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You must make the injustice visible and be prepared to die like a soldier to do so.

—Mahatma Gandhi

From a workshop about writing in the context of The Work That Reconnects, (designed by Joanna Macy) and led by Louise Dunlap, Aravinda Ananda, and Joseph Rotella. We were asked to imagine a creature speaking to us from the future.

Thank you Skip for sitting down with me to hear my story, so many generations into the future. You and many of your colleagues who struggled for justice in the 21st century are some of the many steps for me and my people, a part of your future.

I’ve heard about you thru my ancestors, in particular a man named Rex who lived in your time. I realize that you, his grandfather, and he had a rocky relationship while he was young but I’m so pleased he decided to publish your story, which I’ve read. But we’re here to listen to my story, what I’ve learned living in the 28th century CE on the planet Mars, colonized first by your country, and then made into a center of interplanetary development.

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Mars in the 21st century before human habitation

Your contemporary, Mahatma Gandhi, answered the question, Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of western civilization? with the words, I think it would be a good idea. Well, surprisingly and against most predictions, humans were able to evolve a form of civilization but it required 3 generations past your own, into the late 22nd century. The growth of international law and international institutions allowed for evolution. My ancestors, recognizing the futility of the United Nations as constituted shortly after World War Two, because it was overly dominated by the United States, was abandoned. Unfortunately this required war, a catastrophic war that included the massive use of nuclear weapons. This nearly wiped out the human population and many other species as well. By the way, Israel, a nation you had hoped would correct its self-destructive path, entered the war with its nuclear arsenal and was wiped out. (This might have happened without World War Three because of Israel’s previous suicidal path, refusing to end its occupation and siege of the West Bank and Gaza.)

Israeli forces bombarded Shujaieh district in Gaza. July 20, 2014  Thousands of Palestinians run for their lives in the deadliest assault on the Palestinian enclave in five years. Heidi Levine for The National  SM

Israeli forces bombarded Shujaieh district in Gaza. July 20, 2014  Thousands of Palestinians run for their lives in the deadliest assault on the Palestinian enclave in five years. Photo by Heidi Levine for The National

This war led to the first large-scale emigration from the earth to Mars, via the moon. The moon did not prove capable of housing the 10 billion people fleeing the nuclear catastrophe, and so technology moved rapidly to transport human beings first to protected colonies on Mars and then, by creating an Earthlike Martian atmosphere, people were finally able to live in open air settlements. An additional benefit of migration to Mars was the absence of indigenous life. The colonizers did not need to repeat their ancestors’ genocide of native people in North America and because of advanced technology (and ethics) did not need to enslave people as your country did to expedite its economy and demonstrate what it thought to be its implicit white right to rule others.

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Because of your generation’s unwillingness to acknowledge and take decisive action about your global climate crisis, Earth became what Mars was then—barren, an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide with some water vapor. Another irony is water: access to safe and ample water became a major problem during your generation. As with climate change—water a major ingredient of that phenomenon—21st century humans refused to deal effectively with the problem. Not included in your various computer simulations, shockingly, this resulted in the end of water, except for traces beneath the Earth’s surface and during Earth winter when some water still flows above ground.

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Mars showing evidence of flowing water, Hale Crater, NASA false-color image,
September 2015 (more info below), 
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

We were gifted not only technologically, but more importantly, morally. After 5 centuries of debate, the United States instituted a truth and reconciliation process that returned considerable land to natives and compensated African-Americans for the ancestors’ slavery. But then World War Three finally catalyzed an entirely new form of civilization; Gandhi himself might have been pleased.

This is not to claim we have solved all societal problems. New ones developed, notably questions about governance, sovereignty, and use of power in the court system, but we are definitely pleased that the human race survived the catastrophic nuclear war and atmospheric collapse—a topic I know was of great concern during the short existence of humans on earth.

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West Roxbury (Boston) Lateral Fracked Gas Pipeline: Thru the heart of a residential neighborhood, property taken by eminent domain—in response: civil disobedience. 

During your brutal uncivilized period many strived to sustain—not merely to sustain but to further evolve—the human race. And with it the many new species of plants and animals created by nuclear war, now exported to Mars that help us further evolve. We, all creation, continue.

LINKS

Mars Facts

NASA’S Journey to Mars

“New Mars 2020 rover will be able to ‘hear’ the Red Planet,” By Ashley Strickland, CNN, July 2016

“NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars,” September 2015

Human Settlement on Mars: Mars One is a not for profit foundation with the goal of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars. To prepare for this settlement the first unmanned mission is scheduled to depart in 2020. Crews will depart for their one-way journey to Mars starting in 2026; subsequent crews will depart every 26 months after the initial crew has left for Mars. Mars One is a global initiative aiming to make this everyone’s mission to Mars, including yours. Join Mars One’s efforts to enable the next giant leap for mankind.

