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Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit in June 2017—or writing later. For three days of my first week in Detroit I attended the Second International Gathering of Social Movements on Water. Here are my notes from the first two days.

PHOTOS

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June 9, 2017, Friday, Detroit

Illness might follow restoration of water because of bacteria and other debris left in the pipes and flushed out and into stomachs and throats. I am a test case [drinking from my home water system which had been shut down for months—no apparent illness].

Henry Ford hospital had been researching this but Mayor Duggins (“the emergency manager who calls himself mayor,” quoting Rev Rowe) pressured the hospital to stop, first not to release, then to entirely stop, claims Maureen Taylor, one of the gathering organizers.

Special Rapporteur on water, Dr Leo Heller, Brazilian, via Skype to the conference claimed there has been some progress toward making the right to water a universal human right (a question I asked), citing various cases. So denying water can become illegal.

Main goal is to force low-income (and Black?) people out of Detroit, claims Rowe, which provides a strong link with water rights in Palestine: force people out.

Other links between Michigan and Palestine might be to use water as punishment in Detroit and as control in Palestine. In addition to simple exploitation of limited resources.

I should read my water meter before and after to assess my use [which I did, giving information to my house, K, to use in settling billing]

West Grand Blvd. once the city limits and site of upper class homes [now largely deteriorated].

Chief Caleen Sisk, spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, California

Chief Caleen Sisk, spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, California

Power of water blessing when said in a Native American language.

United Auto Workers will help with water justice struggles, claimed Cindy Estrada, a UAW official.

Valerie Jean Blakely, water rights activist, Detroit

Valerie Jean Blakely, water rights activist, Detroit

Stories of two women who’d experienced shut offs, one had child taken but child walked home in the dark.

Possibility that city either willfully mismanages accounts to generate income or is derelict in bookkeeping, cf K’s problems.

Shut off entire neighborhoods.

Spread costs of broken mains or continually running water in abandoned houses to other customers, claims woman on Friday panel.

“Not a bankrupt city but controlled by a bankrupt system,” quoting Rowe.

Man from New Orleans exiled to Birmingham Alabama for 5 yrs before returning to city. Compares New Orleans to Detroit, gentrifying the city with mostly white, mid and high income people.

Lower East Ward [once largely Black and low-income] now filled with more affluent people.

Two young women on bus work against corporate interests in Boston, webinar coming up to develop grass-roots action.

No bottled water allowed at the conference.

What sticks for me from talks are assertions and stories?

Baxter Jones

Baxter Jones, water justice activist, Detroit

Example of Baxter Jones, in a wheelchair, who’d been jailed for his water justice activism—sumud [steadfastness].

MORE NOTES AFTER DAY TWO

My entirely different reaction: too much taking at us and not enough, barely any, participation by us.

The gathering uses the old model of conference organizing: the banking model, experts fill students with info. Virtually non-stop, running late, a fair amount of repetition (Rowe and Nicole spoke today but also the evening before). Hopefully this does not model their grassroots organizing methods.

Large number of large people, mostly women, mostly Black, but not entirely. Many infirm.

Very few travel mugs, most drank out of Styrofoam cups. Suggesting the water focus may not spread to the entire environment.

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Women definitely predominate, organizers, leaders, and participants.

Relative absence of the organization We the People of Detroit, Nadia an exception who gave for me clearly the best presentation of her panel—focused, concise, well crafted, illustrated beautifully by a slide show despite the use of power points. (Nadia explained that and Monica Lewis-Patrick, co-founder of We the People is at another conference).

Kids can no longer stay in homes without water [removed by the city].

Where are the extended bios of speakers?

Did Detroit once use only private wells, i.e., did everyone long ago have their own free water? Trace the progression from personal and private to collective and public. Adding a fee structure.

60,000 + another 18,000 cutoffs.

A man plays with his computer on the large screen behind the speakers, which is incessantly annoying. Altho occasionally he shows relevant images.

Detroit’s City Charter states a right to water and sanitation (Roger Bolton). CHECK THIS

Pre-Trump (now called “45” so we don’t use his name, as in 45th president) EPA recommended a sliding scale for water rates.

Org LIFTUP worked with several cities to establish more equitable payment plans but they served only a small proportion of customers. And shoves blame for non-payment onto the nonpaying customer, rather than addressing the unjust system.

Baltimore one of the worst cities for water and sewage infrastructure. Users have to pay for repair, when once the feds would help.

