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Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

From Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz

The need to tell our story to “the rest”, to make “the rest” participate in it, had taken on for us, before our liberation and after, the character of an immediate and violent impulse, to the point of competing with our other elementary needs. The book has been written to satisfy this need: first and foremost, therefore, as an interior liberation (SA, 5-6).

(His recurring dream while in Auschwitz:)

This is my sister and some unidentifiable friends and many other people. They are all listening to me and it is this very story that I am telling… I also speak diffusely of our hunger and of the lice-control, and of the Kapo who hit me on the nose then sent me to wash myself as I was bleeding. It is an intense pleasure, physical, inexpressible, to be at home, among friendly people, and to have so many things to recount: but I cannot help noticing that my listeners do not follow me. In fact, they are completely indifferent: they speak confusedly of other things among themselves, as if I was not there… My dream stands in front of me, still warm, and although awake I am still full of its anguish: and then I remember that it is not a haphazard dream, but that I have dreamed it not once but many times since I arrived here… and I remember that I have recounted it to Alberto and that he confided to me, to my amazement, that it is also his dream and the dream of many others, perhaps of everyone. (SA, 53-54)

“The Anti-linguistic Nature of the Lager in the Language of Primo Levi’s
Se questo è un uomo”, by Fabio Girelli-Carasi

PHOTOS

June 21, 2019, Friday, Palestine-Israel

Yesterday [June 20, 2019] Fareed did much more than translate: he took over the task of interviewing, leaving me the duties of photographer and audio engineer (my audio skills have improved markedly since the year before.). Our modus operandi was to run thru the questions together before we met the person, agree that Fareed would ask most of a set of questions that I’ve been using and that are obvious, beginning with name, village, how old during Nakba, the Nakba itself, where to, when, and how, any return visits, family transmission of stories, and sometimes current health and whether it is affected by the Nakba experience and the question of burial in the village.

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Shaker Issa Odeh (Abu Maher) with his son, in his son’s home in Ramallah—Fareed Taamallah on the left,  FaceBooketeer who lives in Ramallah

I’d throw in follow up questions, Fareed as well. He’d interrupt the speaker to translate for me, sometimes letting the speaker continue if he felt the speaker wished not to be interrupted. He took notes. I watched for emotional displays by our sitters. Earlier, I’d studied and, when possible, altered the lighting and placement of people, aware of the background. We’ve not discussed what to do with Fareed’s notes but I’ll suggest he provide me simple notes, key points, not a fully written account. He reminded me that he once worked as a journalist; he certainly has the skills and impulses. I believe he is also definitively committed to this project, feels it deeply, which is crucial. He needs to sell the project to the person and family, i.e., persuade them about my goodwill and authenticity, that I won’t exploit them. Persuasion can be a chore, as happened during the last of the 3 interviews yesterday. A son was skeptical, asked to see examples. I’d forgotten to bring my prints from portrait sessions the year before. So I struggled with my website, finally got one image to display. This seemed to convince him.

Later, Fareed confided that he thought all the interviews the day before went very well, but he didn’t like this last son [who does not appear in any of my photos]. He felt the son had prejudged the project and me when he learned I was from the States. Unlike working with Ayed, Murad, and Mousa, some of my other Palestinian colleagues (Mousa is now touring New Zealand or Australia and another country presumably with his videos and photos), yesterday (possibly on other days) Fareed didn’t know the people. He relies on friends of friends. Yesterday at Amari refugee camp (because the contact had turned off his phone and we couldn’t reach him, infuriating Fareed), we began at a sports club. (The manager of the Educational Bookshop in Jerusalem had suggested asking at sports clubs in refugee camps for participants.) Little by little, Fareed made connections and we found the old woman and her adult children, resulting in a very lively interview.

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Khadija Mohammad Al-Azza (Um Ghazi) with Fareed Taamallah, who has published or will her interview on his Facebook page

Soon I intend to cruise thru the multitude of photos I made yesterday, write speaker notes, and ask Fareed for his notes. We meet again on Sunday afternoon for Kalandia refugee camp.

Yesterday at 2:30 pm I met Fareed at the Ramallah Friends School upper camp, expecting to work together until about 9 pm in the evening, including a visit to his home in Ramallah for dinner. Getting to know Fareed better is one of the chief blessings of this trip. Also meeting his family again, including his son studying civil engineering at Birzeit University. His daughter, Lina, is tall and beautiful and shy; she has recently graduated from high school. Her story illustrates the occupation perfectly:  less than one-year-old, kidney problems from the cistern water which had become polluted and they had no other water, potential kidney failure, mother at night in the rain races to reach the hospital in Ramallah, circumvents the checkpoints, carries Lina for an exam.

Lina needs a transplant, mother offers but not compatible, father offers but his kidney too big for the child. He spreads the word, Anna, an activist Brit living in South Africa offers, problems getting Lina to an Israeli hospital (no facilities in Palestine), problems getting Anna into Israel (because of her activist history), finally succeed, the transplant, Lina lives with Anna’s kidney, and so far as not met Anna (because Anna is banned from entry to Palestine).

I believe I met Fareed thru this story, told me by Hannah Mermelstein, a friend of his—as an activist, journalist, activist farmer, and good person, he has many friends worldwide. As he reiterated parts of Lina’s story, we considered the possible effects if the story had ended tragically. Still, I argued, it would be a useful story to tell: the consequences of the occupation. We also debated the value of storytelling, agreeing that some people with their Nakba stories find the storytelling too painful and might resist doing it. While others, I believe most, find the telling healing and cathartic, as I hope is true for people we interview and photograph. I quoted Primo Levy in Survival at Auschwitz, in short: a recurring nightmare of many prisoners was to find themselves released, yet no one wanted to hear their stories. With the refugees, I do not get this sense of either not wishing to talk or others not wishing to hear. Many times other family members and people outside the family sit in on our interview.

I mentioned to Fareed that 2 nights previously Ayed, another colleague, had toured us thru Aida refugee camp where Ayed lives, because Steve (who I worked with on the Alternatives to Violence Project) hoped to visit a camp. Steve confided to me that his image of present-day Palestinian refugee camp was tents. As might be true for many, who are perhaps influenced by contemporary imagery from Africa and parts of the Mideast or have just not updated their information about Palestine.

Riding back in Fareed’s car, I shared a possibly sinister thought about the right of return: since a fairly high proportion of survivors expressed to us a wish to be buried in their original villages, how about a limited right of return?—their corpses. Fareed winced at this, and pointed out (as someone had earlier that Israelis might vandalize the burials) that this might represent defeat of the right of return. How so? I asked. By suggesting that the only way Palestinians can return is as a corpse.

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Fareed and me

During the entire interview sessions, I suffered from a sore eye and a bloated, gassy feeling. Was I about to shit mush? Would my eye become worse? These thoughts distracted me. Extraneous thoughts often distract me. I rarely experience single stream, serial thinking. Nearly impossible to concentrate on the photography while also listening to sitters and Fareed and attending to the audio recorder. Would be much better to expand our field team from 2 to about 5, all proficient in their roles.

Thirty-five years ago, in the pages of the Journal of Palestine Studies, Edward Said made a surprising admission about the limits of fact-based evidence to change world opinion in the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians. Despite withering criticisms of Israeli atrocities during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon documented in the 1982 MacBride report of international jurists, and the detailed descriptions of the unremitting abuses committed by the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) in works such as Noam Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, Said reasoned that such “objective” presentations of Israeli criminality invariably failed to convince the public of Israel’s moral turpitude. Probing how Israel had largely escaped international condemnation alongside its success in depicting itself as the beleaguered victim of implacable Palestinian aggression, Said concluded that Palestinians had to frame the conflict in a discourse different than that of fact-based positivism. For Said, such a project had to reside in an epistemological break that would redirect representations of the conflict away from a detached empiricism and toward the virtues of national culture and national historical narration. Two years later, Said himself hinted at what this impulse might entail. In After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives, Said pondered how, “for all the writing about them, the Palestinians remain virtually unknown” and used this observation as a prelude for his narration of arresting images of Palestinians captured by photographer Jean Mohr. In this way, Said concedes to the camera a role in rendering the Palestinians visible while crafting a narrative of the Palestinian encounter with Zionism in a new language.

