Posts Tagged ‘refugee camp’

From my journal, 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 based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

(Thanks to Fareed Taamalla)

The world should not have to constantly catch up to what Palestinians have always known about the Nakba… Israel fears the ghosts of its dark and violent origins. Palestinians are those living ghosts. Listen to what they have to say.

Amjad Iraqi, writing about Israel sealing documents that record the atrocities of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe in 1948 that enabled the creation of Israel




Fatima’s sweet smile captivated me, especially when she sang or chanted a sorrowful song about the loss of her home in Beit Nabala. Her smile quickly vanished and grief and tears took over.

She’d married when about 14, probably common during that era, and thus had a child before the Nakba which she must have carried when her family fled the Israeli militias. Her village—stone cutting one industry—about 10 km (3 miles) northwest of Ramla, was connected by train to Tel Aviv. A British military camp was near the village housing soldiers from Africa and India who acted as guards. Villagers and soldiers had no interaction, nor did they with the few Muslim soldiers who prayed in a local mosque. Jews worked inside the camp, also with no village interaction.

However, Arab villagers did interact with Jews who lived in a small settlement between Beit Nabala and the town of Lydda (Lod). They had friendly relations. She told us her father had once asked for water and received it from their Jewish neighbors.

In the first days of the Nakba, village fighters traveled west to help other fighters near Haifa but soon returned to defend their own village. It was being bombed. Villagers fled to Kibiya/Kebbia east of Beit Nabala. During the first day of flight, they sought refuge in another village where they slept under fig and olive trees. This was early summer.

Asked if she and her neighbors knew about the massacre at Deir Yassin, she said they’d heard everyone in Deir Yassin had been killed, some by Jews who’d shared life with the Arabs in that village for decades. Fatima and her neighbors were demoralized even further after they’d learned that a key Arab leader had been killed. News spread rapidly during this period of assault, including the infamous massacre in the Umari mosque in Lydda. There, Israeli militia herded many of the men into a mosque (which I later visited and photographed from the outside) and then shot them.

Her husband returned to Beit Nabala periodically to rescue other villagers and save some plants, this at great risk of being shot as an “infiltrator.” She told us that during World War 1, in 1917, when the British had attacked her village, people had fled and remained away for 14 days, so this time they assumed they’d soon return. Thus, as was true in many attacked villages, people brought very few belongings with them.


Fatima’s son

According to the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, in 1992 the village site “…is overgrown with grass, thorny bushes, and cypress and fig trees. It lies on the east side of the settlement of Beyt Nechemya, due east of the road from the Lod (Lydda) airport. On its fringes are the remains of quarries and crumbled houses. Sections of walls from the houses still stand. The surrounding land is cultivated by the Israeli settlements.” She lives now in the Jalazone refugee camp, north of Ramallah. 


Former schoolhouse of Bayt Nabala, presently used by the Jewish National Fund in Beit Nehemia (Thanks to Wikipedia, 2013)


‘Raining Bullets on Beit Nabala’ – Beit Nabala, Ramle district (from BADIL, a video interview with Miriam Backer, former resident of Beit Nabala)

Bayt/Beit Nabala (from Zochrot)


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From my journal, 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 based on my latest work in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019. 

(Thanks to Ayed Al-Azza)

Of all the ironies of history none throws a more sinister light on human nature than the fact that the new-style nationalist Jews, on the morrow of the most appalling of the many persecutions that their race had endured, should at once proceed to demonstrate, at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs whose only offence against the Jews was that Palestine was their ancestral home, that the lesson learnt by Zionists from the sufferings which Nazis had inflicted on Jews, not to forbear from committing the crime for which they themselves had been the victims, but to persecute, in their turn, a people weaker than they were.

—Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, abridged ed, vol 2, 1957 

June 10, 2019, Monday, Bethlehem, Palestine-Israel




From my speaker notes:
Abdul Qader Hassan Monjid Al-Lahham
Interview assisted by Ayed Al-Azza, my colleague from Aida refugee camp
June 9, 2019
In Deheshe/Dheisheh refugee camp
From the village of Beit Etab/Bayt Itab 11 miles west of Jerusalem

  • Like other refugees, he is reluctant to engage in yet another interview.
  • Age 29 when expelled.
  • Ayed didn’t know him (but referred to him as uncle, an honorific, even tho not-blood related).
  • Lives with 2 unmarried daughters (about 68 and 72), sons and daughters, including great-grandchildren.
  • He’d worked for UNRWA in charge of water.
  • At first, he was separated from family, including his wife.
  • After a few days, the family reunited.
  • He was devoted to his sheep.
  • He’d been arrested near the village of Beit Nattif when with his sheep. The Israelis confiscated all his sheep and never returned all of them.
  • He sold his remaining sheep at a price less than their worth.

