Posts Tagged ‘justice’


The old people came literally to love the soil, and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth, and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. This is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.

—Chief Luther Standing Bear


St. Francis House

Francis House and Agape Pond


Agape Community’s annual St. Francis Day celebration, this year with the theme, “Listening to Native Voices, Standing Rock is Everywhere,” seeded by Brayton Shanley’s trip last winter to deliver straw bales to Standing Rock—what I believed then was clearly a fool’s errand—drew more than our usual maximum of 200. Suzanne Shanley (his wife and co-founder and co-director) thought maybe 400-500 attended. Clearly the line of parked cars on the road extended further than I’d ever seen it. I was in a good position to gauge because I’ve been on parking duty for years.

After parking and walking and lugging, a person approaches Agape and hears the drum, smells the sweet grass and is smudged, spots the tipi placed strategically at the entrance of the main gathering area, sees many people in brightly colored regalia, watches the dancers, notices the tent holding some 300 chairs (which would be a good index for crowd size estimate), and then spies all the food and beverages arrayed on many tables. Ah, I am here!

IMG_9536by Dave Legg - Listening to Native Voices at Agape-sm copy

Photo: David Legg © 2017


I am here, thought I, because of my Native heritage, not in my genes but in my history. This panoply of native elements at Agape reawakened my experiences with Lakota Sioux people, dating back to my direct introduction in 1982, extending to my month-long visit to the Rosebud Reservation the following year, stretching to the crucial stop Louise, my former partner, and I made in the summer of 1990 at Rosebud and Pine Ridge during our cross-country journey. We learned about the upcoming Bigfoot centennial ride, which led to our participation in the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee that winter. That had been preceded and was followed by other personal Indian connections, like the National Day of Mourning, Boston American Indian Center, Slow Turtle, Wampanoag powwows in Mashpee on Cape Cod, visits to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Reservations in Maine, American Friends Service Committee Indian program in Maine, etc. Names from Rosebud and Pine Ridge came back to me: Birgil Kills Straight, Ron McNeil, Mr. Kills in Water, Shirley Crazy Bull, Amy Respects Nothing, Mr. Tall Bear, Mrs. White Lightning, as names have also fled my memory such as Louise’s MIT student and her son who was so honored after the ride, and the first Lakota’s I met in 1982 when I picked them up as they hitchhiked across the rez. Fortunately, as a steering committee (AKA Mission Council) member I was able to weave some of my experience into planning the event, but Brayton’s trip was truly the major trigger.

Teepees2-4 SM

Big Foot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, December 1990. Photo: Skip Schiel © 1990

Growing up and slowly realizing what Whites had done to Indians in the past created a longing in me to return to that past and as a White person counter history. (With Louise, I made an effort during the Big Foot Ride.) Impossible but now I can struggle for Palestinian rights, one of my major current photographic projects.


Fitting with the theme of sacred water, I exhibited photographs about water justice in Palestine and Michigan, demonstrating parallels. When I entered the chapel/exhibit room during lunch and a little after I’d been scheduled to speak, around 12:30, no one was there. Then a few people dribbled in and then—thanks to Sam, a fellow Mission Council member who’d help promote the exhibit—suddenly others popped in, filling the room. I announced myself as the photographer, leading to small conversations, speaking in a loud voice to be heard by others, but without interrupting their viewing.

photo exhibit

A photo exhibit by Skip Schiel, “From Palestine to Detroit and Flint: Water Justice”

Despite the small size of the space I was able to show most of what I’d brought, some 12 photos from the 2 sets, Palestine and Michigan, along with some descriptive panels outlining water politics. Without being explicit, I suspect the viewers could make their own connections between the Stand Rock Water Protectors and the struggles in Palestine, Flint, and Detroit. I also exhibited my photos from the Wounded Knee Memorial Ride, placing them in Francis House near the wood stove, centrally located.

wounded knee

Site of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Photo: Skip Schiel © 1990

arvol looking horse

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, at St Francis Day


Chief Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, was the anchor and perhaps major draw of the event. Luckily, because El, my fellow Mission Council member, and I arrived the day before to help set up, we were with Arvol and other Indian participants like Beatrice, informally during lunch and dinner. He seemed shy, not prepared to be such a major figure, tall and thin, weak and perhaps ailing, tired—and, I reluctantly claim, not skilled in public speaking. Rather, he appears, unintentionally, to play the role of the proverbial Holy Person. A bit cryptic, uniformly serious with slight breaks in this publicly and many breaks in smaller company, definitely rambling and repetitive; in short, for me, a disappointment as a speaker. Listening to him I often wondered what would be my experience with other Holy Persons, Gandhi, Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Rachel Corrie, Thomas Merton, Jesus, Mohammed. I know Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X would impress as speakers, but what of these others whose words have resonated thru the centuries? How well did they speak in person?

A “disease of the mind” has set in world leaders and many members of our global community, with their belief that a solution of retaliation and destruction of peoples will bring peace. In our prophecies it is told that we are now at the crossroads: Either unite spiritually as a global nation, or be faced with chaos, disasters, diseases, and tears from our relatives’ eyes. We are the only species that is destroying the source of life, meaning Mother Earth, in the name of power, mineral resources, and ownership of land. Using chemicals and methods of warfare that are doing irreversible damage, as Mother Earth is becoming tired and cannot sustain any more impacts of war. I ask you to join me on this endeavor. Our vision is for the peoples of all continents, regardless of their beliefs in the Creator, to come together as one at their Sacred Sites to pray and meditate and commune with one another, thus promoting an energy shift to heal our Mother Earth and achieve a universal consciousness toward attaining Peace.

—Chief Arvol Looking Horse

Perhaps because of the theme I remet many folks from various movements and decades who I’d not seen in years: Paula G. and Jim, Suzanne C., Nelia who I belated realized had been with Brayton and Tim delivering the straw bales (she is blind and I know her from Quaker gatherings, an indomitable spirit), John S. who brought 3 young people in his van, Ricky and Deb from the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995; along with many Agape stalwarts like Eileen E, Kathleen and Dave Legg (Dave my photographic colleague at most Francis Days, this time we collaborated especially importantly because of the conflicting photographic policies—not during prayer, OK during most ceremonies, not Arvol too much because he gets distracted, etc; Pat W. who is another photographic colleague, and Pat F.); the largest contingent of Friends Meeting Cambridge Quakers in memory including David A., Minga C-B, Suzanne C., Maeve, Diana L., Dinah S., Patti and Bill M., but no one from my peace and social concerns committee except Suzanne C; and others whose names I’ve forgotten now and yet others whose faces were familiar but I didn’t know names. Such community strengthening was a major part of the event, not only for me I’m sure.

Who was missing? Louise most vitally, the only human being on the planet I share these issues so deeply with; my fellow Quakers and activists, Jews especially from the Palestinian rights movement; S. which pains me; M., surprisingly not there; Rob, Chuck, Lynn, and other close friends and family members. But this is contemporary life, contemporary community: wide-spread and fragmented.

Three children-Emily

Children’s view of the event, photo by Emily


As expected, water was a major theme—water is life, Mni Wiconi (pronounced mnee wi-choh-nee), Water is Life. Quabbin Reservoir was in the background, Agape Pond in the foreground where we held the water ceremony. I was able to do the ceremony twice, once early Saturday morning led by Beatrice Menase Kwe Jackson, known as Bea, and Peggy, not photographing then; and at the conclusion of the program, photographing it from across the pond. As with Indians, water is a crucial ingredient in my life but I’ll not recount all the elements which began with nearly drowning when I was about 3 years old, rescued (as the family tells it, I have no conscious memory) by Fran, my dad. As the major ceremony began, rain very lightly fell, more speckles than drops, signaling sky presence of water. And thru the day clouds came and parted, at one point in the late afternoon singeing the treetops behind the garden, which stunned and awakened me once again to the power of light. I photographed it.

water ceremony

Water Ceremony at Agape Pond

Women and men lined up separately by the pond. After being smudged with sage and sweetgrass, two men assisted one woman as she threw tobacco into the water, tenderly hooking arms, for the moment intimate, followed by water from a copper cup. Once the women had done this, at least during the morning when we had fewer people, women helped the men. In the afternoon musicians played guitar and violin and sang, which added greatly to the otherwise long and repetitive ceremony. I doubt this was official Lakota, or even Indian, maybe an amalgam of various traditions. I noticed Arvol and most Indians did not participate.


