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For community access TV stations and others who might wish to download our new movie and broadcast it—other distributors and venues as well. You can now download the movie at no charge thru PEG Media. (However, you must be registered.) Please consider forwarding this to your local station.

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In Eyewitness Gaza, Skip conveys his personal observations on events in Gaza, the complexities and consequences of action and reaction at the military and governmental level and its affects on real people. The video graphically depicts the emotional as well as physical affects of violence and offers hope in statements from young people about their commitment to non-violence. Sadly, it also describes how opponents of a peaceful approach discourage such actions. It is a compelling insight into the situation in Gaza.

—Joan Raducha, American Friends Service Committee, Madison Wisconsin

Detail For Show: Eyewitness Gaza

Description:

Eyewitness Gaza shows an accurate view of current life in Gaza, through the lens of photographer Skip Schiel. His photographs and reflections on many trips to Gaza show the unique position Gazans are in: under siege, under occupation, constantly threatened by attacks from Israel and their own political factions, with little awareness or concern by the rest of the world.

Central to “Eyewitness Gaza” are Gazan youth. How do they survive a siege and marginalizing by the world community? Through events in Palestine such as the Gaza Youth Break Out movement, and to the most recent manifestations of violent and nonviolent transformation of “Arab Spring”, Schiel and his camera chronicle a community trying to rebuild itself.

Type of Show: Specials

Target Viewing Market: National (US)

State of Production and/or Target State or Province: New Hampshire

Frequency of Episodes: One time show

Producer: Joe Public Films

More information about Eyewitness Gaza

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The stations who use PegMedia for content cover tens of millions of cabled homes and represent more than 50% of the total cable viewership in the US, giving producers a very large potential audience.

We welcome producers who are PEG stations, independent producers, musicians, and documentary and film makers, in a wide variety of genre.

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In Gaza for 6 weeks, November 17 – December 28, 2010,  to photograph and make a movie, I write the following as my personal assessment, checked with local people.

Dedicated to Anne R and Louise D

…Five months [after Israel promised to ease the siege in June 2010], there are few signs of real improvement on the ground as the ‘ease’ has left foundations of the illegal blockade policy intact. In order to have a positive impact on the daily lives of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are children, Israel must fully lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

—”Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade,” a report by a group of humanitarian aid and human rights organizations

The claims of the organizations, as they appear in the [Dashed Hopes] report, are biased and distorted and therefore mislead the public…

—Major Guy Inbar, spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (quoted in “Report: Israel’s easing of blockade has had ‘limited effect’” by Kareem Khadder, CNN)

Ban Al Ghussain

PHOTOS

Facts

The Gaza Strip lies on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, the Levant, Egypt on the south, Israel on the north. For most of recorded history, 5000 years, various people have occupied the region. All the occupations but one have ended. For most of those 5000 years, despite periodic violence, a variety of people coexisted in the Strip, including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Philistines, Assyrians, and others. Some say China may be the next to occupy.

Approximately 1.5 million now people live in Gaza, more than three quarters of them refugees. The majority are descendants of refugees who were driven from or left their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Children comprise roughly half the population. Rhode Island, the smallest of the New England states, is 7 times larger than Gaza (with a population of roughly 1 million). The camps are among the most densely populated regions in the world. Israel controls all the borders, land, sea, and air.

In January 2006 Israel imposed a siege after Hamas won a general election in Gaza and the West Bank; observers including former President Jimmy Carter monitored the election and declared it free and open. In June 2006 militants attacked an Israeli military base near Gaza, killing 2 soldiers and capturing Gilad Shalit, in captivity in Gaza since then, perhaps around the corner from my home. On December 27, 2008, purportedly to stop the firing of homemade, poorly targetable rockets by Gazan militants into civilian areas of Israel, Israel, using weapons provided by the US, pounded Gaza for 22 days—Operation Cast Lead. This killed approximately 1,400 people, injured another 5,000, more than 75% of them civilians. Thousands were rendered homeless and because the siege blocks most construction materials many people remain without permanent homes.

The UN’s Human Rights Council commissioned an investigation led by the eminent South African jurist, Richard Goldstone. Israel refused to cooperate. The Commission found that Israel and Hamas—Israel by far the greater perpetrator—committed probable war crimes and called for credible investigations by both parties. Neither has responded adequately. Failing to conduct those investigations, the Commission recommended bringing the case to the International Criminal Court.

The United States congress and administration and Israel, along with some other nations, condemned the report as one-sided. The story of the investigation has not yet concluded.

In 2008 international activists began organizing boat convoys to break the siege and bring humanitarian supplies to Gaza, the Free Gaza Movement. Several boats landed in Gaza City carrying supplies and brought out Gazans needing special medical treatment. All subsequent convoys have been attacked in international waters: boats rammed and boarded, personal belongings stolen, media confiscated, people detained, and in May 2010, Israel murdered 9 Turkish people attempting to arrive on the cargo ship, Mavi Marmara. Investigations are underway about possible war crimes committed by Israel.

The purported easing of the siege

Since Israel claimed to relieve the pressure on Gazans following international condemnation of its attack on the humanitarian aid ships on May 31, 2010, more food is in the stores, there is some new construction (usually floors added to existing buildings—many buildings remain unfinished, languishing for years), people are not openly starving, many beg and sell small items on the street, many storefronts are shuttered. I’m told there are items to buy but little money to buy with. Power outages are frequent; people then use generators which are costly to run because of fuel and effects on the environment. There are many cars in the streets, but most are old. (I’m told new cars imported from Israel are suspicious: they could contain surveillance equipment.)

The UN claims little has changed, as do most other international organizations that have researched this topic. Israel alone, probably backed by the USA, claims there is no humanitarian crisis. I believe the crisis is severe.

Israel controls the northern border into Israel, called Erez. My most recent passage was the smoothest yet (of 5), which means little for Gazans wishing to leave for medical treatment in Israel, or for many internationals, especially those with Arabic names, who wish to contribute humanitarian services and are blocked. I ask, what right does Israel have to control entry? What if Canada demanded the right to control entry to the United States?

Egypt, with the participation of the USA and Israel, controls the southern border, Rafah, into Egypt. This has been open more reliably since the humanitarian convoy debacle. How long no one knows.

Hamas is rebuilding its security forces, which include civilian police. I see them training in the street and in open fields.

Aftermath of the assault of 2008-2009, Operation Cast Lead, which itself followed regular attacks at least since 2000, the beginning of the Second Intifada (uprising or shaking off)

Many are still sharing homes with family, unable to rebuild after their homes were demolished. Many are still suffering major injuries, with little opportunity to leave the region for more specialized treatment. A major share of the children—and many adults—experiences some form of post traumatic stress disorder.

The medical services suffer: exhausted supply of medicines, no cure for cancer in Gaza, no spare parts, no new equipment, no chemicals for machines like blood testers, irregular power so dialysis machines might quit, and little opportunity for advanced training for staff either because of Israeli entry restrictions or Israel  won’t allow exit. No humanitarian crisis?


Mesleh Al Ashram

Internal political divisions

Hamas, controlling Gaza, and Fatah, controlling the West Bank, continue their adversarial relationship. As if mortally locked in conflict, lunging and clawing at each other, they seem unable to reach concord. Many Gazans believe this fighting is foolish, and tho perhaps favoring one party or the other, advocate unity. My good friend Ibrahim was seriously wounded in 2007 when with friends he was trying to nonviolently stop the violence.

Hamas

A remarkable feature of the Gazan dynamic is the absence of a moderate voice. One is expected to take sides, and those who are openly critical of Hamas risk ostracism, at least. More severe punishment could include imprisonment or execution.

Women suffer, not only from strictures invoked by Hamas but from the generally very conservative atmosphere. Most cover their hair with the hijab; many shroud their entire body, tip of head to ankle; some wear the burka, the face covering.  To refuse is to risk punishment. Unmarried couples may not appear together in public. I observed couples along the beach and in parks sitting quietly together in guarded moments, isolated from others. In the summer of 2009, Adham, another good friend, was detained when discovered on the beach with a woman not his wife. They were dressed in their street clothes.

Emigration and immigration

Many of my younger friends have left the country, usually for higher education. These tend to be the most educated, with the most skills, and the youngest of the adult population. Some say they will return when and if conditions improve. Some will never. Others are returning, often from Arabic countries, but they tend to be older, with fewer skills, retired, and often needing support, rather than able to offer support.

Expectations about Israel

Little hope for a bright future. More violence, continuing siege, more clever manipulation by Israeli media, with little challenge or questioning by international agencies, countries, or leaders.