Ayed and I met him as Abdul left a small store with a bag of fruit. He was much bent over, walked next to Ayed. I photographed as they walked thru the camp to home. He looks easily the part of an aged refugee. He didn’t change facial expression much, looked down mostly, and his thick long eyebrows tended to conceal his features.

Nes Harim-Dehesh-earth SM

Nes Harim, the westernmost point on this map, is an Israeli moshav (cooperative agricultural community) built on the lands of Beit Etab, which of course is not included. (click HERE for actual map)

I was with Ayed from 9:30 am when he generously picked me up in front of the Manger Square hotel, and, nearly 6 hours later dropped me there after the interviews. Generously he bought me lunch. I raised the question of payment. At first, he asked me what I thought fair. I returned the question to him. $200, he said. $200 seems high, I replied, and suggested half. Oh no, can’t. So we settled on $150 which I calculated to be about $40 per working hour (because the other 2 were largely social and not directly related to the project).

I hope you don’t hate me now, he said. No, not at all, I can appreciate all that went into the organizing before the interviews. And he explained: finding people, overcoming people’s reluctance, deciding times, etc. Lots of unpaid work, like a teacher not paid for preparation and follow up.

Today I meet Fareed [my colleague on this project, helping me find and interview people] in Ramallah, traveling thru the Valley of Fire that so terrifies my friend Alicen and me. Someone told me death by auto accident is the largest category of death in the West Bank. So, if unlucky today, this might be my last journal entry. Will the photos survive? Will anyone be able to work with them to continue or complete the project?


Deheshe/Dheisheh refugee camp

Beit Etab (video)

March 15, 2000

…The right of the Palestinian refugees and the uprooted to return to their homes is a fundamental right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the European, the American and the African Conventions on Human Rights;

The right of the Palestinian refugees and the uprooted to return to their homes is an inalienable right and has been affirmed by the UN Resolution 194 over 110 times since 1948;…


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Shaheed (martyr, anyone dying because of the conflict)

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


Photos of Bureij from 2006

Photos of Bureij from 2008

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

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

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

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


Awatif Al-Jedeli

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

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


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

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

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


Raghda Al-Jedeli

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


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


Repairing a sewage leak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Moian Al-Jedeli & friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


Bureij refugee camp (Wikipedia)

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

Gaza where to

Created by Ramzy Hassouna (ramzy_box@yahoo.com)

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


July 2, 2009, Thursday, Al Rowwad, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem:

Mainly, in the grander scheme of things—how the occupation works with a personal slant from my heavily biased reporting—yesterday was the story of Ramzi, the tour guide and olive woodcrafter whom I’d met in late 2004 during the Steps of the Magi pilgrimage across the Judean Wilderness Desert. On none of my last trips before this one did I seek him out, even when in Bethlehem with the delegation in 2007, primarily because of my laziness. This time, sauntering thru town few days ago, I stopped at a large souvenir store, inquired about the guide who works in olive wood and whose grandfather invented the process. Oh yes, that’s Ramzi and here’s his number.

When I phoned, reaching his wife who speaks fairly clear English, she didn’t remember me, nor did Ramzi precisely when we spoke by phone. However when he pulled up last evening around 7:30 at the “Key to the Camp,” our assignation point, he enthusiastically told me, Now I remember you, everything about you, meeting you near Jericho, downloading your photos onto my computer, you staying with my brother and family in the family house.

A highlight of last evening, besides the scrumptious chicken veggie dinner over rice—and the large bottle of Holland-produced beer (a true gift to the spirit since I’ve refrained from beer while living in the camp, self denial as painful as other vices I’m giving up while residing in the camp)—was meeting Iliana. She is 9 years old and her personality soars, and with that her character. Her pronunciation was difficult to understand, despite being first in her class in English. She often exclaimed Wow (but never Cool) and I love such and such. She’s been to France, Germany, speaks German and I think she said French as well (Ramzi studied French, is fluent, and mostly guides French groups).