Then there were all the stories from Indians, mainly of current suffering and struggle. The genocide continues, but now with a velvet glove. One group in particular, the Lenape from New Jersey, who own land, but because of insanely difficult conditions required for permits are effectively barred from their land. In the crowd I watched for Two Clouds, a Ramapough person from Mahwah, New Jersey; Chief Dwaine Perry, Ramapough, also from Mahwah; Chief Iron Bear; Strong Oak Lefebvre of the Visioning Bear Circle; Gentle Hawk from the Worcester Intertribal Indian Center; and others unannounced. Apparently missing were official reps from Wampanoag, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people, plus folks from Plymouth Massachusetts, Boston Indian Center, etc. The absences were as indicative as the presences. Competing local Indian events, given the weekend’s name, Indigenous People’s Day, may explain some lacunae.


A member of the Ramapough people of Mahwah, N.J., who have long sought federal recognition as a Native American nation.

Counterbalancing stories of on going oppression, Arvol spoke about Standing Rock, the power of prayer, of story, of presence, saying he and colleagues never expected such wide publicity. During the informal session the day before I asked about the White Buffalo Calf Woman story and he, as I’d hoped, confirmed that the first elder and teacher of the Lakota people was a woman—or at least half woman, but certainly fully female. He began each of his two speeches with Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations), without translating it. His first language is Lakota and Suzanne whispered to me that he often has trouble translating his thoughts into English, which might be a factor in his speech making.


From a Christian perspective, one outstanding element for me was when we symbolically repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, that absurd and highly revealing papal bull (declaration from the pope) issued shortly before Columbus began his journeys of “discovery”—which were in fact journeys of exploitation. (That and priestly sexual transgression should effectively end the belief that Catholic clerics, from subaltern priests and brothers and nuns to highest rated popes, have direct communication with the so-called god. Is any more evidence needed?)

We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens [Muslim Arabs] and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property […] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.

—Pope Nicholas, 1452

How did we perform this repudiation (a goal without a clear plan long fostered in some Quaker circles)? A woman cleric led a recitative prayer about repudiating the Doctrine; another cleric handed a facsimile of the Doctrine to Brayton who burned it in our sacred fire (so-called sacred, what does all this religious language truly mean other than to establish an emotional tone?), and carried its ashes on a fiery torch to the pit dug for the white pine burial. All very Catholic in its pageantry (pageantry I sometimes yearn for while Quakering).

burying doctrine of discovery

Brayton buries the ashes of the Doctrine of Discovery in the pit in which the white pine tree will be planted, supported by members of various Christian communities.

I managed to miss photographing most of this, trying hard for position but wishing to maintain some modicum of politeness, not bump people aside who were in my way. The symbolism of this act may be important, but educating people might surpass the symbolism in importance: more people are now aware of the Doctrine and the imperative to ban it, an incentive to reverse its legacy. I suspect even the current pope himself, Francis—true also of our honored St. Francis—would choose to repudiate what one of his misguided predecessors did.

Brayton Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Brayton Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Suzanne Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Suzanne Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape


Brayton had given a rousing introduction to Stand Rock—as did Suzanne to Agape—speaking personally about his experience last winter delivering straw bales, claiming that this is the first American Indian-led, global, nonviolent movement against colonization. Arvol has been speaking across the country, at Wellesley College the day before, and flew the next day to Cairo Egypt. This connection, Standing Rock and Egypt, suggests Standing Rock is an outgrowth of the Arab Spring. Being so-called Columbus Day, now transformed into Indigenous People’s Day, I wore my pin, “Discover Columbus’ Legacy: 500 years of racism, oppression, and stolen land,” which I acquired in 1992 during the resistance to the Columbian Quincentennial.

Columbus pin

Many have forgotten this moment exposing and opposing the Columbian Conquest but I suspect it was a key step toward Standing Rock. So if we devise a timeline of activism we may uncover the interconnectedness of the movement—its intersectionality, to use a now-current term for blended movements.

ColumbusBurn13 SM

“They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.” (“Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies” by Bartoleme de Las Casas, who was an eyewitness to the Columbian Invasion)

t shirt

T-shirt by Jared Yazzie (Navajo) available from Beyond Buckskin Boutique


To recount from 1945:

  • Freedom struggle in the USA-1945-1968
  • Anti-war movement during the Vietnam era-1962-1975
  • First contemporary resistance at Wounded Knee-the occupation in 1973
  • American Indian and Black Power Movements weaving thru this period
  • Big Foot Ride Memorial Ride—Wiping the Tears, Mending the Sacred Hoop-1990
  • Columbian Quincentenary-1992
  • Arab Spring-2011-2014
  • Occupy-2011-2012
  • Black Lives Matter-2013-present
  • Standing Rock-2016-present

I’d like to think more about these interconnections, and consider all this against an article I’ve read in a recent New Yorker magazine about the failure of movements, or better, how movements can succeed (with better long-range strategy as in the Freedom Movement vs. hasty organization as in the Occupy Movement).


Planting the white pine tree


Finally we planted a white pine, which is a key element in the Peace Maker story of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. As a final act of remembrance and anticipation most of us made tobacco offerings to the tree, how it can symbolize overcoming the Doctrine of Discovery and all that erupted from it in the past more than 500 years, Standing Rock a recent example. This planting is an act of confession, contrition, repentance, as well as resistance, renewal, and forward march into a more just present and future. Mni Wiconi, Water is Life.

I left reservation life and my native people, the Oglala Sioux, because I was no longer willing to endure existence under the control of an overseer. For about the same number of years I had tried to live a peaceful and happy life; tried to adapt myself and make re-adjustments to fit the white man’s mode of existence. But I was unsuccessful. I developed into a chronic disturber. I was a bad Indian, and the agent and I never got along. I remained a hostile, even a savage, if you please. And I still am. I am incurable.

— Luther Standing Bear (1921)

Luther Standing Bear

st francis and sultan

St. Francis with Sultan Malek al-Kamil, Egypt, 1219. Artist: Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

In 1219 St. Francis and Brother Illuminato accompanied the armies of western Europe to Damietta, Egypt, during the Fifth Crusade. His desire was to speak peacefully with Muslim people about Christianity, even if it mean dying as a martyr. He tried to stop the Crusaders from attacking the Muslims at the Battle of Damietta, but failed. After the defeat of the western armies, he crossed the battle line with Brother Illuminato, was arrested and beaten by Arab soldiers, and eventually was taken to the sultan, Malek al-Kamil. 


st francis

Holy humility confounds pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world. —Francis of Assisi


“Marking the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi with the spirit of Standing Rock,” by Eileen Markey

White Buffalo Calf Teachings with Chief Arvol Looking Horse

What is the White Buffalo Calf story and why is it important to Lakota people?

“Ramapoughs Trial Continues As Tribe Claims Town Is Trying To Outlaw Prayer At Tepee Site,” by Daniel Hubbard (Patch Staff)

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

Doctrine of Discovery is Burned (video made during the day)

Why the white pine tree?

What is the Peace Maker story of the Haudenosaunee?

“Is There Any Point to Protesting?” by Nathan Heller

“On Turtle Island (North America), February—April, 1995,” an account of a Buddhist-led pilgrimage by Skip Schiel

“A Winter Count,” by Skip Schiel

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Dedicated to Fadia Daibes Murad, award-winning Palestinian hydrologist, activist, personal friend and colleague. In 2009 she died when her car crashed during a heavy rain storm as she returned from an international water conference in Turkey.


And to Monica Lewis-Patrick, Detroit Water Warrior, co-founder and co-director of We the People of Detroit who fortunately and providentially I now work with.


Wade in the water
Wade in the water
Children, wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water
Who’s that young girl dressed in red
Wade in the water
Must be the children that Moses led
God’s gonna trouble the water

What precisely are the links, and how can I portray them?

water-justice-pal-mich-page-1-sm.jpgClick here for an enlarged version, easier to read.

The sources of these claims:Water Justice-Pal-Mich-page 2

Click here for an enlargement.

How did this theme evolve for me, comparing water rights in the two regions?