—Lockdown: Gaza through a Camera Lens and Historical Mirror, by Gary Fields (May 2020)

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

We have returned, Young and Powerful
We have returned, We the Mighty
To conquer our Homeland, In a storm of War,
To redeem our land, with a lofty hand,
With blood and fire, Judea fell
With blood and fire, Judea shall rise

—A song sung by a radical political party in Israel, The Zealots, in the 1930s, and published by Uri Avnery, in his magazine, Ha Olam Hazeh, February 5, 1975

PHOTOS

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Shaker Issa Odeh was born in 1933 in Al-Malha, a village to the west of Jerusalem. It is bordered by Beit Safafa, al-Katamon, Ein Karem, alJoura, Lifta, Diryasin, and Beit Jala. Most of the villagers were farmers who planted vegetables and fruits. Some of them were laborers working in quarries and stone carving manufacture. The village contained five main clans and was headed by sheik Abdul Fattah Darwish. Al-Malha (means salty) was named after the water spring in the village that contains salty water. The people of the village were all Arabs and no Jews lived there before 1948. Near Almalha, Jews established the settlement of Sharafat, and headed by a man named Sofer. People heard about the massacre of Deir Yassin and were afraid of murder and rape. Some villagers wanted to defend their home and participated in battles that took place in the vicinity, such as in Qastal and Qatmoun.

It was the fasting month of Ramadan (July) when the Jews attacked Al-Malha. People of the village decided to fight, and there were some rebels “Mujahideen” in the village with a few old Egyptian rifles. Each one had only 5 bullets, most of them unusable. Bullets were extremely expensive, half a Palestinian pound for 5 bullets. With their modest rifles, villagers tried to defend the village but could not withstand the Jewish militia. On that day in the month of Ramadan, when the attack was heavy on the village from the western side, men of the village asked women and children to leave temporarily to nearby Beit Jala for protection. At night, the Jewish gangs violently attacked the village and expelled the rest of the inhabitants who had remained. At least three people from the village were martyred. That night, the village was occupied, and men were forced to follow their families who had gone to nearby Beit Jala the previous morning.

Shaker said: “on that day, my father asked my sisters and my mother to move temporarily to Beit Jala. I followed them later in the afternoon walking alone to Beit Jala. We rented a room temporarily. During that night, my father came to Beit Jala, after Zionists occupied had Al-Malha. Then we moved from Beit Jala to Bethlehem where the Egyptian army accommodated refugees in a building named Binny which had been previously a prison for women. 25 refugee families from Ein Kerem, Lifta, Diryasin and Almalha lived in the building. We lived there for 1 year, after which we moved to Ras al-Amud in Jerusalem and then moved to al-Bireh and Ramallah.

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After 1967, Abu Maher visited Al-Malha village for the first time and found it not destroyed. The houses were there, and Jews from Iraq and Tunisia lived in them. He found that the village mosque had been turned into a bar. Although Shaker holds a Jerusalem ID card and lives in Jerusalem, he is not allowed to return to live in his hometown, simply because he is a Palestinian. Ironically, when he became elderly, he returned once to Almalha, stayed for several days, and watched the sunset and sunrise in his old village. Those were among his best days when he had been admitted to an Israeli hospital built on his village’s lands.

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With his son, in his son’s home in Ramallah—Fareed Taamallah on the left, my colleague, journalist, activist farmer, and FaceBooketeer who lives in Ramallah

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Fareed’s son in the darkest shirt, with his son’s friend

LINKS

TO BE CONTINUED

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From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

Nakba-Amari-refugee-Palestine-Israel_DSC3400.jpg

As Israel prepares to extend its rightful sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”), we bear a historic – and moral – responsibility to accurately call this event what it is: reunification. Israel is reuniting families, communities, and the Jewish people. It is reuniting with its history, which stretches back thousands of years. It is reunifying the traditions and culture that have survived and even thrived through adversity, animosity, and the horrors of countless wars….

It’s not ‘annexation’; it’s reunification, By Gerard Filitti, in The Times of Israel (June 28, 2020)

PHOTOS:

Khadija Alazza (Um Ghazi) was born in 1932 in a small village between the flat land of the coastal plain and the mountains to the east, which she described as a paradise. “We lived the best of life; we planted wheat, barley, corn, sesame, tomato and okra, in addition to olives, apples, figs, cactus and almonds, and we were self-sufficient.”

The village of Tal Essafi is located on a hill between Hebron and Ramleh, bordered by the villages of Ajoor, Dirdaban, Moghlis and Berkusia. Moreover, Jews built a kibbutz named Kfar Menachem on Palestinian land between Tal Essafi and Masmiyi. At the edge of the village, there was a water storage shed where water pumped from the well was stored in the water tanks. Khadija’s father owned much land, and plowmen and harvesters worked with him. She was not required to work in farming, and so was spoiled.

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Tal Essafi, 2013. photo by Liadmalone

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Tal Assif, 2010, from the mound looking east, photo from the internet

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The Jewish gangs, especially the Haganah [one of the precursors of the Israeli army], began to attack the Palestinian villages after they had conquered cities. Agrarian people heard about the massacre of Deir Yassin and were frightened. Jewish gangs displaced Arabs from one village to another. “It was midsummer and the people had already harvested; they had laid down the piles of wheat to be threshed. Some Palestinians resisted the gangs but had only a few old guns. They were not able to respond to the large attacks by Jewish gangs. Khadija says: “The gangs surrounded the village from the west side and left the eastern side open, and killed a number of people of the village. Our fighters withdrew, and we fled to the nearby village of Ajoor, walking on foot and without carrying anything with us. After a day and a night of walking we arrived in Ajoor.”

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Khadija spent three days with her family in Ajoor. “The people of Ajoor kindly received us; they fed and accommodated us in their homes.” Then the Zionist gangs attacked Ajoor, and the people again fled to the east, this time to the village of Beit Jibrin, which is located in a high area. People walked two days without water. They stayed in Beit Jibrin 3-4 months, and then Jewish gangs started attacking Beit Jibrin. There was strong resistance which lasted for three days. “They bombarded the town with artillery and warplanes, and people fled into the caves in mountains. The gangs entered the town from the west, and we again fled east. We walked for 3 days, and we passed through the village of Ithtna and slept there for a night. We continued 2 days more walking until we arrived in Hebron.”

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Ajoor/Ajjur, 2019, photo by Skip Schiel

“We sat under the vineyards for twenty days, and there were lots of displaced people. A friend of my father from Hebron named Haj Osman al-Hamour, was looking for us, took us to his house, and we lived all summer and winter in his house. There was much snow that year.

“Due to cold weather, the Jordanian army came and took the people to the mosques. Some people went to the caves, and when the snow came down, they died there.

“We spent a year and a half in Hebron, during which my brothers were ‘infiltrating’ into the ‘occupied land,’ that is, into our own village, to bring food, wheat, and money from our house in Tal Essafi. My father did not like what my brothers did, and decided to go down to Jericho to prevent his children from infiltrating. We had settled in Aqabat Jabr refugee camp near Jericho and my brothers worked in the citrus fields because they were good farmers.

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Refugee camp, Jericho, 2005, photo by Skip Schiel

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Jericho, 2015

“I married Mahmud Sharqawi, a refugee from Kafr Ana, and we moved to the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah. After the 1967 war, my parents and siblings were displaced to Jordan, while I stayed in the West Bank. In 1975, my husband died, and I remained with my children and daughters in the Amari camp.