Iliana (not a common Arabic name, the family is Christian) wants to own 2 businesses when she grows up and be rich; altho her uncle, Ramzi’s brother, sitting with us for a short while (the entire extended family lives in this 4 story complex, with the oldest on the first floor) pointed out mostly to me that being rich is not the only worthy goal in life, not even a worthy one. Whether Iliana will grow out of this stage is to be seen. From what Ramzi and others have told me no one in the family is rich, altho most are entrepreneurs.

On the way from collecting me we’d driven toward Har Homa, a massive Israeli colony, to pick up Ramzi’s wife and daughter who were at a relatives for some celebration. They live in new housing, very elegant housing, on the hill just down from the settlement. Not dangerous here, Ramzi told me. I asked him about the housing complex erected by the Greek Orthodox Church, the man we’d visited in 2004, his house under demolition orders. The same, Ramzi confided, no change, still threatened, they never know.

Now about Ramzi: he told me tourism is down, seriously down, a result of the recent violence in Gaza and the global economic catastrophe, or The New Nakba. And this affects Israel also. Confirming what I’ve heard elsewhere, few people visiting Bethlehem stay overnight. He avoids political discussions while touring because this might endanger his permit to guide in Israel. Whereas his brother, also a guide, specializes in the political, guiding mainly American and Irish groups, and he does not have permission to guide in Israel. So this is one of the throttle points Israel has to cut risks from an otherwise insurrectionary vocation: tour guiding.


Water—my main reason for coming at this time of year—is definitely a problem for Ramzi and family and I arrived at a perfect moment to try to show how this problem manifests. The family had exhausted its water supply and none would arrive until Saturday which is too long to wait. So they ordered a tanker full and it arrived with me. By now darkness had fallen, so the lighting, mainly from a portable fluorescent lamp, made a set of dramatic images. Tanker on street level, high above the house, can’t be seen in the photos, long thick pulsating wide hose, ending in one of 3 metal tanks on the ground. Water gushing forth. 3 tanks so the worker and Ramzi had to move the hose periodically which threatened me with showering and provided more grist for the photo mill.

The brother explained later that all the water used in Bethlehem and probably thru the territories collects in aquifers under the West Bank but is stolen by Israel and resold to Palestinians—usually at rates exceeding those charged t Israelis. The charge for I believe he said 50 cubic meters was $80. What this is in terms of number of tanks I’m not sure but can find out.



All the while the family was apologizing for delaying the dinner. No problem, no problem at all, I’d like to photograph all this.

One brother had tried to set up an olive wood export business in Europe, from what Ramzi said, and tended to live high, hotels, restaurant, and he barely broke even. Thus a failure. Ramzi’s mother, by contrast, apparently did fairly well on her trip to the USA around the time I first met Ramzi. Now however, with the current tourist and economic slumps, business is way down.

Ramzi, I inquired as we slurped down our delicious dinner, the elderly gent in his perpetual pajama top (that’s how I remember Ramzi’s father from my first visit) at one end of the table, Ramzi’s slender wife diagonally across from me next to Ramzi, their very active boy child grabbing and nabbing food willy nilly next to Ramzi (the boy is recovering from very painful chick pox, as is his sister), grandma playing solitaire on the computer, having cooked and eaten, What do you do when touring near the wall? How do you avoid politics?


I say this is the wall of separation. And if they ask how the wall is affecting life for Palestinians? It is making it very difficult, and I give examples. And if they ask how Israel justifies the wall? I tell them Israel says it is for security, and indeed suicide attacks are down. And about Palestinians attitudes now about suicide attacks? No one supports this failed policy anymore.

Well, then Ramzi my friend, is the intifada finished? No, it continues in many communities, in many forms.

And conditions now, under occupation, better or worse than one year ago? Better. Fewer checkpoints, more freedom, I guess the Israelis do not fear us as much.

I felt this as well, traveling between Ramallah and Bethlehem. Not one checkpoint. However, conditions in Gaza are worse then ever, perhaps at the nadir of its history. And much of the Matrix of Control, the term Jeff Halper gives to the mechanism of occupation, has tightened and become less visible.


Watching a video of a ceremony for Ramzi’s daughter

Next Tuesday Ramzi leaves for nearly one month of guiding, 3 groups, some of them French. I should have asked how lucrative the job is, thinking it might be very, especially if in business for oneself.

