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World Refugee Day 
20 June 

From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

PHOTOS

A few stone houses still stand on the village site [original Al Walaja land]. Otherwise, the site is covered with stone rubble, and with almond trees that grow on the western terraces of the village and to the north. A spring in a valley west of the site still flows out of a stone-and-concrete structure. The 1948 Armistice line passed through the southern lands of the village. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) built refugee shelters and an elementary school on the land that became part of the West Bank. There is a white marker on the grave of one village woman; her first name, Fatima, is visible on it, but her last name is illegible. The village area is used as an Israeli picnic site; the Israeli Canada Park now lies north of it.

—Walid Khalidi, 2006 or earlier

To reach my rendezvous point with Meras in Aida refugee camp who had arranged today’s session [June 8, 2019] with Omar Hajhajleh in Al Walaja village (suggested by Nidal), I tried to grab a service taxi at the bus station in Bethlehem. Many others had the same desire. Some were families that I didn’t want to push ahead of. Some asked the driver where he was going and either jumped in or waited for a different taxi. I was perplexed and finally decided to walk. That is one hell of a walk—2 km or 1.2 miles—especially with my photo and audio equipment, up and down the Bethlehem slopes, grand view, but tiring. Returning I considered finding a service near the checkpoint which would probably be much easier, but then decided buying beer and bread took presence.

Walaja aerial SM

Yellow indicates Palestinian village and Blue Israeli settlement/colony

After picking up Meras’ friend, Nadeem, to help with the interview and audio recording, I would finally meet, interview, and photograph Omar Hajhajleh. Meras phoned, after several tries we finally reached him. At first, he told us he’d broken the key (I assumed metal, but learned electronic) and we’d not be able to visit; we might interview and photograph thru the gate. Then, surprising us, he opened the gate, releasing himself from his prison, sat on one of the two car seats, and began a much-practiced monologue about his condition, with questions later from me. We had a relaxed interview, helped partially by Meras and Nadeem (in the car, I’d talked earlier with Nadeem about how he can assist). All 4 of us marveled about the absurdity of Omar’s situation.

Meras photographed and filmed and promised to send me the photos after I’d sent him my email address (which I did; he hasn’t yet.). I could use photos of Omar’s house and fields, if we don’t return (or find them on the internet). I hope to discover a satellite image of the area, pinpointing his isolated house, what remains of Al Walaja, the expanding Har Gilo settlement, and the various fences and walls. (I forgot to photograph the electronic key—except at a distance when he left us.) Leaving us, he entered the tunnel beneath the fence and security road, as if he disappearing into a dark pit

His story from my notes (later to be checked against the audio recording):

  • Father was raised in the original village; he’s now dead, displaced during the Nakba.
  • Father built a new house where Omar has lived since the 1950s, born there?
  • Omar is a farmer with some 40 dunams of land, raises animals, gardens, has olive trees.
  • Once worked construction jobs in Israel but now because of his imprisonment no longer.
  • Israel covets his house and land. They will pay any price and offered him 4 options: sell it for a price he names, rent it out for a price he names, organize a partnership with Israel, and one other I’ve forgotten.
  • Has a wife and 3 sons, 10-16; how do they feel about their imprisoned lives and Omar’s resistance?
  • Sons attend school, meet the bus at the gate, but friends can’t visit and play.
  • Recently punished with 8 days of internal detention (house arrest) because he’d installed a buzzer outside the gate (he shows us) so his kids could beckon their mother after school—now ripped out by Israel.
  • He is much visited by the media.
  • Internationals and old people in the village help him with materials and I suppose farm labor.
  • Can’t be off the premises past 10 pm.
  • Someone always must be in the house to protect it; for, if unoccupied for more than about 60 hours, Israel considers it abandoned and will take possession.
  • Asked why he stays, I think he said because the land and house are mine; I own them; I have a right to live here (i.e., simple justice).
  • The larger context of his personal story is encroachment by the huge Har Gilo settlement and the separation wall. Plus the On Going Nakba, Israel’s conquest of everything for the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Bethlehem map SM.jpg