Probably while in the West Bank of occupied Palestine on one of my many journeys there since 2003. On that first visit I observed a luxurious swimming pool in the huge Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adummin, near Jerusalem. I visited Palestinian villages in the West Bank, some within a stone’s throw of Ma’ale Adummin, such as Bil’in, and Palestinian cities like Ramallah, and heard stories and observed details about water deprivation. A hydrologist with the Palestinian Hydrology Group showed and explained limits on well depths, cistern construction, and water harvesting from green houses in the West Bank. He introduced me to Palestinians who needed to buy water from Israel at four times the rate Israelis pay, consuming on average about one-quarter what Israelis consume. The clincher in the West Bank: Israel exploits 80% of the water in the mountain aquifer which is mostly under the West Bank.

Swimming pool, Ma'ale Adummim, Israeli settlement, Oct 03

Swimming Pool, Ma’ale Adummim, 2003, photo by Skip Schiel

In Gaza where I also visit regularly (when I can enter, which is more and more difficult because of Israeli restrictions), I photographed for a UN study about the hydrology, touring the small region with experts and interviewing officials. We visited fragile sewage storage ponds in the northern section of Gaza. Designed to be temporary until Israel granted permission to expand the sewage ponds, one later broke and flooded a nearby village.

Sewage pond, Rafah, Gaza, 2006

Sewage pond, Rafah, Gaza, 2005 c, photo by Skip Schiel

Over my nine explorations to Palestine-Israel I traced the entire Jordan River system from headwaters on Mt Hermon to its miserable terminus in the dying Dead Sea, much of it thru the West Bank. Here the lower Jordan (shrinking and filled with sewage) is inaccessible to Palestinians. Some 50% of the western shore of the Dead Sea is in the West Bank but controlled entirely by Israel.


Dead Sea, stranded pier because of rapidly decreasing sea level—this section of the Sea is in the West Bank and most Palestinians are not allowed on this beach.

Wade in the water
Wade in the water
Children, wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water
Who’s that young girl dressed in red
Wade in the water
Must be the children that Moses led
God’s gonna trouble the water

Detroit drew me for many reasons—the presence of the Great Lakes with their abundant water, refineries that pollute air and possibly water, the Detroit River, and declining access to water by people struggling with high water rates while water bills of corporations are endlessly disputed or are ignored. There are health risks to water shut-offs, including sickening bacteria that linger after water restoration. On my most recent trip in June 2017 I discovered that more than 100,000 Detroit households had suffered water deprivation. Shut-offs often meant families lost custody of their children because lack of water affected sanitation, cooking, and drinking.


United State Steel Corporation in Detroit from Windsor Ontario Canada, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

In 2014 Flint generated international attention when, because of emergency managers attempting to save money, the city switched to Flint River water, leading to lead poisoning. As of early 2016 Flint has the highest water rates in the nation. Because of the widespread attention on Detroit and Flint, the Detroit city government has finally instituted an installment plan for avoiding cutoffs, easing the burden on low-income households. Many activists criticize this plan as being inadequate. Flint has returned to the comparatively cleaner Detroit water system.

Flint water distribution_DSC5912

Free Water Distribution, Flint Michigan, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

Most importantly, Detroit and Flint are on the cutting edge of “Water Warriors,” citizens fighting for water justice, similar to activist groups in Palestine and elsewhere, such as the Boston-based Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine. I visited Flint for the first time in June 2017, after learning in detail the conditions, consequences, and struggles of lead-poisoned water at the Second International Gathering on Social Movements on Water. I photographed the contaminated Flint River and, additionally, staff providing free bottled water to residents.


Free Water Distribution by We the People of Detroit, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

Who’s that young girl dressed in white
Wade in the water
Must be the children of the Israelite
Oh, God’s gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water

Flint River

Flint River, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

What’s to be done?

In 2014 activists invited two of the United Nation’s Special Rapporteurs to visit. Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, declared: “I’ve been to rich countries like Japan and Slovenia where basically 99 percent of population have access to water, and I’ve been to poor countries where half the population doesn’t have access to water … but this large-scale retrogression or backwards steps [in Detroit and Flint] is new for me. From a human rights perspective, any retrogression should be seen as a human right violation.”

In advance of their arrival, U.N. Rapporteurs de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha wrote, “Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”


UN Special Rapporteur, Leo Heller, by video feed (on the screen in upper right) at the Second International Gathering on Social Movements on Water, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

In 2010 the UN’s General Assembly declared it “Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

Passed by the General Assembly in 1948, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stated that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.”

Notably missing: the fundamental human (and other creaturely) right to clean, safe, affordable, accessible water.

On the 60th anniversary of this landmark declaration, Steven Starr, producer of the extraordinary movie, Flow, presented at the United Nations a petition to add Article 31 to the Universal Declaration:

“Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.”

Maude Barlow, in 2008-2009 the UN’s first senior adviser on water issues to the president of the United Nations General Assembly, stated “Water must be seen as a commons that belongs to the Earth and all species alike. It must be declared a public trust that belongs to the people, the ecosystem and the future and preserved for all time and practice in law. Clean water must be delivered as a public service, not a profitable commodity. We need to assert once and for all that access to clean, affordable water is a fundamental human right that must be codified in nation-state law and as a full covenant at the United Nations.”

Maude_Barlow_photo SM

Maude Barlow

Who’s that young girl dressed in blue
Wade in the water
Must be the children that’s coming through,
God’s gonna trouble the water, yeah

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water

What’s next?

Fight to make and implement law, while continuing to expose conditions. In Fadia Daibes Murad’s personal words to me, “I’m beyond writing about the conditions. I want solutions, and I feel the main route to solutions is thru adjudication by international bodies.”

Water must be:
  • Sufficient. The water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise.
  • Safe. The water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health. Measures of drinking-water safety are usually defined by national and/or local standards for drinking-water quality. The World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for drinking-water quality provide a basis for the development of national standards that, if properly implemented, will ensure the safety of drinking-water.
  • Acceptable. Water should be of an acceptable colour, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use. […] All water facilities and services must be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, life cycle and privacy requirements.
  • Physically accessible. Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution. According to WHO, the water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes.
  • Affordable. Water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income.
 —UN’s Water for Life Decade

You don’t believe I’ve been redeemed,
Wade in the water
Just so the whole lake goes looking for me
God’s gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water

By Willie Mae Thornton


Detroit & Flint

Detroit water board approves 1.7% rate hike” by Christine Ferretti, The Detroit News, June 21, 2017

“Nearly 18K at risk as Detroit water shutoffs begin” by Christine Ferretti, The Detroit News, April 2017

“UN officials ‘shocked’ by Detroit’s mass water shutoffs,” by Laura Gottesdiener (2014)

UN: Detroit: Disconnecting water from people who cannot pay – an affront to human rights, say UN experts (2014)

Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts


“Water apartheid in Gaza and Flint,” by David Cronin (2016)

From the women of Gaza to the women of Flint

World Bank: Water Situation Alarming in Gaza (2016) 

“UNICEF seawater desalination plant helps head off Gaza water crisis,” by Catherine Weibel

Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine

Palestinian Hydrology Group

Read Full Post »

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit in June 2017—or writing later. For three days of my first week in Detroit I attended the Second International Gathering of Social Movements on Water. Here are my notes from the first two days.



June 9, 2017, Friday, Detroit

Illness might follow restoration of water because of bacteria and other debris left in the pipes and flushed out and into stomachs and throats. I am a test case [drinking from my home water system which had been shut down for months—no apparent illness].

Henry Ford hospital had been researching this but Mayor Duggins (“the emergency manager who calls himself mayor,” quoting Rev Rowe) pressured the hospital to stop, first not to release, then to entirely stop, claims Maureen Taylor, one of the gathering organizers.

Special Rapporteur on water, Dr Leo Heller, Brazilian, via Skype to the conference claimed there has been some progress toward making the right to water a universal human right (a question I asked), citing various cases. So denying water can become illegal.

Main goal is to force low-income (and Black?) people out of Detroit, claims Rowe, which provides a strong link with water rights in Palestine: force people out.

Other links between Michigan and Palestine might be to use water as punishment in Detroit and as control in Palestine. In addition to simple exploitation of limited resources.

I should read my water meter before and after to assess my use [which I did, giving information to my house, K, to use in settling billing]

West Grand Blvd. once the city limits and site of upper class homes [now largely deteriorated].

Chief Caleen Sisk, spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, California

Chief Caleen Sisk, spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, California

Power of water blessing when said in a Native American language.