Iliana, living on the top floor, where I believe I stayed when here (I remember it as fairly barren, maybe they’d just moved in, and with one lonely Christmas tree in the main room, lights twinkling thru the night), wandered in and out, finally joining us for the ride back to Aida camp (along with the mother and her 2 children, a curious group to accompany me home). I asked Iliana if she’d like to see photos of my family, she nodded an excited yes, and after studying them responded with, These are beautiful, thank you for showing them to me. Very polite. I’d also brought gift photos, the girl in a Gaza hospital, and gave one to Iliana, inscribing it from me to her. I thought this a particularly apt gift, girl to girl, about the same age, both Palestinians, both suffering.

Before heading back, we talked about the camp. Iliana has never been to one, doesn’t know anyone from them, and Ramzi, when I suggested we could stroll thru the camp before saying good night, suggested this would not be appropriate at her age. In school soon she will earn about camps, refugees, history of the Nakba, and the school will tour them. I wonder about this, should corroborate it with Samira. As we drove past the never used Pope’s platform against the wall, we noticed a throng of teens. Ramzi discovered it was some sort of festival. I decided not to join, the hour late, having to arise fairly early this morning for the walk to Robin’s office.


In retrospect, the evening was extraordinarily rich, more than the food, the beer, the night out, the opportunity to connect deeply with a Palestinian family was vital. We hit it off, you might say, and they extended to me what I understood to be a life long invitation to return. Ramzi insisted I call him in August so we can arrange another meeting.

Ramzi and family were not the entire day. I also made a short walk in the early afternoon heat (probably nearing 90 F, but dry) to the Key, thru the cemetery, charting out my walk of today to Robin’s office. I hadn’t realized how near Rachel’s tomb is to the camp, borders it. I saw the globular roof, high walls, and towers, double and triple security fences. Was the Muslim cemetery originally sited to be near the tomb? And now it is cut off from it. I also wondered if any of the watch towers were staffed, whether anyone was peering at me, wondering who I was, what I was up to, whether I constituted a threat, maybe should be shot. A scary prospect, and a laughable irony if they did shoot me: American photographer killed while walking thru a Muslim cemetery just outside Rachel’s tomb. That would make a story—or maybe not, given Israel’s impunity.


Rachel’s tomb on the Israeli side of the Separation Wall from the Muslim cemetery

At the Center, working yesterday morning in the rehearsal room where I get decent but slow wifi, a most elegant slender longhaired woman strolled thru a few times. I was tempted to introduce myself, but didn’t, being shy. And curious, what could I learn about her by pure observation? Two Palestine men soon joined her, one the rotund sweet fellow that photographed me at the festival. She brought out plastic tubes and appeared to be training them in using them. Then a hoard of small kids, ages about 5-8 years, descended on the room. They screamed, they scampered, one grabbed my Nikon from the table next to me and began trying to use it. Rather than objecting I attempted to play along, giving a number of these rambunctious mischievous children a chance to use a professional camera. As it developed I saw she must be a trainer of trainers, showing them how to use the plastic tubes to build observation, rhythm, play skills. All perhaps pre-theater training.

Finally the kids concentrated, their energy razor sharp on the tubes and what they could do with them. Needless to say, I made a few photos.

Minor point but could be major, I learned what the problem is with my phone giving me a zero balance immediately after recharging it. Somehow I have 2 accounts, the first or primary one does not get recharged and constantly shows zero balance. My secondary account is at 181 shekels or minutes—I’m not sure they’re equivalent. Without much trouble I reached a live support person, an Israeli woman with broken English, who explained to me this odd system and how to access it. She also told me that the balance would be put in storage if elapsed after one month, but could be rejuvenated by recharging. All this is a huge mystery to me. Exactly how much I’m paying for this phone is an unknown.

Clearer is my bank and visa accts. I remembered to check them both, paid on line. Swiftly, cleanly, a gift of the Internet.

Today, another possibly rich meeting, this time with Robin T who on some previous trips has been noticeably absent from my life. I will walk from the guest house, under the Key, past the cemetery, left on the main road (the old path between Jerusalem and Hebron, Bethlehem a way point), along the Wall, to the checkpoint, thru the checkpoint and down the main road to Jerusalem, the same road I walked along 2 years ago on my solo Xmas pilgrimage to Shepherds’ Fields. Akram is due here this evening, so I will have to end my nude romps thru the guesthouse. I will have to wear pants, at least when I enter public spaces.

