Posts Tagged ‘photo’

The city of Hiroshima Japan, August 1995

The Hiroshima Dome, one of the few buildings that survived the atomic attack on August 6, 1945 and the creation of the Peace Park

Peace Crane, in the tradition of the young Japanese girl, Sadako, irradiated, surviving the initial blast, folding cranes to protect children from death, finally succumbing to her injuries

Lotus blossom, Hiroshima Peace Park, August 6, 1995, the lotus is a Buddhist symbol of compassion and enlightenment

©All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

…resistance as spectacle has cut loose from its origins in genuine civil disobedience and is becoming more symbolic than real. Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are fun and vital, but alone they are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircraft, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe.

—Arundhati Roy

Rosa Parks arrested during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on his way to the Birmingham Alabama jail, 1958. Photo by Charles Moore

Dorothy Day arrested and jailed at age 75  protesting with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers supporting grape workers in California. Age 20 she was arrested with a group of suffragists who were demonstrating at the White House in favor of giving women the right to vote. Photo by Bob Fitch

John Pendleton arrested at the Pentagon for blockading the doors, Slaughter of the Innocents action to end war, 1980 c.

Puppet of Oscar Romaro by Bread & Puppet Theater, 1992 c.

Now Jesus from the gospel of Luke. Then about Hiroshima, the conclusion of this series.

Now as He drew near, He saw the city (Jerusalem) and wept over it. Saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side. And level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it.

—Luke, 19: 41-45

One of the fathers of atomic weaponry, Robert Oppenheimer, said while watching the desert explosion of the first bomb, blasphemously named Trinity,

If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of worlds.

He was quoting the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text.

As most of us realize, today [August 6, 2005, the day I delivered this keynote] is the 60th anniversary of the United State bombing Hiroshima, killing some 140,000 people outright, mostly civilians, innocents, and another 40,000 or so in the following year. Three days later this nation dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing upwards of 70,000 people. More than one-third million cremated bodies are enshrined in the Hiroshima Peace Park sanctuary. This follows the vicious fire bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, and Dresden and other German cities. We must commemorate this particular atrocity—this series of horrific terroristic attacks on innocent people— and look deeply at its horror, grieve for the victims which include citizens of our own country who might persist in not only denying the reality of the event, but professing a willingness to develop and use weapons of mass destruction. We must understand their motivation, rationale, and actions and their consequences—and take appropriate action. Yearly Meeting’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee and I invite you into this commemoration following my presentation. Which is very simple. Look deeply into your own hearts to disclose what happened, what you and we can learn from it, and what next steps we shall all take, individually and collectively to move toward a better world.

From Unforgettable Fire, Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb Survivors, Edited by Nippon Hoso Shuppan Kyokai, 1977

We are not helpless in the face of possible catastrophe, but we must all understand the picture, and move toward changing it. We could join the Mayors for Peace campaign initiated by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It now numbers some 60 US mayors, including the mayor of Cambridge. Or we could encourage our legislators to reverse the drift toward war, partly by demanding that the US join most of the enlightened global community by ratifying various treaties and agreements that work toward abolishing war. Or we could reflect on and retell the story of Sadako, five years old when bombed in Hiroshima, using the Japanese origami tradition of paper cranes to call for no more killing, no war, let children ripen into wise adults. Or we could remain a few more minutes together in a joint effort to remember some of our past and commit to move toward a better world.

Sadako Sasaki Memorial in the Peace Park, Hiroshima, August 6, 1995

This week at New England Yearly Meeting sessions our observance of the atomic bombing can take several forms: drawing shadows on the ground to mark the lives of those whose lives ended in shadows on pavement and walls, the intense light carving memory into concrete; a photo exhibit and videos and other materials; a petition; a candle light procession to the Bryant campus pond [the site of our sessions and this keynote], and finally that all important profound silence. Perhaps during the silence you can each commit to one action this coming year that will move our nation toward a higher civilization, one truly honoring the sacred in all beings by burying the weapons of war and living in peace based on justice.

Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist monks praying at the Hiroshima Dome, the end of a 9 month pilgrimage for peace and life, 1994-1995

This end image is from the first edition of John Hersey’s revealing book, Hiroshima, first published in 1948 in the New Yorker, then, with this illustration, two years later by Bantam. I quote from the book about the illustration:

When Geoffrey Biggs, a master of shadow and light technique in art, brought in his startling illustration for the cover of Hiroshima, everybody wanted to know: “Where’d you get those people…why those two?”

Biggs said he thought back to that August morning in a certain big industrial city and he imagined how universally terrifying that situation was, how it could strike fear into anybody’s bones. “And I just drew two perfectly ordinary people—like you and me—and had them portray alarm, anxiety, and yet wild hope for survival as they run from man-made disaster in a big city—a city like yours or mine.

So, let the quiet begin here and flow out thru the doors into the world, first the near world of Byrant College, then the larger world, not a silence of resignation, despair, heartlessness, but a powerful silence of resilience, fortitude, wisdom and compassion, out from our comfortable benches and into the needy world.



Sadako Sasaki

Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage, 1995

Hiroshima Peace Park

Flotilla to Gaza, May 2010

From the American Friends Service Committee:

Gaza in Crisis (PDF) – A fact sheet that includes a general overview of the conflict.

Gaza Resources (PDF) – A useful collection of films, blogs and other online resources.

Speaker Resources (PDF) – Listing of seakers knowledgeable on topics and issues surrounding Gaza.

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Dr Martin Luther King Jr

©All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

—Theodore Roethke, from “In a Dark Time”

Early Christians

These early Quaker luminaries, Margaret Fell, George Fox, the Valiant Sixty, and Mary Dyer were carried by the strength of their beliefs, by the closeness of their community, and by their repeated use of the model of early Christians, who themselves, before Constantine institutionalized the budding Christian movement, were equally willing to witness. Indeed, the word martyr stems from the Greek word for witness. Those martyrs were numerous, numbering some 2000 who died during the persecution that arose around St Stephen’s time. Their suffering was legion, manifold, endlessly varied and often unspeakably horrific.

Beheading John the Baptist

Apparently this included all of the gospel writers: Matthew, slain with a halberd (like a long hatchet with a steel spike) in the city of Nadabah, CE 60; Mark, dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria; Luke, hanged on an olive tree in Greece; also John, the author of Revelations, boiled in oil only to survive; and Paul, once Saul, dying in the first persecution, under Nero, his neck severed by a sword. And finally Peter, to whom Jesus offered the lesson of “and you will be carried,” Peter apparently was crucified in Rome by Nero, choosing to hang upside down because he said, “I am unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus.” (History of Early Christian Martyrs, European Institute of Protestant Studies)

This is dedication. Not to the degree most of us might personally undertake, but worth considering. Can change occur, true witness be presented, without risk, without courage, without a testimony that says, here I stand, this is what I stand for, and I shall not be moved?

What carried these early martyrs? What was their direction?

Jesus Christ

For some of us in the Religious Society of Friends and the wider United States community, Christ is bedrock, surely for early Friends and early Christians. We can interpret his life and its aftermath in many ways, most onerously—and I believe wrongly—as anti-Jewish and anti-Judaism. Read James Carroll’s massive book, Constantine’s Sword, for explication, or the seminal book by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, or from our own Alan Kohrman, his pithy booklet, Quakers and Jews. Christ died in part for challenging the authorities, the Roman authorities and the Jewish authorities. He spoke out. He acted, and like Martin and Malcolm, he had premonitions of his own death. He was not deterred, he might have been emboldened by this threat. He was free to die, therefore free to live. He knew what he stood for and what the costs would be. In my book, he is a hero and a role model and a guide, arguably divine or maybe not, but certainly courageous and sagacious and prophetic.

Jesus with the woman accused of adultery

Archbishop Oscar Romero

I believe in resurrection, in the idea of resurrection, not necessarily bodily resurrection, but pedagogical resurrection. The teachings live on, or can. Here’s an example: Oscar Romero, knowing what might happen if he continued to oppose the military government of El Salvador, said, If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.

