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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

PHOTOS 

Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.

—Jiddu Krishnamurti

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“Existence is Resistance”

September 21, 2018, Friday, Hebron

Yesterday [September 20, 2018], after the celebratory conclusion of the 5-day basic-advanced Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), workshop, our team guided by Lubna toured the old city of Hebron. A region of another form of internal displacement: Israelis force Palestinians from their homes; the Israelis then occupy the homes.

We went down, down, down, and then a little up to reach the Ibrahimi Mosque, the burial site of the region’s first family, Abraham, aka Ibrahim, Sarah, Jacob, Rebecca, and others,—notably I believe, not Ishmael (where is he buried?).

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Alternatives to Violence Project workshop in Hebron, Occupied Palestine

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Lubna, AVP facilitator from Hebron (L) & Joe Digarbo, facilitator from the United States

This was deeply meaningful to me. Here, supposedly, 4,000 yrs ago, the Abrahamic tradition, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, with the later offshoot of Quakerism, my tradition, allegedly began. The decline and incline of our path reminded me of the original hilly ground Abraham located to settle down (the original settlers?). He bought land which included a cave, The Cave of Machpelah, from the local people to use as a burial site for his beloved but prone-to-jealousy wife, Sarah. Ah, how the land contains history, and how history buries the land. What’s left of this history, how accurate is this history? Jiddu Krishnamurti said, paraphrasing, “religion is a true fiction.”

The new settlers—even tho Jews were here for millennia—now steal property of Palestinians, which they claim was originally theirs. Walking the narrow path ways past numerous shops, food including expertly crafted piles of zattar; clothing including intimate clothing for females; house wares; men’s pants; shoes piled high with an occasional stitching machine to repair shoes; and other merchandise, we walked beneath wire and fabric overhead, installed to protect against the garbage, urine, and feces hurled down by Israeli settlers who’ve moved into Palestinian homes. The injustice is shockingly visible.

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Old City, Hebron, garbage thrown by Israeli settlers

Gated pathways; garbage thrown by Israelis behind fences which entices vermin, snakes, scorpions, etc; Palestinian and Israeli homes directly across from each other; Israeli flags; the periodic raid or forced closure of shops; innumerable checkpoints; and the sealed doors all bespeak impunity. I imagine Rebecca, our Jewish colleague, was even more horrified than us. My Jewish friend, Stan, might have wept.

A young stocky dark shopkeeper joined us as an informal guide, offering personal experience to underscore conditions. This is a route most tourists avoid. About the only visitors are groups like ours, such as my first encounter in 2003 with a delegation, a second one with the Magi pilgrimage, and a third I seem to recall on my own to visit the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT)in Hebron and Atwani, the Palestinian village in the Southern Hebron Hills. Maybe also in conjunction with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel . My last visit to Hebron may have been about 10 years ago. On this walk I renewed memories and updated insights.

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Shopkeeper

In the mosque, now “shared” since the Six Day War in 1967, 60% synagogue and the rest mosque, we learned about Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish medical doctor who’d moved to Israel and enacted his extreme Jewish religious and nationalistic views. Here in 1994, Baruch Goldstein perpetrated a massacre of worshipping Palestinian Muslims. A worker guided us to bullet holes surrounding the Imam’s sitting place. Goldstein entered thru that door, the guide told us, vividly, walked to this spot and with his automatic weapon killed 29 people, injured nearly 200, before his gun jammed (or he had problems loading a new clip), and he was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. All in a place of worship.

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Bullet wound in wall from Goldstein massacre in 1994

Did this incident register for me nearly 30 years ago? Did it implant a seed that now grows thru my present work? Did it bring me to this special place once again (because I’d been to the mosque several times before) with these special people?