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Justice is Love made Public

—Dr. Cornell West

PHOTOS

Based on my current work in Palestine-Israel March – May 2015, my view of the situation depends on my location.

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If in Israel, I do not notice the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, nor does most of the population. If noticed, the Israeli Jewish citizens and the leadership largely support the injustice—95% of Jewish Israeli’s were in favor of last summer’s attacks on Gaza. The recent elections that returned Prime Minister Netanyahu to office are confirmation; they mark another step toward a right-wing government. Exceptions exist of course, and I try to locate and support them—Gush Shalom is one, led by Uri Avnery.

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Purim in an East Jerusalem settlement, March 2015

If in the West Bank, again depending on location, I learn that the occupation can be tolerable and mostly invisible, as in Jenin, where there are no neighboring settlements (altho the Israeli Occupation Force regularly raids the refugee camp looking for people, usually young men, that they accuse of threatening Israel). Or it may be a huge annoyance, as in Ramallah, especially if one needs to pass thru the notorious Kalandia checkpoint into Jerusalem. It can be regularly violent, as in Hebron where the settlers are particularly vicious or in the villages of Nabi Salih and Bil’in near Ramallah which every Friday for years mount nonviolent demonstrations to regain their ancestral lands. They’ve had some success. I visit and support the activists there. Or the occupation may be a continual threat, as in Sheik Jarrah, a district in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews frequently take over Palestinian homes with army and police protection.

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Downtown Jenin, April 2015

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A nonviolent demonstration, Nabi Salih, March 2015

And if in Gaza (I was last there in 2013), the region is not only the largest open air prison as it’s commonly called, but a graveyard, as a friend confided to me during my first trip there in 2004. Last summer some 2,500 people were killed during the Israeli assault, about 75% of them civilian. Entrance and exit are now so tightly restricted that I’ve not been able to enter on this trip and many notable Gazans such as Dr. Mona al Farra, who was to speak at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts in May 2015 as part of a tour, are unable to leave. (Two Boston-based friends and colleagues of mine, Alice Rothchild and Bill Slaughter, both medical professionals and thus more able to visit Gaza, may speak at my meeting in Mona’s place.)

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Trauma program, Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza, 2013

On my current journey, my 9th since 2003, I’ve attended a 2-day conference called Global Village Square in Bethlehem drawing some 70 young Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, and West Bank Palestinians to work together on solutions. I’ve ridden the Freedom Bus thru the West Bank to learn about popular resistance in villages and East Jerusalem. In Jenin in the northern section of the West Bank thru the renowned Freedom Theater I’ve taught photography to young adults who are already very proficient in the craft but need encouragement and tools to portray their experiences under occupation. I’m about to photograph more of the Jordan River and Dead Sea, a project combining hydrology, history, geology and politics in a multi-layered approach. I will photograph for Grassroots Jerusalem as part of their political mapping project to portray Palestinian experience in East Jerusalem. And finally, if plans hold, I will be with Israeli Jews living within 2 miles of Gaza, often attacked, but who formed an organization called Other Voice courageously critical and outspoken about much of Israeli policy.

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Global Village Square, Bethlehem, March 2015

Here in Palestine-Israel, the vision is bleak. I doubt I can find many who believe the conflict will be resolved soon, if at all. To counter this despair I tell people about the hope I feel erupting in the USA because of growing awareness, more frequent visits to the region, increasing activism among young Jews and others of Arab descent, and most importantly the growing BDS movement—boycott, divest, sanction—with its accompanying support of the One State Solution: one land, multiple peoples, with equal rights for all.

I joyfully wear my Martin Luther King Jr button. Many notice and either recognize or ask. I answer, a great leader, a man of love, compassion, intellect, and sumud. Steadfast in his quest for justice. He died for his truth, a shaheed, a martyr. And people seem to instantly recognize his value.

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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 

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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.

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In an Israeli Jerusalem settlement

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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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2013 may be the big year of transitions for Quaker and Quaker-related institutions in Palestine-Israel. First the Friends International Center in Ramallah (FICR) is currently evolving, having been initially an experiment in connecting better with the local community. Its founding coordinator, Kathy Bergen, has retired. FICR had become a significant source of transformation in the West Bank thru its cultural, educational, and political programs. The FICR board and the Ramallah Friends Meeting are currently working toward clearness on what will come next. I am exceedingly grateful to have been in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel during spring 2013 while some of this transition emerged.

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Ramallah Friends Meeting House, photo by Anarchopacifist

The American Friends Service Committee has ended its main project, Popular Achievement, after nearly 10 successful years and will turn over implementation of several new directions and funding to Palestinian organizations. While the Ramallah Friends Meeting continues to provide an invaluable spiritual base for residents of Palestine and international visitors, regularly hosting groups such as the Christian Peacemakers teams, when I attended, the majority of participants were internationals. The Ramallah Friends School and the main regional AFSC office continue, both as far as I can determine, with strength and stability.