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How can the unearned income tax credit help people behind in paying water bills?

Roger Bolton (Belmont MA-based?) drafted the Detroit bill for water rights.

California the first state declaring water is a human rights—ask L.

In Puerto Rico, coal combustion produces coal dust which is then used as fill and cover but this pollutes aquifers.

Write a story about the panelists, their back-stories, what led them to this work, what they sacrifice, what they achieve?

An entirely different spirit from that of the Jewish Voice for Peace national membership meeting I attend in March. Here there is little joy, the spirit is deadening rather than enlivening. I left at end of afternoon on Friday, unable to remain for the evening because I was exhausted rather than energized.

How define affordability? What plan can work to make water affordable? How calculate ability to pay?

Philly as a possible model, something like 1-3% of annual income billable for water and sewage.

The irony of Detroit surrounded by water (Great Lakes and innumerable rivers), yet many people suffer without water.

Great lakes hold 28% of the world’s surface water.

60% of Detroiters do not have sufficient income to pay for necessities, water specifically.

Shigellosis is a water-borne disease, afflicting some people in Flint and Detroit. How many total, and what proportion of entire population and the population experiencing water shut offs?

Check out Highland Park. First with water cutoffs? Before Detroit?

CASPER is a Detroit medical survey.

If proposed guidelines (by whom?) were followed, 80% of Detroit would be eligible for help paying their water bills.

Review Ford hospital study and the story about its squelching by Duggins.

Check out the water hotline on We the People of Detroit and inform K.

Have our water tested, the link is on We the People.

Story of salmon as transformational creatures, salt to fresh water, eg, finding way back to spawning grounds. (Native woman on Fri from Calif)

Microphone as a talking stick—does this allow the native woman to talk endlessly?

Flint: the activist organization [which one?] makes broad demands, not only about water, but pipes, rates, single payer health, emergency manager.

National campaign for lead free water

Hear from Melissa Mays, a key Flint activist, and [later] her 2 sons, 12 and 14, plus an older son, all with health problems related to lead (“growing pains,” but more serious and enduring and endangering than ordinary growing pains).

Water-related illness creates “foggy brain” in kids and they are then declared “behavior kids” and suspended and thrown out.

FlintH20justice—FaceBook page.

Read People’s Tribune.

Did I pay $100 for the conference, with $5 per day for food?

State Water Legislative Working Group—bills and hearing, attend some. (Stephanie Chang)

Renewed Poor Peoples’ Campaign (without the encampment), 50th anniversary next year.

Purpose of emergency manager is to steal assets like water. Look at patterns of which cities get the EMs.

Fresh, safe, affordable water.

Watch movie, “Something in the Water” [part of the America Divided series?]

Photos of Detroit light brigade and bat signals

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LINKS

Flinth20justice (Facebook)

Are Detroit water shutoffs and illnesses related?” Bridge Magazine, by Joel Kurth

TO BE CONTINUED

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Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit in June 2017—or writing later.

I come from Detroit where it’s rough and I’m not a smooth talker.

—Eminem

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Youth activist on water rights

PHOTOS

June 7, 2017, Wednesday, Detroit

Letter to S:

i’m in detroit, settling into my home away from home. the water man turned on our water this afternoon. G [my neighbor across the street] finally returned my phone call (as i stood yesterday afternoon in boston awaiting the boarding of a late train—believe it or not, the train originates in boston—and showed up this morning with the key just as w dropped me at the house. w picked me up at the dearborn train station, i treated her to a mideast breakfast at my favorite local mideast bakery, the new yasmeen, in dearborn. i also picked up a load of treats, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage leaves, humus, and a variety of arab sweets.

my iphone problems continue vexing me. phone and messaging work well and add much to my work here, as does the internet. but linking to my laptop for internet, the hotspot routine—if it connects and it’s spotty—is extremely show. i always have the local mcdonalds.

i perused my list of contacts to further photograph my two main themes for this trip, water justice and public schools. the water conference begins thurs, runs thru sun, and at the very least i’ll learn much more about water justice-injustice here and make some valuable connections. the principal of the local public k-8 school seems to be avoiding me. no time for an appointment tomorrow “but she’ll get back to you.” unlikely. 

two new contacts have materialized, a man (i might have mentioned him), mb, who’s part of a pro bono team bringing a suit against the state of michigan about literacy rights in the public schools, and his daughter, s, who just graduated from harvard ed and has been filming related to the suit. i spoke with her a few hrs ago and i might photograph and possibly film a major event occurring next week about struggles over public ed.

