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Posts Tagged ‘tree of life synagogue’

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

PHOTOS 

I am here because I care.

—Rachel Corrie

My Own Housing is at Risk

I am a low-income photographer, reliant on Social Security, photographic project funding, and until recently slender earnings from teaching (I left teaching due to enrollment decline and complicated scheduling). For many of my 30 years in a decent section of Cambridge I’m able to afford my 700 square feet apartment thanks to a Section 8 Housing Voucher. However, funding this benefit depends on city, state, and federal administrations. Each change of leadership—the current federal leadership terrifies me—reminds me of how precarious my situation is. A friend I’d shared this home with for a few years always declared, if they boot me out, I’d find a shelter to live in. I feel somewhat the same way, even tho shelters are chronically overcrowded and dangerous.

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My home in Cambridge Massachusetts (click here for enlargement)

My neighborhood in Cambridge, and also the Boston metro area, as well as much of our country, is currently gentrifying at an alarming rate. Gentrification means displacement, much as Israel displaced Palestinians during the Nakba. Less violent here perhaps, with some meager means of redress, but thousands are pushed from their homes as entire regions become too expensive to live in. A national crisis, a result of income and wealth inequality, exacerbated by the current federal government.

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My neighborhood, looking west

Because of the uncertainty of my housing I feel more sensitive to the precariousness of the housing of others. In East Jerusalem and in Area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank, Israel constantly demolishes Palestinian homes.

What about housing in the refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank? Currently the United States administration calls for the United Nations Refugee Works Administration (UNRWA), the main agency providing housing, food, and medical and legal assistance to the camp residents, to be defunded. The possible result—maybe intentional—is killing the refugee programs in Palestine, including housing, thereby squelching the demand for the right of Palestinian return.

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Gaza, 2010, photo by Skip Schiel © 

In 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield, purportedly in response to suicide operations by Palestinian militants, Israel invaded the 7 most populous regions in the West Bank, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Nablus among them. They destroyed much of the infrastructure, including housing. During that spring I recall going to bed thinking—fantasizing of course, but deeply concerned—that during the night, someone would demolish my home. Then awakening, my home intact, I offered thanks for another night and perhaps day in my home. I might not be able to afford increasing rents or the loss of my housing subsidy, but no one’s going to demolish it—yet it is a constant threat and a connection with Palestinians.

Context of my Palestine-Israel Work

I have studied, visited, photographed, filmed, written about, and presented about Palestine-Israel since the fall of 2003 when I participated with a delegation from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I felt compelled to witness for myself the reality of life in Palestine-Israel, to pass thru checkpoints, to be harassed by Israeli soldiers, to confront the Separation Wall. Initially the reasons I offered for why I am so attached to this project were four:

  • Oppression: during my experience in South Africa in 1990 and 1998 I began to understand the parallels between the two apartheid systems—and the close links between the two countries, South Africa and Israel. Which helped open my eyes to the brutal and illegal injustice perpetrated on the Palestinians by the Israelis. I was outraged, angry, burned inside. I needed to channel my anger, and decided, well I photograph, let’s try it there.
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South African during the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1999, photo by Skip Schiel © 

  • Jesus: I’m a follower of that great Jewish mystic and teacher, Yeshua, aka Jesus Christ. I don’t believe literally the supernatural parts of his story (not even sure he existed since the historical record is so sketchy) like the Immaculate Conception and Resurrection. I do attempt to follow his ethical teachings, non-violence and unconditional love in particular, which continue to affect me deeply. I’d grown up as a Catholic with images of the Holy Land in my schools, and—thanks to the Way of the Cross or Via Dolorosa—in the churches themselves, rendered in stained glass. The dust, donkeys, arches, wide expanses, hills, water, luminous sky all drew me, the Roman occupation itself. What’s it like there now? I had to experience the land of Jesus for myself. He lived during the Roman Occupation; I shall experience the Israeli Occupation.
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Jesus condemned by the  Sanhedrin (a Jewish judicial body)

