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Posts Tagged ‘jewish’

[The meeting ] has been about much more than naming oppressions. We danced (some of us), sang, laughed, wept, mourned, strategized, debated and disagreed and most importantly we dreamed. We dreamed of a beloved community.—Nyle Fort [one of the presenters]

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This description is not hyperbole. My 3 days in Chicago (my hometown) were extraordinary, often brought me to tears. In large measure this was the perfect storm of mystery, political action, and soulfulness, ritually enlivened by the best practises of Judaism. It is all and more what I’ve long desired for Quakers–no split between holiness, love, and political action.

Love, joy, outrage, smart thinking, argumentation, energy, cooperation, innovation, singing, dancing flooded the meeting of over 1000 participants—and of course the stuff of conferences, meeting and learning. I was in tears twice on the last day, first during the morning plenary which was meditative, based on the power of rocks. I wept because I felt I was so perfectly in the right place, with a community that melds spirituality and political action. We sang Jewish, prayed Jewish, danced Jewish, lit candles Jewish, and tried to fully embody Jewish justice traditions. In some weird way, I may be more Jewish than some of my Jewish buddies. Without the pedigree probably.

Secondly, our closing included words from the Palestinian activist, Rasmea Odeh, whose trial I attended in Detroit two years ago and who has now offered a plea bargain–voluntary deportation, no prison, no fine. A Black activist from the baptist preacher tradition, Nyle Fort, and Linda Sarsour, one of the main organizers of the DC Women’s March, Brooklyn born, Muslim, wears the hijab, and has been wildly targeted, joined her, all three pushing us up on our feet.

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Shaliach Mitzvah Gelt

An ancient Jewish tradition, Shaliach Mitzvah, claims that god will protect a person on a mission until she returns with evidence of the mission’s completion. Such as a receipt for a donation. I’m raising money to give to worthy folks I meet on my next trip to Palestine-Israel. I’ll donate your money, ask for a receipt, and hope to be protected until I give you that receipt as evidence that I’ve completed my mission as a conduit for your generosity.

My good friend and colleague in the struggle, the Jewish activist and educator, Marty Federman, taught me that a shaliach is an agent or representative. He explained:

[And] “mitzvah” is…commonly used to mean a good deed as in “helping the poor is a real mitzvah” but the word actually means a commandment [normally something commanded in the Torah] as in “observing the Sabbath is a primemitzvah.” One who is a “shaliach mitzvah” is considered to be either “an agent of a good deed” or, more relevant for the situation you’re in, “an agent of fulfilling a commandment” [in this case the mitzvah/commandment is providing for the poor/needy.] This has become, as is often the case, a popular tradition done by people who don’t fully connect it to any specific Jewish text or ruling but it actually has roots in a couple of verses from the Talmud:

 “A mitzvah protects and rescues one while s/he is engaged in it.” [Sotah 21a]

     and

“Agents of a mitzvah will not be harmed.” [Pesachim 8a]

If you’re interested in joining me on this mission you can contribute directly thru PayPal (marked “for Shaliach Mitzvah”) on my website, or by check (9 Sacramento St, Cambridge MA 02138).

I’ll be in the Mideast from March 17 until June 11, 2013 working with the American Friends Service Committee, Friends of the Earth Middle East, Palestine News Network, and the Jenin Freedom Theater, among other organizations. I’ll make photos and teach photography. You can stay tuned to my dispatches at my website and this blog.

Thanks for your concern and possible largesse.

—Skip

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Moamen Qreiqea, Gaza, Palestine, 2010

LINKS:

“Wheelchair-bound photographer strives to keep shooting”

“United by Loss, Israeli & Palestinian Dads Call for a Joint Nonviolent Intifada Against Occupation” (Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, Feb 26, 2013)

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Silwan Palestinian community on the right, archeological excavation on the left

Jewish boys play atop the archeological park

Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant

Silwan slide show

Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past.

–George Orwell, 1984

April 13, 2012, Friday, my home in Bethlehem

I finally reached today’s Bil’in conference site in the most ancient part of Jerusalem, Silwan and Bustan, home (as of November 2011) to 55,000 of Israeli Palestinians and 320 Israeli Jewish settlers.  One might term this “Anxious Coexistence on the South Side.” Jews call this area, a steep hill south of the Old City, the City of David based on archeological evidence that during the time of King David some 3000 years ago this is where people lived and where he had a palace and lies buried. Up the hill is the Temple Mount as termed by Jews, or the Noble Sanctuary, Al-Haram al-Sharif, as named by Palestinians. The hill is steep. I know, I walked it, both ways.

