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Display about Mahmoud Darwish

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

Photos

July 27, 2009, Tuesday, Ramallah Friends School apartment:

These sketchy dreams: I smashed a man in the face and stomach, knocking him out cold, after arguing with him about passage thru a confined space, or so I recall. He was shorter than me, and tho I fought regularly when a boy, I rarely dream of fighting. Perhaps an effect of where I’m living and what I’m witnessing? The most interesting dream had me hitchhiking with a small child, I didn’t know precisely where we were going so I couldn’t say exactly to the few drivers who stopped to offer a ride what our destination was. Someone reminded me several times about the destination but I could not remember it for more than a few seconds. Was I then doomed to live out my years on this small road not knowing where I was going? IMG_0228 The Popular Achievement (PA) festival was truly gala. And large. And noisy. The Ramallah Cultural Palace was filled with excited youth as young as about 8 years and into their early 20s. I met Grace, from the same Minnesota university that originated PA (usually called Public Achievement); she is here as an intern researching the program. She told me she is the first person from the university to visit here, and that PA in Israel-Palestine is one of the most successful incarnations. Inquiring about why this might be she offered that it is badly needed here, there are few alternatives; whereas in the States, where PA has not proved popular and maybe not effective, there are many programs for youth. She feels it is also well used in the Balkans and Northern Ireland, with a strong connection between PA Palestine and in Northern Ireland. IMG_0211 We both noted, and I’d asked Thuqan, the regional coordinator, earlier about this, that this year’s sites are clustered around Jerusalem. She and Thuqan explained this was because Jerusalem needed attention, mainly the Old City, East Jerusalem and the refugee camps. By contrast, the northern West Bank, Jenin in particular, has already had many programs. I noticed also that a fair proportion of programs were one offs—meaning, the project was to do something once, like hold a conference or party, rather than a sustained activity like the library in Gaza, or the landscape maintenance work there, or the abandoned army base converted into a sports field in Jenin. Thuqan hinted that access and mobility were other factors, since I doubt anyone would have imagined the relaxation of travel restrictions that has occurred when planning sites last year. Some of the projects this year included: an education exhibit about Mahmoud Darwish, the late acclaimed Palestinian poet, projects with orphans and the elderly, establishing a gateway for a village, renovating and cleaning a youth center, enhancing a school’s wall space, developing a young child program, attending to those with special needs, teaching thru play, helping children with cancer, among others. For the festival the groups had made displays which I photographed finished and in process, and then I think some performed on stage. Here comes the dabka, in several forms, and singing, and play scenes, one about a shooting by an Israeli soldier. This phase of the festival was very lively and robust, with much participation from the audience.

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IMG_0297 The general idea of the PA is to train college age volunteers in leadership and community building skills, then require each coach, as they’re now named, to recruit a group of high school age youth and teach them the same skills in an interactive manner (using tools of Popular Education). Those youth are then required to decide on a community service project, design and implement it, and in turn require participation from sectors of the community—financial donations, volunteer participation, etc. IMG_0173 During the performances in the huge auditorium of the Ramallah Cultural Palace (which had been jointing constructed by the UN, Ramallah municipality with funding by the Japanese government, a sturdy “fact on the ground”) I was sitting midway back when suddenly a quartet of young boys began dancing in place, mostly the dabka I assume. I photographed this, then videoed it. The photos do not show the movement or the idea, the video very effectively does. (Please scroll down for the video.) During the routine the music suddenly stopped but the dancers continued, responding to clapping from a large contingent of audience sitting to one side. IMG_0291

Dabka, the traditional Palestinian dance

The show seemed self running. Thuqan had introduced the program, greeted the honored guests, which included the prime minister, Dr. Salam Fayad. Earlier as I wandered the halls looking for photos I noticed men with guns, Kalashnikovs, Uzis, pistols, men wearing with different uniforms. Who are these guys? I asked Thuqan nervously, they seem to contradict the non violent tone and principles of the PA program. They’re preparing for the visit by Dr. Fayad, he explained to me. I assume security is tight because of the threat from Hamas. Or perhaps there are other political and personal rivals I’m not aware of. At any rate, their presence added excitement. IMG_0257

Thuqan K. Qishawi, Middle East Coordinator for Youth Programs, American Friends Service Committee

