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Posts Tagged ‘old city’

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field, as I photograph internally displaced refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands. (and as I photograph the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) trainings at least in Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, Gaza as well if I get my permit from Israel)

A day or so after entry I wrote a few friends and family:

Dearest friends and family,

I write you happily from the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. At airport security, possibly because of the huge tourist influx, many drawn by the upcoming Jewish high holidays, I passed thru passport control with no questions, no suspicious looks, no requests to stand interrogation, no need for my various stories and contacts, no smiles, no welcomes, no shalom’s, just a simple handing back my passport with the treasured three-month visa. That three month period would get me past my December birthday, in case I wanted to celebrate it here.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I’ve met a portion of my AVP team members (Alternatives to Violence Project), we expect to visit the kotel or western or wailing wall this evening, and tomorrow head to Bethlehem to set up trainings, and then to Hebron. We do not yet have our Gaza permit, but I at least remain hopeful. 

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AVP team, Rebecca Hecht, Joe DiGarbo, Steve Alderfer

On the airplane, Lufthansa, Boston to Munich to Tel Aviv, I made a slew of iPhone photos, my first ever with such a handy device, over the once warring Balkan region, and then over the even earlier warring Italian-Greek peninsula, site of the origins of so much we value in western civilization. Odd, thought I, that I’m flying on a German plane, stopping over in the fire-bombed Munich which also was the site of violence toward Israel by the Palestinian liberation organization (PLO), into Israel, with that history very current in my thinking and experience.

FLIGHT PHOTOS

Earlier today I met with owners of Educational Bookseller in Jerusalem, an exemplary approach to draw attention to life in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Mahmoud, one of the brothers, filled me in on details of the reality, especially the lethally faulty Palestinian Authority, notably with no authority. He told me various ministries had been created in anticipation of a state. Now a separate state seems a vanishing prospect so the ministries have absolutely nothing to do. A waste of money and personnel. Vast structures in the stratosphere suspended without foundations. 

Weather is fine here in Jerusalem, windy, dry, cool. Most everything else needs some work.

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Israeli settlement/colony in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City

Thanks so much for your concern for the issues I’m working on, including internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the west bank, and their ancestral homelands now in Israel, and in my well-being. You all are what make a major part of my life possible.

Alternatives to Violence Project

TO BE CONTINUED

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Excerpts from my journal during a three month summer journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles—written while in Palestine & Israel, posted while in the United States touring the south with new photographs and stories (itinerary)

PHOTOS

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Pyrenees, Spain-France

September 13, 2009, Sunday, Tel Aviv airport, sitting on the floor at the Air France gate:

As a Jewish man dons his robe, tassels, and headpiece, brings out his prayer book, and prays in an inconspicuous location for about ten minutes, I start my last journal entry from Israel-Palestine.

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Israel

Main event [on September 12, 2009] was meeting the family in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah.  I’d read about this family for months, and wished to meet and perhaps interview and photograph them. Finally, yesterday, when I was considering what to concentrate on for my last hours in Jerusalem, I realized, why of course, walk over to East Jerusalem and look for them.

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They now sleep, eat, visit, discuss with interested parties like me, and generally exist under a tent opposite their home. Why outside and not inside? Israelis evicted them, thru a legal maneuver that has been some 35 years in process. The main theme is Judization of East Jerusalem, moving out “Arabs,” moving in Jews. This has started with some housing and most dramatically with the plethora of huge hotels catering to tourists and all owned by Jews. As Mr. Gawi explained to me, the municipality is attempting to surround East Jerusalem with Jewish settlements and call them neighborhoods.

Israel justifies this particular eviction thru a claim that Jews have owned this land for at least 150 years. Gawi claims that a Muslim holy man is buried near by and that Jews renamed and described him as a Jewish holy man. The neighborhood, Sheik Jarrah, gets its name from this venerated person. He claims further that Jews were granted the right to rent the land around the shrine some 130 years ago for a short period, something like 7 years. After the war of 1948 the UN acquired possession of this land and built a refugee camp here, with the same name, Sheik Jarrah. (It is located a short distance north of the American Hotel.) His father arrived in this area as a refugee, and eventually entered an agreement  with the UN that in exchange for giving up his refugee rights he could either own or rent (I’m not sure which) the land and build a house.

The house is beside an olive grove, and is home to about 7 families. 3 young male settlers live in the house now, occupying it. I dropped in on them, offering a friendly shalom with a question, how is life in this house for you? I’d hoped to open a dialog. Didn’t happen. They claimed to not speak English and would not permit me to photograph them. Gawi told me one is a recent immigrant from Russia, that they can be violent and beat his brother who was then arrested by the Israeli police.