United Auto Workers will help with water justice struggles, claimed Cindy Estrada, a UAW official.

Valerie Jean Blakely, water rights activist, Detroit

Valerie Jean Blakely, water rights activist, Detroit

Stories of two women who’d experienced shut offs, one had child taken but child walked home in the dark.

Possibility that city either willfully mismanages accounts to generate income or is derelict in bookkeeping, cf K’s problems.

Shut off entire neighborhoods.

Spread costs of broken mains or continually running water in abandoned houses to other customers, claims woman on Friday panel.

“Not a bankrupt city but controlled by a bankrupt system,” quoting Rowe.

Man from New Orleans exiled to Birmingham Alabama for 5 yrs before returning to city. Compares New Orleans to Detroit, gentrifying the city with mostly white, mid and high income people.

Lower East Ward [once largely Black and low-income] now filled with more affluent people.

Two young women on bus work against corporate interests in Boston, webinar coming up to develop grass-roots action.

No bottled water allowed at the conference.

What sticks for me from talks are assertions and stories?

Baxter Jones

Baxter Jones, water justice activist, Detroit

Example of Baxter Jones, in a wheelchair, who’d been jailed for his water justice activism—sumud [steadfastness].


My entirely different reaction: too much taking at us and not enough, barely any, participation by us.

The gathering uses the old model of conference organizing: the banking model, experts fill students with info. Virtually non-stop, running late, a fair amount of repetition (Rowe and Nicole spoke today but also the evening before). Hopefully this does not model their grassroots organizing methods.

Large number of large people, mostly women, mostly Black, but not entirely. Many infirm.

Very few travel mugs, most drank out of Styrofoam cups. Suggesting the water focus may not spread to the entire environment.


Women definitely predominate, organizers, leaders, and participants.

Relative absence of the organization We the People of Detroit, Nadia an exception who gave for me clearly the best presentation of her panel—focused, concise, well crafted, illustrated beautifully by a slide show despite the use of power points. (Nadia explained that and Monica Lewis-Patrick, co-founder of We the People is at another conference).

Kids can no longer stay in homes without water [removed by the city].

Where are the extended bios of speakers?

Did Detroit once use only private wells, i.e., did everyone long ago have their own free water? Trace the progression from personal and private to collective and public. Adding a fee structure.

60,000 + another 18,000 cutoffs.

A man plays with his computer on the large screen behind the speakers, which is incessantly annoying. Altho occasionally he shows relevant images.

Detroit’s City Charter states a right to water and sanitation (Roger Bolton). CHECK THIS

Pre-Trump (now called “45” so we don’t use his name, as in 45th president) EPA recommended a sliding scale for water rates.

Org LIFTUP worked with several cities to establish more equitable payment plans but they served only a small proportion of customers. And shoves blame for non-payment onto the nonpaying customer, rather than addressing the unjust system.

Baltimore one of the worst cities for water and sewage infrastructure. Users have to pay for repair, when once the feds would help.


How can the unearned income tax credit help people behind in paying water bills?

Roger Bolton (Belmont MA-based?) drafted the Detroit bill for water rights.

California the first state declaring water is a human rights—ask L.

In Puerto Rico, coal combustion produces coal dust which is then used as fill and cover but this pollutes aquifers.

Write a story about the panelists, their back-stories, what led them to this work, what they sacrifice, what they achieve?

An entirely different spirit from that of the Jewish Voice for Peace national membership meeting I attend in March. Here there is little joy, the spirit is deadening rather than enlivening. I left at end of afternoon on Friday, unable to remain for the evening because I was exhausted rather than energized.

How define affordability? What plan can work to make water affordable? How calculate ability to pay?

Philly as a possible model, something like 1-3% of annual income billable for water and sewage.

The irony of Detroit surrounded by water (Great Lakes and innumerable rivers), yet many people suffer without water.

Great lakes hold 28% of the world’s surface water.

60% of Detroiters do not have sufficient income to pay for necessities, water specifically.

Shigellosis is a water-borne disease, afflicting some people in Flint and Detroit. How many total, and what proportion of entire population and the population experiencing water shut offs?

Check out Highland Park. First with water cutoffs? Before Detroit?

CASPER is a Detroit medical survey.

If proposed guidelines (by whom?) were followed, 80% of Detroit would be eligible for help paying their water bills.

Review Ford hospital study and the story about its squelching by Duggins.

Check out the water hotline on We the People of Detroit and inform K.

Have our water tested, the link is on We the People.

Story of salmon as transformational creatures, salt to fresh water, eg, finding way back to spawning grounds. (Native woman on Fri from Calif)

Microphone as a talking stick—does this allow the native woman to talk endlessly?

Flint: the activist organization [which one?] makes broad demands, not only about water, but pipes, rates, single payer health, emergency manager.

National campaign for lead free water

Hear from Melissa Mays, a key Flint activist, and [later] her 2 sons, 12 and 14, plus an older son, all with health problems related to lead (“growing pains,” but more serious and enduring and endangering than ordinary growing pains).

Water-related illness creates “foggy brain” in kids and they are then declared “behavior kids” and suspended and thrown out.

FlintH20justice—FaceBook page.

Read People’s Tribune.

Did I pay $100 for the conference, with $5 per day for food?

State Water Legislative Working Group—bills and hearing, attend some. (Stephanie Chang)

Renewed Poor Peoples’ Campaign (without the encampment), 50th anniversary next year.

Purpose of emergency manager is to steal assets like water. Look at patterns of which cities get the EMs.

Fresh, safe, affordable water.

Watch movie, “Something in the Water” [part of the America Divided series?]

Photos of Detroit light brigade and bat signals



Flinth20justice (Facebook)

Are Detroit water shutoffs and illnesses related?” Bridge Magazine, by Joel Kurth


Read Full Post »

Middle East Children’s Alliance Maia water project in Afaq Jadeeda

Rafah sewage lagoon, 2006

A dialog between Susan Koppelman of LifeSource & Skip Schiel. We try to clarify the water rights issue in Palestine & Israel based on our many experiences there. Missing from this exchange are Israeli voices. I invite them to join us. This post is dedicated to Fadia Daibes Murad (with special thanks to Cliff Bennett for inspiring it).

Although [increasing] by the day, the water crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) is less and less visible in the daily Palestinian discourse. The more contentious issues like the refugees, Jerusalem borders and security are occupying the minds of at least the Palestinian policy and decision makers. Interestingly enough, and contrary to what prevails in the OPT, many Israeli water advocates are grasping the opportunity of intentional neglect to the water problem in the OPT to serve their national purpose for confirming the status quo with regard to water. They are more consistent than ever in reiterating that there is a water crisis in Israel and that their proposals concerning desalinated water and the import of water from Turkey to solve the Palestinian water problem are feasible. 

—Fadia Daibes Murad in “Not Even a Drop…Until the Palestinians Drop”

(continuing the dialog between Susan Koppelman and me)

Hi Skip,

Thank you for this opportunity to go more deeply into the question of what can Palestinians, and those in solidarity with the Palestinian people, do to improve the water and sanitation situation on the ground within the current reality of the Israeli Occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory and resources.  For sure, we agree with the principle that ‘the fact of occupation does not absolve Palestinians of their responsibility’ – to the Palestinian people and to the ecosystem – to minimize harm, to protect water resources and to promote access to safe drinking water – to the extent that to do so is within their means.

I am particularly interested in having this conversation with you because you have spent a lot of time in Palestine meeting with Palestinians and local experts to better understand the water and sanitation situation.  You are aware of the disaster that happened in Beit Lahia, Gaza in 2007 when the sewage lagoons overflowed and five residents of the village Um An-Nasser were drowned to death in sewage.  You have seen the above ground river of sewage from two illegal Israeli settlements – Ariel Industrial Zone and Barkan Industrial Zone – which flows through Sulfit in a parallel line to the properly submerged sewage network disposing of waste from the Palestinian municipality of Sulfit – it is amazing to see the kilometers of manholes to the proper Palestinian sewage network running just 20 meters parallel to the sewage stream of toxic waste from the illegal Israeli industrial zones/colonies.  For the sake of this discussion let’s focus on these two examples, although I’m very happy to discuss others as well, if you would like.