Expectations about the USA

Dismal, to say the least. Viewing the Obama presidency, at least regarding Palestine, as a failure. More words than actions, big promises and a recent bizarre offer of massive military aid, allegedly some of it newly developed F-35 fighter jets (20 of them valued at $3 billion) that have not even entered the US arsenal and blocking all UN resolutions critical of Israel, in exchange for Israel extending the settlement freeze for 90 days, one time only. Thank god this was withdrawn.

Work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Named the Quaker Palestine Youth Program (the word America notably missing), they work in one primary area, teaching college age youth leadership and community building skills using highly interactive methods. Then requiring each graduate or coach to recruit a group of high school age youth to offer the same training. With the requirement that each group decide on a community service project and implement it, each project in turn requiring contributions from the community. Examples are a founding a library, landscaping a desolate area, offering first aid training. The program is called Popular Achievement and it is very popular, now in its 6th cycle.

Photographing in Gaza

Because Hamas controls all its rivals, and they were the ones kidnapping foreigners like me, I feel reasonably safe walking the streets of Gaza City alone. However, unlike during my visit one year ago, I notice more people seem suspicious of me when I try to photograph. A friend confirmed that using the smaller of my two cameras is wise—ah, he’s just a tourist. Being a tourist or foreigner itself is conspicuous. There are very few tourists. I am stared at constantly. When with a Gazan, like the voluble Ibrahem who attached himself to me recently while I was out strolling, I often have more access to people. In fact, with children it can be a problem. They all want their photos made, and often ask me to send them by email (which I dutifully do)

Photographing any military, security, or even governmental structures is forbidden. One must obtain a permit from the municipality, i.e. Hamas. A few weeks ago I was walking with Mona al Farra, an activist, physician, and project director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance  in Gaza. I began photographing a former ministry building destroyed 2 years ago by Israel in Cast Lead. A security fellow stopped me. Mona told him, what are you doing? This man is going to show the world what the Israelis have done to us. She persisted, he relented, walked off. I photographed. Later she confided to me, Palestinians are not very smart when it comes to media. We tend to be stupid, paranoiac, and self destructive.

Mina, the Old Port

The role of non-governmental agencies (NGO’s)

Needed of course, like the AFSC but I ask, do they foster the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank? Shouldn’t the perpetrators of illegal activities be required to recompense their victims? Possibly Israel and Hamas will be brought to international courts and if they are found culpable—Israel disproportionally more than Hamas I’d wager—shouldn’t they be required to compensate their victims? In many parts of the world this would be required. Not so in this region. Why not?

Spirit, endurance, despair, sumud (steadfastness)

Endurance is high, tho it could decline. Despair is present, but I have little insight into this. I suspect the line between hope and despair is very slender. It might be shriveling. I’ve noticed that people such as the Gazans and oppressed people generally tend to be the most hospitable, appreciative, and with the most fortitude. I speculate that this is because such attitudes are survival mechanisms. Someone has noted that most of us no longer must concern ourselves with predator-prey relationships. A relative first in human history. That earlier concern may have contributed to awareness—avoid being eaten and search for the next meal. However, in Gaza one never knows when the next drone will fire a missile, when the next machine gun will target farmers in the buffer zone, when the next bout of water-induced disease will strike. One must be alert to all possibilities. And I believe this creates endurance. I feel it myself. The excitement of living in Gaza is dangerously intoxicating and infectious.

Further information:

United Nations Refugee and Works Administration (UNRWA), general description of Gaza

UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Protection of Civilians Weekly Reports

Gaza Community Mental Health Program, accounts of conditions and nonviolent resistance

Palestinian Center for Human Rights, protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law and upholding democratic principles in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

“Gaza closure: not another year!” International Committee of the Red Cross

“Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade.”

“Independent journalists dismantling Israel’s hold on media narrative,” by Abraham Greenhouse, Nora Barrows-Friedman

Checkpoints and Barriers: Searching for Livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza & Gender Dimensions of Economic Collapse

Real Hope Is About Doing Something,” by Chris Hedges

My photos and blog

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Jaffa, from the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel

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

Photos

August 29, 2009, Saturday, Shabbat, Jaffa, Israel, on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel:

This singular, and perfectly appropriate dream: about Hilda Silverman. I’d made a movie or slide show, was showing it to friends including Y, and came to the part about Hilda’s Buddhism. This section surprised people and I wasn’t sure I’d used suitable graphics to show her particular brand of Buddhism. [The irony here is Hilda was a very active Jewish activist and good friend and mentor. Her combination of passion, wisdom, knowledge, and commitment to Palestinian rights was exemplary. Hilda was not a Buddhist.]

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Jaffa

Y wrote wondering what had happened to me in and since Gaza. I apologized for not streaming news constantly but wrote that I thought I’d implied my safe condition and new location thru the few messages I did send. Her concern gratifies me. She is preparing for homecoming as I am, determined to move to the opposite coast by December, whether or not she’s bought housing. That’s her persistence.

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DN showed me the synagogue and yeshiva that exists in an area Irving Moskowitz, a rich Jewish business man from the United States who desires to Judicize all of Jaffa-Tel Aviv, hopes to purchase so he can develop housing for Jews only. We concluded the trip with a visit to the Shimon Peres Peace Center, if I have the name correct. Unfinished, using much glass, near the coast, on top of cleared Arab land, the project ran out of money. And now the building sits idle and empty, its glass a ready target for Arab youth. Nearby is an apartment complex lived in by Palestinians. To not embarrass the Center, the city renovated one side only of the complex, the side facing the Center. This became the subject of jokes. Eventually the city renovated all the sides.

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Shimon Peres Peace Center, Jaffa

While photographing, Ibrahem phoned to return my call that I’d made to say goodbye, voice to voice. He asked me where I was. You’d never believe—Jaffa. Oh Jaffa! he exclaimed  in appreciation. As if to say, that is one of my favorite spots in Israel-Palestine. I hesitated to express too much enthusiasm about my locale, to not make him overly jealous. But there we were, not more than 70 km apart, in better times an easy 45 minute drive—and those better times were not so long ago. Eric told me just 21 or so years ago, before the First Intifada began when the wall was not there, Israeli Jews would visit Gaza to shop, swim, see friends, and Palestinians would come to Israel to work. Could happen again.

But for now, Ibrahem is trapped in Gaza; most of us cannot enter easily, especially Israelis.

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Nearly back to the hostel, almost depleted of energy gas, I heard music, a cross between klezmer and jazz. Why not check this out? Dancing in the streets, a Lindy Hop troupe of scantily dressed women, kids dancing, everyone smiling, what joy! Can this ever happen in Gaza? Even in Ramallah? Not with the current political and cultural controls. What a pity. Another major difference between life in Gaza and life just a few kilometers north.

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August 30, 2009, Jaffa, Israel, on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel:

Where in the territories my usual wake up call was from the muezzin, around 4 AM, here in this more “civilized” part of the world, at least in Tel Aviv, at that same time I hear the roar of aircraft landing at Ben Gurion. Each plane probably includes at least one tremulous traveler, worried about getting thru security and into the country. I am imagining myself as  that person on each incoming flight.

The day was mostly exploring the coast, starting at the viewing platform near the hostel, first south toward Gaza, the old port, retracing my route to head north into Tel Aviv proper. Many fishing boats in the old port, a tour boat or two, one seafood restaurant, lots of walkers, bathers, bikers, tanners (I was amazed at the high number of beach goers who lie or sit or walk in open to the sky regions, no tents and few umbrellas, much different from Gaza), and someone had accidentally or purposefully left a box of nut treats on a ledge. I helped myself.

The day was again hot, bright sun, fatiguing but rewarding walking. And my legs did not hurt me for a change. Perhaps something to do with lightening my load.

The beach north repeated the beach south, with large numbers of families with small children romping in the sand and water. Finally, after some 5 weeks in coastal territory I entered the water. It was grand. Salty, refreshing, warm, full of high waves that I played in—along with 100s of others, mostly frolicking Israelis. Occupation? What occupation? Gaza? Where is Gaza? Most Israelis, including David Nir and the Wesley’s report that most Israelis have stripped out any awareness of Palestinians and the occupation.

Just 50 km south of here, dear friend. You’ve heard of it? Gaza. Any idea how people live there? What their beach is like? Their food supply? Their employment? Their security? Their love lives?

One surprise on the walk north yesterday—a playground with a few younger and elder youth along with adults playing on the equipment. As always when I observe such scenes I think of my grand kids, me playing with them. The equipment was novel and included swings that many could sit on simultaneously, another swing more like a long log that several could ride on, and various sorts of merry go rounds. I hesitated to photograph here, not knowing what to expect from kids and their parents. I anticipated they’d not be eager for photography, might even object. No one objected, no one seemed eager. A nonchalance that is perhaps characteristically Israeli?