This last part is crucial, in the Salvadoran people. Romero will not live again magically, but only with the participation of the people. That is you and me. What carried him? What carries me? What carries you?

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador

I dream of Martin Luther King

While working in South Africa in 1999, I dreamt of Martin Luther King coming to me. I was back on the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, we were in our stay place for the night, a church somewhere in the south of the US. We’d eaten, we pilgrims were sitting around on benches and at tables. In walked Martin, he sat down at an empty table and no one came to join or welcome him. So I did, nervously. I sat opposite him, said in a quavering voice, thank you for coming to visit with us Dr. King. Can I bring you some tea?

He nodded yes.

I returned with the tea, set it down in front of him, my hand shaking. I worried I’d spill the tea on his papers. He was to talk to us. And that is how the dream ended, but only the sleep part ended. I awoke as if from a nightmare, and horrifying it was in its implications. Like profound dreams generally, this one carried into semi-consciousness. I lay there, thinking, Martin has appeared to me, as if tapping me on the shoulder, and whispering in my ear, “Skip, my friend, I’m dead, but you’re alive, it’s your turn.”

My turn to walk the talk, do the deed, take the risk. Martin—remember I am a born again Kingian—both commands me and holds me. He directs me and he supports me.

He’s reported to have said, Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. And those with nothing they’re willing to die for are not fit to live.

Let’s look at the last year of his life. He was speaking and acting against the war on Vietnam, angering many of his supporters. He chose to stand with the sanitation workers in Memphis when he might have been concentrating on organizing the Poor People’s Campaign. The Campaign itself was an attempt to shut down the federal government until it changed the system that fostered suffering. He and Malcolm were hinting at collaboration, bringing together the militant and more moderate wings of the civil rights movement. He propounded an analysis that pinpointed the roles of militarism, materialism, and racism, the triplet of our anguish. He called for a revolution of values.

On the way to the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington DC in 1968

I believe his analysis was correct and continues to be applicable. I believe government hands killed him—the so-called, by former vice president Dick Cheney, dark side—knowing how threatening he was. Thank god the dream is not dead, thank god for people like Boston city councilor Chuck Turner who is organizing to fund the dream. And I continue to be thankful for how Martin carries and directs me.

Rev. Ralph Abernathy and others at the Poor People’s Campaign, Washington DC, summer 1968

My role is not to organize the resistance, but to motivate and inform it. My role is not to analyze the political and social picture but to visualize its manifestations. My role is primarily to wake myself up and awaken others. Awaken, rise up from the slumber of comfort, from the ease of security, from the balm of convenience. Awaken to a life that is free to live, because free to die. To a fuller life, a more robust and edgy life.

We do not need to look far for examples of living the good life: Martin, Malcolm, Lucretia Mott, John Woolman, George Fox, Margaret Fell, Mary Dyer, Frederick Douglass, Francis of Assisi, Nichirin of the Buddhist order, his student Nichadatsu Fuji , founder of Nipponzan Myohoji, Gandhi, Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Rachel Corrie, the list is endless. We can each be, in the words of the South African author and activist, Alan Paton, humble apostolic successors, joining the cloud of witnesses, our lives teaching others how they might live.

Or closer to home we can look to the war tax resistance of people like Susan Furry and others in our New England yearly meeting. They see the folly of praying for peace while paying for war. They refuse to give their tax money to the government and instead usually put the money in an escrow fund the proceeds of which fund socially beneficent organizations. The agencies they and other dissidents and witnessers work for, such as Friends Meeting at Cambridge, New England Yearly Meeting, Cambridge Friends School, and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting all have to decide whether to accede to the demands of the Internal Revenue Service or live by the principle of our founder, the good Rabbi Yeshua: honor life, do to others what you wish them to do to you.

I honor political and social witness—sharing the suffering of the afflicted and fighting for justice and peace. As someone pithily put it: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. This may not be for everyone but it is important and a prime example of what I’m trying to express: the need for courageous, possibly self sacrificial action to challenge and correct the onerous conditions smothering us.

What carries you? What is your direction? How will you—in community—rise up?


Christian martyrs

Oscar Romero

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, April 1967

The Poor People’s Campaign

War tax resistance/redirection

US Social Forum, June 22-26, 2010, Detroit Michigan

Allied Media Conference, June 17-20, Detroit Michigan

Free Gaza Movement, a flotilla leaving in May 2010 for Gaza with humanitarian supplies and personnel—to break the siege

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The Rising of the Light, Photographs
by Skip Schiel
from Israel and the
Occupied Territories of Palestine

(June 27 – July 4, 2010)

Within approximately 200 miles of Detroit, including Ann Arbor, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Chicago, Columbus OH, Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toronto ON, Indianapolis, South Bend, and Buffalo—I’ll be attending the US Social Forum from June 22 – 26.

Maybe you know of some church, mosque, synagogue, political organization, library, senior center, community center, educational institution or other venue that might be interested in hosting one of my slide shows or print exhibits about Palestine/Israel. Or perhaps you know of someone or some organization that might like to organize presentations.

Thanks for your help in spreading the images.


Jenin, July 2009

Skip Schiel has been documenting the Palestinian and Israeli reality through photographs and journal postings since 2003 – work with a better feel for the detailed texture of life in Gaza and the West Bank than any appearing in US media. Schiel spends time where most journalists dare not tread, amidst ordinary Palestinians, sharing in the dangers and frustrations of their lives.

His work has been invaluable for my own. As a writer for a Buddhist publication whose parents were victims of the Holocaust, I try to convey a view of the conflict that differs from the US media’s, which obfuscates the injustices and sufferings inflicted on the Palestinians by Israel. Through his portraits of Palestinian men, women, and children striving to maintain ordinary routines despite harassment and attacks by Israel’s military, Skip reveals to us the true face of Palestinians.

—Annette Herskovits, Consulting Editor, Turning Wheel, the Journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship


Slideshows and print exhibits featuring photos, audio & thoughtful narration by Skip Schiel, updated from his recent 3 month trip during the summer of 2009


Gaza Steadfast

Skip Schiel, a frequent visitor to Gaza, was there in January 2008 and the summer of 2009, before and after the devastation of Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009. While there, he was witness to the effects of the Israeli siege on Gaza as well as the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead. In Gaza, Schiel worked with the American Friends Service Committee youth program teaching and photographing, also at Al Aqsa University where he led a photographic workshop. The theme of this show is hope and hopelessness. How do residents of Gaza survive psychologically?

Tracing the Jordan River

A slide show about traveling from one of the headwaters of the Jordan, the Banias River flowing from Mt Hermon in the Galilee, to where the much-abused river disappears before Jericho. With an examination of the Sea of Galilee, especially the region of the major share of Christ’s ministry, and the kibbutzim, Israeli settlements originally intended to reclaim land and define the contours of the forthcoming Israeli nation.

The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel

Israel-Palestine has scant water resources, but now with the current strife water is a dramatic mirror of power relationships. Through an examination of water in various settings—small Palestinian villages & the Gaza strip—along with large cities shared by Israeli Jews & Arabs—Haifa & Jerusalem—Schiel portrays a very difficult to visualize topic. Updated with new photos from summer 2010.

Bethlehem the Holy, the Struggle for an Ancient City

Bethlehem is rapidly becoming Imprisoned Bethlehem, surrounded on all sides by an 8-meter (23 foot) high concrete wall, with checkpoint access restricted. Thus, Christians (the population shrinking from some 30% 40 years ago to 2%) and Muslims within Palestine can rarely leave or enter Bethlehem. Nearby Israeli settlements confiscate Palestinian lands while the local economy, heavily reliant on tourism, languishes under ghetto-like restrictions. Schiel explored this situation from November through Christmas 2008 as well as during the summer of 2009 while he lived in the Aida refugee camp. Updated with new photos from summer 2010.

