Posts Tagged ‘sderot’

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands.


I am the one who says to himself: From the smallest things are born the largest thoughts.

—Mahmoud Darwish

I’ll attempt to list my motivations in order, not of priority, but chronologically as I changed over my 78 years, led (as Quaker say) or dragged (which may be more accurate) to my current photographic project, “On Our Way Home,” about internally displaced (expelled would be more accurate) Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and eventually Gaza.

Self exile from Chicago’s Southside

First, my own personal homeland, the Southside of Chicago.

As a prelude to this section I’ll describe much revelry one night from my backyard at the end of last summer. A barbecue, possibly by the Somalian family, talking, laughing, the odors of meats wafting thru my small apartment in Cambridge Massachusetts, gave me great pleasure, even if I didn’t personally attend. That they can live here, enjoy a relatively safe and free life, my neighbors. It provokes me to wonder: how many of my Southside Chicago neighbors were recent immigrants when I grew up there in the 1940s and 1950s? Zolly, or Zoltan, for instance, last name Rinkach, possibly East European, possibly fleeing the holocaust? Then the boy from Hungary escaping the Soviets in the early 1950s. Becky Caravassas’ family, from an impoverished Greece? Oh, to return, not only to return to my original neighborhood, my homeland, but to return as it was then and interview people to learn their stories of migration.

An explanation about growing up on the Southside: from 1942 to 1955 I lived with my family in an all-White neighborhood near Avalon Park. African-Americans began moving into neighborhoods near ours. My parents worried about violence, feared decaying public education opportunities, and expected falling real estate values; so we moved to an all-White suburb, Arlington Heights, northwest of Chicago. This was curiously the same summer—1955—Rosa Parks helped spark the bus boycott in Montgomery Alabama, oppressed South Africans drafted their Freedom Charter in Soweto which charted their drive to end apartheid, and White extremists murdered Emmett Till (who also lived on the Southside) in Money, Alabama. This was the year our family became, ignobly, the first White family to flee our neighborhood, a decision that excluded me, a life-changing decision that to this moment I regret. Truly 1955 was a momentous year.

For several years I returned to my old neighborhood to visit friends I’d grown up with since kindergarten, Tom, Mitch, Ise, Green, Tim, Kruli, Becky, Pat, Sandy, Lynn, and Jack Kosina. None of their families had left. About 8 years later, probably in the early 1960s, on my way from Arlington Heights to the Southside, I needed to transfer commuter rail trains downtown in the Loop. Asking a policeman where to catch the Southside train he said, Southside? I wouldn’t advice it, too dangerous, lots of Black people. That began my expulsion from my homeland—of my own making, from fear. I exiled myself. By my own decision, I could not return to my homeland.

AH to Southside

Arlington Heights to Chicago’s Southside via public transport

In 1982, about twenty years later, thanks to my courageous and sensitive 13 year old daughter, Katy, she said when we were visiting my family in Arlington Heights, dad, I believe you’d like to visit your old neighborhood in Chicago; let’s borrow grandma’s car and drive down together. Which ended my self-imposed exile of some 2 decades. This experience sensitized me to the plight of refugees and immigrants—it began my slowly evolving process.

Enveloping global refugee and immigrant crisis


Hundreds of refugees and migrants aboard a fishing boat moments before being rescued by the Italian Navy as part of their Mare Nostrum operation in June 2014. Photo by The Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini

Over the last 25 years wars have raged in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, often USA inspired; Syria exploded; the climate crisis manifests dramatically with droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other environmental disasters; economic conditions in the southern hemisphere deteriorated, often again because of USA policies; and people fled, creating a momentous army of migrants, forced by conditions to abandon homes, livelihoods, families, and ancestral regions, overwhelming countries like Norway and Sweden which had historically welcomed refugees and immigrants. Nearly all countries have invoked harsher measures to block newcomers seeking refuge.

I viewed the black and white images of the brilliant Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his Human Migration Project, moved deeply by the suffering of these human beings forced to flee desperate conditions. Several years ago the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), as part of their fundraising campaign, mailed me a photograph made in 2014 by the Italian photographer, Massimo Sestini. From above it shows a boatload of some 200 people, different colors, different stories, all smiling and waving, hoping, praying. I hang this photograph over my kitchen door to remind me and guests of this phenomenon, this crucial and expanding need.

In late spring 2017, Ana, threatened with deportation, fled her home near Boston, fearing for her life if our country deported her back to her homeland, Ecuador. She is now in sanctuary in a Cambridge church where I volunteer for protective duty, part of a coalition of Christian and Jewish communities in Cambridge. I face her regularly; I am a tiny part of her survival. She is a refugee, like those sung about by Woody Guthrie in his majestic song, “Deportee.” She embodies the issue.

The Great March of Return in Gaza

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Now [December 12, 2018] the death toll is nearly 200 and still climbing.

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In late march 2018, hundreds of mostly young Palestinians in Gaza began a weekly series of nonviolent marches to the fence between Gaza and Israel. They named it the Great March of Return, calling for return to their homelands, many within a few miles of Gaza. Refugees in Gaza make up some 80% of the two million population. From the beginning of the march Israeli army snipers wounded and killed Palestinians.

[As of December 12, 2018] according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, 194 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since March 30.

Of them, 141 were killed during demonstrations, including 28 children, one woman, two journalists, three paramedics and three differently abled people.

Another 9,970 were injured, including 1,815 children, 419 women, 114 paramedics, and 105 journalists. Of those injured, 5,645 were hit by live fire, including 919 children and 113 women.

One Israeli soldier has died after being shot on July 20, 2018, during the protests.

Later some Palestinians used violent tactics such as flying incendiary kites and balloons into Israel. As of this writing these homemade weapons have destroyed some 1,200 hectares (nearly 3,000 acres) of Israeli farms and forests, more than half of the forested land in the region. Perhaps Hamas, classified by some as a terrorist organization while in fact they are the legally and openly elected government, contributed to this series of protests by providing tents and transport, maybe also inspiration to use violent tactics. Regardless of how precisely the protests were directed, many Palestinians continue to suffer under massive oppression, sanctified by my government.

I was distraught. I’ve been in Gaza 6 times since 2004, photographing programs of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), photographing conditions there generally, and publishing a book called Eyewitness Gaza. I have many friends with whom I continually communicate like Amahl, Ibrahem, Ban, Montaser, and Mustafa, and I’ve broadened my view by regularly meeting Israelis living within rocket range of Gaza, Nomika, Yeela, and Eric. These Israelis suffer attacks from the homemade rockets and mortars crudely aimed but often hitting civilian areas. I’ve made a movie called Gaza’s Israeli Neighbors: Other Voice which features a small group of courageous Israelis who call for their country to negotiate rather than bomb and invade. I try to show some of the consequences of the ongoing, seemingly unquenchable anger and violence, such as the high rate of PTSD suffered by neighboring Israelis —they call this the “Invisible Illness. Estimates claim between one-third and two-thirds of children in the city of Sderot suffer PTSD. In Gaza I am convinced the proportion is much higher.

