Posts Tagged ‘massacre’

From my journal, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 


The 1948 Palestinian exodus from Lydda and Ramle, also known as the Lydda Death March, was the expulsion of 50,000–70,000 Palestinian Arabs when Israeli troops captured the towns in July that year. The military action occurred within the context of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The two Arab towns, lying outside the area designated for a Jewish state in the UN Partition Plan of 1947, and inside the area set aside for an Arab state in Palestine, subsequently were transformed into predominantly Jewish areas in the new State of Israel, known as Lod and Ramla.



Rajab Mustafa Ghanem

Arab refugees.jpg

In Israel’s first months, largely Arab cities emptied as inhabitants were forced to flee. Photograph by David S. Boyer / Corbis


For this writing I draw gratefully from Fareed Taamallah’s interview in Arabic, translated by him and revised slightly by me. Published on his Facebook page.

Rajab Mustafa Ghanem, 19 years old in 1948, the Year of the Nakba, worked with his father in a grocery store in the city of Lod/Lydd. Hearing about Jews forced to flee from Europe, he believed Palestinians were to live with them and give them shelter because they were victims of war. Forced from his home by what he called “Zionist gangs,” his family fled by foot, carrying no food or water, first to Ramallah, and then by truck to Gaza, the Bureij refugee camp. After Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, he moved to the Amari refugee camp in Ramallah. He never saw his city again, nor his father and mother who remained in Gaza and died there. Today, 90 years old, he told us his only wish is to die and be buried in dignity in his hometown, Lod, and not in Amari as a refugee.


Dahmash mosque, Lod/Lydda

One early morning day in May 1948, the Zionist militia or gangs attacked the city with planes, tanks and artillery and told people to surrender. The men were asked to go to the Dahmash mosque. Many went there and the mosque was filled with men. But there was no room for Rajab and his father. The gangs entered the mosque and ordered the men and boys to lie on the ground, shot and killed hundreds including some of Rajab’s friends and relatives.

The Zionists forced thousands of people of the city, including Rajab and his family, to go east out of the city on foot without allowing them to carry anything, out of town, into the unknown. They walked all day without water or food, and some died on the way. Until they arrived in Ramallah a few days later. Then from Ramallah, he went by truck with his family to Gaza, specifically the Bureij refugee camp. He lived in Gaza until 1967 after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel, he moved from Gaza to the Amari refugee camp in Ramallah where he lives with his family to this day. He has not seen his city since 1948, nor his father and mother, who died in Gaza in 1995. Today he is 90 years old and he told us the only wish he has is to die and be buried In Lod, in his hometown in dignity and not as a refugee. 

History of the expulsion in 1948

The Friends’ Play Center in the Amari refugee camp was operated by the Ramallah Friends School, and was located in one of several refugee camps in Ramallah. Thanks to Rosi Greenberg, kids and internationals designed and painted this mural—suggesting their dreams, not their reality (photos from 2007—in 2019 apparently the Center no longer operates).




Ismail Shammout’s “Where to?” (1953)

As the bus drew up in front of the house, I saw a young boy playing in the yard. I got off the bus and went over to him. “How long have you lived in this house?” I asked. “I was born here,” he replied. “Me too,” I said.

—Father Oudeh Rantisi, a former mayor of Ramallah who was expelled from Lydda in 1948, visited his family’s former home for the first time in 1967.


Israel’s Law of Return

Massacre at Dahmash mosque in al-Lydd

Israeli army veterans admit role in massacres of Palestinians in 1948, Published in Middle EastNews (2014)

Lydda, 1948, By Ari Shavit (2013)


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This post will consist of at least one further dialog elicited by my initial post which compared the Sandy Hook school shooting of late 2012 with the continuing Israeli assaults on the Gaza Strip. I encourage others to join the dialog.


From Thomas Laxar

Dear Skip:

First of all, the title [“The Slaughter of the Innocents: the Sandy Hook school shooting & the Gaza Strip”] of your article equates Israel with an individual who intentionally targeted and murdered children. Your defense of that title on your blog quotes a document that states, “the Israeli assault on Gaza of 2008-09 which killed more than 300 children, established Israeli’s deliberate policy of striking non-combatants.”  So it is hard to understand why you would assert now, “I do not intend to “demonize” or “delegitimize” Israel or supporters of Israel..”  What could be more demonic than a deliberate policy of killing children?  The inescapable impression is that you very clearly intended to demonize Israel.

Second, the subject of neutrality has nothing to do with my message to you. Neutrality is a word that connotes a detached and aloof position.  Being aware of the suffering and having compassion for both sides is not neutrality.  It is the starting point for waging peace.  It is part of a passionate advocacy for kindness for all the victims and on the part of all the combatants.

Third, you correlate the plight of the Palestinians to the American civil rights movement, and the struggles in South Africa and India.  All of those other situations involved a conflict between a clearly identifiable oppressor and a victim. These are very weak correlations that substantially miss the core issues of this conflict. In Palestine we have mutually aggrieved parties that have visited misery on one another for 64 years.  There is an abundance of victims on both sides. It is impossible to say who is the greater victim because there is no meter or metric for the pain, suffering, and fear that everyone there experiences. That emotionality and spiritual poverty are the core issues.

Also, since your advocacy is so strongly for justice, you should be aware that the idea of justice is inextricably entwined with the spirit of vengeance and retribution. In fact, they are often used as synonyms. For example, the primary argument used by those who favor the death penalty is that the victim’s families deserve justice. I stopped going to peace marches some years ago because the media ignored our witness. The cameras were all focused on the advocates of justice. They were the ones wearing masks and throwing rocks at the police.

