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Posts Tagged ‘nakba’

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

PHOTOS

I am the one who says to himself: From the smallest things are born the largest thoughts.

—Mahmoud Darwish

I’ll attempt to list my motivations in order, not of priority, but chronologically as I changed over my 78 years, led (as Quaker say) or dragged (which may be more accurate) to my current photographic project, “On Our Way Home,” about internally displaced (expelled would be more accurate) Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and eventually Gaza.

Self exile from Chicago’s Southside

First, my own personal homeland, the Southside of Chicago.

As a prelude to this section I’ll describe much revelry one night from my backyard at the end of last summer. A barbecue, possibly by the Somalian family, talking, laughing, the odors of meats wafting thru my small apartment in Cambridge Massachusetts, gave me great pleasure, even if I didn’t personally attend. That they can live here, enjoy a relatively safe and free life, my neighbors. It provokes me to wonder: how many of my Southside Chicago neighbors were recent immigrants when I grew up there in the 1940s and 1950s? Zolly, or Zoltan, for instance, last name Rinkach, possibly East European, possibly fleeing the holocaust? Then the boy from Hungary escaping the Soviets in the early 1950s. Becky Caravassas’ family, from an impoverished Greece? Oh, to return, not only to return to my original neighborhood, my homeland, but to return as it was then and interview people to learn their stories of migration.

An explanation about growing up on the Southside: from 1942 to 1955 I lived with my family in an all-White neighborhood near Avalon Park. African-Americans began moving into neighborhoods near ours. My parents worried about violence, feared decaying public education opportunities, and expected falling real estate values; so we moved to an all-White suburb, Arlington Heights, northwest of Chicago. This was curiously the same summer—1955—Rosa Parks helped spark the bus boycott in Montgomery Alabama, oppressed South Africans drafted their Freedom Charter in Soweto which charted their drive to end apartheid, and White extremists murdered Emmett Till (who also lived on the Southside) in Money, Alabama. This was the year our family became, ignobly, the first White family to flee our neighborhood, a decision that excluded me, a life-changing decision that to this moment I regret. Truly 1955 was a momentous year.

For several years I returned to my old neighborhood to visit friends I’d grown up with since kindergarten, Tom, Mitch, Ise, Green, Tim, Kruli, Becky, Pat, Sandy, Lynn, and Jack Kosina. None of their families had left. About 8 years later, probably in the early 1960s, on my way from Arlington Heights to the Southside, I needed to transfer commuter rail trains downtown in the Loop. Asking a policeman where to catch the Southside train he said, Southside? I wouldn’t advice it, too dangerous, lots of Black people. That began my expulsion from my homeland—of my own making, from fear. I exiled myself. By my own decision, I could not return to my homeland.

AH to Southside

Arlington Heights to Chicago’s Southside via public transport

In 1982, about twenty years later, thanks to my courageous and sensitive 13 year old daughter, Katy, she said when we were visiting my family in Arlington Heights, dad, I believe you’d like to visit your old neighborhood in Chicago; let’s borrow grandma’s car and drive down together. Which ended my self-imposed exile of some 2 decades. This experience sensitized me to the plight of refugees and immigrants—it began my slowly evolving process.

Enveloping global refugee and immigrant crisis

the-italian-coastguardmassimo-sestini-hundreds-of-refugees-and-migrants-aboard-a-fishing-boat-moments-before-being-rescued-by-the-italian-navy-as-part-of-their-mare-nostrum-operation-in

Hundreds of refugees and migrants aboard a fishing boat moments before being rescued by the Italian Navy as part of their Mare Nostrum operation in June 2014. Photo by The Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini

Over the last 25 years wars have raged in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, often USA inspired; Syria exploded; the climate crisis manifests dramatically with droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other environmental disasters; economic conditions in the southern hemisphere deteriorated, often again because of USA policies; and people fled, creating a momentous army of migrants, forced by conditions to abandon homes, livelihoods, families, and ancestral regions, overwhelming countries like Norway and Sweden which had historically welcomed refugees and immigrants. Nearly all countries have invoked harsher measures to block newcomers seeking refuge.

