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El Mina, port of Gaza City, main port of the Gaza Strip
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Fish market
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This is not the last in my series of dispatches about my recent journey to Palestine and Israel. I am home in Cambridge Massachusetts, and this is the moment to write and post a report (before I become enmeshed in my quotidian existence).

Photos

Blog

Print version of the report

Dear God, when I am wrong, please make me willing to see my mistake. And when I am right – please make me tolerable to live with.

—Desmund Tutu, his prayer as paraphrased by Uri Avnery

I begin with gratitude: gratitude to all those who have supported my 5th journey to The Land of Discord and Possibility. Those who have noticed, commented, prayed, criticized, contributed money, offered leads, taken action; and especially those who have followed my voluminous dispatches thru my website and blog. Without you I am enfeebled, a stay-at-home elderly recluse, retired to the land of imagining what I might have done, if-only-I-had-the-time. Gratitude to the Palestinians and Israelis who expedited my photography, providing leads, background, context, introductions, insights, analysis, friendship, housing, food, and, yes, love. And gratitude for the simple good fortune to live such a free spirited life—thanks to community, family, some mysterious, congenital, rebellious quirk, and muses.

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Jerusalem Old City

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Sheik Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, nominally Palestinian, formerly the home of the Hanoun and al-Ghawi families

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Across the street, this man and his family, brutally evicted from their home, live under a tent across from his former home, now lived in by extreme Jewish Israeli settlers
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Half way thru my recent three-month journey of discovery, I wondered, what had I discovered? In mid August while in Gaza, I listed all that I’d not photographed: Canada Park in Israel which erased an Arab village; the route and story of water from the headwaters of the Jordan River to where it disappears between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea; non violent resistance, in Bil’in where I’d been several times earlier and finally to Nil’in which I’d read so much about; Quakers, but how to photograph more than the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza when the Ramallah Friends School is on vacation; and most vitally—an urge I’ve felt for several years—Israel itself, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, the Mediterranean Coast, West Jerusalem, the Golan and Galilee, visiting friends, pretending to be an Israeli, feeling what they might feel, immersed in the possible cognitive dissonance of living on a land expropriated from native people.

Here I felt some resonance with my own experience in the United States—living on land stolen from American Indians, profiting from labor supplied largely by captured Africans. Yes, I had some first hand experience living a possible lie, captured by a self-serving narrative. But how to do this in Israel-Palestine?

After this dismal accounting, all that I’d hope to photograph and hadn’t yet even visited, I made another list (remembering how Rachel Corrie loved making lists), this time of what I’d at least partially achieved: 2 weeks in Bethlehem exploring its Aida refugee camp while coaching a young novice photography teacher at Al Rowwad Cultural Center in the camp; 2 weeks in Jenin, investigating its refugee camp and the wondrous Freedom Theater, while teaching photography to high school age youth at the Jenin Creative Cultural Center; several stories about hydropolitics, including a spectacular trip to one of Ramallah’s own water sources, Ein Samia village about 20 km north of Ramallah; the Popular Education  Festival in Ramallah of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program; construction by hand of a series of stone walls at the Ramallah Friends School (not as exciting as photographing the children but stones were present, children were not); the new light rail system in greater Jerusalem snapping up Palestinian land in East Jerusalem; Gaza, from finally getting a permit, living there for one month while photographing the aftermath of the vicious and possibly criminal Israeli assault to teaching photography thru the American Friends Service Committee and Al Aqsa University; exploring the coastal region from Gaza north to near Haifa, with a stop in Sderot (the Israeli town suffering extensive trauma from rockets fired by Gazan militants); two weeks in the Golan Heights and the Galilee, a long held dream to trace water; and Jerusalem’s Old City and environs, culminating in my final day’s journey when I strolled thru the Old City making hip pocket photos with my new 85 mm lens. Adding to this unexpected achievement, I discovered the family I’d read about in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem who had been brutally evicted from their home.

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The platform built for the Pope’s summer 2009 visit to Bethlehem, occupied Palestinian territories—Israel prohibited its use
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I felt better, but not complete. Will I ever feel complete. Will I ever feel I’ve finished this project? What drives me besides a possibly inscrutable compulsion?

Perhaps, perhaps: the outrage I feel at such blatant exploitation of the holocaust and victimhood by some Jews and many supporters of Israel, the complicity of my government and my country’s media, the drive for justice, the upset I feel when with others who might be aware of this conflict but do nothing. As Martin Luther King, Jr stated, Our lives begin to end the moment we become silent about things that matter.

Also motivating me: the need to practice compassionate listening and viewing, to open my heart to a variety of perspectives and experiences, to discover opinions and facts new to me, visit new areas, meet new people, and endlessly develop my skills to photograph in that unique Mediterranean light.

Three examples of discoveries: first, in Sderot, trauma is virtually universal among the entire population. Despite the relatively low number of casualties and the relatively high degree of security, one exploding rocket multiples fear. Second, in Gaza, most people do not trust being happy. Why? Because they suspect their happiness will be short-lived. Either Israel will attack again, or Hamas will go to battle with Fatah or other political factions, or the siege will never end, or the world will continue ignoring their suffering. Third, conditions of occupation are easing in the West Bank, meaning travel is freer, checkpoints less restrictive. But as Palestinians point out, Israel could tighten restrictions in a flash, and one danger of eased conditions is encouraging people to ignore the fact that they remain occupied, without a nation of their own. They are not free.

Thru my lens, I try to open my mouth—shout loud and clear—and hope others might notice and activate as they feel the call, if they feel the call. Many calls, choose one, get to work. Again as Martin said, A man who hasn’t found something he is willing to die for is not fit to live. Harsh words from this dear gentle person of non-violence, but true. A prophet’s words are often grating, exactly because they are true. They challenge us.

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Gaza City port, El Mina
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I’m home in Cambridge Massachusetts for one month, preparing new shows. On October 17 I depart for the southeast region of the United States, a 4-5 week tour with new perspectives, experiences, discoveries, questions (latest schedule here, when available). If you’re anywhere between North Carolina and Florida, the East Coast and the Deep South and would like to organize a show, please contact David Matos at aiken_peace (at) yahoo.com, 803-215-3263 for information and to book. For the first two weeks of December I hope to be touring New England with a revised version of Bethlehem the Holy, in time for the Christmas season. I hope to see some of you on the road.

One additional note: thanks to a benefactor and many encouraging people I’m embarking on transforming one of my Gaza shows into a video, not simply a conversion from slide show to video but an entire production based on a slide show. We hope to complete this project by September 2010. I’ll let you know and may ask for your support.

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Raw sewage flowing into the main fishing port, spreading to the beaches

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Dates about to be harvested

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As I finish my report I learned that the Obama administration instructed its ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, to block further effective action of the Goldstone report which investigated possible war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during the violence of December-January 2009 in Gaza.

Goldstone Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict

One rebuttal

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In the distance, not so far away, Ashkelon, once home to many refugees now in Gaza

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Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

September 6, 2009, Sunday, Tiberias, in the Aviv hostel, my dorm room

I made a partial circuit around Lake Kinneret yesterday [September 6, 2009], from the northwest shore to the western shore. The altitude here in Tiberias feels lower, the climate hotter. The shore was steep on the eastern side of the road and gently sloped down to the water on the western. I spotted many groves of date palms (dates now being harvested, one boy roadside selling large stalks of dates) and some of bananas, plus other fruit trees. No olives that I noticed. The terrain seems a mix of sand near the water and I believe basalt in the hills, but this I observed only from a distance. Water seems plentiful, much of it devoted to irrigation. I pulled off the main road to photograph pipes and valves—too many pipes and valves to hold an audience, what to do?

I found many sites to photograph from, looking down at the huge expanse of lake. Many swimming beaches, and, being Saturday, Shabbat, filled with swimmers and campers. For lunch I stopped at a partially excavated tel (adjacent to the Gal water park, said to be the largest in Israel) and ate under a spreading eucalyptus tree. This tree, originally from Australia, proliferates thru out the region. I noticed its strong odor, its peeling bark, and remember that it is uses an excessive amount of water.

Hordes of tourists swarmed the main Christian sites on the northern shore, I felt lucky to have visited these sites earlier, either not during summer or during midweek.

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Capernaum (Latin or Catholic version) parking lot

A few stops along the way:

The Orthodox version of Capernaum attracted only 2 busloads, Japanese, and seemed to have no historical sites attached to it, nor a church. I’m not sure how it justified itself, other than being a vague Orthodox presence.

Kursi national park, with its partially reconstructed Byzantine church, this site said to be where Jesus exorcized evil spirits from a man. The spirits then entered pigs driving them to commit suicide into the sea. Out of reach of my legs and lungs because of the heat was a spot higher in the hills which may have been the actual exorcism place.

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Byzantine church, Kursi National Park

This site reminded me of the power of water, mountain and desert in the Jesus story. Most every part of the story is fixed to a specific site, or type of site, so terrain plays a major role in the narrative, and thus, by visiting the sites, helps reify what otherwise might be imagination—and what may be an act of imagination yet. Good fiction, an untruth pointing to a truth.

Kibbutz Ein Gev, featuring food, raising its own St Peter’s fish in ponds and beef in a factory setting. I said hello to lady cows, trying to not spook them so I could make a decent photo as they gobbled their lunch, hay. They stood in what looked like pools of excrement. Many tourists here at the restaurant, I photographed the buses lined up, most of their engines idling, spilling their evil spirits into the atmosphere, but keeping the tourists who would soon finish lunch and enter the buses cool and happy. Hundreds of tourists left the main building which housed a series of restaurants, I had to wait a few minutes for them to clear out. Lucky I did, because as I strolled thru the restaurant I was able to photograph fish in various states of dismemberment and consumption. I believe I surprised the lunchers by my request to photograph their fish.

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Ein Gev was established by German and Czech pioneers in 1937, the first permanent settlement on the eastern shore, and thus under siege until “liberated” in 1967.  The surrounding area was either Syrian (says the guidebook) or Jordanian (says my reading of history). I found indicators of this period: a guard tower and a bunker, which I photographed.

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Ein Gen

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Receding shore line at Ein Gen

Yardenit, the exit point of the Jordan river and the current baptism center, south side of lake, hidden by hydrological apparatus. I’m not sure what occurs here, whether water enters pipes here or mechanisms control the flow. I suspect the former. I parked, wandered around, made a few photos, but none show any dramatic departure of water from the sea to the river. The river looked about the same as when it entered, maybe 4 m across, 1 or 2 deep. In the distance downriver I noticed white clothed figures, presumably pilgrims receiving blessings from the water as they are baptized. I plan to return to this site this morning to photograph more.

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Yardenit

And the river entry point on the north shore, which I’d seen before, but this time I went to the west side of the river, far upstream from the actual entry point and noticed fishers, swimmers, rafters, no pilgrims, or at least no one of the usual pilgrim type. Perhaps these people are also pilgrims, with a different object of worship—pleasure.

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Jordan River entering Sea of Galilee

I feel that finally I’ve extended my photographic coverage of water with a more thorough treatment of the Sea, I feel less satisfied about the River. Maybe today, as I trace its route downstream, I will find better access. Further north the main site for me has been the Banias with its temple surprise.

Another surprise, delightful as always: 2 messages from ME, but cryptic. In one she linked me to an article about poverty in the USA, in French, apologizing for the French. In the other a set a photos from Paris Monde, with her top choice indicated. I wrote back my choices, and remembered to her that another article she’d sent me, from Antonio Tabucchi about beauty, either coincided or spurred my photo assignment to the class in Gaza to photograph what is beautiful to them. I am very happy to be back in relatively good touch with her.

Also KA who continues to fascinate me. Closer to my age, Jewish late coming, happily married, with her thriving business, we have communicated regularly… I like her very much, her energy and chutzpah, and wonder how we might develop if not for her happy marriage. She demonstrates to me that I am not hopelessly fixated on younger women like ME and X (who’s not written for months, very curious).

Another personal note: my stomach ailment is easing; tho thru much of yesterday my stomach was sore, feeling bloated. Skipping dinner at the Kerei Deshe hostel during Shabbat eve was a major omission from my life, but I had a small lunch yesterday and a big shuwarma last night. This morning my stomach feels fine.

Checking the guidebook for housing in or near Tiberias I learned there is much that is cheap and accessible. My first choice turned to be wise, the Aviv hotel and hostel, along the main road so I had no trouble finding it, costing 70 shekels and another 30 for breakfast. The dorm room has 3 beds, one already occupied by a young German man who’d been studying medicine for one month in Tel Aviv and will soon return to Germany to complete his training. His name is Darius.

A sturdy, handsome man with a girl friend who he’d called just before we went out to eat; he is a quick and short-term friend in the holy land. He walked from Nazareth to Tiberias, hitching for the last few km because of the heat. For the adventure, he explained, but never again, too hot. I drank 9 liters of water yesterday and carried a heavy backpack.

Very German thought I, testing one’s powers.

He chose Tel Aviv for his studies not for political reasons but first because he wanted to study outside Germany, and second in a different sort of country. He’d read little about the situation until planning his visit. Germans, he told me, suffer great guilt about the holocaust and know little other than the Israel Jewish side thru the media. The government stands with Israel. There is little pro Palestine rights activity, altho I suspect because of his relatively slight political interests he might be overlooking a sector of Germans.

Luckily we had two adjoining rooms so when he returned as I was drifting off to sleep, having turned off the air conditioner because I couldn’t find a way to control its temperature, and opened the window on the slowly cooling night air, he asked about the AC. He decided to sleep in the 2nd room, with the TV and AC on.

He borrowed my computer when I set it up at the companion hotel, also Aviv, which had free wireless. He wanted to check his email for Couch Surfer invites. This reminded me that I’d not much used this service or Hospitality Club, mainly because it would require too much travel organization, tying me down to an itinerary. Otherwise I’d use it as I did initially. And might later. I could try it for the last few days of my visit.

My turn came to use the internet. A large religious group was clearing out of the hotel, there for Shabbat, and so I settled into what I thought would be a late into the evening revision of my blog…

Elizabeth at Friends of the Earth Middle East gave me a list of suggested sites to visit in this general region: Emek Hefer, Bakal-Gharbiya, Old Gesher, Peace Island, Alumot Dam, Yardenit, Naharyim, and Beit Shean—all water-related—but as far as I know I’ve found none of them. Maybe the last one today. The names confuse me. Much better for my photography and insights if I could travel with a knowledgeable hydrological guide, like someone from Friends of the Earth. Maybe another time. I am an innocent wandering it the vast hydro desert.

September 5, 2009, Saturday, near Capernaum, in Tagbha, at the Kary Deshe Guest House, in the hallway where I have electricity (and won’t disturb my two roommates)

A few dreams: in one “Y” and I were visiting M and her new boy friend, mainly to meet him. Y and I concurred he was an odd one, sullen and depressed, not sure what M saw in him. To his credit he was young, strong, handsome, I think a recent soldier. He was virtually voiceless, ignored us. Our dog, tho, played happily with his dog.

In another I was driving alone a small van in an area where picking up passengers was accepted, even encouraged. Seeing an elderly couple waiting at an intersection with others, having room only for 3 passengers, I picked them up and one other.

