death. He was not deterred, he might have been emboldened by this threat. He was free to die, therefore free to live. He knew what he stood for and what the costs would be. In my book, he is a hero and a role model and a guide, arguably divine or maybe not, but certainly courageous and sagacious and prophetic.

Jesus with the woman accused of adultery

Archbishop Oscar Romero

I believe in resurrection, in the idea of resurrection, not necessarily bodily resurrection, but pedagogical resurrection. The teachings live on, or can. Here’s an example: Oscar Romero, knowing what might happen if he continued to oppose the military government of El Salvador, said, If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.

This last part is crucial, in the Salvadoran people. Romero will not live again magically, but only with the participation of the people. That is you and me. What carried him? What carries me? What carries you?

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador

I dream of Martin Luther King

While working in South Africa in 1999, I dreamt of Martin Luther King coming to me. I was back on the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, we were in our stay place for the night, a church somewhere in the south of the US. We’d eaten, we pilgrims were sitting around on benches and at tables. In walked Martin, he sat down at an empty table and no one came to join or welcome him. So I did, nervously. I sat opposite him, said in a quavering voice, thank you for coming to visit with us Dr. King. Can I bring you some tea?

He nodded yes.

I returned with the tea, set it down in front of him, my hand shaking. I worried I’d spill the tea on his papers. He was to talk to us. And that is how the dream ended, but only the sleep part ended. I awoke as if from a nightmare, and horrifying it was in its implications. Like profound dreams generally, this one carried into semi-consciousness. I lay there, thinking, Martin has appeared to me, as if tapping me on the shoulder, and whispering in my ear, “Skip, my friend, I’m dead, but you’re alive, it’s your turn.”

My turn to walk the talk, do the deed, take the risk. Martin—remember I am a born again Kingian—both commands me and holds me. He directs me and he supports me.

He’s reported to have said, Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. And those with nothing they’re willing to die for are not fit to live.

Let’s look at the last year of his life. He was speaking and acting against the war on Vietnam, angering many of his supporters. He chose to stand with the sanitation workers in Memphis when he might have been concentrating on organizing the Poor People’s Campaign. The Campaign itself was an attempt to shut down the federal government until it changed the system that fostered suffering. He and Malcolm were hinting at collaboration, bringing together the militant and more moderate wings of the civil rights movement. He propounded an analysis that pinpointed the roles of militarism, materialism, and racism, the triplet of our anguish. He called for a revolution of values.

On the way to the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington DC in 1968

I believe his analysis was correct and continues to be applicable. I believe government hands killed him—the so-called, by former vice president Dick Cheney, dark side—knowing how threatening he was. Thank god the dream is not dead, thank god for people like Boston city councilor Chuck Turner who is organizing to fund the dream. And I continue to be thankful for how Martin carries and directs me.

Rev. Ralph Abernathy and others at the Poor People’s Campaign, Washington DC, summer 1968

My role is not to organize the resistance, but to motivate and inform it. My role is not to analyze the political and social picture but to visualize its manifestations. My role is primarily to wake myself up and awaken others. Awaken, rise up from the slumber of comfort, from the ease of security, from the balm of convenience. Awaken to a life that is free to live, because free to die. To a fuller life, a more robust and edgy life.

We do not need to look far for examples of living the good life: Martin, Malcolm, Lucretia Mott, John Woolman, George Fox, Margaret Fell, Mary Dyer, Frederick Douglass, Francis of Assisi, Nichirin of the Buddhist order, his student Nichadatsu Fuji , founder of Nipponzan Myohoji, Gandhi, Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Rachel Corrie, the list is endless. We can each be, in the words of the South African author and activist, Alan Paton, humble apostolic successors, joining the cloud of witnesses, our lives teaching others how they might live.

Or closer to home we can look to the war tax resistance of people like Susan Furry and others in our New England yearly meeting. They see the folly of praying for peace while paying for war. They refuse to give their tax money to the government and instead usually put the money in an escrow fund the proceeds of which fund socially beneficent organizations. The agencies they and other dissidents and witnessers work for, such as Friends Meeting at Cambridge, New England Yearly Meeting, Cambridge Friends School, and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting all have to decide whether to accede to the demands of the Internal Revenue Service or live by the principle of our founder, the good Rabbi Yeshua: honor life, do to others what you wish them to do to you.