I know you have another idea of the term justice, but the common meaning of the word more often than not poisons any advocacy for justice. Anyway, there is nothing that approaches a consensus of what a just solution would be in this conflict. Hamas would probably define justice as the realization of their charter’s vision and God’s will for the establishment an Islamic caliphate that rules all of Palestine. Certain Israelis would define justice as the fulfillment of G-d’s promise to Moses by incorporating all of “Judea” and “Samaria” into Greater Israel and the “transfer” of the non-Jewish residents out of the region. Of course, there is endless variation of opinion on what justice would be between these extremes. From a pragmatic point of view, making justice the central issue is a prescription for constant argument and continued conflict. We need to remember that justice is not about reconciliation. In its best sense, it is about litigation, assigning blame, and judgment.

On the other hand, everyone knows what peace is. We are called by Jesus Christ to bring love to others, not judgment upon others.

The only real solution for this region’s agony is a spiritual transformation. One way we can help make that happen by bringing as many people as possible from both parties together in mutual efforts to build better living conditions for everyone. There is no end of possibilities for this. It could be planning better use of the precious aquifers, joint fire departments,  youth activities, etc.  Some of this is happening. It’s about engaging in actions that build trust, cooperation, a sense of common purpose, and companionship. This is the news we need to hear. These are the kinds of efforts we need to support.

Lastly, I believe your assertion that the plight of the Palestinians is under reported is simply factually incorrect.  The media is mesmerized by their suffering. The truth is that the violence is over reported and peace efforts are virtually ignored by mainstream media.

By the way, you can feel free to post this dialogue on your blog.  It is not necessary to hide my name.

However, please do not include my email address, especially as for some reason, my work email was unintentionally attached to my message.

May we travel by Christ’s light

Thomas Laxar

From me:




I believe the crux of our discussion—and my work in the region—is precisely as you state: “Being aware of the suffering and having compassion for both sides is … the starting point for waging peace.  It is part of a passionate advocacy for kindness for all the victims and on the part of all the combatants.” I would merely add the concept of justice: compassion as the starting point for waging peace and seeking justice. What’s the scriptural quote: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, English Standard Version)

“Non-combatants” doesn’t necessarily imply children. I do not claim Israel deliberately targets children, I do claim that at least in the case of Operation Cast Lead, they deliberately targeted civilians, which would include children. (See the UN report on this, incorrectly titled the “Goldstone Report.”)


I’m not sure I follow your logic that this claim necessarily implies I intend to “demonize” Israel (Whatever “demonize” now means, used so often by supporters of Israel to attack those who criticize the state’s policies, as is “delegitimize,” equivalent in frequency of use to “anti-Semitic” and “self hating Jew,” two other overused and perhaps largely meaningless terms). I intend to hold the Israeli government and its leaders responsible for reprehensible behavior, possibly war crimes and crimes against humanity. One may respect the murder’s humanity while holding the person accountable.

I stand by my references to the struggles in the United States against racism and in South Africa against apartheid and India against colonialism, 3 monumental freedom struggles. Israel is clearly the aggressor, Palestine the victim in a struggle for its basic human rights. That to me is key and incontestable.


One point of comparison is proportionality. Certainly, Israelis suffer from the Israel-Palestine conflict, as do Palestinians, and finding a metric for suffering may be impossible, but quantity is a rough measure. Approximately 1 Israeli Jew dead for every 4 Palestinians since 2000, the beginning of the Second Intifada. Another is economic condition. Clearly the Palestinians—especially those in Gaza—are in a much worse position due to the conflict than are the Israelis. And the all important ideal of freedom. When did you last hear of an Israeli unable to leave the region because of Palestinian restrictions, or Gazans able to freely leave and reenter their homeland?


Some may seek vengeance and retribution when they advocate for justice, but I do not and from my experiences with Palestinians most also do not. They simply seek their human rights, justice for their condition—in a word: freedom!

Furthermore, I do seek judgment and the placing of blame on those parties that act inhumanely, injure and kill others, exploit economic power, and generally act against the rules and laws of civilized people. Thru the application of international law to this conflict, a point I stress repeatedly, and a possible truth and reconciliation process like that of South Africa, I believe we can rectify the wrongs, set the course toward justice, peace, security, and reconciliation for most parties in this conflict. Some, like Hamas and the extremist Israeli Jews who tend to populate some settlements, and the Knesset in recent years, may not be satisfied with outcomes. I hope they are patient and understand the benefits of a resolution based on compromise.

I agree that spiritual transformation is crucial for a solution, I’m not convinced it is the only element. Simply put: honor the humanity in all, we are all connected, and all are divine and from the divine. Radical religious Jews and radical religious Muslims may understand this.


As for under and distorted reporting of Palestinian experience, over the past half decade or so the proportion of information about Palestinians has modestly increased. I do not have figures but clearly over the past 3 or so decades the proportion favors Israeli Jews. The New York Times, New Yorker, Boston Globe, and mainstream television, 60 Minutes in particular, buttressed considerably by web-based media, have done a much better job of reportage. I hope to be part of that new wave.

Thanks again for your willingness to engage the issues and me, and for allowing your name and affiliation to be public. I encourage others to join us.

free gaza art festival logo greer_valley


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This post will consist of at least one further dialog elicited by my initial post which compared the Sandy Hook school shooting of late 2012 with the continuing Israeli assaults on the Gaza Strip. I encourage others to join the dialog.