Photo by Bshar Ashour of the Palestine Hydrology Group (PHG)

Um An-Nasser, photo by Ehab Zaheem

In the case of the overflow of the sewage lagoons at the Beit Lahia Waste Water Treatment Plant in the north of Gaza in 2007, it is fine to ask the question: What could Palestinians have done with materials and resources found in Gaza in order to avert this catastrophe?  Honestly, I am not certain as to the answer to this question.  I’ve always understood this case to be a simple issue of access to materials, but I’ll look into it!  Do you know?  What I do know is that for years, Israel prevented the Gazan Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) from importing materials needed to finish constructing the emergency phase of this treatment facility, and to this day Israel is obstructing the import of materials and spare parts needed for day-to-day functioning of the plant, as well as materials needed to construct the next phase of the project that would allow CMWU to go beyond basic treatment and treat the waste water to the quality that it can be used to recharge the depleted aquifer in Gaza.  In fact, the emergency phase of the Beit Lahia Treatment Plant was only completed after the 2007 catastrophe, at which point Tony Blair finally and famously intervened to pressure Israel to allow in the necessary materials.

Graffiti says, “young girl drowned here”

I am very familiar with calls before this crisis from CMWU – supported by the UN – urging Israel to do the right thing and allow entry of the materials needed to support the banks of the lagoon so that they wouldn’t collapse.  As you may know, LifeSource, the Palestinian water rights organization that I work with, is a member of EWASH, a coalition organization of groups working in the water and sanitation sector in occupied Palestinian territory which includes some UN agencies (UNICEF, UN Development Program, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA).  I remember both EWASH and the UN circulating a press release from CMWU calling for pressure on Israel to allow materials entry to prevent the collapse of the embankment of the lagoon.  I am unfamiliar with any suggestion from any UN worker that CMWU had the means to otherwise prop up the overstressed banks of the lagoon.  I’m interested to learn if you know of other options that Palestinians had at that time, given that materials entry through the humanitarian crossings with Israel was being prevented.

The film Gaza is Floating produced by LifeSource looks at the sewage situation in Gaza and includes an interview with the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Coordinator for the UN in Gaza that may be interesting to you.  The 9 minute version of the film is online at www.lifesource.ps/gazafloating.

By the way, there is a 15 minute version of the film that goes more into some development and engineering questions particular to the sanitation situation in Khan Younis and surrounding villages, and I think is relevant to contextualizing your statement that new lagoons have been blocked by local Palestinians crying NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard): new basic emergency lagoons create more problems, they can be very unsafe, and they are not a solution to Israel’s blockade of humanitarian materials or a substitute for proper sewage treatment facilities.  What is needed is the development of sophisticated facilities that fully treat the sewage, not more lagoons for storing it. I too have traveled Gaza touring the water and sanitation situation, and Gazans are eager for proper treatment facilities in my experience.  I welcome questions or comments arising from my comments here or from the film, regarding options for Palestinians in Gaza to treat wastewater.

Unknown health affects, Beit Lahiya, Um An-Hasser

It is also a good question I agree to ask what can Palestinians in the West Bank due to treat wastewater given Israeli restrictions on sanitation development.  I am sure we both agree that Israel is responsible for the obstruction over a nearly 15-year period of multiple large-scale waste water treatment plants in the West Bank – the World Bank even stated this bluntly in their 2009 report Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development. What then can Palestinians do more locally to treat wastewater or to reuse gray water at the household level is a fine question, as long as it doesn’t absolve Israel from recognizing Palestinians’ human right to water and sanitation and from allowing large-scale wastewater treatment facilities to treat municipality sewage in an efficient way.  The reality is that wastewater treatment is very expensive, it is 3 times more expensive I have heard to build a sewage network than a water network.  Smaller units for treating wastewater at the household level are unaffordable for most families and for the government to invest in.  The fact is that many families are already reusing gray water out of necessity.  Families are using the same water they use to wash their clothes to wash the floor, etc.  Water conservationists around the world have a lot to learn from Palestinians and others surviving on very little water each day, day after day, out of necessity.

You are right that it is not only the illegal Israeli settlements, but many Palestinian municipalities as well that are dumping untreated wastewater into wadis.  Given that Israel has prevented the development of proper treatment facilities, what can Palestinians do with their waste water?  In the West Bank, only 31% of Palestinian households are connected to a sewage network, the rest use cesspits and septic tanks.  Sulfit is one of the lucky municipalities that has been able to implement construction of a sewage network, but after the sewage is carried away from the residential areas of the municipality there is not a completed treatment facility to treat this waste water.  There aren’t proper facilities for dealing with wastewater from cesspits and septic tanks, again because of Israeli obstruction.  So, yes, here, mechanisms for treating wastewater that are low-cost, local AND DO NOT REQUIRE ISRAELI PERMISSION could be very useful in allowing Palestinians to finally be able to treat their waste water in an acceptable way as they’ve been struggling to do since before Oslo.  Keep in mind non-local options, like reed treatment, are not possible because land that isn’t built up has been claimed by Israel.  Bacterial treatment could be an option in the near future if/when the price comes down.

Smelter dumping toxins from the Israeli West Bank industrial settlement of Barkan

Raw sewage from Barkan industrial park

Retaining wall built by Denmark to confine Israeli sewage flowing thru Salfit region

We can go one step further and look at compost toilets as a solution.  Surely this is not an option in the refugee camps and other overcrowded areas.  I can say from experience that there is a lot of resistance to compost toilets in Palestine.  There is a lot of resistance in the US and other parts of the world as well.  Are Palestinians who are dealing with the gruesome reality of Israeli occupation to blame if they flush their toilets while Israel obstructs creation of a treatment facility to treat the sewage they flush?  Should Palestinians, given the reality of Israeli obstruction of Palestinian sanitation development, be held to a different standard and be blamed for not shitting into a bucket to fertilize their fruit trees?

Trash collection in my experience is such an anomaly.  I can understand your tendency to link trash collection with sewage treatment, but, in fact, I think they are unrelated.  It is very important to Palestinians to treat sewage and to keep it away from their water supply, for many reasons, including religious reasons.  The motivation, determination and perseverance of Palestinians to address this problem is well documented.  It is disappointing that trash collection has not been approached in a similar way.  I’ve wondered for some time if this has to do with Palestinians’ reactions to Israelis viewing Palestinians as trash and trash collectors.  A friend of mine suggested to a Palestinian permaculturist that he organize children in his village to clean up the trash in the streets and he was offended.  ‘My people are not trash collectors!’ he asserted.  I agree with you that there is value in Palestinians taking responsibility for their trash.  Also, it is really frustrating to study the water and sanitation situation, to spend so much energy and resources in supporting Palestinians to come up with creative solutions for having their basic right to water and sanitation, and to see that beyond compost toilets, there seem to be few options for Palestinians to make much observable impact on the ground.  If new technology can change this and support Palestinians’ rights to water and sanitation and to self-determination, this would be fantastic!

Middle East Children’s Alliance Maia water project

excellent response, very well-informed and decidedly compassionate, to me and others. i wish i could answer the questions you put to me, i’ll ponder them. i wish i could go to someone like the late water expert, fadia daibes murad, for her intelligent answers and attitudes. (i do plan to briefly quote her in my blog), i’ll think about who else i might contact, someone from phg in gaza for instance who toured me around the beit lahiya spill or fareed in the wb who you might know, not exactly a water expert but knowledgeable about many topics. as you know, reaching people thru the long arm of the internet can be vexing, even when they’re down the street.

i’ll read your letter more carefully tomorrow, may shorten it and other entries of yours and mine, and probably post the blog tomorrow. we can always add to it later, esp if others join in the conversation.

thank you for your presence,



there are many intelligent and creative folks working on these issues!  i knew fadia, yes i know fareed, i’ve worked with phg [palestine hydrology group] in ramallah and had contact with phg in gaza.  i know many others as well.  clemens messershmidt is a geo-hydrologist who’s been living in the west bank for more than 15 years.  my colleague recently attended a talk of his in ramallah where he stated the top 3 priorities for palestinian water development: 1. to drill new wells. 2. to drill new wells. 3. to drill new wells.  he was very succinct.  yes, my response was long indeed!


