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Posts Tagged ‘nakba’

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. 

PHOTOS

July 5, 2019, Friday, West Bank, Jenin, Freedom Theater guest house

The conventional names should be replaced by new ones … since, in an anticipation of renewing our days as of old and living the life of a healthy people that is rooted in the soil of our country, we must begin in the fundamental Hebraicization of our country’s map.

—from a 1948 letter sent to first Israeli Interior Minister Yitzhak Gruenbaum

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What next? Today [July 5, 2019] drive from Jenin in the West Bank north to the Jalamah checkpoint (which I’d always heard as first the Jeffery and then the Jeremy checkpoint) into Israel and then west, consider either try again to find the village site of Ijzim or head to the Mediterranean coast and my first new village site, Miska.

Yesterday, waiting for word from M, my colleague in Jenin (he’s rarely clear about who we’re to photograph, in large part because the availability of people we hope to photograph is rarely clear), turned up one woman who had cancer and couldn’t speak. A primary challenge of this project is that the people I wish to meet are rapidly dying. So I concentrated on planning the last two weeks of my two-month journey. On maps, I’ve located (tentatively) most of the destroyed village sites, reordered my route sequence to go from north to south along the coast and then southwest of Jerusalem. I doubt I’ll be able to find all these places in my remaining time. But there is always the next trip, when hopefully, I’ll have an able in-country colleague with me. Or the equivalent.

I’ve begun marking on my paper map of destroyed villages the sites I need to find. This will help as I’m harried with the needs of driving and my shrinking time—plus where to reside overnight. I hope to explore Lifta, even tho I’ve unearthed no one from there. As I explored on my last trip Deir Yassin, I have yet to meet someone from there who survived the expulsion and massacre.

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Arab structure along the highway

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Precisely where it’s located, thanks to GPS coordinates embedded in the photo file (look for the red pin) I add a large regional map at the end of my post.

As often happens on my travels, I have no idea where I’ll be tonight, where I’ll rest my perplexed body. So I’ll “just put out the fire and call the dog” and be off, as Lynn and I used to say when departing, especially when camping or otherwise packing light.

Being Friday, the Muslim holy day, the Freedom Theater is quiet. Few people if any are using the Internet so it is at its most robust, about 10 Mb/s download and 13 Mb/s upload, even while uploading my photos. Despite its little traffic, this morning my Gmail drops periodically and begins again.

July 6, 2019, Saturday, Israel, Ramla, Sadot Hotel in the Assaf Center complex

Last evening I ended up in the same mall-hospital-hotel complex I’d resorted to in the fall, the Assaf Center, just outside Ramla. Earlier for the first time ever I tried Airbnb, located a room in an apartment in the Ramla city center, paid in advance ($34), and then tried to find it. All seemed fine as I opened one of my two map apps. Straight away I landed at the designated site—a parking lot and industrial complex. I had no address, no other info to help. So I tried the second map app. This led me about 1 mile further to a small residential area. I went up to an old man sitting slurping watermelon on his porch and said, Airbnb? Hiba (the owner of the B and B)? Room for the night?

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Destroyed mosque (or synagogue?), Ramla, Israel

He was deaf, I shouted into his ear. No reaction. Eventually, a short dark-skinned woman came out, equally confused about my request. Neither spoke English. I’m not sure if they were Israelis or Palestinians. I tried in a building across the street. An older Jewish man taking his grandchild out in a stroller and a young Jewish woman also did not understand my question. I found another building that might be Hiba’s home, my residence for the night. No one answered. I tried the map again and found it merely returned me to the first site, the parking lot.

Because my phone service vexingly does not allow me to phone out (only receive calls), I used my Google voice service on the computer. Which meant, because the computer did not connect with the Internet, I had to set up my hot spot, all in my overheated car. Soon a young man angrily told me to move my car, can’t park here! I moved, phoned the Airbnb host, no answer, multiple times.

I’ve applied to Hiba for a refund:

i request a refund. i could not find your home. google maps and apple maps gave different directions. neither brought me to your home. i tried to phone and message. your phone was busy or would not answer. later i found a text message in hebrew  which i do not understand. i am frustrated. please refund my money.

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Near the moshav, Gan Haim

Extremely frustrated, tired, hungry—I’d been driving all day, searching for village sites (usually futilely, very little payback compared with what I recall last fall), navigating traffic, names of places I do not recognize, avoiding a crash—I decided to try to find the mall complex I‘d used last October. Again to sleep overnight in my car. Since I carry the laptop I found my journal entry (Oct. 14, 2018) and got the name. With maps, I found the mall. Closed. Shabbat. No easy refuge as I had last time to eat and do my toilet duties.