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Kathy Bergen, retiring FICR coordinator

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Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting

A little more detail: FICR was affected from two directions. The bank that had been serving the Ramallah Friends Meeting and FICR was undergoing an international investigation for some possible irregularities. Because it was found that the Ramallah Friends Meeting account had been operating a sub account for FICR, the bank examiners determined that this presented a problem and closed the account.  At the same time, the Israeli authorities responsible for issuing long-term visas would not provide any response to questions about whether Kathy’s shortened visa was a sign of termination or if renewal might be a possibility. Such uncertainty made it impossible to plan for a future that required keeping a non-citizen as a Program Coordinator.

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Jean Zaru with Saida Khader, West Bank AFSC staff person, in front of the Ramallah Friends Meeting annex

The FICR Steering Committee is presently in a period of expectant waiting and looking forward to the planning meeting with members of Ramallah Friends Meeting in October. Possibilities that have been suggested by the community would be short-­term Friends in Residence, Muslim/Christian conversations around specific subjects of direct concern to Palestinians, ongoing conflict reduction/Alternatives to Violence programs, and spiritual foundations of peace-­making. In general, requests from the community have been for going deep in a few specific things rather than going broadly in many. Most agree that the Meeting and FICR are one entity so another outcome is likely to be a name that reflects the unity going forward.

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Deborah First, clerk of FICR’s board

At Kathy’s goodbye party in April 2013 (which I attended) when she was feted and lauded for her 7 years of devoted work, many of us felt that if the energy present at that party could be focused into leadership—preferably not an individual but some form of collective—FICR would continue. To further quote Deborah First in a recent email to me:

…We (the Meeting and FICR) have retained Hekmat [a local woman] …at least through the end of December [2013] and perhaps for much longer. Plans for ongoing spiritually connected workshops (that is a vital connection for the maintenance of our church status) will unfold this fall. Meanwhile, much repair work is happening on the Meetinghouse and the Annex ­roof tiles, leak, irrigation system, and so on ­ and the stream of visitors keeps coming. Hekmat has been arranging, and is present for, hospitality at the rise of Meeting each Sunday and is glad to do so. There is a sense of peace about the slow and steady work of the spirit….

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Omar Barghouti, founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel 

As for the AFSC: since 2004 the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza and the West Bank has concentrated on training youth, college age and high school. In an interactive and playful manner its Popular Achievement Program taught leadership and community building skills to volunteers. Once the graduates (now termed coaches) had successfully completed this training, the program required they recruit a group of high school youth to train in the same manner. The coaches then helped the younger youth design and implement a community service project such as a library, landscaping, first aid workshop, and conversion of an abandoned Israeli military base into a football (soccer) field. The AFSC joined with 11 strategic partners including NGO’s and universities to train more than 6000 young people.

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Gaza office of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program

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Popular Achievement programs in Gaza and the West Bank

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Photography workshop students (and friends) in Gaza taught by Skip Schiel

The new direction has 4 main goals, all in my view characterized by enhanced political content: challenging and transforming militarized societies in Israel, Palestine, and the US; fostering cohesion of disparate Palestinian groups (West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the diaspora); supporting the boycott-divest-sanction (BDS) international campaign as called for in 2005 by Palestinian civil society; and supporting active nonviolence and social change movements to transform the occupation and inequality generally.

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SodaStream (targeted by the BDS campaign) factory in an illegal settlement industrial park in the West Bank,

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Landfill illegally operated by Veolia (also targeted by the BDS campaign) in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank

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Sahar Vardi, AFSC staff, East Jerusalem, at a demonstration in Al Masara

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Al Masara, near Bethlehem

To implement this new direction AFSC will close down its West Bank and Gaza offices (West Bank immediately and Gaza in 3 years, altho the Gaza office may transition into an NGO with AFSC support), devolve direction to local partners (such as Baladna and Pal Vision), and continue funding. It will maintain its East Jerusalem office. The new program, “Palestinian Youth: Together for Change,” is slated to run until 2016. Quoting the regional director, Patricia Sellick, directly:

This is the context in which we are working:

20 years after Oslo the Israeli military occupation is entrenched and conditions of Palestinians are deteriorating Israel remains a highly militarized society and is attempting to extend a militarized civilian service to its Palestinian citizens US continues to support Israel with military aid The vulnerability of Palestinian refugees across the region has been highlighted by the predicament of the stateless Palestinians living in Syria

Within this context, AFSC reviewed its plans for Israel and Palestine programming in June 2012 and identified the following priorities (explained further in the attached document):

Demilitarization Economic Activism Non-violence and social change Palestinian cohesion

These strategic priorities have led to the redesign of our Israel, Palestine and US programs. These three programs are coordinated but separate.

…The new project started July 2013 and like the previous project has funding from Bread for the World. I would like to emphasize that our overall funding for the Palestine Program has increased. Staff cuts do not mean budget cuts, they reflect the fact that the Middle East region will now be spending a greater proportion on our partners and a smaller proportion on AFSC staff.

