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Posts Tagged ‘resistance’

[The meeting ] has been about much more than naming oppressions. We danced (some of us), sang, laughed, wept, mourned, strategized, debated and disagreed and most importantly we dreamed. We dreamed of a beloved community.—Nyle Fort [one of the presenters]

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This description is not hyperbole. My 3 days in Chicago (my hometown) were extraordinary, often brought me to tears. In large measure this was the perfect storm of mystery, political action, and soulfulness, ritually enlivened by the best practises of Judaism. It is all and more what I’ve long desired for Quakers–no split between holiness, love, and political action.

Love, joy, outrage, smart thinking, argumentation, energy, cooperation, innovation, singing, dancing flooded the meeting of over 1000 participants—and of course the stuff of conferences, meeting and learning. I was in tears twice on the last day, first during the morning plenary which was meditative, based on the power of rocks. I wept because I felt I was so perfectly in the right place, with a community that melds spirituality and political action. We sang Jewish, prayed Jewish, danced Jewish, lit candles Jewish, and tried to fully embody Jewish justice traditions. In some weird way, I may be more Jewish than some of my Jewish buddies. Without the pedigree probably.

Secondly, our closing included words from the Palestinian activist, Rasmea Odeh, whose trial I attended in Detroit two years ago and who has now offered a plea bargain–voluntary deportation, no prison, no fine. A Black activist from the baptist preacher tradition, Nyle Fort, and Linda Sarsour, one of the main organizers of the DC Women’s March, Brooklyn born, Muslim, wears the hijab, and has been wildly targeted, joined her, all three pushing us up on our feet.

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Justice is Love made Public

—Dr. Cornell West

PHOTOS

Based on my current work in Palestine-Israel March – May 2015, my view of the situation depends on my location.

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If in Israel, I do not notice the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, nor does most of the population. If noticed, the Israeli Jewish citizens and the leadership largely support the injustice—95% of Jewish Israeli’s were in favor of last summer’s attacks on Gaza. The recent elections that returned Prime Minister Netanyahu to office are confirmation; they mark another step toward a right-wing government. Exceptions exist of course, and I try to locate and support them—Gush Shalom is one, led by Uri Avnery.

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Purim in an East Jerusalem settlement, March 2015

If in the West Bank, again depending on location, I learn that the occupation can be tolerable and mostly invisible, as in Jenin, where there are no neighboring settlements (altho the Israeli Occupation Force regularly raids the refugee camp looking for people, usually young men, that they accuse of threatening Israel). Or it may be a huge annoyance, as in Ramallah, especially if one needs to pass thru the notorious Kalandia checkpoint into Jerusalem. It can be regularly violent, as in Hebron where the settlers are particularly vicious or in the villages of Nabi Salih and Bil’in near Ramallah which every Friday for years mount nonviolent demonstrations to regain their ancestral lands. They’ve had some success. I visit and support the activists there. Or the occupation may be a continual threat, as in Sheik Jarrah, a district in East Jerusalem where Israeli Jews frequently take over Palestinian homes with army and police protection.

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Downtown Jenin, April 2015

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A nonviolent demonstration, Nabi Salih, March 2015

And if in Gaza (I was last there in 2013), the region is not only the largest open air prison as it’s commonly called, but a graveyard, as a friend confided to me during my first trip there in 2004. Last summer some 2,500 people were killed during the Israeli assault, about 75% of them civilian. Entrance and exit are now so tightly restricted that I’ve not been able to enter on this trip and many notable Gazans such as Dr. Mona al Farra, who was to speak at my Quaker meeting in Cambridge Massachusetts in May 2015 as part of a tour, are unable to leave. (Two Boston-based friends and colleagues of mine, Alice Rothchild and Bill Slaughter, both medical professionals and thus more able to visit Gaza, may speak at my meeting in Mona’s place.)

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Trauma program, Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza, 2013

On my current journey, my 9th since 2003, I’ve attended a 2-day conference called Global Village Square in Bethlehem drawing some 70 young Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, and West Bank Palestinians to work together on solutions. I’ve ridden the Freedom Bus thru the West Bank to learn about popular resistance in villages and East Jerusalem. In Jenin in the northern section of the West Bank thru the renowned Freedom Theater I’ve taught photography to young adults who are already very proficient in the craft but need encouragement and tools to portray their experiences under occupation. I’m about to photograph more of the Jordan River and Dead Sea, a project combining hydrology, history, geology and politics in a multi-layered approach. I will photograph for Grassroots Jerusalem as part of their political mapping project to portray Palestinian experience in East Jerusalem. And finally, if plans hold, I will be with Israeli Jews living within 2 miles of Gaza, often attacked, but who formed an organization called Other Voice courageously critical and outspoken about much of Israeli policy.

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Global Village Square, Bethlehem, March 2015

Here in Palestine-Israel, the vision is bleak. I doubt I can find many who believe the conflict will be resolved soon, if at all. To counter this despair I tell people about the hope I feel erupting in the USA because of growing awareness, more frequent visits to the region, increasing activism among young Jews and others of Arab descent, and most importantly the growing BDS movement—boycott, divest, sanction—with its accompanying support of the One State Solution: one land, multiple peoples, with equal rights for all.

I joyfully wear my Martin Luther King Jr button. Many notice and either recognize or ask. I answer, a great leader, a man of love, compassion, intellect, and sumud. Steadfast in his quest for justice. He died for his truth, a shaheed, a martyr. And people seem to instantly recognize his value.