Let’s check out the hotel, I know it’s expensive and possibly filled. (As was true last year during a Jewish holiday). 650 shekels, $185, yikes and holy shit! I’ve never paid this much for a room in my life; it’s the equivalent of 1/3 my month’s rent at home.

Inquiring, they had a room. I’ll think about it, I told the hotel clerk, a large affable man. So I strolled around outside, scouted the hospital, knowing it would not close on Shabbat. The mall won’t open until 8:30 pm Saturday. Ok, I have 2 possibilities: sleep in my car again and use the hospital for toilet or stay in the hotel.

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Sadot Hotel in the Assaf Center complex, Ramla (for my budget, a stretch; for my needs, perfect—I found no other alternatives, including Airbnb)

Hotel! So here I am with shower, hot water for coffee, good view, fast Wi-Fi, wash my hankie, big double bed, write and read and plan.

What I do feel much more than I did last year is the presence of the historic people, namely the expelled, as if ghosts, as if wisps of memory, lightly curling smoke. Their presence is more palpable to me than last year. In fact, during my HOW (Hour of the Wolf, an intense period of non-serial thinking, often nightmarish) last night I thought I might retitle my project: Expulsion, Return (or The Right of Return). With a subtitle that specifies more precisely what the project is, a plea for the right of return. Add the word “home” to lend it more currency with an audience. The right of return home.

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Ramla

Perhaps because of my present and hopefully short-lived homelessness—I worry about where I will find housing tonight—I might be better attuned to the situation of refugees. Not only the Palestinians, but millions of others without homes. According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, by the end of 2018, 70.8 million human beings were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. And according to Help Refugees, 1 in every 113 people around the world is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee, What those millions might give for a night in the Sadot hotel? And the right to return safely to their homes.

Big question of the morning: should I recharge my phone account so I can use it, assuming it needs recharging even tho I’d bought an unlimited voice package?

Bigger question: route, where next, which sites to try to find? And related, where to stay tonight? I’m near Jaffa so maybe the hostel there which I know and like. Phone now with my computer?

detailed-elevation-map-of-israel-with-roads-cities-and-airports

LINKS

In Search of Fatima, a Palestinian Memoir, by Ghada Karmi

Remapping of Palestine: Why Israel’s erasure of Palestinian culture will not succeed, by Ramzy Baroud (2019)

Refugee statistics (UNHCR)

More refugee statistics (Help Refugees)

TO BE CONTINUED

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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. 

(Thanks to Fareed Taamalla)

The world should not have to constantly catch up to what Palestinians have always known about the Nakba… Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

Amjad Iraqi, writing about Israel sealing documents that record the atrocities of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe in 1948 that enabled the creation of Israel

PHOTOS

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Fatima’s sweet smile captivated me, especially when she sang or chanted a sorrowful song about the loss of her home in Beit Nabala. Her smile quickly vanished and grief and tears took over.

She’d married when about 14, probably common during that era, and thus had a child before the Nakba which she must have carried when her family fled the Israeli militias. Her village—stone cutting one industry—about 10 km (3 miles) northwest of Ramla, was connected by train to Tel Aviv. A British military camp was near the village housing soldiers from Africa and India who acted as guards. Villagers and soldiers had no interaction, nor did they with the few Muslim soldiers who prayed in a local mosque. Jews worked inside the camp, also with no village interaction.

However, Arab villagers did interact with Jews who lived in a small settlement between Beit Nabala and the town of Lydda (Lod). They had friendly relations. She told us her father had once asked for water and received it from their Jewish neighbors.

In the first days of the Nakba, village fighters traveled west to help other fighters near Haifa but soon returned to defend their own village. It was being bombed. Villagers fled to Kibiya/Kebbia east of Beit Nabala. During the first day of flight, they sought refuge in another village where they slept under fig and olive trees. This was early summer.

Asked if she and her neighbors knew about the massacre at Deir Yassin, she said they’d heard everyone in Deir Yassin had been killed, some by Jews who’d shared life with the Arabs in that village for decades. Fatima and her neighbors were demoralized even further after they’d learned that a key Arab leader had been killed. News spread rapidly during this period of assault, including the infamous massacre in the Umari mosque in Lydda. There, Israeli militia herded many of the men into a mosque (which I later visited and photographed from the outside) and then shot them.