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Agricultural water, Beit Shean border crossing

Yesterday a short walking tour of Tsfat, mostly from where I’d parked near the main shopping district, up to what I think is the Citadel, and down to the artists’ colony and then the synagogue section. Tho high, the air felt hot and muggy. I sweated mightily. I also picked up a 100 shekel parking ticket when I’d not noticed this was a for-fee parking area, and not sure how to use the machines.

The Citadel was at what I suppose is the highest point in town, on a flat ledge, with an attempt at making it into a park. But it looked desolate, little used, inhospitable, and potentially dangerous because of its isolation. There were Arabic looking ruins (arches), and it may also have been the site of the Crusader fortress I’d read about somewhere. It offered views, but because of trees and haze, I doubt much shows. Furthermore, I lost the photos from this little jaunt because of that recurring corrupt file problem.

The problem surfaced when I spotted a young man walking in front of me wearing a large kippah and sporting dreadlocks—the proverbial Orthodox Jew—and with a t-shirt advertising Caterpillar. Would have been perfect. But the camera wouldn’t record, and then I saw the heart stopping-error message: FOR, meaning this card is not formatted. I switched cards, the camera then recorded, the man was long gone. Was this an act of god, protecting that man?

I could put together an exhibit of the photos that I didn’t make because of various technical and mental reasons.

Then down to the artists’ colony—Tsfat prides itself on being artist-friendly, and it seems to be, and counter cultural with its blend of Orthodox Jewry, art, and new age spirituality, most all of this perhaps stemming from its kabalistic origins. Some of the leading rabbis of kabala worked and died here. Originating here, the movement spread to Spain during its progressive centuries before Isabella and Ferdinand stupidly expelled Jews and Arabs. A highlight of the colony was the old mosque converted into the “General Art Gallery.”

Nearly all the art was abstract and I wondered, if we placed a random selection of some of this with a random selection of art from Windows from Gaza could people distinguish a different? And if not, what does this suggest about the power and meaning of this art?

To me, generally bored by all abstract art (unless it’s my photography), this is a sure sign of impotence. Virtually nothing here about the history of founding this country, the presence of Arabs, the occupation, and little about being Jewish—that I could see. Were I Jewish I might have reveled in depictions of my people.

One corridor in the synagogue section resembled the corridor in Hebron thru parts of the Old City, those parts with wire mesh overhead to protect Hebron’s stalwart Palestinians from the garbage and shit thrown down by Jewish settlers. So I made a photo of this and hope I can pair it with similar photos from Hebron.

I stopped at several tourist stations reciting in English a very lucid and compelling version of the Jewish narrative. At the time of partition Jews made up some 15% Tsfat, altho they’d been here for millennia, coexisting with Arabs. Then the war, the heroic Jews prevailed, driving the Arabs out, or forcing Arab leadership to order the Arabs to flee. The fighting was fierce, especially in the Citadel area, with its steep slopes and muddy terrain. But a night attack destroyed the Arab’s stronghold. So goes the narrative, paraphrasing. I’m sure had the Arabs won they’d produce a similar story about their magnificent victories. Why not? Winners create history.

So much for Tsfat. I recharged my phone with about 55 shekels, phoned the Deshe guesthouse to check availability, just slipped in since yesterday was Shabbat, today the weekend, and this is a busy time and a popular place. And I felt secure knowing for a change where I’d sleep this night. A short drive thru the mountains brought me “home.”

What to do about the parking ticket? Ask Avis if they can argue that I’m a tourist and didn’t know the rules? Ask what would happen if I didn’t pay? (The government might come to Avis who has my credit card number and I may not escape paying, with a hefty fine added.) Pay where and how?

A man I asked about the procedure explained how to buy a parking permit, easy, and how to pay, equally easy, the bank or post office. But do jurisdictions overlap so I can pay in Jerusalem? Someday also in Ramallah?

My stomach seems to have settled. No accidents yesterday, or humdila (thank god) during the night. One small thunderously loud fart this morning as I sat on the john and emitted a slight bit of goo. I skipped dinner last night, thinking, if my stomach still ails and I eat as if it is OK, I could suffer all night long. Last night was Shabbat and I’m told they offered special food, including wine. Plus I missed dining with the many Jews here, more than I’ve seen eating together in a long while.

Kids play happily, often taking rides on the luggage carts in the hallways. I hear happy sounds continually here. Also babies bawling. The beach was crowded with swimmers and sitters as I went for my cooling swim in the late afternoon. Unlike my last visit here, I shared my small room with two others, Thierry from Luxemburg who immediately explained to me how small and where his country is, as if I didn’t know, and a German man with a handsome reddish beard, a born again Christian, wearing his cross conspicuously around his neck (maybe similar to how Crusaders paraded their swords?). When I mentioned it, and asked, traveling thru the land of Jesus?, he answered yes, are you a believer?

Well friend, do you have a moment? I quickly summarized the Christian portion of my belief: Jesus was a great teacher, one among many, but not divine. I’m part of the Quaker community and we have all kinds, including Jewish Buddhist atheistic Quakers (thinking of DA) He’d asked me, to check my belief quotient, do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?

He explained that he’d been lost and now was found, hit bottom, not knowing who he was, where he was headed. And then, miraculously, god came to him and with him his son. So, like me with Martin, this good natured and well-meaning fellow has a personal relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, he wanted to tell me all about it, like many born against, and I had to deflect his passion.

Too bad we couldn’t have a more meaningful conversation. He’s a bit like M with her strong Buddhism, possibly hard to live with. Unlike her however he seemed unwilling to hear me out. M is very good at listening, it is her profession.

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Eastern shore, Sea of Galilee

Today: head south, after first north, and explore the eastern shore of the big lake. Not sure where to place my head for the night. Also, first avail myself of the Internet connection here (tho costly, $5 for one hr, $10 for 24, which shall it be?) and upload my latest subsite and blog entries. I worked feverishly last evening, for about 3 hours straight, preparing a potpourri from the first 3 days of this section of my journey. From Tel Aviv to Capernaum, more or less. Hopefully I will put up its sequel soon.

While doing this—and it confirms the important of constantly reviewing and using my photos and words—I discovered I’d not downloaded from the camera to the computer about 40 photos from end of Beny to the beginning of Caesarea. Vital photos. Searching thru my memory cards, I found the next one up for reuse contained the missing images. I only hope this is the only occurrence of this oversight. Had I not checked I’d have written over the images.

~~It is 7:15 am, people are slowly leaving their rooms and entering the halls, I hear their sounds, pleasing family sounds—a good place for a bomber to attack, I wonder if this threat once dominated experience at such guest houses and vacation spots—, so it’s probably about time to complete this entry and eat breakfast. Will I eat heartily or daintily? What will my stomach tell me?~~

Not sure yesterday morning what to do, where to stay, another night in the Tsfat guest house or move on, I ran into the old woman’s son who’d directed me thru the labyrinthine network of small Tsfat roads to the guest house the night before. He told me another section of the Beit Shalom guesthouse was across the road and operating. In fact, he expected a large group that evening. When I told him I was out of shekels for my phone he pointed me to the house phone, for shekels. Regrettably it didn’t work. He went somewhere to get something to fix it, I waited, he did not return, I decided to chance it and leave Tsfat. Good decision. We never said goodbye.

I also realized probably the reason I couldn’t contact anyone the day before was because my phone was out of shekels. I heard announcements but most were in Hebrew, and the few I understood said I’d made an error in dialing, try again. Chock one up to my ignorance and lack of awareness.

September 7, 2009, Monday, Beit She’an, in the Guest House, my room

A few dreams, one about fish. With others, maybe my family, we decided to stop to buy fresh fish. They delegated me as the buyer. I spoke with a man—we were in a country without English as the first language—with very good English, a “fish butcher,” as he cut the fish I’d ordered. He explained what he was doing. I mistakenly sliced my own big piece, not realizing he was cutting exactly what I’d ordered. A mix-up that didn’t seem to upset him. When he finished and turned to serve another customer I was confused about where my order was, not sure who or when to ask.

In a possibly related dream I was with George C, looking at photos of his wedding that Chris J had made. Very good, one in particular, that seemed to show about 5 people, including George himself at a lectern, apparently all asleep.

And the most remarkable dream of all: it was sunrise, because of the way the light worked, pools of water were brilliantly lit with a soft blue glowing light. I realized this as I slept and, tho still tired, decided to get up to make the photo from my window. I actually did wake up and rise from bed, thinking the dream was presaging what I should be photographing. It was still night. Only a dream. Later, in real life, when I was up and the sun was rising—my window faces east, over the valley, about 3 floors up—there were the pools! Not as gorgeously lit as in my dream, but good enough to try a photo or two. I should have used my telephoto lens but it was in the car and I felt too lazy (also enjoying being naked for a change) to retrieve it.

And now a twist on the story that I’d not dreamt—the sun in the sky, reflecting in the pool. So another photo to try to show this magnificent moment.

Yesterday I moved slightly further south, into the valley of the Jordan. Frequently I recalled that in 2003, my first trip here, I’d flown home over this same area, and because the sky was clear and the plane window unclouded [winter time], I could photograph the earth from above. Same region, same misleading terrain, the river looking wide—in fact, narrow, in fact, in places, not visible because covered with grasses.

No dunking pilgrims at Yardenit, the river site for immersion, said not to be the site of Jesus’ baptism, which I believe is further north, now too close to Jordan to be safe. This might disappoint Jan H who’s written regularly as we set our assignation for shortly after I return home. She’d hoped I could show white robed pilgrims in the water. I only saw what looked like carp swimming madly in the dipping area. I visited the tourist center, found some spectacular black and white photos on display by Gali Tibbon, a woman living in Jerusalem. I’ll probably use them, giving her full credit. I suspect they are much better than the ones I’d make, since I’d probably not have time to ask permission for best access. The area has been developed specifically for immersions, with a large restaurant, a walk way for observing immersions, several fenced off areas in the water for these events, and a few displays about what this means. Which is? The power of water to cleanse, purify, make whole, allow one to begin again. I suspect the German man I met at the Deshe guest house, the born again Christian, who’d hit bottom, would begin to surface if dipping into these waters, believed by some to be holy.

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Yardenit

Nearby I found a grove of eucalyptus trees with a marker honoring a woman who’d walked thru the grove as a youth. They were planted in 1912 at one of the first kibbutzim to help dry the swamp. Little did those planters realize the trees would become a liability during the era of drought and general water shortage.

There are many early kibbutzim in the area, south of the lake, near the river. And as I explored them from afar, thru fences (tho I suspect most are now open), noticing the guard houses and towers, some damaged from shelling, I realized the kibbutz movement was not only agricultural in intent but political. They were an early form of the settlement, establishing facts on the ground, claiming the land, not only agriculturally, but for the building of the nation. I’d love to read a history of the kibbutz, to learn its role in the founding of the state.

In this same vein, I also visited Old Gesher, another early kibbutz, now along the frontier with Jordan. As I pulled in, not sure what I was observing, I first saw a large fairly modern building pockmarked by shelling and rifle fire. Signs in Hebrew probably explained what this was. Close by, under some trees for shade, a group of about 5 lounging soldiers with rifles. Signs indicated this is a firing zone, do not enter! About 100 meters from here was the visitor center and more soldiers. At first I thought I was at the Beit Shean border crossing, but no, as I tenderly brought out my camera and began walking (using the Lou Jones technique for asking permission to photography, step by step, with full awareness of anyone’s body language), no one seemed to notice. I learned the soldiers, probably new to their position, were on an educational excursion. The government seems to do much of this, educational preparatory trips for new soldiers. Strengthens their motivation to “keep their nation safe.”

DSC_5556Motion detecting fence at Old Gesher

The attendant explained that the center was closed, and to enter I’d have to make prior arrangements and join with a group. Too bad, I missed the audio video event, The Naharayim Experience. Which might be about the founding of this early kibbutz. It had been on the list Elizabeth of FoEME provided me of water resources to explore on this trip.

I could title one of my presentations: What the hell is this? I find myself uttering that phrase regularly as I see something that might be this, or might be that, but I’m not sure. At times I find out, at others, I don’t. So the words remain: What the hell is this?

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Where the Jordan exits the Sea of Galilee

I stopped several times along highway 90 to photograph the river and valley, often at some peril to me. Trucks whizzing by, two of them carrying tanks, speeding cars, buses, narrow road, narrow shoulders, hot and generally difficult to stop to make photos. I might be in more danger during this leg of my 3 month journey than at some other points.

No surprise: the river was hard to find, either shrunken to a pitiful trickle or disappeared entirely beneath grasses. Even driving off road to find the elusive river usually proved futile. At one spot I thought I saw the water disappear into a pipe.

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End of the Jordan River?

This attempt to find the river culminated at the Beit Shean border crossing, where at first, finding a dried up channel, thinking it was the river bed, I photographed what I thought was the river. All under the eye of a security guard. I mistakenly thought this was the crossing we’d used on my first trip in 2003, which in fact is further south, by Jericho. How mixed up I can be, hardly an astute observer and witness. And then, in the restaurant perhaps surprising guests when I asked, where’s the river?, I discovered I’d not be able to see the river because people are not allowed to walk on the bridge, and the river cannot be seen under the grasses.

Earlier often I could see what must have been historic river routes, channels, even a few striations, indicating better times for the Jordan River. But not today during a lengthy water crisis.

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At about 3 pm I began thinking about where I’d stay the night, my usual pattern: the book listed nothing for Beit Shean, the nearest town. It suggested some fine sounding spots further south, Ein Gedi for one, which I’d long hoped to visit along the Dead Sea shore. But this requires a long drive. So I opted to simply drive thru Beit Shean, hoping I’d spot something I could afford. And just as I arrived there it was: the Beit She’an guest house, a huge building of stone on the main road, but surely, I thought, too expensive, something like $100 plus.

Inquiring, I learned I could book a single room, no dorms here, for 275 NIS, under $100 (more precisely, using 4 shekels to the dollar, $70 include breakfast. Dinner would be 70 shekels, too high.) I realized this morning that I’m spending money as if it is endless, neglecting the fact that I have only savings to live on until Jan next year. I might suffer later for my prodigality. Time to put on the spending breaks, begin worrying. (This trip has been unusually worry-free for me, no sleepless nights. Yet.)

The guesthouse is part of the Israel Youth Hostel Association, (IYHA), http://www.iyha.org.il. It has “62 high quality rooms…air conditioned with en-suite bathrooms and showers, refrigerator, TV, and a coffee corner.” Plus a pool and conference rooms. A fine place for one of my shows. I should ask Dave if he’d like to organize an Israeli tour for me.

Last evening, as the sun settled for the night, the air cooling mercifully (it is not getting hotter as I proceed southward and lower into the earth, nearer the notoriously hot and humid Jericho. In fact, cooler last night that previous nights.), I ate a low quality falafel (they’re much better in Palestine), and discovered Roman ruins. A good time to visit: the sun was not glaring, the air was cool, no one else was touring, and so perhaps this magical hour will help me construct a few good photos.

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Roman ruins, Beit Shean

At a small shopping mall, as I explored, I noticed a baby clothes shop with the name, mish mish. Very odd, thought I, since this is the Arabic word for apricot. Inquiring, I learned that it’s also Hebrew for apricot. Yet another testament to the closeness of these two “separate” people—warring cousins.