The auditorium was frigid. And the presentations became repetitive, and I couldn’t understand the language, and being with so many jubilant people tires me out, especially when I don’t share the jubilation—tho I share the appreciation and wish to express gratitude. And of course I have to decide if I’m made enough photos. So, peeing, watering up, snagging a few pastries on my way out, I departed, walked home, and began working on the photos. Soon I’ll be in Gaza, working with the counterpart to the PA there, and photographing their festival on August 13, Providence willing. Finally, my Nikon camera. It now works, or seems to. I am curious. Card problem? I should use only Nikon approved cards. Heat problem? Let it sit in the sun awhile and see if problem repeats. Can I pinpoint exactly when the files first were corrupted? On the Jerusalem trip, during the cave exploration? Earlier? Later? Certainly by the trip home, since all the files from the light rail series are lost. My photographer daughter, Joey, believes the ringing of a cell pone, if too near a digital camera, can corrupt files. First I’ve heard of that. Very odd, another page in my massive and rapidly expanding Book of Mysteries, an idea that dates back to a discussion Dan and I had on the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995.

LINKS:

The Quaker Palestine Youth Program (QPYP)

My photos from the program in Gaza, 2006

Public Achievement in Northern Ireland

“Learning by Doing: the Experience of Popular Achievement in Palestine” by Suzzane Hammad & Tareq Bakri

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Well, now the good news, provisionally:

Israel has granted me a permit to enter Gaza—for 6 months. And the international organization I will volunteer at and who applied for the permit, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is now registered. Furthermore, the Israeli District Coordinating Office (DCO) tells us they’d granted the permit 2 weeks ago.

What happened? We may never know.

I speculate: the bureaucracy is impossibly complicated, the gargantuan bureaucracy of running an occupation. Israel risks an implosion much like what happened to South African apartheid, partially because the system became unsustainable, chaotic, absurd, and repugnant. I’ve encountered Israeli procedures before that became damaging to Israel. Perhaps I’d been permitted all along and the AFSC registered for the entire time but no one knew exactly.

Or: someone exerted pressure on the Israelis to at least in this case ease the entry restrictions. I’ve asked people to contact their Congressional legislators and perhaps a word zinged from someone in the Congress to someone in the Israeli administration and Walla, results. But doubtful. Yet I don’t wish to rule out kindly pressure.

Or: it’s part of a general relaxation of restrictions as is happening in the West Bank. I’ve read that Gaza border crossings, mostly those thru which commercial materials pass, are now open more regularly. A new policy? And if so, why now? Has international pressure been a factor?

Or: prayer. I pray, people pray with and for me and for my loved ones. Can consequences be proved? Obviously not. Are they possible? I believe so.

Or: other reasons unfathomable to me at the moment.

However, I am not yet in Gaza. I’ve heard stories of permitted people held at the main personnel crossing, Erez, which I’ll use in a few days, for up to 9 hours before final admission—and some are denied entry, even with the permit. On my last entry two years ago (my 3rd), tho permitted, the security officer at Erez questioned me for nearly one hour with the usual intimidating queries. What will you do, who will you see, where will you stay? Oh, a photographer, what are you going to photograph? Only the suffering? Why 2 weeks, you only need a few days. Etc. I do not look forward to this, but simply expect it and will treat the officer with respect while insisting on my right to enter.

Finally, I raise again questions I’ve stated before: what right does Israel have to control who enters Gaza, especially when they systematically prohibit humanitarian workers like myself? Yes, maybe they have a right to bar weapons and fighters, altho this could be debated. (A population has the right to defend itself, as is claimed frequently in justification for Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza. Who controls the import of weapons to Israel, especially the lethal ones used my infamously on Gaza last winter? What’s become of the US Arms Import and Control Act denying weapons to countries that use them on civilian populations?) And yes,  of course, Israel surely has the right to control entry from Gaza into Israel.

Suppose Canada or Mexico fortified its border with the United States and unilaterally decided who could enter the US and who would be prohibited. There would be an outcry against this shocking use of power—silence concerning Israel. Why?

Where else in the world is behavior like this tolerated, even supported and advocated as the United States does by supplying weapons like the Apache helicopter, F-16 fighter jet, white phosphorus bombs, and other elements of control such as Motorola’s surveillance and communication gear and Caterpillar’s huge militarized D9 bulldozers?

So the question is not simply about entry of people like me, it is also about entry of humanitarian materials like cement, metal, plastic, and other materials vital for reconstruction. And it is about accountability and justice. Who is responsible for the carnage and suffering? Who pays for the reconstruction, the international community once again enabling the occupation to continue? Should Israel be required to pay damages, open the borders, end the siege and the suffering, respect international law and United Nations resolutions?

Thanks to all of you who helped in your various ways resolve my minor dilemma. Soon Gaza and my dispatches from the hallowed ground there. I expect to be there for 3-4 weeks.

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