I honor political and social witness—sharing the suffering of the afflicted and fighting for justice and peace. As someone pithily put it: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. This may not be for everyone but it is important and a prime example of what I’m trying to express: the need for courageous, possibly self sacrificial action to challenge and correct the onerous conditions smothering us.

What carries you? What is your direction? How will you—in community—rise up?


Christian martyrs

Oscar Romero

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, April 1967

The Poor People’s Campaign

War tax resistance/redirection

US Social Forum, June 22-26, 2010, Detroit Michigan

Allied Media Conference, June 17-20, Detroit Michigan

Free Gaza Movement, a flotilla leaving in May 2010 for Gaza with humanitarian supplies and personnel—to break the siege

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Dedicated to Rachel Corrie, the seven year anniversary of her killing by an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar D9 tractor on March 16, 2003, her parents now (March 7, 2010) in Israel for the opening of a court trial (details below)

© All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to gird your loins and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your arms, and someone else will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he [Peter] would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

—John 21: 18

Now, what’s the context for this passage? Jesus has been crucified, he’s resurrected and appeared to the unseeing apostles along the shore of the Lake of Tiberius, also known as the Sea of Galilee. They were failing at fishing. What great guys, these apostles, always so human, so foible-filled, so like me. He was hinting to the apostles what following Jesus meant: possible sacrifice.

The story might be apocryphal. For that matter, much of the gospels, much of holy script might be apocryphal, but the teachings are so often true. What can we learn from this passage?

In my experience, is God what carries and directs me, do I seek to learn god’s will and follow it? I have misgivings about the notion of god, especially when used to justify attitudes and behavior. Seeking the will of god is something resolutely I do not do. I’m cautioned by the following statement and by who made it:

I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator…By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.

—Adolf Hitler, from Mein Kampf

There are too many instances of the notion of god’s will gone bad, that to use this or even seek this guidance seems a fatal miscalculation. Instead, for me, I seek the still small voice—critically understood—in the context of the times and the community.

I am now an older man, 69 to be precise, and my days of self-direction are over. I do not myself independently choose to go on long pilgrimages; I do not choose to wander into zones of conflict such as Cambodia, Bosnia, American Indian country, Cabrini Green, or Israel, or Palestine, or right here on this blog, naked in front of you trying to share my life. I do not choose this mission, nor do I resist it. I am often fearful, I am usually very unclear, I hesitate and demur and find excuses. I’d rather be in bed or the library reading Kafka or watching Front Line on TV or playing with one of my grand children. I would never say, after offering you a slice of my life, go and do likewise, follow me.

Kalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, 2003

What carries me, and what is my direction, perhaps my fate?

A lead comes from a person I feel might be a latter day saint, a contemporary incarnation of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, St Francis, St Nicherin of the Japanese Buddhist tradition, and George Fox and Martha Fell themselves, and especially John Woolman (the last 3 are key Quaker figures). I am speaking of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I confess, I am a born again Martin Luther Kingian. I’ll explain that in a moment, but first, for me, one of his most important and overlooked teachings:

He said, if a person hasn’t discovered something to die for, that person is not fit to live.

When I first heard or read this passage, I was incredulous, Martin, speaking this way, so harsh, so demanding, so critical? And I checked, yes, he’d said it, or at least he’s widely quoted as saying it.

His admonition teaches the importance of living a life that is pointed, vital, full, meaningful, direct, and at risk constantly of ending because of the course of that life. Not a life content to settle into the easy chair and read a book. Or watch a video. Or even attend a demonstration or sign or circulate a petition, as important as all these can be. Or writing a letter to a congressperson, or even visiting that person. The emphasis is on fronting life directly, as Thoreau put it when explaining his excursion to Walden Pond for two years, and not dying regretting one has not fully lived.

Israeli soldier, originally from Australia, with a Quaker grandmother,
Hebron Old City, 2003

I feel that the value of living fully is timeless, but especially so today with numerous global crises so looming and clear. As Howard Zinn put it recently in a talk referring to the United States Declaration of Independence, we live in hard times, as hard as anything he’s seen. In response to possible impending catastrophe, he actually quoted from memory portions of the Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men (sic), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

—US Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Howard Zinn (L), member of Community Change Inc, and Tim Wise

He emphasized the right of the people to alter or to abolish their government if it is not securing the guaranteed rights. In our age of galloping empire—based on the triplet Martin Luther King taught, militarism, racism, and poverty, have we the people indeed earned the right to significantly transform our political system?