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Date palms near the Jordan River

For the first time I remember on this 3 month journey, except for the Tel Aviv bus station and possibly the Jerusalem bus station, I had to pass security to enter. A young smiling black man did his duty, checking my bag, but not requiring I disgorge all my metal so I could pass the metal detector without setting it off.

Anne has been most reliable as a loving appreciating correspondent. She is tracking me. She seems now to read everything I write, and soon after I post it. I’d sent to my list my most recent blog yesterday morning, the longest yet, some 5000 words, with an apology, long and not carefully edited, and by evening she’d read it and commented in her usual deep and compassionate way. As I wrote her, you are the best. Love, me. She even calls me Skipper, which only my sister Elaine uses, a true signifier of deep relationship.

Jan is also surprisingly responsive. I’m enjoying our regular but brief communiqués, mostly about when to meet. My home, Wednesday after I arrive on Sunday, 6 pm for dinner, she brings the dessert.

LINKS:

History of kibbutzim

History of the Galilee

Israel Youth Hostel Association

“Joel Kovel on Naomi Klein and Durban,” August 28, 2009

Israel Still Strangles the Palestinian Economy, by Sam Bahour, Wall Street Journal Op-ed, August 20, 2009

Read Full Post »

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Northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (aka, Lake Kinneret)

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Israeli intelligence center, Golan Heights

Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

September 3, 2009, Saturday, Thursday, Yehudiya camp ground, Golan Heights, Israel, under an oak tree overlooking a wadi

This may be the first time I’ve written my journal on a computer while “camping.” That later, first the traditional dream journal:

I met a woman (recurring theme) who initially was attractive. Tall and thin, fairly good looking, either in surmising without the aid of others or told by others, I realized she had big psychological problems. She admitted, this is not my real body; my eating habits are not healthy. I decided to stay away from her—a bad bet, a high maintenance person.

Earlier I’d dreamt about roller skating, learning there were 3 types of wheels, soft, hard, and harder. The soft were noiseless and allowed jumping. Boys taught me this.

And finally, the last dream of the night, Y or her surrogate phoned me, weeping, to ask if I’d come to her. We were in a last phase of an active relationship and I decided to honor her request.

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Golan

So much for the dreams, what are the conditions of my dreaming? Slept in my car (as I’d anticipated doing at least one night), in a reasonably fine campground (but not well kept), sharing it with 2 couples camping together in separate tents and another group of 3 young men in one large tent, in central Golan (hills all around, I plan a hike later this morning), after a dinner of food I picked up in one of the central towns of the region, Katzrin, eating it on a bench near the kiosk, and paying 15 NIS or so for the accommodation (15 extra for hiking, all proceeds to the agency maintaining the park system).

One irony of this stopover was writing the first draft of my proposal to Friends General Conference gathering [the large, fun, workshop-oriented annual gathering of Quakers in North America] for another round of The question of Palestine/Israel [which I’d led in 2008]. Most ironic: sitting in a campground shared with Israelis, hearing them banter and laugh just a few meters from me, in the heart of the Golan Heights, army vehicles, including tanks on flatbeds, numerous jeeps, numerous soldiers with numerous M-16’s present, writing a workshop proposal about this region and its many issues for next year’s gathering. I decided to propose that I’d concentrate on Gaza and the Golan, along with Bethlehem and hydropolitics. I’m in the middle of gathering material for the Golan section of whatever photo presentations I put together from this trip.

~~The sun has just risen majestically over the hills opposite me, and will soon stream into my face. I’ll put on my well worn, almost in shreds baseball cap from Popular Achievement. Yesterday to avoid the late afternoon sun I found a spot to park along the small road north of the campground, beneath a tree, appreciating its shade. I now make my 2nd cup of “Nescafe,” as instant is known, despite the many brands.~~

The night grew chilly, one of the coolest. No surprise, we’re at a higher elevation. Driving from the northwest shore of the Galilean sea where I resided last night in the hostel—seems so far away, geographically and comfort wise—the ascent at times was sharp. The car labored. Looking for a gas station I stopped in the new town of Had Nes, filled with newly completed homes and homes under construction. Founded in 1986 it is another fact on the ground, equivalent to the settlements. It will establish residency and sovereignty rights for Israel, hard to dislodge. As Haifa illustrates a less well known aspect of Israeli control, what I call Occupation with the velvet glove, allowing Palestinian citizens of Israel fewer rights than those extended to the Jews, the Golan shows another form of control: creating new towns, and with that developing museums and other historical resources that prove that Jews have lived in this region for millennia. If their length of habitation is true—and I don’t doubt it at this point with my limited, newly acquired knowledge—it gives credence to their claim of at least shared ownership with Syrians. I must check histories to verify this.

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Court yard of Karei Deshe guest house, near Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee

Dislodging these communities seems as far fetched as removing the settlements in the West Bank. (I also fail to understand why anyone would wish to live in such a rural area. But that is just my Chicago background speaking. Of course, many wish to move to the country and this resettlement in the Golan might be one manifestation of that wish. They don’t need cities as I do.)

One startling display in a museum in Katzrin showed the saga of Gamla, a town in central Golan that the Romans eventually, after much bloodshed, conquered, leading to the death of some 5000 people, some by fighting, some when fleeing over and down precipices. A sort of Masada without the suicide. Josephus, the Jewish chronicler, is a fascinating figure. We know much about that period thru his writings; apparently he was the leader of Jewish resistance to the Romans at that time, and ordered the hill top town of Gamla to be fortified, anticipating a Roman assault. The Jews built a wall and tower, but these did not protect them. The Roman juggernaut ran over them. I might visit Gamla on this journey.

I decided against visiting a Talmudic period synagogue since it would cost more money and I’ve seen so many ruins, photographed so many rocks, and find myself less interested in Jewish history than that of other groups. Which is a shame I suppose, but honest to my background and inclinations.

What else did I visit and think about yesterday, coming north from the lake?

Leaving the hostel I explored a Canaanite site high on a hill near the hostel, and palace ruins generated by an earthquake just outside the hostel. Unlike North America, nearly every region has its own long term history, sometimes matching in time that of the North American continent, Canaanites here some 4000 years ago, which is nothing compared to the 20,000 year history of American Indians—as far back as, quoting Wikipedia, the Pleistocene, ca. 1.5 million years ago [with] traces of the earliest migration of Homo erectus out of Africa.

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Tel Kinneret, Cannonite town site overlooking Lake Kinneret

Crossing the Jordan River as it enters the lake, too far from the lake to actually see the entry—I wonder if access to this confluence point is possible. The river at this point is about 4 meters wide, swiftly flowing, and I’m not sure how deep. A rather nondescript bridge marks the river, with some signs, mostly in Hebrew, and to the north side a ramp and flat area that might be where people immerse themselves as if Jesus baptized by John. The surrounding region is flat, with many planted fields, suggesting rich earth, maybe deposits of earlier fuller Jordan River waters.

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Galilean hills

I learned that the sidewalk extending from the Church of Loaves and Fishes to the orthodox version of Capernaum (here also apparently 2 sites claimed to be holy in the same way) was constructed for the Pope’s visit in 2000. Because construction started only one month before his visit, it was finally completed in 2002. A hefty sweaty woman laboring over the path on a hot day kindly provided this information after I’d stopped to photograph the hill or Mountain of Beatitudes directly across from Capernaum. I thought this a likely spot where Jesus might have given his early, profound and enduring sermon.

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Jordan River as it enters the Sea of Galilee

In Katzrin where I visited an archeological museum , I found more commercial facilities than I’ve yet seen on this Golan adventure. I finally found a replacement bulb for my flashlight, thanks to the diligence of a woman staffing the small hardware store. (Just in time for camping.) Then I tried a new food treat, French schnitzel. Apparently schnitzel means chicken (or other meat) fried in breadcrumbs, a sure sign of Jewish culture. The outdoor café offered about 10 forms of schnitzel. (I chose French because I seem to love everything French. I might have tried Polish or Chinese, etc.)

Many soldiers joined me as I ate, none speaking to me. Had they inquired about my trip, why I’m here and what I’m learning, I might have been tempted to ask them about the destroyed Arab villages, the mined areas, the explosions I keep hearing, the transport of tanks. What is all this about? But no one invited me into a conversation.

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Earlier as I whizzed thru the landscape I noticed fleetingly what looked like an old rounded building remnant. Stopping I read the signs: do not enter—dangerous—mines! Glad they wrote in English and bothered to post the area. I might otherwise have explored. 2 rows of barbed wire fences sealed off the area. I did my best to show what may have been the ruins of an Arab village. This might contrast with the more idyllic photos I’m trying to make of the landscape. As I photographed, another one of those flatbed trucks roared by carrying a tank. Passing in the opposite direction, a large military tanker truck.

All this reminded me of recent history, the 1970s and the war that Israel almost lost.

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Golan, site of a destroyed Syrian village

On this leg of my journey, driving, camping, I’m also reminded of 2 other similar trips: in 1982, across the Great Plains, solo, discovering that American Indians live (leading to my work with Lakota Sioux Indians), and in 1990, across the country with Y, our first long journey together, filled with joy, filled with argument. (She claims now that the trip hinted to her our basic incompatibility. Well, in this way I guess it was useful to her. But it was also a way to know the land better, our nation’s history, and ourselves.)

~~I blow heaps of snot from my nose, an after affect of my cold. Annoying but not debilitating. With this, a mild case of sore back, maybe the car seat I slept in last night. Which was actually more comfortable than sleeping on the train.~~

Offline I wrote ME from the hostel, then buying one hour of Internet access for $5 I sent the letter and did other web tasks. Surprisingly she has been one of the more responsive of my friends, relatively well tuned to this segment of my journey. Yet, she’s written virtually nothing about her own journey. So I asked again, what are you doing in Yemen? I forgot to mention to her how her reference to beauty helped inspire a photographic assignment to both my Gaza groups and a suggestion I hoped to make about reading Frederick Law Olmsted’s account of life in the south, since she wrote about her surprise when reading about slavery in the United States.

~~As I complete this entry the nature reserve staff has emerged from their homes, driven here, opened up the café, entrance station, and perhaps the information center. The region comes to life.~~

September 4, 2009, Friday, Tsfat, northern Galilee, Israel, Beit Shalom Guest House, in the dining room

With diarrhea. How did this happen, in Israel of all places, when I’ve been spared for nearly my entire 3 months, even in Jenin and Gaza? I think it was the water I accidentally drank yesterday that I thought I’d poured from my bottled water but instead may have been what I loaded up with further north in the Galilee. I’d run out of water, stopped in a roadside restaurant off some high winding highway, asked for a  refill for my 2 small bottles, carried them to the car. After the man who’d done this exclaimed, oh no, you can’t drink that. I thought you wanted it for your car, I bought a large bottle, drank from that, and then, when preparing for a hike, emptied one of those suspicious bottles, refilled with bottled water, and left the first filled with what I think I drank from later. I’d mixed the two up. And now I suffer. Or so it seems. It will give me a “taste” of bad water, helping me appreciate the “good.”

But this is minor, a small setback in an otherwise mostly healthy 3 months (except for my mild cold, which transformed into some 5 days of sticky gooey nose blowing, tailing off today. Legs are fine, tho sore; back is fine, tho occasionally stiff and sore; brain seems fully functioning; all other parts as far as I know in tip top condition.)

To the vital dream journal: with “Y” (I put her name in quotes because once again it was someone playing the part of Y, she didn’t look exactly like the real Y but I knew she fit the character description) we were discussing how to share living. We decided—no surprise—to go halves, half the time at my place, half at hers, but unlike my actual experience with Y we planned to live together continually, just switching locations. I wonder now how this might have worked in reality for us. I don’t recall ever discussing it with her.

A very funny water related dream (good night for dreaming, and I’m so grateful the shits did not begin during my sleep): something about various pools of water, one which would never be filled again, the other only partially filled. As I discussed this with others—the context may have been a university like Harvard—two huge boats resembling fish pulled up underwater and surfaced. Some older men emerged and we then talked about something, as if their vehicles were ordinary. The boats resembled dragons or mythical sea creatures. No one seemed to notice how odd they were and that they carried people.

This section of my dream stream included a tour, maybe of the pools. At the conclusion I thanked the man who’d toured us, Frank someone, and while doing this a young pretty small woman thanked me for attending and expressed her wish that I’d return for more visits. She may have been the same woman I’d danced with earlier, in some sort of group circle dance. Altho I thought she was with the man giving the tour, she seemed to be flirting with me—maybe truly interested in more visits with me.

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A story from yesterday that was of great importance to me, virtually none to the universe, was how I found housing for the night. A saga with humorous and absurd parts. Once again I wasn’t sure where I’d land for the night, thinking maybe Tsfat since it sounded so intriguing in my guidebook. It seemed far away, unreachable. I’d been in the northern Golan exploring the Banias river source (this is exciting, more later, the universal part of the day’s story) and decided to aim for the nearest large town, Kiryat Shmona. Checking the guidebook, no listing for the town. I drove thru hoping to discover something off the highway. Nothing. Getting late, me tired and sweaty, hungry also because I’d eaten little since breakfast (paralleling the Ramadan fast, short form), I realized another fairly sizeable town was nearby, Rosh Pina. It was on neither of the two maps I carried. It was in the guidebook. I selected a reasonably priced and appealing sounding place, Hotel Mizpe Hayamin, read in the book it would be 300 shekels and up, which is higher than my usual budget but circumstances did not allow much choice, phoned and learned 300 and yes available, so I struggled to find the place, using their spoken directions.

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Arriving, I thought of Harbin Hot Springs in California, very elegant, in lush surroundings, a spa and veggie restaurant included, all of which I’d bypass just for the 300 shekel bed, shower, maybe internet connection. A porter, young and handsome, greeted me with a dolly to carry in my luggage. Wow, what service, never seen anything like this. At the desk I read the invoice: 425 dollars.

DOLLARS! 425 DOLLARS! That’s half again what I paid for an entire month of luxurious housing in Ramallah and decent housing in Gaza.

They apologized. Sorry, we know it’s listed as shekels in your Lonely Planet guidebook, a big mistake which later editions corrected. Out of my range, I said, surprisingly calm. It was about 7 pm and I had no housing. Would you like us to find you a less expensive alternative? Sure. How about … and they suggested something more in my range: for 150 dollars. Well, OK, why not, a so-called bed and breakfast. Again out of my range, but the hour was late, I was tired, dirty, sore, hungry, and growing less calm and more frustrated.

The wife of the owner happened to be in the lobby of the Mizpe Hayamin hotel. She greeted me, gave me directions, and off I went, thinking OK, expensive but at least I won’t have to sleep in the car a second night, this time perhaps by the side of the road. Before leaving I asked the friendly porter, what sort of people stay here, it’s so expensive?

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$425 is nothing, he replied, some rooms cost upwards of $1000 a night. The Israeli president was recently here, Shimon Peres, and his chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. And rich Israelis, and lots of Europeans and Americans. Tips must be good, I offered. He smiled.