k, the owner of the house i stay in, is due here any minute. we may put the furniture back after she had wood flooring installed. and then, early to bed. 

i slept very little on the crowded train, joined during the middle of the night by a young woman heading to chicago so i scrunched into one seat. as the conductor informed us, monday kicked off school vacation summer. (not quite for massachusetts but elsewhere apparently). as the sun set last night, we were in iroquois confederacy territory, along the mohawk river, the clouds black outlined and looming. then rain fell, continuing thru the night. clear this morning in detroit, followed by more bulbous threatening clouds which teamed up to alternately block and allow the sunlight. 

it’s cool here in detroit, mid 60s, and windy. not much to stop the winds from blowing in from the plains. temps may hit near 90 here later this week. i guess you had more murky chilly weather today and maybe tomorrow.

IS THE WATER TURNED ON IN MY HOUSE?

Fulfilling my duties as house husband I happened to be home yesterday when the Detroit water man returned to turn on the water. I accompanied him downstairs, thinking I might learn how to turn on water myself, if needed, but he only checked the meter’s condition. Outside, I watched him from the porch as he found the water valve buried about 3 ft under the front yard, pulled up the covering, and with a tool on a long rod restored our water. Too late I thought to grab my camera and photograph him. He was amiable and chatty, working for Homrich, a company that also does demolitions. He explained the large machine on the truck’s back was an air compressor. They use it to clear holes stuffed with dirt by house owners trying to prevent shut offs. I didn’t tell him we might meet again—with my camera.

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Rev. Edwin Rowe, member of People’s Water Board Coalition, Public Health Committee

June 8, 2017, Thursday

MY LEADS SEEM MOSTLY FEMALE

I notice that nearly all my leads and contacts have been female: first AR who I met at Friends General Gathering in Johnstown Penn in the late 1990s; leading to K who offered her house in summer 2010 so Rick, Grove, I and others would have a home while we attended the US Social Forum; reconnecting with W who I’d met at another FGC gathering in maybe the early 1990s (who introduced me to the Swords Into Plowshares Peace Gallery where I had my first Detroit show, the 1995 Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage with Billy Ledger); and then more recently, KS, KR, G, and a few other women. RF and Johnny are gender exceptions.

Is this because women find me attractive? Hardly. Is it because women are more likely than men to help others? I believe so.

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Melissa Mays, coordinator of Water You Fighting For ?, Flint Michigan

At any rate, I’d like to highlight the roles of two other women in my Detroit project, W and SR. SR drove me to the Boston train station, helping me over a large hurdle because of all my gear, especially my bike. She’s done this repeatedly. In addition she tends my house when I’m gone, mail, plants, oversight, etc.

W has fed me innumerable leads, including the most recent one at the Swords Gallery where she once was on the board. She’s lent me her car, and might again for this trip; she’s hosted home shows; she’s sent me info; and with husband G has proven steadfast as friend. Minus AR, minus K, and minus W I might not be able to do this project, especially if I had to rely on men.

Besides providing housing, K is a confidant. Yesterday during our long phone conversation I told her how living here in Detroit is like returning to live to Chicago’s South Side, my boyhood home that my parents forced me to abandon for our move to the suburbs. Previously I’d told her about my life with S, its ups and downs, once at length confiding to her our problems over art, how critical I am of hers and perhaps she of mine. K tells me about her old boy friend M—the odd one—and other men, and about her health problems, and perhaps most importantly about this house. I am a silent partner in her house, helping her, possibly knowing her house better than she herself does in its present condition. This is crucial to both of us.

Maureen Taylor, conference co organizer

Maureen Taylor, water conference co-organizer

TEMPORARILY NO HOME, NO WATER, AND NO ELECTRICITY

Being an honorary Detroiter I reluctantly experience what other Detroiters might experience: no home when I worried about getting in, meeting G with a key. No water when I lived in this home for about 24 hours without water. And yesterday no electricity for about 6 hours.

Around 2 pm yesterday while listening to the radio and doing computer work, suddenly the radio cut out and seemed to produce a high-pitched, screeching noise. Oh, probably just an emergency test alert on the radio, I thought. It continued. Searching, I discovered the radio was not the audio source; but a wall device, either smoke detector or burglar alarm, was wailing, signaling power outage.