As usual on this trip, summer time, the light was harsh, not the Mediterranean light that I often work with, think about, talk about. Clouds formed in the morning, dissipated by late morning.

A few power skis, one of two sail boats way out, a unique lifeguard technique of using something like a large surfboard the attendant perched on, propelling himself with a long double bladed oar. His only duty seemed to be shepherding people back to the guarded swimming zone. The life guard station, high and of wood, resembled that of Gaza, but with better construction and loudspeakers rather than bullhorns. No Israeli navy gunboats patrolled along the horizon.

Women wore bikinis, and the young ones exhibited tremendously healthy and seductive bodies. The men tended to wear long shorts, like mine, and only a rare one wore the tight form of body revealing short shorts. This pleased me since I fit right in with my baggy shorts. No tops for the men of course, unlike Gaza, and if there were Muslims swimming in this potpourri, no women wore the traditional long gowns. I’ve asked about water quality and usually hear either I don’t know or it’s good. So I felt safe wading.

People played paddleball, mostly young virile strong men, also a few women. The sound of these bouncing balls permeated and defined the aural atmosphere of the beach, along with joyful cries of kids.

I note that I’ve not written about big sections of my experience, entire lacuna of important experiences is missing, notably: Nomika, Husam, David Nir. How to retrieve this, when?

August 31, 2009, Monday, Protea Village, north of Jaffa-Tel Aviv, with Beny Gefen:

Yes, Beny Gefen, who I met in about 2004 while helping Palestinian farmers harvest their olives. We’ve stayed in touch these 5 years, and he responded with an invitation to visit when I sent out the word that I could visit people along the coast. I’d been curious about him for many reasons—his Palmach background, work with Palestinians, but especially his Chinese girl friend whom he frequently mentioned.

He is retired from a life of farming. Born near where he lives now, east of Natanya, moving to the Galilee for some years, farming there, married 10 years, several children including a son who died while in the army in or near Lebanon, a string of younger girl friends who he’d frequently travel with, and he now lives in a retirement community named Protea because of all the South Africans who live here. We met one while waiting for the pool to open this morning. A genial fellow with a strong South African accent, he explained that he moved prior to the end of apartheid exactly because of apartheid (he pronounced it apart-hate, as I’ve heard most South African’s pronounce it, opposed to how non South African’s usually say the word, apart-hide). I identify more with Israel than I ever did with South Africa, he confessed.

Beny is a delight: 83 years old, looking a decade younger, a very youthful spirit, active in resistance to his country’s apartheid, a total secularist interested in evolution, lover of plants (his house is adorned with them, his porch especially, as are most porches in this community; one plant, with white flowers and a yellow interior, 5 petals, he places in honor of his brother who also has died in some tragic manner), small, clean, neat, well organized apartment (2 bedrooms, a combined living-dining-cooking area, the porch, a toilet with shower, expensive to live here, he told me), he has photos and drawings on every possible wall space, along with books pinned open to photos, usually nature scenes. Featured prominently: Ming Mea, his 34-year-old Chinese girl friend.

Beny seems to be a student in philology. We discussed what he believes is the origin of the written language, occurring in this region about 3500 years ago, a mixture of Phoenician and Canaanite, with influences from the hieroglyphics of Egypt. All leading to Aramaic, the lingua franca of the region then, and eventually to the Semitic languages of Arabic and Hebrew, later to all the other written languages. Quite profound, if true.

In pictures he showed me how Hebrew letters evolved, 22 of them, all from signs which earlier indicated  concepts. Demonstrating on his full first name, Binyamin, he broke it down into about 4 syllables, each syllable representing the first letter of a word that the letter looked like.

He also proved to me the closeness of Hebrew and Arabic by sounding the words for the numbers—some are identical, like arba for four, and most others sound similar.

Perhaps one reason I like him so much, other than his politics and background, is how much he resembles my favorite grand pa, Ed Sage. I remember grandfather when he was older, and I think he looked much like Beny looks now. I should compare portraits and tell Elaine [my sister] about this. It’s not only the physical resemblance, but something about essence, deeper spirit, their humanity. In other details like work, politics, etc, they are not similar.

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His Palmach experience is equally fascinating. He joined in 1944, and saw combat against the Brits. The organization was initially formed, he explained, to resist the Germans under Rommel who at one time during the war were thought to be able to invade Israel. When invited, Beny later joined the paratroopers, among the most elite of the fighters. He served in the reserves until the age of 57. On his front door he showed me a photo of an invitation for a reunion of one of his units—it shows the young Beny with colleagues he standing, the others sitting, looking into the distance..

During one of these tours he observed Israeli soldiers murdering Egyptian prisoners. He objected and was able to stop the killing. Another incident like this occurred later. I presume these experiences were part of what turned him from fighter to activist for Palestinian rights.

He’d been enthusiastically describing two friends of his, Buma, a younger man, and a woman. Buma joined us, carrying a notebook that contained letters and photos of his work. He has many contacts in higher echelons of Israeli bureaucracy so is able to procure permits for ailing Gazans to reach Israeli hospitals. He also brings West Bank children into Israel, using this same access. And he is always on call to help any Palestinian requesting help. I am one person, he proudly declared, not an organization, yet people find me, those that need me, and those that wish to help my projects offer funding. He showed me a letter from an official in Mattel toys, potentially offering to send toys.

Driving here was easy—the roads are well maintained, the signage clear (often in Hebrew, Arabic, and English), traffic controls effective. I didn’t see any police vehicles. Which reminded me that such vehicles are unmarked, so I use caution and obey the rules. I’m trying to be extra vigilant in my driving practice since I have a $450 deductible insurance agreement. The car is small, a Hyundai, auto shift, air conditioned, and might be my bedroom if needed. Cost is about $380 for 10 days, assuming no mishaps. Plus gas and tolls.

This rental and the driving reminds me of 2 similar experiences in South Africa: the first with Tom Sander in 1990 when we rented a car to drive from Jo’burg to Cape Town, and then 9 years later with Y on a blissful trip down the Indian Ocean coast, stopping at several resorts for overnights. I recall especially worrying about crime, and thinking the so-called “flying squadron” was a joke. By being named “flying squadron” this service might lead me to believe, an emergency? No problem. Call the flying squadron and they’ll be here instantaneously to assist. We chose not to rent a mobile phone so how would we call them—if they even existed.

September 1, 2009, Tuesday, Nazareth, roof of Sisters of Nazareth Convent hostel:

I explored Caesarea (pronounced, if I recall correctly, ceez-ar-eea, with 2 long e’s). Once a prime coastal city because of its port, its beauty, grandeur, influence, and population waned and waxed for over 2500 years. Originally a small town, possibly Phoenician, known as Strato’s Tower, successively it was Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Ottoman, British, and now Jewish Israeli, reflecting the history of the region generally.

Viewing the reconstructions thru drawings and films I was reminded of the White City of turn of the century Chicago, the World’s Fair that prompted massive building, most of which vanished not long after the Fair closed in 1893. Same with the port, the city, most of the features of the most impressive period of Caesarea—lost to wanton destruction as in the case of some Arab groups and the Crusaders, and the “sands of time,” literally, the sand, water, winds and perhaps stones blown ashore by storms. One very interesting section of the site showed stratigraphy, how many different layers had been deposited onto the original constructions, after the constructions.

I walked the length of the hippodrome (in Latin, circus, not what we think of as circus with clowns, trained animals, trapeze acts, etc, but spectacles for the masses, such as gladiatorial contests, torture of despised groups like Jews and early Christians, etc), imagining the chariot races, the slaughter of captured people, and other entertainments for the population then.

I ate lunch (chicken snitzel and fried potatoes with greens, for 55 NIS) overlooking the old port. It is now not only a tourist attraction, but a major swimming and relaxing place with maybe 100 people including small children under beach umbrellas, enjoying the view, the history, the water, the wine. How vastly different from Gaza beaches.

Eating at this restaurant, with Israelis serving me, eating with me, cooking for me, and profiting from me, I had to wonder: what am I doing spending my money in Israel, adding to the country’s survival, in effect, validating its existence? This is a problem, it was a problem for me when I first visited apartheid South Africa in 1990, during the boycott. Some thought, Skip, with your views about the apartheid regime, why are you going there now? You’re validating and supporting the government’s existence.

Feebly I responded with, I’m a witness, going to observe and report. Is that a sufficient rationale?