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Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem





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


July 1, 2009, Wednesday, Al Rowwad, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem:

One scant dream, about watching M perform in a play. I was sitting with P, I knew something special was about to happen with M, and sure enough, bare-chested (or maybe entirely nude)—I noted to myself that this was the first time I’d seen her breasts—she flew off, over the stage and above the audience, on wires. P also discovered that M practiced yoga, she could tell from her performance.

Otherwise the calmest quietest coolest (yet hot) most comfortable night yet in the camp. Sleeping in the front room, subject to street sounds, there were only a few. The grating sound that woke me yesterday morning, I discovered by noticing all the water hoses lying about and pumps running, was indeed, as suspected, a water pump filling the roof tanks. Not even the muezzin seemed to disturb me. Roosters crowed at the appropriate moment but these are lilting sounds, lulling sounds, reminding me of farms. No problem here.


Yesterday began calmly enough until Ahmed came by to tell me, Can you be ready to go in a few minutes, you can come with us to set up for the festivities. I still wasn’t sure where and what the festivities were, imagining something joyous, outside, and based on hands on work with kids, maybe art and performance activities. This I gleaned from the brochure Samira had given me. So I rapidly put away my journal writing (when Ahmed arrived I was bare bottomed, but luckily I’d left my key in the lock so he couldn’t immediately enter, I had time to put on my shorts, look decent.) did my toilet, packed my gear, and set off…to wait.

How typical—and this is not meant as criticism of the Center’s practices, I encounter it regularly while on the road: hurry up and wait. Plans change. I’ve become much more patient and understanding about this, I carry a book, snacks, water, and I always have my camera, so I can entertain myself if needed. I waited one hour for a bus to arrive, boarded it with many kids and a few staff and then rode thru town to a social center. More waiting as staff set up chairs, kids flowed in. By the coordinator’s reckoning they totaled 700, some 150 for each of 5 sites, mostly refugee camps in the area, I think I heard as far away as Hebron. Kids were young, between about 5 and 12 years old, most wore the white t-shirts of Al-Rowwad, some wore the tan caps of the Center. This is a program called Mobile Beautiful Resistance which I think consists mainly of art and culture training at various sites. It is funded by “Her Highness Shekha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al-Qasimi, wife of the Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al-Qasim, member of the Higher Council and Ruler of Sharjah.” Never heard of any of it, might be an oil-based Arab kingdom.

Lots of noise, lots of waiting—the show finally began around 10:30—and lousy light. I’d brought the wrong equipment, no external flash which I left in Ramallah, and no fast lens which I didn’t think I’d need if we were to be outside. I did bring the Canon camera and so could use its telephoto function.  Otherwise, looking at the photos later I was disappointed—reddish, blotchy, too many too wide, not enough concentration on single kids, little action, too much sitting around. Yuck!


Debke, Palestinian national dance


The early events—a bunch of talks by elders, including Abed—did not exactly ignite the audience. Children were restive, noisy, playful, but respectful. Only when children themselves took the stage, giving readings, singing, and finally the ultimate: the debke, did the children pay much attention. Watching debke, kids in the back stood on chairs, clapped wildly. I hope I show some of this excitement.


During a pause I noticed a startlingly gorgeous—how else describe her classic beauty?—young Western woman sitting with a small child, the child snuggling up to the woman. I was attracted as much by her beauty as by the meaning of this singular event, the touch between younger and older. Unfortunately a head intervened and blocked a clear view of the scene. I tried, but the scene had ended by the time I found a good position. Plus I did not want to be noticed gawking.


Samira pleaded with me to download all the photos immediately into one of their computers, not to wait the one day I’d requested so I could select and process (Hurry and wait) because “the TV stations need them.” I did this, noting to Murad that most of the photos are in Raw file format and therefore not easily useable. He seemed undaunted, claimed to know what to do with them. After downloading into my computer so I could work on them at home, I put them on the Center’s computer, leaving the card and reader downloading while I left for home, thoroughly fatigued.

Working late last night, they now do not seem half bad, but oh, so much better had I thought to ask more about the event, bring the proper equipment. Lesson learned: ask first, discover enough about the photo session to anticipate all needs.