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TO BE CONTINUED

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Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel

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 Bassam Tamimi with his daughters

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The Freedom Bus project was not started as a way of doing touristic and artistic tours of the West Bank. And this is not why we joined either. It is helping us to understand more fully this occupation and to speak to Palestinians first hand. Our role as witnesses is to go home and share the reality on the ground, which is way too often distorted in mainstream media. We are not innocent and have to transform knowledge into action – action that has been called for by the locals themselves. They are asking for political support, which can be demanded and fought for back in our own countries. They are also asking for the support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which should be implemented on a personal level as well as in our schools, supermarkets, offices and nationally. As internationals we have a role and we can work in solidarity with the Palestinians to make a difference.

—Sama, one of the bus riders

March 20, 2015, Friday, Cinema Jenin Guest House, Jenin, Palestine

Cool, low 50s, 80% cloudy with altocumulus, slight breeze.

Yesterday [March 19, 2015] was another full day: breakfast at 8; at 9 various warm ups for team building on the outdoor stage of Cinema Jenin (touch-don’t touch partner’s knees; call out names during a rhythm game; stretch together; shake out; breathe, stop-go, down-up, referring to the occupation, and then the reverse as resistance; and share a feeling with the group; all good techniques to use during my later photography teaching); a lecture demonstration by Eyad Burnat from Bil’in about what to expect at today’s Nabi Salih demo (gas, bullets, arrests, etc); lunch at the Freedom Theater with an intro to the theater and freedom ride by Joanna; tour of the refugee camp including the cemetery with its martyrs’ markers, then to the horse statue (made of pieces of shattered ambulances, pointing north toward liberation); a brief talk by a bureaucrat about maintaining the camp; a stunning musical performance by beginning and advanced students at the Al Kamanjati music school; a playback performance there (I offered my Gaza kidnapping story); dinner at the cinema garden (sitting with lubna, the translator, and the shy quiet woman from Acca), and finally, after staff twice grabbed the wrong DVD’s, a screening of Arna’s Children about the founding of the Freedom Theater.

I’d seen the movie before so it looked familiar, but I recalled very little of it. I was puzzled by the time sequence and asked Jonathan, the managing director of the Freedom Theater, who suddenly appeared for the discussion, about this. Most takes place during the battle for Jenin in 2002. Arna died in the late 1990s of cancer, and the Freedom Theater opened in 2006. I set myself in the movie’s time frame and realized I may have visited the camp with the delegation one year after the fighting, and the theater opened during my early period in Israel-Palestine. In fact I may have first visited shortly after it opened.

Trying to sort out what I will bring on the Freedom Ride, realizing I may lack some vital things (like a sleeping pad, suggested by Bryan), with all we human beings jockeying for space, with virtually no sort-out space like my bed available, is—as was true during my various pilgrimages—daunting. But rather than this lasting for 1 year as with the Middle Passage Pilgrimage (retracing the transatlantic trade journey), this is only 12 days. Thus it is tolerable.

Maybe differing from the pilgrimages, especially the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, is the feeling of camaraderie, mutual support, shared mission, and above all else, exceptionally fine organizing. Unlike that pilgrimage this is not a first time effort. This tour is the 4th annual.

March 21, 2015, Saturday, Guest House/school, Bil’in, Palestine

Cool, mid 40s, clear, slight breeze.

We are in Bil’in (pronounced with the accent on the 2nd syllable, and adding a sort of grunt at the ‘ —Bil-hi-een.). I believe we are in a school or community room, men in the main room, women in 3 separate rooms, all on the floor, luckily with plenty of mattresses and cushions, relatively quiet after about midnight (Fidaa asked for quiet around 11, reminding me of when I tried this on the Middle Passage Pilgrimage and was angrily opposed), me again next to Bryan (as I’d been in the Jenin guest house, after I seemed to have swiped, in his view, his corner space and his cushions, a very curious relationship), all leading to a fair night’s sleep (but short, 6 hours). I am back in pilgrimage mode.

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Nabi Salih and the colony of Halamish

Yesterday we were at the village of Nabi Salih most of the day, for the demo, village walk around, and dinner. We heard of course from Bassam Tamimi, probably the chief leader, who gave a nuanced discourse about resistance. He joked that “we don’t need more tears, we have the tear gas.” Apparently he is originally from this village settled by Tamimi’s and is now filled with them, but in 2009 when the settlers in Halamish took over the village spring (on the other side of a divide), he returned to lead the resistance. His children are in the forefront of the struggle and were clearly the main presence at the demo when they loudly confronted the soldiers, all 4 sisters, ranging in age from about 6 to 11.

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Halamish upper left, spring middle right, demonstration in the middle, Nabi Salih behind the photographer

As the sisters scurried up the hill, warned by the soldiers to leave within minutes or they’d be tear gassed, breathlessly one told me she could speak Hebrew and told the soldiers this was not their land, no one invited them here, the Palestinians were the rightful owners, and the soldiers and settlers should leave. To me she spoke in good English. Later she and 2 of her sisters spoke to our group, encouraged by their father and mother, electrifying us with their courage and articulation of the struggle.

Their mother, Nariman, was injured fairly recently, shot in the leg at close range with a tear gas canister. She used leg braces but attended the demo.

Unlike last week when the Israelis arrested 2 women and injured a boy, yesterday [March 20, 2015] they merely shot opening salvos of tear gas, and then allowed resisters to approach to about 5 meters, the kids closest, face-to-face with the army. I remained back, not at the very back where many stood on cliffs, but about 300 meters from the front line. Partly because I have trouble navigating the rocky hills, and mainly because I appreciated the new vantage point afforded by the elevation. Maybe a little confusion and fear as well.

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Tamimi girls confront the soldiers

There I perched for about 30 minutes using primarily my telephoto lens, chatting with Lorenza, a young woman from Switzerland. So she could see the action better thru my long lens, we shared my camera from time to time. I felt I was photographing a tableau—lines of people constantly changing their geometry. (I thought of Henri Cartier Bresson, known for “the decisive moment,” his use of evolving human geometry in photography.) The kids, the acrobatics from one of the Freedom Theater members, the casually positioned soldiers, and the spring off to one side now developed by settlers. I used my wide lens to show the positioning of settlement, confrontation, and spring. I’d read about this but now could picture it.