About 150 of us met in the open on what had been a playground now slated for demolition to be converted into a parking lot by Israeli authorities. Most had been in Hebron the day before when the attendees were greeted by border police who, in collusion with settlers,  beat, arrested and detained a sizeable number of them. I did not worry that this might happen in Silwan. I confess I was eager for the fray, prepared for more conflict photography. Interruption by a settler attempting to enter and video–blocked by a participant on crutches–was the only incident. I realize Hebron is the worst of the worst because of settlers, a particularly vicious brand of settler mentality—which some settlers might refer to as the best of the best, the true settlers.

Forty of the conference participants were from Italy, a fact that might make M proud. When I spoke with an Italian translator and he asked, do you speak Italian? I answered, no, but my close friend M does. She is Italian American, lived for a few years in Italy (maybe it was only months and I exaggerate).

Luisa Morgantini

Jawad Siyam, local organizer

The conference offered simultaneous translation so I could more or less follow the panel talks. Nearly all followed the same format: I live in X, the Israelis did Y, and we do Z. That is, in the case of al Walaja for example where I photographed last week, the Israelis have been insidiously confiscating land, and the Palestinians are steadfast in their resistance. For me the most notable talk was by Luisa Morgantini, former Italian Deputy Speaker of the EU Parliament, one of the main international people behind the Bil’in Conference. Apparently one of the reasons so many Italians turned up. She said, we are ashamed of our governments, we are ashamed of our leaders, they talk but do nothing. We are tired of blah blah blah. We demand action. We responded with our heartiest applause.

I do not intend to diminish the truth or power of the other statements. Each was in its own way moving. One built upon another, clearly establishing the facts on the ground, which in this case means relentless Israeli illegal and unjust theft of land and denial of basic human rights.

Palestinian activist

Judging from the cacophony of languages spoken during the informal periods, I concluded there were very few compatriots from the USA. Why so few? I heard French, I heard the language of Luxembourg, I think I heard German, Swedish, and surely Italian. But very little American English. Also no Japanese who are often at resistance actions and very little media. Maybe a TV crew from Spain and one (I learned later) from Direct TV. I represented PNN (Palestinian News Network).

The gist of the message from those living in Silwan and Bustan is that settlers with the aid of a right-wing archeological group, Elad, use archeology, heavily laced with mythology, to attempt to justify land grabs. The settlements/colonies in this case are individual homes or clusters of homes, usually identifiable by Israeli flags and sometimes roof top patrols. Israel built a special road that Israelis use for access to their homes and tourists use to explore the site. In addition, the government has established several archeological parks which I’ve explored in the past and expect to learn more about later in April when I tour with the alternative Israeli archeological group Emek Shaveh.

After the talks we toured. Before the talks, I explored the Silwanic Center, also known as the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, a multi-room center of resistance to Israeli oppression in Silwan. The Center is often threatened, leaders are many times arrested, the Center is sometimes forcibly closed. Susan R wrote me about being in Hebron the day before with the conference during the violence and was concerned about our safety. In Silwan, as mentioned, we had minimal problems. In fact, on the tour several Jewish Israelis with us called out to settlers, you have nothing to fear from us, and by the way what right do you have to be where you are? Or so I understood later because they spoke Hebrew.

Settlements

Returning to the Old City after the tour I listened in on a conversation between one of the conference participants from Luxembourg speaking with an Israeli woman who lived in Silwan. Arabs once owned your house. Yes, but we bought it from the owner. There have been many demolitions here. Yes, but no more. We live in peace and harmony with our neighbors. They like us. There is no trouble.

Later the man and I noted how effectively the woman denied facts. To live in places like Silwan I wonder if Israelis must master the power of positive denial. Impenetrable belief systems which smother any alternative views, especially ones that might be true.

At the bottom of the hill, the legendary Pool of Siloam. (Wikipedia says, Siloam is an ancient Greek name derived from the ancient Hebrew name “Shiloah.” The Arabic name “Silwan” is also derived from Siloam). A visitor must now pay 22 or so NIS ($6) to enter, while a few years ago admission was free. And it is in the same condition as about 5 years ago. No further progress excavating the major extent of the pool where allegedly Christ restored the vision of a blind man by gathering some dust or dirt near the pool, spitting into it to make a putty, and placing it on the man’s eyes.