Crusader walls; a mosque built in the last century for Bosnian immigrants, itself over church ruins, over earlier mosque ruins, perhaps over a Roman shrine; the remains of sunken gardens and palaces; an array of ruins that were once buildings on the inner harbor (here I made a panoramic photograph, click to view it); the Roman theater, heavily damaged by time and deliberate destruction, and then reassembled into a huge fancy venue; and, best of all, the Time Trek audio visual display. This consisted of what they termed “holograms,” actors voicing answers to questions the viewer might ask, playing characters like rabbis, queen and empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, and I assume Roman soldiers and leaders, plus a movie that for me was the single most important interpretative device. Using animation, it simulated the various time periods, making them more vivid.

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Ceasarea hippodrome

Much to photograph, and even more to think about. The power of place. The passage of time. Immortality. Visions of grandeur. Decay due to natural forces, decay due to human forces. All for the price of 18 NIS (I qualified for a “pensioner” discount, even tho it’s meant only for Israeli elders), much walking, the sun, and some confusion. Few others were with me and when I inquired about this to a young man staffing the movie, he said, During the week it’s pretty quiet, our busiest times are the weekends. I was surprised, I thought such a magnificent site with such excellent interpretation would draw 1000s daily. Maybe later. As I’ve noticed and written many times, the Israelis are good at archeology and museum building, despite their propensity—which is not unique to them— to remake their own history thru their discoveries and analyses.

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Roman aqueduct near Ceasarea

Not to overlook the Roman aqueduct, fitting precisely into one of my main themes, water, hydropolitics. In my guidebook I read about the aqueduct which brought water some 17 km to the city from mountain springs. Parts of it are well preserved, others seem to have disappeared either beneath the sand or washed away by the sea. This was truly a delight to photograph. Not far from there, on the highway, I fleetingly noticed another aqueduct, not as prominent, maybe a section of the same one, and next to it—modern pipes, maybe carrying water. That would have made a great photo but I didn’t see it in time, couldn’t stop, couldn’t easily turn around. Lost the prize-winning fish, the big one got away.

Napping yesterday afternoon in Nazareth, the thought occurred to me: I’m in a mixed Muslim Christian Jewish town (of about 6,000, 2/3’s the size of my town), my t shirt has Hebrew lettering (perfect for Caesarea) and I’m wearing the type of shorts that would be verboten in the West Bank and Gaza, will I get into trouble walking around Nazareth? I asked the sister at the desk, she thought, not a problem, people wear all types of clothes here. And so it was, altho I still felt noticed, not as much as in Gaza or some parts of the West Bank, Jenin notably. But I’m slowly looking more ordinary, more a tourist.

After the walk I noticed that the outdoor only mosque in front of and down from the Basilica was thronged with mostly men, standing, sitting, bowing, prostrating. I remembered that when I was last here local Muslims were attempting to build a regular mosque at this site, conspicuously close and in front of the Annunciation Church or Basilica, one of the holiest places in Christendom. Is this battle? A local woman confirmed for me that indeed there had been some controversy over this placement but now it is settled. She thought they prayed only on Friday’s and was surprised when I told her they were praying big time last night. The battle for god continues.

September 2, 2009, Wednesday, Tabgha, NW shore of Sea of Galilee, Karei Deshe Guest House, my room:

I’m near Capernaum, my main target for yesterday, a place I’ve longed to explore since it might have been part of my first awakenment as a Christian, a Christ lover and follower. This is lodged in me deeply and it may have emerged when I visited Capernaum yesterday—along with hundreds of other tourists and pilgrims.

One dream of possible significance, about Andy Towl whom is vital in my life yet whom I rarely dream about. I had forgotten to mention him when I listed my friends who liked using cameras. Despite this slight he gave me one of his old cameras, it looked like a super 8 movie camera. He was explaining its idiosyncrasies. I felt very warm toward him. Is he a sort of Christ figure to me?

The main sites of exploration yesterday—long hot day, I surmise that as we lose elevation the climate warms, becoming closer to the Jericho climate with its intense summer heat and humidity—Tiberias, Cana, museum of the ancient boat, Capernaum, Mt of Beatitudes, and this guest house/youth hostel.

Cana was a drive thru, saw little, mostly a rough village, missed the churches listed that mark the site of an early Jesus miracle, water into wine (a miracle I’d love to be able to do, substituting beer for wine).

My muses kicked in for a perfect short walk along the shore road south of Tiberias. There I discovered Roman ruins, mostly a commercial district with market and shops. Men were restoring some of the main walls. They directed me in and higher to see other remains. The shore front is now mostly privatized, which I’ve heard is causing some controversy. Spotted along the way were public areas. I saw very few people swimming here, but it is midweek. A main hit seemed to be the water park, filled with rides, umbrellas, frolicking families. This reminded me of Aqua Land in Gaza, on a much grander scale.

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The Romans founded Tiberias, allegedly because of the hot springs. I didn’t find the springs that are in use, but did find an old hamam that is part of an Israeli national park. Inside the remains of the hamam or bath, reminding me strongly of the hot springs at Tenakee Springs in Alaska that I visited with Elaine and Bob last fall.

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Capernaum was larger than I’d expected, consisting mainly of a recently built Christian (Franciscan? Always a good guess here because they seem to control so many of the Christian holy sites, Francis might be repulsed by the aggressive acquisitiveness of his descendants.) church over the site of another church or series of churches dated to about the 4th century; the “white synagogue” built a few centuries earlier and said to be built upon the synagogue Christ as a boy taught at; and a complex of ruins which were once the town. The community had been extensive at some period, and then they disappeared, the site never again inhabited (except by the keepers of the holy sites).

Inside the church, pilgrim-tourists like me prayed, stood in silence, photographed, and generally, with great reverence, contemplated where they were, and what had reportedly occurred here. I am continually mystified at the power of place, how it energizes our imaginations to penetrate the veil of history. Or at least give us that feeling of penetration.

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The builders used a curious black stone, probably basalt, which indicates volcanism in this region’s past. I notice the terrain change from coastal sand, to rock, mainly limestone I’m guessing, or sandstone, very hilly as I entered the Nazareth region. More hills, more stone, and then the sand once again at the lake’s periphery.

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Driving north to this region, I noticed a water carrier on the right or east side of the highway. Stopping, I photographed but I doubt it will look like much more than a long concrete square shaped thing. I included pipes at one point to better signify this object’s use. But I’m not sure what it carries, perhaps water from the Galilee Sea?

More vegetation as well, but I’m not keeping track of the exact changes. Had Y been with me on this part of the journey she’d know.

At a different site, a museum which featured a partially reconstructed fishing boat from the era of Jesus (talk about resurrection!, from the depths of history and decay), the museum dedicated to one of the founders of the Palmach. Many tourists here, which I photographed as they rummaged thru the gift shop. I rummaged myself later and picked up an historical atlas of the region. (I was tempted to buy another book, about exploring the temple mount, but cost and bulk dissuaded me.) The museum had several art exhibits about kibbutzim, photos of people in silly poses and artwork made with cotton patches, none of which struck me as profound or even interesting. I missed the main exhibits because of the cost—“man” in the Galilee, and something about the history of kibbutzim.

Because the museum offered free internet I checked my email, wrote Suzanne who’d asked 4 questions: are you home, are you suffering, are you whole, and one more I’ve forgotten. Perfect questions at a perfect moment, inspiring me to sum up in an unusually pithy manner what my experience has been. Later in my room at the guesthouse, I wrote another long letter to ME, who’d recently and uncharacteristically written shortly after another letter from me. Writing to her brings out the best in me, makes me feel very articulate and loving. I hope she feels not only this in and from me but in herself as well when writing me. Maybe because she writes so infrequently she doesn’t. Writing her also puts me in her presence, and she in mine—I can almost taste her. We are together again. Ah, imagination, ah lust! The story continues. (It’s been more than 3 years since meeting.)

Then the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus made his grand debut with his sermon on the mount. It’s slightly north of Capernaum, a gently rising hill or mountain from the Capernaum side, sharper incline west of the mountain, the road curving and steeply inclined. Because of the small notations on my maps and the sometimes-ambiguous directions in my guidebook, I had to drive along the Capernaum road several times before discovering the main road up the mountain and the cutoff to the Mount of Beatitudes. Worth the anguish. Another church, another vista, another opportunity to imagine more of the life of Jesus. And to ask questions: where on the mountain exactly was he, how many were in the audience, how could they hear him, precisely what did he say, is the rendition we know even close to his message? All probably eternally unknown—unless someone journaled reliably (not someone like me who fabricates and has a rotten memory) and that journal is discovered hidden somewhere in something like an urn, like the Dead Sea scrolls—another resurrection.

A group from either Italy or Romania that I’d noticed at the museum was at the mountain  also, shepherded off down a path away from the church for a special service.