I viewed the black and white images of the brilliant Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his Human Migration Project, moved deeply by the suffering of these human beings forced to flee desperate conditions. Several years ago the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), as part of their fundraising campaign, mailed me a photograph made in 2014 by the Italian photographer, Massimo Sestini. From above it shows a boatload of some 200 people, different colors, different stories, all smiling and waving, hoping, praying. I hang this photograph over my kitchen door to remind me and guests of this phenomenon, this crucial and expanding need.

In late spring 2017, Ana, threatened with deportation, fled her home near Boston, fearing for her life if our country deported her back to her homeland, Ecuador. She is now in sanctuary in a Cambridge church where I volunteer for protective duty, part of a coalition of Christian and Jewish communities in Cambridge. I face her regularly; I am a tiny part of her survival. She is a refugee, like those sung about by Woody Guthrie in his majestic song, “Deportee.” She embodies the issue.

The Great March of Return in Gaza

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Now [December 12, 2018] the death toll is nearly 200 and still climbing.

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In late march 2018, hundreds of mostly young Palestinians in Gaza began a weekly series of nonviolent marches to the fence between Gaza and Israel. They named it the Great March of Return, calling for return to their homelands, many within a few miles of Gaza. Refugees in Gaza make up some 80% of the two million population. From the beginning of the march Israeli army snipers wounded and killed Palestinians.

[As of December 12, 2018] according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, 194 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since March 30.

Of them, 141 were killed during demonstrations, including 28 children, one woman, two journalists, three paramedics and three differently abled people.

Another 9,970 were injured, including 1,815 children, 419 women, 114 paramedics, and 105 journalists. Of those injured, 5,645 were hit by live fire, including 919 children and 113 women.

One Israeli soldier has died after being shot on July 20, 2018, during the protests.

Later some Palestinians used violent tactics such as flying incendiary kites and balloons into Israel. As of this writing these homemade weapons have destroyed some 1,200 hectares (nearly 3,000 acres) of Israeli farms and forests, more than half of the forested land in the region. Perhaps Hamas, classified by some as a terrorist organization while in fact they are the legally and openly elected government, contributed to this series of protests by providing tents and transport, maybe also inspiration to use violent tactics. Regardless of how precisely the protests were directed, many Palestinians continue to suffer under massive oppression, sanctified by my government.

I was distraught. I’ve been in Gaza 6 times since 2004, photographing programs of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), photographing conditions there generally, and publishing a book called Eyewitness Gaza. I have many friends with whom I continually communicate like Amahl, Ibrahem, Ban, Montaser, and Mustafa, and I’ve broadened my view by regularly meeting Israelis living within rocket range of Gaza, Nomika, Yeela, and Eric. These Israelis suffer attacks from the homemade rockets and mortars crudely aimed but often hitting civilian areas. I’ve made a movie called Gaza’s Israeli Neighbors: Other Voice which features a small group of courageous Israelis who call for their country to negotiate rather than bomb and invade. I try to show some of the consequences of the ongoing, seemingly unquenchable anger and violence, such as the high rate of PTSD suffered by neighboring Israelis —they call this the “Invisible Illness. Estimates claim between one-third and two-thirds of children in the city of Sderot suffer PTSD. In Gaza I am convinced the proportion is much higher.

Are any of the protesters in Gaza my former students, friends, colleagues, or families of those people? What about the young family of Ban and Islam? Thru my teaching I helped the parents meet each other. Or Ibrahem and his new family, Ibrahem once bemoaning to me the pain of still being single while in his 30s. Or Marwan crafting the publicity for the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, who is reliably in touch with me? In the fall of 2018 he offered to help host me on my recent attempt to enter Gaza for my refugee project.

