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Posts Tagged ‘negev’

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from 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 

Solidarity is the political version of love.

—Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz

October 7, 2018, Sunday, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem

Ayed invited me to visit a Bedouin community displaced from Ein Gedi during the Nakba in 1948. This would be a novel sort of story. Ein Gedi, the paradise beside the Dead Sea that I’ve visited at least twice and photographed extensively. Never knew there had been Bedouins there. The potential cost of this excursion presents a challenge. When Ayed posed this I thought he meant it as between two friends, as I’d offered to show around a Palestinian during his Cambridge visit in the spring. Altho the visitor, Mohammed, never accepted my offer, the idea of money never presented itself to me. Charge him for showing him around Cambridge? Absurd. I’m not in the business of tour guide.

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Ayed, living in the Aida refugee camp, faces much different conditions than I do. Yet at first I thought his proposal was too high, despite the potential value of the meeting: the drive across the desert itself could provide many opportunities to photograph, plus being with Ayed who I truly like and seem liked by added value. But then I reconsidered. OK, maybe, $150 is fair for what could be a rare opportunity. Plus, and this clinched my equivocation, the cost was the equivalent of about 3 nights in cheap housing in Palestine. (I pay $30 nightly here in the refugee camp, nearly $50 nightly at the Golden Gates hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem.) Comparatively speaking, why not? Also it gives me a reason to return later to Ein Gedi with a new perspective.

After some discussion (we lived in the same building in the Aida refugee camp) we agreed that for the 45-minute drive each way (a considerable effort) 300 shekels for gas and car, and 100 for fruit and chocolate as gifts to the family. And then maybe a cash gift to the Bedouins, let’s say 50 shekels more; add 100 more as a special gift to Ayed. Which makes 550 shekels or about $150 for this interview.

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Aida refugee camp

Now I wonder, do the people I’ve interviewed so far expect payment? Should I offer payment to my assistants, Mousa and Murad?

I’m sure this is a continually vexing issue for any cross-cultural work. Only a rare bird, living in poverty, would turn down cash, or even not ask for it, or not suggest it.

October 8, 2018, Monday, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem

Another big day of exploration: with Ayed to a Bedouin camp in the Judean Desert, to meet this large family expelled from Ein Gedi. The patriarch, Khalil Mohammed Rashida (Abu Daifallah), 98 plus years old, a jovial, lively fellow missing most of his teeth, deaf, told his story as I’m sure he’s told it many times, at least within the family. He’s been deaf since his early 20’s, a result of a sheep kicking him in the head. First his son, then his grandson interpreted for him using grand gestures and slowly mouthing words so he could understand, this alone a remarkable achievement. Ayed also needed help with the Bedouin dialect. Four generations, 25 people live in this compound.

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Khalil Mohammed Rashida

Khalil’s original family had lived in Ein Gedi while shepherding sheep and goats in the desert high above the only oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea. They lived with Jews as neighbors and apparently had good relations until the Nakba. Among the armed men driving them from the village, he said he noticed Jews, former neighbors. Much later his son has been able to look down from cliffs above Ein Gedi to view their former home site. Precisely what these homes consisted of and how many Bedouins actually resided or based in that oasis, I’m not sure, or why Bedouins, being traditionally nomadic (altho this has been changing), would base themselves in a village or town. Using Bedouin and Ein Gedi as search terms I found mainly sites offering “Bedouin experiences” around Ein Gedi, meaning camping or simulations of Bedouin communities. I found nothing historical.

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Apartheid Wall around Aida refugee camp (click here for enlargement)

Driving there with Ayed, several times people riding camels (we stopped to photograph one group, the lead man had his phone out and I believe photographed me photographing him) he explained the series of displacements, from region to region, until Bedouins are again spread out over much of the desert region. This particular family is about 80 km northwest of their original home site.

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One of the first displacement sites was a series of blockhouses provided by Israel. Other Palestinians, not Bedouins, drove them out, demolishing their homes, claiming ownership of this land. Ayed stopped here to explain and I photographed. A young, very dark-skinned boy approached us, examined us. Ayed explained who we were. (I believe Ayed’s dark skin is an asset here, and of course his Arabic language and general appearance. How would I ever do this alone?)

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Earlier dwellings Israel built for expelled Bedouins

After our interview and dinner the son offered us a tour of the desert, ending at a former Jordanian military barracks, long unused and mostly ruined, with some gorgeous graffiti. Israel uses the entire region for military exercises. We stopped at a site with large concrete slabs. For tents, Ayed explained. Then the son offered to drive us to the cliff overlooking Ein Gedi, a 1 hour ride each way from the camp, but, sun descending, hour late, haze prevailing, I declined. We’d already driven nearly an hour to reach the family and had yet to return to Aida camp in the dark.

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Former Jordanian military barracks

Because I recorded audio of the interview potentially I will be able to pick up relevant details, more of Khalil’s story and those of his descendents, especially his grandson who studies at Beersheva Open University to become a Palestinian security officer. Because I asked few questions and the talk centered on Ayed, I was free to roam with my photography and catch details of the milieu, including another son and some of the great grand children of the main man. After our desert tour, photography continued when they sat us down to a meal of goat head (I tried the eyeball, fatty and stringy rather than meaty), stuffed intestines, stuffed grape leaves (my favorite), onions, and various other ingredients that remain a mystery to me. I photographed as we ate and the kids played around us, the son occasionally picking out food to give to the aged one and the kids. I thought of Native Indians on the Great Plains, me a guest from another world, sitting down to a meal of bison.