Would the solders attack? A key question. This time, no, perhaps influenced by the large number of internationals, or perhaps wisely realizing, as police in the United States seem to be doing more now, that waiting out the demo is simplest, cheapest, and least likely to lead to negative publicity.

Writing this entry in the early morning, I sit now in the main room of the Bil’in center, leaning against the wall, cushioned by a pillow, on my sleeping bag and blanket (kindly lent by Ayman from the Jenin guest house), while others slowing awaken and rise.

Last night traveling here from Nabi Salih, the driver became lost. Which seemed to lead to a raucous songfest that disturbed me. I was sitting alone in the front, about 5 seats back, the front seats occupied by Palestinians, when they began singing. One woman in particular, who I’d earlier noticed seemed depressed, sitting sullenly and separately with her phone in hand, maybe not loving the bus experience, suddenly became suffused with wild energy. She jumped about, screamed, clapped her hands madly about her head, and was eventually subdued by the Palestinian with dreads. I thought she might be manic-depressive.

Later one of the men explained they sang traditional songs, often sung at weddings, similar perhaps to folksongs in the USA. This episode reminded me of terrible moments on previous trips, pilgrimages, especially the Middle Passage one, where the new living mode I’m subjected to just does not appeal. Let me off this bus, please!

During the spring of 1961, student activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched the Freedom Rides to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals. Traveling on buses from Washington, D.C., to Jackson, Mississippi, the riders met violent opposition in the Deep South, garnering extensive media attention and eventually forcing federal intervention from John F. Kennedy’s administration. Although the campaign succeeded in securing an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ban on segregation in all facilities under their jurisdiction, the Freedom Rides fueled existing tensions between student activists and Martin Luther King, Jr., who publicly supported the riders, but did not participate in the campaign.

—Freedom Rides in the United States during the freedom movement

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On the wall of the Tamimi home

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Freedom Bus blog

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Political power is controlled by the corporate elite, and the arts are the locale for a kind of guerilla warfare in the sense that guerillas look for apertures and opportunities where they can have an effect.

—Howard Zinn

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Young man in a park, Gaza City

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Inbal Yahav, telling how she lost a close friend in a Gazan mortar attack, Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav (cooperative agricultural community) next to the Gaza Strip

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During a trauma healing session in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip

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Nader Abu Amsha, director of YMCA Rehabilitation Program & Beit Sahour Branch

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West Jerusalem

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Watching a performance of the Jenin Freedom Theater at a water rights demonstration in the Jordan River Valley

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Coaches at a training for the Quaker Palestine Youth Program, Gaza City

PHOTOS

An interlude in my series of journal extracts about my recent trip. That series will continue.

Often while photographing in Palestine-Israel for 3 months this spring I despaired. For several reasons: in Gaza and the West Bank, the paucity of popular unarmed resistance to the occupation; by Israeli Jews, the absence of awareness about the occupation and siege; and my own sense of futility about my work. There are exceptions of course, Gush Shalom, Other Voice, and Emek Shaveh for instance in Israel, and some local popular resistance groups in Palestine, such as struggle in the villages of Bil’in, Budrus, Al Masara, Al Walaja, and Nabi Saleh in the West Bank and a few locations in Gaza. Yet, in my 8 trips there since 2004 I’ve never felt so crushed.

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Beneficiary of the East Jerusalem YMCA’s rehabilitation program

However, I returned to my home in the USA to join with activists on campaigns such as BDS—Boycott-Divest-Sanction. I work with Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights and other local and regional organizations struggling to bring justice with peace and security to all parties in Israel-Palestine. This work nourishes me, offers me ways to use my photography, provides hope. As a friend, Loretta Williams, signs her letters, “In Struggle is the Hope.”

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Watching the Holy Fire Eastern Christian Orthodox Holy Fire procession on Easter, Beit Sahour (Bethlehem)

To be precise about my itinerary: 1 week in Jerusalem to acclimate politically and historically to the region, 4 weeks in Gaza to photograph the activities of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program and to teach photography to young adults, 4 weeks in Bethlehem to work (nominally—I’ll explain this later) with the Palestine News Network, 2 weeks in Ramallah with the Quaker Palestine Youth Program in the West Bank to photograph their work and teach, and in Jerusalem with the American Friends Service Committee to photograph for their BDS campaign. During my final week of 12, I explored the northern Mediterranean coast, the Israeli borderlands with Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and trace the Jordan River from headwaters on Mt Hermon where it dumps (theoretically) into the Dead Sea.

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Watching a man being fitted for a suit, Gaza City

A friend asked, what surprised you, Skip? Some people I met such as Jen Sieu from the USA who volunteered with me as a photographer and reporter at the Palestine News Network. We gave each other leads such as the Battir terraces threatened by the planned Israeli separation wall and early morning at the Bethlehem checkpoint. And Ayman Nijim, a psychosocial worker in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza. He introduced me to a young men’s debka touring group and brought me to photograph his trauma healing program in the camp. And an old friend, Fareed Tawallah in Ramallah, with whom I shared the farmers’ market he co-founded, Sharaka.

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Fatma M. Khateib, Project Coordinator at the psychosocial service agency, Afaq Jadeeda Association (New Horizons), in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip

Some places surprised me. For instance Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli moshav hugging the Gaza wall, often targeted by Gaza mortars and militants. There I met Roni Keider and her daughter, Inbal Yahav. Inbal lost a close friend in a mortar attack. And the border zones mentioned earlier, actually viewing fences and army patrols, while I was able to look into neighboring countries, including Syria where violence rages. And the Battir terraces, ancient agricultural terraces that utilize natural water flows and could be partially destroyed if Israeli’s plans for extension of the separation wall succeed.