All he wants is housing, his house back if possible. He told me that the Palestinian Authority does nothing, they don’t care, I have a good lawyer, I’m not worried about the court case, I don’t have legal fees, I just need money to buy a house. He mentioned something like $200,000. Our food is take away and costs 300 shekels per meal to feed the family. When I offered him 100 shekels he refused it, reiterating their need for housing. Is anyone raising money for you? Someone said they would but we’ve seen nothing yet.

He appeared calm and tired. It is Ramadan, it is late afternoon, the day is hot. He reclined on a pile of mattresses while his wife sat demurely watching their 5 children who played on bikes, the youngest with a toy gun. A neighbor, living behind the tent, offering her toilet, visited. The man’s father sat alone. All were willing to be photographed, even seeming happily so. I’m sure they’re now used to this. I said, I’ll try not to let people misinterpret your son’s gun.

I’d called Sasha at the International Solidarity Movement earlier to learn if any political event was scheduled for the day. She thought there was, a march starting at the Damascus gate at 8:30 pm, not a good time for me since I’d be preparing for lift off the next morning early from the airport and hoping to bed myself early (I failed.)

ISM can’t do much, he said, can’t raise much money.

He also told me he has money for daily expenses but I was confused about his source of money when he explained that he has a shop and earns money thru it. He also said, I can’t work there with my kids loose like this. They don’t want to go to school, they can’t concentrate on their studies.

I need to do some fact checking on this case. I don’t doubt his version of the story, especially the larger picture of Judization. As I walked over to meet him the thought occurred to me again: this is ultimately a stupid and suicidal policy of Israel. They are playing into all the vicious stereotypes of Jews: sneaky, conniving, corrupt, manipulating. As if all these traits had coalesced into one big nation, the nation and its citizenry now embodying all the reasons people have hated and persecuted Jews for millennia. God forbid, but national implosion would not surprise me, a consequence of national moral deterioration.

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France

Then there is the issue of what I didn’t do: didn’t visit the Harem al Sharif or Temple Mount because it was closed, even tho the guidebook claim s it is open on Saturdays during certain hours. Hours not posted as far as I could see, even at the main entrance. Didn’t walk the wet part of the Hezekiah tunnel system because there’d be nothing to photograph without special preparation. I couldn’t carry my gear and it would be dark, best if someone were to meet me at the Siloam pool after I’d entered at the Gihon spring. For another time perhaps. Didn’t go to bed early to get at least 6 hours sleep, talking with dorm mates and finishing web and download work.

But I did reach the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood, I did have a last supper take away at my favorite East Jerusalem restaurant, realizing I could order kibeh at 4:30 pm and eat it secluded from fasting Muslims— in the garden of the Austrian Hospice. I did say goodbye to some residents of the Hospice. I did talk with Neta about providing photos for her report of settlement activity. I did photograph more of the new light rail line as I walked to Sheik Jarrah. And more.

So now, sitting in the airport waiting for my flight, relatively speaking my troubles are over. I’ve passed thru airport security with 3 people asking the same set of questions 3 separate times, I am waiting for boarding, I assume the plane won’t crash and that Katy will be awaiting me, hopefully with Ella. Life is indeed good.

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France

September 14, 2009, Monday, Cambridge MA

Home again, after 3 months in Israel-Palestine. To resume much of what I was trying to avoid: earning a living, maintaining the house, being bored. Yet, I enjoy how I earn a living, enjoy living in this house and city, enjoy the routine—up to a point. The same piles of bills, unopened mail, solicitations, and requests stare at me. The same tasks demand completion such as signing up for an internet service (no internet last night, I’m blinded and made mute), dusting the many surfaces continually covered with dust (especially my altar), visiting family, and so forth. All part of my quotidian existence. To pull free from this, while honoring it, to maintain my focus on Israel-Palestine, while not being dominated by it are among the central tasks of my life.

I must not forget to write about the new set of photos I’m making, a variant of hip pocket photography that I’ve long practiced, but this time with the fast DX 50 mm  lens, the equivalent of an 85 mm lens. It frames close, it cuts off portions of faces and bodies, it accentuates certain features of clothing and the background, all new to me. It seems to be its own eye, with its own point of view, distinct from me but related. I am excited by what I’ve done so far and believe I might be onto a new style of photography, for me at least.