Some might argue that life is always tough, always harsh and violent and full of despots and tyrants and brutality and occupation and invasion and problems for the environment and immigration and poverty and racism. But several features stand out that define the contemporary era: nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, the desecration of the environment, the rise of global corporatization, and the fact of empire. We, the citizens assembled, live in its midst, benefit from its continuance, and suffer from its egregiousness.

Art Gish, in the Hebron southern hills, living in At-Twani with the Christian Peacemakers Team

While in Palestine, photographing for the Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron and the nearby southern hills of Hebron, I met another luminary, Art Gish. Art is in his 70s, as is his wife, Peg. Both have been frequently in Iraq and Palestine with the CPT, obviously risking their security to witness and tell their truths. Art encapsulated Martin’s words like this: free to die, then free to live. And he lives his truth, walks his talk.

In 2004 Palestinian farmers and shepherds asked CPT to set up a monitoring site in the southern Hebron hills, while their first site continued in the heart of Hebron’s Old City. Settlers neighboring the hill people—who are my neighbors?—threatened Palestinian school children as they walked past the rural settlements to and from school. The also spread poison over the land, many of their sheep and goats then could not stand and soon died. Within a few weeks, two CPT members, Chris Brown, originally from South Africa, and Kim Laherty were accompanying the children when masked settlers attacked and beat them both. The children ran away but the settlers, speaking American English, punctured Chris’ lung, broke Kim’s leg, and stole cell phones and wallets, The Israeli army then declared CPT could no longer accompany the kids, the army or police would. To this day CPT, aided by an Italian Catholic nonviolence organization, Operation Dove, keep 24-hour vigil, at some risk. Art is one of the mainstays.

Chris Brown (courtesy of Christian Peacemakers Team)

The Palestinians in At-Twani built a new health clinic, initially without building permits which are virtually impossible to acquire. At the last minute and despite threats of demolition, the Israeli authorities granted a permit—unprecedented. The people thanked CPT for their witness.

Rachel Corrie, a young woman from Washington state, tried to block a Caterpillar tractor driver from demolishing a home in Rafah, the Gaza Strip. The driver did not stop, despite Rachel wearing an orange glow vest and speaking thru a bullhorn. Her witness in 2003 and that of CPT and many other individuals and groups in Palestine and Israel inspire me. Once I am willing to die, knowing why I might die, not when and where and how—the exact conditions of one’s death can be hard to predict—I am free to live. How did I reach this state, if I am in this state?

My mother, Pearl, died

Fran and Pearl Schiel

In 1977 my father died, age 65. I’ve outlived him by 4 years. Upon retirement he assumed he had many miles to go before he slept. My mother, Pearl, died in 1978, age 63, exactly nine months after Fran. I’ve outlived her by nearly 7 years, I was with her when she died, making films at that time, and in fact making a film about her, never guessing she was about to die. My sister Elaine and I accompanied her during her dying. It was a painful death from ravaging cancer that commandeered her body. She did not die easily or peacefully. But she said to us in her last moments, Elaine, Skip, you won’t understand what I’m about to say for many years, but my death will be a gift to you both.

She never spoke like this before, as if an oracle, but she spoke true words. From her death sprang for me—as if a lotus springing up from the muck and mire of the pond—Buddhism, Quakerism, and my turning from filmmaking which was becoming fruitless to photography and my continuing witness with camera. That story of transition is for another time.

Into adulthood

The deathwatch for Pearl lasted 3 days. We then sat with her body. As she lived her last moments, I noticed her jugular vein throbbing, tried to show this in my movie. Now that she was dead, I looked at that jugular again, it was motionless. She was indeed dead, gone who knows where. But I soon discovered where I was directed—into adulthood. After the funeral home people came for her body—it was June 24th, a stormy night—I left the house and walked thru the dark wet streets of Arlington Heights Illinois. I felt for the first time in my life a full and complete adult, with all the responsibilities of adulthood, not only for my 2 young daughters, but for a wider community. Slowly, beginning with this moment when I was 38 years old, I had a daunting responsibility but I didn’t know then what it was or how to undertake it.