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Goat head stew

LINKS

Negev/Naqab Bedouin

Israeli control and displacement of Palestinian Bedouins

Ein Gedi

TO BE CONTINUED

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

PHOTOS

May 24, 2012, Thursday, Kibbutz Lotan, Israel

I neared Lotan—I carry multiple maps, happy I do, since no single map contains all the sites or roads I’m looking for or curious about—and so I remembered Rabbi Jan’s suggestion of the environmentally oriented kibbutz here in the heart of the Negev Desert. I phoned, learned they had a vacancy, overnight would cost me 300 NIS (about $75). Seek it, young man, seek it! A childhood dream realized: to experience a kibbutz. Thru the gate, into an oasis in the desert. Green green green is the proper descriptor for this place.

I settled, showered, napped, inquired about tours and meals, enjoyed the rotund young woman at the reception office and her muzzled dog (he eats garbage and gets sick), learned I might meet Rabbi Daniel Burstyn (which I did later in the evening, a cursory meeting, not a very congenial guy, or so he seemed to me), and wandered the site several times, before and after a kosher meal in the dining hall.

The food was bland, pizza and salad, no dessert, no main course, unless pizza serves. The table conversation nil, sitting with a group of college age youth who I assumed were interns or students. They talked among themselves, I overheard, no one asked me whom I was, and I asked no one about their role here. The main feature of this event was an environmental mural which I photographed later. Then the evening walk to enjoy the relative coolness. I discovered a few caravans, probably the same type used by settlers to establish “Facts on the ground.” These were unused. They also reminded me of abandoned trailers on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Much of the land I’ve explored in the Negev desert reminds me of the land and people of the Great Plains. Then a sort of community house which was a mess, the door open, air conditioner running. I shut the door. But in other parts of the kibbutz I found and photographed stylish homes, much sculpture (Daniel pointed out a collection made by one of the residents over years), gardens (Daniel is not only a rabbi but a landscape gardener, perhaps this is how he earns his living?), hammocks, pathways, walls made of old tires, the “green room” deep down inside the earth, perhaps designed as a bomb or rocket shelter, now used for education judging from the books, sheets of paper, and notes I found lying about.

I wrote M, checked my email, downloaded the day’s photos, examined them, relatively pleased with my work, looking forward to all the post processing I will do when (and if I ever reach, seems so far away, impossible to reach) home, and generally relaxed after a long drive south.

May 25, 2012, Friday, Israeli network youth hostel in Mitzpe Ramon, Israel

Waste water treatment

Compost feces and urine

Parabolic reflector cooker

Morning at Lotan was a big part of yesterday. Guy or Gee gave me a private tour that lasted well over 60 minutes. We viewed and he explained their toilet system (simply collect, drain, let rest, and wallah, compost which they use for shrubs and trees, not edibles because of some people’s perception that this would be toxic—instead he claimed such composting can destroy even heavy metals), waste water treatment (thru rocks, sand, and plants, after settling), organic gardening (not during the summer because of the heat and aridity, too much water needed), solar panels (that generate most of the electricity needed by one residential section, on the grid, they add to it during sun, and take from it otherwise), play space, experiment space, many buildings (straw bale construction over metal, plastered with mud), sheep and goats (used only for milk, as are the cows which we didn’t see, later sold for meat but not slaughtered here), solar ovens and a parabolic reflector stove for fast cooking, etc. The kibbutz of some 60 people (50 is the minimum until Israel reclaims the land, cutting the subsidy) uses 6 vehicles, and many many bikes. They cannot afford any alternatively powered vehicles such as grease cars.

I thought of Agape, thought of Ruah, and thought of M when I spotted an article reprint that details life on this kibbutz. I picked up a copy for each. The place is truly revolutionary, living out a portion of Jewish values. Especially caring for the earth and each other. Exemplary. I’d love to return, stay awhile.

I first met Guy after I’d finished an exquisite breakfast (which I photographed) of omelet, home-baked bread, pesto, various cheeses made from goat milk, Jewish coffee (as opposed to Arab coffee, Jewish simply made by adding hot water to finely ground coffee powder, adding some cold water, stirring and let settle, also called mud coffee), salad with oil and vinegar dressing, topped off with 2 sweet dessert balls. Served by 2 young women in the solar teahouse. I shared the space with a small Israeli family who appear to be visiting. Guy stood out as he rode up to the teahouse on his bike—he wore a wide-brimmed hat he’d made from a large piece of cardboard. He explained, my complexion burns easily. This helps. He volunteers for one year between high school and the army. We did not talk politics. I gathered that he’d like to see the conflict end.

The office worker, Daphna, had offered to throw my dirty clothes in with the laundry so I picked mine up, delivered my key, expressed how pleased I was with the kibbutz and my 24 hours there, promised to publicize it and encourage friends to visit. And joked: it is so far away. Maybe when we can shape-shift or time travel I’ll be able to encourage more friends to come here.

LINKS

Kibbutz Lotan

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