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After the setback of the 1967 war, Khadija went to Tal El Safi several times with her children—the last of which was in 1998—and found the village completely destroyed. On the ruins were some fig trees and cactus. Part of the mosque was still standing. Um Ghazi lives now with her children in the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah and visits her siblings in Jordan from time to time because they are forbidden by Israel to return or visit Palestine. Um Ghazi bemoans the homeland and her life there. She remembers the pile of wheat which remained un-threshed. She wishes the time will come when she can die and be buried in her hometown.

Cafit030.jpgArcheological site of Gath, in Arabic Tal Essafi, photo from Wikipedia
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With Fareed Taamallah, my colleague, from Ramallah

LINKS

Khadija Alazza bemoans the pile of wheat, which remained un-threshed, (from which I draw this blog), by Fareed Taamallah (2019)

Lost land: Nakba survivors recall rural struggle in Mandate-era Palestine, also by Fareed Taamallah (2020)

Tell es-Safi

Ibriq (Community)

Palestine Film Institute

TO BE CONTINUED

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From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. (With major assistance from Fareed Taamallah, my colleague in Ramallah)

Neama-Nakba-Jalazone-Palestine-Israel-_DSC3213

Neama Zaid

…refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible; Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations…

—UN General Assembly, adopted Dec 11, 1948, 35 for, 15 against, 8 abstained

PHOTOS

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1880 Palestine Exploration Fund (click map for enlargement)

Notes from our interview.

She lives alone in a large house in the Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah.

She was 10 years old in 1948 when Israel forcibly expelled her and her family from Beit Nabala.

She recalls many details of her life in the village

Beit Nabala was a prosperous, agricultural, self-sufficient village.

Her grandfather owned a quarry. He partnered with Jewish people but during the Nakba lost the business; she doesn’t know what happened.

The Jews from nearby Tel Aviv spoke Arabic.

Villagers west of Beit Nabala fled earlier, her village was one of the last to flee toward the east. Rushed and frantic, her mother accidentally brought salt instead of flour.

Her family fled first to Budrus and then Ramallah.

The British supported the Jews; she believed they plot against the Arabs. The British caused or facilitated or allowed the Nakba.

Arabs had no weapons; the British would execute Arabs with weapons. “The Jewish” as many Palestinians call the Jewish militia and military bombed the village. Jews came from mountains, and the Arabs fled to other mountains.

Later, post-Nakba, Jordan stationed its army on the “truce line” (Green Line?), as if an agreement to stop Arabs from returning to their homes.

Budrus residents fled to Ramallah, and then were told to return; thus, her father expected to return to Beit Nabala, but her mother realized they wouldn’t return. (This during 1948-1951)

Why did she settle in Jalazone?

No jobs in the refugee villages; some jobs in Jordan.

She married, stayed with (friends or family?), and had 5 boys and 3 girls. Some of her children live in nearby villages, her sister in Jalazone. She travels to visit kids and siblings mostly in Jordan, some live in Jalazone. Some of her family live in Jordan and can’t come into Palestine, but she can go there.

(At the end of our interview) she sang for us a sad song about her village, as had another woman we met. And made us coffee.

LINKS

‘Raining Bullets on Beit Nabala’ – Beit Nabala, Ramle district (VIDEO FROM BADIL-2013)
Miriam Backer was 15 years old when Beit Nabala came under sustained Zionist military assault and was eventually entirely depopulated in 1948. Her memories of those days are still very vivid but also very painful. Fleeing whilst cradling her newborn baby daughter in her arms, Miriam remembers the ‘bullets raining down’ on the village and her fellow villagers who never lived to tell their stories.

For the first time in 70 years, Palestinians return to their villages [including Beit Nabala], by Shatha Hammad (2018)
To commemorate Land Day, group of Palestinian refugees returned to the villages they were expelled from in 1948.

The return to Bait Nabala by former residents—video by Zochrot (2016)-below

Beit Nabala (Zochrot)

Beit Nabala (Palestine Remembered)

society Palestine جمعية بيت نبالا-فلسطين/beit nabala society palestine

Also from Beit Nabala, Fatima Nakhli (Um Yousef)

Memories of Nakba from those who survived it, a review of the book Palestine is our Home, edited by Nahida Halaby Gordon, published in 2016, reviewed by Rod Such (2017)

Israel, annexation and the West Bank explained, BBC (June 16, 20200
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is planning to effectively annex parts of the occupied West Bank in what would be a major – and highly controversial – act.

Minnesota police trained by Israeli police, who often use knee-on-neck restraint (June 2020)

TO BE CONTINUED

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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now from home in Cambridge Massachusetts, after I had photographed internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. (I plan a return journey from May 15 thru July 10, 2019 (including two weeks with the Alternatives to Violence Project team). Please see my updated GoFundMe campaign for details of the next trip, a review of the last, and an appeal for financial help.)

Large [Palestinian Arab] villages crowded in population and surrounded by cultivated land growing olives, grapes, figs, sesame, and maize fields … Would we be able to maintain scattered settlements among these existing villages that will always be larger than ours? And is there any possibility of buying their [land]?… and once again I hear that voice inside me calling: evacuate [ethnically cleanse] this country.” (emphasis in the original)

— Yosef Weitz, Expulsion Of The Palestinians, 1941, p. 133

PHOTOS

October 17, 2018, Wednesday, Jerusalem, Old City

Using maps, ignoring maps, gassing up in Bethlehem where I’d been based (gas is definitely cheaper in Palestine than in Israel, more than half, or so I rudely calculate), knowing the terrain well enough that I can simply drive north from my hotel straight thru the whitewashed checkpoint (literally whitewashed), and find—after a great deal of traffic and perhaps some miscalculated map directions, that’s the harrowing part, stuck in traffic, missing turns, backtracking, passing two accident sites: this is how many Jerusalemites live 5 days per week, making the self-reported stress level because of traffic higher than that from security issues, yes, truly, so a recent poll among Israelis found—the site of Deir Yassin, now the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center. The center was first built from converted Arab housing, allowed to deteriorate, then, after an outcry (not about the massacre there but about the conditions and treatment), renovated again. Oh, if only I could enter (not as a patient, but if needed—it once treated people for the Jerusalem syndrome, people believing they were the reincarnated Jesus)—a patient, with cameras ablazing.

But I managed. I first went behind the large complex, thinking I’d be less noticed, and photographed the fence and thru the fence. Several Orthodox Jewish schools sit behind the site; kids sounded joyful. What, dear teacher, do you teach about the complex and its history? I noticed men carting what looked like construction debris out of one building, possibly further renovation, possibly carrying remnants of the history. I was careful to not be spotted. Mostly I show backs of buildings, not ideal. But for any glimpse, no matter how cursory, I am indeed grateful. Then the front, thru the fence again, and as I drove off, one hand on the wheel, the other operating the camera, swiftly to not be noticed, stopped and forced to delete images, I made a small set of seriously overexposed views of the gated entrance.

 

I’d not realized how high Deir (Deir in Arabic means monastery) Yassin (a surname) had been, a hilltop, with views in all directions. Spectacular. How much can current internees, patients, see from this hilltop? How aware are they and the staff of the site’s history. How much do neighbors know? What are they willing to admit? What about former residents of Deir Yassin? Have they returned? Has anyone organized a pilgrimage? My visit felt like a private pilgrimage, to be shared with others thru my photography and writing, if anything useful emerges. A fine culmination for my two-month tour of photographic duty.

Earlier while near the site of another destroyed Arab village, Beit Nattif, having just discovered the utility of GPS coordinates (I found recent posted photos of the site, cisterns, etc, and used them to locate the village site), Ayed, my friend and confidant from Aida refugee camp, phoned to ask how I was, where I was and what I was doing. I told him about my new idea to add another dimension to the expulsion stories: how had the expelled people traveled from their villages to eventually reach a refuge? That maybe we could work together, he for pay, for us to re-interview people about this new dimension. He was excited. He offered that he thought maybe many had collected together and walked to Hebron. Then to their refuges, possibly using motorized or animal-propelled transport. I’d like to research this. During another phone call with Ayed while I was exploring destroyed villages, across the impenetrable by him Green Line separating the West Bank from 1948 Israel, he’d reminded me how desperately he wished to join me in my return to Palestinian homelands. Unfortunately, despite his family’s original home being in what is now considered Israel, across the Green Line, he is unable to join me.