Quakers in Palestine & Israel (Or John Woolman in the Land of Troubles)

What do Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends, have to do with Israel-Palestine? By following some of the activities in the Ramallah Friends School & the American Friends Service Committee’s work in Gaza & the West Bank (& with references to its efforts in Israel), Schiel shows how this numerically small but often effective group has made a difference in this land of troubles.

The Matrix of Control

A work in progress, an examination, based on the brilliant analysis of Jeff Halper, of the mechanisms Israel uses to maintain the occupation: checkpoints, separation or annexation wall/fence, permit system, road blocks, Israeli-only roads, military court system, closed military zones, and closures and incursions.

Occupation through a Velvet Glove

Another work in progress: Haifa—A little known story is that of the Arabs in Israel. Second class citizens with rights surpassing those of their sisters & brothers in the West Bank & Gaza, yet an overwhelming force besieges them.

Other Presentations Available


Available for Exhibition

Gaza is Home to One & One-half Million Human Beings: How Do They Live?

Photos of possibilities: how people live, suffer, stay strong and determined—sumud, in Arabic, steadfast.

The Living Waters of Israel-Palestine

A print version of the Hydropolitics slide show.




To Bring Skip Schiel and his photographs to your Church, School or Civic Group/For More Information

Contact: Skip Schiel

Email: skipschiel@gmail.com

Phone: 617-441-7756

Download a prospectus

Gaza City, August 2009

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To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.

—Arundhati Roy

©All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Mary Dyer

While exploring this idea of risky journeys, I discovered Mary Dyer, giving her life willingly for the right to practice Quakerism in the stultifying air of puritan New England. She insisted on the right of all to follow their inner lights. She rejected oaths of any kinds, taught that gender had no bearing on the gift of prophesy, and fought for equal rights for women and men in worship and church organization. Her statue in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston honors her witness, paradoxically as is often true, bringing truth to bear at the site of a great mistake.

Dyer’s words ring true today, even tho immersed in that period’s locutions, from her:

Once more the General Court, assembled in Boston, speaks Mary Dyar, even as before: My life is not accepted, neither availeth me, in comparison of the lives and liberty of the truth and servants of the living god, for which in the bowels of love and meekness I sought you; yet nevertheless, with wicked hands have you put two of them [other Quakers] to death, which makes me to feel, that the mercies of the wicked is cruelty.

From an early illustration

Early Friends—often labeled “blasphemous heretics”—suffered many punishments for practicing their faith: fines and jail time, ears cut off, tongues bored, whipping, and finally hanging.

A particularly vivid description from a contemporary student and admirer of Mary Dyer, Sam Behling:

Capt John Webb signaled to Edward Wanton, officer of the gallows, who adjusted the noose. Mary needed no assistance in mounting the scaffold and a small smile lighted her face. Pastor Wilson had his large handkerchief ready to place over her head so no one would have to see that look of rapture twisted to distortion—only the dangling body. As her neck snapped, the crowd stood paralyzed in the silence of death until a spring breeze lifted her limp skirt and set it to billowing. “She hangs there as a flag for others to take example by,” remarked an unsympathetic bystander. That was indeed Mary Dyer’s intention—to be an example, a “witness” in the Quaker sense, for freedom of conscience.

And her purported last words:

Nay, I came to keep bloodguiltiness from you, desireing you to repeal the unrighteous and unjust law made against the innocent servants of the Lord. Nay, man, I am not now to repent.

Defiant to the end, Mary Dyer died because she supported—and this is true support, going beyond mere words, more than that sometimes lame Quakerese phrase “hold you in the light” conveys—Ann Hutchinson who was excommunicated by the Puritan church for her Quakerly convictions. At the risk of her own death, Dyer  had reentered the Boston region, primarily to uphold other imprisoned Quakers and to oppose laws restricting freedom of religion.

As Quakers we have many examples of lives given willingly as evidence of conviction, of living fully the testimonies of our tradition.

Mary Dyer statue in front of Massachusetts State House, Boston

George Fox

Another example—many can be drawn from early Quakers, and this might be one of our problems, that we come to believe that once done, always done. We have our cloud of witnesses, that’s done and finished, now I can rest on their achievements, a peculiarly seductive attitude that might account for some of what I believe is contemporary Quaker quietism. Another example I’ll bring to you is one of our founders, George Fox. He was one of the Valiant Sixty, which included his wife. Here he writes about an incident in Tickhill:

When Friends were in the meeting, and fresh and full of the life and power of God, I was moved to go out of the meeting to the steeple house…So I went up to them and began to speak; but they immediately fell upon me; and the clerk up with his Bible, as I was speaking, and struck me on the face with it so that it gushed out with blood, and I bled exceedingly in the steeple house Then the people cried: ‘Let us have him out of the church!” and when they had got me out, they beat me sore with books, fists, and sticks, and threw me down and over a hedge into a close, and there beat me and threw me over again…After a while I got into the meeting again amongst Friends, and the priest and the people coming by the house, I went forth with Friends into the yard, and there I spake to the priest and people…My spirit was revived again by the power of God, for…I was almost mazed [bewildered] and my body sore bruised but by the power of the Lord I was refreshed again, to him be the glory.

Fox’s Journal, chapter 3, 1651-52

One view of how Fox may have appeared

Quoting The Missing Cross to Purity:

In the time of the restored King Charles II alone, 13,562 Quakers were imprisoned; 338 died from injuries inflicted in meetings or imprisonment, and 198 were sent into slavery over the seas. Under all the kings, Besse’s Sufferings counts 869 Quakers who died in prison. They were viciously persecuted by Independent Calvinist Puritans [Congregationalists], Presbyterians, Baptists, and Episcopalians. Per Fox’s Journal: “Friends never feared their acts, prisons, jails, houses of correction, banishment, nor seizure of personal property; no, nor the loss of life itself; nor was there ever any persecution that came, but we saw how it would result in good; nor were there ever any prisons that I was in, or sufferings, except it was for the bringing multitudes out of prison; though they who imprisoned the truth, and quenched the spirit in themselves, would imprison and quench it without them; so that there was a time when so many were in prison, that it became as a by-word, ‘truth is scarce any where to be found but in jails.'”

A more likely appearance

Bunhill Fields Quaker Burial Ground next to Bunhill Fields Meeting House, photo by Mark Barker

Margaret Fell

And his wife, Margaret Fell, writes to King Charles in 1666:

And now I may say unto thee, For which of these things hast thou kept me in Prison three long Winters, in a place not fit for People to lie in; sometime for Wind, and Storm, and Rain, and sometime for Smoke; so that it is much that I am alive, but that the Power and Goodness of God hat been with me. I was kept a Year and Seven Months in this Prison, before I was suffered to see the House that was mine, or Children or Family, except they came to me over two dangerous Sands in the Cold Winter, when they came with much danger of their Lives…And in all this I am very well satisfied; and praises the Lord, who counts me worthy to suffer for his sake.

—Hidden in Plain Sight, Quaker Women’s Writings, 1650-1700

A contemporary observer, Richard Baxter, no friend of the Friends, wrote:

Abundance of them died in prison, and yet they continued their assemblies still—yea many turned Quaker because the Quakers kept their meeting openly and went to prison for it cheerfully.

Home of Margaret Fell and George Fox and early meeting house of Friends

The Valiant Sixty

The Valiant Sixty—a small portion of the estimated one thousand—suffered many years in prison, loss of wealth, illness and death. To what was their witness, and what carried them? They believed in equality, truth, and nonviolence, and walked their talk by not doffing their hats to so called betters or addressing them with the language of deference of the time. If in business, they expected to receive the prices they asked for, not engaging in haggling. They were intensely concerned with the disadvantaged, including slaves, prisoners, and inmates of asylums. Later, they advocated for abolition of slavery and bettering prison conditions. In fact, we can credit them with solitary confinement, thought initially to be an opportunity to reflect on one’s life, to seek and find and offer penance, hence the word penitentiary.