I was disappointed, but not surprised when you published a text with the title,” The Slaughter of the Innocents: the Sandy Hook school shooting & the Gaza Strip”.  Your pro-Palestinian bias was already pretty evident in your messages.  However, this title, and more especially your defense of it in your dialogue with “Mr. H” of it reveals your position on another level.

As peacemakers, we are called upon to be aware of the suffering of both sides and live a life that evinces compassion for all.  One can criticize the behavior, motivations, and goals of either party in a conflict without betraying ones commitment as an advocate of peace.  From my acquaintance with your message, you have been doing that, although from a clearly biased one sided perspective.

The conflict in Palestine has been an endless litany of war, blame, and recrimination for the last 64 years.  Anyone who is even casually listening to the politics or witnessing the armed conflicts of that region is completely and painfully aware of the grievances  of all sides and the injustices and inhumanity exhibited by all parties. 

A witness that merely restates over and over again the rational behind the blame for these horrific events is simply adding to what has become uninformative, numbing, drone.  It is a pointless witness that offers no benefit.  To be sure, we need to continue to hear about the events, but we have been past the need for more twisted histories and justifications for those events for a long time.

What we are all hungry for is a witness to the efforts towards reconciliation and forgiveness.  That witness, that voice exists, but it is very hard to hear.  It is hard to hear partly because there are so few publishing that message and so very many publishing their understandable outrage.  That voice of rage dominates the media and the noise drowns the testimony those few offering another way,

Unfortunately, you personally have left behind even that dubious witness with you recent article.  When you chose to demonize the Israelis, you departed from the ranks of peacemakers.  In your justification of what I had hoped was just an intemperate remark, you clearly joined the ranks of provocateurs.  You moved beyond being yet another witness with a particular position to being an active contributor to the environment of rage that is at the root of this tragic history.

My hope is that you will find a way to move back from that destructive position.  I don’t know what kind of effort on your part that would take.  Perhaps you could spend some time seriously looking a the sad lives of the Israeli settlers.  After all, they live in a prison too.

In the meantime, you and all the other combatants and victims in this tragic and unnecessary struggle will be in my prayers.

Thomas Laxar

Member, Berkeley Friends Church

Gaza perimeter-1B-textSM

From me:

Dear Thomas,
Thank you for writing me.
I regard myself and my photography not as pro-Palestinian but as pro-justice, peace, reconciliation, security and truth—for all parties in the Levant—with the clear emphasis on justice.
As Desmond Tutu remarked, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on a tail of a mouse and you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Woman shell GazaSM
In the case of global climate change do we ask for balance and neutrality, no side taking? Do we insist on portraying the corporate positions about the environment or do we clearly take the side of the earth, as Bill McKibbin and 350.org are doing with their divestment campaign against the fossile fuel industry? Did Martin Luther King Jr in his activism include the positions of his white racist adversaries? Or Gandhi about the British or South African governments? He sought to know the British, acknowledge their humanity, but he did not maintain neutrality in his movement for Indian freedom. Using methods anchored in love and truth (satyagraha—truth force), both primarily sought justice, with freedom as their goal. Neither first sought peace and reconciliation between adversaries. I seek freedom and justice for the Palestinians, while I acknowledge the humanity of Israeli Jews.
Furthermore, how often do supporters of Israel even mention the experiences of Palestinians? I seek to adjust the overall balance which heavily favors Israeli perspectives. I do not intend to “demonize” or “delegitimize” Israel or supporters of Israel, 2 frequently heard words aimed at critics of Israel. I do intend to demand Israel adheres to international standards as expressed in laws, conventions, and UN resolutions. Their behavior during Operation Cast Lead clearly contravened those standards.
Dr. Mona AlFarra, in her apartment with the destroyed buildings of Hamas outside, after Operation Cast Lead, 2009-2009
You claim “we are all hungry for… reconciliation and forgiveness.” Many do surely, I do as well and I suspect many Palestinians would agree. However my priority and those of many Palestinians that I know emphasizes justice first, peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness later. “No justice, no peace,” about sums it up.
Finally, despite my identification as a Quaker I do not view myself or my work as primarily peacemaking, as laudable as this goal might be. I seek truth and justice. As was said by one of my photographic mentors, W. Eugene Smith, “Let truth be my prejudice.”
Thank you for your message and your prayers. May I suggest others might be interested in our dialog? Would you post your message to my blog? And then I’ll post my reply.  

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A few days after the Sandy Hook school murders in Newtown CT, I posted the following article from the Guardian about the Israeli assault on Gaza a few days before the school massacre. My email led to a brief dialog with one of my correspondents, Mr. H. I offered more details about my comparison.


Gaza: ‘My child was killed and nothing has changed’ by Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian, December 11, 2012

The morning ritual goes like this: three-year-old Ali Misharawi wakes up and reaches for his father’s mobile phone. He kisses and strokes the face of his baby brother, Omar, on its small screen. Then he starts asking questions. Why is Omar in paradise? Why did you put my brother into the ground? Why can’t I play with him any more?

“He asks a lot of questions. Every day he asks if Omar is alive or dead. He knows what happened, he was there, but he needs to make sense of it,” says his father, Jihad Misharawi, whose family was devastated in an inferno on the first full day of last month’s war. Misharawi’s 11-month-old son Omar and 19-year-old sister-in-law Heba were killed instantly; his brother Ahmed, 18, died after 12 days in intensive care with burns to 85% of his body….