Another time, Ayed, hoping.

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Ayed Al-Azzeh with his daughter, Rowaida, third generation refugee

 

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Less than 1 mile straight line, less than 3 miles by official roads separates Deir Yassin and Yad Vashem. A visitor to to the Holocaust Memorial can look out over the valley and beyond to see the site of Deir Yassin. (Click/tap map for enlargement)

 

LINKS

A Circle of Violence: Deir Yassin to Har Nof, by James M. Wall (2014)

Palestinians mark 68th anniversary of Deir Yassin massacre (2016), by Kate

Born in Deir Yassin, a video by Neta Shoshani (2016)

Yad Vashem Sited on Deir Yassin Massacre Site

Deir Yassin: There was no Massacre, by Eliezer Tauber (2018)

A Borrowed Village, A film by Shirli Michalevicz / Israel (2010)

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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Palestinian Refugees in Gaza & the West Bank

SECOND PHASE OF THE PROJECT—UPDATED: MARCH 30, 2019

We must never ignore the injustices that make charity necessary, or the inequalities that make it possible.

—Michael Eric Dyson

To donate please go to my GoFundMe campaign

LATEST

Since returning home in mid October 2018 I have steadily selected, processed, and posted photos, movies, and writing from my two months in Palestine-Israel—and  now I’m about to return.

During that two-month autumnal period—one of the most beautiful seasons in the region—I interviewed and photographed twelve Palestinians, mostly first generation refugees (expelled during the Nakba in 1947-48, the Palestinian Catastrophe coincident with the foundation of the Israeli state); four were second and third generation refugees. I also located all the destroyed villages they’d lived in, eight of them, an arduous process because of deliberate disappearance and replacement by Israeli communities and parks, and because of their new names, the process of Judaization.

I plan to return to the region from mid May to mid July 2019 to continue my project. Simultaneously I’ve been commissioned to document the work of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), especially in Gaza if our entry application to Israel is accepted, also in the West Bank and Israel. AVP teaches—with local partners—non-violent resolution of conflict. This continues the documentation I began last fall in Hebron, Ramallah, and Bethlehem.

I’ve consulted closely with a Palestinian raised in the Aida refugee camp, a Palestine-American academic and anthropologist, and an Jewish American-Israeli who is working on a parallel project. All three live near me in the Boston area. I’ve applied for an internship with BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, hoping to mutually fertilize our work. I will again consult with Zochrot, an Israeli NGO that advocates for the Palestinian right of return. I hope to also coordinate with B’Tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Right in Israel.

As far as I know I am the first to attempt a photographic project about this theme.

Please see: recent photography and recent blogs

Directory  of those photographed

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Rowaida Al Azzeh (Um Waleed), eighty three years old, coming from a village near Bethlehem, Beit Jibreen

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Former mosque, village of Al Qabu, Israel

BACKGROUND OF THE PROJECT

The issues erupting from Palestine-Israel have troubled me for decades, as they have the world community. Mainstream media tends to justify Israel’s positions. Currently and alarmingly the United States’ president and Israel’s prime minister are particularly close, heading largely right-wing governments. Inflaming the conflict, our president has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and sanctioned Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights. He has also cut all funding for UNRWA, the UN Refugee Works Administration responsible for refugees services. Many think this is a prelude to ending the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Most of the international community rejects these decisions. Policies of my administration and much of the congress are counterproductive to fostering justice, peace, and security for the region.

Since 2003 I’ve visited the region to witness and interpret conditions, making many friends and colleagues among both Palestinians and Israelis. And I’ve photographed Palestinian refugees in camps in Gaza and the West Bank, but their diaspora extends worldwide, forming the largest and longest-lasting case of displaced persons in the world today.

For my interim report (written on December 4, 2018) and discussion about my choice to render portraits in black and white, and current living conditions of those I’ve met, interviewed, and photographed, as well as their regions of expulsion, now in Israel, in color, please see my blog, Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Lands (or On Our Way Home)—part 8—INTERIM REPORT & BLACK AND WHITE VS COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Many times in the entire region, many photos, writing, and movies later, I now attempt to broaden the constricted picture many North Americans have of the overall Palestine-Israel situation.  Major questions: what happened during the expulsions? What were their lives before the Nakba? How did people travel to sites of refugee, what could they bring with them, have they ever returned to visit? How do people forced from their homelands presently live compared with Israelis in those former Palestinian homelands? How are the stories transmitted thru the generations? Do they wish to return, under what conditions? And generally how might a right of return for Palestinians work?

* (Great March of Return)

I hope to contribute my small effort to resolving the conflict, fostering justice, security, equality, and freedom for all human beings in that troubled region.

SKIP SCHIEL


I’ve been a photographer, filmmaker, and writer for most of my adult life. Struggles for justice and peace in different parts of the world have been my main concentration.

While in South Africa in 1990 and then again 8 years later during one of several of my international pilgrimages, I began to understand the parallels between conflicts in South Africa and Palestine-Israel. Apartheid, an Afrikaner word meaning separation—which I interpret it as Separation with Hate—operates in various forms in both regions. In Auschwitz in 1995 I learned more directly about the holocaust, which helped propel the creation of the Israeli state. I was raised Catholic and imagined Jesus walking thru the dusty Holy Land with his disciplines. Thus grew my curiosity, leading to my concern about that region. And then finally in 2003, during the end of the Second Intifada (Palestinian Uprising), the year an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer crushed and killed Rachel Corrie as she protected a Palestinian home, I was on my way East. This began one of the most meaningful journeys of my life.

I’ve photographed widely in Israel and Palestine, many different populations, many different activities: Israelis training as first responders, Palestinians living in tents, Israelis walking and shopping in Jerusalem and Haifa, Palestinians studying at various levels and ages, and Israeli middle school students investigating local archeology. I’ve explored all the areas of Israel, West Bank, and Gaza (except for the Sinai which is currently too dangerous to enter). For this project I hone my focus: refugees inside Palestine-Israel.

Please see my blog for more about my motivations for this project .

PALESTINIANS

Many families are from villages and rural areas now in Israel. This includes regions in southern Israel, where some 75% now in Gaza once lived, like Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Jaffa; where many now in the West Bank once lived, their original homes now in Israel’s central region, Lodz and Ramla, for instance; and internally displaced persons in northern Israel, Ein Hod, now an Israeli art colony, and Safad. Those from the north often fled to refugee camps in Lebanon and other countries. According to the latest estimates from BADIL, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, in 2015 there were 334,600 internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian occupied territories. With an additional 384,200 internally displaced persons in Israel, which for this trip if time allows I may explore. (A person is an internally displaced refugee if expelled from one’s original home and not allowed return, otherwise an internally displaced person.)

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Short Walk Home, Long Walk to Freedom 95 Palestinians Killed in Gaza by Israel during the March of Return, April 1, 2018-May 26, 2018. As of March 22, 2019 about 271 Palestinians have died. (Click for full view of this graphic )

Palestinians are one of the longest colonized populations— in 1948 and again in 1967 during the Six Day War by Israel, meaning the occupation of the West Bank and later the siege of Gaza—and still living in diaspora. I have shown the reality of the matrix of control, walls and fences, checkpoints, permits, home demolitions, restricted roads, inordinate fines, deportations, targeted assassinations, leveling of entire neighborhoods, violent repression of nonviolent demonstrations, etc. As well as survival mechanisms, the family, faith communities, organizations, political action, etc. Now I have the opportunity, thanks to contacts in Gaza and the West Bank, to show more widely the consequences of colonization and expulsion.