They refused participation in the military, they did not pay tithes to established churches, in short, they lived what they believed was a life true to the teachings of their key mentor, Jesus Christ. For this they willingly, even joyfully at times, suffered.

They not only suffered, but they preached, they outreached, they went into the streets and proclaimed their truths. And they suffered, their suffering becoming part of their testimony. During the second half of the 17th century, over 3000 Quakers were incarcerated in English jails and prisons, many hundreds died there. Oh, where are the Valiant Sixty among us now?

And today?

All this historic heroism puts me in mind of Bil’in, a small village near Ramallah in Occupied Palestine. I’ve joined the villagers and others to defy the Israel occupation army. It protects the Separation Fence which denies farmers access to their land. At the risk of imprisonment or death, courageous Palestinians advocate for their basic human rights. May my Quaker colleagues (and others) join me and put to the lie a sometimes heard claim about contemporary Quakers: quick to stand to be counted, equally quick to sit down to not be noticed.



Bil’in, resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine

Mary Dyer

George Fox

Margaret Fell

The Valiant Sixty

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©All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

John Woolman

An early friend I met at Cambridge meeting—a meeting known by some for being frequently frosty to newcomers—was John Woolman. I read Brother Woolman with relish, quickly discovered his account of nearly dying, how it provided the seed ground for his transformation. He put it this way:

In a time of sickness, a little more than two years and a half ago, I was brought so near the gates of death that I forgot my name. Being then desirous to know who I was, I saw a mass of matter of a dull gloomy color between the south and the east, and was informed that this mass was human beings in as great misery as they could be, and live, and that I was mixed with them, and that henceforth I might not consider myself as a distinct or separate being. In this state I remained several hours. I then heard a soft melodious voice, more pure and harmonious that any I had heard with my ears before; I believed it was the voice of an angel who spake to the other angels; the words were, “John Woolman is dead.”…

[Then carried in spirit to mines where people suffered because of Christians, awakening the next morning, he said:]

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in men. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Then the mystery was opened and I perceived there was joy in heaven over a sinner who had repented, and that the language “John Woolman is dead,” meant no more than the death of my own will.

—Woolman’s journal, “John Woolman is dead,” 1769, p 214

This experience came relatively late in his life, in 1769. He was 49 years old, and had only 3 more years to live. But it is telling, one among many of his turns of heart that as I read them in the chilly Cambridge friends’ atmosphere, warmed my heart and penetrated my fog. I might not use his language, nor carry all of his beliefs, but the fundamental message of dying to one’s past and awakening to one’s reality is true for me.

Woolman’s travels to Indian country

Later I learned about his travels to Indian country, the frontier, not far from his home in New Jersey. Here’s what he wrote in his journal:

Love was the first motion, and thence a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they lived in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leading of truth among them, and as it pleased the Lord to make way for my going at a time when the troubles of war were increasing, and when, by reason of much wet weather, traveling was more difficult than usual at that season, I looked upon it as a more favorable opportunity to season my mind, and to bring me into a nearer sympathy with them.

—Woolman’s journal, Love is the first motion, to the Wehaloosing Indians on the River Susquehanna, 1761, p 142

“Troubles of war were increasing…much wet weather…traveling more difficult that usual at that season…” His response: “I looked upon it as a more favorable opportunity to season my mind, and to bring me into a nearer sympathy with them.”

Wounded Knee

Growing up in Chicago, I had a dim awareness of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Being who I was, subject to societal pressures and inclining toward delinquency, whenever considering Indians I sided with the white guys. Playing cowboys and Indians, I chose the cowboy role. My parents liked to take long car trips during summer vacations; one brought us to the Badlands. I knew the Badlands were connected with Wounded Knee, and for the first time considered the hardships endured by the Lakota Sioux in 1890 just before being massacred. Some had fled to the Badlands and tried to survive there during the blizzard conditions.

Mr. Kills-in-Water, Rosebud reservation, South Dakota, 1984

Margery Jumping-Eagle, Rosebud reservation, 1983

Rosebud reservation, 1984

Badlands, South Dakota

Wounded Knee Valley, Pine Ridge reservation, South Dakota, December 1990

Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990

In high school, I read more about the events surrounding the Indian-white wars and slowly shifted my perspective. But it was only in 1983, going to the Great Plains myself, initially to be confronted with the flatness and intense light of that region—a challenge for my photography—that I suddenly discovered the depths of that suffering. I explored the Badlands, I was ineluctably drawn to the valley of Wounded Knee, I camped overnight nearby, unable to sleep in the valley itself because of what I sensed was the great evil perpetrated there less than one century earlier. In 1990, exactly one century after the massacre, I returned with over 300 Native people to commemorate that event: “wipe the tears” and “mend the sacred hoop,” in the words of the organizers, end the period of mourning and begin rebuilding the Lakota nation. Wounded Knee inspired and taught me to place myself in the body of another, to empathize, to exhibit compassion. And to attempt to depict thru photography some of that experience.

I could overcome my fear as I entered the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota, largely because of having faced my mother’s death just 5 years earlier. Another gift that even she could not anticipate. I was also learning from John Woolman.

The Southside of Chicago

This was part of my breakthru year, not only this trip to Wounded Knee which led to returns for photo projects, but thanks to my then 12 year old very daring daughter, Katy, returning to my childhood home on Chicago’s South Side. When we lived there it was all white. Black people were moving into what I regarded as “our” neighborhood. Gang fights and fire bombings ensued. My family, ignobly, was the first to flee, the first to engage in white flight. The year: 1955. Also the year of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, the year of the murder of the young Emmett Till, exactly my age and also from Chicago, and the year of the Freedom Charter in South Africa. A pivotal year, the import of which I’m slowly realizing. But in 1983, nearly 20 years after we’d fled to a Chicago suburb, I returned to my childhood home, overcoming my fears about entering my old neighborhood, required to share it with people of color. This led directly to my photo project with the Chicago Fellowship of Friends (CFF), who were located in one of the most notorious zones of Chicago, Cabrini Green. Not only CFF but my work on anti racism generally sprang from this breakthru year, including serving on New England Yearly Meeting’s Committee on Racial, Social, and Economic Justice, co-editing our publication The Freedom and Justice Crier, and my home meeting’s Friends for Racial Justice committee, which itself was also an outgrowth of my first trip to South Africa.

Cabrini Green, Chicago

Charlotte Thomas and daughter, members of the Chicago Fellowship of Friends, Cabrini Green

East 86th Street, Chicago’s Southside, 1990 c.

My home at 1648 East 86th Street, 1992 c.

In my old Southside neighborhood



The Journal of John Woolman

Wounded Knee

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©All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)


For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

The earth is defiled by its people;
they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
and broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
its people must bear their guilt.

—Isaiah 24

Now let me try to apply this teaching from the gospel of John [about being carried where one does not wish to go], and the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Art Gish, Rachel Corrie to my life. At various stages of my life, what carried me and what was my direction? And most importantly what is the context for this life?

Skip, The Bad Boy

From the age of about three I was Skip, The Bad Boy, a delinquent, easily prone to a life of criminality. At three, I ran away from home, not for long, and not far geographically, but out of the house I fled. At five, I organized a crew of young peers to break every window in a neighborhood church, finally caught and made to pay restitution from my glass piggy bank. During my elementary school years, the principal, the dreaded Mrs. Rylands, every term, called my mother to the school for a conference, often threatening to send me to reform school. I was inching toward a life of crime, sometimes petty, but in later years a bit more serious. In high school, the police put me on one year of probation for driving my mother’s car without her permission and crashing it.