Jihad Misharawi with his dead 11-month-old son

Jihad Misharawi weeps while he holds the body of his 11-month-old son Omar, killed by an Israeli airstrike. Photograph: Majed Hamdan/AP

Mr. H replied to my post which I’d entitled, “Sandy Hook Compared to Gaza”:

No! There is no comparison. It would be like comparing the climate on Venus to the climate on Mars. Gaza and Sandy Hook exist in two different worlds. Much more heat than light would be generated.

BTW, as reported by Mondoweiss.net there was an op-ed in the NY Times today comparing Palestinian suicide-bombers to US mass murders such as Adam Lanza [shooter at Sandy Hook school]: check it out. A lot of grotesque emotions will be stirred up by such talk.

Please reconsider such titles such as the one above.

Sandy Hook family mourns

Distraught family members leave the fire station after hearing news of their loved ones from officials Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (Don Emmert/AFP, via Getty)

From me:

Thanks for engaging on the issue of my comparing killing children in Gaza and killing children in the Sandy Hook school.

Of course they cannot be equated. However I maintain there are at least 3 key similarities.

1.     The slaughter of innocents. Children and entire families die in Gaza, 20 children and 6 of their teachers and their principal die in Sandy Hook.

2.     The deliberate slaughter of innocents. Altho Israel claims they do not intend to kill civilians, they do, predictably. The UN-initiated and accepted Goldstone Report about Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli assault on Gaza of 2008-09 which killed more than 300 children, established Israeli’s deliberate policy of striking non-combatants. Yes, one of the authors, Richard Goldstone, later recanted that claim but the other 3 authors maintained the claim’s veracity.

 3.     The US complicity in the deliberate slaughter of innocents in both places. As is well-known the US is the main supplier of Israeli weaponry, namely F 16 jet fighters, Apache helicopters, white phosphorus (used during Cast Lead) and M 16 rifles. The US also provides political cover to the Israeli regime. Compare this to the prevailing policy, fostered by congress and accepted by the administration, in our country which allows, even encourages, purchase and possession of assault weapons.

I publicly claim the comparison to illustrate the gaping disparity between attention to the two regions—20 children dead in this country and the nation stops, the president appears in person and speaks, media swarm, flags descend to half mast, prayer vigils everywhere, and even Congress may react. 300 children die in Gaza—who notices?

I could also compare Sandy Hook with the drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and earlier the carnage wrought by international sanctions, led largely by the US, on Iraq. More slaughter of innocents, deliberate and with US complicity. But that’s another story.

I look forward to your response.

BTW, I read the article you suggested in the NY Times and found it provocative, worth thinking about. I’m not sure why you feel that “a lot of grotesque emotions will be stirred up by such talk.”
After an attack by Israel F-16’s fighter jets supplied by the United States 
From Mr. H:
Of course you are correct on all counts: the problem is that all points apply GLOBALLY. Therefore it is incorrect and misleading to apply them in isolation to one or two particular geographical locations or populations. #1 the slaughter of innocents is constant and widespread #2 Israel, Hamas, Assad, Komaini (sp?) AND the CIA slaughter innocents on a regular basis #3 the US complicity in “the deliberate slaughter of innocents” applies, at minimum, to the US use of drones wherever it is employed and, in general, globally.
If you want to address immorality and depravity in the human psyche I suggest that you do it both on an individual and global basis. 
As regards Gaza: too many Americans already have preconceived opinions to make comparisons to Sandy Hook meaningful. As regards to Sandy Hook: everyone is well aware that that is an upper income community that has experienced a terrible tragedy. They may possibly be aware that Connecticut enjoys considerable revenue from sales of guns manufactured there AND has the fifth weakest support (among the 50 states) for mental health programs and treatment.
I think that the problems and successes of any community should be taken up and appreciated on their own merits, weaknesses and possibilities. Pitting unlike and unequal and emotionally charged situations against each other does not help.
If you want to make points which I think are universally true please make sure you intend that they apply to EVERYONE and EVERYWHERE.
P.S. My response to comparing Palestinian suicide bombers to mentally-ill Americans: I do NOT think Palestinian suicide bombers are mentally ill. I think they are driven to frustrated, lethal revenge by years of subjugation and humiliation. The mental illness of an upper-middle class American who has demonstrated mental and social development problems and who has been introduced by his mother to the love and use of assault weapons is nothing like the situation of Gazan youth.  Anyone seeking to make such a comparison is surely following some other nefarious agenda.
From me:
if i understand you correctly on two points, the universality of what you term immorality and depravity, terms i’d agree with, and whether palestinian militants engaging in martyrdom operations, as they choose to name them, are mentally ill, i have these reactions.
to analyse we draw specific connections. sometimes better to localize the connections to bring the pot to a boil sooner, to make the connections more vivid. if the connections are too general the pot may never boil, ie, people may not understand the primary connections. some would argue against comparing israel and south africa using the lens of apartheid by declaring, “well, many regions hatefully separate people, why single out israel and south africa?” one reason is that the connection is dramatic, raises the question, forces the issue, stimulates thought—and is bound to upset many. jimmy carter dared to use the term in his ground-breaking book. i laud him and all who defy conventional propriety. 
point two, i’m just not sure about whether palestinians who commit horrendous acts against civilians—along with their counterparts in israel who do the same—are or are not mentally ill. as norman finkelstein has said about the israelis in many of their policies, hysteria prevails. a form of mass psychosis. which might apply to militant palestinians as well. individuals might test sane, but collectively they often exhibit insane behavior. consider the nazis, both the foot soldiers who killed civilians wantonly and the political leaders, officers, and camp commandants, all the way up to hitler. probably individually mentally healthy on most measures but together insane.
thanks for the reminder that ct benefits mightily from gun manufacturing and is one of the least supportive states for mental health programs and treatment.
Woman shell GazaSM
Khan Yunis buffer zone, Gaza Strip, shell fired by Israeli military
From Mr. H:
My current thoughts are these: #1 Gaza, and the Palestinians at large, have suffered great injustices. This has been largely at the hands of the Zionists. This is a great and enduring evil. This evil is a transgression of Divine Truth and Cosmic Law. The evil, itself, will eventually bring about the destruction of Zionism. This is told over and over again in the Hebrew Bible.#2 The US is guilty of associating with, and supporting, for its own geopolitical and religious reasons, this immoral enterprise. But this association is our problem and not related to the plight of Palestine. Our actions will have their own ultimate, and probably tragic, consequences.