One in three refugees in the world are Palestinian. Nearly seven million Palestinian refugees live in some 14 countries. (UN Refugee Works Administration and UN High Commission on Refugees)

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Israeli mortar shell fired at Palestinian village in Gaza


After an attack by the Israeli military on a government building in Gaza

LOGISTICS

In mid May 2019, I return. Assuming Israel grants me an entry permit, I will enter Gaza; if unable to enter Gaza I will concentrate on the West Bank, expecting to complete the project after several more trips by the middle of 2021.  Despite the recurring turmoil in that region, I’ve always managed entry to Israel, the West Bank and periodically Gaza. I can’t guarantee entry this time, only that I will try my best. Despite the political uncertainties I intend to maintain focus on Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. This is a multi-year project.

As in the past, I will create exhibits, slideshows, blogs, movies, and ultimately a multi platform book (meaning full use of print and the internet). As with all my projects I will post photos and writings on my website and blog—dispatches from the field.

BUDGET FOR THE SECOND PHASE: $9,000

·      Airfare -$1500
·      Transport in country – $1000
·      Compensation and donations to  colleagues – $1000
·      Contributions to organizations working for Palestinian rights in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel- $1000
·      Food and lodging – $1500
·      Photographic equipment and supplies – $1000
·      Post production—developing, editing, printing, slideshow making, etc –  $2000

GOALS

By presenting powerful and contrasting images of life in the current and original sites of internally displaced Palestinian refugees, I hope to build awareness and inspire action. The end result: beyond coexistence to a breath-taking sharing of the region, its resources, histories, luminaries, and potential. A true Holy Land.

* The plea of refugees in Gaza to return to their ancestral villages now in Israel is the central focus of the Great March to Return. It began on April 2, 2018, was planned to end on May 15, 2018, but as of this writing (April 1, 2019) is ongoing. These dates mark two important historical events, Land Day when 6 Palestinians were killed as they attempted to return to their villages in 1976, and Nakba Day marking the beginning of The Catastrophe, or the Grand Dispossession in 1948.

Between March 30, 2018 and March 22, 2019 Israeli army snipers have killed nearly 271 Palestinians, mostly unarmed, with approximately 29,187 wounded, including 25% wounded by live ammunition, many with life-threatening injuries often caused by exploding bullets. Nearly 5,000 of the injuries and 41 of the fatalities were children. This overwhelms the already stressed medical system. Compared with 2 Israeli deaths and 56 injuries. (UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Because of the ongoing violence we may need to postpone entering Gaza until violence abates. In that case I will be mostly in the West Bank and Israel.

Here precisely is why entering Gaza is now nearly impossible (but we keep trying), partly a result of Israel’s alleged use of exploding bullets:

…Many of the injured suffered extensive bone and tissue damage from gunshot wounds, requiring very complex surgeries. Between 30 March 2018 and 28 February 2019, 120 amputations took place as the result of injuries sustained during demonstrations, including 21 children, with 22 people paralyzed due to spinal cord injuries and nine people suffering permanent sight loss. The Health Cluster estimated that by the end of 2018, over 1,200 patients with limb injuries would require complex and timely limb reconstructive surgery; these are highly complex injuries that, if not treated, may heighten the risk of secondary amputations.

These challenges come on top of existing, systemic challenges to Gaza’s health sector in the context of more than eleven years of blockade. Since 2006-7, there has been a reduction in human resources for health, per head of the population; long-term shortages and depletion of essential medicines and medical supplies; and electricity shortages and power fluctuations causing dependence on emergency fuel for generators and resulting in damage and the reduced lifespan of sensitive hospital equipment.  Since mid-2017, in the context of the intra-Palestinian divide between the Ramallah and Gaza authorities, medicines and other medical supplies, salaries for medical staff, funds for auxiliary medical services such as sterilization at hospitals, delays in countersigning of referrals, and fuel for energy that supports critical health facilities have been reduced, which has hampered the ability of the health system in Gaza to adequately respond to needs….Home

 

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Refugee camp in Gaza


Demonstration for human rights in Gaza, a Die-In in Boston, April 2018

SAMPLES OF MY WORK

Book  (Eyewitness Gaza)

Movie (same title as book, Eyewitness Gaza)-link on the thumbnail immediately below.

Photographs

Blog

TESTIMONIALS

Skip Schiel has been documenting the Palestinian and Israeli reality through photographs and journal postings since 2003. They contribute 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, Holocaust survivor

Skip Schiel photographs not only with his eyes but with his heart.

—Fares Oda, former staff American Friends Service Committee, Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories

It saddens me to hear of the difficulties Skip is going through [finding an audience]. This is discouraging for us who are struggling in the situation. I never would have suspected that his pictures were not balanced. The first act of nonviolent resistance is to tell the truth. His pictures shared that. Let’s pray our dear friend does not give up!

—Jean Zaru, Palestinian Quaker and activist, Ramallah, Palestine

Skip’s creative ministry has challenged, informed and inspired our [Quaker] Meeting for many years. His work is a visual reminder to us of the importance of remaining faithful to our peace and social justice testimonies.

—Cathy Whitmire, Former presiding clerk, Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quaker)

You capture such powerful, symbolic moments in your work, that reach beyond the context they are in. I admire your brave tenacity and commitment to documentation of this struggle for justice.

—Marjorie Wright, filmmaker (Jews Step Forward) and activist

Your sensitivity to light and emotion is dramatic, the brilliant daylight framing the sad courageous eyes and brave determined expressions of our Gaza neighbors, as they face such a cruel, demented, and terrifying adversary.

I think you are very brave too, and I thank you deeply for shining a true light on [the situation].

—John Paulman

SELECTED PHOTOS FROM MY WORK IN GAZA


Relative of family member imprisoned by Israel


In a refugee camp trauma treatment program


A celebration at the Qattan Center for the Child


Limited free desalinated water


At the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, picking thru garbage

EXTRA INFORMATION

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

We [the Haganah, precursor to the official Israeli military, IDF] adopt the system of aggressive defence; during the assault we must respond with a decisive blow: the destruction of the [Arab] place or the expulsion of the residents along with the seizure of the place.

—David Ben Gurion, leader of the Jewish community in Palestine and later Prime Minister, December 19, 1947, cited in Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Reality

 

 

October 15, 2018, Monday, Bethlehem

PHOTOS 

Yesterday [October 14, 2018] I found or believe I found Al Qabu, the village of Nidal Al-Azraq’s family. I’d first first explored the nearby Israeli village/moshav/kibbutz, Mevo Beitar. And also Ilar/Alar/Ellar (alternate English spellings of Arabic names), the village of Ahmad Ali Dawoud’s (who I’d interviewed and photographed). Plus the Israeli site, Bar Giora. I need to consult my photos with the GPS coordinates to pinpoint reliably were I was, except maybe in the case of Qabu. Because of alternate transliterated spellings, Hebrewized names, lack of experience with Arabic and Hebrew names generally, and the intentional erasure of Arab villages, this is one of the most complicated photographic projects of my life.

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Al Qabu/El Kabu, Ottoman period, 1870’s (click map to enlarge)

 

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(Click map to enlarge)

Qabu presented a special challenge: where exactly was or is the site? As often happens (me searching for Rachel Corrie’s death site in Gaza for instance), various people had various ideas. A woman in a gas station, the station rumored to be near the site, confirmed that yes, this is the site. So I surveyed from a distance an open field, gently sloping, with curious concrete platforms and possible stone markings—and occasional clumps of prickly pear cactus, otherwise known as sabra (which is also the name of first generation Israelis).

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Prickly pear cactus/sabra/צברtzabar)

Driving thru an open gate, thinking, yes, Qabu, let’s find the Crusader church reported to still exist in Qabu—over rough roads, oh valiant friends—I ended up at a cemetery. Cars were parked outside, a woman told me it was not the church but a Jewish cemetery, and thus I concluded, this is not Qabu.