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Men’s-only pre-wedding party, Gaza City

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Taher Mhanna and his son Hesham

In Bethlehem I was chagrined to learn that the Palestine News Network made little use of my photos, offered virtually no support, and exhibited what I feel is a self-destructive policy of eschewing connections with Israeli organizations—the normalization policy—that persuaded them against using my and Jen’s photos about the Battir terraces. The reason? The project involved Friends of the Earth Middle East, a joint Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian environmental effort to foster justice and peace thru concentration on the environment.

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Hamas security officers, Gaza City

Three final surprises: the major direction and staff changes in the American Friends Service Committee and Quaker programs which I will report on separately. And my friendship with a woman with whom I wrote and Skyped regularly, a very personal connection to home that warmed my heart. My daughter Katy as well, who cared so lovingly for my home and business.

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Participants in a water rights march in the Jordan River Valley

I’ve made many photos, written some blog entries, made some friends, and raised within myself many questions. For a few: what is the strategy of Palestinian unarmed resistance? Are Israeli occupation and settlement policies suicidal? Why is Gaza so often the center of resistance and the target of Israeli attacks? How does the terrain reflect the politics, especially the control of water? How much should I concentrate my photography on conflict vs ordinary life?

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Drinking water from a school pure water installation provided by the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip 

Photography is one of my primary lifelines, for my own psychic survival at least. I must believe it has some value, even tho I am often disappointed with reactions to it—and my own self evaluations. I am nourished by the awareness that I am not alone in photography and activism. I photograph shoulder to shoulder with some of my mythical photographic mentors—Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, and W. Eugene Smith for 3 who are long dead, and Sebastião Salgado very much alive. And in politics I walk with Martin Luther King Jr and Jesus Christ, partners as teachers and martyrs.

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Participants in a Quaker Palestine Youth Program in occupied Palestine, West Bank

My next steps? Exhibit portraits at a regional Quaker gathering in August 2013, produce new slide shows and supplement old ones for upcoming national tours, perhaps publish a second book (the first is Eyewitness Gaza, available at blurb.com), post more blog and website entries, and develop new print exhibitions. The usual.

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Avi, proprietor of Abraham’s Tent, housing for travelers in the Golan, near Mt Hermon

I’ll end with some insights from James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:

For in the immediate world, everything is to be discerned, for him who can discern it, and centrally and simply, without either dissection into science or digestion into art, but with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of the consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.

That is why the camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time; and is why in turn I feel such rage at its misuse: which has spread so nearly universal a corruption of sight that I know of less than a dozen alive whose eyes I can trust even so much as my own.

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The photographer resting in a field of aloes, West Jerusalem

I can imagine how tough it was to be over there. It’s reached a state of stasis, maybe. All the power held by Israel. All the Palestinian strategies of the past have failed in the face of that really evil state-power/religious-zealot-power/dysfunctional state/helped by holocaust drums and US Jews and Christian Zionists. And the Palestinians, too, in their government apparently tribal (legacy of the Tripoli-Arafat approach–non democratic really). Yikes.

—a friend (in a recent email to me)

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Courtesy of Islam Madhoun & AFSC Gaza

A Long, Slow, Soft Landing in Boston

THIS SERIES WILL BE CONTINUED

LINKS

To learn more about Palestinian unarmed resistance to occupation (American Friends Service Committee):

“A brief overview of the situation in Palestine-Israel” by Skip Schiel

Playground Tour of Palestine” by Ilse Cohen

“Life Is A Catastrophe Now” by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, May 2013

“Israel is Outgassing its Unhealed Trauma,” by Paul Levy

“Why Land Day still matters,” by Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis, March 30, 2012

“In Their Shoes (Obama in Israel & Palestine)” by Uri Avnery April 2013

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All photos made in January 2008

Complete set

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Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, January 2008

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Gaza City

To enter Gaza one needs a permit from the Israeli authorities, the District Coordination Office (DCO) for Gaza. And one needs to apply thru an international non-governmental organization, a NGO. Since 2004, I’ve gotten a permit thru the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and only once, in 2008, did I experience difficulties—nearly one hour of sharp interrogation at the Erez crossing.

Planning my work in Gaza to begin on July 20, 2009, I wrote the director of the AFSC’s Quaker Youth Program in Gaza. She began the application process more than one month ago. Ordinarily the process takes no more than 2 weeks. However, after the devastating violence by Israel on Gaza for 22 days beginning on December 27, 2008, including possible war crimes on the parts of several parties, the process has become more complicated. In fact, Israel prevented  the UN team investigating alleged war crimes from entering, so they had to go thru the Egyptian crossing at Rafah.

When Amal, the director in Gaza, phoned the DCO to learn about the application, either no one in the office answered the phone, or they told her, call back, we’ll let you know tomorrow. Frustrated after repeated tries, she asked me to call. Same response. Then two days ago they informed me that the AFSC was not registered, not accredited with the privilege of applying for a permit. This was the first either of us heard. Why, we wondered, hadn’t they told us that earlier?

This strikes me as deceitful, unjust, wrong, and suspicious.

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Ibrahem Shatali, program officer

Furthermore, let us ask: 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 prohibit 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. And yes, Israel surely has the right to control entry from Gaza.

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?

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My case is a microcosm of the larger situation: vast injustice, to the point of breaking international laws and contravening UN resolutions.