  • NGO’s help minimally.
  • Friends painted Gaza mural outside the fence; it’s a new type of fence, tall with razor wire, not electronic.
  • Har Gilo and beautiful terraces lie on the other side of the fence—as does freedom and his family’s original home in the now-shrunken Al Walaja.
  • Maps are vital to explaining his story and the overall situation, Al Walaja and beyond, The On-Going Nakba
  • How might I visit the house; can I find it on maps?
  • He asked me to help him travel to the States (for visit, talks, residency?)
  • He tells his story calmly, without exaggeration, unlike many who’ve suffered greatly, and finally have an opportunity to speak their story, and then become so emotional the story’s power diminishes.
  • I felt bonded with him as I commiserated and felt some parallels (minor suffering on my part).
  • I recall visiting Al Walaja at least twice earlier, once with the Palestinian News Network (PNN) to cover a Catholic mass held to protest land confiscation, and another time for a demonstration, both apparently in 2013.

After the interview and portrait session, I asked Meras, how would you like to arrange payment for your help? He said 200 shekels for time and taxi, then when I fiddled with my purse, he said dump it all here (in his hand) for the driver. Which made a grand total of 250 shekels or $70 for about 3 hours work which includes maybe 1h our driving. Let’s say $25/hr which I suppose is reasonable. (I should compare with what I paid last year, suggested by Nidal, always a murky issue. Especially when Palestinians prefer to settle after the work rather than before.)

Now I wonder if we might return, especially to see the house, meet and photograph his family, and whether there are others in Al Walaja with different stories (to avoid repetition). I’d definitely love to find the original house in old Al Walaja, before Omar lived in this current house, and asked Meras about it. He’s not sure where the first house is, whether it still exists, or whether Omar could find it or be allowed to take us there (it is probably now in Israeli).

I’ve begun uploading my more politically sensitive photo sets to the Cloud, such as yesterday’s set from Al Walaja, Sheik Jarrah, Asem, and Jerusalem Day. I don’t expect Israel would block or confiscate these photos, but I prefer to allay my worries. With the speedy internet connection at Casa Nova [the pilgrim guest house in Bethlehem where I temporarily live], I can easily push these photos to the Cloud. In addition, I have them backed up on two external hard drives, one my complete laptop hard drive, the other only photos, audio, and journals. That one I plan to mail home.

Today: with Ayed to various camps, including Beit Jibreen and Dheisheh. Renewing my work and friendship with Ayed should be satisfying. He so wishes to travel with me to destroyed villages. And then on Monday with Fareed to various refugee camps, a full 3 days of work.

Thanks to Meras Al Azza who brought me to this section of Al Walaja and introduced me to Omar; to Nadeem Abu Rasme Fayz Arafat assisting me to interview, translate, and operate the audio recorder; and Nidal Al Azraq who lined up Meras to work with me.

About settlement expansion and corresponding shrinkage of Palestinian land:

Picture this (something I would like to actually do): a time-lapse aerial video of the West Bank since 1967 showing multiple settlement expansions, like mudslides. Roughly, it might be possible from Google Earth imagery which can provide a slider to show earlier views (under “view”).

(Quiz: where does Google Earth take you when you search for “Palestine”? Click here or try yourself to learn.)

 

I think this absurdity [the occupation and siege] is going to lead to a real awakening and people will eventually hang their heads and say, ‘What were we thinking?’ 

—Diane Buttu

LINKS

In photos: al-Walaja village faces “slow death” as Israel takes its land, by Anne Paq (2014)

Seven decades of struggle: how one Palestinian village’s story captures pain of ‘Nakba’ by Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem, and Pablo Gutiérrez (2018)

Welcome To al-Walaja

First Israel Locked This Palestinian Family Out of Its Home. Now It Locked the Gate Connecting Them to Their Village by Nir Hasson (May 2019)

Al-Walajah village explores theater as a form of resistance by Ben Rivers (2012)

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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

PHOTOS

MOHAMMED SABAGH

Mohammed Sabagh, as skilled at storytelling as his friend Nabeel, told virtually the same story as Nabeel. I decided to let him continue despite overlap because I’d suddenly thought maybe I’d not saved the files of N’s interview, and I’d need M’s info. At home, reviewing my work, I was overjoyed to find everything intact. I uploaded files to Google Drive and downloaded from my phone to my laptop via iTunes to make sure I don’t lose them.