And then my final destination, the Karei Deshe-Yoram guesthouse. I’d read about it in the guidebook, cheap, lovely, accessible, but where is it? The map and directions were not much help, and even less help was the woman I repeatedly spoke with at the guesthouse who seemed to confuse north and south, junction names, etc. Or more likely this is just my poor hearing. Frustration set in to the point of framing an alternative plan, driving further north, looking for a camping spot I read about. However, this was not needed, I found it, [clearly marked I later discovered], off the main road. Who’d know?

During the pit of this experience I berated my muses and Christ: where the heck are you now that I need you? What sketchy friends! And then they came thru. Was this because I’d turned critical and demanding?

This place is grand, palatial, in the Mediterranean style. Said to be on the site of an older khan or guest house from the Mameluke period, the 12th century, it is huge, encloses a courtyard which itself is filled with palms and other trees and shrubs as well as a multitude of birds. It sits near the shore, which now, because of depletion of the lake, has receded to about 1 km from the hostel. I’ve noticed in all my views of the lake that the shore area is expanding. I’ve tried to show this. What once might be called a sea, now is more properly a lake, and could, unless remediation is applied quickly, turn into a pond and then a marsh, and then be dry. Is this part of the fate of the earth?

One clear sign of shore recession is the beach facilities like lifeguard stations. Here the earlier one, well built, handsome, with a pole like those in fire stations for quick descent and rescue is far from the shoreline. A new structure is in place, rudimentary compared with the old one. This morning, as the sun rose (around 5:30) I climbed the steps of the old station to gain a better position for the photos. Also grassy areas, newly seeded, and different types of sand and gravel mark the changes. All this occurred recently I believe.

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At the guesthouse (for about 110 NIS, breakfast included, an extra 50 for dinner, coffee and tea and a fridge in the room) I ate with about 20 others, mostly 2 groups of young people, both sounding German. One group sang their grace in perfect harmony, filling the dining hall with lilting music. A backpacker sat by himself, another man sat, like me, alone. One family is here with small children, and a group of 4, 2 couples from France also share the facility.

This meal came at a perfect moment for me: I’d inadvertently fasted most of the day since breakfast. One green apple and one peanut brittle constituted my late lunch. Then the evening feast. This going without food is part of this form of travel: when will I be able to buy a sandwich or groceries or a beer? I saw few opportunities for either along this route.

Rooms, numbering some 100, are dorms like mine (4 beds, I slept alone), singles and doubles, on 2 levels, most looking out or into the courtyard. Everything is air conditioned. Wifi is extra (about $5 per hour.

Swimming was glorious. This marks my 3rd entrance into the water, the first was the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, the 2nd the pool at Protea Village with Beny. In both cases I didn’t worry about water purity. Warm water, very salty in the first case, fresh in the 2nd and 3rd , and auspicious in all cases, especially the 3rd. At the guesthouse beach a sign declared, swimming absolutely forbidden! What?! The counter person had told me swimming is possible. So I checked with someone beachside who replied, of course, swim. Is this another Israeli trait—to declare and not mean seriously?

This morning, up at my usual time, about 5:30 (no matter what time of year, when I’ve gone to bed, how well I’ve slept, I’m up). This time to stroll down to the beach at that magical hour before sunrise. No definitive sunrise this morning,  but a slowly brightening glow from across the water. I photographed this from various angles as time passed, the light changing. I didn’t photograph the twinkling lights to the west, running up hill, many homes, maybe Tiberias?

I’ve managed to photograph, write in my journal, download images into the computer,  back them up, and quickly survey them, but I’ve done little blogging or web maintenance. This might have to wait for Ramallah, or later, Cambridge. Unless I take a day off from driving and stay somewhere 2 nights.

I feel this leg of the 3 month journey of discovery is something I’ve long yearned to do: the coast, Galilee and hopefully the Golan and then the river valley. As if primordial in my being, going back to childhood. Key words kick me off: Galilee, Capernaum, Tiberias, Mediterranean, River Jordan, Golan Heights, etc. These words are markers in my experience, in forming my perspectives, my maturation, and now, as if discovering the root of recurring dreams, I’m there-here.

When I write others, like Suzanne and earlier the Boston Lighters, I try not to boast, but to admit that what I’m doing is a special grace not available to all. 

As lonely as I can be on journeys like this, I’ve come to realize I never travel alone. Always with me: muses, memories, dreams, desires, and the tools I have to share my experiences. Would I be as motivated to share if I were traveling with a real person? If Y were with me or X or ME or one of my daughters and her family. The incentive to broadcast—in effect to create travel companions—might vanish.

Swimming beach by the Kerei Deshe Guest House

This sort of travel is a joy, so far, very relaxed and happy, compared with my previous travels on this particular trip. Those usually involved complicated transport, as in the West Bank, often harrying, as were the shared taxi rides between Ramallah and Bethlehem, or the travel to various areas of Gaza usually with friends as we observed the unreconstructed carnage.

Adding to the intrigue of this journey is planning for my next southern tour in the US. Dave asked me to decide when I’d arrive in Raleigh, and by what transport. So I reserved a seat on the train from Boston for Saturday, October 17, arriving the next day, first show on the day following, all this in less than 2 months. Mind bending.

LINKS:

The Peres Center for Peace

Irving Moskowitz

Hilda Silverman

Protea Village

Beny Gefen

Palmach

Caesarea

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Gaza

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Sderot

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

Photos

August 27 & 28, 2009, Thursday & Friday, Sderot, Israel, in the home of Nomika Zion & Jaffa, Israel, on the roof of the Old Jaffa Hostel:

Yes, arrived in Israel. With much to show and tell. But first a dream, particularly powerful last night:

In one I was watching a movie in which a young man had tragically died, his family in grief. They either extracted him from the grave or were bringing him home for burial. I knew it was a film and I became very critical of the veracity of it when I saw the dead man, naked, scratch himself. What a cheap shot, I thought. And then he moved again so it became clear the intent was to show he was not dead at all. The family was amazed. Either a resurrection or a case of mistaken death.

The course of yesterday’s events unfolded in mysterious and heavenly ways. First the leave taking at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program office, a gift of my girl in hospital photo to the staff, clearing up the pay question at Al Aqsa (if I send them my bank info they promise a bank transfer of $300, this after I thought Mohammed had said no money available), waiting for Islam to finish the DVD writing of the Popular Achievement movie and my backed up photos, waiting for the taxi which I thought would be driven by the crazy and irrepressible Awni (it wasn’t, damn, someone new, without the chutzpah of Awni), final packing, bye to Hassen the building owner, then ride with Mosab, a quiet Mosab, to Erez. Rolling my black hard plastic luggage over all the gravel, rejecting an offer from one of the porters, this time unwisely, I ruined one wheel. I’ll probably have to replace the luggage or find a way to repair it or live with it till home.

Erez was fairly easy this time, the staff more polite than I recall from before. The same body X-ray device with the whirling doors, the same thorough scanning of all luggage, the same opening of most of my luggage to hand inspect—I watched them, they seemed nonchalant, didn’t look thru everything, didn’t seem to care, no one asked any questions, I probably could have brought the video tapes Raghda had asked me to bring to her brother in Ramallah—, the same series of gates and pens, and the same final stamp in my passport, “Erez.” And I’m in another world.

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Gaza—on the way to Erez crossing point to Israel

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Sderot, Israel

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Eric Yellin, the founder of Other Voice, from Sderot, met me; we drove the 3 km or so to Sderot and there the fantastical experience began. The distance is so small, the situation so different that I gasped. Luckily I could process this with Eric who delighted in showing me around the town. He took me to several hills overlooking Gaza where we could see Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya, Jabalia, and Gaza City itself, places I’ve visited and photographed and heard stories about, places where I’ve met people affected by policies of Israel and supported by many in Sderot. Not supported by Eric however, or his colleague in Other Voice, Nomika Zion, in whose home I slept last night, where I’m writing now.

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On the 2nd of two hill visits the sun was setting. As I photographed, using my long lens, we heard the muezzin call everyone to prayer; everyone in Gaza was at this moment sitting down to break the fast, the Iftar, just as I’d done with the Popeye crew on the previous 2 evenings, and with Mohammed and family in Jabalia camp on the first night of Ramadan. Behind us was a reservoir of about 100 meters across, round and lined, with the water level down by about 10 meters. Eric explained that this had an illustrious history, attacked by Arabs during the early days of Israel, another case of historic hydropolitics.