The tour ended at the Bustan Community Center where we heard from a man who had, along with his sons, been many times imprisoned for resistance. Most of the conferees boarded a large bus for transport back to Bil’in where I suppose they stayed with local families. I pondered my choices: snag a ride on the bus to some point up the high hill, ride a local bus to Damascus Gate, hail a private taxi, or walk. I met Bob with the Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron. He and his partner decided to take the bus. I was tempted. I waited, chatted, the bus did not arrive. I thanked them for their advice and set off uphill to retrace our tour path.

The key from his father’s house, saved, a symbol of the Palestinian Right of Return

Glad I did: extra photos, the conversation with the local Jewish woman, a stroll thru the Old City crowded with locals and tourists, many of them from Ethiopia wearing white gowns and head scarves. I eventually emerged at the bus stop to board the #21 straight to Bethlehem and then the walk thru Bethlehem’s Old City, another bus, the old rinky-dink one, and finally home in Beit Sahour where I was famished and fatigued. Home never felt better. I look forward to next week’s Silwan tour with Emek Shavah.

City of David visitor center atop excavations

LINKS

7th International Bili’n Conference on Palestinian Popular Struggle

Bil’in intl. conference in Silwan aims to unite anti Israeli apartheid activists (with video)

Silwan

Wadi Hilweh Information Center

Emek Shavah (with maps)

Ir David Foundation or the Elad Association

City of David

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The Rising of the Light:

Photography by Skip Schiel from Israel and the Occupied Territories of Palestine

October 11 – November 1, 2010

We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

—Dr Martin Luther King Jr

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Apsara Warrior, by Ouk Chim Vichet, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Art Museum

I am very grateful to all who organized and hosted for me on this tour. Without them and many others I’d not be able to do the little I’ve accomplished. I am immeasurably grateful. Unfortunately, a few who promised venues did not follow thru—usually for unexplained but I’m sure understandable reasons. Maybe next time.

—Skip

The journey—intentions, problems, meaning, and achievements?

Three weeks in the Midwest, the hinterland, mostly Cleveland, Detroit, Ann Arbor Michigan, Tiffin Ohio, and Chicago and suburbs. At 2 conferences, 1 mosque, 1 Islamic high school, 2 public high schools, 1 neighborhood center, and 2 Friends meetings. Details here.  Showing Dismantling the Matrix of Control, Gaza Steadfast, and The Hydropolitics of Israel-Palestine, also with the photo exhibitions, Gaza is Home to 1.5 Million Human Beings: How Do They Live? and Living Female in a Zone of Conflict. To approximately 600 people in live audiences, including children as young as 7 years and elders older than me—and an unknown number at former, current and future exhibitions.

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Gaza and Living Female exhibits at AFSC Chicago

My tour organizer and I found fewer venues than we’d anticipated, perhaps our lack of Midwest contacts or the economy or poor timing. At some venues, notably in Cleveland, the audiences were small (10-15 people) and relatively quiet. While in others, the 2 conferences and the Friends meeting, audiences were larger (100-200) and seemed more engaged. People frequently encouraged me to return.

The audiences were mostly welcoming, with a few exceptions—someone at a mosque misinterpreted my Gaza slide show to be siding with Israel, propounding its point of view. A man shut down that show. Later several participants from the mosque apologized and told me this man did not speak for their community. In addition a Jewish adversary from the Boston area, long critical of me, sent a letter to key leaders of a suburban community claiming I was partisan against Israel and worse. The high school at which I was to appear canceled my presentation. Local organizers felt this was not in response to the letter, but to what they thought were my slanted views displayed without sufficient context. No easy road—threading thru a tortured terrain.

I’ve lost friends and supporters as I’ve photographically engaged with Palestine/Israel. And I’ve gained many new ones, especially on this last tour.

Not to take sides is to effectively weigh in on the side of the stronger.

—William Sloan Coffin, Credo

I connected with various people in the progressive Jewish movement who are in the forefront of Jewish activism about Palestine/Israel. I co-presented with Mark Braverman (author of Fatal Embrace, Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, highly recommended) in Tiffin OH, Rabbi Michael Davis in Downers Grove IL, and Rabbi Brant Rosen (co-founder of Fast for Gaza and the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace) of the Evanston Illinois Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. The Chicago regional office of the American Friends Service Committee’s Mideast program honored Rabbi Rosen, Shirien Damra (a Muslim American graduate student organizer for Palestinian rights), and me with their annual Inspiration for Hope award.