I asked Mohammed if he’d mind showing me his house, which is behind and up the hill from N’s. Yes, but I don’t have much time; I need to get to the post office in 10 minutes. He explained that he’d expanded the small original blockhouse provided by Jordan when they controlled this area before the Six Day War, to house others in the family. He showed me his guest room where he speaks to delegations. There I made perhaps the best photograph of the set of him. Previously I’d tried photographing him as he labored with his smartphone to find a photo showing a visit from Jimmy Carter. As I told him and N, Carter is perhaps the only American president who would visit here. Can one imagine Trump coming to Sheik Jarrah to visit potentially expelled Palestinians? Nope, instead, if he came, he’d probably visit the settlers. Maybe stay overnight to get a deeper feel.

DSC_6251.jpg

This housing complex was once home to 8 Palestinian families.

Later, on M’s way to the post office he dropped me at the Damascus Gate. This journey of maybe one-mile max required about 30 minutes because of traffic. However, it provided more conversation time, mostly about family, his and mine, always a good connection point. When I asked why many Palestinians, especially women, wear black, and not only black, but gowns that seal their body, despite the heat, he answered, it’s normal.

I’m tempted to say, such apparel is blazingly cool—and hot.

Palestine-Israel-Jerusalem-Sheik_Jarrah-52.jpg

Checking my previous materials (Teeksa website and my blog, ever handy) I discovered I was there in 2009 and photographed the family that had been recently evicted, now living under a protest tent.

First photo set

Then again in 2015

Then, during my work with Grassroots Jerusalem, I visited Sheik, presumably with or guided by Fayrouz (journal of May 7, 2015). Where is that photo series I made of Nabeel and family?

One of the most stunning comments and discoveries from the two interviews: neither men are willing to risk leaving the country, even tho they have relatives abroad and might be able to travel, and they rarely leave the neighborhood. Reason: to protect their homes. I name them “guardians of the neighborhood.” A few days later after the interviews I remet Mohammed at the weekly protest against expulsions—hey, you showed up, as you promised, he said. And there I met the Jewish activist scholar, Sayia Rothberg. His is another story. In part one of this story I linked to Sayia’s blog entry about protecting Sheik Jarrah.

Palestine-Israel-Jerusalem-Sheik_Jarrah_1.jpg

Mohammed Sabagh (R) with Shaiya Rothberg

Where to go with this interview and portrait set? Moreover, does it too sharply diverge from my main path of internally expelled refugees in the West Bank and Gaza? Or is it a side branch, even a new river, possibly warranting changing the name of my project from On Our Way Home to something like The Ongoing and Relentless Nakba?

Last evening [May 30, 2019], once rested and fed, I sat in the side garden of the Austrian Hospice for the first time working on my next blog, “Plan and Acclimate.” Such joy to work outside in the evening light, birds, plants, fellow quiet guests. Who mostly sat together at various tables, each on a separate smartphone. Such a loss—the joys and discoveries of random, relaxed, lazy conversation.

Here I am, typing away, alone, yet potentially with others, a community, some I know well, others I’ve never met or will meet. Writing, I carry on a conversation with myself that eventually I may share with others. My strong need for comments might reflect my need for conversation. With Louise over Skype two evenings-mornings ago our conversation was lush with discoveries, for instance, the decision about Napa and her trip plans. Also my analysis of how busyness curtails movement building in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and her observation that I’ve perhaps deepened a little spiritually, developing Holy Patience.