Out comes my laptop; up comes the info I’d collected; no help. Then I remembered Nidal’s description: immediately right after the checkpoint. Going which way? I emailed him, no answer. I guessed: coming from the West Bank. So I went thru the checkpoint on the 48 Armistice Line, headed into the West Bank, noticed as I passed (not sure I’d be stopped, questioned, what I’d claim), a forest area on my left, which would be on the right coming into Israel. Now in the West Bank I turned around, slowed down after the checkpoint (no interrogation, the guards looked bored, as guards often do, devoting eons of their lives to just waiting for something to happen, trying to remain awake and vigilant), videoed the fence which I thought would prohibit me from entrance, considered hopping the fence, decided against it, and then saw a sign to “Begin Park.” Once in the park I learned it commemorated the former Prime Minister and possible war criminal, Menachem Begin.

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“In Memory of Aliza and Menachem Begin,” the latter a former Prime Minister of Israel, known for leading a terrorist group to establish the state of Israel

How ironic, if this is Qabu. Exploring, I found a shrine and several other Arab indicators, a stonewall, a pool possibly for collecting water or bathing. Because the day waned, the light faded, I decided not to search further for the church. My mission is not to find historic sites, but to establish contact with ancestral sites and make some good photos.

Earlier, maybe at Mevo Beitar or Bar Giora (they merge in memory), I’d sought overnight housing. A young pregnant woman I asked turned her infant over to her grandmother (life goes on), walked me to a home she thought might offer housing. The woman in the house phoned someone, her sister-in-law I think she said, and put me on the phone. 550 shekels/$150. Beyond my budget, I answered. What is your budget, thinking, calculating—200 shekels/$50. Sorry no deal, she said. I drove on.

Life is tough on the Israeli road when not in the cities.

Yesterday or the day before, Ayed in Aida refugee camp had written me, in support and yearning:

Hello my friend skip. I hope that things are going well with you. I couldn’t be with you Saturday even though I am dying to visit beit jibreen and other villages. Lucky you, my friend. I am so thrilled, honored and happy about meeting you and knowing you. I wish all the best.

Me:

Hello dear friend, ayed. I too am sad we couldn’t be together THIS TIME, maybe later. I explored ajjur today, now sit in the new moshav of agur, wondering where to go next. Maybe beit jibreen.

Earlier, before I’d located Qabu, in what is probably another destroyed Arab village, now called Britanya, at the first picnic site, I sat along the road beside my car eating my lunch. Gradually joyful sounds came closer to me until they came from directly behind me. I turned around and discovered a children playing in a large tree, the same family I’d spotted earlier at a picnic table and surreptitiously photographed. A boy about 14 years old asked me what I was doing (the only inquiry so far, and not with suspicion or rancor). I answered photographing beautiful nature (a half-truth, or one-quarter truth. Consulting with some of the adults he recommended about five sites including the Dead Sea. Later the two families set off on a hike into the valley. I learned that this trail system is art of a cross-nation trail. I’ve seen lots of bikers and signs warning of cyclists. A physically healthy and happy nation, or so it seems.

I pondered asking the boy, say, do you know anything about the history of this park, did anyone live here long ago?

My excursion provokes several thoughts. What was life on the road for the refugees of 1948 and 1967, in the Qabu to Bethlehem case, a climb and descent of 200 meters or 650 feet, and a distance of 14.3 km or nearly 10 miles? Carrying the little luggage and valuables they could carry, possibly carrying the elderly. Unsure if they’d ever return to their homes. Where to go for refuge? How to establish a new home? Where’s the justice in all this? Would they survive? Living in a tent, in a camp, in the winter. With many other families. All we want is to be ordinary, said Darwich.

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Another thought: homeless in the USA, the richest country in the world, perhaps, and in history, perhaps. Yet people live on the streets, Chip for instance, thru the year, in the winter, Chip apparently sufficiently provisioned even if minimally so.

Another: displacement because of gentrification. The folks who consulted with me about 11 Sacramento St, Cambridge Massachusetts, my new neighbors, and now have moved in, may have displaced Nicole and Ronen. Where do Nicole and Ronen go, why was they displaced? Or Stan, my buddy Stan, who by now may be out of his apartment, maybe in Arlington elderly housing with much less space? I wrote him a few days ago, hope to hear at least moderately good news from him. I may write his daughters.

Or me, potentially, forced out because of gentrification. Or earlier as a 14-year-old boy—not forced displacement for my parents—but for me moving from Chicago’s South Side, away from friends I’d grown up with for 10 years, this was an abrupt and painful displacement.

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Jalila Al Azraq (Um Qasim), 80 years old, from the village of Al Qabu—photographs by Skip Schiel

LINKS

Al Qabu (Wiki)

Palestinian Refugees & their Ancestral Lands (or On Our Way Home)—part 14—Jalila Al Azraq (Um Qasim), 80 years old, from the village of Al Qabu by Skip Schiel

In Menachem Begin’s Rise, Lessons for the #Resistance to Trump, By Liel Leibovitz

Mevo Beitar, an Israeli cooperative village (Moshav Shitufi) built on former Al Qabu land (click for video tour of Mevo Beitar)

Farming while Palestinian: a World Water Day outrage by  )

A Conversation With The Palestinian Non-Violence Activist Who Sparked Gaza Marches by Steve Bynum (

TO BE CONTINUED

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

Amongst ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. After the Arabs are transferred, the country will be wide open for us; with the Arabs staying the country will remain narrow and restricted … There is no room for compromise on this point … land purchasing … will not bring about the state … The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. Not a single village or a single tribe must be left. And the transfer must be done through their absorption in Iraq and Syria and even in Transjordan. For that goal, money will be found – even a lot of money. And only then will the country be able to absorb millions of Jews … there is no other solution.

—Yousef Weitz, diary, December 20, 1940

PHOTOS

October 13, 2018, Saturday, Jerusalem, Old City, Golden Gates Hostel

I’ve done a fair amount of research about locations and routes. Nidal helped last night when I belatedly realized I’d not included his family’s origin site, Al Qabu (spelled Gabu in my notes), near Tsar Hadassah, which is near Wadi Fukin on the West Bank side of the Green Line. Most of these destroyed arab villages are near each other, which makes sense because all the folks I recently interviewed live in Aida refugee camp, proximate to the origin sites. To a large extent I expect to rely on Google Maps on my iPhone, rather than the paper maps and guidebook I brought. So much for paper, lightens the load. And perhaps directions I ask but I will need to exercise care in what I ask for, not the Arabic name, but the newly crafted Hebrewized Israeli name.

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Al Qabu/El Kabu, Ottoman period, 1870’s (click map to enlarge)

I look forward to discoveries, disappointments, good food, overnights in moshav guesthouses (no hostels that I discovered reviewing my literature last evening), and even in my car, if I can rock the seat back and sleep comfortably. I plan to go light, leave most of my luggage at the Golden Gate hostel, and hope I decide correctly what to bring.

Thinking I’m at a crossing point in this project, thus a good time to send a dispatch as I’d promised to my financial benefactors, yesterday I wrote a string of people, virtually the same message each time, personally adjusted to each person. Starting with Paul D, my first donor, followed by Shola, my second, and ending with my last so far, Diane M. They qualified by donating $25 or more. I was heartened by the list, by the image of each person, as if I carry them with me, and they carry me. I don’t recall ever doing this sort of fundraising before, where the mechanism creates a digital trail that I can readily access. Unlike earlier when I sent a physical asking letter, deposited checks, kept a record, left it at home when I traveled here, thanked only once upon receiving the money.

The message core:

diane,

thanking you again for your support and for being a neighborhood inspiration.

from the old city of jerusalem after one week in the aida refugee camp in bethlehem, now during a day off: finished with photographing (for now) internally displaced palestinian refugees in the west bank (blocked from entering gaza, maybe next spring), finished with photographing and videoing trainings of the alternatives to violence project (avp) in 3 west bank cities, now about to drive to some of the villages the people i met were expelled from in 1948 and 1967. 

samples below at the links.

onward. and later, when home in six days, i begin the next phase of this multi-trip journey: post production. as a wise person once stated, falling out of an airplane is the easy part of the trip, the hard part is when the trip ends.