Zionism always was, despite strategically motivated denials and brief flirtations with other objectives [e.g., bi-nationalism], an attempt to establish Jewish sovereignty over Palestine. This project was illegitimate. Neither history nor religion, nor the sufferings of Jews in the Nazi era, sufficed to justify it. It posed a mortal threat to the Palestinians, and it left no room for meaningful compromise. Given that the Palestinians had no way to overcome Zionism peacefully, it also justified some form of violent resistance.

—Neumann, Michael: The Case Against Israel

The Muslim and Arab communities are on the rise, organizing and participating in events like mine, and boldly speaking out against injustices in Palestine/Israel. Potentially they form a funding and political bloc which could influence the course of events in the Mideast.

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Various activists housed and fed me, treating me to tours of their regions. Hospitality seemed limitless, as did love, commitment, and appreciation. Hosts and organizers taught me about issues local to their region, and what’s being done. For example, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor I attended what I call The Red Shirt Affair, a dramatic opposition to a campaign by Israel to rebrand itself by sending current and former soldiers to campuses to propound views supportive of Israel. (Photos here, included in part 1 and part 2 of a 2 part series of my photos from the trip. )

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University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

As if riding thru neighborhoods and homes on a railroad train, I sampled lives as I tunneled thru.

A highlight was exploring my hometown of Chicago—childhood on the Southside and high school years in the northwest suburb of Arlington Heights. Roots and influences. A rich heritage. I hope to return soon to this vibrant and often overlooked sector of the nation.

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Security officer, Cabrini Green, Chicago

Confirming the observations of others in the United States, I’ve noticed a shift in perception about Palestine/Israel. People are more willing to criticize Israel, demand the application of international law, understand the complicity of the United States government in fostering the oppression, and most importantly (thanks in large part to Mark Braverman) realize that the silence of the Christian church community enables Mideast horrors to continue. As evidenced by the people I’ve mentioned, Jews and Muslims and Arabs play a major role in this perceptual and activist shift, standing up for human rights despite the opprobrium this generates in their own communities.

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Prison, Detroit

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My temporary neighborhood in Detroit

My main hope for this journey was to broadcast as widely as possible my images and stories collected over the past 7 years, enhancing the struggle for Palestinian dignity, human rights, and justice, while acknowledging the suffering and rights of Jews and others in that region. And to do this by concentrating on international law, holding accountable all parties in the conflict.

Both Israel and Hamas have failed to meet their obligations under international law to conduct credible and independent investigations [into the assault on Gaza by Israel named Operation Cast Lead from late 2008 to early 2009]. “The Human Rights Council must therefore assess these domestic proceedings and report accordingly to the UN General Assembly and Security Council,” said [Wilder Tayler, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists]. “The Security Council must take concrete and robust measures to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for victims, and to this end consider the options at its disposal to break the cycle of impunity prevalent in this conflict, including by referring the situation in Gaza to the International Criminal Court,” concluded Tayler.

—International Commission of Jurists, September 2010

Now I bear down on plans for another trip: Gaza for 6 weeks, mainly to teach photography thru the AFSC and to make photos, in the context of a movie being made about Gaza and my photographic work there.

I’ll be blogging and posting photos on my website, so please consider signing up for the Levant list below if you’ve not already.

Levant email list: please write skipschiel (at) gmail (dot) com with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line.

Website: teeskaphoto.org

Articles:

Conference seeks to clarify Israeli, Palestinian hostilities, by MaryAnn Kromer

Cleveland Report: Space for Everyone… “New Jim Crow & 4 Apartheids” by Kim Hall

Video: Students stage intense, silent, nonviolent protest as IDF soldier appears at University of Michigan in PR campaign (“The Red Shirt Affair”)

Article about “The Red Shirt Affair” in the Arab American News, Ann Arbor M

Tour Prospectus

The prophets do not offer reflections about ideas in general. Their words are onslaughts, scuttling illusions of false security, challenging evasions, calling faith to account, questioning prudence and impartiality.

—Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets

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Morton Arboretum, Downers Grove IL

All we want is to be ordinary.

—Mohmoud Darwish, the late Palestinian poet

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