~~A fellow hospice dorm resident, a short woman looking vaguely Asian, just rolled her walker past me, on her way maybe to breakfast and later out. What fortitude to tour the Old City with her infirmities, her diminishments! I am emboldened. I wish her well. Maybe we’ll have a chance to chat later.~~

Additions about Nabeel from my notes:

Built the addition in the 1980’s (?), Israel never allowed him to use it because of no building permit, pays ongoing fine-his large extended family in small space-once worked as a “driver” which sounded more like a courier-born in Nazareth, moved to Old City during the Six Day War, then to present site in 1950s when Jordan, controlling this region, built housing for refugees-person buried nearby not a Jew, but a Muslim, prayed to by settlers, 4 different grave sites of this supposed holy Jewish man-Zionists when occupying the nearby house would open a window facing N’s home and shout obscenities, encourage women to bare themselves, and throw garbage so N put up a curtain (photographed during other visits?)-a series of protests, tents, planting in the front yard (Facts on the Ground?) an olive tree (which seems to thrive) and lemon tree (destroyed first with oil and other fluids, then ripped out by settlers)-harassment dates back to the 1970’s-weekly protests continue on Fridays at 4-age about mid 70s-healthy altho with previous heart problems-land not his, but rented from municipality-stays strong and vigilant (when I asked him) because his home is his!, rightfully, legally —i.e., justice.

Sheik Jarrah map 0CHA cop2

Sheik Jarrah map 0CHA copy.jpg

Sheik Jarrah map, click for an enlarged version, Courtesy of UN0CHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), 2009

LINKS

The Historiography of the 1948 Wars, By Picaudou Nadine  (2008) (contextualizes the book, All That Remains, by Walid Khalidi, and the Nakba)

The Nakba, Flight and Expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 (exhibition catalog by Zochrot)

Sheikh Jarrah, My Neighbourhood (2013)

Facing Eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, by Sarah Wildman (2013)

MORE COMING IN THE SERIES “ON OUR WAY HOME”

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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field while I continue my photographic project about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. Here in Palestine-Israel thru July 10, 2019.

Special note: World Refugee Day, June 20, 2019

No, they [the Palestinians] were made voiceless, they were muted.  Our job is to de-mute them.

—Dr. Mads Gilbert, the Norwegian surgeon famous for his work in Gaza in 2008 and 2014 and for his painfully graphic books, Eyes in Gaza and Night in Gaza, quoted by Dr. Alice Rothchild

Sheik Jarrah is a Palestinian neighborhood immediately north of main East Jerusalem, threatened by Zionist settlers who claim historical possession of this neighborhood. Supported by Israeli military and police they attempt to expel Palestinians living there for decades and move into their homes. Among the leaders of the resistance, Nabeel Al-Kurd and Mohammed Sabagh

PHOTOS

May 31, 2019, Friday, Palestine-Israel, Jerusalem, Old City, Austrian Hospice

Dream notes:

I stood with a crowd during a protest. We knocked on the door of the organization we were focused on, a solid steel reinforced door with a glass window itself reinforced with metal strands embedded in it. Suddenly a rock hit the window, causing minor damage because of the window’s construction. I said, or thought to myself, oh no, now the tear gas, now the rubber covered metal bullets, now the live fire.

Much like Palestine-Israel, obviously, but not specifically declared in the dream.

I dreamt this during another early morning HOW (Hour of the Wolf—partial wakefulness that can be either terrifying or revelatory), beginning around 4 am, call to prayer time, and lasting until I rose 2 hours later. Despite my apparent sleep loss, I usually don’t feel any more fatigued than usual thru the day, even with the heat. But perhaps the sleep loss will catch up with me and I’ll collapse.