Are any of the protesters in Gaza my former students, friends, colleagues, or families of those people? What about the young family of Ban and Islam? Thru my teaching I helped the parents meet each other. Or Ibrahem and his new family, Ibrahem once bemoaning to me the pain of still being single while in his 30s. Or Marwan crafting the publicity for the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, who is reliably in touch with me? In the fall of 2018 he offered to help host me on my recent attempt to enter Gaza for my refugee project.

This is personal. Regardless of the exact methodology and leadership of the Great March of Return I realized in March I could leap over that fence—as a photographer, a proxy Palestinian—with my international, White, American privilege to return to those homelands many in Gaza were ejected from since 1948. After interviewing and photographing refugees in Gaza I could then photograph their homelands, later return to Gaza with an exhibit, and eventually broadcast my findings to a wider audience. I would use the photosphere to help argue for their right of return, as verified by numerous UN resolutions.

Next: part three of my interim report, further discussion of my motivations

First part of this interim report


A movie by Skip Schiel about courageous Israelis advocating for talks, not tanks, diplomacy, not war.

Living within one mile of Gaza, these Israelis suffer the brunt of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, most recently infiltration as well. Yet some have formed an organization called Other Voice that calls for an intelligent and humane response to the violence and injustice in their neighborhood, in league with similarly minded Gazans.

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Qassam rocket, fired by militants from Gaza, on display in Gaza passport control office


American Friends Service Committee office in Gaza



Palestine-Gaza-Sderot-Netiv_Ha_asara-3508 From Netiv Ha’asara side of Gaza wall

Both communities are within 1 km of Gaza and often heavily attacked by rockets and mortars fired by Gazan militants. Nomika Zion lives in Sderot, Roni Keidar and her daughter, Inbal Yahav, live in Netiv Ha-asara even closer to Gaza.

…Not in my name and not for me did you go into this war. The bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name nor for my security. Houses destroyed, schools blown up, thousands of new refugees – they are not in my name or for my security. In Gaza, there is no time for funerals; the dead are put in refrigerators two by two in the mortuary for lack of room. The bodies of policemen and children are laid out and the eager journalists jump between the tactics of pro -Israel advocacy and “the pictures that speak for themselves”. Tell me, what is there to explain? What is there to explain?…

—Nomika Zion, “War Diary from Sderot”



Most recent photos

Older photos

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



Nomika Zion’s house

April 22, 2013, Monday, Sderot, Israel

I enjoy Nomika tremendously. She is of my heart and soul. There is a profound linkage, part of it verging on romance, a physical and attitudinal connection that motivates me to return to Sderot. I must confess I feel something of this for Eric Yellin (now temporarily in California with his family) as well and miss him. He is more sedate, composed, but equally committed. To reach Eric and Nomika I must endure the notorious Erez crossing point between Gaza and Israel. Relatively easy this time, partly because I know the routine better and partly maybe because Israel has smoothed out the procedure. I rode on a golf cart-like vehicle, rather than walked. I did not need to drag my heavy luggage. No more insistent men who would argue with me, demand I allow them to carry my luggage, charge me exorbitantly. I’m not sure who arranged this, Israel, Hamas, the two of them? Israel_Palestine-Gaza-American_Friends_Service_Committee-2141 Israel_Palestine-Gaza-American_Friends_Service_Committee-2130 Israel_Palestine-Gaza-American_Friends_Service_Committee-2128 Israel_Palestine-Gaza-American_Friends_Service_Committee-2105

From Gaza thru Erez to Israel

However transit required a long time to get thru, more than one hour. As we waited for the luggage inspection we were suddenly cleared from the area for a few minutes. I observed security people scurrying about and then all returned to normal: a bomb scare? Many were with me which may have slowed the process. We watched personnel search thru luggage. I’m not sure how thoroughly they checked my major bags. Not the usual mess after inspection. I seem to have lost nothing of value, in particular my photos and text files, nor do I believe they were opened and looked at. Oddly enough I did lose my olive oil of all items. I think I observed an agent looking thru a small bag and then throwing it into trash. May have been my oil. Why this? I have no idea. I did not question it because Roni Keidar was awaiting me.


During the long wait I noticed various verbal altercations between staff and those of us transiting. One young man in particular constantly argued with staff (he’d help me thru the turnstile with my luggage). All in Hebrew or Arabic so I had no idea of the content. Maybe about what he brought thru. A large man in army uniform than joined the conversation. I noticed how attentive and respectful he was to the young Palestinian. He cocked his head with an attentive expression on his face. He seemed to listen.


Israel side of Erez crossing

The usual questions to me from passport control—doing what with whom in Gaza, plans in Israel, how long, who, why, how did you meet, have a plane ticket? Minor hassle. I am experienced at this now and have many Israeli friends thruout the country. When I mentioned Sderot the agent seems to soften.

April 23, 2013, Tuesday, Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine 

At Nomika Zion’s another intense conversation, this time during lunch in the group building where I bumped into the guy who’d attended one of my shows in Berkeley California (in a home, sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace) which Eric from Sderot Israel also attended. Turns out he lives in the same urban kibbutz as does Eric, Migvan. Nomika, in her usual, super abundant, extremely spirited manner—which I so love about her but wonder how that energy might feel close up—was stunned about the connection. Later we discussed the Jewish and especially the Israeli Jewish propensity to interrupt, be loud, push, and feel the center of the universe individually and as a people. She might exemplify this, another reason I love her. She is so Jewish (also part Austrian I learned, something she agreed we shared).


Eric Yellin speaking with a friend of Skip Schiel’s in Gaza


Netiv Ha’asra

Unlike the previous 2 visits, on this one she has been generous with her time. Always serving me, making sure I’m content, and never pulling away from a conversation. Our best ever. I made the panorama of the wall near Netiv Ha’asara that I’d promised her and emailed it. She opened it immediately and exclaimed, where is this? I’ve never seen this! I described its location. She said, we take our delegations to a different part of the barrier, a fence, and seemed to suggest she might change the itinerary. My small contribution to news from Sderot. Nomika tours the West Bank every 4 months or so, last time to Nablus where she bought expensive olive oil. She asked me to remove her photo that I’d made in 2009 from my website, thanked me for removing it from my blog last year and gently chided me for forgetting or neglecting the second removal. I accomplished this in a flash and sent her the link. Too bad—such a handsome person. She explained, never photograph a woman in the morning.