The story does not end here. I’m still without housing. Thinking about the B and B, its price, I decided too much. How would I justify this to my funders? Now what? Tsfat is not so far away, I’ll head for it, that was my earlier plan anyway, now at least I’ll be in a good spot for next day’s exploration. Checking my trusty guidebook, I found several candidates, including the Beit Binyamin hostel, the Ascent Institute of Tsfat, and the Beit Shalom guesthouse. I called each, using what I thought was the proper area code of 06. Each time I heard a recorded announcement that I’d made a mistake in dialing. I couldn’t reach any of them.

Head for Tsfat anyway (aka, Safed, Zefad,Ttzfat, Sfat), read from a sign what the correct code is, try that. At a roundabout I noticed about 5 signs for hotels, 06 preceded each number. I tried. Nothing, same recording. So I meandered, hoping once again for something to appear out of the mist that would welcome me home for one night at a price I could afford. Soon I found myself high on a winding street opposite the Carmel hotel which was in the guidebook, mid range housing. I rang the bell of this ancient building, peering thru the window at what looked like a hotel lobby, empty. No one answered. I tried the phone number, no answer.

Then somehow I saw a different area code, 04, maybe on a sign. Phoning the Beit Shalom guesthouse (I liked the name, House of Peace) I reached a recording in English and Hebrew that gave an alternate number. Phoning this mobile number I finally reached someone with decent English who confirmed availability and suggested 200 shekels. This is higher than I usually pay (from about 20 for the camp ground to about 100 for the Sea of Galilee hostel) but now I’m out of energy and time, it’s 8 pm.

I will skip the details of my struggle to find this place, but I managed, thanks to the friendly patient voice on the other end, the son of the woman who runs the place, and my mobile phone. Without it and him I’d never have found a home for the night.

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Temple complex to the Greek god of nature, Pan, source of the Banias River

So much for that little adventure. Now for the real thing, the Banias River area, also called the Hermon Stream, the Banias National Reserve. The Banias is one of the main tributaries of the Jordan River, eventually flowing into Kinneret Lake (aka Sea of Galilee), then the lower Jordan, now mostly a trickle of sewage, ending sacrilegiously in the Dead Sea and either evaporating or seeping into an aquifer, polluting it. The headwaters are springs, and despite the late summer season and the drought were flowing copiously. As they had during the Hellenic period of Palestinian history. The Greeks built a temple to Pan, the god of nature, and sacrificed animals into a large cave. At the bottom of the cave were some of the springs forming the Banias. So they knew, those smart Greeks, about the connection between the sacred and the earthly, with water as a vehicle. They built other temples here as well, one about sacrificial dancing goats.

I’m slightly confused about watercourses here, reading an ambiguous statement in the park pamphlet. Either (quoting the pamphlet) the Hermon Stream receives its water from the southern slopes of Mt Hermon and the northern Golan. Its catchment basin is small—only about 150 sq km. Its main tributaries, the Sa’ar Stream (Wadi Hashba), the Si’on Stream (Wadi Asal), and the Guvet Stream, contribute about 20% of the annual flow of the Hermon Stream, which amounts to approx 125 mcm of water (1/4 of the water of the Jordan). Most of the water emerges as springs at the base of the Banias Cave…

Does this mean the Hermon Stream’s origins are the 3 streams mentioned which then become springs, or the streams are separate from the springs?

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Banias River

According to Wikipedia: Whereas previously the Jordan River rose from the malaria-infested Hula marshes, it now rises from this spring and two others at the base of Mount Hermon. The flow of the spring has decreased greatly in modern times. The water no longer gushes forth from the cave, but only seeps from the bedrock below it.

The area is lush with fig trees, willows, and other emblems of a happy earth. Someone created pools to briefly hold the springs as they course downward toward their eventual destination and demise in the Dead Sea. I wonder what sort of temple the Greeks might have built at the Dead Sea had they realized the connection between the springs and the sea. Many visitors here, contrasting with some of the other historic and nature sites I’ve visited. This is part of a large complex which includes the palace of King Agrippa II, the grandson and successor to Herod , a cardo or main street, synagogue, shrine to a Muslim holy man, and other remnants of local history. Most of these at least partially reflect the Banias. Now we tourists come to pay homage to the waters, or at least that’s what motivated me to visit.

Maybe not all of us. Among the visitors yesterday was a group of about 30 young men, all in fatigue pants, some in boots, huffing and puffing up and down hills and thru the ruins shouting to each other, and then by the falls photographing each other. 4 women with rifles seemed to be leading them. I learned they were new army soldiers, filled with health, as my informant put it—heaps of youthful energy. May it continue to go into exercise and excursions such as this rather than maintaining the occupation.

Earlier at the Yehudiya Nature Reserve and campground, I’d hiked to the Sheik Hussein ruin (knowing nothing about its history, who inhabited it, when it was founded, who last lived here, why they left, altho I can guess some parts of this story), and then further to the Zavatin waterfall in the black gorge. A hike of about 3 hours for me, with all  my stops to photograph. The ruins are huge, with many buildings made of basalt stones not mortared. Some buildings had mortar. Several had window frames, no roofs survived. In the fields, piles of rocks everywhere suggested attempts to clear fields for cultivation. No cellar holes that I saw. Possible effects of war in wide-open walls.

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Sheik Hussein village ruins

The gorge is deep with precipitous walls, showing the effects of water on basalt. Volcanoes some 3 million years ago deposited the basalt, and at times, when slowly cooling, created the signature hexagonal rock structures. The contrast between the ruins and the falls is vast, one showing human effects, the other nature’s effects, but both proving the truth of the Buddhist teaching: impermanence, all is temporary, nothing remains the same. This too shall pass.

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~~Including my intestinal condition which at this point is still unknown. So I’m going easy on the eating, nothing that will require much work from my stomach, and I’m cautious with my gas, preparing to dispel it while sitting on the john, to test my condition. Should I eat the hard-boiled eggs I just cooked, and drink a second cup of coffee? Big questions of the morning. Along with how I will find an Internet connection?~~

Finding the Banias was a major coup for me, since I’d read about it for so long, wondered how it looked, and with no idea—never heard this part of the story—about the connection with sacred sites. I suppose I could devote more time to finding other Jordan River sources, but shall content myself with this one—this one big dramatic one.

I had one minor camera scare yesterday when in reviewing my most recent photos I noticed the thumbnails looked fuzzy and the cameras zoom function wouldn’t work. Oh shit, another corrupted file problem?! And this set contains my Banias photos.

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Zavatin River falls

Removing and reinserting the card cleared up the problem. They downloaded successfully and in the review they all looked OK. Apparently just a little trick the camera played on me to keep my alert.

Weather has been hot and feels muggy at times, despite the altitude of the northern Golan.

I wandered very far north yesterday, to a few km north of Mas’ada, thinking I might reach or at least see Mt Hermon. The road became narrower and rougher, I was passing thru Druze villages, stopping in one to photograph children at school running races (was this El Rom or Mas’ada or somewhere else? Druze it was from the women’s clothing, the Arabic writing, and the mosques.), running out of water, and not sure where I’d stay for the night. I turned around and headed west out of Mas’ada down a steep road alongside a stream which I couldn’t see well, discovering the Banias reserve (near the Dan reserve which Beny had suggested I visit), thru Kiryat Shmona, a very large town, and to where I am writing now.

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Mas’ada, a Druze village in the northern Golan

A short note about this guesthouse in Tsfat: I’m the only resident, paying 200 NIS. On my floor, the 2nd, are 4 bedrooms, each with about 2-3 beds and a separate toilet, a middle shared room which combines dining and cooking, a fridge which I guess I can raid at will, a porch that encircles the interior on at least 2 sides, with many tables suggesting at one time this guest house may have been more used, an upper story that I think I read about in the book with more rooms and a veranda or patio. Where the woman I met last night resides is a mystery to me. Also who is the younger woman on the phone last night, who disappeared, and the photos on the wall, suggesting family, one large portrait of a man looking very traditionally Israeli.

This building is opposite another with the same name. Are they associated? We are on a narrow street with old and new buildings. I hope to explore the neighborhood more fully later today.

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Druze villages near the border with Syria

LINKS:

Banias area

Tel Kinneret, the Canaanite site

A more detailed report of excavations at Tel Kinneret

“Sea of Galilee Dropping; Bathers and Fish in Danger,” by Gil Ronen, May 30, 2008

Jordan River sources

The photography of Gali Tibbon

Read Full Post »

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Jaffa, from the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel

Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

August 29, 2009, Saturday, Shabbat, Jaffa, Israel, on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel:

This singular, and perfectly appropriate dream: about Hilda Silverman. I’d made a movie or slide show, was showing it to friends including Y, and came to the part about Hilda’s Buddhism. This section surprised people and I wasn’t sure I’d used suitable graphics to show her particular brand of Buddhism. [The irony here is Hilda was a very active Jewish activist and good friend and mentor. Her combination of passion, wisdom, knowledge, and commitment to Palestinian rights was exemplary. Hilda was not a Buddhist.]

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Jaffa

Y wrote wondering what had happened to me in and since Gaza. I apologized for not streaming news constantly but wrote that I thought I’d implied my safe condition and new location thru the few messages I did send. Her concern gratifies me. She is preparing for homecoming as I am, determined to move to the opposite coast by December, whether or not she’s bought housing. That’s her persistence.

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DN showed me the synagogue and yeshiva that exists in an area Irving Moskowitz, a rich Jewish business man from the United States who desires to Judicize all of Jaffa-Tel Aviv, hopes to purchase so he can develop housing for Jews only. We concluded the trip with a visit to the Shimon Peres Peace Center, if I have the name correct. Unfinished, using much glass, near the coast, on top of cleared Arab land, the project ran out of money. And now the building sits idle and empty, its glass a ready target for Arab youth. Nearby is an apartment complex lived in by Palestinians. To not embarrass the Center, the city renovated one side only of the complex, the side facing the Center. This became the subject of jokes. Eventually the city renovated all the sides.

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Shimon Peres Peace Center, Jaffa

While photographing, Ibrahem phoned to return my call that I’d made to say goodbye, voice to voice. He asked me where I was. You’d never believe—Jaffa. Oh Jaffa! he exclaimed  in appreciation. As if to say, that is one of my favorite spots in Israel-Palestine. I hesitated to express too much enthusiasm about my locale, to not make him overly jealous. But there we were, not more than 70 km apart, in better times an easy 45 minute drive—and those better times were not so long ago. Eric told me just 21 or so years ago, before the First Intifada began when the wall was not there, Israeli Jews would visit Gaza to shop, swim, see friends, and Palestinians would come to Israel to work. Could happen again.

But for now, Ibrahem is trapped in Gaza; most of us cannot enter easily, especially Israelis.

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Nearly back to the hostel, almost depleted of energy gas, I heard music, a cross between klezmer and jazz. Why not check this out? Dancing in the streets, a Lindy Hop troupe of scantily dressed women, kids dancing, everyone smiling, what joy! Can this ever happen in Gaza? Even in Ramallah? Not with the current political and cultural controls. What a pity. Another major difference between life in Gaza and life just a few kilometers north.

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August 30, 2009, Jaffa, Israel, on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel:

Where in the territories my usual wake up call was from the muezzin, around 4 AM, here in this more “civilized” part of the world, at least in Tel Aviv, at that same time I hear the roar of aircraft landing at Ben Gurion. Each plane probably includes at least one tremulous traveler, worried about getting thru security and into the country. I am imagining myself as  that person on each incoming flight.

The day was mostly exploring the coast, starting at the viewing platform near the hostel, first south toward Gaza, the old port, retracing my route to head north into Tel Aviv proper. Many fishing boats in the old port, a tour boat or two, one seafood restaurant, lots of walkers, bathers, bikers, tanners (I was amazed at the high number of beach goers who lie or sit or walk in open to the sky regions, no tents and few umbrellas, much different from Gaza), and someone had accidentally or purposefully left a box of nut treats on a ledge. I helped myself.

The day was again hot, bright sun, fatiguing but rewarding walking. And my legs did not hurt me for a change. Perhaps something to do with lightening my load.

The beach north repeated the beach south, with large numbers of families with small children romping in the sand and water. Finally, after some 5 weeks in coastal territory I entered the water. It was grand. Salty, refreshing, warm, full of high waves that I played in—along with 100s of others, mostly frolicking Israelis. Occupation? What occupation? Gaza? Where is Gaza? Most Israelis, including David Nir and the Wesley’s report that most Israelis have stripped out any awareness of Palestinians and the occupation.

Just 50 km south of here, dear friend. You’ve heard of it? Gaza. Any idea how people live there? What their beach is like? Their food supply? Their employment? Their security? Their love lives?

One surprise on the walk north yesterday—a playground with a few younger and elder youth along with adults playing on the equipment. As always when I observe such scenes I think of my grand kids, me playing with them. The equipment was novel and included swings that many could sit on simultaneously, another swing more like a long log that several could ride on, and various sorts of merry go rounds. I hesitated to photograph here, not knowing what to expect from kids and their parents. I anticipated they’d not be eager for photography, might even object. No one objected, no one seemed eager. A nonchalance that is perhaps characteristically Israeli?

As usual on this trip, summer time, the light was harsh, not the Mediterranean light that I often work with, think about, talk about. Clouds formed in the morning, dissipated by late morning.

A few power skis, one of two sail boats way out, a unique lifeguard technique of using something like a large surfboard the attendant perched on, propelling himself with a long double bladed oar. His only duty seemed to be shepherding people back to the guarded swimming zone. The life guard station, high and of wood, resembled that of Gaza, but with better construction and loudspeakers rather than bullhorns. No Israeli navy gunboats patrolled along the horizon.

Women wore bikinis, and the young ones exhibited tremendously healthy and seductive bodies. The men tended to wear long shorts, like mine, and only a rare one wore the tight form of body revealing short shorts. This pleased me since I fit right in with my baggy shorts. No tops for the men of course, unlike Gaza, and if there were Muslims swimming in this potpourri, no women wore the traditional long gowns. I’ve asked about water quality and usually hear either I don’t know or it’s good. So I felt safe wading.

People played paddleball, mostly young virile strong men, also a few women. The sound of these bouncing balls permeated and defined the aural atmosphere of the beach, along with joyful cries of kids.

I note that I’ve not written about big sections of my experience, entire lacuna of important experiences is missing, notably: Nomika, Husam, David Nir. How to retrieve this, when?

August 31, 2009, Monday, Protea Village, north of Jaffa-Tel Aviv, with Beny Gefen:

Yes, Beny Gefen, who I met in about 2004 while helping Palestinian farmers harvest their olives. We’ve stayed in touch these 5 years, and he responded with an invitation to visit when I sent out the word that I could visit people along the coast. I’d been curious about him for many reasons—his Palmach background, work with Palestinians, but especially his Chinese girl friend whom he frequently mentioned.

He is retired from a life of farming. Born near where he lives now, east of Natanya, moving to the Galilee for some years, farming there, married 10 years, several children including a son who died while in the army in or near Lebanon, a string of younger girl friends who he’d frequently travel with, and he now lives in a retirement community named Protea because of all the South Africans who live here. We met one while waiting for the pool to open this morning. A genial fellow with a strong South African accent, he explained that he moved prior to the end of apartheid exactly because of apartheid (he pronounced it apart-hate, as I’ve heard most South African’s pronounce it, opposed to how non South African’s usually say the word, apart-hide). I identify more with Israel than I ever did with South Africa, he confessed.