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Whether to only minimally alter the photos—light and dark changes— or more massively alter—framing, focus, etc—I’m not sure. Whether to adhere to a strict discipline of this is how the lens saw it, or flex a little and inject myself more thru post production is a question.

K (without grand daughter E, which may have been wise, but I miss the little one) met me at the airport. A joy to see her, she is so exquisitely loving, as is Jo, as is Lynn, as are most of my family. She missed me, probably worried about me, and dutifully listened as I recounted a few tales to her, mostly about the Galilee and the Golan and the kibbutz movement as establishing facts on the ground, 3 of the most eye opening sections of the last 2 weeks of my trip. She also confided her nascent interest in meditation. I need something like that, dad, I am anxious. What do you suggest?

So I outlined some of my practice: 5-15 minutes daily, incorporating prayer and visualization, using the altar, a little each day goes a long way. I suggested she consult Y who is an expert in this, teaches it as well. I promised to find her a book and send her the article about effects of meditation.

And if I were to jump out of my flesh and look candidly at Skip Schiel, what would I find? A self satisfied fellow, aging gracefully, missing an active sex and love life, happy in his photographic pursuits, more and more the world traveler. Coming up with some interesting photos and writing (occasionally, but he could be more consistent), tho he should be more parsimonious in what he shares with others. He drives some crazy with his voluminous output.

And leaving Israel, how was that, did any of my worries about leaving manifest in actuality?

Worried I’d sleep thru the 3 AM alarm, I slept for 3 hours, 10 – 1, then awoke and lay abed worried about going back to sleep. So 1 hour later, pondering my worries, 2 AM, I rose, dressed, packed, and left the Austrian Hospice to enter the dark of the Old City. It was surprisingly active. A group of young people entering the Hospice who looked like they’d been aroamin all night, men setting up their shops, cleaning crews, taxi drivers—no dearth of people even at 3 AM on Sunday morning.

Having staged my baggage at the Jerusalem Hotel in East Jerusalem, I simply walked there, now worried about getting in. Sure enough, no one answered the bell for about 15 minutes. Resigned to waiting outside, not sure what to do if the taxi pulled up with my main luggage still inside the hotel, not sure what I’d do if I had to excrete my pent up food wastes, someone finally appeared at the gate, looking puzzled.

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Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv, Israel

Who are you, why are you here? he said, with a note of perturbation in his voice. Didn’t the woman at the desk during the day leave you a note? I said. No note. Can I come in for my luggage? Yes. Can I wait inside for the taxi? No.

Retrieving my luggage, the man intent on some paper behind the desk, I asked if I could leave something for Pauline on the hotel staff from a friend. I conspicuously mentioned, and it’s from the Quakers. People seem to know that term, rather than the AFSC or its longer version, American Friends Service Committee. Oh, Quakers, yes, I know them, you connected with them?

And he warmed, finally allowed me to wait by the restaurant indoors so I could more conveniently repack.

Taxi arrived, gradually filled with mostly Jews (I could tell—they spoke Hebrew or resided in West Jerusalem or wore orthodox clothing), maybe all Jews, I the only gentile, and then the 1 hour fast drive to the airport thru the night. Now only one more hurtle: security.

3 different men asked me the same set of questions, apparently curious or piqued by my presence in Gaza. What did you do in Gaza, why were you in Israel, where did you go, where did you stay, etc. I thought this might lead to more serious questioning but it didn’t. Finding some suspicious objects in my luggage during x-ray they insisted —politely, always politely and professionally, I’m impressed—I opened my luggage.

Are you carrying a scissors in your carry on? Oh yes, I forgot about that. And I moved it to checked luggage. And this lens, let’s have a look. She removed the telephoto lens and brought it somewhere for further scrutiny. Earlier I’d been asked I were carrying weapons. Who’d packed my luggage? Had I left it anywhere out of my sight? (I said nothing about the many days of storage of my ailing black hard plastic rolly luggage in the Palm, “a hot bed of terrorism,” and the Jerusalem Hotel, also suspicious since it’s in East Jerusalem.) And twice I heard them say to others and me, someone might have planted a bomb in your luggage. Which I suppose could be true.

That successfully completed, I had little to do in the 2.5 hours remaining but find a comfy chair, recline, sleep, nibble on my breakfast food, watch fellow travelers, and wait. Worries are over. I do not worry about plane crashes. Not much I can do about those (other than pray and chant).