I suffer minimally. I am not stranded at the Egyptian border with thousands of other Gazans pleading to be allowed home, stranded without amenities in the heat or cold, without water, some of us dying. Egypt colludes with the US and Israel in maintaining its border. Nor am I stuck inside Gaza as were some 25 Fulbright scholars last year who Israel prevented from leaving. Nor am I lethally afflicted with injury or disease, untreatable inside Gaza by the limited hospital facilities, often without medicines and equipment in repair, qualified to leave for medical care in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or even Israel, but blocked at Erez.

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Skip Schiel, volunteer photographer and photography teacher

My suffering is minor. I live in a flat in Ramallah, with food, water,  shelter from the sun, and with friends and colleagues. I can continue my photographic work. I’m only prevented from serving in Gaza, making photographs for various organizations about their humanitarian work—the AFSC Youth Program, the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and the Palestine Water Authority struggling valiantly to purify the polluted saline aquifer water and treat at least partially the vast sewage created by 1.5 million human beings in one of the most congested, poverty stricken regions of the world. And I might not be able to offer photographic training thru the Youth Program and a university.

Unlike most Gazans, I might be able to communicate with a few people in the global community, touch them with a story, a photograph, a message, a plea. Not just for me to enter Gaza but for Gaza to be free, for acts of violence to stop and be adjudicated, responsibility taken, and reparations made by the responsible parties. This is my hope, my prayer, my request.

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If you’d like to help, please consider contacting your Congress people (if you’re a US citizen, or the equivalent if you’re outside the US), best if in person with a group, but by phone, email or some other means, to demand: 1. remove the restrictions on entering humanitarian workers, 2. open the borders for humanitarian aid, 3. hold all parties accountable for violence and breaking international laws, and 4. end the siege, free Gaza.

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Please feel free to forward this widely.

A minor update about the permit.

As of today, July 27, 2009, there is still no progress. But I just learned that the Middle East regional coordinator of the AFSC youth programs, Thuqan Qishawi, is also prohibited from entering Gaza, as is an American intern, Grace. This exacerbates the problem and allows me to claim that the entire program is jeopardized by this closure. If any wish to add that to messages to the legislators, please do. Other NGO’s report similar problems.

Of course, for years, the AFSC staff in Gaza is usually prevented from leaving. So this is a gigantic problem for any Palestinian programs with branches in the West Bank and Gaza. How can they coordinate?

Links:

Free Gaza

Alice Walker: Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters “the horror” in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel

AFSC in Gaza

Expanded Vision: Our Trip to Rafah (honoring Rachel Corrie), January 2008

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The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.

—Lorraine Hansberry

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Jenin

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Burquin

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

Photos

July 17, 2009, Friday, Jenin Creative Cultural Center:

Home again, in the Ramallah Friends School apartment, and truly it feels like home: privacy, quiet, comfortable, secure, friendly, compatible, a suitable mattress, set up for me and me alone. How I love it. A good stroke, to rent the place, and now if only I could swing it thru the end of this tour of duty and not have to struggle to find a new place and move there.

With the return to home, possibly the return of dreams, a bunch of them, and some of them significant:

I was setting up to make a large-scale photo presentation to an odd assortment of college age youth. They’d returned from a study trip to Central America and had options for attending various presentations and seminars. They were free to join me or not. The set up was elaborate: audio, video, a TV production of my show, a large room that gradually shrunk as more and more gear appeared. A few students straggled in, one told me I’d be lucky to attract more than a handful because of their many options.

I did something to the installed computer so it had to reboot, and I wasn’t sure it would open properly, the usual problem. Workers stuck partitions thru the space, shrinking it even further. The room felt stuffy so I opened windows. A young man caught my eye and engaged me in a game of catch with a small rubber ball. I excelled in being able to catch it with my left hand (tho right handed), even when my back was turned. I was a wizard. A little boy joined us.

The only photos I brought with me—and I don’t now know the topic—were 8 by 10 prints. So I wasn’t sure how well they could be viewed.

Second dream: I watched as a family fled terrible bombing (might relate to Gaza), over and over again, the bombs, and the family returning and then leaving. They used a small rowboat; they had to flee over water. Something exploded under the boat and threw the father into the air. Someone explained, that was a dum dum, not meant to hit anyone directly but to explode near and cause big troubles.

Ah, having and remembering so many rich dreams is very nourishing. And raises the question: why so few in Jenin and so many on this 1st night home?

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After reading an article sent me by Sue from last year’s Friends General Conference gathering Palestine/Israel workshop, about the new dispensation in the territories, the newly relaxed mood, expanding normalcy, and reading about a shopping center in Jenin for home furnishings, I discovered from Charley where it was, and a few evenings ago set out to explore it. About 5 stories tall, with the owner’s name prominently lit in red on the roof, Herbawi, it sprawls. One floor for bedroom furnishings, one floor for kitchen, etc. I counted maybe 15 people shopping, max, but then it was after 9 pm. One woman in traditional black clothing languidly dusted the merchandise. She eyed me as I photographed, walked over to me, and seemed to nod me in the direction of a very young man sitting at a desk. I approached him, held up my camera, put a quizzical look on my face, and asked, OK? He seemed to signal OK back.

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But then why did he follow me around for about 5 minutes? I glanced back at him, smiled, and continued. He went away. I found an elevator, pushed the button to the top floor, 6, door opened, lazily with a grating sound, and before me appeared a semi darkened cavern filled with packing crates and other debris. Same at floor 5. I didn’t have the gumption to exit. I was also nervous about the elevator stranding me somewhere between floors in this vast emporium.

With deep regret I realized I had only my 50 mm Nikon lens, no wide angle. This would have been a perfect setting for the wide. How can I improvise with what I have? What I lost in focal length I gained in speed because this is a f/1.8 lens, the wide is about f/3.5.