This is personal. Regardless of the exact methodology and leadership of the Great March of Return I realized in March I could leap over that fence—as a photographer, a proxy Palestinian—with my international, White, American privilege to return to those homelands many in Gaza were ejected from since 1948. After interviewing and photographing refugees in Gaza I could then photograph their homelands, later return to Gaza with an exhibit, and eventually broadcast my findings to a wider audience. I would use the photosphere to help argue for their right of return, as verified by numerous UN resolutions.

Next: part three of my interim report, further discussion of my motivations

First part of this interim report

LINKS

A movie by Skip Schiel about courageous Israelis advocating for talks, not tanks, diplomacy, not war.

Living within one mile of Gaza, these Israelis suffer the brunt of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, most recently infiltration as well. Yet some have formed an organization called Other Voice that calls for an intelligent and humane response to the violence and injustice in their neighborhood, in league with similarly minded Gazans.

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

I draw this short update from my journal about a presentation I made recently to a photographers’ group I belong to, Whitelight. One of three presenters, I showed samples of what I’ve done since I returned home on October 19, 2018 after 6 weeks in Palestine-Israel. I then facilitated a discussion about black and white vs color photography, a topic affecting many photographers now that digital technology makes conversion so simple.

PHOTOS (latest photo post, as of December 3, 2018)

November 20, 2018, Tuesday, Cambridge MA (journal)

REPORT

Last evening [November 19, 2018] at Whitelight, I presented my prints from the refugee series, sequencing them earlier, offering in words just the title and the subtitle (“On Our Way Home,” about internally displaced Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, later Gaza), holding each print of the nine up and passing them around. (I wish to resist the incessant and often self-defeating habit of many photographers, “This is a photograph of… I made it when….It is about…”) 

I then described how I made the series and what I intend, with lots of discussion. One central question is my BW-color scheme, how well does this works (Sy noticed the partial BW-partial color image from the Bedouin series, no discussion of this unfortunately.) I’d forgotten that I’d sent a sample comparison series to the Whitelight group earlier while in Palestine-Israel, getting feedback only from Suzi.

yousef-color-bw

Yousef Albaba in color and black and white

Questions included (some during my presentation, some later in the evening)—how I gain access to people; how I develop trust; honoring requests to not include certain photos (like N’s impaired brother and nephews which he feels would embarrass the family); whether BW accentuates suffering and thus distorts the reality of lives, extending or magnifying them, thereby falsifying their lives; and a variety of other issues about BW-color.

I did not show my directory which helps me keep track of who and where I’ve photographed, or my crude mockup of how a page might look in the book I intend to publish.

Mock up of page showing BW-color schema

Nor did I show the information I’d compiled to aid my search for ancestral locations. In this I’d added BW historic photos to orient me to what I might find at the sites.

Refugee project locations

And we ran out of time to watch a representative video of my tour thru Mevo Beitar, an Israeli agricultural community (moshav) built on or near the destroyed Arab village of Al Qabu. I videoed and photographed in several Israeli communities and will include these in the final book.

 

DISCUSSION OF BLACK AND WHITE VS COLOR

Which led directly to the second half which I facilitated, BW and color. I chose to use the popular education model which draws out what people already know by fostering interaction. Brainstorm: what comes to mind when you hear BW, graphically and emotionally? Who comes to mind as exemplars of BW photography? Questions for discussion: why choose one modality over another? Can you switch your seeing modes when choosing one over another? Is there a difference between choosing a scene to later convert to BW and deciding only later in post production to convert? This seemed rich to me. (Now I regret I’d not asked someone who could print better to transcribe the responses, and I regret not making a record of the responses because they were helpful.) I then showed examples of BW photography, many new to me that I’d uncovered researching the topic.

Among my discoveries and questions from this conversation, during the analog era when we had to choose BW or color film, did this choice affect what we photographed? That the brain may respond dramatically differently to color vs BW. And that there are grades or variations of BW renderings. Consider the differences between Sabastiao Salgado, W. Eugene Smith, and Dorothea Lange—silvery, chiaroscuro, and flat, respectively.