  • The Mediterranean Light: photography depends on light, as does vision, not only neurological vision but philosophical vision, wisdom. From my first trip, that unearthly light continues to draw me back. What does it mean, how can I best work with it, how will others respond to my renderings of light? And why so many luminaries from such a small region? Not only Jesus, but Moses, Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, and all the prophets, male and female, and finally, because of his legendary night journey to visit God in heaven, the founder of Islam, one of the three Abrahamic faiths, Mohammed himself. Why so many, and yet there is no agreement on distribution of power?
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Mediterranean Sea, Gaza, Palestine
  • Rachel Corrie: In March 2003, a young woman took a leave of absence from college in Olympia Washington to heed the call of a friend in Gaza. She joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), entered Gaza, and stayed with a Palestinian family to protect their home from demolition. Wearing a bright orange reflective vest and shouting thru her bullhorn, Rachel Corrie stood in front of a gigantic Caterpillar D9 bulldozer (made by a US corporation) whose Israeli army soldier was about to demolish the home she protected. He crushed her, running the blade twice over her body. She became a shaheed, a martyr. Six months later, 14 months since Operation Defensive Shield, I made my first trip to Palestine-Israel.
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Rachel’s mother, Cindy, carrying the poster

Right of Return

All Jews anywhere, whatever their historic connections with Israel might be, have the right of return (Aliyah in Hebrew, “the act of going up”), with citizenship if desired and benefits such as housing, medical, educational, and others. Palestinians, despite their verifiable connections with the region, even when they can prove land ownership, cannot return to their original homes that existed before the Nakba in 1948. Is this not a massive contradiction, evidence of clear hypocrisy, unsustainable by international law?

The Law of Return was passed unanimously by the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, on July 5, 1950, 2 years after the Nakba, this date chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Zionist visionary Theodore Herzl.

It declared: “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh (immigrant).” Furthermore, in a declaration to the Knesset, the then Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion asserted that the law did not bestow a right but rather reaffirmed a right Jews already held: “This law does not provide for the State to bestow the right to settle upon the Jew [A Jew is defined as a person with a Jewish mother.] living abroad; it affirms that this right is inherent in him from the very fact of being a Jew; the State does not grant the right of return to the Jews of the diaspora. This right precedes the State; this right builds the State; its source is to be found in the historic and never broken connection between the Jewish people and the homeland.” (My emphasis)

In 1970 the Knesset extended this right to people with one Jewish grandparent and a person who is married to a Jew, whether or not he or she is considered Jewish under Orthodox interpretations of Halakha (collective body of Jewish religious law).

The refusal of the right of return plays an essential role in the apartheid regime by ensuring that the Palestinian population in Mandate Palestine does not grow to a point that would threaten Israeli military control of the territory and/or provide the demographic leverage for Palestinian citizens of Israel to demand (and obtain) full democratic rights, thereby eliminating the Jewish character of the State of Israel….

In 1948, General Assembly resolution 194(III) resolved that “the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so” and that compensation should be provided to the rest. Israel has rejected the application of that resolution on security grounds and on the basis of the “demographic threat” of a Palestinian majority: in the unlikely event that the entire Palestinian population of refugees and involuntary exiles returned to Palestine en masse, the Palestinian population under Israeli rule would total some 12 million, electorally overwhelming the 6.5 million Jews in Israel. Even if that refugee population returned in numbers sufficient only to generate a Palestinian majority (as is far more likely), Israel would be forced into either adopting an explicitly apartheid policy in order to exclude them, and abandoning democracy altogether, or enfranchising them and abandoning the vision of Israel as a Jewish State….

Report by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, commissioned by the Economic ad Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA0), published in 2017, and then under pressure withdrawn.

Grief & Outrage

Dear Friends,

The news of the mass shooting during shabbat services at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this morning is simply terrifying. 

News is still coming in, but we know that at least 10 people have been killed, that the shooter was a white man who entered the sanctuary yelling “kill all the Jews,” and that he might have specifically been motivated by the synagogue’s work supporting refugees and immigrants. 