A second discovery from her death was that once I’d faced the reality of death it lost some of its sting. I find that fearsome matters at a distance are abstract, and my mind amplifies the threat, but when I face the trouble directly—in this case the loss of my mother, in many other cases going to places like Israel and Palestine during conflict—the fear lessens. It rarely evaporates, but it diminishes to become bearable.

Israeli bus bombed by Palestinian suicide militants (courtesy of the internet)

What doesn’t kill me strengths me

And a third discovery, first with my parents’ deaths, but recurring whenever I face danger. If I’m grounded in clarity and community support, I’m ultimately strengthened rather than weakened by adversity. Returning from the Holy Land in one piece nourishes me, builds my muscles, proves to me that if I can survive in Palestine/Israel, I can survive most any threat. As Napoleon put it, quoting Seneca, “What doesn’t kill me will strengthen me.” Witnessing is good medicine, it rejuvenates, it revitalizes, it clears the brain and body and spirit, pushes away sluggishness and prevarication, tans the body and makes it alive again, reborn and invincible. As for the individual so for the global community. The planetary body is healed, or can be, with the correct form of witness, done by enough people.

Palestinian men on their way to school, Jerusalem, 2003

Fruits of my photographic witness? As with teaching, as with making art, as with fostering children, no one knows what fruit will issue from the seed of witness. The seed never sees its own fruit. I hope to plant the seed in good soil—But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8: 15)

I and the witnessing community labor, pray, and persist.



“Call to Action: Corrie Trial in Israel, March 10-24, 2009”

“Soldiers disturb and assault B’Tselem’s video photographers in the West Bank despite army’s declaration that filming is permitted”

“Robert Fisk: Israel feels under siege. Like a victim. An underdog”

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South African gold miners, photo: Margaret Bourke-White/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images, circa 1950

© All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

[Jesus then asked the man who’d inquired about serving god] Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?

[The man replied], The one who had mercy on him.

Jesus told him, Go and do likewise.

—The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10: 30-37

Invitation from New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM)

The invitation from NEYM to give the keynote presentation came in 2004 while I was in Palestine, at a particularly low time in my five months there. Not only were political conditions looking again hopeless to me, but my life was not unfolding as I’d hoped. My arrangements with sponsoring organizations—the Palestinian university, Birzeit, and its Right to Education Campaign and the Ecumenical Accompaniers for Peace in Palestine and Israel— had borne minimal fruit, and one ended painfully. It was late December 2004, I had one month left, and I wasn’t sure who would accept my offer of volunteered photography. What’s the point? Why do this? I am away from home, from family and friends, from my core communities, trying to practice and offer my craft, and few seem interested. I despaired.

NEYM’s invitation—which I resisted accepting too quickly, needing some discernment time—affirmed what I’ve been trying to do for many decades: witness with my body, with my heart, all my emotions, with my camera, to various troubles worldwide.

I was very grateful for this opportunity to show an audience something of these images, and to try to put them into a useful context. I’d state my life task this way: seeing with my own eyes, despite the risk, coming to an understanding, showing the results, then inviting viewers to see with their own eyes and take action they feel is appropriate.

In 2003 NEYM session’s theme was expressed by the parable of the Good Samaritan, asking the question, who is my neighbor? And applying this question to racism and our Quaker connections with slavery. Many of us hope to continue this, not only in the United States but throughout the world. For me specifically in Israel-Palestine which I feel is rife with racism.

“Go and do likewise.”

The story from Luke 10:37 ended like this: “Go and do likewise.”

That’s Jesus talking, highlighting the importance of helping others, when—and this is vital to the story as I see it—that act of charity, mercy, justice involves some risk. It’s not merely a story of one person helping another, but of others who had the opportunity to aid the poor beaten traveler along the Jericho Road choosing not to help. They did not take a risk; they refused to do the right thing. If they heard a call, they responded with something like, “sorry, too busy, got lots to do, not my business, another time perhaps.”

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus taught.

The theme of that year’s gathering drew on that rich parable, its closing words, and a reference to another Jesus story, that of the sower and the seeds (Luke 8: 15): “Go and do likewise …hear the word of God, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.”