Her husband returned to Beit Nabala periodically to rescue other villagers and save some plants, this at great risk of being shot as an “infiltrator.” She told us that during World War 1, in 1917, when the British had attacked her village, people had fled and remained away for 14 days, so this time they assumed they’d soon return. Thus, as was true in many attacked villages, people brought very few belongings with them.

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Fatima’s son

According to the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, in 1992 the village site “…is overgrown with grass, thorny bushes, and cypress and fig trees. It lies on the east side of the settlement of Beyt Nechemya, due east of the road from the Lod (Lydda) airport. On its fringes are the remains of quarries and crumbled houses. Sections of walls from the houses still stand. The surrounding land is cultivated by the Israeli settlements.” She lives now in the Jalazone refugee camp, north of Ramallah. 

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Former schoolhouse of Bayt Nabala, presently used by the Jewish National Fund in Beit Nehemia (Thanks to Wikipedia, 2013)

LINKS

‘Raining Bullets on Beit Nabala’ – Beit Nabala, Ramle district (from BADIL, a video interview with Miriam Backer, former resident of Beit Nabala)

Bayt/Beit Nabala (from Zochrot)

TO BE CONTINUED

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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. 

(Thanks to Ayed Al-Azza)

Of all the ironies of history none throws a more sinister light on human nature than the fact that the new-style nationalist Jews, on the morrow of the most appalling of the many persecutions that their race had endured, should at once proceed to demonstrate, at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs whose only offence against the Jews was that Palestine was their ancestral home, that the lesson learnt by Zionists from the sufferings which Nazis had inflicted on Jews, not to forbear from committing the crime for which they themselves had been the victims, but to persecute, in their turn, a people weaker than they were.

—Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, abridged ed, vol 2, 1957 

June 10, 2019, Monday, Bethlehem, Palestine-Israel

PHOTOS

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From my speaker notes:
Abdul Qader Hassan Monjid Al-Lahham
Interview assisted by Ayed Al-Azza, my colleague from Aida refugee camp
June 9, 2019
In Deheshe/Dheisheh refugee camp
From the village of Beit Etab/Bayt Itab 11 miles west of Jerusalem

  • Like other refugees, he is reluctant to engage in yet another interview.
  • Age 29 when expelled.
  • Ayed didn’t know him (but referred to him as uncle, an honorific, even tho not-blood related).
  • Lives with 2 unmarried daughters (about 68 and 72), sons and daughters, including great-grandchildren.
  • He’d worked for UNRWA in charge of water.
  • At first, he was separated from family, including his wife.
  • After a few days, the family reunited.
  • He was devoted to his sheep.
  • He’d been arrested near the village of Beit Nattif when with his sheep. The Israelis confiscated all his sheep and never returned all of them.
  • He sold his remaining sheep at a price less than their worth.

Ayed and I met him as Abdul left a small store with a bag of fruit. He was much bent over, walked next to Ayed. I photographed as they walked thru the camp to home. He looks easily the part of an aged refugee. He didn’t change facial expression much, looked down mostly, and his thick long eyebrows tended to conceal his features.

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Nes Harim, the westernmost point on this map, is an Israeli moshav (cooperative agricultural community) built on the lands of Beit Etab, which of course is not included. (click HERE for actual map)

I was with Ayed from 9:30 am when he generously picked me up in front of the Manger Square hotel, and, nearly 6 hours later dropped me there after the interviews. Generously he bought me lunch. I raised the question of payment. At first, he asked me what I thought fair. I returned the question to him. $200, he said. $200 seems high, I replied, and suggested half. Oh no, can’t. So we settled on $150 which I calculated to be about $40 per working hour (because the other 2 were largely social and not directly related to the project).

I hope you don’t hate me now, he said. No, not at all, I can appreciate all that went into the organizing before the interviews. And he explained: finding people, overcoming people’s reluctance, deciding times, etc. Lots of unpaid work, like a teacher not paid for preparation and follow up.

Today I meet Fareed [my colleague on this project, helping me find and interview people] in Ramallah, traveling thru the Valley of Fire that so terrifies my friend Alicen and me. Someone told me death by auto accident is the largest category of death in the West Bank. So, if unlucky today, this might be my last journal entry. Will the photos survive? Will anyone be able to work with them to continue or complete the project?