#3 The Palestinians are caught in the mill grinder of the great global powers. They will have to navigate their own way through these fierce waters: they are beginning to gain some traction in the UN and in playing the global powers off against each other. BDS [boycott, divest, sanction] and other divestment movements are helping but they have their own overlapping dimensions with other justice [issues].

In the end salvation must and will be found in both politics and spirituality.
There must be people, in all walks of life, who decide: Enough’s enough; there are children here. That even if, in your derangement and pain, or your greed and covetousness, you do me grievous harm, even to the taking of the life of my child, I still choose to see you and your people as human; though perhaps distorted, warped and tortured almost beyond human recognition. I refuse to turn away from the effort to talk to you, frightened though I might be. Whenever possible, I will not refuse to make friends.
—Alice Walker from her foreword to the book, The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, by Miko Peled
Teaching photography in Gaza, May 2003
Skip Schiel teaching photography in Gaza, 2005 c.

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


Qattan Centre for the Child

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children

August 7 & 11, 2009, Friday & Tuesday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:

I dreamt I was to meet Alice Rothschild, the physician (and in fact I’m to meet Dr Mona al-Farra today, with Mohammed). Alice had a problem with her car; it needed a new motor or a serious repair of the motor. She told me to wait. I felt very close to her. [Later, meeting Dr. Mona, as she’s lovingly called, she told me as we hailed a taxi,  my car is being repaired, something seriously wrong with the engine. Auspicious?]

My dreams seem strangled, still born, they evaporate rapidly. I’m working with the theory that this is because life is so energized here, and unpredictable, I have so many simultaneous concerns that the leisure needed to let the dreams survive long enough once born to be remembered does not exist. Thus the feeling that I’m not dreaming.


A fortuitous meeting yesterday when I accompanied the Popular Achievement team including Issam who I’ve not seen until yesterday and Grace to a commemoration of the life of Mahmoud darwish. He died one year ago of heart problems, and died auspiciously in a Texas hospital, the home state of GW Bush, the failed president. He was approximately my age. The meeting was in the Qattan Centre for the Child, an elegant spacious well-lighted building. After about one hour of this—poetry readings, songs and oud, discussion between audience and a poet-critic, all officiated by our own Ibrahem, and of course all in Arabic, no translation—I decided to explore the Centre. And then the 2nd meeting, with the director, the equally elegant and affecting Reem Abu Jaber. I made some photos of her and pray I’ve shown at least a hint of her goodness, generosity, energetic spirit.


Reem Abu Jaber

The Centre looks and functions much more like a library. It is dedicated to encouraging the love of reading. And I had a sense of its effectiveness while I photographed. Ordinarily kids either hide from my camera or flock to it. In either case, they present a challenge. Here they tended to notice but not concentrate on me so I had much more latitude photographing. For instance, after showing the architecture and lighting I began showing children and parents using the facility. I discovered a boy of about 8 years old peering thru books with his mother. I placed myself opposite them and photographed thru the book stacks. This might be perfect, if it worked. No reaction from the woman who wore a headscarf.

A long tour with Reem—and I could have gone for hours with her, she is so radiant and loveable—with photos along the way. Extensive computer facility, outdoor reading area, small auditorium, sections divided by ages of children, all coordinated spatially by a long hallway connecting the sectors, arches above the corridor, everything open. Reem explained to me that this corridor is intended to mirror the old city of Jerusalem. All is light, airy, colorful.


Entering the Centre from the cluttered, busy, chaotic, often dirty and noisy streets of the city is like passing thru Alice’s rabbit hole: another world entirely, a magical world where bombs are forbidden, rockets blocked in mid air, white phosphorus shells burst into voluminous, gorgeous cumulus clouds. Books galore, new worlds in a new world.

However I’m not sure I understand Reem’s position about controversy. The Darwish convocation itself expresses controversy, reflecting him, his positions, the fact that he loved an Israeli woman, for instance, a hot topic of discussion. But when I asked her whether they’d host a presentation that is political, using myself as an example, she seemed to say no. She explained this by focusing on how painful the discord between Fatah and Hamas is, that this colors all controversy. She seemed to tell me that the Centre removes itself entirely from anything political or religious. Which might be an error, but who am I to judge?


After teaching the photo workshop group at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program I called Atfaluna, the center training deaf people, mostly children, in crafts production. Jan H had asked me to bring in cotton since their supply chain is virtually non-existent. They were overjoyed to receive the goods, and meet me personally. I met first Suad, the administrative manager, and then Nabil el Sharif, the executive director.  He gave me permission to tour the facilities and photograph. This might develop further or be only once.