We were long on our feet: Rebecca may have felt it the most. As others discussed history, I sat on the floor to rest against one of the monuments before retracing our route. I’d considered asking if we could walk out thru the Jewish section but this would possibly imperil Lubna who wears a hijab. On the way in we noticed the work of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, HRC, most notably the restoration of a sesame seed press. The manager—he rented from another family who’d owned it for centuries—explained to me that only about 3 groups per week visit, many more during Ramadan because of how the mosque draws, many fewer during the winter, but few buy. I suggested that for me at least, in the region for another month, buying means carrying. So I declined his offers, as did my entire group. Because the income from his shop is not sufficient, he works in a factory.

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Muslim prayer

A small achievement: after I’d asked Lubna where I might purchase an exfoliating scrubber, she found something for me. She explained that local women weave a certain plant into body scrubbers, similar in function to luffa sponges. After purchasing some in Palestine and using them for years at home, I’d searched for similar devices in the Boston area where I live, and on-line; I failed to find anything other than inferior plastic surrogates. I was not sure that what Lubna found for me was precisely what I’d searched for, but I bought 2. Ten shekels or about $3 each. To last perhaps until I expire. Watching as we strolled thru the souk, this was the only shop I spotted that carried this particular item.

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Hebron body scrubber

We stopped in a garden for respite, some drank coffee and some fresh-squeezed carrot juice (I discovered later they feed the carrot scraps to their chickens—some well-fed chickens), reviewed the walk and the AVP workshop, found a bus, and finally made it home. Another long, tiring, fulfilling day on the road.

LINKS

Inside The West Bank: The Troubled City Of Hebron (a dual narrative tour) by Matthew Karsten (

Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat HaMachpelah)

Baruch Goldstein by Matt Plen

Destroying History by Ahmad Sub Laban (2004)

Hebron Rehabilitation Committee: Architectural Preservation of the Old City of Hebron

TO BE CONTINUED

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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I and the Alternatives to Violence Project, AVP, team plan a return journey in early summer 2019.)

PHOTOS

September 12, 2018, Wednesday, Bethlehem

(My field notes only until I review the audio recording.)

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First woman I’ve photographed for this set. Nidal Al Azraq’s mother, 9 years old when she fled during the Nakba in 1948.

Remind Nidal to send medicines with next person coming (which could be me).

Her home village, Al Qabu is now Begin Park, one hell of an irony (since Begin, a former prime minister of Israel, organized terrorist groups to end the British Mandate and form the state of Israel. This is not the much larger Menachem Begin Park near Tel Aviv.)

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Al Qabu

Since expulsion she has never visited.

Fled first to Bethlehem, then to Aida camp.

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Aida refugee camp

Sad when contemplating home.

Feels her health deteriorated from sadness over loss.

Wants to see my photos, either prints or files, ask Nidal and Mousa (my assistant and translator) how to do this.

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Mohammed (Mousa) Al Azzeh, one of my organizer sand translators, an accomplished photographer-videographer working for the Lejee Center in Aida

Wants me to cut a sliver of a fig tree in her village and bring it to her to plant.

I’d asked her if there were something of hers she’d like me to deposit in the village. Answered no.

I told her she is beautiful, her mouth especially.

While photographing in the house I spotted a woman in bed with an electronic device who quickly turned away from me.

Five of her children born in one room, others in other places in the house.

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In a photograph on the wall one of her sons, 21 years (?) in prison; she stands with him (also in another photo with his father).

I feel project has finally, fitfully begun; I’ve met actual people and heard their stories.

Whether to video or photograph?

How to use narration, get it translated?

Not particularly pleased with my first photos.

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Her home

I might return to photograph full frontal view, she looking directly into camera, as an opener and closer of this and all sessions.

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LINKS

Al Qabu

More about Al Qabu

Zochrot tour to al-Qabu village by Zochrot (video, 2016)

Al-Qabu tour by Zochrot – Report

Photo-story: A Trip to al-Qabu

Al Qabu Becomes Mevo Beitar: Palestine Becomes Israel by Skip Schiel (video, 2018)

About the Jewish National Fund (JNF) which funds many of the parks and other architectural instruments making Arab villages disappear, by BADIL the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights

Aida Refugee Camp (UNRWA) 

TO BE CONTINUED

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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)

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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

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