LINKS

Deheshe/Dheisheh refugee camp

Beit Etab (video)

Al-Ahram
March 15, 2000

…The right of the Palestinian refugees and the uprooted to return to their homes is a fundamental right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the European, the American and the African Conventions on Human Rights;

The right of the Palestinian refugees and the uprooted to return to their homes is an inalienable right and has been affirmed by the UN Resolution 194 over 110 times since 1948;…

TO BE CONTINUED, WITH MORE DETAIL TO COME LATER FROM MY AUDIO RECORDINGS

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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. 

(Thanks to Ayed Al Azza)

That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination might well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given to them.

—Hannah Arendt

PHOTOS

Note: there are alternative spellings for most Arab words, eg, Jibreen = Jibrin = Guvrin; Al Azza = AlAzza = Al-Azza, Bayt = Beit (means literally a house, but more broadly a place, a village or town); etc.

From my journals of June 10 and 11, 2019:

After my recent series of interviews and portrait sessions I realize, as expected, the stories tend to be repetitive, except of course for the locations of the destroyed original villages. Most villages were primarily agricultural; people reported they led pleasant and safe lives (few spoke about encroaching Jews). The Nakba in many cases occurred during Ramadan in early summer; some people were about to harvest corn but needed to flee—the unleavened bread story from Jewish scripture. Most had good relations with neighboring Jews, and all were forcibly expelled with little help from other Arabs or the international community. Some expressed fierce anathema toward some Arab countries, including Egypt which Issa told us had soldiers stationed nearby but the soldiers had done virtually nothing to help.

The stories blend together. I believe I can remember and concentrate much better when I meet no more than 3 people each day, with gaps between. Ideally, 1 each day but logistically this would stretch out my work too far. When I write my speaker notes as I try to do daily, I anticipate much confusion. The audio recordings will help, as will the photos. Today [June 11, 2019] I intend to make a second directory like the one I made last year, send it to my Palestinian colleagues, Ayed and Fareed, to get names and villages straight. Then sketch the stories, and later use the recordings.

Today [June 10, 2019] to Deheshe and Azza refugee camps in Bethlehem (Azza now renamed by UNRWA Beit Jibreen after the area most residents come from). For this project my first time in both camps (I’ve visited both on earlier trips). Interviewing and photographing the first couple, Issa Younis Al Azza, aka Abu Ahmed and his wife, Aisha, 10 years younger, led to interviewing their son, Ahmed, and then his wife, Shahrazad (just getting all the unusual and some times repeated names straight is itself a major challenge—Ayed is invaluable). Then with the second couple, using English, a long, well informed, impassioned, congenial conversation (all in English), joined by their son, Ahmed, the grandson of Issa and Aisha, about their situation and the USA role in it. All recorded, how much to use is a question. This type of intense conversation may be a first for me in this project.

When expelled from the same village, Issa was 19, Aisha, his wife, 9. He’s now 91 and she 80. Their age difference is apparent. I noticed it immediately.

Their village, Beit Jibreen, is southwest of Hebron about 43 km/26.7 miles. (walking time via Googe Maps to Bethlehem is about 9 hours, an altitude change of 650 meters/2,100 feet. Imagine walking this distance in 1948 with whatever clothes, food, etc one could carry; vehicles were sometimes available.) In fall 2018, I’d visited the village, now replete with archeological details, designed by Israel to be a tourist site. While living there, Arab people understood the site was rich in history, deep history, dating back at least to Greek and Roman times. They understood people had inhabited the region over millennia. (After the Nakba, Israel excavated more of the area; shockingly, but not surprisingly, there is no mention of Arab times.) While in the early part of the 20th century, when Issa and Aisha lived there and for centuries earlier during Arab times, Christian brothers lived in the Crusader church. Many people have interviewed the couple; at least locally, i.e. in the West Bank, their story is well known.

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Beit Jibreen (press here to enlarge)

Map Beit Jibrin

One walking route to Bethlehem

Relations with neighboring Jews were good. But during the Nakba, Jewish militia shelled the Egyptian outpost there, and the Egyptian soldiers fled during a full moon night. Soon after the expulsion, Issa snuck back into the village to retrieve belongings and harvest, and Jews shot at him.

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Video of Aisha Al Azza at Beit Jibreen interviewed on Jordanian TV

Equally valuable during this interview I spoke with their son, Ahmed Al Azza, a retired teacher, and his wife, Shahrazad. Together they founded a kindergarten in the camp. They need to raise money to continue its operation. With Ayed’s help, we discussed the possibility of crowdfunding. They showed me on a smartphone a video of a Jordanian TV interview with Aisha, Ahmed’s mother, when she returned to Beit Jibreen. Recounting her experience as a young girl before Nakba, she looked visibly pained. (I’ve not been able to find the video on the Internet.) They confided to Ayed and me that earlier when Ayed had approached the elders about my visit, Aisha had expressed suspicion, I’m not sure why. I’ve heard from other sources that some interviews can either distort the message or lead to troubles with the authorities.