The Tel Aviv airport is a model of efficiency and civility, oddly enough. Internet is free (a rarity these days in airports), water is a design theme (I ruined the photos because I’d forgotten to change from manual to auto focus), security personnel are all serious but not too, friendly to a point, suspicious but not overly so. (Had I been or appeared Muslim, or even had I been younger, my experience might have been radically different.) The eased security might reflect conditions there generally: the occupation is working and largely invisible.

Now about all I had to endure was the 5 hour flight to Paris, the 1 hour layover in Paris, the 7 hour flight across the Atlantic, having managed my 5 hour transit from fitful truncated sleep in the Hospice to boarding the plane. Total time: door to door was 19 hours.

On Air France the food was excellent, service magnificent, fellow passengers distant, flight relatively smooth, a few decent photos, mostly over the Pyrenees with some snow and then south of Paris, the rural area (wondering if I’d flown over ME’s home), and then capping all the photos, my own neighborhood, Boston harbor, Gloucester in the distance. Once again, as happens on each return, I am grateful for where I live, appreciate its natural beauty, its history, its karma. Grateful that I live here and nowhere else, that I am finally home.

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Gloucester and Eastern Point, Massachusetts

September 15, 2009, Tuesday, Cambridge MA, back computer room

Dreaming has returned. Is this primarily because I’m reengaging the quotidian?

Here’s a sample of last night’s plentitudinous dreams:

With a group of about 10 young men we were dancing nude in front of an audience which included numerous women. I felt slightly embarrassed by my paunch but did my best to illustrate how an aging body can move gracefully. We were all oily, whether coated with oil or sweat isn’t now clear to me. I concocted a move of sliding along the wall.

I attended a large Jewish ceremony, arriving late, not sure what it was about. As I sat on one side, bowing with the Buddhist posture, not sure this was appropriate, a woman began leading the group in singing, one side at a time. I noted to someone I was standing with the side first to sing a section of the song, and we seemed weak compared with later subsections of the audience.

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Paris

With a friend we were on our way to hear a lecture by Norbert Wiener [the inventer of cybernetics.] My friend told me that he’d died 2 years previously. The fact of his death did not seem to contradict his giving a lecture. To reach the hall we had to slide or leap down a steep muddy hill. Many college men were doing this as if it was easy and normal. I demurred, afraid I’d hurt myself and get my clothes muddy. Man after man plunged, I thought heedlessly, into this abyss. Not me. My partner did, I tried to find another way around to reach the hall, failing.

As I stood at the peak of the hill, puzzling what to do, a young man showed us how he prepared a fish for eating. He used a device that squeezed and cooked the fish simultaneously, he then ate the fish. I asked him, what kind of fish is that? Rather than, how does that device work?

Less than 24 hours after I’d returned home I decided to show last night [September 1, 2009] at the photography collective, White Light, parts of my new hip pocket portrait series using the 50/85 mm. It cuts off the scenes at surprising points, highlighting aspects of face, garment, background and lighting, in ways I’d never think of doing. It is wild mind photography, not using the viewfinder, while imagining what the lens might see. A combination of play and discipline.

This seemed to go over very well last night at White Light. To avoid the pitfalls of printing—and the inherent problems of showing prints on the small magnetic board with the single bright light that we use—I chose to project the images thru Light Room. And, thanks to the good system Freddie provides, they looked splendid—bright, sharp (when actually sharp, since I include some blurry ones as well), lively, colorful, distinctive.

I begin the series with more usual photos of the Old City skyline and the Garden Tomb and one suggestion of Golgotha, and conclude with the series of the family in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood, evicted from their home by a dubious court decision and backed up by settler violence. About showing the toy gun there were multiple opinions, from don’t, it will be misleading and hard to explain, to don’t worry about it, people will understand it is a toy. Eric suggested painting the barrel tip red because, in the States at least, this is a sign of a toy.

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France

A bonus of attending White Light was visiting with M, the short, intense, compassionate physician who works in an emergency room. I’ve always liked him, felt a special affinity between us. At the conclusion of the evening we sat together, he praising my photos, me inquiring about his photography (none recently), medical work and views about the medical industry. He was angry with another photographer at our session who’d “pushed buttons” by claiming those suffering in ER have brought it on themselves. M’s view is that we’re all in this together, that society plays a major role in determining who suffers and how. He also expressed upset at the industry, dominated by the entrepreneurial instinct. He told me, this all changed in the last 20 years while I was in medical school. I’d anticipated general practice, like the country doctor in Smith’s photo series, but when I graduated this was not economically feasible. Now medicine is specialty and production line.