I believe people appreciated the open discussion following this more formal part. My challenge as facilitator was to open the floor to all without anyone dominating or remaining quiet. Some of my colleagues are chatter boxes, some pontificate, while others remain silent. Some offer astute observation and ask searching questions. I could have handled this problem better. I also forgot to invite people to exhibit their BW photos they brought in; I’d earlier sent an email inviting all to bring their own prints.

Earlier, at the end of Sy’s presentation about Christian churches, I asked him, Sy, with your background what motivated you to photograph churches? I felt a slight gasp from the group, as if I’d opened something others were thinking about but were embarrassed to say. Well, he explained (paraphrasing), Jewish services and synagogues tend to be rather dour; I find the Christian churches full of life and color. Plus, they’re exotic to me who grew up with synagogues.

Likewise, during Rich Lapping’s presentation I asked him if he knows before he goes out to photograph whether he’ll render color or BW. I believe he answered that he carries two cameras, one adapted for infrared, the other for BW or color and makes the decision in the field.

Godafoss, Richard Lapping

This morning [November 20, 2018] I reviewed what I and the group did last evening for next steps in my refugee project:

NEXT STEPS

For more feedback show this initial set of prints to Nidal and Amahl (who are Palestinian American; Nidal was born in Aida refugee camp where I photographed and resided), and perhaps others locally who struggle for Palestinian rights, like Rick, Steve and Barbara, and the media group of Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston. Maybe form a focus group (oh, Louise, where are you now when I most need you?) with specific questions.

Use the set to form a photographers’ group, inviting people working on a specific project—Jon, Linda, Melinda, Suzi, others from my recent photography workshops; Sy, Rich, Carla, of Whitelight; Lou, Don, Reggie, others from the old Struggles Against Racism Collective; Social Documentary Network and the Photographic Resource Center.

What next to print? What videos to edit? To write? To research? To seek feedback on and from? Any interim versions like slideshows or print exhibits while heading toward publication of a book? When to return to the region, to do what? How to enter Gaza? How to effectively raise the obvious question of why Jews everywhere have the right of return to Israel, even if they have no provably connection, while Palestinians in Palestine-Israel and the diaspora, even if they have documentation of residency in the general region, have absolutely no right of return? Why do so few question Israel’s right to control access to Gaza, which affects me since I need to enter Gaza for my project?

MAP-Expropriated land by JNF

Jewish National Fund (JNF) confiscated 2,500,000 donums (1 donum=1/4 acres) which belonged to 372 Palestinian villages, comprising 55% of the registered refugees. Source of Parks’ identification: Noga Kadman, “Erased from Space and Consciousness-Depopulated Palestinian villages in the Israeli-Zionist Discourse” (Master’s thesis in Peace and Development Studies), Dept of Peace and Development research, Goteborg University, November 2001.

NEXT BLOG

What motivates me to do all this?

LINKS

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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Gaza (once I can enter) and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

PHOTOS

October 4, 2018, Thursday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

With Mousa’s help (my arranger and translator), yesterday [October 3, 2018] I photographed Fatima Al Khawaja from the destroyed village of Ajjur. For the first time in this series 4 generations showed up: Fatima who is about 102, her son, his son, and the grandson’s 2 sons and 1 daughter. She stressed the rural quality of village life, how close to the earth they’d lived. Spontaneously Fatima and the great grand kids posed for a final photo. The son and grandson did not allow me to photograph them, but the grandson, contravening another order from someone else, allowed me to photograph the bedroom of the son.

As Mousa and I left, the son spontaneously said I’d love to go with you to the village. Previously he and his son had shown me on their phones photos they’d found on the Internet. I responded, yes, when? Which seemed to startle him and caused a conversation in Arabic between him and Mousa. Well, I’m not sure, I’ll think about it, I’ll be in touch with Mousa. I’d never anticipated this prospect, one of the families I’d photographed going with me to the ancestral site.