I raise the question: how can AFSC effectively end control and influence while it maintains funding? What if a partner wishes to advocate or at least allow a more militant approach to resistance, one that contradicts AFSC’s non-violence principles? Another question: if the direction is more political, ie, toward ending the occupation and siege, will Israel allow the AFSC the latitude it’s experienced over its more than 60 years in Palestine-Israel? To compile this report I’ve spoken with most staff, including Patricia Sellick, and the general secretary, Shan Cretin. I’m in touch with key people for constant updates. AFSC has produced an exciting new newsletter specific to the region.

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Shan Cretin, General Secretary, AFSC

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Patricia Sellick, Regional Director, AFSC

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Amal Sabawi, director of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

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Ibrahem Shatali, program officer, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

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Islam Madhoun, Intelligence Technology office, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

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Firas Ramlawi, business officer, Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

From most Palestinian staff I heard some hard feelings. Some claimed they’d not been consulted and of course they were not happy about losing their jobs (altho some may transition into new AFSC positions or be able to use their expertise with other organizations). To some it felt like a classic top down decision-making process. Ms. Sellick claimed all staff had been consulted and AFSC was responding to suggestions and requests made by Palestinian organizations. Furthermore she said the big picture is hard to view from a staff position. I am happy to wait and see, revise my thoughts as new programs unfold, and support them in any way possible with my photography. I am grateful to be a small part of a large process, one that dates back to 1869 when 2 Quakers from my region of New England, Eli and Sybil Jones, met a young Arab girl in Ramallah. They asked, what can we do? She answered, provide education for girls. From such a humble origin, great and worthy institutions formed. They will continue. Contact info for the AFSC: regional director Patricia Sellick (p.sellick@afsc.org) and her team in the Middle East Regional office. And for FICR, board clerk Deborah First, (deborahfirst@mac.com).

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Early 20th century

LINKS

AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) in Palestine-Israel

FICR (Friends International Center in Ramallah) Popular Achievement Program

AFSC position paper-2013 (also available in Arabic)

AFSC-BDS Campaign

Quakers in Israel & Palestine—Timeline by Skip Schiel

Notes on My Quaker Connections in Palestine 

Photos by Skip Schiel

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Political power is controlled by the corporate elite, and the arts are the locale for a kind of guerilla warfare in the sense that guerillas look for apertures and opportunities where they can have an effect.

—Howard Zinn

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Young man in a park, Gaza City

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Inbal Yahav, telling how she lost a close friend in a Gazan mortar attack, Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav (cooperative agricultural community) next to the Gaza Strip

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During a trauma healing session in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip

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Nader Abu Amsha, director of YMCA Rehabilitation Program & Beit Sahour Branch

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West Jerusalem

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Watching a performance of the Jenin Freedom Theater at a water rights demonstration in the Jordan River Valley

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Coaches at a training for the Quaker Palestine Youth Program, Gaza City

PHOTOS

An interlude in my series of journal extracts about my recent trip. That series will continue.

Often while photographing in Palestine-Israel for 3 months this spring I despaired. For several reasons: in Gaza and the West Bank, the paucity of popular unarmed resistance to the occupation; by Israeli Jews, the absence of awareness about the occupation and siege; and my own sense of futility about my work. There are exceptions of course, Gush Shalom, Other Voice, and Emek Shaveh for instance in Israel, and some local popular resistance groups in Palestine, such as struggle in the villages of Bil’in, Budrus, Al Masara, Al Walaja, and Nabi Saleh in the West Bank and a few locations in Gaza. Yet, in my 8 trips there since 2004 I’ve never felt so crushed.

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Beneficiary of the East Jerusalem YMCA’s rehabilitation program

However, I returned to my home in the USA to join with activists on campaigns such as BDS—Boycott-Divest-Sanction. I work with Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights and other local and regional organizations struggling to bring justice with peace and security to all parties in Israel-Palestine. This work nourishes me, offers me ways to use my photography, provides hope. As a friend, Loretta Williams, signs her letters, “In Struggle is the Hope.”

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Watching the Holy Fire Eastern Christian Orthodox Holy Fire procession on Easter, Beit Sahour (Bethlehem)

To be precise about my itinerary: 1 week in Jerusalem to acclimate politically and historically to the region, 4 weeks in Gaza to photograph the activities of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program and to teach photography to young adults, 4 weeks in Bethlehem to work (nominally—I’ll explain this later) with the Palestine News Network, 2 weeks in Ramallah with the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in the West Bank to photograph their work and teach, and in Jerusalem with the American Friends Service Committee to photograph for their BDS campaign. During my final week of 12, I explored the northern Mediterranean coast, the Israeli borderlands with Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and trace the Jordan River from headwaters on Mt Hermon where it dumps (theoretically) into the Dead Sea.