Ahmed (the son), a championship chess player (he showed me many trophies), brought Ayed and me to the top floor. As is true in all the camps, residents build up because of restrictions by Israel and presumably UNRWA which administers aspects of the camps. Aided by his sons, one in particular, another Ahmed, Issa and Aisha’s grandson, the family saves money and when enough accumulates they add another room or level.

Ahmed brought us to the local cemetery and on the way showed us a community building erected for social gatherings for people from Beit Jibreen.

In another video we watched, Issa at the destroyed village, he wept. Later he told us he wished to be buried in Beit Jibreen. I asked if that would be allowed. No answer. Which raises a question about how neighboring Israelis will treat the gravesites. Do the dead and dying have the right of return?

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Azza refugee camp

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MAP-Expropriated land by JNF.jpg

JNF = Jewish National Fund

LINKS

Bayt Jibrin by All That Remains

Zochrot about Bayt Jibrin

Blind Spot at a Heritage Site, by (de) colonizer (2015)
A research and art laboratory for social change, working to challenge the colonialist nature of the Israeli regime. To learn more please visit www.de-colonizer.org.

Mapping what’s been lost, by  (

Archival photographs—David Staniunas

Tour Beit Guvrin (nothing mentioned about Arab habitation)

TO BE CONTINUED

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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. My dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

PHOTOS

Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and its native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.

—Edward Said

MAJOR THEMES EXPRESSED BY THE REFUGEES

·      Their original lands were idyllic, owned by their families for many generations.
·      Growing grains and produce, shepherding animals, the people were self-sufficient.
·      Jews often lived nearby with a wide variety of relationships— trade and mutual help, avoidance and conflict as well.
·      During the Nakba, some local Jews attacked their neighboring Arabs, betraying them.
·      Militias, Jewish and Arab, fought.
·      There were massacres.
·      Many wish to be buried in their original homelands, possibly not aware of how the graves would be treated, if even allowed.
·      Grief continues, as do stories passed thru the generations.
·      Some claim their grief exacerbates their health.
·      Many second and third-generation refugees remain angry and are often politically active.
·      A few understand that Jews were dominant because of superior organization, leadership, weapons, strategy, international support (especially British), and motivation.

WHAT HAVE I DONE WITH THE PHOTOS I’VE MADE?

Mainly small exhibits or presentations at places like New England Yearly Meeting of Quakers in Vermont (August 2019), Social Documentary Network (July 2019), Whitelight (a photographers’ group, 2018 and upcoming), events hosted at Friends Meeting at Cambridge, various small gatherings with friends, and my website and blog. Upcoming are more opportunities like this, many to gain feedback and provide others a small sense of what I’m doing.

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New England Yearly Meeting Sessions (Quaker), Castleton Vermont, August 2019

 

FUNDING

The cost so far for the two trips, fall 2018 and spring 2019, is less than $11,000. Major expenses have been airfare, housing and transport in the region, payment to collaborators, food, and car rental. Major funding has been savings, private donations, and crowdfunding (Go Fund Me). I anticipate further expenses for my upcoming third trip and for the postproduction I’m doing now, approximately $5,000.

I welcome donations.

WHAT IS MY MAJOR CURRENT PROBLEM?

At home to avoid what I call “The Quotidian Seduction”—everyday tasks such as laundry, shopping, cooking, sleeping, gardening, health care, bike trips, family, friends, Quakers, political work, communities, other photographic assignments, earning money, and all sorts of other distractions, needed for balance, ruinous to missions—I have decided to construct two types of work retreats, one at an ecumenical non-violence center in central Massachusetts, the Agape Community, the other at home. At Agape I will retreat for two two-week periods, joining in their work and prayer life as appropriate. At home, I dedicate the first 3 days of each week to my project. One week into my new routine and I claim success. After being home for the second half of summer I’ve finally returned to my project.

YET TO DO

·      Most importantly, work with the photo, video, and audio files I’ve made during my first two trips, which means select, edit, transform, and use.
·      Maintain my website and blog.
·      Develop exhibits and slideshows.
·      Confirm the locations of sites I’ve already photographed.
·      Interview and photograph people in the New England area.
·      Do more research.
·      Raise more money.
·      Find a sponsoring organization.
·      Find colleagues.
·      Gain access to Gaza.
·      Return for two months in winter 2020 to find people from key villages like Lifta and Deir Yassin.
·      Locate and confirm sites I’ve so far failed to find.
·      Begin assessment of multi-platform books.