 

This site, Ajjur (renamed by Israel Agur), north of Hebron, is accessible with a permit by former residents, and the oldest 3 generations have all visited. They tell me that Israeli Jews live there now, mostly in new buildings, the old ones torn down, but a few remain like the school and the mayor’s home. Repurposed I surmise. Fatima had fled first to Halhul, where Yousef Albaba (who I’d photographed earlier) is from and now lives, but she didn’t know him. The youngers said they’d heard all these stories before, from when they were very young.

Ajjur:Agur-BethlehemWalk

Ajjur Bethlehem trek

Ajjur to Bethlehem, a climb of 840 meters or more than 500 feet

For a 102-year-old woman she seemed reasonably coherent. This all in translation of course. Mousa told me during the interview she often repeated stories but her memory seemed sharp. I believe she said she thinks about Ajjur every day, which is a common thread among my interviews. I meant to ask her about her health, and how she thinks her experience of expulsion influenced her health, a question I’ve asked of others or without me asking they spoke to. She would like me to bring to her some cactus from Ajjur.

Outside, after dark, I photographed the building with its eerie red glow induced by the street lighting.

The long trek, the long and winding road. This refers also to the trek those expelled from their homelands made to their eventual refuges, their new homes, often in refugee camps such as Aida where Fatima now lives. In many cases, walking, bringing only what they could carry. I plan to later extend the interviews to learn how they moved.

(By the way, the son who’d offered to return to Ajjur with me never followed up.)

LINKS

1948 Palestinian Exodus (expulsion)

Palestinian refugees and the right of return (American Friends Service Committee)

Ajjur 

Aida refugee camp

TO BE CONTINUED

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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza (once I can enter) and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

PHOTOS

September 14, 2018, Friday, Bethlehem

Yesterday afternoon [September 13, 2018] I photographed and interviewed Mousa’s grandmother, Rowaida Al Azzeh (Um Waleed). Unfortunately at 83 her memory is failing (death and debilitation make this project particularly urgent). Mousa [my arranger and translator] told me later that he’d not realized how much memory had disappeared since her last interview. He told me also that living in the camp shortens one’s age. The slow death.

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_camp_DSC9387.jpg

His grandmother came from a village about 25 km southwest of Aida refugee camp where she now lives, Beit Jibreen (renamed by the Israelis and built over: Beit Givrin). She’s visited several times after expulsion, most recently in 1991, because then Israeli invoked fewer restrictions on return. She lives in a relatively large house built after the family leveled their first UN-provided tiny concrete block house to build a new larger, more modern home. Twelve years old when the Israeli military expelled the family, they went first to Jericho, then Jordan after being confronted and nearly blocked by Jordanian soldiers. They settled in a UN refugee camp still existing in Jordan, Al Wihdat. Despite many Palestinians fleeing/immigrating to Jordan, her family wished to remain in the shriveled portion of historic Palestine left after partition in 1947 by the UN and Israel’s military conquest in 1948. They wished to stay among friends and family so they returned to Palestine.

Despite anticipating sadness, she wants to see photos of her village—what remains. (Which I hope to provide in part two of this project, photographing what remains, mostly in 1948 Israel.

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She used her hands effectively, communicating what words might fail to transmit, especially in translation. With my camera I concentrated on them.

During this interview, Mousa’s aunt, the grandmother’s daughter, Nisreen, maybe in her 40s, dark, thin, conducted and translated most of the interview. To support her ailing mother she lives in the same building on the first floor. Other family share the home on upper levels. (I reside in the Aida camp in an apartment across the street from the family home provided by Rowaida’s son, Ayed, who has been extraordinarily helpful in clarifying details and assuring that I honor cultural norms.)