Yesterday some good news, the news I’ve been waiting for. To my beloved cyber support committee, Susan D, JVB, George Cap:

meet nabeel and mohammed of sheik jarrah:

with great joy i share with you the first two human beings i’ve been able to photograph for my project. they live now in east jerusalem, a neighborhood called sheik jarrah, long under attack by jewish israelis who attempt to forcibly expel these legal residents and take over their homes. jvb [who may have visited the neighborhood on one of his two trips here] can fill you in probably. i’ve long followed this story, know elements of it, but today, a mere 2 hrs ago, i met these two stalwart “guardian” residents, nabeel al kurd and mohammed sabagh, thanks to amal t, a jewish israeli who works for an international ngo here and reminded me about nabeel (who i’ve visited several times in years past), and told me about mohammed.)

up to this point, 2 wks into my 8 wk exploration, i’ve had tremendous problems locating people to photograph. and they are dying off rapidly, having been born prior to 1947-48, the yrs of nakba, the palestinian catastrophe.

photos enclosed.

IMG_4975.jpg

Nabeel Al-Kurd

IMG_5044.jpg

Mohammed Sabagh

NABEEL AL-KURD

I am rocketedly ecstatic, beholden to Amal T who spurred me into action. On my last visit (I believe) I tried to meet Nabeel Al -Kurd again. His wife said he was out. He didn’t answer his phone. We’d first met many years ago, and I returned for a second visit which I dimly recall was with some of his family discussing family business. I recall a beautiful woman, I photographed freely. My two recent interviews went very well. Both men are much practiced in the art of storytelling, their own stories which they know well. Visitors like Christian Peace Team CPT) delegations often meet them. In fact, Esther K, leader of many CPT delegations, visited Nabeel recently. She’d thanked me for telling her about him last year and the delegation visited then.

Palestine-Israel-Jerusalem-Sheik_Jarrah-30.jpg

The home of Nabeel and extended family. Immediately to its left is the house he built in the 1970s for extra space, now occupied by settlers.

Not expecting to interview anyone yesterday, I did not bring my Tascam recorder. Luckily I had my phone, and, recalling SF’s suggestion last year, I could use it to record the interview. Worked perfectly, as far as I can tell. Nabeel and I sat outside beside the small house he’d constructed to expand his original dwelling, which had been provided by Jordan in the 1950s because of his refugee status. He told me Israel has never allowed him to live in this addition, claiming he built without a permit, a permit impossible to attain. A “big” (meaning fat) Zionist Israeli from New York City, maybe the head of local settler security, stays there overnight to protect the small occupied building from Zionist youth who allegedly use it for alcohol, drugs, prostitution, and other unsavory purposes (so claim Nabeel and later Mohammed), arriving late in the evening, leaving late in the morning. I’d love to meet this fat Zionist, interview and photograph him. I’ll leave Nabeel’s full story until later. I could do an entire project about Sheik Jarrah, perhaps living in a tent outside N’s home because, altho he might wish to host me, his space is tiny, his family large.

Palestine-Israel-Jerusalem-Sheik_Jarrah-37.jpg

Searching for a photograph of former president Jimmy Carter when he visited Sheik Jarrah in 2010, virtually the only US president who might visit, inquire, and possibly support the residents of Sheik Jarrah.

The first occupants of his confiscated building were a family. I believe he said when the family realized the reality of the confiscation they left. Brothers came in. And then the young, more extreme men with good body builds (how many were from the USA?) Across the street, the settlers consist of several families.

Discussing my prior work on the refugee theme, he brought out the book, All That Remains, The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, in Arabi, by Walid Khalidi, which I remembered to include in some photos. While I interviewed Mohammed, Nabeel looked thru the book, as if a bible for refugees.

Palestine-Israel-Jerusalem-Sheik_Jarrah-44.jpg

With the book, All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, by Walid Khalidi, an encyclopedic account of Naka expulsions.

LINKS

Sheikh Jarrah & the settlers’ court, by Louis Frankenthaler (2010)

We must not evict the Sabbagh family, by Shaiya Rothberg (April 2019)

My Neighborhood, a movie by Just Vision about Sheik Jarrah

Carter: Sheikh Jarrah Evictions Are Against International Law by Nir Hasson
and Haaretz Service (2010)

SECOND PART COMING ABOUT SHEIK JARRAH, PLUS MORE IN THE SERIES “ON OUR WAY HOME”

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