My mother, Pearl Schiel, a photo I made in about 1954 in our Chicago Southside home, surprising her when she walked thru the door—my early “wild mind photography”

I was Skip, The Bad Boy, succumbing to the influence of Chicago’s history of organized crime—Al Capone, the Valentine’s Day Massacre. Other elements of Chicago’s big-shouldered rough-necked history resonated within me. I also had an inexplicable native drive toward defying authority, especially if it was patriarchal, beginning with my father who could be a tyrant and, on occasion, beat me.

My truck, Cimmaron, 1960 c.

At that stage I was directed and carried by something unsavory and self destructive, but thanks to the college YMCA and YWCA programs that I joined at Iowa State University, I began to straighten out. With this turning came another pivot point, related and equally important, from a projected life as naval warrior to a person who tries to foster peace and justice thru art.

Born in 1940, one year after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, four years old when my country dropped atomic and incendiary bombs on the innocents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and other cities, I was a tender and impressionable 13-year-old when the TV series, Victory at Sea, was broadcast.

War in the Pacific

Join the US Navy

I was enthralled, I had my first message from god: join the Navy, become a Chief Petty Officer, sail, defend the country, fight and win. I vividly recall buying my first photographic book, US Navy War Photographs, edited by the illustrious Edward Steichen. He went on to design and produce the groundbreaking photo exhibit, Family of Man, equally influential to my development as a photographer and human being. Mom, Dad, I pleaded, in just 3 years, when I’m 16, I can join the Navy, but only if you give me permission. Please!

From US Navy War Photographs, edited by Edward Steichen

From The Family of Man, an exhibit by Edward Steichen

To their credit, they refused, pushed me instead into college and training to become an electronics engineer. However, I did manage to join the Naval ROTC at Iowa State University, marched, learned naval history, studied weapons, but most importantly—again thanks to the teachings of the campus YM-YW movement, where I was now a program officer—came to the following realization about my role as a naval officer: the true mission of the US military is to protect access to resources, open markets to commerce, and assure the dominance of US ideology. I will be ordered to destroy and kill for American hegemony. Not for me. Must be a better life than this, for me and for the world. But what is it?

I was adrift, anchorless, hopelessly angry and disgruntled.

Then came my mother’s gift, what was it?

Many things. Within five years, these included Buddhism, difficult journeys to places like American Indian reservations on the Great Plains and my childhood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, a shift from filmmaking into photography, meeting my future sweet heart and partner, and the discovery of a coterie of ancestral spirits including early Friends and early Christians, and most importantly, Quakerism, the theology and the practice.

I discovered Quakers

In searching for an audience for the film of my mother’s last year, Pearl Schiel, I discovered Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends. Thanks to a suggestion from Marjorie Swann, then the executive secretary of the New England regional office of the American Friends Service Committee, an act of kindness on her part, I showed my film at Friends General Conference and New England Yearly Meeting in 1980. And that autumn I found my way to Friends Meeting at Cambridge.

Pearl Schiel

This wasn’t my first contact with Friends. I’d been counseled for my conscientious objector (CO) application in 1965 by Andy Rudin at the AFSC, himself a CO doing alternative service. And before that, I saw a film called Language of Faces, which centered on a vigil the Religious Society of Friends organized in 1960 at the Pentagon. In part prompted by the 300th anniversary of the writing of the Peace Testimony, some 1000 Friends stood silently in front of the Pentagon for 2 days to witness for peace and against nuclear armaments. Impressive, but I have to ask now whether Friends are capable as a collective of organizing such a massive public event.

Quakers at the Pentagon 1960



“Poll: American voters’ support of Israel drops,” by JTA, the Global News Service of the Jewish People

“Foiling Another Palestinian ‘Peace Offensive”’: Behind the bloodbath in Gaza.” by Norman Finkelstein

“The Doomsday Weapon,” by Uri Avnery, about the report by General David Petraeus concluding that a speedy resolution of the conflicts in Palestine and Israel is in the vital interests of the United States

Read Full Post »

Dedicated to Rachel Corrie, the seven year anniversary of her killing by an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar D9 tractor on March 16, 2003, her parents now (March 7, 2010) in Israel for the opening of a court trial (details below)

© All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to gird your loins and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your arms, and someone else will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he [Peter] would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

—John 21: 18

Now, what’s the context for this passage? Jesus has been crucified, he’s resurrected and appeared to the unseeing apostles along the shore of the Lake of Tiberius, also known as the Sea of Galilee. They were failing at fishing. What great guys, these apostles, always so human, so foible-filled, so like me. He was hinting to the apostles what following Jesus meant: possible sacrifice.

The story might be apocryphal. For that matter, much of the gospels, much of holy script might be apocryphal, but the teachings are so often true. What can we learn from this passage?

In my experience, is God what carries and directs me, do I seek to learn god’s will and follow it? I have misgivings about the notion of god, especially when used to justify attitudes and behavior. Seeking the will of god is something resolutely I do not do. I’m cautioned by the following statement and by who made it:

I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator…By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.

—Adolf Hitler, from Mein Kampf

There are too many instances of the notion of god’s will gone bad, that to use this or even seek this guidance seems a fatal miscalculation. Instead, for me, I seek the still small voice—critically understood—in the context of the times and the community.

I am now an older man, 69 to be precise, and my days of self-direction are over. I do not myself independently choose to go on long pilgrimages; I do not choose to wander into zones of conflict such as Cambodia, Bosnia, American Indian country, Cabrini Green, or Israel, or Palestine, or right here on this blog, naked in front of you trying to share my life. I do not choose this mission, nor do I resist it. I am often fearful, I am usually very unclear, I hesitate and demur and find excuses. I’d rather be in bed or the library reading Kafka or watching Front Line on TV or playing with one of my grand children. I would never say, after offering you a slice of my life, go and do likewise, follow me.

Kalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, 2003

What carries me, and what is my direction, perhaps my fate?

A lead comes from a person I feel might be a latter day saint, a contemporary incarnation of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, St Francis, St Nicherin of the Japanese Buddhist tradition, and George Fox and Martha Fell themselves, and especially John Woolman (the last 3 are key Quaker figures). I am speaking of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I confess, I am a born again Martin Luther Kingian. I’ll explain that in a moment, but first, for me, one of his most important and overlooked teachings:

He said, if a person hasn’t discovered something to die for, that person is not fit to live.

When I first heard or read this passage, I was incredulous, Martin, speaking this way, so harsh, so demanding, so critical? And I checked, yes, he’d said it, or at least he’s widely quoted as saying it.

His admonition teaches the importance of living a life that is pointed, vital, full, meaningful, direct, and at risk constantly of ending because of the course of that life. Not a life content to settle into the easy chair and read a book. Or watch a video. Or even attend a demonstration or sign or circulate a petition, as important as all these can be. Or writing a letter to a congressperson, or even visiting that person. The emphasis is on fronting life directly, as Thoreau put it when explaining his excursion to Walden Pond for two years, and not dying regretting one has not fully lived.

Israeli soldier, originally from Australia, with a Quaker grandmother,
Hebron Old City, 2003

I feel that the value of living fully is timeless, but especially so today with numerous global crises so looming and clear. As Howard Zinn put it recently in a talk referring to the United States Declaration of Independence, we live in hard times, as hard as anything he’s seen. In response to possible impending catastrophe, he actually quoted from memory portions of the Declaration:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men (sic), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

—US Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Howard Zinn (L), member of Community Change Inc, and Tim Wise

He emphasized the right of the people to alter or to abolish their government if it is not securing the guaranteed rights. In our age of galloping empire—based on the triplet Martin Luther King taught, militarism, racism, and poverty, have we the people indeed earned the right to significantly transform our political system?

Some might argue that life is always tough, always harsh and violent and full of despots and tyrants and brutality and occupation and invasion and problems for the environment and immigration and poverty and racism. But several features stand out that define the contemporary era: nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, the desecration of the environment, the rise of global corporatization, and the fact of empire. We, the citizens assembled, live in its midst, benefit from its continuance, and suffer from its egregiousness.