Nomika introduced me to Roni Keidar and said of her, she is one of the “best and most active members of Other Voice.” Eric Yellin and Nomika cofounded Other Voice, residents of Israeli communities bordering Gaza who oppose many Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians. Nomika  published an article about life during Operation Cast Lead, the brutal air and ground assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 which killed some 1,500 Gazans, some two-thirds of them children, and then another assault from the air in November 2012. It’s titled “War Diary from Sderot” (linked below).

I regret not writing more about Kirin, the young Israeli film student from the Galilee, now studying in Sderot. We met in  Netiv Ha’asara when I rode with her and her filmmaker colleague, Ose Oyamendanm, in Roni’s car. They are making a movie about Netiv Ha’asara, Sderot, and Gaza. Kirin is not representative of young Israelis. Much more aware of injustice to Palestinians, she lives near Palestinians so this might explain part of her story. Thanks to this filmmaking team I photographed Roni’s daughter, Inbal Yahav, as she told about the death of her good friend, Dana Galkowicz, in 2005, hit directly by a mortar fired from Gaza and killed instantly. Dana was 22 years old, soon to marry.


(Courtesy of Ose Oyamendanm)

I phoned for a taxi to meet me at 2 pm which gave me time to explore Nomika’s neighborhood. On an hour-long walk I met Sharon Ben Abu who with her husband makes sculptures (Haviv Art). I’d been photographing a metal drummer in a traffic circle, the drummer’s head  swarming with what might have been snakes. She called to me, hey, what are you doing, why are you photographing this? I ambled over to her, put on my gentle smile, and said, because I admire this sculpture, find it lovely, wish to show it to others. She suddenly warmed. Oh, she said, go right ahead, my husband and I made it.

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This led to a long halting conversation (because her English was rough). I learned all the metal came from rockets and mortars that had fallen on Sderot. Thus the screaming swarming hair. When I revealed I knew Nomika and was staying with her, Sharon launched into a long criticism of something related to Nomika and the urban kibbutz Nomika lives in. Something about the people being privileged, living better than most Sderotians, and about the program that hires mentally disabled adults. She claimed they were cheated of their proper pay. She would not grant me permission to photograph her. Later when I told Nomika about the meeting I omitted the criticism.

Sharon asked if I am Jewish. I told her the Schiel-Sage-Zagy-mother story [that my sister wonders if we are Jewish because of how Jewish our mother acted and looked], which seemed to partially authenticate me. I said nothing about my mission. She didn’t inquire. On that same walk I photographed young kids playing outside their school, bomb shelters very conspicuous. I worked fast and only later, at another site, did a security woman stop me. No pictures! Nomika explained that a law prohibits photographing children’s faces without the permission of parents. When I asked Nomika why, she could not fully answer, something about pornography maybe. I felt I performed a possibly useful service by showing the ubiquitous bomb and rocket shelters in Sderot (also the walls in Netiv Ha’asara that protect residents from mortars and personal incursions).


ShelterSderot_4419 Palestine-Gaza-Sderot-Netiv_Ha_asara-3571 I could easily reside in Sderot longer—if Nomika would host me and if I could find a project. I do love it there, purely Mediterranean and very western. Too bad most Sderotians support their government fully, as far as I’m aware, and Nomika, Roni, and Eric are such exceptions. I mostly fit, nearly as well as I fit into Gaza. With one key exception: the level of suffering and fear is much greater in Gaza. When asked, why do you go to Gaza? I answer, I am impelled to go where there is suffering, try to show it, end it. And my peers would be aghast at my choice of residence and allegiance. I doubt many would contribute financially to my project in Sderot.

April 26, 2013, Friday, Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine 

I posted the Sderot-Netiv Ha’asara photos set after checking with Roni and her daughter about her daughter’s photos and my possible later writing. All 3 gave approval. I’ve yet to make a decent portrait of Nomika, or at least one she approves. This is an ongoing quest, one of many of mine.

Haviv Art Multidisciplinary Artist Studio lives in Sderot, near the border of Gaza City. His works combine musical elements, East and West, a musical bridge of peace between peoples and different cultures. He likes the dialogue through art, because art has the power to grow a new generation of peace and brotherhood. He says it is recommended for all people, despite the conflict in his area, because his art expresses the need, even in difficult times, of peace, sanity, color and imagination.

—Isabel del Rio, Yareah Magazine


Haviv Art on Facebook

Ose Oyamendanm’s “Bridges over Blood,” a movie in production about Israelis and Palestinians working for peace and justice

Nomika Zion at 2009 Survivor Corps – Niarchos Prize Ceremony (video)

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From Netiv Ha’asra, Israel, looking into Beit Hanoun, Gaza

Both communities are within 1 km of Gaza and often heavily attacked by rockets and mortars fired by Gazan militants. Nomika Zion lives in Sderot, Roni Keidar and her daughter, Inbal Yahav, live in Netiv Ha-asara even closer to Gaza.

This wasn’t my war, Bibi, and neither was the previous cursed war: not in my name, and not in the cause of my security. Neither were the boastful, theatrical assassinations of Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in November, and Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2004, and Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin, and Al-Kaysi, and Shahada and Ayash—wicked as they were—these were done neither on my behalf nor for my security…. —Nomika Zion


Older photos

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

April 22, 2013, Monday, Sderot, Israel, with Nomika Zion

A full day yesterday with Roni Keidar of Netiv Ha’asara, probably one of the Israeli communities nearest Gaza, and 2 filmmakers, one from Nigeria and the USA, Ose Oyamendan, and a young woman from the Galilee studying film making in Sderot, Kirin. Roni hosted the 3 of us and guided us to several walls, the main wall for “infiltrators” as she named them, i.e., escapees from Gaza perhaps intend on damaging Israeli Jews, and a barrier to prevent sniper fire. There is around-the-clock army presence to prevent tunneling and several chain link fences to control access to agricultural fields. The village (Netiv Ha’asara, meaning path, path to something) is a moshav, a cooperative farming community. Palestine-Gaza-Sderot-Netiv_Ha_asara-3530 Palestine-Gaza-Sderot-Netiv_Ha_asara-3536

Roni Keidar’s house and yard

She explained to us that all families, comprising some 750 people, have about 10 acres of fields each, and some 70% actively farm them. She and her dour, stern-looking husband, an agricultural engineer working for a seed company, grow tomatoes and other plants for seeds. Many of these fields squat between the Gaza wall and Netiv. She showed us the several walls, including one with a ceramic and calligraphic installation made by a resident. It’s called Netiv Shalom, Path to Peace, and invites visitors to add shells to fill out the lettering. For some reason we did not participate.