—Skip (from the Old City of Jerusalem, occupied territory)

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Click image to donate

While eating a delicious chicken dinner with salad and bread that I’d picked up at the local family restaurant about 200 meters to the south of the GG hostel, and reading the latest bulletin from Friends Meeting at Cambridge (FMC), my phone rang. Minga! She dropped in via Whatsapp, asked what I was doing, heard my news, asked about my (Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) experience, who I’d met, given her cards to, and told me about recent FMC news, the Quaker birthday timeline that Chris J put together for the family meeting (which included me), and her uncertainty about going to the Texas border, El Paso for accompaniment, or to El Salvador for AVP. She then put JVB (her husband and my good friend, Jonathan) on who asked that we switch to video. I showed him around the hostel, introduced him to Lutfe, the hostel manager, who they both knew from previous stays here, and asked that we have a conversation, the 3 of us, shortly after I return, “to talk all about me,” I said. Meaning a decompression period, a digestion period, a time of reflection. I reminded him that he and Minga are the only Quakers who share so many details of Palestine-Israel experiences. Including the Christian Peacemakers Teams, Hebron, Ramallah, Jean Zaru, Ramallah Friends School, Ramallah, and right on down to the GG hostel.

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Minga via Whatsapp

Minga asked what I’d like her prayers for. Mostly in the realm of open heart, open eyes, good health, and relative safety, not too much safety, just enough. She asked me if I minded traveling alone. I answered no. Maybe now, in my current station in life, I might even prefer it. As the joke goes about the 102 yr old woman: anything good about being so old, yes, no peer pressure.

Traveling alone means no wrangling with a partner about where, when, why, and how. I recall all the fights Louise and I experienced driving cross-country in 1990, and yet, despite our fights, that trip led to one of the highlights of my experience with her, the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee. And the drive itself was monumental and unforgettable.

Also traveling with the AVP team earlier on this journey was a delight and I miss them constantly.

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Alternatives to Violence Project team at a memorial for a friend of Skip’s, Jerusalem Old City

Leaving Bethlehem thru the checkpoint I’d thought earlier I might write Katy [one of my two daughters] another note with some more photos but didn’t really have the chance. I made a few surreptitious photos as I went thru the vast mechanism, turnstiles, waiting people, and workers rebuilding the checkpoint, probably all Palestinian, and might consider, if I have time, sending her one or two with a brief account. I might include several acts of gentle kindness I experienced during this brief trip.

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Palestinian worker,  Bethlehem checkpoint 300

Among these acts of kindness:

As I stood outside my Aida guest quarters waiting for Mousa to drive me to the checkpoint, a man pulled up before the house, picked some people up, and then asked me if he could help. I told him I was waiting for Mousa. He phoned Mousa who told him he, Mousa, was waiting for me to phone him that I was ready. I didn’t know this requirement. Without that surprise benefactor I might have been waiting much longer: where the heck is Mousa?

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My luggage outside the guest house, waiting for Mousa

Mousa himself of course who’d offered to drive me when I’d asked about taxis.

Mohammed (Mousa) Al Azzeh, my organizer and translator, an accomplished photographer-videographer working for the Lejee Center in Aida-Palestine-Aida-refugee-IMG_1602 SM.jpg

Mohammed (Mousa) Al Azzeh, my organizer and translator, an accomplished photographer-videographer working for the Lejee Center in Aida refugee camp

Waiting outside the checkpoint for the big bus to Jerusalem, a long line of older folks presumably going to Al Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers, I wondered how to signal the driver to open the luggage compartment and not lose my place in line, risking he’d drive off without me and with my luggage? After I’d loaded my luggage from the outside a man told me to enter the bus ahead of others, but in effect regaining my place in line.

On the crowded bus, standing room only, me with my heavy bulky backpack and second small pack, a man who looked at least as old as me wearing a sort of turban, motioned for me to take his seat for the relatively short ride to Jerusalem. No thanks, I motioned back, pointing to my pack. Too much trouble but thanks anyway.

Maybe because it was Muslim prayer day or simply natural good heartedness and Arab hospitality, I was richly treated.

TO BE CONTINUED

Read Full Post »

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

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October 5, 2018, Saturday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

PHOTOS (of Abdel)

ABDEL

Abdel was a delight and a challenge. He insisted on talking; he was loud and energetic, especially at his age of 84; he used his hands well, an animated figure; the background was both distracting and intriguing (a small shop with a variety of objects; apparently he sells them, it might be called a junk shop); he was fully engaged with Murad who introduced me to Abdel, translated, and asked his own questions—in effect, conducted the interview—which allowed me more photographic flexibility; and his story, altho conventional, is good to consider. 

A few twists: an Egyptian helped his family flee. Jordanian soldiers worked with the Israelis to expedite removal. For a time the family lived in the forest which later became the huge settlement of Har Homa. He was shot in the knee, I’m not sure when or why, whether during expulsion or later. When seated, which was mostly when I photographed him, he looked sturdy and hearty, but when he rose with the help of his cane, he looked in pain and infirm. I try to show this contrast. Like the family of Abed Abusrour, his nephew, his original village was Beit Natiff which I plan to visit soon, if I can find it.

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Later, as we finished, a friend dropped by and asked to be photographed with the Abdel and Murad. While doing this the newcomer showed me a scar on his upper chest. To insert batteries, he explained. I nearly died. In a coma for a few hours, just collapsed. Now I feel fine. He is about 5 years younger than me. Another result of expulsion or the usual aging process?

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That was pretty much the day, along with working on my new blog about Yousef Albaba from HalHul which is nearly finished. A task for today.

October 6, 2018, Saturday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

PHOTOS (of Asaed)

ASAED

Merrily we roll along. I feel good about the project, the use of black and white for portraits, my various collaborators, slowly accommodating to the triple tasks of photographer-interviewer-sound engineer. Yesterday with Murad I interviewed a relatively young man, Asaed Abusrour, in his 50s, good in English, a former English teacher, more of an intellectual than any of the others interviewed. He dodged most or all of my questions about emotions, launching instead into analyses. For the first time I did not need to rely on translation but could speak directly, even tho Asaed was too young to have experienced the expulsion.

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His parents are also from the village of Beit Natiff which he told me is now totally destroyed and remade as an Israeli area. Complicating his family tree, both his mother and father married twice; I’m not sure why. Asked whether he was hopeful, he pointed to the grand perspective—his strong belief that this current situation cannot be sustained and will eventually resolve into some form of coexistence. Luckily I have the audio to refresh me. Trying to photograph and record and ask at the same time is daunting. I’ve never been a particularly good listener (ask Louise) but the recording, if audible, might clarify haziness.

Murad remained mostly in the background for this interview, attentive but quiet until I asked him if he had any questions or remarks to add. He asked Asaed, what would you like to see for our future? Which led Asaed to his remarks about the occupation and siege being unsustainable. And to my separate conversation with Murad about his, Murad’s—way of working toward liberation—media and teaching.

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After the interview we toured Asaed’s home, apparently living on one level with the prospect of a second, the home very large and clean. He lives there with his wife and a few children. He had no reservations about me photographing in and from the house. Again I forgot to photograph the entire building. I did photograph the roof and ground level garden from the roof.

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To get names straight I might choose a representative photograph from each sitting and then ask Murad and Mousa to write the names, attaching names to faces. It would form a sort of directory and help me later when I try to assemble everything.

Directory

Discovered: why the variation in exposure when in the camera’s back button focusing (BBF) mode (or any mode presumably). Sometime in the past I’d set for exposure bracketing (eons ago, then forgotten). Last evening I discovered this when I finally saw a pattern of wrong exposures. A series of one dark, one light, one correct. Repeatedly. I turned off bracketing exposure, made other adjustments, retested, and now I believe I’m no longer afflicted with the problem. Similarly, the rackety noise auto focus makes when in live view video mode. Turn off the frigging auto focus and focus manually. Gotta, gotta, gotta remember this. Small steps, big results.