I suggested that he and I both might suffer the consequences of witnessing the suffering of others, secondary trauma. He nodded agreement. How do you meet this? I inquired. I don’t really, except by attending groups like this. I spared him my outline of what I do, including the yoga and meditation I did this morning. And not confiding to him what may be my excessive concern with love.

My home is a mess, hopefully a creative mess. Little by little—and especially because Jan H is due here tomorrow for dinner and I wish to make a profound impression—I’m cleaning up and out. This morning I wash dishes.

The days have been warm in the sun, cool in the evening and morning. Pristine and classic autumnal New England, my favorite time of year. To celebrate I bought a bag of Macintosh apples, my first of the season, fried pancakes this morning using the last of my natural maple syrup, cooked beans and rice yesterday too late to eat so that will be tonight’s special treat.

I’ve finally visited the Garden Tomb—on one of my last days in Jerusalem. This was a significant find. I’d known about it for years, as an alternative burial site for Jesus, as postulated by some Protestant groups (Church of the Holy Sepulcher is dominated by Latin and Eastern Christianity). Contrasting sharply with the burliness of the big church, this is in a garden setting with fewer people, some guides, a tranquility and peacefulness pervading the atmosphere. Feels more tomb and Christ like.

A Brit, a believer, was guiding a group that I attached myself to, and when the tour ended, telling him how excellent I thought his presentation was, I asked some specific questions that he answered by bringing me to different sites. Including the supposed Golgotha hill, place of the skull. Indeed, the two small caves look like eyes, the mouth is now buried by city debris. The site is at the back of the bus station, littered with mounds of human poop. I peed here once when I couldn’t find a toilet. I include photos from this site in the opening of my new slide show about the Old City.

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Along the Maine Coast

LINKS:

Israeli forces evict the Hanoun and al-Gawi families from their Sheikh Jarrah homes

Police dismantle Sheikh Jarrah protest tent in east Jerusalem

Airport Security Travelers Rights

Garden Tomb

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On the way to Ramallah

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New light rail system between West & East Jerusalem, built thru Palestinian regions without permission

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Near Kalandia checkpoint between Ramallah & Jerusalem

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Kalandia closed

Excerpts from my journal during a three month summer journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles—written while in Palestine & Israel, posted while in the United States touring the south with new photographs and stories (itinerary)

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Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty. Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

September 10, 2009, Thursday, ISM office, outside on the patio:

No surprise that I’d eventually dream about blogging and journaling. I was giving a lecture to a group of about 20 young adults. The topic was writing generally, mine in particular, and more specifically how I journaled and blogged from the journal. I was laying out all the issues I face, such as not harming or embarrassing others or myself, how honest to be and when. I was animated, I was lucid, I was at the top of my form and my audience was attentive.

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Lion’s Square, Ramallah

I am presently [September 10, 2009] residing in Ramallah at the International Solidarity Movement media office, sleeping on a couch in the mid room, alone at first. So I enjoyed the privacy of the space until: about 1:20 am. Someone rang the bell, someone banged on the door, Was this the Israeli army about to arrest all residents of the ISM media office? I called out, who is it? Snuffing my impulse to say, who the fuck do you think you are coming around here at this hour?

It’s Sasha, sorry, I didn’t realize I’d be coming back tonight. She’d called earlier to ask who was staying overnight, said nothing about returning. She came in, loudly, 2 others I think came with her. They banged around, turned on and off lights, luckily I’d chosen a sleep place away from where they were setting up in the computer room and the other sleeping room. Oddly enough, I was not tremendously disturbed by this racket, just ignored it and fell back to sleep…

From East Jerusalem to Ramallah via the usual no. 18 bus, meeting a very beautiful in many ways young woman who chose to sit next to me. Misa, pronounced mi-sa with a long I and soft a, as if mice-a, is from Jerusalem, studying English literature at Birzeit University. I’d noticed the book she was reading, Hamlet in English. Commented and that began our conversation. She excitedly told me about a research paper she’d written analyzing western media’s accounts of Israel-Palestine, shocked to learn of the discrepancy in attention to the several points of view, i.e., dominated by Israeli positions. She sent the paper to her many western friends who in turn circulated it. I was never too interested in politics until I wrote that paper, she confided to me, but now I’m very attentive.

I encouraged her to continue her studies, remain in Palestine, and stay tuned to the issues. Assuming my now customary role as mentor I validated her intelligence and commitment. I find this easier and easier to do now, knowing the words, knowing the timing. This is a role I gladly assume. So many have done it for me.