Outside I had to back way up, across the street, down a gravel road, smelling sheep, past some rough square little buildings, maybe where the sheep live, to find a proper position for my camera. Moving like this, rather than zooming, is an old experience that I’d forgotten how to do.

Trying to find my way back to the Center, temporarily lost (I make occasional useful discoveries while lost) I stumbled onto a children’s entertainment-play area, jammed with brightly colored plastic climbing and sliding devices that require air to expand and become more or less stable (what happens during power outage?). The kids screamed, romped, some cried, the little ones especially, and no one seemed to mind me photographing. I’d asked permission to enter and use my camera, the attendant brought me to the manager who told me he also was a photographer, Saif Dahlah, and worked for the French press agency (AFP), and sure, he cheerily said, no problem.

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I delighted. After about 30 minutes of this, clicking furiously, marveling at the access— state-side I’d probably have to get every parent’s signed permission, and this would be granted only after a criminal background check—3 adult men carrying two way radios and one younger looking sweaty fellow stopped me. None had any English, I couldn’t understand any of their Arabic, but I understood their gesture—hands out front, passing quickly over each other, to mean we want you to finish and be out of here. You’ve been here long enough!

I argued, but the manager gave me permission. They weren’t convinced. Maybe the word boss would work. Ah ha, it did.

Come with me, the sweaty boy gestured, and he brought me to the boss. Oh, the boss explained, you didn’t understand, we want you to drink a coffee and then you can get back to photographing.

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Which I did. Another 10 minutes and I ran out of camera memory, not bringing my bag with extra memory, thinking, it’s evening, dark, I won’t do much photographing. Wrong. This should teach me: bring the camera bag, bring the extra memory, bring the extra battery, and lug that heavy wide-angle lens.

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My last day in Jenin included the last of the 4 photo sessions. As usual, I showed up at noon, the start time, Abdullah was there, no one else, I asked him to find the others. He disappeared. About 15 minutes later we found Mays and Touleen but they begged for a delay of 1/2 hr so they could go to lunch with Sophie.

OK, but what about the others? No answer. We finally began at around 1, providentially. Shortly before noon the power went off. All my plans depended on the computer. Now what? I asked Ala what she would suggest. Well, she said, you’ve been to the roof, you’ve been to the tunnel, how about photographing around the Center for the website and displays?

Not a bad idea, but what is happening around the Center that might be photographable? This silenced us. Nothing. Ah well, we’ll find something. Luckily the power returned. But the idea had been planted: photograph around the Center.

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And then just a few minutes before we began I noticed Sophie teaching a drawing workshop. We could begin there. And we did. The 3 of us (2 absent) with Yusef’s brother Mohammed, aka Ahmed, taking the turns on the various cameras.

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Returning to our chaotic room (the German language class was still running, and boys had entered the computer space and were loudly chatting) we inched our way thru their photos, constantly beset with computer problems, but surmountable, and then we barely approached what I’d hoped would be the main topic, editing, and with that beginning work on the exhibit Yousef requested. Mays had brought previously made portraits, and she didn’t want us edit them. I thought this would have been a good exercise—to make selections and talk about why we were doing that. Not to be. We viewed Abdullah’s video that I’d helped him put up on YouTube. That was a hit. Others gathered around to watch and congratulate.

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Sophie Furse, photo by Mays

So the workshop ended reasonably successfully. As did my entire 2 week journey there, or so I thought. Yousef gave me a bar of olive oil soap in thanks, he posed me with others in the obligatory group photo, and best of all, Abdullah walked me to the taxi station carrying my black shoulder bag. He is a dear, I gave him one of the hospital photos, and wished him good luck and much success. I hope to see him again. Mays also wished me goodbye, as did Yousef’s nephew Mohammed and brother Ahmed. I did not see or seek out the Gang, happy to be away from them.

I leave with them a partially completed website, hoping Yousef will continue the design and assure the maintenance. I’m done.

Jenin Creative Cultural Center

The trip back to Ramallah was relatively pleasant, thru winding valleys, many of them cultivated tho brown, not much traffic, a reasonably caution driver, plenty of leg room despite my pack on the floor in front of me. 2 hours, 1 major checkpoint that caused only minimal delay, I should find out if we passed thru the old Huwarra. Soldiers checked a few taxis perfunctorily. Some soldiers wore heavy battle gear, others were more casually dressed. When one peered into our taxi I peered back, trying to efface any hint of smile, and just slightly nod in recognition of him and his humanity. This is a delicate manner: how to treat the soldiers?

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Checkpoint south of Nablus, temporarily unstaffed

While attempting to nap—I’d also been photographing, mostly the fields—I remembered to make a few important calls. Fareed about the water person today (not available). Jerusalem Studies for the Nablus tour (signed up, but it costs 140 NIS and I learned later I can join another one led by Jan’s friend, Adel, on Monday, which will probably be cheaper and more oriented to history and archeology than the Saturday tour which is about shopping, tho that also could be photographable). And most important the permit people. I reached a few officers directly, lost connections, and tried again. With the result:

I wrote Tom this:

tom,

the latest is slimly encouraging: the officer i spoke with in the permit office knew my case. after first saying the permit was granted, he retracted and asked me to call back. i phoned several times and finally heard him say, can’t seem to find a definitive answer in the computer, the answer is probably on my co’s desk, call back sunday.

when i told amal about this she sounded furious. they say that every time, or something like it, she exclaimed. call them tomorrow (fri).

so i’ll do that. the officer, polite and civil with very good english—the face of oppression can be very gracious—, told me also there was confusion about the different applicants thru the afsc. which might be partly true. but here also amal dissented, saying, i applied for each one separately, there should be no confusion.

so at least you and i are not yet declared forbidden…

i have no idea whether senator john kerry’s office is intervening. they don’t reply to me or my quaker friends back home. so annoying.

but let’s keep trying.

good luck and let’s hope to be together over here soon,

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Having the mobile is a great convenience. In this case, while finishing the long taxi ride, 2 hours, I had my office with me. And despite using the Israeli Orange network, I usually have coverage.