Beny is a delight: 83 years old, looking a decade younger, a very youthful spirit, active in resistance to his country’s apartheid, a total secularist interested in evolution, lover of plants (his house is adorned with them, his porch especially, as are most porches in this community; one plant, with white flowers and a yellow interior, 5 petals, he places in honor of his brother who also has died in some tragic manner), small, clean, neat, well organized apartment (2 bedrooms, a combined living-dining-cooking area, the porch, a toilet with shower, expensive to live here, he told me), he has photos and drawings on every possible wall space, along with books pinned open to photos, usually nature scenes. Featured prominently: Ming Mea, his 34-year-old Chinese girl friend.

Beny seems to be a student in philology. We discussed what he believes is the origin of the written language, occurring in this region about 3500 years ago, a mixture of Phoenician and Canaanite, with influences from the hieroglyphics of Egypt. All leading to Aramaic, the lingua franca of the region then, and eventually to the Semitic languages of Arabic and Hebrew, later to all the other written languages. Quite profound, if true.

In pictures he showed me how Hebrew letters evolved, 22 of them, all from signs which earlier indicated  concepts. Demonstrating on his full first name, Binyamin, he broke it down into about 4 syllables, each syllable representing the first letter of a word that the letter looked like.

He also proved to me the closeness of Hebrew and Arabic by sounding the words for the numbers—some are identical, like arba for four, and most others sound similar.

Perhaps one reason I like him so much, other than his politics and background, is how much he resembles my favorite grand pa, Ed Sage. I remember grandfather when he was older, and I think he looked much like Beny looks now. I should compare portraits and tell Elaine [my sister] about this. It’s not only the physical resemblance, but something about essence, deeper spirit, their humanity. In other details like work, politics, etc, they are not similar.

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His Palmach experience is equally fascinating. He joined in 1944, and saw combat against the Brits. The organization was initially formed, he explained, to resist the Germans under Rommel who at one time during the war were thought to be able to invade Israel. When invited, Beny later joined the paratroopers, among the most elite of the fighters. He served in the reserves until the age of 57. On his front door he showed me a photo of an invitation for a reunion of one of his units—it shows the young Beny with colleagues he standing, the others sitting, looking into the distance..

During one of these tours he observed Israeli soldiers murdering Egyptian prisoners. He objected and was able to stop the killing. Another incident like this occurred later. I presume these experiences were part of what turned him from fighter to activist for Palestinian rights.

He’d been enthusiastically describing two friends of his, Buma, a younger man, and a woman. Buma joined us, carrying a notebook that contained letters and photos of his work. He has many contacts in higher echelons of Israeli bureaucracy so is able to procure permits for ailing Gazans to reach Israeli hospitals. He also brings West Bank children into Israel, using this same access. And he is always on call to help any Palestinian requesting help. I am one person, he proudly declared, not an organization, yet people find me, those that need me, and those that wish to help my projects offer funding. He showed me a letter from an official in Mattel toys, potentially offering to send toys.

Driving here was easy—the roads are well maintained, the signage clear (often in Hebrew, Arabic, and English), traffic controls effective. I didn’t see any police vehicles. Which reminded me that such vehicles are unmarked, so I use caution and obey the rules. I’m trying to be extra vigilant in my driving practice since I have a $450 deductible insurance agreement. The car is small, a Hyundai, auto shift, air conditioned, and might be my bedroom if needed. Cost is about $380 for 10 days, assuming no mishaps. Plus gas and tolls.

This rental and the driving reminds me of 2 similar experiences in South Africa: the first with Tom Sander in 1990 when we rented a car to drive from Jo’burg to Cape Town, and then 9 years later with Y on a blissful trip down the Indian Ocean coast, stopping at several resorts for overnights. I recall especially worrying about crime, and thinking the so-called “flying squadron” was a joke. By being named “flying squadron” this service might lead me to believe, an emergency? No problem. Call the flying squadron and they’ll be here instantaneously to assist. We chose not to rent a mobile phone so how would we call them—if they even existed.

September 1, 2009, Tuesday, Nazareth, roof of Sisters of Nazareth Convent hostel:

I explored Caesarea (pronounced, if I recall correctly, ceez-ar-eea, with 2 long e’s). Once a prime coastal city because of its port, its beauty, grandeur, influence, and population waned and waxed for over 2500 years. Originally a small town, possibly Phoenician, known as Strato’s Tower, successively it was Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Ottoman, British, and now Jewish Israeli, reflecting the history of the region generally.

Viewing the reconstructions thru drawings and films I was reminded of the White City of turn of the century Chicago, the World’s Fair that prompted massive building, most of which vanished not long after the Fair closed in 1893. Same with the port, the city, most of the features of the most impressive period of Caesarea—lost to wanton destruction as in the case of some Arab groups and the Crusaders, and the “sands of time,” literally, the sand, water, winds and perhaps stones blown ashore by storms. One very interesting section of the site showed stratigraphy, how many different layers had been deposited onto the original constructions, after the constructions.

I walked the length of the hippodrome (in Latin, circus, not what we think of as circus with clowns, trained animals, trapeze acts, etc, but spectacles for the masses, such as gladiatorial contests, torture of despised groups like Jews and early Christians, etc), imagining the chariot races, the slaughter of captured people, and other entertainments for the population then.

I ate lunch (chicken snitzel and fried potatoes with greens, for 55 NIS) overlooking the old port. It is now not only a tourist attraction, but a major swimming and relaxing place with maybe 100 people including small children under beach umbrellas, enjoying the view, the history, the water, the wine. How vastly different from Gaza beaches.

Eating at this restaurant, with Israelis serving me, eating with me, cooking for me, and profiting from me, I had to wonder: what am I doing spending my money in Israel, adding to the country’s survival, in effect, validating its existence? This is a problem, it was a problem for me when I first visited apartheid South Africa in 1990, during the boycott. Some thought, Skip, with your views about the apartheid regime, why are you going there now? You’re validating and supporting the government’s existence.

Feebly I responded with, I’m a witness, going to observe and report. Is that a sufficient rationale?

Crusader walls; a mosque built in the last century for Bosnian immigrants, itself over church ruins, over earlier mosque ruins, perhaps over a Roman shrine; the remains of sunken gardens and palaces; an array of ruins that were once buildings on the inner harbor (here I made a panoramic photograph, click to view it); the Roman theater, heavily damaged by time and deliberate destruction, and then reassembled into a huge fancy venue; and, best of all, the Time Trek audio visual display. This consisted of what they termed “holograms,” actors voicing answers to questions the viewer might ask, playing characters like rabbis, queen and empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, and I assume Roman soldiers and leaders, plus a movie that for me was the single most important interpretative device. Using animation, it simulated the various time periods, making them more vivid.

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Ceasarea hippodrome

Much to photograph, and even more to think about. The power of place. The passage of time. Immortality. Visions of grandeur. Decay due to natural forces, decay due to human forces. All for the price of 18 NIS (I qualified for a “pensioner” discount, even tho it’s meant only for Israeli elders), much walking, the sun, and some confusion. Few others were with me and when I inquired about this to a young man staffing the movie, he said, During the week it’s pretty quiet, our busiest times are the weekends. I was surprised, I thought such a magnificent site with such excellent interpretation would draw 1000s daily. Maybe later. As I’ve noticed and written many times, the Israelis are good at archeology and museum building, despite their propensity—which is not unique to them— to remake their own history thru their discoveries and analyses.

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Roman aqueduct near Ceasarea

Not to overlook the Roman aqueduct, fitting precisely into one of my main themes, water, hydropolitics. In my guidebook I read about the aqueduct which brought water some 17 km to the city from mountain springs. Parts of it are well preserved, others seem to have disappeared either beneath the sand or washed away by the sea. This was truly a delight to photograph. Not far from there, on the highway, I fleetingly noticed another aqueduct, not as prominent, maybe a section of the same one, and next to it—modern pipes, maybe carrying water. That would have made a great photo but I didn’t see it in time, couldn’t stop, couldn’t easily turn around. Lost the prize-winning fish, the big one got away.

Napping yesterday afternoon in Nazareth, the thought occurred to me: I’m in a mixed Muslim Christian Jewish town (of about 6,000, 2/3’s the size of my town), my t shirt has Hebrew lettering (perfect for Caesarea) and I’m wearing the type of shorts that would be verboten in the West Bank and Gaza, will I get into trouble walking around Nazareth? I asked the sister at the desk, she thought, not a problem, people wear all types of clothes here. And so it was, altho I still felt noticed, not as much as in Gaza or some parts of the West Bank, Jenin notably. But I’m slowly looking more ordinary, more a tourist.

After the walk I noticed that the outdoor only mosque in front of and down from the Basilica was thronged with mostly men, standing, sitting, bowing, prostrating. I remembered that when I was last here local Muslims were attempting to build a regular mosque at this site, conspicuously close and in front of the Annunciation Church or Basilica, one of the holiest places in Christendom. Is this battle? A local woman confirmed for me that indeed there had been some controversy over this placement but now it is settled. She thought they prayed only on Friday’s and was surprised when I told her they were praying big time last night. The battle for god continues.

September 2, 2009, Wednesday, Tabgha, NW shore of Sea of Galilee, Karei Deshe Guest House, my room:

I’m near Capernaum, my main target for yesterday, a place I’ve longed to explore since it might have been part of my first awakenment as a Christian, a Christ lover and follower. This is lodged in me deeply and it may have emerged when I visited Capernaum yesterday—along with hundreds of other tourists and pilgrims.

One dream of possible significance, about Andy Towl whom is vital in my life yet whom I rarely dream about. I had forgotten to mention him when I listed my friends who liked using cameras. Despite this slight he gave me one of his old cameras, it looked like a super 8 movie camera. He was explaining its idiosyncrasies. I felt very warm toward him. Is he a sort of Christ figure to me?

The main sites of exploration yesterday—long hot day, I surmise that as we lose elevation the climate warms, becoming closer to the Jericho climate with its intense summer heat and humidity—Tiberias, Cana, museum of the ancient boat, Capernaum, Mt of Beatitudes, and this guest house/youth hostel.

Cana was a drive thru, saw little, mostly a rough village, missed the churches listed that mark the site of an early Jesus miracle, water into wine (a miracle I’d love to be able to do, substituting beer for wine).

My muses kicked in for a perfect short walk along the shore road south of Tiberias. There I discovered Roman ruins, mostly a commercial district with market and shops. Men were restoring some of the main walls. They directed me in and higher to see other remains. The shore front is now mostly privatized, which I’ve heard is causing some controversy. Spotted along the way were public areas. I saw very few people swimming here, but it is midweek. A main hit seemed to be the water park, filled with rides, umbrellas, frolicking families. This reminded me of Aqua Land in Gaza, on a much grander scale.

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The Romans founded Tiberias, allegedly because of the hot springs. I didn’t find the springs that are in use, but did find an old hamam that is part of an Israeli national park. Inside the remains of the hamam or bath, reminding me strongly of the hot springs at Tenakee Springs in Alaska that I visited with Elaine and Bob last fall.

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Capernaum was larger than I’d expected, consisting mainly of a recently built Christian (Franciscan? Always a good guess here because they seem to control so many of the Christian holy sites, Francis might be repulsed by the aggressive acquisitiveness of his descendants.) church over the site of another church or series of churches dated to about the 4th century; the “white synagogue” built a few centuries earlier and said to be built upon the synagogue Christ as a boy taught at; and a complex of ruins which were once the town. The community had been extensive at some period, and then they disappeared, the site never again inhabited (except by the keepers of the holy sites).

Inside the church, pilgrim-tourists like me prayed, stood in silence, photographed, and generally, with great reverence, contemplated where they were, and what had reportedly occurred here. I am continually mystified at the power of place, how it energizes our imaginations to penetrate the veil of history. Or at least give us that feeling of penetration.

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The builders used a curious black stone, probably basalt, which indicates volcanism in this region’s past. I notice the terrain change from coastal sand, to rock, mainly limestone I’m guessing, or sandstone, very hilly as I entered the Nazareth region. More hills, more stone, and then the sand once again at the lake’s periphery.

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Driving north to this region, I noticed a water carrier on the right or east side of the highway. Stopping, I photographed but I doubt it will look like much more than a long concrete square shaped thing. I included pipes at one point to better signify this object’s use. But I’m not sure what it carries, perhaps water from the Galilee Sea?

More vegetation as well, but I’m not keeping track of the exact changes. Had Y been with me on this part of the journey she’d know.

At a different site, a museum which featured a partially reconstructed fishing boat from the era of Jesus (talk about resurrection!, from the depths of history and decay), the museum dedicated to one of the founders of the Palmach. Many tourists here, which I photographed as they rummaged thru the gift shop. I rummaged myself later and picked up an historical atlas of the region. (I was tempted to buy another book, about exploring the temple mount, but cost and bulk dissuaded me.) The museum had several art exhibits about kibbutzim, photos of people in silly poses and artwork made with cotton patches, none of which struck me as profound or even interesting. I missed the main exhibits because of the cost—“man” in the Galilee, and something about the history of kibbutzim.

Because the museum offered free internet I checked my email, wrote Suzanne who’d asked 4 questions: are you home, are you suffering, are you whole, and one more I’ve forgotten. Perfect questions at a perfect moment, inspiring me to sum up in an unusually pithy manner what my experience has been. Later in my room at the guesthouse, I wrote another long letter to ME, who’d recently and uncharacteristically written shortly after another letter from me. Writing to her brings out the best in me, makes me feel very articulate and loving. I hope she feels not only this in and from me but in herself as well when writing me. Maybe because she writes so infrequently she doesn’t. Writing her also puts me in her presence, and she in mine—I can almost taste her. We are together again. Ah, imagination, ah lust! The story continues. (It’s been more than 3 years since meeting.)

Then the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus made his grand debut with his sermon on the mount. It’s slightly north of Capernaum, a gently rising hill or mountain from the Capernaum side, sharper incline west of the mountain, the road curving and steeply inclined. Because of the small notations on my maps and the sometimes-ambiguous directions in my guidebook, I had to drive along the Capernaum road several times before discovering the main road up the mountain and the cutoff to the Mount of Beatitudes. Worth the anguish. Another church, another vista, another opportunity to imagine more of the life of Jesus. And to ask questions: where on the mountain exactly was he, how many were in the audience, how could they hear him, precisely what did he say, is the rendition we know even close to his message? All probably eternally unknown—unless someone journaled reliably (not someone like me who fabricates and has a rotten memory) and that journal is discovered hidden somewhere in something like an urn, like the Dead Sea scrolls—another resurrection.

A group from either Italy or Romania that I’d noticed at the museum was at the mountain  also, shepherded off down a path away from the church for a special service.

And then my final destination, the Karei Deshe-Yoram guesthouse. I’d read about it in the guidebook, cheap, lovely, accessible, but where is it? The map and directions were not much help, and even less help was the woman I repeatedly spoke with at the guesthouse who seemed to confuse north and south, junction names, etc. Or more likely this is just my poor hearing. Frustration set in to the point of framing an alternative plan, driving further north, looking for a camping spot I read about. However, this was not needed, I found it, [clearly marked I later discovered], off the main road. Who’d know?