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Gaza from Sderot

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Jabalia from Sderot

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Jabalia, The Gaza Strip, in the distance, water reservoir in the foreground

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Comparing Gaza with Sderot (some features are a result of the occupation, some are cultural and religious differences): Sderot residents are free to go anywhere in the world, if they have the necessary means (many are impoverished, recent immigrants themselves, and those holding Israeli passports, including Israeli Palestinians, cannot enter many Arab countries). Building materials are plentiful (if they can be afforded) so the damage from rocket attacks can be swiftly repaired (I saw no damage, did see ongoing construction of safe rooms.) The Internet is faster than anywhere else in this trip’s experience, and twice I’ve found free neighborhood networks to use. I can wear shorts outside during the day and drink beer and other alcoholic beverages. Malls. Larger cars. Elegant homes. Grassy expanses, trees, well tended palms. Fairly equal women’s rights. Good educational system. Drinkable water out of the tap. On and on. But, I wonder, how do people deal with cognitive dissonance, if any—the gap between the fiction of much of the conventional Israeli narrative and the truth of the suffering of the Palestinians, largely at the design of the Israeli government, voted into power by its citizens, in the “only true democracy in the Middle East.”

Fear is similar (and could unite the two populations). Gazans obviously live in constant dread of more attacks, and suffer from their loss of freedom and the continuation of the siege—these are defining elements in Gazan experience. For Sderotians they also fear: the renewal of rocket attacks, bigger and more accurate rockets. Altho the city of 22,000 has provided much shelter—this could be an entire story in itself: safe rooms added on to older houses, the requirement of a safe room beginning in 1990 during the first Iraq war, sealable against gas attacks, concrete walls some 1 meter thick in all new construction, the varieties of street shelters, protective roofs over existing buildings like schools, complete rebuilding of some structures like some schools to be rocket proof, for some instances—and at large cost (many donations came in from people around the world), no one can predict whether attacks will resume and if they do what will be fired next.

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One style of rocket shelter

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Protected high school

This might be compared to a more universal fear of nuclear holocaust—or catastrophic climate change, or a total and uncorrectable economic collapse—but it is more immediate. The rockets have affected everyone. Eric was at an intersection about 50 meters from a rocket that struck a car instantaneously killing its female passenger. Nomika told me about a rocket hitting a home near her, demolishing a major portion of it. I forget the exact figures but something like 8 people have died in the last 8 or so years, with many injuries. Wikipedia claims: [Rockets] have killed 13 residents, wounded hundreds, caused millions of dollars in damage, and disrupted daily life as well as the local economy. No rockets since May 19, 2009. But the degree and type of fear these attacks induce can’t be quantified. It is significant.

Nomika described for me two cases of women, both with children, whose fear piled up so high that suddenly both decided, separately, to flee. Eric estimates about 5,000 residents left during the recent assault, some now returning. That’s 20% of the population. Furthermore, those leaving, Nomika told me, were the “stronger” elements of the population, meaning those with stronger economic means. So poor people tended to be trapped here, they and the elderly. Had I been a resident, I too might have been unable to leave, suffering greatly from not only the entrapment but my feebleness. If I lived in an older building without safe areas, without nearby large shelters, I’d have only the basement for refuge. If I lived more than a few floors up, the warning (if it occurred at all, the rocket that killed the woman in the car arrived with no alert, alerts provide about 15 seconds warning) probably would not give me enough time in my weakened aged condition to reach the basement. What would I do? Tremble and pray.

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Home of Nomika Zion

As might be expected during war conditions, many supported powerful retaliation. And some, Nomika told me, tended to become more extreme. She outlined the case of a man in the neighborhood, the kibbutz—more about this tantalizing aspect of life in Sderot later—who when in his 20s, in the army, refused deployment to the territories. And was imprisoned, if I remember the story correctly. And now: wipe them out, yes all of them, including the children, if they fire one more rocket at us.

And he’s not alone. Which makes Other Voice, the organization that Eric founded and Nomika participates in even more impressive. They speak as Sderotians who deplore the use of violence to bring peace, who attempt to bridge the differences between themselves as Israelis and their Gazan neighbors across the road, the fence, the wall, the gulf created by more than 20 years of violence. Eric believes the consistent Israeli policy of violent retaliation lacks an end game, a purpose. It is based primarily on fear, not so much hatred. A fear that he says, is in the DNA of Jews everywhere, having experienced 2 millennia of persecution, climaxed by the holocaust. His wife lost many in her family. He did not.

Nomika is well known internationally, having written an article during the assault that was widely circulated (linked below). Hundreds of journalists interviewed her, she won a prize, visited NYC and DC when she received it recently (her first trip to the USA), and now is scorned by many in her town. What motivates her? I might ask her again to try to explain that most vexing of all questions to anyone daring to speak out.

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Nomika Zion

Eric recently took a group of Gazan children to the West Bank, with permission of the Israeli government. He seemed thrilled when I put him on the phone yesterday to Belal in Gaza. I’d called Belal to say goodbye more personally than by chat. I know Belal loves and misses me. Since Eric was standing nearby, on an impulse hard to explain, I told Belal where I was, who I was with, and then suddenly burst out with, and would you like to talk with this guy? Of course, he said. And Belal is one of the best of my friends to do this: articulate, impassioned, obviously and publicly suffering.

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Eric Yellin on the phone with Belal Badwan in Gaza

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Belal Badwan, 2006

I was impressed with Eric’s response, listening respectfully, apologizing for what Israelis had done to Belal and his people, and promising to stay in touch. This might be a connection, because of Belal’s position as teacher, that could flourish in bridge building. Yet to be seen.

Eric was born in Israel, lived here to the age of 5, raised by his father I think he said, parents divorced, mother living in Green Gulch Buddhist community near San Francisco (maybe Y knows her) for decades, father in Vermont (he formerly a photographer, helping make a book about Johns sea coast island in South Carolina, a book Eric proudly showed me, also founded a blue grass band), then back to the States till he was 17 when he chose to return to Israel, serve in the Israeli army (after first being posted as a prison guard, his elder son told me, himself imprisoned for refusal to continue that assignment, and then requesting a position as military investigator in Gaza, just as the first intifada began, many stories here), marry a 2nd generation Israeli, raise boys (twins 13, another 15 who wishes to become a combat soldier despite saying he shares his father’s politics), and enter his life as activist.

He said, I’ve considered leaving the country, I might someday, but I love the intensity of living here. I couldn’t remain here without the work I’m doing as an activist. On this we seem to agree (on much we agree, I found him very compatible with my views. I also would not wish to continue living in the States, or perhaps living anywhere, if I weren’t doing the work I do thru photography and writing. That is, we are both courting despair by examining so closely the suffering of others, by living in lands of cognitive dissonance. And we might succumb if we didn’t have an action channel.)

Eric agrees that Israel is self-corrosive, and might be doomed. Yet he is hopeful. He has recently taken a part time position with an organization that does peace activism. I should get the name again, and I assume he’s active with Other Voice. Also he is part of a start up software or computer company based in the kibbutz. He is responsible for the network at the kibbutz.

Eric told me he hates the word normalization, because it is inaccurate, almost a slur on the idea of pairing. Opposing normalization, a view taken by most Palestinians I know, means that there should be no partnerships between Palestinians and Israelis, unless the Israelis agree with the call to end the occupation and act on it. He believes strongly, as I think Nomika does and I certainly do, in the value of personal exchanges, interactions, human to human. How else develop trust? This is part of a long-range strategy and I believe has been part of all justice movements. Gandhi for instance, as far as I know, never hesitated to meet with adversaries. I wonder what he’d say about normalization. Or Martin Luther King Jr? In South Africa the kononia (kononia means communion by intimate participation) movement played a role in ending apartheid—families dining together from across the political and social divisions. Also in the United States the Kononia Farm brought European and African Americans together in shared living, demonstrating (at some cost to the residents) that coexistence was possible.

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Migvan kibbutz

To embody this principle of sharing experiences, both Nomika and Eric live in a kibbutz, and work to foster relations between widely divided adversaries, namely Gazans and Israelis. They suffer for this, ostracized from some neighbors who might not share their values. All buildings are duplexes, and, judging from the homes of Nomika and Eric, vary in size and quality, also how they’re furnished. Nomika’s is elegant and appealing, filled with art, plants, fine kitchenware, kept clean, a model of simple yet luxurious living. I found Eric’s to be messy, perhaps more from the presence of their 3 boys than anything native to the adults. How would my home look if I lived there, I pondered?

And so, the kibbutz: the Hebrew word means come together. This one, Migvan, is unusual in its being relatively young and in an urban environment. Founded by Nomika, Migvan moved from an apartment complex with tiny units to its present, spacious, tree lined site in 2000. (She’s lived in Sderot since 1988.)

And I’m afraid I now don’t have time to write about Nomika, maybe another time. She can speak for herself thru her powerful article “War Diary from Sderot.”