The invitation also invited me to share some of my photographs from various journeys of discovery, so I will begin with several key journeys [photos available in the slide show, with a selection below]. In my witnessing with my camera, I hope to sow a few seeds of awareness and wisdom, and most importantly the seed of action, especially when that action entails risk. Light guides me, I seek the light, I am a slave of light. No photos without light, lousy photos when ignorant of the light. This little light of mine. Pass the light on. Awaken! As Thoreau so elliptically put it:

…but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

These are the very last words of his book, Walden.

My good fortune

I am fortunate to be able to undertake these journeys. I’ve arranged my life to be relatively free and quiet, economically and socially. My two daughters, in their 40s, are launched. My economic needs are very slender and many people have aided me. My loving Quaker community is a mainstay, both locally and internationally—in Palestine Quakers are my primary lifeline. And my former partner continues to be one of the supreme gifts of my life.  (I have probably slipped in [to the slide show] a few of her photos, they are often very good.) Angels carry me, I am directed by the still small voice, if I only give it the quiet it needs. And blessedly, I am aged, with fewer and fewer years before me, less and less reason to hold on to life.

The vehicle for many of my journeys is the Japanese Buddhist order, Nipponzan Myohoji. Their practice is mostly building peace pagodas—they have two in the United States, in Leverett Massachusetts and near Albany New York—and conducting pilgrimages and walks for peace and justice. They might be considered a Japanese incarnation of Mahatma Gandhi.

Photos from various journeys [from the slide show]

Pentagon (1983) with Plowshares people breaking the uncivil laws

Wounded Knee (1983 & 1990)—how I learned compassion by passing thru stages of awareness

Mitakuye Oyasin: All My Relations

Steve Pedigo, co-founder (with Marlene Pedigo) and former pastor, with Burt, a friend and former gang member

Chicago Fellowship of Friends (1990 – 1995 circa)—early fear of Cabrini Green, shock at hearing Quaker talk from Black people

Auschwitz (1994 – 95)—tearful while walking to the main gate at night for the first night of Chanukah, my birthday, the chant and the community and the monks, a partner from Friends Meeting at Cambridge

Auschwitz to Hiroshima—A Pilgrimage

Water blessing, photo: courtesy Coalition for Peace and Reconciliation

Cambodia (1995)—my fear the night before, unsettled, then calm

Statue of Sadako, the subject of the peace crane story

Strands of folded paper peace cranes

Lotus, traditional Buddhist symbol of compassion

Hiroshima dome

Japan (1995)—Hiroshima the city of peace, city of horror

Retracing the transAtlantic slave trade (1998 -1999)—the anguish of living with such different people, visiting painful history, learning deep faith

A Spirit People: One View of the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage (1998-99)

South Africa (1999)—Margaret Bourke White’s stunning image of gold miners, an infectious icon that continues to inspire and guide me, discovering the importance of being present, from partnering to examining our own racism

Visions of a New South Africa (1999)

Prisons (2002 – 2005 circa)—from my Skip as bad boy beginnings, horrible conditions and racial injustice, visiting a young Black man in maximum security prison

Making the Invisible Visible: Massachusetts Prisons (2004)

And now Israel-Palestine (2003 – present)—suffering of all people, Jews (suicide bombed, for some a weapon of choice) and Palestinians (occupied, a method of choice), the light, physical and of wisdom, draws me, Christ’s footsteps, perhaps searching for the “true cross,” need to cry, shooting our taxi driver, secondary trauma, 3 college students in Gaza, Belal, Yousef 1 and Yousef 2.

Archive of most recent Palestine-Israel photos (June-September 2009)

I also include some of my series, Scent of Earth (1980 – present), here just trees and sky. Trees because they stem from a waking dream I had in 1982 while walking thru the wintry forest of the White Mountains. I distinctly felt the trees calling to me. They presented me with a plea: we feel the great fire coming, we are rooted and strong, but have no power to move out of the way or quench the fire. We call on you for help. This led to some of my work in the peace movement as well as a continuing devotion to trees.

Scent of Earth

The sky, while traveling, in no matter what hemisphere, the sky was always above me. Virtually the same sky day and night anywhere on the globe. I was comforted by this uniformity and have concentrated on sky every since that realization.

One of the most profound and frightening scriptural teachings for me comes from the gospel of John, and this will set the overall context for my presentation.



Cairo Declaration, End Israeli Apartheid, January 1, 2010

The Qattan Center for the Child Gaza

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