Nabil is short, lean, wore a white shirt with a hint of black elements in its design. He seems to have boundless energy. His smile is gracious and authentic, compassion radiates from him. He explained to me their current dilemma. During a recent period of many visitors, “war tourism” he imaginatively named it, many people came thru the center and purchased. People like Code Pink delegations. But because of the paucity of raw materials like the cotton I delivered, they are forced to curtail production. They worry that this might worsen and require staff layoffs. Likewise, usually, on the output end, there are few customers. So paradoxically the violence added to one part of their operation.



The center is clean, well organized, and, being a center for deaf people, very very quiet. I told another staff member, Ibrahem, who toured me that Ramallah is very very noisy, all the time, so this is a sharp contrast. The hour was 3 pm, their closing time, people were preparing to leave for home, so I was not able to show all that might be shown. Whether I return or not depends on the quality of what I’ve made and my other priorities. Children are on vacation thru the end of this month so I will have to miss that aspect.

I wrote Jan later with the good news. And found a letter from her asking me to ask Amal about taxi prices, since when Jan returns in the fall she ‘d like to book Awni for an entire day of touring the strip. What a gal, I love her. And she’s Jewish, a practicing Jew.



How can life for me ever be boring in Gaza? To the contrary, at times: too exciting, too jammed, and not with enough Skip time, my private down time—to process and use my photos. To fulfill the many promises I’ve made about emailing photos to those I’ve photographed. Like the CD Reem made me promise to send to the Centre, and the photos I’m to email to the young men I photographed on the beach. I need days, weeks, for this.

The electricity was off in my neighborhood during the day for the first time that I’d noticed. So I relied on computer battery power for a few hours of work. And I finally found a minimum quantity of toilet paper (rather than the huge packages of about 20 rolls) so I’m happy once again.

Also for the first time on this visit, the drones [that Israel uses to patrol and sometime attack from—they are a world leader in such lethal technology, soldiers in Tel Aviv targeting people who could be me]. Several of them flew overheard, out of sight, for about one hour yesterday in my neighborhood.

Today is the coolest yet. Nearly chilly, not in my flat which does not have good circulation, but out on the veranda where I presently sit writing this. Yesterday was one of the hottest, nearing 100. The air is now drier.



Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children

Qattan Centre for the Child

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Arm ripped off by Israeli shell when playing football (soccer) on the previous field during the last assault

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


August 9, 2009, Nagasaki Anniversary, Sunday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:

A relatively rich night of dreaming:

For the first time in recent memory I’ve apparently dreamt from a more Israeli point of view, something about fearing an attack from an Arab entity. I forget the details but remember the fear—powerful and all encompassing, driving me to concentrate only on it.

Another dream related to Palestine/Israel—a house I lived in, large and spreading out, with trees on one side planted by Israel, and on the other by one of their opponents. The Israeli trees were well managed, fully watered, trimmed, healthy, beautiful, while the second set of trees were haggard, wizened, dried and dying.

I can’t recall the dreams with much detail or intensity, but at least I’ve recovered the outlines. A glimpse rather than a full view.

A letter from ME, the first since June. She writes marginally about where and what, but with more details about favorite authors, suggesting some more to me. This is proving the best part of our sketchy relationship.



Another packed day with photography, late developing as usual. I expected to be with Dr. Mona and Mohammed most of the day, at one or more of her projects, but instead Ibrahem called later and invited me to accompany him and several Quaker Palestine Youth Program staff to several sites in Beit Hanoun and along the water. Glad I did, because it provided 2 platforms for photography I’ve wished for: the widespread destruction of buildings, and views from the water back to the land.

In Beit Hanoun, driving there in a taxi packed with Islam [his actual name] and 2 others, plus Ibrahem and me, we observed the first session of a 3 full day workshop in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and other first aid techniques. They live in a very dangerous area, so close to the border. The recent violence motivated this group to choose this topic, to receive training and then to train their peers so when and if another attack comes they will be able to perform at least rudimentary rescue techniques. This was lacking during the recent assault, especially because of Israel blocking the medical personnel from rapidly reaching victims. There was something grisly and awful about this first training, thinking how others might be reacting, since the instructor demonstrated on a dummy lying prone in front of everyone. Did this evoke memories of the terror and horror? Even tho I’d not experienced what they’d experienced I felt a chill run thru me when looking at the dummy.


The 2nd site was a field young men had cleared of debris to make into a football field. Their initial field had been close to the border and the Israelis had repeatedly attacked it, severing the arm of one young man and the thumb of another. Ibrahem introduced me to these two fellows and they allowed me to photograph them. By hand and with the help of a Caterpillar bulldozer they’d completed the clearing and today [August 10, 2009] plan to line the ground with a permanent playing surface and install goalposts. I’m not clear if I will return with Ibrahem today to photograph it.

Ibrahem is such a good guide, patient with me and knowing what will make good photos. He invited us to visit the site of the previous field and there in the near distance sat Sderot, the Israeli town whose residents, all civilians, have been repeatedly targeted by the homemade, poorly targeted, but terror-inducing rockets fired by Gazan militants— not more than 2 km away. I could pick it out by its greenery; it looked like a lush park compared with the surrounding terrain. I tried to show this proximity with each of my 2 lenses, wide and normal, but I doubt I have conveyed the nearness—certainly not the effect of the nearness, the fear and suspicion.


And then the climax: a wide swath of destroyed buildings, just like I’d imagined before arriving here. Wanton destruction, no apparent reason other than location—too near Israel. Not targeting of Hamas, of fighters, or because of threat to Israelis, just a group of rioting young men, soldiers, with machines, all of them lethal, under the guidance and provocation of their elders, including rabbis. Is this not a war crime? And because I was with Ibrahem who has the heart and tools and language to dig deep we met a few of those displaced, living in tents and caravans, the caravans similar to ones used by settlers stealing land for Israel. This series peaked when we cruised by a cement factory.