Netiv L’Shalom – Path to Peace

Ose and his hired assistant, Kirin, are making a movie comparing life in Gaza with life in the surrounding Israeli communities, an obviously good idea. I wonder if anyone has tried it before. In a minor way that is the theme of my various visits to Sderot. They filmed an interview with Roni’s daughter, Inbal Yahav. With tears in her eyes Inbal told us about the death of a close friend of hers, Dana Galkowicz, who at the age of 22, ready to marry someone from the moshav, while fleeing a rocket attack in 2005, tried to race into her house shortly after speaking with her fiancé. The rocket landed on or near her, a piece of it struck her head, probably an instant death. Death is a close neighbor in Netiv Ha’asara. Inbal named her daughter after Dana. Apparently severely traumatized, Dana’s former fiancé will not return to the village and has since married. Also, Dana’s father was in great pain until recently. As are or were many in the community. Less physical carnage perhaps in these Israeli communities than in Gaza and much of the West Bank, but a high degree of trauma. Palestine-Gaza-Sderot-Netiv_Ha_asara-3537 Palestine-Gaza-Sderot-Netiv_Ha_asara-3549

Inbal Yahav

dana gelkowitz

Dana Galkowicz (courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Roni told us her story about how she arrived at her twin passions: face-to-face meetings with adversaries and negotiations. She meets Gazans at the Erez crossing who are entering Israel for medical treatment and accompanies them thru the system. She is active with the organization, Other Voice, linking the 2 communities. She told us how Inbal, her daughter, at a very early age like 6 years (my granddaughter Eleanor’s current age), while living in Egypt (Roni’s husband is Jewish Egyptian, driven out or voluntarily fleeing shortly after Israeli independence), was excluded by an Egyptian mother from the daughter’s birthday party. Thru Roni’s persistence and the intervention of an understanding teacher the mother relented and included Inbal in the party. The 2 girls came to be closest friends. A case study in reconciliation—human beings transformed from enemies to friends. And she believes this can happen, should happen, on a much larger scale. I’m sure her story is online somewhere so I won’t try to retrieve details. Palestine-Gaza-Sderot-Netiv_Ha_asara-3556

From Netiv Ha’asara

Roni recently returned from a 3 week speaking tour of the USA where, Nomika told me, she exuded high energy at an advanced age (I believe around 67, I’m 72, I wonder how long I can sustain energy for this project) and spread the good news of Israeli Jews who live close to Gaza and shout with Other Voice: peace with justice!

…as Israeli airstrikes shook homes throughout the crowded enclave. “Hi Roni,” [Mimi, a Gazan friend] wrote. “I hope you and your family are well and safe. What’s happening is really insane. Please take care and stay safe. Love, Mimi.” Keidar felt the warmth of the gesture but also the sheer weirdness of the circumstances. Rockets fired from Gaza—maybe even from Ibrahim’s neighborhood—were raining all around Keidar’s tiny farming town, Netiv Ha’asara. “Thank you for your concern,” Keidar replied. “I’m thinking of you since it all started and I hope you and your family are okay. If only our leaders would talk. Take care.” It took only a minute for Ibrahim to respond: “Our leaders don’t care about us. The situation is really bad and I expect it to get worse. I hear bombing everywhere. We are safe so far. Take care.”… —”A Brave Friendship Spans the Border Between Israel and Gaza,” by Dan Ephron and Sarah A Topol

RoniKeidar(David Blumenfeld for Newsweek)

Roni Keidar (David Blumenfeld for Newsweek)

Now Nomika who lives nearby in Sderot, herself a major story (all in a visit of less than 24 hours). First my impressions: high energy, near manic, interrupting me constantly but also able to listen, treating me with great respect, nearly every one of my needs fulfilled, passionate, dedicated to justice for the Palestinians, critical of Israel’s habitual militarized responses to threat, courageous, innovative (she claims to have founded this urban kibbutz), active, far from numbness (I asked how she avoided numbness, thinking of T—mainly my family, she told me, parents and grandparents, all very active politically, grandfather a founder of the Haganah and active with labor-derived kibbutzim), and constantly tweaking her long black curly hair. I estimate from appearance and stories she is in her 50s. NomikaInPhoto_4519 She informed me about an article she’d written about Operation Pillar of Cloud/Defense that occurred in November 2012. It had been translated into English and published by the New York Review of Books. I found it on the internet and swiftly forwarded it with a personal note to my Levant list. It is titled, “It’s Not Just About Fear, Bibi, It’s About Hopelessness.” She slyly remarked, it is just a rewrite of my famous earlier article, “War Diary from Sderot”, which I wrote during Operation Cast Lead in 2009. But I find it is more—articulate and impassioned, a plea for wisdom.

Her story (I should probably take notes if I wish to be a professional journalist, but I don’t and I’m not—I’m a photographer looking for images and a human being forming relationships with a variety of people): in large part it’s about growing up on a kibbutz near a development town (people strategically resettled to claim the land). She observed racist hatred directed by her peers against those living in the town. Which motivated her to form the urban kibbutz, Kibbutz Migvan, in another development town, Sderot, then largely populated by Moroccan Jews resettling in Israel. The population of this urban kibbutz is now mixed and the site of a major NGO (that had its board meeting last night) offering social-psychological services to a wide variety of people, including mentally disabled. She showed me the many gifts and products from their production, ceramics mostly decorated by the participants.


Nomika’s home

When I asked her what Other Voice was doing to end the Gazan siege and transform the situation of conflict generally, she listed a variety of projects from Voice that brought Palestinians and Israelis together. During the conference Eric Yellin helped organize and indeed may have initiated 2 years ago (that I supported and promoted) a young Gazan man who attended gave an interview on the web which Hamas apparently saw. They tortured him, probably alleging collaboration with the enemy. He fled. But returned, was again tortured, refled and now is separated from his wife and kids and extended family—without country, perhaps barely surviving. All because of this “fraternizing” with the enemy. Nomika and I  deplore this attitude and policy. It’s as suicidal as are many of Israel’s violent policies. Nomika adamantly opposes these of her own country. She also listed the many international delegations Other Voice hosts and speaks to…. Palestine-Gaza-Sderot-Netiv_Ha_asara-

Wall separating Gaza and Israel Click here for larger image



It’s Not Just About Fear, Bibi, It’s About Hopelessness,” by Nomika Zion, with an introduction by Avishai Margalit (in the New York Review of Books, January 10, 2013)

“War Diary from Sderot,” by Nomika Zion, January 13, 2009

“A Brave Friendship Spans the Border Between Israel and Gaza,” by Dan Ephron and Sarah A Topol

Other Voice

Ose Oyamendanm filmmaker

Netiv Shalom, Path to Peace

Dana Galkowicz killed by a rocket from Gaza

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Sderot in Israel (built over a former Arab village) and the Gaza Strip in the Occupied Palestinian Territories lie less than one kilometer from each other. Yet they differ. Here’s one look at how they differ, December 2010.

A movie by Skip Schiel and Teeksa Photography

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Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.