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Watching a man being fitted for a suit, Gaza City

A friend asked, what surprised you, Skip? Some people I met such as Jen Sieu from the USA who volunteered with me as a photographer and reporter at the Palestine News Network. We gave each other leads such as the Battir terraces threatened by the planned Israeli separation wall and early morning at the Bethlehem checkpoint. And Ayman Nijim, a psychosocial worker in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza. He introduced me to a young men’s debka touring group and brought me to photograph his trauma healing program in the camp. And an old friend, Fareed Tawallah in Ramallah, with whom I shared the farmers’ market he co-founded, Sharaka.

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Fatma M. Khateib, Project Coordinator at the psychosocial service agency, Afaq Jadeeda Association (New Horizons), in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip

Some places surprised me. For instance Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav hugging the Gaza wall, often targeted by Gaza mortars and militants. There I met Roni Keider and her daughter, Inbal Yahav. Inbal lost a close friend in a mortar attack. And the border zones mentioned earlier, actually viewing fences and army patrols, while I was able to look into neighboring countries, including Syria where violence rages. And the Battir terraces, ancient agricultural terraces that utilize natural water flows and could be partially destroyed if Israeli’s plans for extension of the separation wall succeed.

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Men’s-only pre-wedding party, Gaza City

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Taher Mhanna and his son Hesham

In Bethlehem I was chagrined to learn that the Palestine News Network made little use of my photos, offered virtually no support, and exhibited what I feel is a self-destructive policy of eschewing connections with Israeli organizations—the normalization policy—that persuaded them against using my and Jen’s photos about the Battir terraces. The reason? The project involved Friends of the Earth Middle East, a joint Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian environmental effort to foster justice and peace thru concentration on the environment.

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Hamas security officers, Gaza City

Three final surprises: the major direction and staff changes in the American Friends Service Committee and Quaker programs which I will report on separately. And my friendship with a woman with whom I wrote and Skyped regularly, a very personal connection to home that warmed my heart. My daughter Katy as well, who cared so lovingly for my home and business.

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Participants in a water rights march in the Jordan River Valley

I’ve made many photos, written some blog entries, made some friends, and raised within myself many questions. For a few: what is the strategy of Palestinian unarmed resistance? Are Israeli occupation and settlement policies suicidal? Why is Gaza so often the center of resistance and the target of Israeli attacks? How does the terrain reflect the politics, especially the control of water? How much should I concentrate my photography on conflict vs ordinary life?

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Drinking water from a school pure water installation provided by the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip 

Photography is one of my primary lifelines, for my own psychic survival at least. I must believe it has some value, even tho I am often disappointed with reactions to it—and my own self evaluations. I am nourished by the awareness that I am not alone in photography and activism. I photograph shoulder to shoulder with some of my mythical photographic mentors—Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, and W. Eugene Smith for 3 who are long dead, and Sebastião Salgado very much alive. And in politics I walk with Martin Luther King Jr and Jesus Christ, partners as teachers and martyrs.

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Participants in a Quaker Palestine Youth Program in occupied Palestine, West Bank

My next steps? Exhibit portraits at a regional Quaker gathering in August 2013, produce new slide shows and supplement old ones for upcoming national tours, perhaps publish a second book (the first is Eyewitness Gaza, available at blurb.com), post more blog and website entries, and develop new print exhibitions. The usual.

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Avi, proprietor of Abraham’s Tent, housing for travelers in the Golan, near Mt Hermon

I’ll end with some insights from James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:

For in the immediate world, everything is to be discerned, for him who can discern it, and centrally and simply, without either dissection into science or digestion into art, but with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of the consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.

That is why the camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time; and is why in turn I feel such rage at its misuse: which has spread so nearly universal a corruption of sight that I know of less than a dozen alive whose eyes I can trust even so much as my own.

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The photographer resting in a field of aloes, West Jerusalem

I can imagine how tough it was to be over there. It’s reached a state of stasis, maybe. All the power held by Israel. All the Palestinian strategies of the past have failed in the face of that really evil state-power/religious-zealot-power/dysfunctional state/helped by holocaust drums and US Jews and Christian Zionists. And the Palestinians, too, in their government apparently tribal (legacy of the Tripoli-Arafat approach–non democratic really). Yikes.

—a friend (in a recent email to me)

Ramadan

Courtesy of Islam Madhoun & AFSC Gaza

A Long, Slow, Soft Landing in Boston

THIS SERIES WILL BE CONTINUED

LINKS

To learn more about Palestinian unarmed resistance to occupation (American Friends Service Committee):

“A brief overview of the situation in Palestine-Israel” by Skip Schiel

Playground Tour of Palestine” by Ilse Cohen

“Life Is A Catastrophe Now” by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, May 2013

“Israel is Outgassing its Unhealed Trauma,” by Paul Levy

“Why Land Day still matters,” by Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis, March 30, 2012

“In Their Shoes (Obama in Israel & Palestine)” by Uri Avnery April 2013

Read Full Post »

We at the East Jerusalem YMCA, and as an active and indigenous segment of the Palestinian social movement, contribute to the reconstruction of Palestinian society, which has been facing decades of systemic destruction, dispersal, and violations of its national, legal, and human rights. Within this current political situation we perceive the need to concentrate local, regional, and international efforts in order to recover the just rights of our people and to build a democratic state where transparency, equity, and social justice may prevail.