I should finally download a noise reduction plug-in to see if it makes a difference. This is a continually vexing problem for me, low light, blotchy reddish images. I can remove the red, not the blotches.



Then on the other side of the event—I’m still not sure what they call it, festivity, celebration, commencement, opening?—more waiting. By now I was exhausted, spent, depleted, had had enough kids, enough tumult, enough cacophony and chaos. Our Aida camp group was among the last to leave. Buses came, went, returned. However as I lingered I might have made some of my best photos of the entire day: the drumming and singing, kids hanging on adults, the balloon breaking game. Staff seemed very resourceful in finding activities while waiting. While someone was face painting next to me, she spilled yellow paint on my bag. I have this as a souvenir. Also, while photographing the drumming, a staff member, a rotund smiling friendly guy, asked to borrow my camera and photographed me clapping my hands in time with the drumming and singing—a cameo appearance of the photographer.

M commented on my taxi video, observing that the objects dangling from the rear view mirror showed the taxi’s motion. I’d not noticed this, either in the taxi or the video, but it helps portray the speed and curviness and danger of the ride. The video had reminded her of a similar ride on narrow roads in Pakistan with her sister, the same terror. I asked if she’d been chanting Namu myoho renge kyo then and wrote how it helped save me.

I contacted Robin T and set up an appointment tomorrow at his office. I hope he gives me many water leads. I may be strongly reminded of ME since I assume this is where she worked when here 3 years ago interning.


Today: computer work at the Center, maybe more work on yesterday’s photos with Murad, for sure give him a set of altered photos from last night, dinner with Ramzi at his house tonight, maybe a walk around town. Oh yes, the Freedom and Justice Crier, let’s see if I can finish it today. Plus backup everything made to date in Bethlehem.

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


June 27, 2009, Saturday, Al Rowwad, Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem

A remarkable set of dreams about ME: I saw her from a distance, she was as usual lovely and irresistible, but this time she sat next to a young man about her age, resembling her. Might have been her brother but more likely I thought it might be her beau. The setting was a Quaker meeting, I’m not sure she noticed me.

The scene shifted abruptly. We were together; I was peering into her face, drawn irrevocably to her beauty and tenderness. I loved her fully and wished to join with her carnally. I’m not sure about her reaction.

In the meeting there was much talk just in the introductory section. A few windbags went on and on. ME sat in on all this. When my turn came I had only 2 words to express my being: joy and despair. I added that joy was multi colored and despair was a dull shade of gray. I threw in a rant about people talking too much. ME faded in importance in this part of the dream.

Next I was with family at some sort of military demonstration. The soldiers may have been US or Israeli. They shot thru a metal door, making a loud noise. And then everything turned into a festival for African tribal kings in their regalia. I brought my grandson into the massive toilet facility to pee. My credit card and other important papers fell from my pockets, and in the confusion picking them up I lost him. So when I joined with his mother later in her broken down truck I realized, no C.


In panic mode I told J we didn’t have C and we turned around. Night had fallen. We were lost. I was to meet ME for dinner at a place and time we’d not yet decided. I had no way to contact her, or her me. My only thought was she might try to reach me at my home phone but I wouldn’t be home. I was out of the country. Oh shit, disaster, a chance to link with ME and I’d blown it.

J seemed relatively unperturbed, whereas I was close to falling apart.

Yesterday, being Friday, was a day off. I wrote and downloaded, then edited my photos for most of the morning. The facilities are decent at the Al Rowwad Center, Ahmed installed Photoshop CS 4 so I could work with my raw files, I installed software from Nikon so I could review thumbnails of the raw files. I’m pleased with what I’ve done here so far. Contrasting with the urbanity and pleasantries of Ramallah, these photos show scenes that are gritty, confined, dusty, horrible, yet with their own beauty—the refugee camp that is, and the little I’ve photographed so far.

I read, at times having little else to do (without my personal computer and not having easy access to the Center’s computer center). So far: an excellent book about Maha Ghosananda, Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Cambodia, which brings back much of my Cambodian experience of 1995, Jean Zaru’s powerful book, Occupied with Nonviolence, summarizing and giving spiritual context for resistance and survival, and now a book I found in my room by Edward Said, Peace and its Discontents, mostly about the Oslo period. He is a true visionary, way out in front of his peers and excoriated for it by all parties. Now Palestinians and many others revere him. I hope to emulate him.