Today we say: ENOUGH! It is our turn to take our destiny into our own hands and to ACT to stop the cycle of bloodshed.

Other Voice is a grassroots group that has no political aspirations. We are citizens of the Sderot region and the Gaza region. We are interested in finding creative ways of hearing a new voice from the region and for promoting hope and non-violent actions for the benefit of the locals who live here in Sderot and in the Gaza Strip.

Other Voice includes diverse men and women from all political backgrounds, professions, and beliefs. We all agree that joint civil action is needed in order to create a new sustainable option for our lives in this region

—Other Voice

לחצו כאן לקריאת מכתב מקול אחר לראש ממשלת ישראל הקורא לסיום המצור על עזה

שמונה שנות קאסמים ועשרות ביקורים מתוקשרים של פוליטיקאים מכל המפלגות, קציני צה”ל בכירים מהעבר ומההווה ומציאות של חיים בצל האימה, ללא מיגון, ללא תוכנית ללא כיוון המלווים בהבטחות שווא, עוררו בתושבים רבים באזור הזה ספקות ותחושה שפשוט אין להם פתרון.

עד עכשיו ביקשנו, זעקנו, הפגנו, על מנת שיעשה משהו להפסיק את המציאות הלא נורמאלית בה אנו מנסים בכל כוחנו לקיים את השגרה.
כל רעיון צבאי, קטן כגדול נוסה במהלך השנים האלו. ללא הועיל. אנחנו יורים. הם יורים. אנחנו מגיבים הם מגיבים וחוזר חלילה במעגל אינסופי.

היום אנחנו אומרים די! תורנו לקחת את גורלנו בידינו ולפעול להפסקת מעגל האימים.

קול אחר הנה התארגנות אזרחית, לא פוליטית, של תושבים משדרות ועוטף עזה ושל תושבים מרצועת עזה המעוניינים לחשוב באופן יצירתי ולהשמיע קול חדש של תקווה תוך פעולה בלתי אלימה למען תושבי האזור כולו.

קול אחר כוללת אנשים מכל קשת הדעות. מגילאים, תחומי עיסוק, אמונות ורקעים שונים, כאשר הבסיס המשותף הוא ההבנה כי הפעולה האזרחית המשותפת נחוצה כעת על -מנת להוביל לשינוי אמיתי וארוך טווח.

אנו מזמינים את כל תושבי שדרות והאזור להצטרף אלינו ולהיות שותפים בהשמעת הקול האישי ושמיעת הקול האחר.


Sderot in Israel (built over a former Arab village) and the Gaza Strip in the Occupied Palestinian Territories lie less than one kilometer from each other. Yet they differ. Here’s one look at how they differ, December 2010.

January 1, 2011, Saturday, in an Air France Airbus, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

Working on my computer as long as the battery power lasts—current estimate is 2 hours, 31 minutes, which is almost the time remaining before landing in Boston after a very long flight—5 + hours Tel Aviv to Paris, short layover there, and another 7 or so home. It’s been a long day.

Not only the flight time but the prelude: Eric Yellin so generously drove me from Sderot to Ben Gurion airport, a 60 minute ride at 6:30 pm yesterday [December 31, 2010], then the evening and night at the airport, working on my next blog (about the buffer zone), sleeping or sort of sleeping on an unpadded single bench (nothing like the Paris airport with its cushy chairs) from about 11 pm to 3:30 am, morning chores, eat something, one hour for security, board the plane at 8 in the morning.

Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv

Near Tel Aviv

At the airport in the morning, after passing security, I relaxed and wrote friends who’d written me—Sue MC offering me an airport pickup, Rick, Elaine, Y earlier with news about her impending trip to Japan, notes about gigs, and the like—but didn’t take the time to complete the buffer zone blog I’d begun during the evening. Too bad—a fast wireless connection and the joy of writing about Israel-Palestine from Israel. I discovered the airport wifi system had blocked Ken O’Keefe sites (reporting from Gaza), also the International Solidarity Movement and others of that nature (but nothing of mine, suggesting how little impact I’m having).

So much for the minutia of my travels, a matter of grave concern to me and of little concern to the wider world.

On the way to France

About Sderot: Nomika Zion was too busy for the interview I’d requested. She was caught in a whirlwind of last minute, last of the year work—proposals and reports due, she claimed, at midnight last night, Dec 31, 2010. She also planned to attend the party at Eric’s.

Near Sderot

During the airport ride Eric asked me about my understanding of the situation and what might help. I began with the topic of providing security for all endangered people by building international institutions, including and most especially the international court system. We differ about BDS, Boycott, Divest, Sanction—he favors a selective approach, I the more general. Perhaps his mind is more nuanced than mine. I admire that, I think I tend to favor more extreme and conclusive views. Of course, being Israeli, living in Israel, he wishes for more understanding of the existential fear of annihilation many Israelis talk about. But he is also aware of how this fear is wrongly used to justify violence and oppression.

Sky over Sderot (from the ground)

We agree that one key to the solution is partnership, reconciliation, pairing, intimately knowing others from different sides and with divergent perspectives. By now I consider Eric and Nomika extraordinary friends of mine, unusual friends of mine, rare friends of mine. I think we respect each other deeply, I them for sure.

My interview of Eric on camera went very well. He is smart and articulate. I found a good site for the interview, his home with the street as background. I rested the camera on a food carton, moved it periodically. I asked him about Other Voice, the organization he cofounded to help people speak out with other views of what is happening in Israel and Palestine and about how he became who he is. Also the effects on local people of Operation Cast Lead, the devastating Israeli assault on Gaza from December 27, 2008 to January 21, 2009. He concurred with what I’d learned on my previous trip that the trauma in Sderot is widespread. On a long walk I made earlier into the town center, I’d photographed numerous protected rooms under construction in apartment buildings. Each floor gets one small room with thick walls and steel plate window shutters. Eric had told me about this, costing the Israeli government millions of shekels, perhaps much of that part of US aid to Israel, and anticipated my question about whether they were actually needed by telling me about the gas masks. When the government required these, people were skeptical, and then Iraq fired missiles in 1990. The construction of bomb/rocket shelters also, I believe, anticipated the later rocket attacks.

My walk was generated in part to see and photograph the safe rooms, in part to feel better the life of Sderotians, and in large part to find the ultimate falafel. Nomika had told me some of the best are found in Sderot. I’m not sure I ate what she meant, but what I ate—along with a much needed and appreciated beer (no beer for Skip in 6 weeks living in Gaza)—was excellent, muntaz.

On the airport ride he also told me about helping some Gazan families stuck at Erez as they entered with much luggage. The passport woman treated them poorly, yelling and demanding they limit what they brought in to 2 parcels. When Eric tried to intervene she called 2 men with big guns. Later he set up an interview with the commander and explained the situation. The commander apologized and agreed to try to humanize procedures.