—Policy mandate statement

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

May 16, 2013, Thursday, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem Occupied Palestine

PHOTOS

There are many sides to the various stories emanating from this region. One not often heard or seen is how Palestinian society deals with the effects of occupation: trauma, physical injury, loss of work, degraded dignity, and despair (for a short list).

Thanks to my geographical proximity to the East Jerusalem YMCA (despite the name, the organization serves the entire West Bank of Occupied Palestine), a 20 minute walk down the main road of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem—plus my intimate experience with the Y during my early university years—I finally thought, hey, the local Y, let’s investigate how it manifests its “aim of positively contributing to the physical, mental and spiritual development of children, youth and the community at large…”

(The site is also the third of 3 purported shepherds’ fields sites, significantly less visited than the Latin/Catholic and Greek Orthodox sites but touching nonetheless.)

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Raed Abu Jriers, the East Jerusalem YMCA’s’s affable media and communication coordinator, set up 2 visits to people benefitting (beneficiaries) from the rehabilitation program. First to Raed Ateyyah, a 37-year-old who at the age of 17 was shot by Israeli soldiers—not during a demonstration but when local settlers attacked his village. His mobility was impaired, he could only work common labor jobs where he didn’t have to stand or walk, but now, with the help of counseling and vocational training, he is employed in a small garment factory producing clothing for “export.”

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Benificiary of the Rehabilitation Program, Raed Ateyyah, severely injured by Israeli soldiers, with Abdullah, his social worker (middle),
and Raed Abu Jries (left)

His case manager or guide, a social worker, Abdullah, explained that currently after one month of work, Raed only earns 35 NIS (about $9.50 daily) but pays roughly half of that for transport to and from his village near Bethlehem. Leaving a net gain of some 20 NIS or $5 for a day’s labor. Where are these garments sold? I asked. —We export them. —And where is that? —Israel. —And what  label does Israel sew in? —“Ketty, made in Israel.”

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Raed endured my photography, never offered much affect, a withdrawn expression on his face. This perhaps is an indicator of his trauma. Images of tranquil nature scenes covered one wall of the shop, which made a powerful counterpoint to the machinery and workers. A sister-brother team apparently owns the facility. (Background on what I photograph is often scant and since I’m not writing I do not apply myself very diligently to that aspect.)

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Co owner of the garment factory

Our second visit was to Jamil Al-Wahsh, his older son, Ali, and the little one, Muhammad, in the village of Za’tara. Jamil is in his 40s, born with a major defect that rendered his feet splayed out, his legs akimbo, thereby severely cutting down his walking ability. Three of his 7 children have the same malady. Luckily for my photography they were home from school—Nakba Day—and so could demonstrate for me how they walk. The rehab program first counseled the father, and then installed additions that offered the family a more comfortable existence. Namely an entrance ramp, a sit-down toilet (vs. the squat), and for the youngest boy leg braces (which he refuses to wear). Contrasting with Raed Ateyyah, the garment worker, this man and his entire family were jovial, outward, and seemed to play to the camera.

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Jamil Al-Wahsh, his older son, Ali, a daughter, and the youngest son, Muhammad, in the village of Za’tara—all 3 males have congenital leg problems.

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On the ramp constructed by the Y program

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Ali

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With the family’s social worker

Preceding the tour, the director of the program, the humble and highly articulate Nader Abu Amsha, explained the genesis of the program. I was struck by how exploratory and experimental it was, beginning in 1989 as a response to injuries from the First Intifada, (“shaking off” or uprising, which began 2 years earlier), learning as they developed (he was first a volunteer, then paid staff), and then evolving into what appears to be a comprehensive program addressing many aspects of suffering: counseling, vocational training, physical services, advocacy, and general education. Some 50,000 children and youth were injured during just the first year of the First Intifada (roughly 1987-1993), or, according to Save the Children, over the first two years, an estimated 7% of all Palestinians under 18 years of age suffered injuries from shootings, beatings or tear gas. By 1993, the YMCA had shifted its treatment approach from the individual to a more holistic one, involving the entire family and perhaps the community, schools in particular.

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Nader Abu Amsha, director of YMCA Rehabilitation Program
& Beit Sahour Branch

According to an estimate by the Swedish branch of Save the Children, as many as 29,900 children require medical treatment for injuries caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers during the first two years of the Intifada alone. Nearly a third of them are aged ten or under. Save the Children also estimates that between 6500-8500 Palestinian minors were wounded by Israeli gunfire in the first two years of the Intifada.