During the pit of this experience I berated my muses and Christ: where the heck are you now that I need you? What sketchy friends! And then they came thru. Was this because I’d turned critical and demanding?

This place is grand, palatial, in the Mediterranean style. Said to be on the site of an older khan or guest house from the Mameluke period, the 12th century, it is huge, encloses a courtyard which itself is filled with palms and other trees and shrubs as well as a multitude of birds. It sits near the shore, which now, because of depletion of the lake, has receded to about 1 km from the hostel. I’ve noticed in all my views of the lake that the shore area is expanding. I’ve tried to show this. What once might be called a sea, now is more properly a lake, and could, unless remediation is applied quickly, turn into a pond and then a marsh, and then be dry. Is this part of the fate of the earth?

One clear sign of shore recession is the beach facilities like lifeguard stations. Here the earlier one, well built, handsome, with a pole like those in fire stations for quick descent and rescue is far from the shoreline. A new structure is in place, rudimentary compared with the old one. This morning, as the sun rose (around 5:30) I climbed the steps of the old station to gain a better position for the photos. Also grassy areas, newly seeded, and different types of sand and gravel mark the changes. All this occurred recently I believe.

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At the guesthouse (for about 110 NIS, breakfast included, an extra 50 for dinner, coffee and tea and a fridge in the room) I ate with about 20 others, mostly 2 groups of young people, both sounding German. One group sang their grace in perfect harmony, filling the dining hall with lilting music. A backpacker sat by himself, another man sat, like me, alone. One family is here with small children, and a group of 4, 2 couples from France also share the facility.

This meal came at a perfect moment for me: I’d inadvertently fasted most of the day since breakfast. One green apple and one peanut brittle constituted my late lunch. Then the evening feast. This going without food is part of this form of travel: when will I be able to buy a sandwich or groceries or a beer? I saw few opportunities for either along this route.

Rooms, numbering some 100, are dorms like mine (4 beds, I slept alone), singles and doubles, on 2 levels, most looking out or into the courtyard. Everything is air conditioned. Wifi is extra (about $5 per hour.

Swimming was glorious. This marks my 3rd entrance into the water, the first was the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, the 2nd the pool at Protea Village with Beny. In both cases I didn’t worry about water purity. Warm water, very salty in the first case, fresh in the 2nd and 3rd , and auspicious in all cases, especially the 3rd. At the guesthouse beach a sign declared, swimming absolutely forbidden! What?! The counter person had told me swimming is possible. So I checked with someone beachside who replied, of course, swim. Is this another Israeli trait—to declare and not mean seriously?

This morning, up at my usual time, about 5:30 (no matter what time of year, when I’ve gone to bed, how well I’ve slept, I’m up). This time to stroll down to the beach at that magical hour before sunrise. No definitive sunrise this morning,  but a slowly brightening glow from across the water. I photographed this from various angles as time passed, the light changing. I didn’t photograph the twinkling lights to the west, running up hill, many homes, maybe Tiberias?

I’ve managed to photograph, write in my journal, download images into the computer,  back them up, and quickly survey them, but I’ve done little blogging or web maintenance. This might have to wait for Ramallah, or later, Cambridge. Unless I take a day off from driving and stay somewhere 2 nights.

I feel this leg of the 3 month journey of discovery is something I’ve long yearned to do: the coast, Galilee and hopefully the Golan and then the river valley. As if primordial in my being, going back to childhood. Key words kick me off: Galilee, Capernaum, Tiberias, Mediterranean, River Jordan, Golan Heights, etc. These words are markers in my experience, in forming my perspectives, my maturation, and now, as if discovering the root of recurring dreams, I’m there-here.

When I write others, like Suzanne and earlier the Boston Lighters, I try not to boast, but to admit that what I’m doing is a special grace not available to all. 

As lonely as I can be on journeys like this, I’ve come to realize I never travel alone. Always with me: muses, memories, dreams, desires, and the tools I have to share my experiences. Would I be as motivated to share if I were traveling with a real person? If Y were with me or X or ME or one of my daughters and her family. The incentive to broadcast—in effect to create travel companions—might vanish.

Swimming beach by the Kerei Deshe Guest House

This sort of travel is a joy, so far, very relaxed and happy, compared with my previous travels on this particular trip. Those usually involved complicated transport, as in the West Bank, often harrying, as were the shared taxi rides between Ramallah and Bethlehem, or the travel to various areas of Gaza usually with friends as we observed the unreconstructed carnage.

Adding to the intrigue of this journey is planning for my next southern tour in the US. Dave asked me to decide when I’d arrive in Raleigh, and by what transport. So I reserved a seat on the train from Boston for Saturday, October 17, arriving the next day, first show on the day following, all this in less than 2 months. Mind bending.

LINKS:

The Peres Center for Peace

Irving Moskowitz

Hilda Silverman

Protea Village

Beny Gefen

Palmach

Caesarea

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Gaza

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Sderot

Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

August 27 & 28, 2009, Thursday & Friday, Sderot, Israel, in the home of Nomika Zion & Jaffa, Israel, on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel:

Yes, arrived in Israel. With much to show and tell. But first a dream, particularly powerful last night:

In one I was watching a movie in which a young man had tragically died, his family in grief. They either extracted him from the grave or were bringing him home for burial. I knew it was a film and I became very critical of the veracity of it when I saw the dead man, naked, scratch himself. What a cheap shot, I thought. And then he moved again so it became clear the intent was to show he was not dead at all. The family was amazed. Either a resurrection or a case of mistaken death.

The course of yesterday’s events unfolded in mysterious and heavenly ways. First the leave taking at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program office, a gift of my girl in hospital photo to the staff, clearing up the pay question at Al Aqsa (if I send them my bank info they promise a bank transfer of $300, this after I thought Mohammed had said no money available), waiting for Islam to finish the DVD writing of the Popular Achievement movie and my backed up photos, waiting for the taxi which I thought would be driven by the crazy and irrepressible Awni (it wasn’t, damn, someone new, without the chutzpah of Awni), final packing, bye to Hassen the building owner, then ride with Mosab, a quiet Mosab, to Erez. Rolling my black hard plastic luggage over all the gravel, rejecting an offer from one of the porters, this time unwisely, I ruined one wheel. I’ll probably have to replace the luggage or find a way to repair it or live with it till home.

Erez was fairly easy this time, the staff more polite than I recall from before. The same body X-ray device with the whirling doors, the same thorough scanning of all luggage, the same opening of most of my luggage to hand inspect—I watched them, they seemed nonchalant, didn’t look thru everything, didn’t seem to care, no one asked any questions, I probably could have brought the video tapes Raghda had asked me to bring to her brother in Ramallah—, the same series of gates and pens, and the same final stamp in my passport, “Erez.” And I’m in another world.

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Gaza—on the way to Erez crossing point to Israel

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Sderot, Israel

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Eric Yellin, the founder of Other Voice, from Sderot, met me; we drove the 3 km or so to Sderot and there the fantastical experience began. The distance is so small, the situation so different that I gasped. Luckily I could process this with Eric who delighted in showing me around the town. He took me to several hills overlooking Gaza where we could see Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya, Jabalia, and Gaza City itself, places I’ve visited and photographed and heard stories about, places where I’ve met people affected by policies of Israel and supported by many in Sderot. Not supported by Eric however, or his colleague in Other Voice, Nomika Zion, in whose home I slept last night, where I’m writing now.

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On the 2nd of two hill visits the sun was setting. As I photographed, using my long lens, we heard the muezzin call everyone to prayer; everyone in Gaza was at this moment sitting down to break the fast, the Iftar, just as I’d done with the Popeye crew on the previous 2 evenings, and with Mohammed and family in Jabalia camp on the first night of Ramadan. Behind us was a reservoir of about 100 meters across, round and lined, with the water level down by about 10 meters. Eric explained that this had an illustrious history, attacked by Arabs during the early days of Israel, another case of historic hydropolitics.

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Gaza from Sderot

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Jabalia from Sderot

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Jabalia, The Gaza Strip, in the distance, water reservoir in the foreground

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Comparing Gaza with Sderot (some features are a result of the occupation, some are cultural and religious differences): Sderot residents are free to go anywhere in the world, if they have the necessary means (many are impoverished, recent immigrants themselves, and those holding Israeli passports, including Israeli Palestinians, cannot enter many Arab countries). Building materials are plentiful (if they can be afforded) so the damage from rocket attacks can be swiftly repaired (I saw no damage, did see ongoing construction of safe rooms.) The Internet is faster than anywhere else in this trip’s experience, and twice I’ve found free neighborhood networks to use. I can wear shorts outside during the day and drink beer and other alcoholic beverages. Malls. Larger cars. Elegant homes. Grassy expanses, trees, well tended palms. Fairly equal women’s rights. Good educational system. Drinkable water out of the tap. On and on. But, I wonder, how do people deal with cognitive dissonance, if any—the gap between the fiction of much of the conventional Israeli narrative and the truth of the suffering of the Palestinians, largely at the design of the Israeli government, voted into power by its citizens, in the “only true democracy in the Middle East.”

Fear is similar (and could unite the two populations). Gazans obviously live in constant dread of more attacks, and suffer from their loss of freedom and the continuation of the siege—these are defining elements in Gazan experience. For Sderotians they also fear: the renewal of rocket attacks, bigger and more accurate rockets. Altho the city of 22,000 has provided much shelter—this could be an entire story in itself: safe rooms added on to older houses, the requirement of a safe room beginning in 1990 during the first Iraq war, sealable against gas attacks, concrete walls some 1 meter thick in all new construction, the varieties of street shelters, protective roofs over existing buildings like schools, complete rebuilding of some structures like some schools to be rocket proof, for some instances—and at large cost (many donations came in from people around the world), no one can predict whether attacks will resume and if they do what will be fired next.

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One style of rocket shelter

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Protected high school

This might be compared to a more universal fear of nuclear holocaust—or catastrophic climate change, or a total and uncorrectable economic collapse—but it is more immediate. The rockets have affected everyone. Eric was at an intersection about 50 meters from a rocket that struck a car instantaneously killing its female passenger. Nomika told me about a rocket hitting a home near her, demolishing a major portion of it. I forget the exact figures but something like 8 people have died in the last 8 or so years, with many injuries. Wikipedia claims: [Rockets] have killed 13 residents, wounded hundreds, caused millions of dollars in damage, and disrupted daily life as well as the local economy. No rockets since May 19, 2009. But the degree and type of fear these attacks induce can’t be quantified. It is significant.

Nomika described for me two cases of women, both with children, whose fear piled up so high that suddenly both decided, separately, to flee. Eric estimates about 5,000 residents left during the recent assault, some now returning. That’s 20% of the population. Furthermore, those leaving, Nomika told me, were the “stronger” elements of the population, meaning those with stronger economic means. So poor people tended to be trapped here, they and the elderly. Had I been a resident, I too might have been unable to leave, suffering greatly from not only the entrapment but my feebleness. If I lived in an older building without safe areas, without nearby large shelters, I’d have only the basement for refuge. If I lived more than a few floors up, the warning (if it occurred at all, the rocket that killed the woman in the car arrived with no alert, alerts provide about 15 seconds warning) probably would not give me enough time in my weakened aged condition to reach the basement. What would I do? Tremble and pray.

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Home of Nomika Zion

As might be expected during war conditions, many supported powerful retaliation. And some, Nomika told me, tended to become more extreme. She outlined the case of a man in the neighborhood, the kibbutz—more about this tantalizing aspect of life in Sderot later—who when in his 20s, in the army, refused deployment to the territories. And was imprisoned, if I remember the story correctly. And now: wipe them out, yes all of them, including the children, if they fire one more rocket at us.

And he’s not alone. Which makes Other Voice, the organization that Eric founded and Nomika participates in even more impressive. They speak as Sderotians who deplore the use of violence to bring peace, who attempt to bridge the differences between themselves as Israelis and their Gazan neighbors across the road, the fence, the wall, the gulf created by more than 20 years of violence. Eric believes the consistent Israeli policy of violent retaliation lacks an end game, a purpose. It is based primarily on fear, not so much hatred. A fear that he says, is in the DNA of Jews everywhere, having experienced 2 millennia of persecution, climaxed by the holocaust. His wife lost many in her family. He did not.

Nomika is well known internationally, having written an article during the assault that was widely circulated (linked below). Hundreds of journalists interviewed her, she won a prize, visited NYC and DC when she received it recently (her first trip to the USA), and now is scorned by many in her town. What motivates her? I might ask her again to try to explain that most vexing of all questions to anyone daring to speak out.

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Nomika Zion

Eric recently took a group of Gazan children to the West Bank, with permission of the Israeli government. He seemed thrilled when I put him on the phone yesterday to Belal in Gaza. I’d called Belal to say goodbye more personally than by chat. I know Belal loves and misses me. Since Eric was standing nearby, on an impulse hard to explain, I told Belal where I was, who I was with, and then suddenly burst out with, and would you like to talk with this guy? Of course, he said. And Belal is one of the best of my friends to do this: articulate, impassioned, obviously and publicly suffering.

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Eric Yellin on the phone with Belal Badwan in Gaza

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Belal Badwan, 2006

I was impressed with Eric’s response, listening respectfully, apologizing for what Israelis had done to Belal and his people, and promising to stay in touch. This might be a connection, because of Belal’s position as teacher, that could flourish in bridge building. Yet to be seen.

Eric was born in Israel, lived here to the age of 5, raised by his father I think he said, parents divorced, mother living in Green Gulch Buddhist community near San Francisco (maybe Y knows her) for decades, father in Vermont (he formerly a photographer, helping make a book about Johns sea coast island in South Carolina, a book Eric proudly showed me, also founded a blue grass band), then back to the States till he was 17 when he chose to return to Israel, serve in the Israeli army (after first being posted as a prison guard, his elder son told me, himself imprisoned for refusal to continue that assignment, and then requesting a position as military investigator in Gaza, just as the first intifada began, many stories here), marry a 2nd generation Israeli, raise boys (twins 13, another 15 who wishes to become a combat soldier despite saying he shares his father’s politics), and enter his life as activist.

He said, I’ve considered leaving the country, I might someday, but I love the intensity of living here. I couldn’t remain here without the work I’m doing as an activist. On this we seem to agree (on much we agree, I found him very compatible with my views. I also would not wish to continue living in the States, or perhaps living anywhere, if I weren’t doing the work I do thru photography and writing. That is, we are both courting despair by examining so closely the suffering of others, by living in lands of cognitive dissonance. And we might succumb if we didn’t have an action channel.)

Eric agrees that Israel is self-corrosive, and might be doomed. Yet he is hopeful. He has recently taken a part time position with an organization that does peace activism. I should get the name again, and I assume he’s active with Other Voice. Also he is part of a start up software or computer company based in the kibbutz. He is responsible for the network at the kibbutz.