Ibrahem offered to stop so I could photograph with more concentration. He pointed out a cement truck that had been smashed into a portion of the factory. A decapitated truck, its head or cab with motor dangling from the rest of the body. And a tree planted recently in front of a ruined office building. Perfect: cement factory demolished, and if rebuilt, no cement allowed in. I commented to Ibrahem, Very clever of the Israelis: take out a house and you ruin life for a family, maybe 10 people. Take out a factory, especially a cement factory, and you ruin the lives of the workers, owners, and many customers. The multiplier effect. Is this partially what motivated Israel? Is this not a war crime by international law?

When I stood in the field next to the factory, gazing at the carnage in a 360-degree path, I thought, panoramic.




And finally for a pleasant respite from all this despair-inducing wreckage, the beach. But this time I had the pleasure and terror of riding in one of those large motorboats I’d observed earlier. The plan—and I wasn’t quite sure what the plan was at first—was to unfurl banners announcing the upcoming Popular Achievement festival, and ride around in the wind and waves awhile. I quickly surmised this had one or both of 2 objectives: to cruise up and down the beach advertising the festival or, since we had me and a video crew with us, make visual material that could be circulated on TV or by web.

After a harrying 15 minutes or so lurching up and down and side to side in the waves, me hoping we’d not capsize and lose all our equipment, not to mention our lives, trying different angles because the wind was so fierce often the banners were invisible, we headed to the shore. This allowed me photos from the boat inland. Walking back to the car Ibrahem asked, And what did you think? Well, Ibrahem, exciting, but what was the point? And he explained, the website.

Very clever and innovative, but effective? I’m not sure.


We’d had a speedy lunch of shuwarma and accessories in the car as we aimed at the beach, and then we dropped off some of the staff at their homes in Beach refugee camp before leaving me at my door for a much needed shower, rest, snack. Ibrahem and I later visited the nearby art gallery which was hosting a show by 6 or so artists. I wish I could report being more impressed with the art, but it struck me as either too abstract for my tastes (“fine, but not for me,” as TS Elliot put it to someone submitting to his poetry journal) or flat, generic, banal (the photos particularly—what I’m afraid my photos too often are). I had a chance to ask 3 of the artists a few questions, among them:

Why not more political content in your art?

We do, in other exhibits, very much so, but we all chose not to reference that aspect of our daily lives in this show.

Why not, I’m not sure I understood the answers, or they my continually probing question.

How do you earn money?

Part of this project is subsidized, and we all have jobs (Shareef Sarhan, painting and photography, is a UNRWA photographer; while Basel al Magossiu and Majed Shala, painting, have jobs with the government, I believe they said). I think some teach at the gallery, called Windows From Gaza and might receive funding for the gallery.

What are your relations with Hamas?

No interference but not much cooperation. We’ve invited them to submit, they haven’t. And when they invited some of us to exhibit they selected on the basis of Muslim attitudes and principles. This reminded me of the most repressive periods in Soviet art. Nazi art also, when ideology ruled, rather than esthetics.

How able are you to move your art thru the border?

Not very, but we can use the internet for this. We’ve been invited to show in several venues outside Israel-Palestine and we’ve been able to convey our work. Sometimes in the distant venue (“Al Aqsa gallery”?) they’ve printed what we sent them via email.

Their space is large and clean, the lighting good (altho electricity shut down part way thru the interview I was trying to audio record), no one else visited while we were there, yet I thought Ibrahem had told me this was the opening (meeting Stephanie later I learned it had occurred earlier), and the facility includes a digital studio for training in digital photo-making and video. We briefly discussed the slight possibility of my QPYP students having an exhibit there. And might bring them to see the current show, despite my misgivings.


A rich moment, I usually feel very brotherly toward other artists, I only regret the language barrier.


Windows From Gaza

Young Adult Friends (Quakers between the ages of 18 and 35, roughly) Delegation Palestine/Israel—Summer 2010

Sponsored by the Middle East Working Group of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Friends International Center in Ramallah

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Gaza City


Social worker with the Quaker Palestine Youth Program


Program leader

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


August 6, 2009, Hiroshima Day, Thursday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:

Dreaming, I was with a “wife,” most likely P, when I discovered that she had suddenly become radicalized—to the left. During the dream I and more or less understood the transition clearly, happy about this new development, loving her even more for this shift, but now, trying to remember the dream, so many intervening quotidian concerns leaping into my face, that I can’t recall the details. Too bad.

Yes, the rush of daily matters might serve to wipe out a rich dream life. For this I am regretful, but for the excitement, the many learning opportunities, of this daily life I’m grateful.



Adham Khalil, staff Quaker Palestine Youth Program

Yesterday was primarily visiting several Quaker Palestine Youth Program (QPYP) related groups, partners, in Rafah. A social worker from Jordan accompanied the team of Ibrahem and Adham and me. Two groups of girls, high school age, each with an older female mentor, were enacting skits and singing. They also showed us art projects that were all about expressing the suffering they’d experienced during the recent assaults-attacks-massacre-war-invasion. Many of the skits depicted strife between family members, arguments between mother and daughters about what they could buy (No money dear), or the father not having any job (No jobs dear). As always, since everything is in Arabic—Adham graciously provided a brief running synopsis so I had at least a hint of meaning—I understood little, but photographed much. Whether my photos would mean more if I knew the language is a question.