Arriving in Ramallah, I bought 2 falafels, 2 beers, showered, and relaxed. Then I napped, then I ate, and then I did my email, now having a connection, not a reliable one but enough to bring me a letter from Y…

In N, she is pursuing finding housing, talking with realtors, finally reifying her long quest to live on the West Coast. Good for her—a fear of mine since we met now finally is no longer a fear, not such a big one. I’ll miss her when she moves permanently there, but know, somehow or other, or so I wish, we will stay in touch. However, she does get busy, as she admitted in her letter, and lacunae might grow, resulting in a total detachment. As with Kathleen.

Ah well, impermanence, why worry about it? It’s part of the teaching, part of the practice. The hardest part: detachment.

Last night I felt a corresponding closeness with X, wondering where and how she is. I listened to the music she gave me, finding it fresh and inspiring reminiscence and reverie, and I searched for info about volunteering medical services in Guatemala which is what she’s doing.

So run the ramblings of a lost and lonely soul, on the road in the Land of Troubles, the land of light, the land of romance.

In the evening I felt mellow, and turned to one of my favorite pursuits, web surfing. I just meandered about, aimlessly, or serendipitously, depending on one’s attitude. The weather in various parts of the world, organizing my browser’s bookmarks, viewing photos of others, this and that. A sheer joy. One of the best aspects of 21st century experience. How can anyone feel lonely with all this potential interaction? Easily. Look at me.

Gaza is the main question: will Israel grant me a permit? If yes, I’m heading there next week; if no, I make other plans, including appealing to the Israelis (if such an appeal process exists, which I doubt) and writing my Congress people for assistance. I’m mixed about going to Gaza. Amal tells me, everyone’s waiting for you. Which is attractive. And I long to see friends and offer services and make new photos. Yet, it will be hot, at times dangerous, I may lose my privacy if they insist on having an accompanier with me at all times. So, 2 months from now, September 13, back in Boston, or earlier, I’ll know the answer to this question: Gaza yes or no?

The question itself adds drama to my story. Some, those few who might ponder my fate, might ask, where is Skip now, did he ever get into Gaza?

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Office of The Freedom Theater in Jenin refugee camp

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

Photos

Shop (Jenin), a video

July 14, 2009, Tuesday, Jenin Creative Cultural Center:

No dreams—dreadful. But a spectacular lilting cloud filled morning sky, and I was in just the right situation to photograph it: on my back, fuzzy, merging into wakefulness.

Why no dreams? Always a question, a mystery. How I miss them. As if the night were wasted, might have been effectively skipped without significant loss.

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To Khirbet Belameh, a ruins near the northwestern entrance to the city, suggested by either Yousef or Ala’a, I forget which, as a photo field trip site. Very good choice. Partly because it generated a lot of interest from a wide assortment of people, including Mohammed, Yousef’s nephew, the entire class of 5, a few of their friends, Husam who was our informal leader, and the Gang. The ruins feature a large tunnel, at its height some 5 meters, equally wide, extending far back past the current and temporary gate and allegedly up the hill. This is thought to be for people to carry water from the spring or pool at the lower end up to their city on the heights. Pockmarks of about 1 m wide and high decorate one section of the tunnel, said by the guide (who was on only his 2nd day of the job and seemed untrained) to hold food for horses. Needless to say, this archeological attraction requires much research.

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Archeologists date it to the Bronze Age with proof of habitation extending from the Bronze thru the Iron, Roman, and Byzantine and into the Islamic eras. Ruins are on top of a high hill, we didn’t visit them. From another document: … one of the major Bronze Age sites of the West Bank. It sits in a commanding position over the pass of the Wadi Belameh, which leads to the Jezreel Plain. The site is identified with the city of Ibleam, which is mentioned in the Egyptian Royal Archive in the 15th century BC. This site was occupied through the Medieval period.

Not only is this site being developed for its intrinsic intellectual interest but for its touristic potential. It would be one of the few such sites in Jenin.

Photographically it offered odd lighting, curvaceous forms, mystery—and the bodies of other humans, ourselves, as we explored. Students tended to be much more interested in photographing each other than the site itself. We emerged outside on a high platform looking over the complex. As we leaned over the railing I noticed our shadows on the ruins, and added them to my designs. I might mention this to my students as an object of awareness: who else noticed and made use of the shadows?

The stones are memory, mute for the most part. They lay there, containing stories, and we wonder: how to decipher them? Stones fascinate me.

Sadly—and a mark of the occupation—the interpretive panels stand empty. The bright metal reflects light but little else. For how long have they remained in this dormant condition? When will they contain information?

I asked the affable dark skinned guide how many visitors had he on his first day, the day before? None. And today, before us? One.

The saga of getting to this site warrants a few words. The plan kept shifting, as happens regularly here—Tuesday, no today, Monday, noon, no 1 pm, and finally we left at 2. Then the Gang straggled off for food. Our nominal guide Husam said we’ll wait. I exploded. Wait!? We’ve been waiting for 2 hours and now they go off for food and we’re to wait longer? Not a minute longer! I relented, we agreed to 5 minutes, the Gang dutifully reported back within the time frame. Meanwhile, Husam and I discussed the conflict between eastern and western concepts of time, loose and tight, agreeing that both have their virtues, both their problems.