—Institute for Middle East Understanding

I asked, how do assess the presence and severity of trauma? Answer: from the point of view of resilience. We first discuss options with the beneficiary. We build trust. We share stories. We ask what they think and feel, which is usually revenge at first. Boys often manifest the “hero” complex, overrating their strength. We don’t give advice. We ask questions. We ask our beneficiary to report their suffering—Israel arrests an average of 700 children aged 12-17 every year. And we develop criteria for improvement. Obviously, the earlier the intervention the better, otherwise they become sick and need serious treatment. (paraphrasing)

Needless to say, I was impressed. So when Nader told me other agencies outside Palestine often invite staff to do trainings, like in Columbia, I was not surprised.

Rather than attempt to write a full account of the riches of this interview with Nader—a pity my news agency chose not to cover it, seems like poor judgment—I’ll simply refer my readers to the website listed below.

During the Second Intifada (roughly 2000-2005) as of January 2004, the Palestinian child rights organization Defense for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI/PS) had documented the deaths of over 500 Palestinian children (under 18). These deaths were the result of Israeli occupation policies implemented in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip since September 2000. DCI/PS reports that an estimated 10,000 children were wounded during that period.

If Americans Knew

After nearly 45 minutes of this introduction I asked, has anyone ever written a book about all this or made a comprehensive movie? No book but several movies, mostly by the Y rehab program itself. (I list several on-line below.) My general impression of Nader is that he is sharp, talented, dedicated, and works hard. I enjoyed listening to him but found photographing him at the same time a challenge. He admitted he was distracted when I brought out my camera so I doubt I have any photos useful of him. And my writing is so fragmentary. I am torn between practicing my photographer’s eye and my writer’s ear. And I fail to understand the apathy about this story by the news agency I volunteer for. Maybe limited time and scant staff. Or maybe an inability to recognize a good story.

I walked to the Y in a drizzle, under nearly overcast skies, a stretch of my legs that is a good way to begin the day. A little after noon I walked back, again in some drizzle speckled with bright sun, and found a 3-person olive wood factory (factory is too grand a name, how about the less imposing and vaguer manufactory?) with the participants either eager to be photographed or quiescent. Two were smoothing out contours with tools that may have originally been dentist drills, while the third, a young man chain-smoking, operated a duplicating machine. The operator, a sort of magician, multiple times resurrected the dead and wood-embalmed Jesus with this clever machine. He gently traced shapes and 2 rasping drills dutifully followed instructions and carved out—resurrected— many Christ’s.

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I photographed freely, and when finished the man nearest the door who’d beckoned me in gave me a little gift: a patriarch statue, maybe King David himself or perhaps one of the Wise Men adoring Christ. The face is too old to be that of Christ. He looks sad. His right hand has a hole in it, perhaps it once held a staff. What looks like a nail protrudes from the base, making the statue unstable. I treasure this artifact and introduced it to the other elements of my altar: Christ, Buddha, jasmine (in season), stun grenade, 2 cartridges, 2 candles, incense, various political lapel pins, photos of family and friends, Mediterranean sea shells from Gaza, and the ceramic plate AFSC staff gave me when I left Gaza. All treasures.

I ponder: are any of these olive wood workers beneficiaries of the Y’s rehab program? How have they been affected by the occupation? If not for the occupation what lives would they now live? Will their conditions be any different when free?

And further: as the wood workers can in effect resurrect Jesus, does the YMCA rehabilitation program resurrect—positively transform lives shattered by onerous conditions—its beneficiaries?

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TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program

Their movie links:

Coming Home

Buds of Hope

The Suffering of the Palestinian Child Under the Israeli Occupation by Ahmed El Helal and Mariam I Itani

Read Full Post »

Hassan Muamer of the Battir Landscape EcoMuseum, an initiative, with the help of UNESCO, that has been dedicated to restoring and sustaining the environmental stability of Battir, continues to fight the human rights violations presented by the wall.

“There have not been protests here since the first Intifada,” Muamer said, “we opted for agriculture as resistance.”

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PHOTOS

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

May 1, 2013, Wednesday, Bethlehem

Yesterday [April 30, 2013] was the Battir terraces tour that I’ve long hoped to photograph after G suggested it months ago. With J, the new volunteer at the news agency where I also volunteer as a photographer, G guided us thru some of the terrace landscape. Not the Palestinian village of Battir itself, however; this she promised for later, maybe an early morning walk, most importantly with a Palestinian guide rather than herself, an Israeli. Much of the tour was on foot, usually mild inclines and declines. When she suggested a rougher walk I demurred, stated, I might need to walk slower than you both, I have knee problems. She suggested a less strenuous route.