 

GOALS AND PURPOSE 

A multi-platform book, pages of photographs with some text written by me and others, linking via the internet with my videos, audio recordings, and supplementary information including maps. As far as I know, this is the first project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees using primarily photography. By presenting powerful and contrasting images of life in the current and original sites of internally expelled Palestinian refugees, I hope to build awareness and inspire action. Early step: the right of return for Palestinians. The end result: beyond coexistence to a breath-taking sharing of the region, its resources, histories, luminaries, and potential. Freedom, self-determination. equal rights. A truly Holy, Just, and Peaceful Land.

WHAT MOTIVATES ME?

I’ve blogged (in 4 parts) extensively about my motivations, but a new thought is the following from my journal of July 23, 2019:

I recently realized that native Indians and what I wasn’t able to do to help them historically is part of why I’m able to do what I can do now. I had not yet been born during the last phase of so-called American-Indian Wars, that period of roughly 1840 to 1900, climaxing with the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890—fifty years before my birth. I was 8 when the Nakba occurred, and probably in my 60s when I learned about it, and then precisely 77 when I decided to begin my current project. Time and timing matter. Because of an accident of my birth (I could do nothing about Indians then), and because of this same accident, I can do something about Palestinian refugees now—and shall. Often too late, rarely too early, occasionally on time. Time is elastic.

Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

— Amjad Iraqi, writing about Israel sealing documents that record the atrocities of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe in 1948 that enabled the creation of Israel

LINKS

Arab Villages, Bulldozed From Our Memory, by Gideon Levy (2012)

Jerusalem’s Museum of Tolerance remains a mystery, by Guy Nardi (2017)

The Mamilla Cemetery; A Buried History, by Asem Khalidi (2009)

Ahmed Abu Artema (the visionary leader) on the Palestinian Great March of Return, by Esty Dinur (April 2019)

Let Them Eat Cake: a Journey into Edward Said’s Humanism, by Ted Steinberg (2019)

Trial booklet from Schiel’s first season

GoFundMe appeal for Skip Schiel refugee project

TO BE CONTINUED

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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. My dispatches based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

PHOTOS

We must take a hard road, a road unforeseen. There lies our hope, if hope it be.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

 

(Captions indicate name-current home-ancestral village)

WHERE AND WHEN?

Since one year ago exactly, September 3, 2018, I have traveled, lived, and worked in Palestine-Israel on my refugee photographic project for 4 months. Initially, I titled it “On Our Way Home,” referring to the Great March of Return in Gaza that was one of my motivations for this project, but, after meeting people who seemed securely situated but were universally fearful of further expulsion, I retitled it, “The Ongoing Nakba.” I have met no Palestinians living in Palestine who feel safe from forced removal by the Israelis.

WHAT IS THE NAKBA?

In 1948, Israel expelled some 750,000 indigenous Arabs to clear the land for Jewish settlement, leading to the foundation of the state of Israel. Thus the Nakba (in Arabic), or Catastrophe. Some 5 million Palestinians now live in the West Bank and Gaza—the “internally expelled.” And, with few exceptions, they are not permitted to return to any of their original 400 villages and towns, even for short visits.

With help from many others, I meet the refugees, now often living in refugee camps in Palestine, interview and photograph them, photograph their current living conditions, and return to their ancestral homes (now in Israel) to photograph. I include photos of where and how they live currently in internal diaspora to contrast with their earlier, often pastoral lives, in destroyed villages—in contrast also to how Israelis are privileged to live. Eventually, I’ll add archival photos of their regions before the expulsion.

 

ACHIEVEMENTS

On my first trip for this project, September and October 2018—my overarching project began in October 2003, in part inspired by the martyrdom of Rachel Corrie that spring—I photographed 14 Palestinians, mostly first-generation refugees (expelled during the Nakba); 4 were second and third-generation refugees. I also located all the destroyed villages they’d lived in, 8 of them, an arduous process because of deliberate disappearance and displacement by Israeli communities and parks, and because of their new names—the process of Judaization.

On my second and most recent trip, mid-May thru mid-July 2019, I interviewed and made portraits of 24 more Palestinians forcibly removed or threatened with removal, all but 4 first generation. In addition, I plan to photograph another 10 or so Palestinians living in New England who I know personally and who come from Nakba-suffering origins. I will also photograph where and how they live currently, as well as their destroyed villages.