Art Gish, in the Hebron southern hills, living in At-Twani with the Christian Peacemakers Team

While in Palestine, photographing for the Christian Peacemakers Team in Hebron and the nearby southern hills of Hebron, I met another luminary, Art Gish. Art is in his 70s, as is his wife, Peg. Both have been frequently in Iraq and Palestine with the CPT, obviously risking their security to witness and tell their truths. Art encapsulated Martin’s words like this: free to die, then free to live. And he lives his truth, walks his talk.

In 2004 Palestinian farmers and shepherds asked CPT to set up a monitoring site in the southern Hebron hills, while their first site continued in the heart of Hebron’s Old City. Settlers neighboring the hill people—who are my neighbors?—threatened Palestinian school children as they walked past the rural settlements to and from school. The also spread poison over the land, many of their sheep and goats then could not stand and soon died. Within a few weeks, two CPT members, Chris Brown, originally from South Africa, and Kim Laherty were accompanying the children when masked settlers attacked and beat them both. The children ran away but the settlers, speaking American English, punctured Chris’ lung, broke Kim’s leg, and stole cell phones and wallets, The Israeli army then declared CPT could no longer accompany the kids, the army or police would. To this day CPT, aided by an Italian Catholic nonviolence organization, Operation Dove, keep 24-hour vigil, at some risk. Art is one of the mainstays.

Chris Brown (courtesy of Christian Peacemakers Team)

The Palestinians in At-Twani built a new health clinic, initially without building permits which are virtually impossible to acquire. At the last minute and despite threats of demolition, the Israeli authorities granted a permit—unprecedented. The people thanked CPT for their witness.

Rachel Corrie, a young woman from Washington state, tried to block a Caterpillar tractor driver from demolishing a home in Rafah, the Gaza Strip. The driver did not stop, despite Rachel wearing an orange glow vest and speaking thru a bullhorn. Her witness in 2003 and that of CPT and many other individuals and groups in Palestine and Israel inspire me. Once I am willing to die, knowing why I might die, not when and where and how—the exact conditions of one’s death can be hard to predict—I am free to live. How did I reach this state, if I am in this state?

My mother, Pearl, died

Fran and Pearl Schiel

In 1977 my father died, age 65. I’ve outlived him by 4 years. Upon retirement he assumed he had many miles to go before he slept. My mother, Pearl, died in 1978, age 63, exactly nine months after Fran. I’ve outlived her by nearly 7 years, I was with her when she died, making films at that time, and in fact making a film about her, never guessing she was about to die. My sister Elaine and I accompanied her during her dying. It was a painful death from ravaging cancer that commandeered her body. She did not die easily or peacefully. But she said to us in her last moments, Elaine, Skip, you won’t understand what I’m about to say for many years, but my death will be a gift to you both.

She never spoke like this before, as if an oracle, but she spoke true words. From her death sprang for me—as if a lotus springing up from the muck and mire of the pond—Buddhism, Quakerism, and my turning from filmmaking which was becoming fruitless to photography and my continuing witness with camera. That story of transition is for another time.

Into adulthood

The deathwatch for Pearl lasted 3 days. We then sat with her body. As she lived her last moments, I noticed her jugular vein throbbing, tried to show this in my movie. Now that she was dead, I looked at that jugular again, it was motionless. She was indeed dead, gone who knows where. But I soon discovered where I was directed—into adulthood. After the funeral home people came for her body—it was June 24th, a stormy night—I left the house and walked thru the dark wet streets of Arlington Heights Illinois. I felt for the first time in my life a full and complete adult, with all the responsibilities of adulthood, not only for my 2 young daughters, but for a wider community. Slowly, beginning with this moment when I was 38 years old, I had a daunting responsibility but I didn’t know then what it was or how to undertake it.

A second discovery from her death was that once I’d faced the reality of death it lost some of its sting. I find that fearsome matters at a distance are abstract, and my mind amplifies the threat, but when I face the trouble directly—in this case the loss of my mother, in many other cases going to places like Israel and Palestine during conflict—the fear lessens. It rarely evaporates, but it diminishes to become bearable.

Israeli bus bombed by Palestinian suicide militants (courtesy of the internet)

What doesn’t kill me strengths me

And a third discovery, first with my parents’ deaths, but recurring whenever I face danger. If I’m grounded in clarity and community support, I’m ultimately strengthened rather than weakened by adversity. Returning from the Holy Land in one piece nourishes me, builds my muscles, proves to me that if I can survive in Palestine/Israel, I can survive most any threat. As Napoleon put it, quoting Seneca, “What doesn’t kill me will strengthen me.” Witnessing is good medicine, it rejuvenates, it revitalizes, it clears the brain and body and spirit, pushes away sluggishness and prevarication, tans the body and makes it alive again, reborn and invincible. As for the individual so for the global community. The planetary body is healed, or can be, with the correct form of witness, done by enough people.

Palestinian men on their way to school, Jerusalem, 2003

Fruits of my photographic witness? As with teaching, as with making art, as with fostering children, no one knows what fruit will issue from the seed of witness. The seed never sees its own fruit. I hope to plant the seed in good soil—But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8: 15)

I and the witnessing community labor, pray, and persist.



“Call to Action: Corrie Trial in Israel, March 10-24, 2009”

“Soldiers disturb and assault B’Tselem’s video photographers in the West Bank despite army’s declaration that filming is permitted”

“Robert Fisk: Israel feels under siege. Like a victim. An underdog”

Read Full Post »

South African gold miners, photo: Margaret Bourke-White/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images, circa 1950

© All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

[Jesus then asked the man who’d inquired about serving god] Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?

[The man replied], The one who had mercy on him.

Jesus told him, Go and do likewise.

—The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10: 30-37

Invitation from New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM)

The invitation from NEYM to give the keynote presentation came in 2004 while I was in Palestine, at a particularly low time in my five months there. Not only were political conditions looking again hopeless to me, but my life was not unfolding as I’d hoped. My arrangements with sponsoring organizations—the Palestinian university, Birzeit, and its Right to Education Campaign and the Ecumenical Accompaniers for Peace in Palestine and Israel— had borne minimal fruit, and one ended painfully. It was late December 2004, I had one month left, and I wasn’t sure who would accept my offer of volunteered photography. What’s the point? Why do this? I am away from home, from family and friends, from my core communities, trying to practice and offer my craft, and few seem interested. I despaired.

NEYM’s invitation—which I resisted accepting too quickly, needing some discernment time—affirmed what I’ve been trying to do for many decades: witness with my body, with my heart, all my emotions, with my camera, to various troubles worldwide.

I was very grateful for this opportunity to show an audience something of these images, and to try to put them into a useful context. I’d state my life task this way: seeing with my own eyes, despite the risk, coming to an understanding, showing the results, then inviting viewers to see with their own eyes and take action they feel is appropriate.

In 2003 NEYM session’s theme was expressed by the parable of the Good Samaritan, asking the question, who is my neighbor? And applying this question to racism and our Quaker connections with slavery. Many of us hope to continue this, not only in the United States but throughout the world. For me specifically in Israel-Palestine which I feel is rife with racism.

“Go and do likewise.”

The story from Luke 10:37 ended like this: “Go and do likewise.”

That’s Jesus talking, highlighting the importance of helping others, when—and this is vital to the story as I see it—that act of charity, mercy, justice involves some risk. It’s not merely a story of one person helping another, but of others who had the opportunity to aid the poor beaten traveler along the Jericho Road choosing not to help. They did not take a risk; they refused to do the right thing. If they heard a call, they responded with something like, “sorry, too busy, got lots to do, not my business, another time perhaps.”

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus taught.

The theme of that year’s gathering drew on that rich parable, its closing words, and a reference to another Jesus story, that of the sower and the seeds (Luke 8: 15): “Go and do likewise …hear the word of God, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.”