Poster to Palestinian martyrs

How? By declaring the two state option dead, by advocating a one state option, by portraying facts on the ground honestly, by chiding all parties when needed, including my own movement at home, and by pushing for international accountability for all actors in this tragedy-comedy.

After the computer work yesterday, and reading at home, eating late lunch of yet more delicious falafel (costing about 2 NIS each, 50 cents), I rested and then set out around 5 pm for Bethlehem. I am much more confident now about finding my way thru the camp, out to the wider Bethlehem, and around parts of the small city. I discovered that the camp, northwest of the main city, is relatively near the nativity church. Stopping inside an entryway to a home to quell the noise of the street so I could phone Yusef in Jenin, 2 young men and a boy invited me to stay for tea. This is common, the traditional Arab hospitality, with the added lure of This is a foreigner, let’s find out about him and tell him about our situation. I rarely feel endangered by these overtures.


(However, yesterday afternoon, leaving the camp for Beth, 2 girls aged about 10 years grabbed my arms and led me into a house where another girl, slightly older, maybe 12, harangued me in Arabic. I thought she might have been high on drugs or insane; I felt threatened and hassled; I pulled my arm from someone’s grasp and fled.)

One young man is in the security force of the Palestinian Authority, protecting the president, Abu Mazen. He works and lives at the Muqata presidential compound in Ramallah  for about 2 weeks and then is home for 1 week. His cousin, Awad Abu  Shaereh, works for a sort of counseling agency, Connect-Middle East. Because of the language differences, my lousy, virtually nonexistent Arabic, and their limited English, nuances were lost. I understand that they told me that Hamas is definitely bad, wishes to kill Palestinians, and works with Israel because Israel also wishes to kill Palestinians. Trying to learn what they felt about the Gaza invasion, I could only elicit more of this attitude.

The young men live in separate flats in a large building housing their extended family. Their parents are related in different ways—brothers, sisters, cousins. I understand that there might be a great deal of close family relations leading to in grown marriages. (Although this might be a faulty conclusion.)

Walking further I bumped into a handsome boy who pointed out to me a kitten near a pylon base, to photograph it. Then him. For some reason I never thought of photographing the cousins. Is this failure on my part, or just responding to my muses?


This morning early I decided to walk around the camp, hoping I could find my way home. No problem: up past the Center, and out to the Apartheid Wall and back. I like this time of day for photographing—cool air, soft light, no one out other than a boy and his father moving a bed frame. And a few wandering sauntering women covered head to foot in the Muslim costume.

I discovered a huge Italian Franciscan church and convent, heavily walled in, a sort palace in the midst of poverty. Not a good showing for the Catholic Church. Not exactly one with the people. But perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps they are very linked to camp life. Their site is opposite the wall, which I leisurely photographed this morning. The graffiti is spectacular: a supine male figure, stretching out over about 20 cement panels; a docile looking bulbous face; steps leading up and over; 2 African American boxers, one maybe Mohammed Ali; and a portrait of Mickey Mouse with the words, This is Not Disney Land; among a few.


This morning also I found an email about the Al Rowwad tour coming to Boston in mid July. I added some words about being in Bethlehem now with Al Rowwad and photographing the rehearsal yesterday and then forwarded to the list and my own Boston list.


Photographing the rehearsal I noticed the children seemed fully engaged, very expert, lively, having fun, whereas Abed, the director and possibly the author of the play, looked sorrowful, not having much fun, distracted, worried. Perhaps he’s thinking, These kids are not ready for an international tour. They’ll embarrass me and the Center. Or worried about funding for the Center. He confided to me that space is an issue—not enough.


And finally a very personal note: yesterday morning trying to fit the pot lid into the pot I accidentally pushed it thru and spilled boiling water on my left hand, scalding myself. Luckily this is not serious. I don’t even show a scar. Moreover, I’ve had migraines on both mornings here, this morning as I prepared to leave the house, that vibrating pattern that sometimes occurs, and yesterday, a fuzzy center of my vision. In both cases, I found a place to rest, closed my eyes, meditated, and within 15 minutes all that remained was a headache.


The coach for this session

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Apartheid Wall


AbdelFattah Abu-Srour, director of the Center and the theater

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


June 26, 2009, Friday, Al Rowwad, Aida refuge camp, Bethlehem:

Writing from the Al Rowwad Cultural and Theater Center, not with my usual ease and fluency because of the unfamiliar computers here, and the slow Internet connection, but I try.