Nisreen is a supervisor with the health services for the Palestinian Authority’s school system in Bethlehem. When photographing the house—which to most people seems a strange request (one of my visions for this series was to follow and photograph people as they lived, in the manner of Gene Smith and his seminal photo series, “The Country Doctor,” and I still might if I find the right person; could be Eyad himself, or Abed, the founder-director of the Al Rowwad Art and Cultural Center in the Aida Camp)—I included, with her permission, her room. (Later I deleted the photos at her request because of privacy considerations). After I thought I’d finished photographing 3 rooms, Nisreen suggested I include a large photograph of Mousa’s great grandfather, Rowaida’s father, Adel Majed Al Azza (Abu Awni), looking very regal. I did that as well.

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Mousa (Mohammed) Al Azzeh (L), Nisreen Al Azeeh (C)

Compared to what some might expect in a refugee camp, her house is grand. Baronial even. I could live in such a house.

I have persisting problems with the audio recorder, perhaps now rivaling Studs Terkel, the famed interviewer, writer, and radio host, in klutziness (not in interviewing skill). Partially because of translation, also in some cases my age, and definitely without much corollary experience, I’m having a tough time simultaneously interviewing and photographing. I need to think about the recorder, the camera, the photography, the person, his or her story, the context, what I’ve already asked, etc. Making this an unpleasant experience. I’d much prefer working with a partner who interviews while I photograph. Despite that problem, the first set of the first woman which I’ve sent to others for comments seem a little better than decent.

LINKS (new ones)

TO BE CONTINUED

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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

September 12, 2018, Wednesday, Bethlehem

PHOTOS

Maybe for this writing, only notes, because I meet the team in 1 hour for breakfast and then hurry off to our first AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) training. Luckily my equipment is ready: I’d prepped it for Mousa [arranger and translator] and then didn’t use it because he was late and I’d left. And yesterday I used the audio recorder in the field for the first time with our meeting with Ali Abu Awwad and his organization Taghyeer south of Bethlehem.

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Ahmad Ali Dawoud

  • Man, 90 yrs old, 22 when fled
  • From village of Ellar/’Illar/Allar southwest of Jerusalem
  • Lives in one room, shares kitchen, family in same building, wife dead
  • No photos of family because they won’t care for him (did I hear that correctly?)
  • Went back multiple times for food, equipment, etc, at night avoided streets, never caught
  • Once shot at, hit in the shoe, uninjured (shows foot)
  • Active politically, demos etc
  • Theme of key
  • Had money, could rent, but first space was offered free
  • Both he and wife came to Bethlehem first because of proximity to village
  • Vibrant way of speaking, which I tell him I notice
  • Often interviewed because of his age
  • Compliment him on his memory
  • Thinks about village every day
  • It is now Israeli and built up
  • Wishes to return with me, possible because he’s old and won’t be stopped (another virtue of age)
  • Mousa would not be able to go (too young and without a permit)
  • Village near Bethlehem?

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1621.jpg

Key to his ancestral home

  • Feel project has finally, fitfully begun, actual people and stories
  • Whether to video or photograph?
  • How use narration, get it translated?
  • Not particularly pleased with my first photos
  • Return to photograph full front, into camera, as a starter and finisher

Palestine-Refugee-Aida_campIMG_1672.jpg

His village

  • Odd juxtaposition of my project and Taghyeer (Ali Abu Awwad’s resistance organization using nonviolence)
  • Mousa and I work reasonably well together, given the language and cultural differences
  • Finally know my way between Aida refugee camp where I photograph and Casa Nova guest house on Manger Sq where I reside with the AVP team—what a contrast!

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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In an Israeli shopping mall 

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Model of Yad Vashem

Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel

March 6, 2015, Friday, Golden Gate hostel, Old City, Jerusalem, Israel-Palestine

PHOTOS:

(Warmer, low 60s, sunny, calm.)

“I’m sure [my memory] only works one way,” Alice remarked. “I can’t remember things before they happen.”

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.