Eric told me he hates the word normalization, because it is inaccurate, almost a slur on the idea of pairing. Opposing normalization, a view taken by most Palestinians I know, means that there should be no partnerships between Palestinians and Israelis, unless the Israelis agree with the call to end the occupation and act on it. He believes strongly, as I think Nomika does and I certainly do, in the value of personal exchanges, interactions, human to human. How else develop trust? This is part of a long-range strategy and I believe has been part of all justice movements. Gandhi for instance, as far as I know, never hesitated to meet with adversaries. I wonder what he’d say about normalization. Or Martin Luther King Jr? In South Africa the kononia (kononia means communion by intimate participation) movement played a role in ending apartheid—families dining together from across the political and social divisions. Also in the United States the Kononia Farm brought European and African Americans together in shared living, demonstrating (at some cost to the residents) that coexistence was possible.

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Migvan kibbutz

To embody this principle of sharing experiences, both Nomika and Eric live in a kibbutz, and work to foster relations between widely divided adversaries, namely Gazans and Israelis. They suffer for this, ostracized from some neighbors who might not share their values. All buildings are duplexes, and, judging from the homes of Nomika and Eric, vary in size and quality, also how they’re furnished. Nomika’s is elegant and appealing, filled with art, plants, fine kitchenware, kept clean, a model of simple yet luxurious living. I found Eric’s to be messy, perhaps more from the presence of their 3 boys than anything native to the adults. How would my home look if I lived there, I pondered?

And so, the kibbutz: the Hebrew word means come together. This one, Migvan, is unusual in its being relatively young and in an urban environment. Founded by Nomika, Migvan moved from an apartment complex with tiny units to its present, spacious, tree lined site in 2000. (She’s lived in Sderot since 1988.)

And I’m afraid I now don’t have time to write about Nomika, maybe another time. She can speak for herself thru her powerful article “War Diary from Sderot.”

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Inside Eric Yellin’s home

I just learned that Ted Kennedy, my senator from Massachusetts, died at age 77, from his brain cancer—and accolades are pouring in, rightly. Like his 2 brothers he is a great man. Too bad he wasn’t more astute and courageous about Israel-Palestine. In fact, a friend just emailed a quote from the website of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Action Committee:

Senator Edward Kennedy, A Great Friend of Israel


Sen. Kennedy was a longstanding supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship.


AIPAC joins all Americans in mourning the loss of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and a true and longstanding friend of America’s pro-Israel community.


During his more than four decades in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Kennedy consistently supported American assistance to Israel, particularly during the Jewish state’s most trying times, in the wake of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. He led the fight against U.S. arms sales to Israel’s enemies, spoke out forcefully against the Arab League boycott of Israel and was a fierce critic of the United Nations’ isolation of the Jewish state; he urged his colleagues to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, and warned of the dangers of global terrorism.


Sen. Kennedy became the leading champion for persecuted Soviet Jewry, advocating on behalf of refuseniks and those Jews wishing to leave the Soviet Union, personally raising their issues with Soviet leaders at every possible opportunity, and demanding that the United States provide loan guarantees to Israel to absorb Jewish refugees.

Senator Kennedy’s legacy of leadership on these issues and his lifelong support for one of America’s closest allies are hallmarks of his historic career devoted to serving the best interests of the American people and our values. He will be sorely missed.

LINKS:

Israel’s ‘other voices’ go unheard
By Rachel Shabi in Israel

Kibbut Nir Am and Sderot – the human side of towns under fire
By Donna Zeff

Other Voice

Sderot

Photos by Jessica Griffin
Generally good photography, might be working in Gaza

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Shaheed (martyr, anyone dying because of the conflict)

Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

Photos of Bureij from 2006

Photos of Bureij from 2008

August 21, 2009, Friday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:

The main event of the past 48 hours was a visit to B. While visiting Mohammed and Husam I’d asked if B still worked with them.

Yes. Can I meet her? Yes. Do you want to visit her family in Bureij camp? Mohammed asked. Of course. And so once we’d consulted with B it was decided.

Mohammed and I drove out in the early evening after picking up shuwarma at what has come to be known by some as Gaza’s best shuwarma place, just around the corner from the Quaker office and me. Plus some veggies from a donkey-drawn wagon. Past much destruction from the military assault, tanks cutting thru fields and across main roads, ruining major portions of the roads, the damage still not repaired because of the lack of materials. More ministries blown up—I could devote all day to photographing these abstract geometric forms known as dead buildings. And because of the slanted light, the ubiquitous blue plastic bags in fields.

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Awatif Al-Jedeli

Then the camp, park, down some narrow alleys, knock on the rusty hanging metal door, greeted by B’s brother D, and here we are, and there is B.

She told me she wishes to emigrate from Gaza with her 14 year old son, best if to the US where she has an uncle in New Jersey, or any European country. She’s tried, but failed to get permission from the Israelis to enter Jerusalem so she can apply for a visa. She has been recently to an Eastern European country with a group of youth who went there for therapeutic activities. And she’s traveled widely in Israel and the West Bank, mainly I believe because of her work.

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Trained in social work, she is now a project coordinator for X. She showed me her office after we’d returned (the next day, more about this momentarily), showing me a budget from a project training kindergarten teachers. She pointed out that this was related to Quaker’s. (Amal explained later that about 20 years ago European Quaker’s founded a series of kindergartens in Gaza.)

So the impression I have of B is that of a professional, with much experience in her area, no longer working directly in the area of her training.

In addition—and her entire assembled family confirmed this—she is a very good singer, loves to sing and dance, and generally, as I’d suspected—and this might be one of the main draws for me—she is a high energy soul, fun loving, exuberant, willing to risk, a model of joie de vive.

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Raghda Al-Jedeli

Plus she is oddly and mysteriously beautiful. It is not a conventional beauty. I can imagine some saying she is not at all beautiful, but to my eyes she exudes a rare beauty. I hope I show that in at least one of the portraits and action pictures she allowed me to make of her. For the formal portrait the sun was waning, Mohammed, one sister and I had finished dinner (B had already eaten), a single high bulb lit her face warmly, barely enough to photograph with. So I asked, mind if we try a few photos? Go right ahead. And she posed. Now whether this will look artificial, concocted, or posed naturally I cannot at this moment say.

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In conversation with her and family I discovered two possible truths about Gazans: 1. They believe they cannot be fully happy. For instance she told me that the children when visiting the Eastern European country, when having fun at some play park or restaurant, would often ask to terminate the experience suddenly. B’s interpretation, backed up by her siblings and later by Amal and Ibrahem when I asked what they thought of this observation, said, it’s because we Gazans know we cannot ever be truly happy here, or anywhere; the suffering always returns, or if we emigrate, we know our loved ones in Gaza are still suffering. Suffering pervades our experience.

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Repairing a sewage leak

This shocked and horrified me. I cannot imagine feeling this. And I’m shamed now by my glib response when people ask, kefalek (how are you?) And I reply, mubsut. (Happy) When most here cannot be truly happy.

Observation-speculation-conclusion 2: B and siblings all declared that most people in the outer world hate Palestinians, Gazans especially. They think of us only as terrorists. Or maybe worse, they believe we’re perpetual victims. Even people like you coming to help us might deeply fear us or at least distrust us.

I offered, Palestinians might be becoming the Jews of the world, believing all hate you, all fear you. When I tried this on Amal and Ibrahem they seemed to object. No, we realize many like you love and trust us and see beyond our victimhood.

When discussing divorce—she once, me twice (I don’t bother to explain about Y, too complicated for our language differences) and after I’d said my 2 former “wives” and I and they are all good friends—the reported that divorced couples in Palestinian culture do not remain friends, they do not see each other, at least in Gaza, at least in B’s case.

The evening was drawing to a close. I detected this when she offered Mohammed and me kawa (coffee) after we’d finished our tea. I joked, now we know, it’s time to go home. And we discussed how some Palestinians use the offer of coffee to signal to guests, visit’s over.

Oh no, not at all, do you want to sleep here? she asked me. Do I want to sleep here?! Of course! I answered without hesitation, because of my curiosity about how B and her family lived.

I’d not brought a toothbrush or change of clothes, I needed a shave, but so what, I was ready for most anything.

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The night at B’s: she lent me the room her son and she usually sleep in  (except for the summer when most of the family moves to the 2nd floor rooms, 2 of them, more breezy), my choice of 2 beds, a change of clothes including a short sleeved white shirt, heavily decorated, that she’d bought abroad, and I could choose between 2 pairs of gym shorts. A shower—I was hot and sticky. All this after a long midnight walk around the camp with D and his friend, stopping to watch men try to repair a sewage leak. I photographed it with flash after stepping thru the muck in my sandaled feet, now worried that I’d pick up some awful disease. A stop in an optician’s shop to check out his operation and offerings—$20 for a pair of polyfocals, he said, compared with over $200 in the States. The camp economy, he explained, when I noted the difference. We also visited a children’s play area and park. Videos were playing on a large sheet placed high. I saw no one watching. Play apparatus, snacks for sale, mostly women with children sitting on the ground chatting. A group of about 5 young women all swinging simultaneously and the swings arranged so they swung toward the middle. They did not hit each other. The manager told me, no photos. I’d already made a few of the video.

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And most importantly—this I’ll have to report soon to my daughter Katy—I found someone to whom I could donate Katy’s offering of $5 (supplemented by $20 from me to make this a more substantial gift, a full 70 NIS). I’d carried her $5 bill with me for these past 2 months waiting for just the right opportunity, hoping to not miss it or forget and not fulfill my part of the mission. The idea, originally explained to me by Marty for an earlier trip, draws on a Jewish tradition. When sent on a mission, god protects the commissioned person until that mission is completed. Katy and her husband Phil had recalled this and so Katy commissioned me to donate $5 to some needy person in Israel-Palestine, ask for a receipt, and deliver the receipt to her. Mission accomplished, protected until the moment of delivery.

I’ve donated the money, gotten a receipt, and now I must return it to her, with a report of the act and the person. I have a photo. D explained to me later that the man I donated to once worked in Israel, now is prevented by the closures and has no job. The next morning I thought I saw him collecting trash; is this his job? The first family we visited, with an old woman that D thought might need the money, declined it, saying, we don’t need it, but so and so really does.

As I write I hear a series of explosions coming from the west, toward the sea. What are they? Will I soon receive a phone call to evacuate? To where would I evacuate?

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Her sister, C, showed me a 3-minute video sampler she’d made for a funding group in Sweden. She also works with an international funding group based in Tel Aviv. I have no problem with Tel Aviv, she told me. Working with the local video outlet, Ramattan, was not good for her and some like her. They didn’t like my ideas, she opined.

Her video idea is to explore a family of 3 generations in Gaza, the oldest and maybe the son and grandson also fishers. Youngest, about C’s age and with similar ideas, wants to emigrate. Grandfather is against this, insists on him staying to love and support the nation. Father seems ambivalent or relatively absent so far from the story. C has definite talent, received training in Jordan, and wishes to emigrate and build a career in video. She also tells me, no marriage, ever. She refuses to fast for Ramadan. She opposes many of the cultural and religious strictures. She is a liberated woman, not welcome in Gaza. Her father supports her but is tied to societal norms.

D wishes to be a photojournalist so we talked about possibilities. With Mohammed who also aspires to more serious photography, at their request, I laid out the steps I teach: aware, light, etc. And when asked about the importance of equipment, invited them to look thru my wide-angle lens to see what a vast difference equip can make. I had to be honest with D, and polite and considerate so I said about his photography, you need lots of practice, build up your portfolio, maybe design and implement a project that is close to your heart,. Your graphic work is very good, smart clean designs. He’s the 2nd young person asking me for advice and coaching that I’ve met in Gaza. (The 1st is Amad, Eva’s friend, and then of course many of my students.)

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Moian Al-Jedeli & friend

I believe he said he graduated from Al Azhur University, not Al Aqsa, because at that time Azhur had the better programs in graphics. Now he claims the reverse is true. Also Aqsa is more accepting of people and ideas; Azhur and the Islamic University, he believes, are more restrictive, admitting only Hamas related students.

B kidded me about bringing me to her home so she could sue me for public use of her earlier photos. I’d not asked permission, she claimed, to post on my website the family photos I made on my last visit in May 2006. C said B had never shown them the photos so she, D, and another sister surveyed a few when we connected with the Internet. I’d asked for feedback, heard none. Do they feel the photos, not only of them but of the camp that I made while touring with the brothers Mohanad and D are honest, true, fair, deep? Or shallow, embarrassing, distorted? No idea.

Father was visiting another brother in another area; mother was in Jericho with another brother after her medical treatment in Ramallah, another brother lives elsewhere, so I didn’t meet the entire family, not even B’s son. I did meet a very young girl, shy, and the elderly aunt, tottering, who might be younger than me but because of environmental and political conditions aged prematurely. Sitting beside her, again noticing the light, I longed to photograph her but the moment did not arrive.

Ah, so much to write, ponder, report, consider, describe! Good that today, Friday, holy day, day off day, is long and open and without an agenda, yet.

To summarize so far: with Mohammed to B’s in Bureij, dinner, visit with them and others, walk around camp at night, sleep and then the morning. What to do without my usual equipment or routine? Will there be toilet paper? A major concern. Will I get home early enough to prepare and teach? Does my breath stink because of no brushing? How will I look in my borrowed shirt? What is morning like in Bureij with r’s family?

As I write I hear more explosions, an ominous terrifying sound, that like collapsed buildings has a beauty that combines elegance with horror. Where and what? How will I discover on this journey of discovery? Then later a voice speaking Arabic over a loudspeaker. Does it refer to the explosions?

D told me that during the onslaught Israel attacked several buildings, methodically and efficiently. His family and that of his friend lost no one but they cringed at the attack, nowhere for refuge.

I awaken early, despite beginning sleep late, after midnight to around 6 am. Exercise, consider walking in the camp but I might get lost or hurt. Make coffee? Can’t find what I need, I’ll wait. Shit? Not quite ready and no paper yet. Eat some bananas from a fruit plate someone left for me in my room. Bananas close to spoiled. Read? But nothing to read, I brought only an old edition of This week in Palestine that Mohammed had given me because it had a photo of his in it. Look around the house, make a few photos to show it, including the patio and the room off the patio that has shelves of lenses, presumably the office of the father whose business is glasses making. (I’d made some photos the night before, using artificial light.) Wait for B, see what happens next.

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No breakfast in the house of B, at least this morning. I’m mildly hungry but will wait hours before substantial food comes my way and then it is double shuwarma from, yes, our favorite shuwarma shop, a gift from Amal.

Some tea, thanks to confusion in language between B and me, I’d thought I’d requested kawa la succur, coffee without sugar. I sipped the tea, thank god without sugar, while pouring thru photos in old PLO magazines that I found bound on the bookshelves. B is very friendly, helpful, attentive. I could ask for little more. When she petted her kitten, one of two in the household, I concluded she is kindly. And when I heard her washing the evening’s dishes late at night I concluded she contributes to the household and is not too proud to wash dishes.

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She called a taxi, we walked thru the camp, she carrying a valise holding her computer I assume, appearing very professional, especially in this setting, about 2 km to meet it, picked up another woman at the Nusairat camp across the main road who said she had been in one of my earlier photo workshops—You’re famous in Gaza!, B exclaimed—and we rode to her office. I declined the offer of kawa (coffee) and a visit with staff, I’ve got to get home to be ready to teach, thanks anyway.