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Inside Eric Yellin’s home

I just learned that Ted Kennedy, my senator from Massachusetts, died at age 77, from his brain cancer—and accolades are pouring in, rightly. Like his 2 brothers he is a great man. Too bad he wasn’t more astute and courageous about Israel-Palestine. In fact, a friend just emailed a quote from the website of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Action Committee:

Senator Edward Kennedy, A Great Friend of Israel


Sen. Kennedy was a longstanding supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship.


AIPAC joins all Americans in mourning the loss of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and a true and longstanding friend of America’s pro-Israel community.


During his more than four decades in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Kennedy consistently supported American assistance to Israel, particularly during the Jewish state’s most trying times, in the wake of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. He led the fight against U.S. arms sales to Israel’s enemies, spoke out forcefully against the Arab League boycott of Israel and was a fierce critic of the United Nations’ isolation of the Jewish state; he urged his colleagues to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, and warned of the dangers of global terrorism.


Sen. Kennedy became the leading champion for persecuted Soviet Jewry, advocating on behalf of refuseniks and those Jews wishing to leave the Soviet Union, personally raising their issues with Soviet leaders at every possible opportunity, and demanding that the United States provide loan guarantees to Israel to absorb Jewish refugees.

Senator Kennedy’s legacy of leadership on these issues and his lifelong support for one of America’s closest allies are hallmarks of his historic career devoted to serving the best interests of the American people and our values. He will be sorely missed.

LINKS:

Israel’s ‘other voices’ go unheard
By Rachel Shabi in Israel

Kibbut Nir Am and Sderot – the human side of towns under fire
By Donna Zeff

Other Voice

Sderot

Photos by Jessica Griffin
Generally good photography, might be working in Gaza

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Shaheed (martyr, anyone dying because of the conflict)

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

Photos

Photos of Bureij from 2006

Photos of Bureij from 2008

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

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

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

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

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Awatif Al-Jedeli

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

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

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

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

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

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Raghda Al-Jedeli

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

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

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Repairing a sewage leak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Moian Al-Jedeli & friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

Bureij refugee camp (Wikipedia)

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

Gaza where to

Created by Ramzy Hassouna (ramzy_box@yahoo.com)

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

Photos

August 15 & 17, 2009, Saturday & Monday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:

More than a few dreams, and not all of them banal:

In the most satisfying I was attending a ballet class, doing small exercises with a large group, alternately looking down on myself (as if out of body) and while participating (inner view). Music played, someone must have been calling out steps, I seemed to know them all, surprisingly knowledgeable (altho I was a beginner). I felt agile, strong, pain free, and I was the last to stop. While watching from above I noticed Kathleen S, not a regular in my dreams these days, also seeming to enjoy herself. The scene shifted to Harvard where the class was situated; it was now time to take a break and have a drink.

In another, I helped escort an older man who’d been outspoken in a parade and thus come under some threat. I brought him to a sheltered place and offered to remain with him until he felt safe. I gave him my business card. This mirrored me with Belal and Ramzy last night after dining which followed a performance by children at the Qattan center—they walked me home so I’d be safe after dark.

In another, Palestinians had discovered a young Palestinian woman with a strong voice, she was singing publicly, thrilling the audience. Scene shifted to outside where she continued singing but a gunshot rang out, she ducked and continued singing. A male was singing perfect harmony.

I was with Kate and Ella, Ella playing in a house I’d built for kids, strewn with photos I’d made. Kate mentioned how prolific I am. Just day-by-day, Katy, and they pile up. (Paraphrasing Gertrude stein who said, I write a little bit each day, and soon I get a lot written.)

The night was extremely warm; the morning is still, no breezes. Not the ideal day for being outside.

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A day yesterday when my muses were brilliant: to the port, El Mina in Arabic, when earlier as I planned my foray thru Gaza City I thought I might be heading in the opposite direction, possibly toward the old city. In 2008 I’d visited the Beach refugee camp side of the port with Mosab, stopped by security before we could enter. I concluded the port was off limits. Not so. This time I accessed it from the other direction, the south side. But first a stop at the fish market, or what remains of it. A shabby structure, the fish displayed on the floor, sometimes elegantly, flies everywhere, no apparent refrigeration, and a paucity of fish. What can’t be seen are the poisons floating in each animal. I wonder how aware people are who harvest, process and consume the fish, and if they are aware, how they experience cognitive dissonance—eat the fish, appreciate the nourishment, love the flavor, but realize they are eating what has eaten of the strongly polluted waters, including human shit.

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As always people were friendly, no one refused me permission to photograph them, many invited me in to either photography them or their friends. Many of these scenes are useless—setups, posed, goofing off, altho I try to surmount this with gestures and expressions indicating how about something more serious? Which often works. I assume an affable, pleasant, friendly, inviting, vulnerable demeanor. I wear my little ID which explains in Arabic who I am and show it widely. They notice first my name, Skip Schiel; so I’ve saved them the task of asking the incessant, what’s your name?

I photographed cleaning fish, preparing shrimp, sorting, and some bargaining. Tho without the language I’m not sure exactly when people were negotiating price. Small children accompanied their fathers (this was a Friday, the Muslim holy day). I noticed one couple, otherwise all men. Motivated by this access, I lingered, walked around, tried different angles and positions, made a short video, and a panoramic. Then off to the port proper. But would I be allowed in?

Walking past two languid guards, me waving and smiling, shouting salaam alekum, please with their returned smiles and waves, I continued past them and into the port. Facing the water, on the left side, is a field of what looks like broken pieces of wall, the sort of wall the Israelis erected before the final 8-meter high version. Then a few jetties with various sorts of fishing boats tied up, most of them very small, the equivalent of lobster boats in New England. In the center, another pier with larger boats. Here I photographed men mending nets, working on their motors, and the like, all very friendly and accommodating. I’m reminded again of the difference between here and where X is, Guatemala, or at least as she initially reported—easy access for the most part here, reportedly difficult access there. But maybe that’s changed for her as she’s acclimated.

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The Phoenix (I think that’s its name) is a large boat, beached, more like a small cruise boat, that may have been what people told me once toured visitors around the port during more peaceful times. A very old Caterpillar bulldozer, perhaps a precursor of the notorious D9 that israel uses to uproot olive groves and demolish homes. And next to it, under the bow, a group of about 5 men conversing animatedly as they repaired the hull. I did not stop to photograph them, seeing they were in shadow and I’d already photographed plenty of workers.

Behind were remnants of old shacks or sheds, some still used. I photographed a group of very young men removing beautiful blue netting from a truck and placing it in one of the sheds. As usual they seemed pleased I’d noticed them and chosen to make photos. After some posing they resumed their work. From afar I noticed what looked at first like a Garden of Eden in all this trash and junk—turned out to be a headquarters of some sort next to a mosque. More buildings, some of them destroyed, possibly during the last assault.

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And then the north side of the port, fenced, with guards with Kalishnokovs who approached to wave me off. This is where I’d been stopped with Mosab. Very curious, I have no idea why this is guarded, what if anything is being guarded. On the other side of the fence a swimming area, then the hotels and restaurant, and then the Beach refugee camp, all adjacent, on top of one another.

Slowly I’m comprehending the topography, how close and contradictory everything is, like in Chicago the Gold Coast next to what once was the dangerous Cabrini-Green housing complex.

During this walking and viewing and photographing I had two primary background thoughts: bring one or both of my workshops here to photograph (I’ll check with Mohammed about this, and Ibrahem), and this area is the site of an ancient port, dating back 1000s of years. Once the major port of the Levant, or at least the Canaanite section. How to access this history?

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Finished with the hard hot tiring work of photography I decided to treat myself to what I expected might be an elegant and ample meal at El Deira hotel and restaurant, which by now is permeated with memories of ME. Ibrahem K brought her and me here in 2006 for Denes fish. Then the next year Ibrahem S treated me to another meal while Yousef and others joined us. This time I ate alone, me and my memories. I sat under a shelter at the edge of the restaurant overlooking the sea, so I could make occasional photos as I waited and then ate my paltry chicken sandwich. Water is de rigueur apparently. The waiter greeted me with a bottle of “mineral water,” for which I paid 8 NIS, $2, while I carried my own, and his might have been from virtually the same source: city water filtered or bought at inflated prices from Israel’s water supply, Mekerot. Oh god, will I survive the water? The sandwich cost about 25 NIS. Compared with a much larger shuwarma at the corner deli for about 12.

(So far, not sick, pray to God and Allah this continues. I fart with great confidence that I am not soiling my undies. What a gift!)

The photos I made in El Deira are from approximately the same position that I made the photo of the father and child 3 years ago, looking so innocent, walking along the beach, with sun setting behind them. Are they alive now? Traumatized? How is the young one faring? Another set of father and child, this time playing in the heavily polluted sand.