Gaza to Sderot is night into day, day into night. Radically different, and yet both are aspects of the human. Few stare at me in Sderot, I’m not worried much about attacks from external or internal forces, I can drink the tap water, flush toilet paper, appreciate the greenery, ride the regularly scheduled public transport. But I can’t speak the language, can’t find a city map in English, can’t feel bonded with the people as I do in Gaza. Night and day, day into night.




Israel’s Lonesome Doves by Tim McGirk / Sderot, Jan. 21, 2009

Other Voice

Gaza and Sderot, Moving from Crisis to Sustainability

“Sderot conference hosts Gaza residents” by Hanan Greenberg

“War Diary from Sderot,” by Nomika Zion

Blog and photos from 2009

Read Full Post »

Rocket shelter in a playground

December 31, 2010, Friday, Sderot Israel, Nomika Zion’s home-part one


…And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying…

—T. S. Elliot, “The Dry Salvages”

Once again in Sderot, with friends Eric Yellin and Nomika Zion, overnight, dinner with Eric and family, lots of conversation with Nomika and Eric, deep and satisfying.

Passage thru the Erez crossing into Israel was relatively easy, except for the mess inspectors made of my luggage. They spilled out everything that I’d carefully sorted and packed. I will now need to redo the packing today before heading to the airport with Eric later. Why complain? They confiscated nothing, so I’ve safely leaped the first of 2 security hurtles on my way home, Erez and then the airport, all photo and video files intact, at least as far as I know.

I went thru with a young woman from the UK working with Oxfam and a man who appeared Palestinian. Waiting to enter Gaza was what looked like a large extended Gazan family. Nomika said she’d heard that Israel allows more Palestinians to pass. Is this part of the easing of restrictions after the humanitarian aid ship convoy debacle of May 31, 2010? Palestinian security, aka Hamas, was not a problem either, altho I’ve heard that some Palestinians who’ve left Gaza to meet with Israelis are questioned by Palestinian security upon entrance. Collaboration is a major problem.

A quiet period in Sderot: Eric reports that altho there have been hundreds of rocket attacks on Israel since Operation Cast Lead [the brutal Israeli bombardment and invasion of the entire Gaza Strip for 22 days beginning on December 27, 2008, Gaza’s Day of Infamy], killing one worker from Thailand, and numerous violent and often lethal confrontations along the border, Sderot itself has suffered minimal attacks since Cast Lead. However, residents experience continuing anxiety about the resumption of those Qassam rocket attacks and by Israel on Gaza. While discussing this he received a robo call about exchanging gas masks. All are required to store masks in their homes. They are periodically collected, cleaned, and returned.

Rocket shelters

Now snippets of the rich conversation I’ve had with both:

Nomika, busy at the end of the year with proposals and reports, was horrified at some of my stories. The buffer zone—why did you go there? she asked, and risk your life?

To support Palestinians afflicted by the buffer zone.

The Samouni family. [massacred by the Israeli army during Cast Lead]! You actually met them? Please show me some photos.

What do you do in Gaza?

I teach photography and make photos.

Teach to whom?

Young adults.

Can you show me some photos of them?

She also requested links to an English translation of the Gaza youth manifesto that she’s read in Hebrew. Plus the video showing the bullet whizzing by the International Solidarity Movement and Palestinians in the buffer zone. And she’s heard of the Qattan Center for the Child and its director, Reem  Abu Jabber, and requested a photo.

Photo courtesy of Nomika Zion

She was amazed when someone had earlier reported the presence of fancy hotels in Gaza. That life continues, that a few people are rich, that goods and services are available to some, while highly restricted to most because of rampant poverty. She bemoaned the practices of Hamas, especially—I would assume, knowing what a powerful woman she is—stricken by the treatment of women in Gaza.

She confirmed what I’ve been reading about Israel tending toward fascism, and certainly becoming more openly racist. She recently completed a series of meetings or workshops about the Nakba [Palestinian catastrophe coincident with the formation of the Israeli state] provided by Zochrot, and either did or soon will visit a destroyed Arab village. She also confirmed the growing suspicion among Israelis that another attack on Gaza is imminent. I’ve reported that one major finding in Gaza is the widespread fear of another attack, and this one more ruinous than Cast Lead—the final solution?

Ah, one of the intrigues in this Palestine/Israel dynamic is mirroring (along with symmetry: radical Palestinians and radical Jews, both right radical as with Hamas and some settlers, and left radical as with the Palestinian Popular committees of resistance and people like Eric and Nomika and the organization he co-founded which seeks reconciliation with justice, Other Voice). Mirroring is the phenomenon of Jews treating Palestinians like Nazi’s treated Jews, using some of the same techniques. Ethnic cleansing as a form of genocide. Cast Lead as a form of pogrom. Checkpoint harassment as a form of ghetto treatment. And the separation wall as a ghetto wall.

No doubt many Jews would be sensitive to the claim that they’re acting like Nazis. Too close, and, in some cases, too true. Of course there is no comparison in numbers: 6 million Jews annihilated by Nazi’s, vs. upwards of 5,000 Palestinians killed since the Second Intifada or Uprising began in 2000.

Another mirroring phenomenon might be Jews using the Jewish holocaust to justify the treatment of Palestinians, as Germans used the outcome of World War 1 to justify their militarization and as they used selected incidents related to Jews and Jewishness to justify The Final Solution. With many differences obviously, important ones.

Altho she was busy with her work—her main job is with the Center for Social Justice in the Van Leer Institute based in Jerusalem—she’s made time for me, and not begrudgingly or only slimly so. Ample time for conversation, heated and deep conversation. She is a woman of passion and conviction. Asking her again why she is different from many other Israelis, her first response was, I’m asked that a lot. When I mentioned Eric’s answer related to his family upbringing, she nodded yes, true with me also. She added, I’m afraid of the alternative, which is to become blind and numb to other people’s suffering. She comes from a  strong left Zionist family, her grandfather one of the founders of an early radical left Zionist movement in Israel.

Nomika is single, has said nothing about children altho some of her walls display child-made art. I’ve not seen photos of her with kids. She is a connoisseur of art including some of my favorites like Monet and Egon Schiele. She is elegant in clothing, home, speech, and being. A woman of majesty and mystery. I’d love to know her better, her history, her destiny. I am gifted by her willingness to receive me and be one of my friends in Israel. I believe we support each other.

Eric Yellin

Eric: a casual sort of fellow, with a strong dedication to justice thru partnering. Also able to nuance dynamics and give a well reasoned, fair-to-many-different-views analysis. For instance, Zionist and anti Zionism. When I told him about the International Jewish Anti Zionist Network (IJAN) conference that I attended last summer in Detroit, he offered this: if Zionism means the right of Jews to a safe homeland, I’m a Zionist. If it means a homeland that disregards the rights of others living there, I’m an anti Zionist. And about BDS, Boycott, Divest, Sanction, I see how blanket condemnation of all things Israeli cuts off many avenues for reconciliation and justice. For instance, many of the people I work with in Other Voice are Israeli academics. A full academic boycott would prevent meetings with them.