The invitation also invited me to share some of my photographs from various journeys of discovery, so I will begin with several key journeys [photos available in the slide show, with a selection below]. In my witnessing with my camera, I hope to sow a few seeds of awareness and wisdom, and most importantly the seed of action, especially when that action entails risk. Light guides me, I seek the light, I am a slave of light. No photos without light, lousy photos when ignorant of the light. This little light of mine. Pass the light on. Awaken! As Thoreau so elliptically put it:

…but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

These are the very last words of his book, Walden.

My good fortune

I am fortunate to be able to undertake these journeys. I’ve arranged my life to be relatively free and quiet, economically and socially. My two daughters, in their 40s, are launched. My economic needs are very slender and many people have aided me. My loving Quaker community is a mainstay, both locally and internationally—in Palestine Quakers are my primary lifeline. And my former partner continues to be one of the supreme gifts of my life.  (I have probably slipped in [to the slide show] a few of her photos, they are often very good.) Angels carry me, I am directed by the still small voice, if I only give it the quiet it needs. And blessedly, I am aged, with fewer and fewer years before me, less and less reason to hold on to life.

The vehicle for many of my journeys is the Japanese Buddhist order, Nipponzan Myohoji. Their practice is mostly building peace pagodas—they have two in the United States, in Leverett Massachusetts and near Albany New York—and conducting pilgrimages and walks for peace and justice. They might be considered a Japanese incarnation of Mahatma Gandhi.

Photos from various journeys [from the slide show]

Pentagon (1983) with Plowshares people breaking the uncivil laws

Wounded Knee (1983 & 1990)—how I learned compassion by passing thru stages of awareness

Mitakuye Oyasin: All My Relations

Steve Pedigo, co-founder (with Marlene Pedigo) and former pastor, with Burt, a friend and former gang member

Chicago Fellowship of Friends (1990 – 1995 circa)—early fear of Cabrini Green, shock at hearing Quaker talk from Black people

Auschwitz (1994 – 95)—tearful while walking to the main gate at night for the first night of Chanukah, my birthday, the chant and the community and the monks, a partner from Friends Meeting at Cambridge

Auschwitz to Hiroshima—A Pilgrimage

Water blessing, photo: courtesy Coalition for Peace and Reconciliation

Cambodia (1995)—my fear the night before, unsettled, then calm

Statue of Sadako, the subject of the peace crane story

Strands of folded paper peace cranes

Lotus, traditional Buddhist symbol of compassion

Hiroshima dome

Japan (1995)—Hiroshima the city of peace, city of horror

Retracing the transAtlantic slave trade (1998 -1999)—the anguish of living with such different people, visiting painful history, learning deep faith

A Spirit People: One View of the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage (1998-99)

South Africa (1999)—Margaret Bourke White’s stunning image of gold miners, an infectious icon that continues to inspire and guide me, discovering the importance of being present, from partnering to examining our own racism

Visions of a New South Africa (1999)

Prisons (2002 – 2005 circa)—from my Skip as bad boy beginnings, horrible conditions and racial injustice, visiting a young Black man in maximum security prison

Making the Invisible Visible: Massachusetts Prisons (2004)

And now Israel-Palestine (2003 – present)—suffering of all people, Jews (suicide bombed, for some a weapon of choice) and Palestinians (occupied, a method of choice), the light, physical and of wisdom, draws me, Christ’s footsteps, perhaps searching for the “true cross,” need to cry, shooting our taxi driver, secondary trauma, 3 college students in Gaza, Belal, Yousef 1 and Yousef 2.

Archive of most recent Palestine-Israel photos (June-September 2009)

I also include some of my series, Scent of Earth (1980 – present), here just trees and sky. Trees because they stem from a waking dream I had in 1982 while walking thru the wintry forest of the White Mountains. I distinctly felt the trees calling to me. They presented me with a plea: we feel the great fire coming, we are rooted and strong, but have no power to move out of the way or quench the fire. We call on you for help. This led to some of my work in the peace movement as well as a continuing devotion to trees.

Scent of Earth

The sky, while traveling, in no matter what hemisphere, the sky was always above me. Virtually the same sky day and night anywhere on the globe. I was comforted by this uniformity and have concentrated on sky every since that realization.

One of the most profound and frightening scriptural teachings for me comes from the gospel of John, and this will set the overall context for my presentation.



Cairo Declaration, End Israeli Apartheid, January 1, 2010

The Qattan Center for the Child Gaza

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© All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 17, 2010)

(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)


Photos: US Army on the Cambridge Common, June 14, 2005

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to gird your loins and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your arms, and someone else will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he [Peter] would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”


—John 21: 18

May I write from an open heart and may you read me with a likewise open heart. May words and pictures lead to useful lives.

First political arrest

How odd, that in 2005 for five months I explored the political, religious and cultural landscape of Palestine and Israel, and altho I had a few close calls, I was never arrested, never detained, never brought to trial, never even directly threatened, that I know of. And then, a few months after returning home, just a few blocks from my house, I earned my first political arrest. On June 14 2005, on the Cambridge Common, the US army arrived, ostensibly to honor veterans and the army for its accomplishments at home and abroad, but in truth, many of us feel, to bolster the ranks of the not so willing.

Hearing of the plans just one week before, many people were shocked and quickly assembled to speak out about what the US army is doing in Iraq and world-wide (the proposed military budget for the following year was nearly 1/2 trillion dollars, 500 billion). We arrived on the Common with signs, banners, chants, and other messages of resistance. I was present primarily to photograph, concentrating on the children regaled by the displays of weaponry and the re-enactors and soldiers with cannon, Humvees, field hospitals, and even four men parachuting from a helicopter in plumes of orange smoke. I resonated with the children, because as an impressionable boy I had wished desperately to join the Navy, more about this episode in my life later.

We insisted on exercising rights granted to us by the first amendment to the constitution, which reads in part—

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

We risked joining the ranks of people such as Mary Dyer, an early Quaker in the colonies, a founding mother of this nation, a martyr, who gave her life for freedom of religion and speech more than 100 years before this amendment was written. Or John Woolman, the luminary Quaker, compassionately and dangerously visiting American Indians on the then frontier of New Jersey to discover if he might learn from them, and going to slave owners to gently encourage them to free their enslaved people.

On June 14th, Flag Day, as I photographed the Tactical Police Force pushing the dissidents, someone, probably an officer, knocked me to the ground and I was arrested. I am now reluctantly but proudly one of the Cambridge Seven, along with 2 American Friends Service Committee staff who were in retreat at the Cambridge Friends meeting center just a few blocks away when they first heard about the event. In a phone message of support to me, a good friend of mine, Jonathan Vogel Borne termed me an “unwitting hero.” At moments however, I have to wonder if I’m not a witless witness.

Louise Dunlap, photo by Polly Atwood

The American Civil Liberties Union defended us and planed a civil suit against the city of Cambridge for curtailing our civil liberties. I’ve put my voluminous writing and photographing about this experience on my website, teeksaphoto.org. I mention all this as a prologue to my presentation, as one possible example of what I’m advocating—off our benches, out of our meeting houses, enough writing of minutes, into the streets, into the throbbing regions of this world that need our attention, to enact a more daring resistance to the ills and wrongs of our world.  And with that resistance, acting from our testimonies of equality, peace and nonviolence, civic and community responsibility, and justice, finally hearing that still small voice, that greater call, creating, enacting a vision of a better world. Despite the risk.

Police chief ordering vigilers to leave the stage area for an off-site “free speech” area

Many are called, and many are the calls, ranging from calls for justice, human rights, respect for the environment, orienting to what American Indians call the Seventh Generation, all the way to calls for retribution, vengeance, wrath, occupation, and imperial dominance. Some feel grounded in scripture, some in personal contact with their deity. Perhaps I am wrong in my direction, as I feel the Christian Zionists are tragically mistaken. Perhaps I am at least partially correct in my path, grounded in not only my own conscience but in that of a greater force, a more universal gravitation toward justice and freedom. The belief that all beings, all of creation is sacred, all interconnect, Mitakuye Oyasin, All my Relations, as my friends, the Lakota Sioux express it. Or as Dr. King said, the arc of struggle is long but it bends toward justice.