“What sort of things do you remember best?” Alice ventured to ask.

“Oh, things that happened the week after next,” the Queen replied in a careless tone.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

Building on my idea yesterday [March 5, 2015] to ride the rails of Jerusalem’s 3 year old light rail system, connecting settlements, aka “neighborhoods,” and Palestinian towns, not sure where or why, completely spontaneously, drawn magnetically, Yad Vashem turned into the main event. As I wrote to a close friend first and then adapted for others (one of the greatest gifts of digital writing):

today i visited yad vashem, my third time (my first was in 2003 with a delegation and later with a friend around 2008). now completely redone, it’s designed as a prism by moshe safdie whose modular homes i love.

this museum is truly, in my view, too much: not the topic but the quantity of exhibits—repetitive, floor to ceiling photos, media blasting out everywhere. i doubt many can take in more than a morsel or two. a separate art exhibition of drawings, paintings, frescoes, etc helped me much more to understand the holocaust. many pieces were profound in tone, execution, technique, and meaning. art became a survival tool, not only of the individual artist’s spirit but of the suffering itself—a powerful visual testimony. i think you would have been very interested in it.

unfortunately yad vashem refuses to expand “never again for jews” to “never again for anyone,” ie, there is only one holocaust and nothing is comparable. a docent was fired in 2009 for mentioning deir yassin village and the nakba, not as equivalent horrors but as related atrocities.

i chanced onyadvashem. my mission was riding thejerusalem light rail from end to end, disembarking occasionally to walk thru a variety of neighborhoods, palestinian and israeli jewish, making and expressing thru photography differences and similarities. the day was crisp, sunny, dry, virtually cloudless, the beginning of early spring and the dry season. wildflowers bloomed, the air smelled fresh. nibbling on anything green, 4 goats crossed my path in a jewish neighborhood, heedless of me and traffic,.

The name Yad Vashem derives from a biblical account; it is not a translation of holocaust memorial museum as I’d wrongly supposed. The name emphasizes transforming anonymous victims into human beings by remembering and recording their names.

And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem), an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

—Isaiah 56:5

How do others view Yad Vashem? Most reviews are respectfully affirmative: a highly emotional experience, well thought-out displays, good information, etc. Nothing about either the holocaust message in the context of the occupation or the esthetics of museumship. Here’s one lonely contrary review, by Michael Ratner, a Jew with holocaust roots:

…As saddened and horrified as we were by what we had just experienced [visiting the museum], we were all struck by the contradiction of having the museum in Israel, a country forged out of the theft of other people’s land and homes, a nation whose treatment of Palestinians had echoes of what we had just seen: walled-in ghettos, stolen houses and land, a segregated population….

Read more of Ratner 

Jerusalem light rail map SM

I rode the tram on the Jewish holiday known as Purim—the holiday commemorates Jewish survival in the 4th century BCE when in exile in Persia and threatened with annihilation, a Jewish woman, Esther, orchestrated resistance that led to the slaughter of many Persians. (One might note the parallel to the recent speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the US Congress comparing Iran to various radical and brutal Islamic entities like ISIS.) Israeli kids were out of school, many including adults wore costumes such as fairy outfits, flaming red hair, angels etc. I photographed kids jumping on an air-filled device behind a school and in a mall receiving balloon crowns from a jester, while a stilt walker frolicked behind them. No sign of the holocaust today.

Palestine_Israel_Jerusalem_Yad_Vashem-1281

In an Israeli Jerusalem settlement

Palestine_Israel_Jerusalem_Yad_Vashem-1335

Mt Herzl Park

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Monument to Jewish soldiers, one of many to Jewish victims along a path to Yad Vashem

Leaving the train at Mt Herzl station, the last station south and west, I walked thru the park, admired its landscaping, stopped at the grave of the founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, passed graves of other Zionist notables, noticed signs about Yad Vashem, and eventually realized the museum must be nearby. Checking maps and asking direction of 2 women, I learned about a connecting path and walked the 2 km or so to the museum. There I had the experience I wrote about. Along the way I observed many monuments to Jewish suffering connected not only with the holocaust but with ongoing onslaughts. A life—a long history—of oppression. How odd, I’m not the first to note: these people, so long and so viciously oppressed, have turned into the opposite. Of course, in all the monuments, not a mention of the occupation of Palestine and the siege of Gaza.