Leaving the bus she waited for me with all my gear, offering, can I bring you anywhere?

She’d also told me that until she entered the university she’d never been in Ramallah. When I first came here it was a different world to me, I had no idea of life in Ramallah even tho I’m Palestinian and grew up less than 15 miles away.

She also told me that during the Gaza assault in December and January she wanted to go there, knew this was impossible, then decided to give blood. But the attendants wouldn’t accept her after they tested her blood. You’re not healthy enough. And indeed, physically she is a slight person, so tiny and thin, a wisp.

… a brief hello to Diana [principal of the lower Ramallah Friends School] who, like Salim and a few others, asked about Gaza.

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Ramallah Friends School, elementary school campus

I usually respond with despair is deep, fear also. The feeling that one cannot be truly happy, and the fear that either the Israelis will attack again or Hamas will fight other groups within Gaza. Plus the generally tough conditions due to the siege, especially the effect on Ramadan—little money to buy gifts and food that are usually part of the celebrating.

Once again, each time someone mentions Gaza I am brought sharply up against the vast contrast between Gaza and most of the rest of the world. Even here in Ramallah, known as the best of the worst, there is a form of normality. Shops open and seemingly thriving, people looking relatively happy and content in the streets, building construction, a semblance of order at the intersections and elsewhere (Escander the barber complained to me that the city is requiring a fee to exhibit jewelry outside his shop), and some increased mobility around the West Bank. However, Palestinians are still occupied. They are a people without a state. They have limited freedom. The threat now is that they will ignore that fundamental fact and continue simply existing under occupation, without resistance…

September 11, 2009, Friday, ISM office, outside on the patio:

Last day in the occupied territories, unless we count East Jerusalem as part of that sad region. Most all end game details completed, now the shift to Jerusalem and the Austrian Hospice for the final 2 days.

I dreamt that I was making a movie-still photo presentation. I had some family members posing for me (as usual in my dreams, people are often characters in my life but not resembling the real people, only their social form). I set up a camera and explained, this will begin as a still photo (or movie, I forget the sequence) and then become a movie (or a still photo set). I had to carefully frame the shot so movie and still would match. The camera was on a cheap rickety tripod, making focusing and framing hard. As I explained the transition between still and moving I realized to myself I had no idea where the rest of the sequence would go, what the point was, an all too often dilemma for me in my days of film. And even now: shooting in the dark.

AR wrote warm words to my blog about my last sequence of photos which I’ll include:

How do you DO it, Skip.  Your photos are full of surprises.  Like little gift packages with unexpected, unexpectable little presents,

— like the row of blue-garbed watchers in the Druze village, the wire fence there, the three silhouetted characters interacting.  A moment in time.

And what a waterfall shot — slender blue ribbon, golden and gray cliffs.

The deserted Arab house, doorway opening into doorway into light beyond.

Great splashing river shot — the Banias rapids.

The mysterious cliff carvings and cave of Pan.

And that deserted room with the oval image of light on the graffiti covered wall with the round void above crisscrossed by wire mesh.

The distant windmills, the rusty tank, the warning signs by the dangerous mines.

Such gifts are these.

Always, always, words like these implying deep viewing and thinking hearten me greatly. They counterbalance the fact that not too many on my list of 100 or so actually look at the photos or read the blogs. A few like M will be honest about not reading or viewing. The big blow comes when someone writes to be removed from the list. I never know the reason—blogs too long or photos too many, too rambly, too much about my shits and dreams, too worrisome and troubling, badly written, poorly seen, too shallow…who knows? As with attrition in my teaching, I have to understand this is part of the process and doesn’t necessarily indicate I’m a failure.

Last night as I was settling in to some more computer work, finishing most of what I’d set out to do—another subsite, Galilee to the Golan, with accompanying blog—the office phone rang, Neta. She was inviting anyone here in the office to join her and kids at Baladna ice cream shop for treats. Gladly since we’d not met yet on this trip.

There I met Iyad Bornat, one of the key organizers of the Bil’in popular committee orchestrating non-violent demos for some 4 years against the wall’s incursion into their lands. I’ve been reading his weekly email reports and now to be with him and others, mostly Palestinians, was a delight and honor, way more than I’d expected when Neta invited me. He stressed the importance of media, of designing new themes each week to keep the media attentive. When I asked him why stopping the youth from throwing rocks was so difficult, he answered, we try, but when a boy is shot at by a soldier the boy is angry and responds in the only way he knows, with violence.