Eric and Other Voice are planning a conference called Gaza and Sderot, Moving from Crisis to Sustainability. To be held February 14 – 17, 2011 in Sderot. A local progressive-leaning college, Sapir,  will host it. One of Eric’s main directions is linking people so he is attempting to get permits for Gazans to enter Israel and take part in the conference. The organization invited Dr. Eyad Serraj, founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, who replied that he supports the conference but because of the academic boycott can’t participate. John Ging, retiring director of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, has agreed to appear—Nomika told me that she admires him as does Eric, and he’s been several times to Sderot giving lectures. She hosted him for a large meeting in her home.

Eric is not sure yet about conference funding, which would determine whether they could bring international presenters. He asked me for suggestions. Friends of the Earth Middle East was one of my suggestions because one theme of the conference will be the environment and FoEME seems to have lots of money. Also the Open Society Foundation founded and funded by George Soros. I promised to think further about this matter and to promote the conference. I wish I could attend.

As I wrote earlier, Eric’s family background is liberal. He lived in the United States until age 5, then in Israel, then one teen year in the States before finally moving to Israel permanently. He married an Israeli whose grandparents, he told me, left Poland in the 1930’s when the Nazi party started gaining power. All family that remained perished. He added, I believe most of my liberal education came from the kibbutz education and upbringing.

He and his wife have 3 sons. During our meal together last night (with food we picked up from the community kitchen—Eric reports their urban kibbutz is doing well, Nomika was one of the founders) we discussed a recent youth program journey to Poland by the eldest son, Yuval. Yes, we were told to be worried about what others might do to us because we are Jews, but it was not an extreme scare (I mentioned the movie Defamation, which Eric had seen). And while at the death camps we were instructed to believe never again, not only to Jews but never again to anyone.

This son is also taking part in optional physical training, a sort of preparation for the military. Eric told me his son is willing to become a soldier, probably would prefer an elite combat unit, succumbing to the temptations so irresistible to youth that age—I remember my impulses at that stage well—but that he might be more moderate because of sharing most of Eric’s political views. The 2 young sons, twins, were returning from football practice. All were very engaged in our conversation. My credential of having visited Gaza might have provided incentive for their interest in me.

Shelter and bus stop

I ventured that the son’s experience of Auschwitz was probably much different from mine. He would identify with the Jewish victims, I with the Nazi German perpetrators. I thought hard about revealing one of my major discoveries of not only my visit to the death center but generally: that with my German and Austrian heritage I could have been a Nazi perpetrator. Had I been born 10 years earlier and in Germany I might well have been seduced by Nazi ideology and thought working in the camps not only tolerable but noble. Kill the Jews! I stated some of this, and I believe I was respectfully heard.

Eric, despite a veneer of casualness and distance, is very generous. Not only did he volunteer to repair my ailing power unit for my Apple computer—it failed yesterday at the Gaza Quaker office, as I was completing what I could of transferring files. I smelled smoke, thought first one of the office appliances had malfunctioned, then realized to my horror my cord had burned finally thru, the cord I’d worried about during my entire trip, finally and perhaps permanently. No more power once I drain the battery—but he offered to drive me this evening to the airport, a ride of about 1 hour each way, this the last day of the year, a party at his home looming in front of him with all the preparations necessary. This will save me some hours waiting in the airport. Earlier he’d contemplated driving me in the early morning tomorrow so I could arrive by 5 for my 8 am flight. Remembering the party and the drinking, he wisely changed his mind.

We’d considered other transport, bus and train. Because of the Sabbath beginning today at sunset, all public transport stops. Where else but in Israel? I love being here, despite the problems it creates for me.

He succeeded in the repair, for now. I have power. For how long I’m not sure, enough to travel home? I could use the computer tonight at the airport as I sit trying to get thru the long night.

The powers provide, when called, sometimes. Eric and Nomika are angels. I mark their friendship as a vital part of my long-term journey to the region.



Other Voice

The Center for Social Justice in The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

Gaza and Sderot, Moving from Crisis to Sustainability

“Sderot conference hosts Gaza residents” by Hanan Greenberg

“War Diary from Sderot,” by Nomika Zion

Blog and photos from 2009

Gaza youth manifesto

Whizzing bullet video with Kevin O’Keefe

Qattan Center for the Child

Zochrot (in Hebrew and English)

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Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)


November 12, 2009, Thursday, Baton Rouge LA, home of J & M, in their living room:

Several breakthrough dreams last night, in the sense of being vivid, memorable, and possibly important. In the least dramatic but most intriguing—and hard to recall, describe and interpret—either I or someone else was explaining that we’d recently discovered or uncovered a remnant of an earlier people, foot prints encased in resin. These footprints were somehow connected with our early loves.  If only we could detect presence in the footprints we’d have access to these earlier loves. Vague, I know, but when dreaming it I felt deeply moved.

The second was an intense sexual encounter with someone I didn’t know. Then the scene suddenly shifted to outside, a group of people lining a walkway saying, give them room, let them breathe.

So much for my dream life, what about my real life?

Well, photographically speaking much is happening. Last night, showing Gaza at the local Islamic center to about 20 tired-looking folks after evening prayer, one man from Gaza came to me later to complain about me showing Sderot [the small Israeli town 1 mile from Gaza that has suffered many of the rocket attacks] as if the suffering was equivalent, Sderot and Gaza. This felt to me like the same argument some Jews might use when someone places an experience of deep suffering beside the Nazi holocaust of the Jews: can’t compare them, the Jew might say, completely different. Has the Gaza massacre, for Palestinians, become the New Holocaust, Palestinian style? Sacred, inviolable, incomparable? And eventually used to justify subsequent acts of injustice and brutality?

The man was angry, tho polite, thanking me for my efforts, but clearly feeling wronged, slighted, misunderstood. What could I answer? I offered at least 2 reasons for including Sderot, maybe 3: it’s a strategic method to build an audience; I’m curious about life there, especially trauma; and to show the boomeranging effects of the rockets, how they’ve increased the oppression rather than decreased it. To do this I should be clearer that many in Sderot have become radicalized, more extreme against the Gazan. And world attention suddenly focused on the plight of Sderot, deflecting attention from what happened to the Gazan. His remarks confirm to me the correctness of my choice—ending the slide show with Sderot. Or so I pray.