Rarely remarked: the museum is near the site of Deir Yassin, while Yad Vashem itself is alleged to be built on an Arab village.

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Exiting Yad Vashem, facing west, the new life—also presenting a view of Deir Yassin, scene of a massacre during 1948

In the museum I photographed models of the gas chambers and furnaces at Auschwitz. (I did not see the exhibit about the Warsaw ghetto wall that I photographed on my first visit in 2003, while Israeli high schoolers listened to their teacher or docent explain about walls, but probably not about Israel’s construction of the “security barrier,” aka apartheid wall.) These models brought me painfully back to Auschwitz, my time there while on pilgrimage in 1995, living with the truth of the holocaust and my German people’s role in it. An eerie confluence of feelings struck me: Jews as victims, Jews as perpetrators of suffering, Germans as operators of the death apparatus, me as German, me possibly as Jewish. Perhaps this day will stand out as an early high point of my trip, reminding me of multiple truths coexisting in one organism—and one people.

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Model of the gas chamber at Auschwitz

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Yad Vashem art exhibition, The Anguish of Liberation as Reflected in Art, 1945-47 

Yad Vashem fires employee who compared Holocaust to Nakba” by Yoav Stern

Israelis wounded in Jerusalem ‘terror attack'” by Palestinian motorist (March 6, 2015)
A Palestinian motorist rammed his vehicle into a group of pedestrians standing near a Jerusalem tram stop on Friday, injuring at least four, Israeli police said….

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Circulated by email during Holocaust Remembrance Week, 2009

In MEMORIAM – 63 YEARS LATER


Please read the little cartoon carefully; it’s powerful. Then read the comments at the end.

I’m doing my small part by forwarding this message. I hope you’ll consider doing the same.


In Memoriam



It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests who were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated with the German and Russian Peoples looking the other way!

Now, more than ever, with Iraq , Iran , and others, claiming the Holocaust to be ‘a myth,’ it’s imperative to make sure the world never forgets, because there are others who would like to do it again.

This e-mail is intended to reach 40 million people worldwide!

Join us and be a link in the memorial chain and help us distribute it around the world.

Please send this e-mail to 10 people you know and ask them to continue the memorial chain.

Please don’t just delete it.

It will only take you a minute to pass this along. Thanks!

MY RESPONSE

Someone recently passed along a provocative cartoon and interpretation, and it is appropriate to remember the Jewish Holocaust. However by not mentioning the related Palestinian Nakba, not quite a holocaust but certainly a catastrophe (the meaning of the Arabic word) I feel that In Memoriam—63 Years Later, and any who circulate it as is perpetuate an erroneous message.

During the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, some 750,000 Palestinians (Arabs as they were then widely known and as many Israeli Jews to this day insist on calling them) fled their homes, usually driven out by the Israeli army (as extensively documented by Ilan Pappe in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, also by numerous other authors based on newly released official documents). Many Palestinians with their descendents continue to live, often in horrid conditions, in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring Arab countries. Their suffering continues, yet the world barely notices.

I suspect many elder Palestinians could show the equivalent of tattooed numbers on their arms: the key many Palestinians treasure indicates a hope to eventually return to their homes or home regions, a right guaranteed by United Nations resolutions and international law.

Better: In Memoriam—63 Years Later, two peoples both suffering, both treated unjustly. Remember, never again, hold accountable, and apply international law to correct the injustice.

“Yad Vashem (Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority) fires employee who compared Holocaust to Nakba.”
By Yoav Stern

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