Of the second group’s 15 destroyed Arab villages, I found about half, mostly along the Mediterranean coast. Many sites are now major Israeli cities and towns like Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa, Ramle and Lydda, virtually completely erasing their Arab history. A few are parks where I’ve discovered remnants like rubble, cacti, and rock walls. I’ve not seen any markers on either trip indicating prior Arab habitation.

DIRECTORIES

Directory of names and places from the first trip

Directory from the second trip

DISAPPOINTMENTS AND FAILURES

So these are achievements. Disappointments and failures fall into 2 categories: finding people to photograph and locating their original villages. For the first 3 weeks of my recent 8-week trip, I found no one and suspected this might be true for the remaining 5 weeks. No one to photograph for this project. I can’t simply hike into a refugee camp, announce myself, ask for volunteers, and photograph. I need contacts, intermediaries, people trustable to those I need to photograph. And I need to trust the intermediaries. During my second week when I was most desperate, I met a local man in Ramallah who offered to help me. I was suspicious, asked about him, learned he was unreliable, and decided not to hire him.

The second category, the villages themselves (for my second trip), are mostly buried by urban development. Little remains. For instance, Tel Aviv, the major Israeli city, lies atop at least 8 villages. In Jerusalem, the Nakba forced all Arabs living in what is now called West Jerusalem, now all Jewish Israeli, out entirely of Jerusalem or into East Jerusalem (which I call the Palestinian sector of Jerusalem). Ironically the new Museum of Tolerance builds atop some of the historic Arab cemetery in downtown Jerusalem. Earlier, Israel built Independence Park atop a portion of the cemetery, governmental buildings including the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Industry, and several roads.

Consider the United States, New York City, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, most cities. What do they erase? How many Indian sites lie beneath these metropolises?

 

COLLEAGUES

I desperately need a professional fixer or colleague who I’d hire to travel with me in Israel. Someone who knows where these villages are—and where in the village sites are the remains like cemeteries, mosques, other buildings, wells, cisterns, cacti, rock walls, rock debris, and remnants of buildings, the usual telltale signs I search for.

I’ve been graced with several excellent Palestinian colleagues, Nidal Al Azraq, Fareed Taamallah, Ayed Al Azeh, Musa Al Azeh, Murad Abusrour, Eman Wawi, Amos Gvirtz, David Nir, Sahar, Meras Al Azza, Linda Dittmar, and a few others. But two organizations, natural fits with my project, BADIL, and Zochrot, have failed to fully respond to my inquiries for assistance. (I mention this mainly because I believe it is a major factor impeding progress in activist circles generally). BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, and Zochrot (Remember in Hebrew), ­­an Israeli NGO that, among other tasks, leads tours to destroyed Arab villages, have for various understandable reasons been disappointments. They failed to fulfill their promises in the first case or didn’t fully respond to my phone and email requests in the second. Likewise with individuals who might have helped with the project—no response. Sure: general busyness, a crisis within the organization, or people not knowing or trusting me could all help explain the silence. That Deep Dark Pit that good intentions often disappear into.

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Fareed Taamallah (R) with Skip Schiel, on the road, June 30, 2019 (photo by Fareed Taamallah)

LINKS

Uncovering the Lost Palestinian Villages Underneath Glitzy Tel Aviv, by Mira Sucharov (2016)

(DE) COLONIZER—research/art laboratory for social change

A new guidebook “Omrim Yeshna Eretz” (Once Upon a Land) published by Zochrot and Pardes Publishing). It is a bilingual tour guide, in Hebrew and Arabic, to what is left and—mainly— what was erased, almost without a trace.

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

Civil disobedience . . . is not our problem. . . . Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government. . . . Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.

—Howard Zinn

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Northern West Bank, courtesy B’Tselem (click image to enlarge)

Dark brown = Area A (under complete Palestinian control); light brown = Area B (under Palestinian civil control, Israeli military control); blue = Area C (under total Israeli control)—when in reality Israel controls all of the West Bank, including sections nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Without clear info anywhere—online or in-person—I wasn’t sure as I was stuck in traffic whether the checkpoint would be open or closed (various views), and if open I could pass, with my car or without (no online info even tho B’tselem* has a list of the checkpoints). Arriving at what I think the border police said (they seemed unsure of the name) was the Balaam or Belem** checkpoint, parking my car (the gate was formidably closed), at first I saw no one.