Just my home? Looking out front I saw a neighbor across the street, maybe Anthony’s father, in front of his house looking puzzled. Is this a neighborhood phenomenon? So I crossed the street, found Antony and his dad sitting on their front porch. Their first question to me was, do you have electricity? That clinched the question: neighborhood power outage. Earlier I’d heard a siren. Looking around I detected nothing unusual.

My Internet still worked so, searching for Detroit power outages, I found on DTE’s website, the power provider, a map that showed numerous outages around the city, a big one affecting some 500 houses in my neighborhood. I decided to go for the afternoon bike ride I’d promised myself, as much to bike as to buy booze and a few other items I didn’t remember on my first shopping trip. Starting out down Buena Vista I saw DTE utility trucks and about 1/2 mile from here a fire truck. Biking over, blocked by emergency tape, I inquired: live wires down, maybe wind, stay back!

All 3 of these problems—no home, no water, no electricity—were short-lived and minor, easily corrected. I have privilege, I have community, I have skills, and I am not worried, not too worried. Worried just enough to activate and to appreciate what others go thru.

In a few days I’ll attend the four day long water conference, expecting to gain insights, leads, and portraits of key participants in the local and international struggles for water justice. Regarding water rights, I will keep an eye out for links between Palestine and the rest of the world, notably Michigan.

DetroitFromWindsor_6693-Pano

Detroit from Windsor Ontario

LINKS

We The People of Detroit

Water Justice Journey Resource Packet

TO BE CONTINUED

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You must make the injustice visible and be prepared to die like a soldier to do so.

—Mahatma Gandhi

From a workshop about writing in the context of The Work That Reconnects, (designed by Joanna Macy) and led by Louise Dunlap, Aravinda Ananda, and Joseph Rotella. We were asked to imagine a creature speaking to us from the future.

Thank you Skip for sitting down with me to hear my story, so many generations into the future. You and many of your colleagues who struggled for justice in the 21st century are some of the many steps for me and my people, a part of your future.

I’ve heard about you thru my ancestors, in particular a man named Rex who lived in your time. I realize that you, his grandfather, and he had a rocky relationship while he was young but I’m so pleased he decided to publish your story, which I’ve read. But we’re here to listen to my story, what I’ve learned living in the 28th century CE on the planet Mars, colonized first by your country, and then made into a center of interplanetary development.

Mars_atmosphere_2

Mars in the 21st century before human habitation

Your contemporary, Mahatma Gandhi, answered the question, Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of western civilization? with the words, I think it would be a good idea. Well, surprisingly and against most predictions, humans were able to evolve a form of civilization but it required 3 generations past your own, into the late 22nd century. The growth of international law and international institutions allowed for evolution. My ancestors, recognizing the futility of the United Nations as constituted shortly after World War Two, because it was overly dominated by the United States, was abandoned. Unfortunately this required war, a catastrophic war that included the massive use of nuclear weapons. This nearly wiped out the human population and many other species as well. By the way, Israel, a nation you had hoped would correct its self-destructive path, entered the war with its nuclear arsenal and was wiped out. (This might have happened without World War Three because of Israel’s previous suicidal path, refusing to end its occupation and siege of the West Bank and Gaza.)

Israeli forces bombarded Shujaieh district in Gaza. July 20, 2014  Thousands of Palestinians run for their lives in the deadliest assault on the Palestinian enclave in five years. Heidi Levine for The National  SM

Israeli forces bombarded Shujaieh district in Gaza. July 20, 2014  Thousands of Palestinians run for their lives in the deadliest assault on the Palestinian enclave in five years. Photo by Heidi Levine for The National

This war led to the first large-scale emigration from the earth to Mars, via the moon. The moon did not prove capable of housing the 10 billion people fleeing the nuclear catastrophe, and so technology moved rapidly to transport human beings first to protected colonies on Mars and then, by creating an Earthlike Martian atmosphere, people were finally able to live in open air settlements. An additional benefit of migration to Mars was the absence of indigenous life. The colonizers did not need to repeat their ancestors’ genocide of native people in North America and because of advanced technology (and ethics) did not need to enslave people as your country did to expedite its economy and demonstrate what it thought to be its implicit white right to rule others.

journey_to_mars

Because of your generation’s unwillingness to acknowledge and take decisive action about your global climate crisis, Earth became what Mars was then—barren, an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide with some water vapor. Another irony is water: access to safe and ample water became a major problem during your generation. As with climate change—water a major ingredient of that phenomenon—21st century humans refused to deal effectively with the problem. Not included in your various computer simulations, shockingly, this resulted in the end of water, except for traces beneath the Earth’s surface and during Earth winter when some water still flows above ground.