They are planning a major event at the end of Ramadan, a secret, he told us. We only say to the media, come on this day, something very important will happen. We are tired now during Ramadan, and so our energies are not fully active. (Which reminds me that when in Gaza hearing some residents speculate that Israel would attack during Ramadan, this gains credence when realizing the Gazan defenders would not be fully functioning during Ramadan, and thus, the region might be more susceptible to attack.)…

I wrote a letter to Wafa’a [who I’d met in Gaza at Popeye’s internet café, the only woman I ever saw there, and who invited me to visit her in her home in Khan Yunis, and later phoned me crestfallen that I’d not visited], attaching 3 photos. I’m still not sure what motivates her interest in me. I wrote:

i owe you a big apology. you were so kind to invite me to visit your home and i never came. i will try to explain. first i had no idea who you were and wanted to check with amal and ibrahem. they said you are great. then i was busy, and then the fighting broke out between hamas and that radical group. amal thought i should not travel very far alone. i tried to find someone from the office to go with me to your home, maybe mosab who i think you know, but we never could arrange it.

so i did not come. and i know i missed a terrific opportunity to get to know you better.

if you like writing in english i am happy to be your pen pal. i write all the time and enjoy all sorts of correspondence. unfortunately i can not write or speak much arabic.

i am attaching 3 of my photos from Gaza. i hope they please you. i hope they might persuade you to forgive me.

you are a good and strong person and deserve a better life. i believe you will make a good journalist. let us pray for that. i promise that the next time i visit Gaza i will visit you, if you wish.

fondly and happy ramadan, your american friend,

I strolled thru the jammed streets of Ramallah last night to join with revelers. This season, Ramadan, might be compared with the western world’s Christmas. Lots of gifts, lots of joy, especially after Iftar [the daily meal that breaks the daily fast].

The slow pace allowed me the repose needed to compose the latest subsite and blog. I find this an excellent way to digest my recent experience, make sure it’s stored and not stealable, and that others can experience it if they wish. Perhaps I’ll have time to make one more entry before leaving for the states…

September 12, 2009, Saturday, Jerusalem’s Old City, Austrian Hospice, outside in a garden:

The last full day of this trip [September 12, 2009], and what more appropriate place for it than Jerusalem, the city of love, the city of strife. As the sounds of early morning old city emerge—tractors, quiet talking, fans and other machines humming, earlier the muezzin—I write, wondering what I’ve done and why.

Two dreams I can recall: I was caring for an infant, like the young Ella. She’d sleep, wake, cry, sleep, wake, cry, etc. I was in charge while consulting with her mother—who must have been my wife but resembled no wife or partner I’ve had. We were to go fishing, eat fish, and this seemed to settle her somewhat.

In the 2nd, clearer, I was walking with Y, a clearly personified Y, when we noticed Jim Harney walking in the distance alone. He was returning from a teaching job. He wore no shoes, and might have wished to walk alone. We knew he was in the end stages of his cancer and thought this solo walking might have been part of his way to deal with that tragedy. He looked to be suffering. Hesitantly we came up to him, greeted him, and asked if he’d like us to accompany him the rest of the way home. He joked, must be munching time, meaning lunching time. He’d been fasting.

Confused, I asked Y what she thought we should do. She said firmly; let’s walk with him.

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Kalandia checkpoint

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… I packed up in Ramallah, set out for what I thought would be an uneventful trip into the big city. Not to be. It was Friday, I expected little activity along the road. Riding in a shared taxi with 6 others, me with my heavy backpack loaded with the computer and some camera equipment, my shoulder bag with its heavy Nikon and wide angle lens, plus two plastic bags of food and gear that wouldn’t fit in the first two bags (I don’t think the regular no. 18 bus was running because of holy day) as we neared Kalandia checkpoint the traffic grew thicker: buses, serveeces, taxis, private cars, all parked along the road. Then I saw: a huge crowd of people slowly congregating in front of the checkpoint. Now what?

Closed. As usual on Fridays the Israelis were prohibiting worshippers from entering Jerusalem to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque. Like many, perhaps without the religious investment, I grew despondent. How long would we be stuck here? Should I return to Ramallah and wait it out, till after prayer time around noon? Or find a quiet shady place to read? Well, I could photograph, start there. So I wandered around with my 4 pieces of luggage trying to make decent photos while considering how I might get thru. Two tracks of thinking simultaneously: my craft and sullen art of photography, practice it well, now’s the opportunity; and my own survival and agenda. I had no schedule so I was not overly worried.