I want first to send love, strength and solidarity to our beloved Jewish communities facing fear and harm today.  

Please join JVPers [Jewish Voice for Peace participants] tomorrow, Sunday October 28th [2018] at 12 pm PST/3pm EST for a virtual grief ritual with Rabbi Margaret Holub of the JVP Rabbinical Council. We will hold space to grieve and mourn and rage together.  

Register now: Mourning and Healing in the Times of White Supremacy and Antisemitism with Rabbi Margaret Holub. 

I know everyone at JVP is committed to fight white supremacy and anti-Jewish hatred, and I definitely know that we need everyone – including you – there with us. We must rely on each other, especially in an era when national leaders foment this type of violence.

May the memories of those whose lives were lost this morning be for a blessing.

With love and rage,
Alissa

My concluding motivation is finally recognizing the grief and outrage I feel about expelled Palestinian refugees. I first felt this—minimally, largely subconsciously—when researching the topic, meeting and interviewing real people, photographing them, visiting their sites of expulsion, and now, during post production, reviewing their stories, looking into their eyes, posting their images publicly.

The slaughter of 11 Jews in the Tree of Life (ironic name) synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 exposed my grief. I wept nearly uncontrollably about the Pittsburgh news and almost every time the topic arose. Why, I asked myself, do I feel so strongly about this mass murder when there have been so many others in recent years and I’ve not responded so dramatically? Yes, I have close Jewish friends, Sy, Shola, Stan, Rebecca, Laura; they could be threatened. The day after that massacre I joined an online virtual grieving session organized by Jewish Voice for Peace. During a breakout group, as I prepared to offer a thumbnail of my feelings, the reason for my current grief suddenly cleared to me.

To my colleagues who lived in different parts of the world and were probably mostly Jewish I said that I felt so strongly about the 11 Jews murdered, and their family and friends who also suffered loss, because until this moment I’d not yet fully acknowledged my grief about the Palestinian refugees. The 11 deaths in the synagogue—and the news that the murderer picked that particular Jewish group because it supported immigrants, Jewish and non-Jewish—keyed my feelings about the deaths suffered by the Palestinians, not only their homes, and in some cases actual lives, as result of the expulsion, but the loss of their ancestral homelands, regions of the earth, sacred to them, owned for centuries, perhaps millennia, ripped from them, as the lives of the Jewish synagogue members and their families and friends were tragically redirected.

Irrational tho it may be, I finally understood more of why I engage in this project.

  • 11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts, by Campbell RobertsonChristopher Mele and Sabrina Tavernise (Oct 27, 2018)
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) (Supported by the Tree of Life Synagogue and referred to by the alleged shooter)
    HIAS works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of who they are, including ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. For more than 130 years, HIAS has been helping refugees rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.

Postscript: On one of my much earlier work trips I inadvertently drove past a sign announcing Canada Park in Israel. I’d heard about it, built with money donated by Canadians, on land previously owned by Palestinians. Now forested to erase the history, I drove in briefly. I didn’t realize then this was my first attempt on the project I began many years later, “On Our Way Home.”

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Lake near the Date Palm Spring, Ayalon Canada Park, photo by Yaakov Shkolnik

ADDITIONAL LINKS

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  • A Jew Reflects on the Nakba, by Noam Sheizaf (May 2011)
    Denying the Nakba—forgetting our role in it and ignoring its political implications—is denying our own identity.
  • American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup, by Jonathan Weisman, the deputy Washington editor of The New York Times (January 2019)
    Is the world ready for another Great Schism?

    Promised Land, by The Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience
    The Jewish Museum of the Palestinian Experience was founded to provide a Jewish perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Jewish perspective is rooted in Jewish values, to treat our neighbor as we would want to be treated.

    THE LAST OF MY MOTIVATION SERIES BUT I WILL CONTINUE MY MAIN SERIES ABOUT INTERNALLY EXPELLED PALESTINIANS.

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