“The Occupied-Occupier Relationship in the Context of Water Resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” by Fadia Daibes Murad

Children going to the dump instead of school, photos by eman mohammed

“Recycling garbage into art,” Gaza style

“Devastated Wastewater Pumping Station and Partially Damaged the Headquarter”

Coastal Municipal Water Utility (CMWU)

Gaza is Floating, a movie by LifeSource

There’s Enough Water for Both,” by Joseph Croitoru, about the analysis of Clemens Messershmidt

LifeSource Project

Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH)

Maia water project of the Middle East Children’s Alliance

My blog post about Fadia Daibes Murad (with links to some of her writing)

More information about Fadia Daibes Murad

PHOTOS: a small sample from my hydropolitics series:

Along the Mediterranean Coast: Yaffa-Tel Aviv & Gaza, November & December 2010—part 1

El Mina, The Old Port—1

The Living Waters of Palestine & Israel

MOVIE: The Rains Returned to Gaza

Read Full Post »

The late Fadia Daibes Murad was a world-recognized Palestinian water expert, young, vibrant, articulate, with a recent PhD in hydrology. She published a tome about Palestine water rights and won an Edberg Award in 2005 for contribution to peace in the Middle East through her work on water rights law. She emphasized using water rights as a catalyst for peace in the Middle East. She had embarked on a path to bring the water rights’ issue to world attention thru the international court system. She told me, “I’m beyond writing about the conditions. I want solutions, and I feel the main route to solutions is thru adjudication by international bodies.” We intended to work together, me supplying photos and she the analysis.

—From my journal about Fadia

A dialog between Susan Koppelman of LifeSource & Skip Schiel. We try to clarify the water rights issue in Palestine & Israel based on our many experiences there. Missing from this exchange are Israeli voices. I invite them to join us. This post is dedicated to Fadia Daibes Murad (with special thanks to Cliff Bennett for inspiring it).

'What You Have Done With Water Tech is Amazing'

‘What You Israelis Have Done With Water Tech is Simply Amazing’
by TechIsrael Staff

Hi Skip,

I thought you may be interested in this article about Israeli Water Tech.



School in Gaza


the obvious omission, the grand ocean in the room so to speak, is the hydrological injustice heaped (or deluged) upon the palestinians. i’m sure you noticed this. regardless, the pals might emulate some of what israel’s water technology is doing—and the pals are, slowly, more in water harvesting (from greenhouse roofs for instance) but not yet water disposal (a very curious omission which i hope soon changes).

i could stand correction if any on this list have any to make. i’d like to be up to date.

Harvesting rain water from a rooftop in the West Bank


I’m interested in why you think that Palestinians are “slowly, more in water harvesting”?  Water harvesting is an ancient technique and practice in Palestine, perhaps inherited by the Romans.  Solomon’s pools are still the largest reservoirs in the West Bank.  Canals feeding the pools, however, were systematically destroyed by the Israeli army.

Today Israel destroys Palestinian water infrastructure, including rainwater harvesting cisterns, citing permitting infractions.  International law is clear that this is a violation of human rights.  In fact, one of the cisterns destroyed by the Israeli army this year in Susya was built during Roman times!, while according to official Israeli policy, anything built before Oslo is grandfathered in.

In regards to wastewater treatment, Israel blocked the construction of wastewater treatment facilities for Palestinians for years.  The only completed project was built after Oslo but before the Joint Water Committee was established.  For 15 years! Palestinian engineers jumped through hoop after hoop following every Israeli requirement that was communicated one by one as to what was necessary for more than 5 different plants to be approved, and only after 15 years with international pressure were they approved.  The proposed plant in Sulfit in fact was approved earlier by the Joint Water Council, it was not vetoed by the Israeli water commissioner, it was approved by 12 Israeli ministries, and then after it was licensed for construction and tendered, in the first month of construction the Israeli army shut it down, declaring the site a closed military zone and required that the location be moved!

The water injustice deluged upon Palestinians is not one of technology but one of Israel’s egregious violations of international law and human rights.  Human rights conventions ratified by the state of Israel are clear that ‘state parties must not interfere directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of a right’.  I support Israel being commended for its advances in technology, some of these are truly a marvel.  However, as long as Israel is committing such flagrant violations of Palestinians human right to water, it is important that global citizens and institutions take every measure to hold Israel accountable to international law and to protect the human rights of all the region’s inhabitants.  This may mean even boycotting this very technology that could bring improved standards of living to certain regions of the world, until Israel simply lifts its ban on water development for the Palestinian people.  Would Israel stop violating Palestinians’ human right to water and sanitation for 2 billion dollars a year?  What if countries promised to use Israeli technology after Palestinians were allowed all of their rights, thus expanding this market further?  What should the cost to Israel be for these human rights violations?

Susan [Koppelman of LifeSource]


Hi Susan,

Thanks for your thoughtful views. You are one of the leading experts on water rights in Palestine/Israel, no doubt. I value your contribution.

We have no essential disagreement. I understand the gross hydro injustice perpetrated by Israel upon the Palestinians, and I like your idea of boycotting Israeli technology until they end the injustice. I am aware of the situation in Salfit; I photographed the area including the newly constructed piping that has not to this day been used. I’ve seen and photographed numerous sites, like Wadi Fukin, where Israeli settlements wantonly dumped sewage into Palestinian water resources. I realize the Gazan water authority for years has held volumes of raw sewage in lagoons in Beit Lahiya, awaiting Israeli permission to construct new facilities. I’ve visited most of the Gaza water sites, spoken with engineers, and contributed to a UN report about that situation. No argument with you there.

Betar Illit, illegal Israeli settlement overlooking Wadi Fukin and allegedly dumping raw sewage down the hillside

My quote, extended a bit, was the pals might emulate some of what Israel’s water technology is doing—and the pals are, slowly, more in water harvesting (from greenhouse roofs for instance) but not yet water disposal (a very curious omission which i hope soon changes). By which I meant, yes, the Palestinians have developed their water resources as you so cogently point out, but my impression based on my study, discussions, and observation is that both water authorities in the West Bank and Gaza tend to emphasize water input rather than water output.

The Jordan River valley from Beit Shanean

These observations are shared with the late Palestinian hydrologist Fadia Daibes Murad, who I worked closely with, and I believe the water expert Robin Twite of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, IPCRI. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to document this. But here are a few examples:

That sewerage complex in Beit Lahiya. The UN for years had warned the Gaza authorities of the dangerous condition the lagoons are in, urging them to at least strength them. Not done, resulting in a major burst a few years ago. One might argue that the governing party, Hamas, did not have the funding—or the decision makers might have prioritized other aspects of the system. In addition, that authority has attempted digging new lagoons, but these are often blocked not by Israelis but by Gazans who do not want them in their neighborhoods.

Sewage lagoons in Beit Lahiya—click image to enlarge

Further, some years ago the UN offered training and equipment for garbage disposal in Ramallah. For a short period the streets and vacant lots were cleaned. The program ended. And the areas were once again strewn with rubbish, often burning rubbish which is toxic and demoralizing.  Not the Israeli’s fault, maybe the UN could have assured more continuity, I’m not sure, but probably indicative of attitude. And the Kidron River running near Bethlehem thru the Judean wilderness desert. A few years ago I trekked across this region, needed to cross the river, and our guide explained that settlements—and Palestinian villages—both dump raw sewage in it.

Detritus of effluent onto Gaza City shore

Netting fish near a raw sewage outflow, Gaza City, Mediterranean coast

In short, and this is my main point, when assessing responsibility for injustice we must be careful to not pin everything on the bad guys, in this case the Israelis. I call for shared responsibility. When it is up to the Palestinians, then we make that call. The fact of occupation, horrendous as it is, can not universally be used to absolve Palestinians of their responsibility.

I’m curious what you think of this argument and value our conversation.