A young woman asked me, can you speak English? Thinking she might expect me to explain what was going on. Yes. Well, you shouldn’t be here with all the women, men stand over there. And she pointed out where I’d just been standing, where the soldier had told me that if I went to the other side, where the women happened to be standing, I’d find a way in.

I noticed security personnel without the usual military or border patrol uniforms were speaking with the crowd, and occasionally lifting someone over the barricade, children, elderlies. Maybe they’d do this for me if I could somehow reach them. But how, the crowd was thick?

The crowd was also unusually patient. No shouting, little visible anger, mostly deep frustration.

Could this become a riot? What if someone threw a chair at a soldier, how would the military respond? There were hundreds of security people, some perched on concrete barricades, others grouped ominously. Some spoke civilly with people, even when one woman tried to breach the barrier and was pushed back.

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Lots of photos, for this I’m grateful but I still don’t know if I can pass or must wait. And what is the Israeli rationale for preventing passage? What about others coming from other regions of the West Bank? Are they also blocked?

Different information: the officer that told me the gate was on the women’s side, the right. Those going thru on the left, the men’s side, were humanitarian cases, he explained. Media seemed to have some flexibility, inside and outside the perimeters. Someone told me if I just walked along the road to the left I’d find a way thru. And finally, speaking with a friendly Palestinian traffic officer—with a nearly impossible job since people and vehicles mixed freely—I learned that the vehicles we saw slowly inching forward could get thru, not thru Kalandia but on some other route. Maybe, I suggested to him, I could ride with someone. Not a bad idea, he responded. The first driver, in a car with white diplomat plates, shook his head no. Most cars were already full. Then, after about 5 tries (persistence pays off, sumud): eureka, someone with space and willingness to take me. A woman crawled in as well and off we went.

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On a route I wasn’t familiar with we passed one checkpoint without being stopped, then, nearing Jerusalem, another where a soldier examined our papers, asked to see my visa, and let us thru. In. Ramallah to Jerusalem required about 3 hours.

The man, my benefactor, living near a-Ram, with a t-shirt shop in the Jewish quarter, usually needs about 20 minutes for this ride. Expressing wonderment he said, I’m not sure why they (the worshippers) do this every Friday, they know they aren’t allowed in but they come to Kalandia anyway.

He dropped the woman off at the entrance of the underground parking garage, and invited me to see his shop near the Jaffa Gate. I was headed for the Hospice but since I had time and felt I owed him as much friendliness as I could muster, I said OK. When I mentioned needing a post office he said, I know one in the Jewish quarter that is never crowded. You can wait hours in the main post office, trust me. His store has a variety of mostly silly t-shirts and baseball caps, the best were the ones with crude sex jokes, like the one about poor Mr. Dick leading a hard life: a head that can’t think, hanging out with two nuts, etc. This raw humor appeals to me. Also, inadvertent humor when I discovered an Aussie style hat in camouflage with the words, Israeli army, and thought, what if I came home with one of these?

He was instantaneously busy with numerous potential customers. He was affable, helpful, not pushy, fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and English. Too bad, I thought, that his many talents are devoted to selling such memorabilia. He preferred that I not photograph him but I made a few of the store. And then departed, with instructions to the post office.

This brought me to the Jewish quarter and sections I’d never seen before. Mailing the last of my backed up files on DVDs, feeling safer than on any previous trip, I dropped my gear at the Hospice, signed in, and set off for more exploration…

The Old City streets swarmed with people, mostly worshippers, tourists and workers. The worshippers were either Muslims on their way to or from the Al Aqsa mosque—I was caught in their traffic twice—or Jews going to Shabbat services on Friday evening. The two holy periods coincided: mosque around 1 pm, Shabbat around 7. Today is off day for Jews, on day for Muslims. Tomorrow is off day for Christians.

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Old City of Jerusalem, Friday afternoon

I grew weary of the crowds, the press, the noise, the excitement, and needed refuge. Thank god the Austrian Hospice provides that. Prominent but hidden away, with 4 floors of private rooms and dorms, plus common spaces like the café and gardens, I hear much German spoken here. The age mix is fairly large, compared with the Palm, young to old, few backpackers in the crowd. At 18 euros or 35$ or 140 shekels, compared with 50 shekels for the Palm, it is roughly 3 times more expensive. But I needed it…

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LINKS:

“Imagining Israel-Palestine Peace: Why International Law Matters with Professor Richard Falk”

“U.S. Rejects U.N. Proposal to Compel War Crimes Probes of Gaza Conflict”

International Solidarity Movement

“Bilin continues its battle in the courts”

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