LINKS:

Bureij refugee camp (Wikipedia)

“Coveting the Holocaust,” by Chris Hedges, October 2006

Gaza where to

Created by Ramzy Hassouna (ramzy_box@yahoo.com)

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GazaFishMarketPanoStitch

Click image for an enlargement

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Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

August 15 & 17, 2009, Saturday & Monday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:

More than a few dreams, and not all of them banal:

In the most satisfying I was attending a ballet class, doing small exercises with a large group, alternately looking down on myself (as if out of body) and while participating (inner view). Music played, someone must have been calling out steps, I seemed to know them all, surprisingly knowledgeable (altho I was a beginner). I felt agile, strong, pain free, and I was the last to stop. While watching from above I noticed Kathleen S, not a regular in my dreams these days, also seeming to enjoy herself. The scene shifted to Harvard where the class was situated; it was now time to take a break and have a drink.

In another, I helped escort an older man who’d been outspoken in a parade and thus come under some threat. I brought him to a sheltered place and offered to remain with him until he felt safe. I gave him my business card. This mirrored me with Belal and Ramzy last night after dining which followed a performance by children at the Qattan center—they walked me home so I’d be safe after dark.

In another, Palestinians had discovered a young Palestinian woman with a strong voice, she was singing publicly, thrilling the audience. Scene shifted to outside where she continued singing but a gunshot rang out, she ducked and continued singing. A male was singing perfect harmony.

I was with Kate and Ella, Ella playing in a house I’d built for kids, strewn with photos I’d made. Kate mentioned how prolific I am. Just day-by-day, Katy, and they pile up. (Paraphrasing Gertrude stein who said, I write a little bit each day, and soon I get a lot written.)

The night was extremely warm; the morning is still, no breezes. Not the ideal day for being outside.

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A day yesterday when my muses were brilliant: to the port, El Mina in Arabic, when earlier as I planned my foray thru Gaza City I thought I might be heading in the opposite direction, possibly toward the old city. In 2008 I’d visited the Beach refugee camp side of the port with Mosab, stopped by security before we could enter. I concluded the port was off limits. Not so. This time I accessed it from the other direction, the south side. But first a stop at the fish market, or what remains of it. A shabby structure, the fish displayed on the floor, sometimes elegantly, flies everywhere, no apparent refrigeration, and a paucity of fish. What can’t be seen are the poisons floating in each animal. I wonder how aware people are who harvest, process and consume the fish, and if they are aware, how they experience cognitive dissonance—eat the fish, appreciate the nourishment, love the flavor, but realize they are eating what has eaten of the strongly polluted waters, including human shit.

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As always people were friendly, no one refused me permission to photograph them, many invited me in to either photography them or their friends. Many of these scenes are useless—setups, posed, goofing off, altho I try to surmount this with gestures and expressions indicating how about something more serious? Which often works. I assume an affable, pleasant, friendly, inviting, vulnerable demeanor. I wear my little ID which explains in Arabic who I am and show it widely. They notice first my name, Skip Schiel; so I’ve saved them the task of asking the incessant, what’s your name?

I photographed cleaning fish, preparing shrimp, sorting, and some bargaining. Tho without the language I’m not sure exactly when people were negotiating price. Small children accompanied their fathers (this was a Friday, the Muslim holy day). I noticed one couple, otherwise all men. Motivated by this access, I lingered, walked around, tried different angles and positions, made a short video, and a panoramic. Then off to the port proper. But would I be allowed in?

Walking past two languid guards, me waving and smiling, shouting salaam alekum, please with their returned smiles and waves, I continued past them and into the port. Facing the water, on the left side, is a field of what looks like broken pieces of wall, the sort of wall the Israelis erected before the final 8-meter high version. Then a few jetties with various sorts of fishing boats tied up, most of them very small, the equivalent of lobster boats in New England. In the center, another pier with larger boats. Here I photographed men mending nets, working on their motors, and the like, all very friendly and accommodating. I’m reminded again of the difference between here and where X is, Guatemala, or at least as she initially reported—easy access for the most part here, reportedly difficult access there. But maybe that’s changed for her as she’s acclimated.

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The Phoenix (I think that’s its name) is a large boat, beached, more like a small cruise boat, that may have been what people told me once toured visitors around the port during more peaceful times. A very old Caterpillar bulldozer, perhaps a precursor of the notorious D9 that israel uses to uproot olive groves and demolish homes. And next to it, under the bow, a group of about 5 men conversing animatedly as they repaired the hull. I did not stop to photograph them, seeing they were in shadow and I’d already photographed plenty of workers.

Behind were remnants of old shacks or sheds, some still used. I photographed a group of very young men removing beautiful blue netting from a truck and placing it in one of the sheds. As usual they seemed pleased I’d noticed them and chosen to make photos. After some posing they resumed their work. From afar I noticed what looked at first like a Garden of Eden in all this trash and junk—turned out to be a headquarters of some sort next to a mosque. More buildings, some of them destroyed, possibly during the last assault.

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And then the north side of the port, fenced, with guards with Kalishnokovs who approached to wave me off. This is where I’d been stopped with Mosab. Very curious, I have no idea why this is guarded, what if anything is being guarded. On the other side of the fence a swimming area, then the hotels and restaurant, and then the Beach refugee camp, all adjacent, on top of one another.

Slowly I’m comprehending the topography, how close and contradictory everything is, like in Chicago the Gold Coast next to what once was the dangerous Cabrini-Green housing complex.

During this walking and viewing and photographing I had two primary background thoughts: bring one or both of my workshops here to photograph (I’ll check with Mohammed about this, and Ibrahem), and this area is the site of an ancient port, dating back 1000s of years. Once the major port of the Levant, or at least the Canaanite section. How to access this history?

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Finished with the hard hot tiring work of photography I decided to treat myself to what I expected might be an elegant and ample meal at El Deira hotel and restaurant, which by now is permeated with memories of ME. Ibrahem K brought her and me here in 2006 for Denes fish. Then the next year Ibrahem S treated me to another meal while Yousef and others joined us. This time I ate alone, me and my memories. I sat under a shelter at the edge of the restaurant overlooking the sea, so I could make occasional photos as I waited and then ate my paltry chicken sandwich. Water is de rigueur apparently. The waiter greeted me with a bottle of “mineral water,” for which I paid 8 NIS, $2, while I carried my own, and his might have been from virtually the same source: city water filtered or bought at inflated prices from Israel’s water supply, Mekerot. Oh god, will I survive the water? The sandwich cost about 25 NIS. Compared with a much larger shuwarma at the corner deli for about 12.

(So far, not sick, pray to God and Allah this continues. I fart with great confidence that I am not soiling my undies. What a gift!)

The photos I made in El Deira are from approximately the same position that I made the photo of the father and child 3 years ago, looking so innocent, walking along the beach, with sun setting behind them. Are they alive now? Traumatized? How is the young one faring? Another set of father and child, this time playing in the heavily polluted sand.

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I’d shown Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath the mother and child photo from the Smiths’ Minimata photo series (I put this in the plural sense, because both Gene and Eileen made that set) to my workshops and now I realize this might have greater meaning than I’d first thought. As the mercury-laden water poisoned the people of Minimata in Japan, people eating fish here might be similarly poisoned. The effects in Gaza might not be as severe, I hope, or universal, but they might exist.

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Photo by W. Eugene Smith

~I’m writing this morning early while waiting for what I trust (can’t read the Arabic label) is my bulgar or cracked wheat to soften in milk and yogurt. I forgot to soak it last night. Soaking it for only 10 minutes is not sufficient—it crunches against my teeth.~

Exiting the port, not wishing to return to where I’d entered, which would require another 1/2 km of walking, I climbed some destroyed stairs past partially collapsed buildings—what were these, and why attacked? Hamas? And what is so design-like about a collapsed building, an inherent tragic beauty?—to enter another complex. First one body sleeping, then another, and then I realized: this is a fire station, firemen sleeping, boots near one, and a skull and crossbones painted on the wall behind him.

This building also was partially blown up. I found an opening in the fence and reached the street. This was to the south of the restaurant and hotel area, which in turn is almost side by side with Beach refugee camp. After photographing the “Cliff Hotel” sign with no cliff hotel present, I walked to the edge of Beach camp to try to show the proximity of camp and hotels refugees from 1947 and 1967 side by side with the wealthier, more privileged Gazans and internationals like me. I doubt this contrast will register. I was using my Canon, partly because of its lighter weight, but also to be able to make panoramics and videos. Plus use the long zoom. Happy I did but I miss the wide-angle lens. Is there not one camera that satisfies all my needs?

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It was Friday, shortly after mid day, thus: crowds of people going to, attending, coming from the mosques. Mostly men, all ages. Someone is building a new 5-story mosque in the heart of the hotel district. As often happens there was a war of imams, or muezzins (if war is the word) as they all loudly call out simultaneously over loudspeakers. What is the experience of a Muslim in such a society? I have no idea.

For some of the day and for much of this morning, Corporal (recently promoted to Sergeant, in absentia) Gilad Shalit has been on my mind. Held for more than 3 years in Gaza after capture during a daring tunnel attack by militants from Gaza on a military installation which resulted in the deaths of 2 or 3 of his fellow soldiers, where is he, how are his conditions, is he hopeful of release, what does he do all day, does he despair, has he attempted suicide, is he healthy, well fed, well treated? Can he use a computer, write, read? Does he have any privacy? Is he near me now? Have I ever passed his door or window?

I grouse, missing family and friends, and workspace; I grumble that my beloveds are not more attentive to me; I moan that my audience is so small. Compared with the miseries of Sergeant Gilad Shalit, my suffering is nothing. Poor fellow, I feel for him.

Following by two days my first visit to El Mina, my Al Aqsa university workshop explored the waterfront, the commercial waterfront, Al Mina, the old port, such as it is after suffering the devastation of limited sea access, the assault of 2009, and the pollution. Old boats, worn nets, tired motors, and a bunch of friendly men who greeted the mostly female class with a big hearty welcome. The women (6 out of a total class of 10) objected to visiting the fish market, claiming the men would laugh at them and possibly deride them. There is a curious gender relationship here: men are purportedly respectful of women, especially in the home where I’m told women have much influence, yet men are dismissive of women’s rights and powers. I believe the hijab is a sign of male dominance, altho many women I’ve spoken with claim they wear it by choice.

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The exercises included attend to design, which I hoped was a natural segue from the class discussion of prints (now they bring in prints, dutifully, improving the feedback sessions, design meaning how to use the frame, what to cut, include, how to balance, horizontal or vertical or tilted), photograph this old boat (the “cruise ship”), photograph this fishing boat with people mending nets (climbing up a ladder to board it), and light on dark, dark on light (near the end of the walk, at the base of the jetty). On our previous field trip to the old city the distinctive exercise of one frame, multi moments worked very well. I hope they take to this one as they did to that.

We started about 15 minutes late, waiting for our translator, the vivacious and loveable and fun loving N (who told me, I consider myself photogenic, and also, when we were discussing my love life, after telling them I’d “divorced” twice, had 2 daughters and 3 grand children, and 10 girl friends, said, I’ll be your 11th girl friend—I flirt more on this trip than I remember doing on any others, especially in Gaza).

We ended around 1 pm, 3 hours later. I thought about asking them to state highlights and lowlights, as I do with my field workshops in the States, but because of the language problems I decided against this. Instead I declared, I think we’re finished. I’d like to stay longer, walk out to the end of this jetty and then walk home alone, anyone want to stay with me? (forgetting about the possible danger if I were alone because of the recent violence between Hamas and an extremist group). Iyad, the art professor who is enrolled in the workshop, feeling some responsibility for me, said he’d stay with me, and most of the group remained as well. This may have been the best part—casually sauntering out further (not to the end, too hot), climbing on the broken rock embankment, posing for each other, and finally heading back.

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My initial plan had us splitting into 2 groups, one in each direction along the port, but Iyad had gotten permission for one only group. Additionally, we were blocked from the extreme northern end, where I’d photographed the sewage pipe and ruined buildings. Heightened security because of the recent violence was the explanation.

I’d lent my mobile to the young woman with cute dimples since she hadn’t brought a camera and her phone had run out of battery power. I promised to download and provide her the images. She is the most daring of the group, mounting a tall thin rock to pose for photos of herself. She is a delight. I believe my age helps women feel safe around me, so flirting is more clearly innocent and not serious.

I begged off the invite from Mohammed, the other art prof enrolled in the workshop, to attend a dinner at his home which followed the death of his grandfather. To rest, shower, begin again. Lucky I did, because phoning Amal to ask her opinion of the various photos which included her from the festival, we decided I should visit the office for a face-to-face discussion (I will do anything to avoid climbing the 5 flights of stairs to the office.). I put my festival photo set on Mosab’s computer, and set up my computer in the next room to show Amal her photos. I then heard raucous laughter and comments, excited language, from Mosab’s office. Peering in I discovered they were viewing my photos, raving about them. These are so good, how did you do it? Etc.

Which of course pleased me greatly. Later they showed me some from one of my students at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program, S, which were markedly inferior. I pointed out our different situations: I had more sophisticated equipment, I had better access, my experience was more extensive, and I might have gone on to say, I worked hard at postproduction (a tool equivalent to the camera in value) and I thank my muses for any apparent success.

So these are some of the differences between what I make and what others may make: equipment, access, experience, postproduction and muses. If I were more candid and less humble I might add: maybe I’m talented. But the talent has grown, I’ve put my mind to my photography, and my heart. This talent is evolving, it is not god given. Most anyone can achieve—if they wish and work, wish hard, work hard.

I could add further: craft is based on heart; the greater the heart, the greater the craft, echoing Charlie Parker’s words, if you haven’t fully lived life, life won’t come out of your horn. And further, I believe in the Popular Achievement program, and in the people that staff the program, and in the sponsoring organization, the American Friends Service Committee, and in the closely related Quaker movement. All this is what comes out of my camera as well (or so I pray).

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~~Time for a break to eat my hard boiled eggs, now that they’ve cooled slightly.~~

I seem to be developing a trait of confiding to others what I feel about them, not by speaking directly to them or writing directly to them, but indirectly thru my blog, and perhaps even more obliquely and obtusely by how I photograph them. First ME, then Y, then to some extent L3, and then M. Also Dan and other men—I’m not totally ensnared by women. Now in Gaza I do this with others.

Gift or albatross?

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And finally home for my 2nd shower and a short review of the latest Qattan photos. To bed, to delicious bed, after sitting on the veranda in the relatively cool evening air while my laundry finished and I read more in the big hydropolitics book Robin gave me. I decided to do laundry late in the evening rather than wait for morning, because of uncertain electricity. And wise I did because this morning at about 8 the electricity disappeared.

Wafa’a = Arabic for loyal

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Click on image for an enlargement

LINKS:

“Nonviolent direct action, solidarity and struggle ,” Ramzi Kysia, The Electronic Intifada, 17 August 2009

“For Hamas, Challenges May Be Growing, Shootout With Splinter Group Suggests Movement Faces Tough Options, Analysts Say,” Howard Schneider, Washington Post Foreign Service, Sunday, August 16, 2009

“Gaza in Conflict, Antony Loewenstein” (in The Nation, thanks to Nancy Ruggiero)

Uri Avnery about Acre/Akko, another ancient Levantine port, “Whose Acre?”

Gilad Shalit

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