Getting to Bethlehem from Ramallah is not easy: the death defying service (pronounced serveece) shared taxi one hour plus ride is terrifying. Up and down monster hills, around convoluting corners, passing trucks and other slow moving vehicles, overheated smelly brakes, screeching tires as we ascend around curves, no leg room, stuffed taxi, driver using his mobile phone while driving one handed…I’d rather walk.

Watch a video: A Saturday afternoon drive thru the occupied Palestinian territories

But I arrived, found a taxi, negotiated a fee (told it would be 10 NIS, the first driver wanted 30, second 15, but he was so kind in dropping me at the exact spot I needed I tipped him 5 possibly setting off higher expectations that might boomerang on foreigners, I also recorded his name and number for later use), and arrived to be greeted by Abed, the director of the center in the Aida refugee camp. This is the second largest of 3 camps in Bethlehem, in the northern section of the city, up against the Apartheid Wall and near Rachel’s tomb. I recall that I can distinguish a camp from its surroundings by the plethora of buildings rising up rather than spreading out. Restricted space dictates much of the architecture.


After meeting others, including Chris from Germany, a volunteer or intern who is teaching one of the 2 photo sections, we headed out with 3 of about 5 students that showed up for the 2 hour long session. I quickly discovered that I might be of more service by linking with the students and myself photographing as they wander thru the camp than by actually doing much teaching. I coached Chris, who admitted he knows little about the finer points of photography—how to produce photos that mean—and solicited my support for this task. Not that I’m an expert on this topic, but I earn a small living in part by professing to teach it—a form of sophistry.

I suggested one of my favorite introductory homework assignments: photograph one of your intimate spaces, concentrating on light. At my urging we did not end the session with the camera work only but continued by downloading and beginning the editing process. Tomorrow, inshallah, students will arrive with a folder of edited processed photos to show the group.


In looking over recent photos by one of the students, seeing one of Chris and me that resembled solarization, I asked if the maker knew how to produce this effect with Photoshop. He didn’t, which launched a brief improvised lesson in how to select and operate on the selection to produce the effect. This served not only to impart info and test their prior knowledge but to help establish my credential as a competent photographer.

I’d noticed while on the field trip that some soon tired, and seemed to have lost the incentive to do much more. I commiserated with Chris about this paucity of motivation which he feels is a common problem. I rocketed ahead, to the point of climbing a rickety wooden ladder to photograph some workers laying concrete blocks to expand a dwelling. I invited my colleagues to join me, none did. I thought I would easily surpass in quality what they were making. However, back in the lab, briefly looking at some of their photos as they downloaded, I found I was mistaken: many were very good.


Listen to a report with quotes from Pope Benedict’s speech in Aida camp


I must admit that a highlight of the day for me was finding an older message from X that I might have seen but had forgotten. She wrote on June 19, 8 days earlier,

I’ve just read all your posts since you arrived.

You write so wonderfully!  Thank you thank you thank you for sharing it all – your encounters, impressions, thoughts, wonderment, etc.  I am learning, and gaining new eyes….


And then ended with this quote, which I currently use as my footer:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

This nourished me considerably. I miss our once fairly frequent communication, and wonder how she is, whether in transit to South America, hiking thru Peru, packing hurriedly.


I responded:


your proust quote is perfect for me at this very moment: working with high school age photo students in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. their assignment is to show beauty in their immediate neighborhood, and some today seemed unable to see beyond the usual. whereas for me everything is new and fresh. yet when i return home i will face what they face: the quotidian. and then the task becomes how to see beyond the obvious with new eyes.

i suspect when you are in your new region of south america you will see everything automatically with new eyes. how delicious that can be yet some sites like machu pichu have been photographed by many travelers and many of the photos look the same. why?

good luck with your new phase of life (you might be leaving this weekend?), may you see with the freshest of eyes, as if an infant,


—Skip (in Bethlehem, West Bank, Occupied Palestine)


Rehearsing “Blame the Wolf, a play-dance that tours the United States in summer 2009

There is much to write about this first day. I’ve written notes in my notebook and may save fuller writing for later.


Today: download my photos from yesterday, and edit. Later walk to main Bethlehem for a fuller exploration. Hope to weather the heat.


The Beautiful Resistance—Al Rowwad Cultural & Theater Training Center

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