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I’d shown Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath the mother and child photo from the Smiths’ Minimata photo series (I put this in the plural sense, because both Gene and Eileen made that set) to my workshops and now I realize this might have greater meaning than I’d first thought. As the mercury-laden water poisoned the people of Minimata in Japan, people eating fish here might be similarly poisoned. The effects in Gaza might not be as severe, I hope, or universal, but they might exist.

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Photo by W. Eugene Smith

~I’m writing this morning early while waiting for what I trust (can’t read the Arabic label) is my bulgar or cracked wheat to soften in milk and yogurt. I forgot to soak it last night. Soaking it for only 10 minutes is not sufficient—it crunches against my teeth.~

Exiting the port, not wishing to return to where I’d entered, which would require another 1/2 km of walking, I climbed some destroyed stairs past partially collapsed buildings—what were these, and why attacked? Hamas? And what is so design-like about a collapsed building, an inherent tragic beauty?—to enter another complex. First one body sleeping, then another, and then I realized: this is a fire station, firemen sleeping, boots near one, and a skull and crossbones painted on the wall behind him.

This building also was partially blown up. I found an opening in the fence and reached the street. This was to the south of the restaurant and hotel area, which in turn is almost side by side with Beach refugee camp. After photographing the “Cliff Hotel” sign with no cliff hotel present, I walked to the edge of Beach camp to try to show the proximity of camp and hotels refugees from 1947 and 1967 side by side with the wealthier, more privileged Gazans and internationals like me. I doubt this contrast will register. I was using my Canon, partly because of its lighter weight, but also to be able to make panoramics and videos. Plus use the long zoom. Happy I did but I miss the wide-angle lens. Is there not one camera that satisfies all my needs?

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It was Friday, shortly after mid day, thus: crowds of people going to, attending, coming from the mosques. Mostly men, all ages. Someone is building a new 5-story mosque in the heart of the hotel district. As often happens there was a war of imams, or muezzins (if war is the word) as they all loudly call out simultaneously over loudspeakers. What is the experience of a Muslim in such a society? I have no idea.

For some of the day and for much of this morning, Corporal (recently promoted to Sergeant, in absentia) Gilad Shalit has been on my mind. Held for more than 3 years in Gaza after capture during a daring tunnel attack by militants from Gaza on a military installation which resulted in the deaths of 2 or 3 of his fellow soldiers, where is he, how are his conditions, is he hopeful of release, what does he do all day, does he despair, has he attempted suicide, is he healthy, well fed, well treated? Can he use a computer, write, read? Does he have any privacy? Is he near me now? Have I ever passed his door or window?

I grouse, missing family and friends, and workspace; I grumble that my beloveds are not more attentive to me; I moan that my audience is so small. Compared with the miseries of Sergeant Gilad Shalit, my suffering is nothing. Poor fellow, I feel for him.

Following by two days my first visit to El Mina, my Al Aqsa university workshop explored the waterfront, the commercial waterfront, Al Mina, the old port, such as it is after suffering the devastation of limited sea access, the assault of 2009, and the pollution. Old boats, worn nets, tired motors, and a bunch of friendly men who greeted the mostly female class with a big hearty welcome. The women (6 out of a total class of 10) objected to visiting the fish market, claiming the men would laugh at them and possibly deride them. There is a curious gender relationship here: men are purportedly respectful of women, especially in the home where I’m told women have much influence, yet men are dismissive of women’s rights and powers. I believe the hijab is a sign of male dominance, altho many women I’ve spoken with claim they wear it by choice.

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The exercises included attend to design, which I hoped was a natural segue from the class discussion of prints (now they bring in prints, dutifully, improving the feedback sessions, design meaning how to use the frame, what to cut, include, how to balance, horizontal or vertical or tilted), photograph this old boat (the “cruise ship”), photograph this fishing boat with people mending nets (climbing up a ladder to board it), and light on dark, dark on light (near the end of the walk, at the base of the jetty). On our previous field trip to the old city the distinctive exercise of one frame, multi moments worked very well. I hope they take to this one as they did to that.

We started about 15 minutes late, waiting for our translator, the vivacious and loveable and fun loving N (who told me, I consider myself photogenic, and also, when we were discussing my love life, after telling them I’d “divorced” twice, had 2 daughters and 3 grand children, and 10 girl friends, said, I’ll be your 11th girl friend—I flirt more on this trip than I remember doing on any others, especially in Gaza).

We ended around 1 pm, 3 hours later. I thought about asking them to state highlights and lowlights, as I do with my field workshops in the States, but because of the language problems I decided against this. Instead I declared, I think we’re finished. I’d like to stay longer, walk out to the end of this jetty and then walk home alone, anyone want to stay with me? (forgetting about the possible danger if I were alone because of the recent violence between Hamas and an extremist group). Iyad, the art professor who is enrolled in the workshop, feeling some responsibility for me, said he’d stay with me, and most of the group remained as well. This may have been the best part—casually sauntering out further (not to the end, too hot), climbing on the broken rock embankment, posing for each other, and finally heading back.

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My initial plan had us splitting into 2 groups, one in each direction along the port, but Iyad had gotten permission for one only group. Additionally, we were blocked from the extreme northern end, where I’d photographed the sewage pipe and ruined buildings. Heightened security because of the recent violence was the explanation.

I’d lent my mobile to the young woman with cute dimples since she hadn’t brought a camera and her phone had run out of battery power. I promised to download and provide her the images. She is the most daring of the group, mounting a tall thin rock to pose for photos of herself. She is a delight. I believe my age helps women feel safe around me, so flirting is more clearly innocent and not serious.

I begged off the invite from Mohammed, the other art prof enrolled in the workshop, to attend a dinner at his home which followed the death of his grandfather. To rest, shower, begin again. Lucky I did, because phoning Amal to ask her opinion of the various photos which included her from the festival, we decided I should visit the office for a face-to-face discussion (I will do anything to avoid climbing the 5 flights of stairs to the office.). I put my festival photo set on Mosab’s computer, and set up my computer in the next room to show Amal her photos. I then heard raucous laughter and comments, excited language, from Mosab’s office. Peering in I discovered they were viewing my photos, raving about them. These are so good, how did you do it? Etc.

Which of course pleased me greatly. Later they showed me some from one of my students at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program, S, which were markedly inferior. I pointed out our different situations: I had more sophisticated equipment, I had better access, my experience was more extensive, and I might have gone on to say, I worked hard at postproduction (a tool equivalent to the camera in value) and I thank my muses for any apparent success.

So these are some of the differences between what I make and what others may make: equipment, access, experience, postproduction and muses. If I were more candid and less humble I might add: maybe I’m talented. But the talent has grown, I’ve put my mind to my photography, and my heart. This talent is evolving, it is not god given. Most anyone can achieve—if they wish and work, wish hard, work hard.

I could add further: craft is based on heart; the greater the heart, the greater the craft, echoing Charlie Parker’s words, if you haven’t fully lived life, life won’t come out of your horn. And further, I believe in the Popular Achievement program, and in the people that staff the program, and in the sponsoring organization, the American Friends Service Committee, and in the closely related Quaker movement. All this is what comes out of my camera as well (or so I pray).

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~~Time for a break to eat my hard boiled eggs, now that they’ve cooled slightly.~~

I seem to be developing a trait of confiding to others what I feel about them, not by speaking directly to them or writing directly to them, but indirectly thru my blog, and perhaps even more obliquely and obtusely by how I photograph them. First ME, then Y, then to some extent L3, and then M. Also Dan and other men—I’m not totally ensnared by women. Now in Gaza I do this with others.

Gift or albatross?

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And finally home for my 2nd shower and a short review of the latest Qattan photos. To bed, to delicious bed, after sitting on the veranda in the relatively cool evening air while my laundry finished and I read more in the big hydropolitics book Robin gave me. I decided to do laundry late in the evening rather than wait for morning, because of uncertain electricity. And wise I did because this morning at about 8 the electricity disappeared.

Wafa’a = Arabic for loyal

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LINKS:

“Nonviolent direct action, solidarity and struggle ,” Ramzi Kysia, The Electronic Intifada, 17 August 2009

“For Hamas, Challenges May Be Growing, Shootout With Splinter Group Suggests Movement Faces Tough Options, Analysts Say,” Howard Schneider, Washington Post Foreign Service, Sunday, August 16, 2009

“Gaza in Conflict, Antony Loewenstein” (in The Nation, thanks to Nancy Ruggiero)

Uri Avnery about Acre/Akko, another ancient Levantine port, “Whose Acre?”

Gilad Shalit

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Well, now the good news, provisionally:

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

What happened? We may never know.

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

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

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

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

Or: other reasons unfathomable to me at the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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