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Click map for larger view

The terraces are vast. This is one of the areas in Israel-Palestine most dense with terraces, G from Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) thought because it has historically been prime agricultural land, as contrasted with the Galilee for instance. It is more suited to agriculture partially because of the warmer climate. There is archeological evidence that terraces existed here at least 4000 years ago. Of course the main reason for terracing is to increase arable land. Slopes can be converted into small plains by forming rock walls which in turn create the arable flat zones. This also traps rain water. Earlier, people moved the more fertile earth from lower elevations to the terraced plains. Now, G explained, with fertilizers this is no longer necessary. Hills prevent use of machinery so much work is done with donkeys and hand labor.

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She showed us places where farmers had renovated old terraces and planted, usually olive trees. Some Israeli farmers are using traditional irrigation techniques supplemented by piped water to foster early growth. Maybe Palestinians as well?

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Battir 1893

G showed us cisterns and canals in a small park. Also the ruins of Byzantine structures dating back some 1600 years, olive presses and maybe a church. Across the valley she indicated ancient structures built during Roman and Crusader periods, and a hillside now barren which once had been an Arab village. Possibly people recycled the limestone from the buildings into the terrace walls. She also pointed to where an ancient Jewish fortress, Khirbet al-Yahud, once stood. At 2 of the parks people had congregated, one to camp. We saw tour buses at a third site, but the hikers may have been on other trails.

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Photographing all this in an effective way was challenging. Much the same challenge I face with my water theme: how to make interesting photos of intrinsically fascinating scenes when seen with the unaided eye and with commentary but that do not necessarily lend themselves to photography? J also made photos and we shall compare. Perhaps I can learn from her, she from me.

G leads an excellent tour. She’s done this many times, knows the hills intimately, walks and rides horses over them. She knows history, ecology, geology and other areas that fuse together so she can present an overall view of the terraces. She is empathetic with human needs and rights, often referred to the human being as central in the argument of what to do about the Separation Barrier (called by some the Apartheid Wall) and the terraces. In fact, the proposed route of the Barrier in this region is what motivates concern for the terraces. Many would be destroyed if the wall/fence is built according to plan. At the moment this is being adjudicated in Israel’s high court—potentially a landmark legal case for Palestine-Israel.

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Railroad tracks near the proposed route of the Barrier

With a curious combination of influence groups: the Israeli Defence Ministry argues on the basis of security, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and Friends of the Earth Middle East for environmental integrity, and local Battir village residents for their human rights—they demand no barrier of any form. G claimed this is the highest adjudication level of an environmental issue possibly superseding the all-powerful motive or justification of security. Of course the scales would tilt dramatically toward security should Palestinians attack Israelis violently. Such a precarious balance.

Returning from the terraces’ tour we cruised thru Tsur Hadassah, an Israeli town on the Green Line near Wadi Fukin which I visited in 2007 with FoEME (pronounced FOE-ME). And skirted around Betar Illit, the illegal settlement nearby that often—unintentionally, G claimed—spills raw sewage down the slopes into Wadi Fukin. Thus potentially ruining the ancient agricultural practices of Wadi Fukin.

She did not wish to bring us to Battir village itself, feeling justly that this part of the tour should best be led by a Palestinian. So that remains to be done. She also mentioned other events we could be part of, such as the cistern exhibit on May 27, 2013.Palestine-Israel-Battir-Terraces-5150

Palestinian village of Battir

G spotted “illegal” workers in the bushes along one of the small roads. She explained that they are walking across the fields and terraces between Palestine and Israel, working in Israel. Many Israelis never notice this—or choose not to. I did not see the men. I did not even think to look for them.

I am impressed with how many people, multitudes across the millennia, not knowing each other, contribute to terraces. Rock upon rock, field after field, labor spans centuries. People who never actually meet reach out their hands in friendship. Together they build and use the terraces.

At UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meeting next month, the terraces at Batir will come up for recognition as a World Heritage Site. The terraces are watered by an ancient system of springs, pools and wells. In addition to destroying the watering system, residents say, the part of the barrier in the Refaim streambed next to the Green Line, or Israel’s pre-1967 border, could separate the villagers from 740 acres of their land.

—Haaretz

To be contrasted with a recent speech by the president of Israel, Shimon Peres:

“I remember how it all began. The whole state of Israel is a millimeter of the whole Middle East. A statistical error, barren and disappointing land, swamps in the north, desert in the south, two lakes, one dead and an overrated river. No natural resource apart from malaria. There was nothing here. And we now have the best agriculture in the world? This is a miracle: a land built by people.”

Sheer ignorance or political manipulation?

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TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

High Court orders Defense Ministry to halt construction of part of West Bank barrier

News about the terraces’ decision – Environmental Peacemaking

“West Bank Barrier Threatens Farms”

“Palestine: Land of olives and vines. Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir” (UNESCO description preparatory to considering the terraces as a World Heritage Site)

“Refaim Valley: The Palestinian villages of Al Wallaja and Battir Archaeological View” (from Emek Shaveh)

“When Israeli denial of Palestinian existence becomes genocidal,” by Ilan Pappe, April 20, 2013

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