LifeSource Project

Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH)

Maia water project of the Middle East Children’s Alliance

My blog post about Fadia Daibes Murad (with links to some of her writing)

PHOTOS: a small sample from my hydropolitics series:

Friends of the Earth Middle East—Good Water Neighbors paths: Tsur Hadassah & Wadi Fukin

Flood (Beit Lahiya)

Testing the Waters : Haifa – 2 (including Wadi Rushmia

Read Full Post »

Yoga in front of the Federal Reserve Bank, Dewey Square, Boston

A UN observer inspecting an unexploded cluster bomb-laden rocket in southern Lebanon. (AP)

Photo courtesy of The Independent 2011

Pages from my journal about the Occupy Movement

Occupy Boston

International Day of Solidarity with the Occupied Movement & a march to end US wars :: October 15, 2011

Occupied Wall Street—1

Occupy Boston March on Indigenous Rights Day, Oct 10, 2011 (video)

October 16, 2011

Another iteration of Occupy Boston yesterday [October 15, 2011], my third. The main camp remains. With some reported violence last week the police had dismantled the second camp along the Greenway. Yesterday all seemed calm, even when the peace march reached Verizon and stopped to chant slogans, and later outside the Bank of America, a hated symbol of corporate greed and congressional and administration malfeasance. At this second site, I stationed myself between marchers and the bank, joining a surprisingly small phalanx of bicycle cops to stand between institution and opposition. Speeches, chants, waving fists, and the march continued. I filmed and photographed, prepared at any minute for violence. This reminded me of clashes in Israel-Palestine at spots like Bil’in, the Palestinian village which for more than 5 years has resisted the separation barrier, where one could not predict outcomes. The power of a crowd, a mass, a mob is not easily directed. Or might be effectively directed by the likes of Samuel Adams. Oh Sam, where are you now?

In front of the Bank of America

In front of Verizon

I believe the march had been planned by the Boston branch of the United National Antiwar Committee before Occupy Boston started, as a demand to end US wars. It turned into a march that also supported Occupied Boston. Because of the multivalent nature of the march young people were not the usual high proportion.

Guarding the Army recruitment center

Wishing to not bore myself or any possible audience I strove for unusual photos. One might be at the Army recruitment center, the march reflected in the glass wall with its Army signs. Another might be the low camera angles.  Another might be faces. I tried.

A travel and couple dream. With others we rode in a bus thru the night, arrived in Cambridge after one leg of a longer trip. We all helped the driver remove the folding chairs serving as seats so the bus could be cleaned. I’d acquired 2 large loaves of crumbly bread, one I dropped on the ground but retrieved to eat later. I wished to save both loaves for the rest of my journey.

A young man and young woman who’d also ridden on the bus intended to go further. They needed to catch their next bus somewhere in East Cambridge. I directed them thru Central Sq, confident I knew the way. By now I might have been on a bike. I looked longingly at them, this newly forming couple and thought fondly of when I was in a similar stage of life with P. I felt grateful that P and I had met and loved and married and had children, all when young, and by recalling our history I felt less old, less left out. I kept all this meditation to myself.

In a hotel I found for my overnight stay, I showered by turning the entire bathroom into a shower, spewing water all over walls and floor. I did this wantonly but with permission.

October 18, 2011, Tuesday, home in Cambridge

Australian Delegation Visits Cluster-Bombed Areas of Lebanon, Calls for Ban

I see a connection, albeit a slender one, between our Quaker meeting’s monthly prayerful witness at Textron Industries in Wilmington Massachusetts, manufacturer of cluster bombs, and the popular movements now erupting internationally. Some 85 of us “occupied” a conspicuous space in front of the building, held it for one hour as a multitude of people rode by, prayed for peace or whatever we felt impelled to do during our “occupation,” and created a visible and irrefutable sign and question about the meaning of this building—what Textron made, how it profited, and who lost limbs, sanity, and lives because of its product. One year earlier I’m not sure we’d have found many from Friends Meeting at Cambridge willing to sit in prayer in front of Textron. Or if we had that we’d have so many participants. Our visits to Textron date back nearly 2 years when John Bach—love that man!—initiated nearly single-handedly a monthly series to Textron. I joined early, regularly participate, and for this recent manifestation, contributed a display about the company and its nefarious work.

John Bach, founder of the Textron Industries monthly prayer sessions

October 20, 2011, Thursday, home in Cambridge

Cool and wet, after a day of rain, heavy at times, mid 50s, overcast, calm.

Photographing the tents at Occupy Boston reminded me of the Simplex Tent City set up in 1987 to contest MIT’s take over of residential property between Central Sq and the university. So I investigated my archive. The negatives must be at P’s and so for now remain unavailable.  In my basement I found a few prints, and then I remembered that I have photocopied sets of many of my earlier photos on the shelf above my computer. So I dragged a bunch of notebooks down and perused them. I found only a few from that tent city, and they were not very inspiring. I found other photos from various political projects. I’d assess them as of mixed value. Juvenilia perhaps. One or two images might warrant inclusion in a retrospective. (Will I ever reach such a point? Hang up my cameras, get out my archives, make a selection for a retrospective?)

1970 MIT Tech File Photo


1997 Agnes Borszeki — The MIT Tech

The important point is precedent. Simplex Tent City is one small but important local precedent, as is the wave of factory takeovers during the labor movement, and after that the lunch counter sit in’s and the freedom bus rides. And obviously the much more recent uprisings and revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Israel, to a limited extent Palestine, and extending to Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Kansas. (Before that, Serbia and the downfall of the dictator Milosevic and the “Battle of Seattle” in 1999 and other revolts against dictators and world domination by corporate and financial institution powers like the World Bank and IMF.) Each of these was a takeover or occupation of territory and with that, the claim to human rights.

Textron is one immediate local manifestation that’s affected me powerfully. Another is the recent temporary occupation of the Israeli Consulate in Boston. Tomorrow’s rally [November 9, 2011] to sustain Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in the face of pending cuts might be joined by Occupy Boston. Across the country such occupations supply an often eager cadre of marchers, ralliers, and occupiers for a variety of issues. I hope the list lengthens. Occupy is an infectious model, a template for building awareness and expediting action. It is curiously and perhaps unconsciously reminiscent of occupation—the occupation of Iraq, the occupation of Palestine. Whether this is a productive reference or one that is self-defeating is yet unknown.

Another unknown of the movement is the meaning of declining public support, or so suggest some polls. Currently it’s something like 45% oppose, 35% support. However I suppose this is true of all movements and actions. None garnered widespread support thruout their entire duration. I know many people opposed the Freedom Bus Rides, and later the Poor People’s Campaign organized by Martin Luther King Jr shortly before his assassination. Certainly his stand against the Vietnam War was unpopular among many supporters and might have been one factor that led to his murder. This is simply part of the dynamic. We now laud at least the Freedom Bus Riders, and many of us view the Poor People’s Campaign as a paradigm for wide-spread action. One works to increase support but lack of support does not necessarily point to failure.

OK, the dream: about X for a change. She agreed to help me conduct a photo workshop about rivers or some other element of the environment. The assignment was vast and challenging. I asked her to do lots of background reading. She was taking time off from her studies which were about law (the professions of medicine and law eliding together in my dream). I looked forward to working with her. She was to share a house with me and others.

Around this time, D came to visit. She brought lots of her stuff and we couldn’t manage to find a space to store it that wouldn’t interfere with X’s stuff. While trying to sort out space I introduced D to X. At that very moment X was on the computer and D recognized the program X was using. It was about international law. They immediately connected. I felt good about this.

The phone rang, one of many mobile phones, it belonged to X, I answered. It was Amory. I think I knew that he was X’s lover or boy friend. I answered, hello, this is Skip answering for X. I then announced the call to X who seemed overjoyed to receive it. I was jealous. Dream ended.



Occupy movement

Occupy Boston

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Together

Simplex Tent City in Cambridge

Ten Years Later, Simplex Issues Remain Unresolved

Boston project creates new niche, November 28, 2005, by Christopher Montgomery, in the Plain Dealer Reporter

Textron Industries in Wilmington Massachusetts

Made in Mass., bomb stirs global debate

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Occupy Boston—1

International Day of Solidarity with the Occupied Movement & a march to end US wars :: October 15, 2011

Pages from my journal about the Occupy Movement

October 6, 2011

Oh, yes, Occupy Boston! A grand event, modeled after Occupy Wall Street (OWS) which has been running for 3 weeks [as of October 31, 2011], spawning local variants around the world. Boston began about 1 week ago, taking over, with municipal participation and approval, Dewey Square which is opposite South Station and at the end of the Kennedy Greenway. I dropped by yesterday on my way to M’s, emailing her to join me or at least to accept my tardiness. Some 100 tents were implanted side by side, a blazing variety of tent gear, many with signs, some showing solidarity with labor organizations. Tents for food, clothing, medical assistance, legal assistance, media, coordination, etc. And a nightly round of General Assemblies at 7 pm, which is a meeting to discuss plans, using the consensus model, but bending this to agree to a plurality. So far the police have been mostly cooperative. As far as I know, no large-scale civil disobedience is planned. This information comes mainly from one young man who’s been volunteering for the past 3 days.