I was excited going with this group of enthusiastic souls. While waiting with Touleen and Mays, my only 2 female students, I improvised a portrait lesson, since their homework had been to make portraits. We shared the computer room with Lucas who was teaching German. After showing Touleen how I was able to fix her camera’s over exposure problem (with the assistance of Mustafa at the Freedom Theater) and download (using my Canon) I gave them my Canon camera and asked them to photograph each other. I took a turn. We downloaded the photos and examined them, deciding what worked, what didn’t, and why. A sterling lesson, one of my best. I used Mustafa’s technique of drawing directly on the computer screen to demonstrate the effect of cropping. I noticed that when Touleen set up a view of Mays she initially posed her at the window, then saw the backlight problem and moved her. We’d discussed backlighting earlier.

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Two of my photo students at the Jenin Creative Cultural Center watching a video of refugee camp children in a photographic workshop at the Freedom Theater

In the evening Yousef invited us to his home in Burquin, a small village west of Jenin, about 8 km. It is in the hills, and he and his brother, Ahmed (aka Mohammed) and his nephew Mohammed guided us up the hill behind his home to a plateau. We overlooked much of the surrounding terrain, including Jenin with its lights on, Nazareth, the Jordan River valley and Jordan beyond, and toward the coast, not so far away. This reminded me again how small Israel-Palestine is. He pointed out where the Israeli army had constructed a base during the Battle of Jenin in 2002, firing artillery and cannon into the refugee camp. We waded thru thick olive groves, including some “Roman” trees, gnarled and shriveled, full of lacunae, indicating their great age. He brought us to his “castle” where he’d like to build some sort of international center for transformation of the political scene. Seemed a bit vague to me, but then dreams often are.

Photographically this was a gold mine, if only I set my camera properly and chose the position and moment astutely. Shall see today.

He had stories. About a tank sited across from him, firing his way in 2002. Snipers killing innocents. A checkpoint between Burquin and Jenin blocking access. This contrasted with what he had told some of us earlier, that the Jenin valley had long been a breadbasket of sorts, rich in produce, and with it water. After the Israelis built settlements nearby and dug deep wells, deeper than allowed the Palestinians, the water dried up. It is now a water-starved region.

And weaving into this some history of the region: Jenin comes from the Arabic word for paradise or garden (from some promotional literature he lent me: Jenin and its environs have been inhabited almost as long as Jericho, making it one of the most ancient areas in Palestine, and the world. Its history dates to 2450 BC, when it was built by the Canaanites and named “Ein  Ganeem,” meaning Garden Spring.)

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Mustafa, photography instructor at The FreedomTheater

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Two of his students

The Romans called it Jinae, Jesus is thought to have passed thru here going between Nazareth and Jerusalem, healing a group of lepers in this village at a site now marked by a Greek Orthodox church (I visited it in 2006 when Yousef and I met).

Walking thru briars in the dark, over mounds of ancient limestone, not sure about snakes or poisonous plants, in my Tiva sandals, was unsettling. I didn’t trip, I didn’t slip, I didn’t catch myself on thorns, and as far as I know I wasn’t bitten or infected in any way. For such small wonders, I am grateful.

Hearing A’s story the day before, and noticing her rare beauty and how well she wears her suffering, I’ve been drawn to photograph her. To avoid possibly embarrassing her if  I directly asked her for permission to make her portrait (she’d asked me to delete another I’d made in demonstrating to the class) I waited for an unguarded moment. It occurred. A group of us were sitting about, as we often do, waiting, waiting, waiting, when I thought, this is the moment. Not to sneak it but to appear to be making portraits of the group, one at a time. So I began with Sophie, moved left and finally alighted on A sitting nearly beside me. First a profile, then a more full-face view. She smiled, did not demur, I might have achieved some limited success.

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Ala Khalf

Will this portrait reveal what I’ve written about her—a long-suffering young woman, hoping to break free from her restricted life as a woman living thru occupation?

Yousef seemed excited by my progress on the Center’s website. We sat together, me at the end of my working day, hot and tired, wishing only to shower and nap. I began a training for him because he will be the manager once I’ve exited. I showed him how to add and edit pages, add images, and we struggled with changing the language to Arabic. He brought a folder of images and texts that I can use for the site.

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Yousef Shalabi, co-founder and director of the Jenin Creative Cultural Center

So far I take some limited pride in this site, despite the apparent bugs in the template and my clumsiness with managing it. It is not nearly as simple and sweet as is my blog template.

Sara wrote that American Friends Service Committee is closing Peacework. This is big, ominous, disturbing. The closure is a response to the demand by management for a 50% reduction in budget. Y wrote in with condolences and as is her way with brilliant suggestions about how to close it out: a form of party with a display of previous issues and those who guest edited or made contributions standing by their issue.

I wrote and phoned various people yesterday including Amal and Erez about my Gaza permit, which is yet to be approved. No word from Chris at Kerry’s office or from anyone else, other than Amal who seems to be putting the follow-up in my lap.

The night seemed cooler than previous nights, the morning less heated. Maybe the clouds had some effect.

Yousef clinched the windmill story, I think and for now: it is left over from an era of many windmills, during Jenin’s more productive period. It has nothing to do with the refugee camp, contrary to what Abdullah told me. A rich family probably owns it with the house at its base. The play gear I discovered there probablly is for the family’s children.

He also told us the army had made an incursion into Jenin the night before. I heard or saw nothing of it. The Israelis can be swift and silent in their night prowling. Who did they snare, for what reasons, and where is that person now, and for how long?

The night before, that same night—coincidence?—the entire city experienced a power outage. Charley thought this might have been associated with our own lack of electricity, but later we discovered that indeed it was due to not paying the account.

Making my life with the Gang somewhat harder are their accents, all different, and except for Lucas, barely resembling the English I’m familiar with. Scottish (speaking in a rapid clipped manner) and two forms of British.

Researching the archeological site I discovered my own site, and realize now I was here in April 2006, just a little over 3 years ago. (Photos here)

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