Nearing the end of my six-week sojourn (as a flâneur, a term I recently discovered with multiple meanings. My choice: a person who saunters around observing society.) I remain unclear about what to do next week, stay or go, remain in Aida refugee camp for more photographs of people and the camp, including Dheisheh refugee camp, also in Bethlehem, or launch the next phase, searching for the destroyed Arab villages of people I’ve interviewed and photographed by car. I am drawn to places like Lydda that I’ve heard about generally or from Linda or the people in my project specifically. Would Murad or Mousa be willing to travel with me to nearby areas germane to the people in the camp? Can they, given the occupation? I might ask.

Yesterday while awaiting Murad at Rowwad, a large group approached the building. I was sitting outside. Immediately I recognized the tour guide, Elias, formerly a guide at Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem. He’d been one of our two guides for the In the Steps of the Magi walk across the Judean Desert, a monumental trip in 2004. (Ramzi from Bethlehem for the desert, Elias for after that, Ein Hod, Hebron, etc.) He’s “filled out,” that is grown pudgy; I honored him in front of others as one of the best guides I’ve experienced. Abed then met the group and toured them thru Rowwad-2.

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While sitting outside waiting for Murad, two girls, ages 8 and 9 (they told me after they’d asked my age, 77), photographed the scene, including me. So their photos may be the only photos of me-Skip-the humble photographer resting between action.

LINKS

Report: Trump to Demand Recognized Palestinian Refugees Be Capped at Tenth of Current Number (Haaretz, August 2018)

Aida refugee camp – Most tear-gassed place in the world (Jewish Voice for Peace, June 16, 2020)

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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

PHOTOS

October 5, 2018, Friday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

Aida camp where I now happily reside seems not to have the same sort of draw as Jerusalem, the same richness of history. Altho Bethlehem is often the site of violence. Maybe it’s Rachel’s fault; her tomb is nearby.

A goldmine here of another sort: participants in my refugee project. Yesterday, thanks to Abed and Murad, I photographed Abed and later an old man who Murad helped me with, the uncle of Abed, Abdel Majid Abusrour, the brother of Abed’s mother. Among the benefits of life in a refugee camp are the extended family and a compact neighborhood where most everyone knows everyone else over a long stretch of time. Kids play unattended in the streets, much like our earlier generation could play freely on the streets of our neighborhoods. One might argue—Trump might argue—that UNRWA (UN Refugee Works Administration) is not needed to service these camps. He and other critics might argue that not only do people take advantage of the refugee benefits like medical, housing, educational services, but they prefer to stay in the camp. Much the way some think homeless people prefer to be homeless, or poor people poor. And there might be some truth to that. But the suffering of all these groups eclipses their supposed benefits.

It might be like arguing that people affected by a tsunami actually benefit because of the change in scenery.

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Once again I klutzed it with my interview with Abed. About 10 minutes in, after he’d brilliantly laid out his refugee history—mother and father born in different villages near here (including Beit Natiff which I plan to photograph later), parents married I believe before displacement, displaced, family first lived in a large tent with many families in Aida, then in a small, one room block house where Abed was raised—I noticed again that the recorder was in standby rather than record mode. (I vow to set the recorder to recorder mode before I set up, so even tho some memory space might be wasted, I will not have to remember to switch to record). I recorded the rest of his story: large family, some 12 offspring, many of whom died Abed thinks because of camp conditions, expanding the house, his wife from Silwan (near Jerusalem, across the valley from where I usually visit, the east side of the Kidron Valley, the side with the burials and death monuments), and into the present moment, his family split between Silwan and Bethlehem. Abed believe Israel punishes him because of his activism, most notably giving the introductory speech during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2009.

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I’d heard Abed tell parts of this story to various audiences but not the with this much detail. He’s not written it yet, altho he’d like to, even a book. He is a practiced speaker, cogent, lively, detailed where necessary, giving an overview when more appropriate, frequently smiling, and anticipating questions like what keeps you going? In large part, he said, community. His brothers contribute money and donated their shares of the family home, now the site of the Al Rowwad Vocational Training Center or what I call Rowwad-2.

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This new building and what it contains certainly marks a new phase for Al Rowwad, maybe also for the camp and for Palestinian refugee camps generally. Another fellow, the deputy director of Rowwad, a fast talking young man with a heavy accent which made understanding him difficult toured me thru Rowwad-2. Its lower floor incorporates a cave with two tunnels that formerly people used to flee the Israeli army. High tech equipment includes a computer-assisted 3-D printer, something that burns designs into wood or plastic, huge woodworking machines, etc. And on the two top floors quarters for volunteers that resemble fancy hotels. And restaurant facilities.

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The three-part strategy is to train, provide employment for local people, and offer services. My guide told me that the rooms could rent to others besides volunteers—a hotel in a refugee camp.

(Silently I compared where I stay currently with where I might stay if volunteering or booking housing at Al Rowwad. I prefer where I am, rougher, on a more human scale.)

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My guide reminds me of several other adamant, true believers. When I asked him if he or Rowwad would work with Israeli partners who actively opposed the occupation, he said unequivocally not—the normalization syndrome. He’s similar to the Palestinian-Canadian man I’d met at the hostel in Old City Jerusalem who spoke so assuredly about the folly of evolution and the truth that we all descend from Adam and Eve—and that Allah-God exists, “as surely as you and I exist.” For my guide, the truth of his oppression generates his fervent belief in the rightness of his struggle.

One might ask, is Al Rowwad’s new expansion wise? Is it a good investment? Earlier Abed admitted that he’d embarked on the project, expanding the family home into Rowwad-2, during a more favorable fiscal climate when money seemed guaranteed. That climate has disappeared, even before Trump, and now he can’t afford to pay salaries. Abed’s folly? Or Abed’s monumental vision?

Today, being Friday, Aida is unusually quiet. No one nearby, empty streets, I’m not sure about the Lejee Center, the other cultural and educational center in the camp (pronounced la-ghee with the emphasis on la, not la-ghay, which would be French). I meet Murad at Rowwad at 1:30 to photograph more people. And I might work this morning at Lajee—if open— for the fast internet and company, but I so love working alone at home, despite the flakey, in and out internet here, that I might remain home, enjoying my privacy. After one month it’s the first privacy I’ve experienced on this trip.

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A highlight yesterday was eating shuwarma on my second floor porch in the camp: cool evening, looking out at the neighborhood and the separation/annexation/apartheid wall. Two evenings ago, while sauntering to the market and cash machine and self-guided tour of the Jacir Palace, the exclusive hotel right outside the camp, I observed night football (soccer) on what may be the only football field in the camp. Play was vigorous and hot. I tried photographing with my phone, failed because of the dim light and poor zoom. Why had I forgotten my camera?

I’ve also learned about the use of names like grandma, uncle, etc. Such people may not be blood relatives; those names might be honorifics. So when Mousa earlier told me we were to meet his grandma, she was not a blood relative. Very confusing, as usual, one challenge when crossing cultures.

I should also write or see Mousa about the man who offered to go with me to his ancestral village. Follow up-follow up-follow up, one of the keys to success.

October 7, 2018, Sunday, Bethlehem, Aida refugee camp

Researching online Rowwad’s sparkling new guest quarters, I discovered a single or double rents for $15, half what I’m paying at Lajee guest quarters. Cleaner, newer, probably everything works better, but wouldn’t I feel lonely there, with apparently so few residents? And how well does everything actually function? Where and what would I eat? An improvement over Rowwad’s old volunteer housing in the camp which I remember was long and dark with a rudimentary kitchen and one interesting housemate, someone who came and went between here and somewhere mysterious and distant. I never learned the details of his story.

Later I will seek and photograph one original site of Abed’s family, Beit Natiff. What will I find there?

Friends Of Al Rowwad

Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI at the Aida refugee camp (May 2009)

Al Rowwad Vocational Training Center

The rising of the light: Beautiful Resistance in the Aida refugee camp of Bethlehem, Occupied Territories, Palestine (by Skip Schiel, June 2009)

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