I arrived around 3 pm, as Cornell West, the preeminent scholar, university professor, author, rapper, preacher, and activist co-led a large contingent of nurses in a small march around the square. Even tho I was aware of his key role in supporting the Occupy movement, I’d not expected him here. There is a very powerful YouTube video showing him leading chants for the occupiers on Wall Street. Yesterday many gathered around him, hugged and kissed him, called him a hero. He looked embarrassed by this attention, joyfully hugged and kissed in return. I did my best to show this energy and chemistry, accidentally in a position within brushing distance.

Needless to confess: I am ecstatic about this popular movement, how rapidly it’s spreading across the country, based on the simple call of We are the 99%, that is the 99% of the population who are not rich and dominant. The unifying call is against corporate greed, and spreads out from there to oppose war, advocate for better health coverage and education, and regulations of commerce, especially the financial industry. One young man tried to gain support for marihuana legalization. He began imperiously: the single most important issue is the marihuana laws. Change them. Are you with me? People booed. He moderated his call, but only a handful of supporters cheered him on. This reminded me of a poetry slam or a film festival when the audience votes for their favorite movie. At Occupied Boston, by popular assent, perhaps, the participants may clarify their platform.

October 12, 2011

I’ve minimally edited and posted a 2.5 minute movie about the Occupy Boston march on Monday, Indigenous Rights Day, altho I spotted few indigenous people and no indigenous organizations. Estimates were as high as 10,000 marchers—I guessed 3,000 when pressed by Rachel and Abby. Lots. And mostly young, I’d estimate mostly students. Most white, most looked middle class. Which might be one key weakness in this movement. R pressed me to join the support group on Monday night that would try to block the police from removing the occupiers who by then had expanded their zone past Dewey Sq. to another nearby site along the Greenway. Police justified this removal by stating that the Greenway had been recently improved there and would be ruined if occupiers used it.

Park Street Station & Boston Common

Guarding the Army recruitment center

In front of the Bank of America

In front of Verizon

By some accounts the removal was violent. I’ve seen several photo sets and movies which have not clearly demonstrated this quality. In fact, in most of the media I viewed the police did not wear riot gear. Reportedly the Veterans for Peace group stood between police and occupiers to “protect the kids,” and the police handled the vets roughly.

I declined R’s invitation on the grounds that 1. It would be late and dark and so it would be nearly impossible to photograph, 2. I’d already been on the job for the afternoon with lots of photos, 3. I’m not too interested in photographing yet another confrontational scene, and 4. My role is primarily a photographer, not activist.

There seemed to be confusion about leadership and communication during the march. Who is leading? Periodically everyone sat down and the “peoples’ mike” was brought out: this is a novel technique for amplifying voice. For instance, I might speak, using short phrases, as if expecting translation. The crowd nearest me repeats my phrase, thus amplifies it. Anyone can call for the mike. At the Charlestown Bridge, the projected end of the march, chosen because it represented how money could be better spent on infrastructure rather than bank bailouts and Wall St. support, blocked by police (with the justification that the bridge would not support so many people), once again the peoples’ mike was put into use. Several groups shouted out their requests: one to stay at the bridge and one to return to the campsite to protect it. The former were mostly the anarchists, most of them wearing black and covering their faces with bandanas. They suddenly and inexplicably ran down a side street.

I asked one young man wearing a bandana, why the bandana? For the gas, he replied. Really? I said, quizzical. And might have asked, what gas? The police give no sign of shooting tear gas. I suspect the mask is primarily to prohibit identification in case the group decided to attack property. And also as a fashion statement and a way to identify one’s politics. However, for many viewers it might signal terrorist, criminal, someone with something to hide. Not a very positive statement.

In photographing the march I searched for high places, like the parking garage, for an overall view. For the climactic photo of the series I anticipated they’d cross the bridge and rather than photograph them from a first person viewpoint, in the march itself, I cleverly chose a different position—from the waterfront near the Charlestown locks so I could show them streaming across the bridge. I anticipated this position from prior experience. So I sat awhile, took the opportunity to pee into the water, waited and waited—no marchers. No signs of marchers. A helicopter hovered overhead so I knew they were still nearby. Had the police blocked them? Probably. Wouldn’t surprise me. I phoned R, he’d left the march (Wimp! And then he berated me for not showing up for the nighttime confrontation.) Reluctantly I left my treasured position, abandoned the final dramatic view, and found the marchers stalled by the police.

Providentially the Program on Negotiation and the Harvard Law Documentary Studio at Harvard Law School had scheduled a screening of the new movie last evening about Gene Sharp, How to Start a Revolution. Sharp, the movie director, and the deputy head of the Albert Einstein Institution which is Sharp’s main vehicle for disseminating his ideas about nonviolent change, were present. During the discussion following the screening and talk I asked Gene, how can a leaderless movement like the Occupy movement formulate the detailed strategy that you call for? He answered humbly, I don’t know. I have my doubts that they can.

Had I the opportunity I might have asked a second question: some, like Grace Lee Boggs, Martin Luther King Jr, Vincent Harding, and Joanna Macy, suggest that the revolution should be about values rather than regimes. Since your methods seem most useful for regime change, as with Serbia, Egypt, Ukraine, and other nonviolent eruptions, how can we adapt your principles to this shift in focus? One of his latest writings, Self Liberation contains the phrase “and other oppressions” to suggest the methods can be translated to this new orientation. I should read the booklet. All his writings are downloadable from the Einstein Institution website below.

His lessons, effectively portrayed in the movie, suggest careful attention to detailed planning: know one’s adversaries, prepare for different contingencies, be resilient, etc.

On a personal note, the film and Gene himself resonate with me in at least 2 ways. Like Gene and the movie, someone made a movie that features me, Eyewitness Gaza. And like Gene I find myself in a mentorship role, sometimes with very attractive young women. In Gene’s case it is Jamila, head of the A Einstein Institute, a refugee from Iran, extremely beautiful and youthful, devoted to him as a daughter might be to a father. He is in his 90s, I have no idea about his interests in her, whether they range further than mentoree or father-daughter. Perhaps at one time they did. Now he looks feeble. Might I be him in 20 years (if I survive that long)?

The various manifestations of the Arab Spring bring needed attention to Gene Sharp, nonviolence, and the movie. I wish all well.

I should apply his techniques to my own life, at least my life as an artist and activist: what are my goals (to open eyes, doors, and hearts to new realities, so that my deeper goals of enlightening myself and others and ending suffering can be realized), what is my strategy (make evocative media, true to my heart, prepare for harsh criticism and much avoidance), who are my adversaries (“good liberals,” pro-Israel folks, many Jews, some Quakers coming from a misguided culture of peace, etc), how to deal with them (by truly working from an open heart as I attempt to practice with Sderot, the Israeli town frequently attacked by rockets from Gaza), and who are my allies (such as Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, some Quakers, some Israel-Palestine activists), etc.

Lent by the Peace Abbey of Sherborn Massachusetts

One major recalled dream from last night: I was on a hiking or camping trip with a large group and I knew no one. First we were to climb down a long ladder and then swim. I’d brought only my mobile phone, camera, and wallet, but, altho I knew we’d be immersed, I’d forgotten to bring plastic bags. Following an older woman who needed help climbing down the stairs, we reached a respite spot. It was connected with a Protestant church and featured a bar filled with liquor. I wanted some. But I wanted plastic bags more so I surreptitiously scouted the kitchen and toilet. I finally found a few bags that I believed might protect my gear.

As central as the bags were, even more central was my need to shit. Where would I do it and when? Somehow the toilet exploration didn’t figure into my calculation. Seemingly a non sequitur, when I emerged from the bar—happily with my plastic bags but still needing to shit—I walked thru a porch on which a young black boy was getting a haircut.



Occupy Boston

Dr. Cornel West – We the People Have Found Our Voice (video)

“Occupy Boston: Veterans clash with police, scores arrested” by Elizabeth Flock in the Washington Post

Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp – How to Start a Revolution

Gene Sharp: Author of the nonviolent revolution rulebook by Ruaridh Arrow, Director of Gene Sharp – How to Start a Revolution

Albert Einstein Institution

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Together

Eyewitness Gaza

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