Otherwise the show and audience seemed lacking something, not with my usual energy. Partly reacting to the poor turnout and my host, M’s, disappointment. Many more were at prayer, choosing not to remain. M takes this seriously, this lack of awareness and action among his fellow Muslims. His wife, J, also seemed to feel it. Compared with the only other mosque appearance I’ve made, this one clearly failed. But the photos looked good, the audio sounded good, and I didn’t miss many of my lines.

Other than the evening show, followed by dinner at their favorite Mid East restaurant, Almazar (the diamond), not much to narrate. I accompanied M as he did some chores. We discussed prostate problems and remedies. He suggested Flomax and Finasteride, both prescription drugs, and J added saw palmetto. I believe it’s time for me to do something about my noxious little problem.

I worked at home—this was Vet’s Day—to finish the next entry for my blog, about M and S, S especially because of the day. This entry has been one of the trickiest to edit: how much to disclose about both, especially him? I removed major portions of my story about him and his wife, trying hard to conceal their identity, protecting them: fewer weapons, virtually nothing about their free-flowing love lives. I chose not to send the initial blog version to him for checking, mainly because of the deadline, also the supposition that he’ll never see it and that I’ve done a sufficient job concealing him.

M was easier, not too much to hide. And since I do not link the photos directly with the writing, tracing who’s who will be harder. I linked to the latest photo set, and the video about McDonalds, hoping they both show something vital about my experiences in Florida.

Calling Dave yesterday to sort out the remaining schedule was helpful. Our plan now is for me to train from New Orleans to Atlanta in the next few days, depending on how much hospitalility I can find in New Orleans. Then join the School of the Americas Watch pilgrimage organized by Sister Denise and Brother Utsumi, drive with Dave back to Birmingham for that gig, and end at the SOA. The last weeks are coming together, slowly, but unless magic happens with New Orleans housing—an ironic twist on the Katrina story: Skip without housing in the Crescent City—I’ll not have much free time to explore.

My walk this morning was glorious—sunny and cool, clear sky, flat terrain, much to watch, especially the live oaks, many paths to take, no rush, and inspiring my hosts to begin a walking regimen. I miss such walking.

November 13, 2009, Friday, New Orleans, University of New Orleans, Training, Rehabilitation, and Assistance Center, guest room:

On a sunny cool morning, living alone for a change, with an open day for New Orleans exploration. The Gaza show last night, sponsored by a newly formed chapter of Amnesty International and the General Union of Palestinian Students, to about 20 students and one off campus man, Joe.

M graciously drove me all the way into New Orleans, with our usual animated conversation about political events, plus news about his precarious economic position requiring him to continue working in his civil engineering business. I experienced a big loss recently, he said, not giving details, which keeps me working. Altho he is generous and compassionate, I detect a note of deep suffering, frustration, impatience. He is often highly critical of others, using the word disaster frequently. Yet he and his wife are exemplary hosts, inviting me back for further shows. I wonder if he’d prefer being in S’s position, free from the need for paying work, able to devote full time to organizing.

On long bridges we soared over swamps,. This is a water rich area, one that if I ever finish my Palestine/Israel project I might concentrate on for its water theme. The title might be, Water in New Orleans.

The group heartened me last night, many of them young activists, attentive to my show, with many questions later. I found myself disclosing personal information to an extent unusual even for me, in particular about consequences of my secondary trauma—weeping, love, love, love, and sex. I told the story of photographing the burning mother in Nepal, occasionally glancing at Jason who is Nepali, how I noticed cattle fucking near the cremation ghats. I regarded this as a sign of the intimate connection between death and sex, or between suffering and love. That was in response to a question about how I dealt with witnessing suffering.

A related question—and I worry at times that I’m too much about me, not about others—was about how children respond to suffering: attending programs like Popular Achievement in Gaza, university enrollment, graduate education, sports, religion, sometimes extreme forms of religion as with Hamas and even more radical Islamic groups, and of course despair, caving. Which may be more prevalent than I observed because I was with a select group of Gazans.

At the show at Louisiana State University I’d seen a display about hidden people and decided to use this theme in my intro. Forgot. Forgot also at the mosque show but last night I remembered and opened with that. I asked, after explaining how I came to this idea, what are some hidden populations of humans that you know about? Only a few responses. (Of course, being hidden they might not be apparent.) I listed the Katrina population, especially people of color. Paradoxically there was great attention to Katrina itself, as a catastrophe, and some attention to the victims, of all types. But because of how blacks living in poverty were portrayed—criminals, rioters, killers, monsters in short—they were rendered invisible: their true selves were hidden. They were not rendered as human beings. Ditto for American Indians. And for the Vietnamese during the war, the gooks, and the Iraqis, and the same for the Gazans—who we are taught are all terrorists. This proved a useful frame for the show.

Also I now use the 2 images from Newsweek, Vice President Joe Biden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, contrasting them: man in suit with American flag lapel pin, smiling vs. a scowling bearded Arab. This to the point of why I do my work: to balance the big picture by portraying Palestinians as human beings.

I encouraged questions about photography, so from what equipment do you use to how are you regarded when photographing in Gaza were tossed at me. I’d said earlier to a young man who had professed interest in photography, please don’t hesitate to ask me about photography, few do, and I love those questions.

In the few hours I had between drop off and show time, I searched for internet access, found none, concluding this is one of the tightest campuses yet for internet security; walked to Lake Pontchartrain and made a panoramic photograph from a levee; bought and snagged food for later consumption (some of it I’m afraid is from the stash of the resident assistants); and pondered what to do about New Orleans, how long and where stay?

I feel cut off  without Internet access. I’ve had it fairly reliably on this trip, especially during the last days in Baton Rouge, and at home since I signed up for Verizon. Without internet I am blind to new developments about trip planning, can’t get local info, can’t book my Amtrak ride (I could over the phone), won’t know if any personal messages arrived, and can’t add web material to the slide shows. Perhaps I’ll find temporary access today in my travels. A library perhaps.

Jason, my host, is from Nepal. He informed me that the campus suffered greatly during Katrina, under 18 feet, yes FEET, of water, but suffered more from the vandalism and looting inflicted by evacuees who’d been temporarily housed here. I’m not sure how true this is, perhaps a projection upon others?

He also cleared up for me the use and meaning of the term teeksa. Not pronounced teek-sa, but thik cha, 2 syllables, the Nepali pronounciation of th not available in English. And Nepali has a word for thank you, contradicting what I’d learned when in Napal in 1979, but at least I was correct in guessing that thik cha means ok, fine, why not, etc. So I’ve mauled the word, yet correctly interpreted it. End result: I’ll make no change. I’ll continue to use it for my photography passion, but not explain it as the Nepali equivalent of thanks because the language lacks that word.


Gaza Freedom March

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

Stolen Beauty, a selective boycott campaign against an Israeli product, Ahava, promising “Beauty Secrets from the Dead Sea”

Israeli Apartheid Video Contest

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