I called out hello, and a drowsy-looking male border agent or policeman or soldier (I’m not sure who guards checkpoints, which member of the vast Israeli security complex) slowly came out of the small container, tucking his shirt in, clasping his belt, and asked who are you? I’m Skip Schiel from the United States. What do you want? Entrance to Jenin. Why? To visit a friend. Show me your id. You mean my passport? Yes. What do you do? Photography. By now a female agent had joined us. She adamantly said you can’t come in. Why not? Not allowed. You can’t come in here. How am I supposed to get into Jenin? I don’t know. Are there other checkpoints I could use? I don’t know. Call your Jenin friend.

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Salem checkpoint with the West Bank north of Jenin in the background

I phoned Mouwia and eventually engaged him and the two Israelis in some sort of conversation that I couldn’t follow.

Go! Now! she said, with strong conviction. By this point, both had put on their bulletproof vests, backpacks, and had their machine guns prominently displayed across their chests—as if to add credibility to their commands. No helmets; I wasn’t much of a threat. What had they been doing before I arrived at this lazy border crossing? I pondered to myself.

As I went to my car parked about 100 ft from them and the closed gate, I noticed two men easily walk thru the checkpoint. So I returned to the police, asked again, hey, why can they go thru and not me? They live there, you don’t. I then unleashed the mighty fury of my full credential: Say, I’m a citizen of the United States of America, I pay taxes, I vote. I help pay for Israel, perhaps your salaries (Not quite accurate since I’m a tax refuser.). He said, as if to counter my argument, I pay taxes too. Then me, my country gives your country 3.8 billion dollars annually. Implying maybe I’d make some sort of complaint back home. This didn’t move them.

In retrospect, I believe they simply wished to harass me. Why otherwise the early questions about who am I and why do I wish to enter Jenin? Did they notice my bracelet with the Palestinian national colors?

Conversing with Mouwia later (luckily I had data coverage, close enough to an Israel settlement in the West Bank to provide this), after consulting with others (I sensed that Mouwia rarely leaves Jenin or works with people, guests of the Freedom Theater, who need travel info.), he directed me to another checkpoint, the Jeremy checkpoint*** I believe he called it, from the Israeli town of Afula south. Comparatively, this was a breeze—going in. Coming out, if I use the Jeremy checkpoint again, it might be much different. This time, being rush hour, not only was road traffic generally heavy, but the checkpoint was crowded with Palestinian workers returning home. I watched as long lines of mostly men entered; cars jockeyed for passage. For me entering the West Bank, one cursory stop, then the traffic, and I was headed for Jenin. Glory be! My next task would be finding the refugee camp and the Freedom Theater and Mouwia himself.

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Jalameh/Mqeibleh checkpoint

*B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

** Later, using the map from B’Tselem I learned from the organization the correct name of this checkpoint is Salem. Quoting B’Tselem:

A crossing point in the Separation Barrier. Serves as the entrance to the Israeli DCO (District Coordination Office) at Salem, where there is a military court, the Land Registry Office, and a small police station. Staffed only during daytime by the military and Border Police. Subject to inspection, Palestinians may enter the DCO. During the olive-harvest season and subject to coordination with the DCO, Palestinian residents of the village of Zabuba are allowed to cross the checkpoint to reach their lands.

*** Also later I learned the correct name is Jalameh/Mqeibleh. Again quoting B’Tselem:

A crossing point in the Separation Barrier. Staffed around the clock by the military and private security companies. The checkpoint has an extensive infrastructure, similar to a terminal. Closed to Palestinians, except for East Jerusalem residents and Palestinians with entry permits into Israel. They are permitted to cross only on foot. Closed also to Israelis, with the exception of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. Also used for transporting goods between the West Bank and Israel using the “back-to-back” method. The checkpoint opens at 5:00 A.M. to allow Palestinians working in Israel to enter; then, from 8:00 A.M., vehicles may cross from Israel to Jenin. The checkpoint is closed between 12:00 P.M. to 1:00 P.M. From 2:00 P.M. to 5:30 P.M. no one may cross into Israel. From 5:30 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. people can cross from Israel into Jenin, and Palestinian citizens of Israel can return from Jenin to Israel. During Muslim holidays, restrictions are eased and hours of operation extended, but not consistently.

LINKS

Machsom (checkpoint) Watch, an Israeli women’s organization monitoring checkpoints

Two videos from B’Tselem showing ordinary life in Palestine, the first near the first checkpoint I write about and the second a sniper action in a refugee camp south of Hebron.

 

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