My arrest, photo by an anonymous person


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© All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010

A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.

Written September 10, 2002, revised February 9, 2010


There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation so ever they become brethren in the best sense of the expression.

—John Woolman, luminary Quaker (1761)

For my entire adult life I’ve been making visual art, first films for some 15 years, then, when that pursuit became untenable because of lack of audience and money, I turned to photography, a childhood passion. Since the early 1980s I’ve been able to follow this particular muse, at times taking part-time jobs for income and health benefits. Finding these jobs gnawingly restrictive, I sought another way, one that would provide the economic foundation for my various photographic projects. Thanks to family, friends, mentors, and ancestors, I’ve been able to derive sufficient support for my life in art.


One key: community. For years I followed the conventional dictate that pronounced art-making as singular, one brilliant individual making things that perhaps no one understood. Until after death. Virtually no support. The model of Vincent van Gogh, for instance, or Charles Ives. Vincent lived and died destitute, yet his paintings now fetch millions of dollars. Charles Ives, writing music ahead of his time, rarely found an audience, but was wily enough to never rely on music-derived income: he sold insurance. Both men illustrate the image of an individual creating great works in a world ignorant of their worth.

For my first two adult decades, I tried this, I fell flat. Painfully I’ve since discovered an ancient wisdom— refuse to be isolated, participate in community in most everything you do.

My communities are manifold:

The Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, since 1980, one of my core communities, providing support in the forms of prayer, guidance, criticism, equipment, love, audience, incentive, ideas, and services;

Other artists, thru the Fellowship of Friends in the Arts (Quaker) and a local network of photographers meeting periodically to photograph, show and comment.

A Buddhist-led Pilgrimage to the School of the Americas-part 1

A Japanese Buddhist community, Nipponzan Myohoji, which constructs peace pagodas and conducts walks and pilgrimages, these pilgrimages the subject of many of my projects;

A lay Catholic nonviolence community in western Massachusetts, Agape, priests, nuns, friends, other lay people, all united in pursuing justice thru nonviolent means, helping me with funding, insights, a retreat center, and connection with my Catholic roots;

Family, especially my former (and enduring, in some sense) partner, Y, pairing with me on many projects, offering editorial and financial assistance, grounding my work in her strong Buddhist walking practice, and my two daughters, Katy and Joey, both artists, maybe not sharing totally my perspectives, but respectful and loving;

And where I teach usually photography, the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, a rich source of other photographers, work associates (especially people helping me with computer applications to photography), and most importantly students who teach me.


The second key: a frugal life style. Unlike J.D. Rockefeller who when asked “How much money do you need to be happy?” answered “just a little more.” I reply, about “what I have.” I have enough. I live on between seven and ten thousand dollars annually. Much of what I need is in the form of bartered services— A Quaker friend and colleague lends me his darkroom—no charge. The Cambridge Center offers me its darkroom and computer center—no charge. Upwards of six individuals once volunteered their darkroom skills—no charge. My daughter, former partner, and a good friend take care of my apartment when I’m on long trips—part of the family. I pay back with photographs or friendship or volunteered time or familial reciprocity.


And the third key: finding reliable means of earning income. I generate a sufficient amount of money thru teaching, donations, and grants, along with sales, fees, and bartering with my photographs.


And a true surprise, the fourth key: An important source of financial support, aiding me in keeping my economic needs slim, is the state. Oddly enough, the government—in the forms of national, state and local—has been generous in providing subsidies for my necessities: housing, food, health care. However, should a catastrophic event occur in my life, like a major accident, a serious illness, or debilitating infirmity from old age, I, like my wealthier peers no doubt, am vulnerable. My position is precarious, but I remain confident that if I maintain my course, I will find the support needed to live and work.

That’s the survive portion of my experience. How do I thrive?

Let me use three of my photo projects for illustration.


Since the mid 1980s I’ve photographed a reservoir and adjoining land in central Massachusetts, Quabbin. In the late 1980s I helped two friends find land near the watershed on which they could construct a nonviolence center, the Agape Community I referred to earlier. They asked me to join the steering committee. We meet four times each year, timed with the change of seasons. This schedule brings me to Quabbin regularly. My photo project continued, bumpingly.

In late August 2001, they allowed me to use their small cabin, The Hermitage, for a week-long retreat. Every day I walked or biked along the shores and forests of Quabbin, extending my project considerably. I felt I was making rapid progress discovering color, reflection, mood, outline, and the spirit of Quabbin itself, deep and abiding.

One week later—September 11th, 2001, the attack on the United States—Quabbin was sealed shut. I renamed my Quabbin project, Not Forever, Quabbin Reservoir. Not Forever depends heavily on my association with Agape. I thrive thru my participation in its community.


The second project stemmed from a pilgrimage I made thru the Mississippi Delta in late 1999 as part of a grander effort retracing the trans-Atlantic slave route with many other pilgrims, the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage. Raised in Chicago, fleeing the approach of Black people by moving to the suburbs in 1955, I was dimly aware of the Great Migration and its effect on the city and me. Finding myself in New Orleans, the terminus of the US portion of the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, I left the pilgrimage and decided to drive slowly north to my homeland. I explored the history of Black resistance to Jim Crow— Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Freedom Riders. At the same time I dove into a more personal, less public past that Black friends in Chicago had told me about.

Twelve years earlier, while photographing the Chicago Fellowship of Friends in Cabrini Green, a notoriously violent public housing complex, I met Bernice Thomas. She’d been raised on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta, she escaped the South in the late 1950s, and she told me stories of her pained experience, her flight north, her vow to never raise her children in the South. She described where she’d lived and suffered—the plantation, the movie house in Clarksdale Mississippi, her last home where she’d birthed her first daughter. I found all the sites, photographed them, visited her with the pictures and further stories. She’d never returned home. I had, for her, and discovered an eerie connection: I was her, I had come home, thus, “Delta Passage, a Journey Home” is my slide show about that experience.

How could I have traveled that course, depicted that experience without the friendship of Bernice Thomas, without the active participation of Friends in Chicago, without my Quaker connection? Would I have found this rich trove of insights without the mentoring of some of my meeting’s elders, without the many meetings with the various clearness committees that formed for me?


And the third project is about Israel-Palestine. Since my first journey there in 2003 I’ve not only discovered truths often hidden by most of the international media but my Quaker connection. They are multitudinous, dating back to 1869 when 2 Friends from New England explored what Quakers might be able to do in Ramallah—founding a girls’ school because of the absence of education for girls—and for the quasi Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee, its service to refugees in Gaza in 1948, caused by the expulsion of many Arabs by Israel when Israel founded itself as a state. Without that Quaker connection I’d not have had the opportunities presented to me: working with and living at the Ramallah Friends School, teaching photography and photographing thru the AFSC youth programs in the West Bank and Gaza, and the haven provided by Jean Zaru and Kathy Bergen in the Ramallah Friends Meeting and International Friends Center in Ramallah.

Amal Sabawi, director of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza, Popular Achievement Festival, August 2009

The most recent show is Gaza Steadfast. I’ve shown it nearly 30 times thru the South, at times to Quaker meetings, and now I’m preparing a Northeast tour with a new version of the show launched recently at my local meeting, Friends Meeting at Cambridge.


To conclude, prayer is full attention. To the inner voice, the still small voice within; to the light without, revealing and enabling photographs; to the spirits of history, those sometimes fleeting, sometimes compelling accretions of memory; to destiny, who we are yet to become, our successors, our lineage; and to the interconnectedness of all creation. By being still, I tune to these tiny signs, build on them. Thru my photography I attempt to practice this prayer, this full attention, with enduring hope that I as an artist and human being will be sustained, and will contribute to the endless flow of life.





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