Rafah refugee camp

We met a civil engineer, Jemeem, after sitting in a coffee shop smoking nargila, me napping, trying the non alcohol beer substitute (rotten, tasteless, surely the fizz water Dan accuses me of drinking), waiting for Jemeem for more than one hour (while giving me the opportunity to practice proper Arabic pronunciation). And then toured several homes partially destroyed during the recent violence. This was a gift: the scene, the people involved, and the location near the border with Israel and Egypt. Apparently this is a small side project of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), to provide minor repairs. Adham told me that each repair costs about $600 and they have limited money. In one case missiles or rockets or tank shells had hit one side of a home, spraying shrapnel thru out several rooms. Possibly by design, shrapnel must be among the most damaging components of these weapons.


At another site workmen were repairing one room. After I’d photographed them plastering I wandered out back to show the yard and a curious event unfolded. A young man wearing a dark blue uniform first informed me that I should not photograph him because, I thought he said, I’m Hamas. Ok, no photos of you. In fairly decent English he explained to me that the shell had hit the side of the house and he pointed to the damage. I thought he said he was the son of the owner. In subsequent conversation I once again misheard—you’re a Buddhist? Most peculiar. No, someone chimed in, he said he’s a policeman. Chock this up to a combination of my bad hearing and listening skills and his mispronunciation.


But before I caught the drift I’d disclosed that I’m a Buddhist—and a Christian. I joked, in the United States you can be many things simultaneously. I detected a change in his demeanor, from friendly and interested, to harsh and distant. I swear he said as we were leaving, go and don’t come back. But this is probably projection. Checking with others later, Adham and Amal, they informed me that many Muslims, often Hamas, believe, as I’ve known, that Islam is not only the best path, but the only path and those who don’t agree are shit. More or less. An extreme view, and not held by all, perhaps not even by a sizable proportion of Muslims. But enough in Gaza to have a major political effect. Like deciding what women should wear and how they should act in public.

In my limited view this does not serve Islam, or Hamas, or Gazans generally. How to curtail it? Education, for one. And meeting others, like me, even tho the meetings might be rancorous.


I made many photos, not only for the above topics, but as we traveled. I’m trying to perfect my from-the-car-racing-by-technique. Preset fast shutter speed, manual focus at infinity, both eyes open, camera in hand, super vigilant, anticipating what is coming. I can practice on donkey carts, bicyclists, and now the plethora of motorcycles. Try it, check it, if no good, delete and try again. I find I typically snap too soon, so the subject is either completely missing or to the extreme left of the frame. This is a variant of hip pocket photography.

This Rafah plan evolved rapidly, without my participation. I thought I’d have a lingering morning at home, doing my laundry, writing, checking photos, when the phone rang, just as I was working with the owner to salvage my laundry. Luckily I’d stayed with the machine till it finished. On its last phase smoke poured out and the electricity snapped. Oh boy, now what? As I wrote in yesterday’s journal, this machine is an odd one, an entire chapter in my Book of Mysteries, the BOM for short. Now it is smoking and blowing the circuit breaker.


The owner wrote a sign (in Arabic but I can guess), out of order. He said, barking, machine no good! Now, is he going to have it repaired, buy a new one, do nothing, leave me hanging? Who knows?

Then there’s the question of cooking. Since the kitchen immediately adjoins the bedroom which is the living room which is my only other room, to cook means to heat the entire home. Oh, for a detached kitchen like some of the traditional Arab houses have. To cook my garbanzo beans I decided to soak them yesterday, cook them this morning, with the exhaust fan and floor fan both running. I don’t have to be in the house at this moment—I’m on my veranda, my loveable veranda, where it’s relatively cool and the breezes blow. For now. Soon it too will be hot. I relish the smell of cooking beans.

Last night I tried placing the fan on the table and opened the shutters for maximum airflow. Helped, marginally. I’ll keep trying to solve this heat and humidity problem but I doubt much more can be done, short of moving to an air-conditioned apartment (Then what happens when the electricity fails?)

Back to yesterday’s plan. I was finishing around home, slowly, when the home phone rang. Ibrahem calling, where are you? We’re supposed to be leaving for Rafah.

Oh, really, first I heard. I can be ready in one hour, I’m finishing my laundry and we just discovered the machine is burning up.

One hour! Can’t you make it sooner?

Fifteen  minutes. And then a series of misunderstandings leading to me climbing all FIVE flights to the office: no Ibrahem, he was waiting for me in front of my flat. So it goes, with limited common language and many perturbations in planning. Fun, so far, if not utterly frustrating. Only for a short while longer can I manage this confusion.

A few casual observations:

Dr Khaled told me that the Arabic word for photograph is the same as that of painting, tasweer. Mosawwer = photographer. Soorah = photograph (n) and yosawwer = to photograph (v) I’ll check with my students today.

Y and I are trying to arrange a call in time. With the 10-hour time difference and her need to phone a land line this can be difficult. In chatting with her by email yesterday I realized I have a land line at home that seems to work. So why not use that? I appreciate her willingness—and doggedness, she’s famed for her doggedness—to have a phone conversation.


Adham confirmed my observation that there are many more motorcycles than in 2008. He explained that this started during The Great Breakout, late January 2008 (three days before I left after my last visit to Gaza), when Gazans poured into Egypt and brought  back cycles. They also bring them thru the tunnels. Now they are everywhere, and very dangerous he said, many accidents, deaths. No helmets. Of the 100s of cyclists I’ve seen so far, only one wore a helmet. Foolish? Irrational? An effect of the siege?



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