Mars water

Mars showing evidence of flowing water, Hale Crater, NASA false-color image,
September 2015 (more info below), 
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

We were gifted not only technologically, but more importantly, morally. After 5 centuries of debate, the United States instituted a truth and reconciliation process that returned considerable land to natives and compensated African-Americans for the ancestors’ slavery. But then World War Three finally catalyzed an entirely new form of civilization; Gandhi himself might have been pleased.

This is not to claim we have solved all societal problems. New ones developed, notably questions about governance, sovereignty, and use of power in the court system, but we are definitely pleased that the human race survived the catastrophic nuclear war and atmospheric collapse—a topic I know was of great concern during the short existence of humans on earth.

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West Roxbury (Boston) Lateral Fracked Gas Pipeline: Thru the heart of a residential neighborhood, property taken by eminent domain—in response: civil disobedience. 

During your brutal uncivilized period many strived to sustain—not merely to sustain but to further evolve—the human race. And with it the many new species of plants and animals created by nuclear war, now exported to Mars that help us further evolve. We, all creation, continue.

LINKS

Mars Facts

NASA’S Journey to Mars

“New Mars 2020 rover will be able to ‘hear’ the Red Planet,” By Ashley Strickland, CNN, July 2016

“NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars,” September 2015

Human Settlement on Mars: Mars One is a not for profit foundation with the goal of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars. To prepare for this settlement the first unmanned mission is scheduled to depart in 2020. Crews will depart for their one-way journey to Mars starting in 2026; subsequent crews will depart every 26 months after the initial crew has left for Mars. Mars One is a global initiative aiming to make this everyone’s mission to Mars, including yours. Join Mars One’s efforts to enable the next giant leap for mankind.

October_2_24_92_99_18.eps

 

 

 

 

 

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Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians are currently planning accelerated development around the Dead Sea, which would result in massive construction of new hotels, expansion of industry and enhanced mineral and water extraction. The various new endeavors currently proposed for the region demonstrate not only woefully insufficient consideration of even basic ecological principles, but also a lack of basic coordination between sectors and between the three relevant governmental authorities.
See also Red Dead Conduit.

—EcoPeace-Middle East

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

PHOTOS

Yesterday’s first task was thinking about how far south I’d travel and where I might stay the night. Then a visit to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.

I’d stopped by on an earlier Dead Sea journey but for reasons I don’t recall did not enter. This time I had time for a leisurely stroll up Wadi David to the first set of waterfalls. I was not alone: numerous tour groups also visited.

Thru Wadi David

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Most walked only the minimum distance, to the first fall. Some stopped to pray and sing, I assume they were Christian altho I don’t know the Christian significance of this area. I overheard the words David and his men, meaning King David, alleged to have hidden here. On the trail I remet the young couple from the Netherlands who I’d shared quarters with at the hostel and then drove them to the nature reserve. They intended to take a longer route to caves and other sites. I had neither the time, nor interest, nor knees for that journey.

Since water is one of my main themes I felt at home on this walk. Multiple falls (I showered in the first one, before and after photographing a woman and her infant playing in the water), exquisite rock or clay formations (what keeps the structures in place, how dangerous is walking here, what if an earthquake happened? I did see a sign with the words Escape Route), striations showing millennial changes (2 million years ago this area was covered with water that connected to the Mediterranean), well made and tended trails with handrails and steps, birds and one gruesome looking rodent with sharp teeth that I photographed, views to the Dead Sea and back toward the Negev Desert heights, and a comfortable climate—not too hot, nor too cold, no hint of rain, some clouds.

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To escape from falling rocks (and pehaps flash floods)

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Rock Hyrax/Rock Badger

Then, to the car and off I spin south. With a long stop at the Ein Bokek hotel complex which I visited a few years ago. Here a room would cost me upwards of $300! On my last visit I could walk easily into a hotel (and surreptitiously photograph) with the story that I was considering an overnight stay. Not so this time—it is Israel’s Independence Day holiday. The hotels are loaded, not quite full. I found a friendly security man who let me park and escorted me to reception where I spoke with a dark-skinned young woman. After inquiring about prices I asked, might I look around? Help yourself. This after a rebuff at the first hotel I tried, the Leonardo.

I photographed and tried to imagine staying here, even if on a corporate budget. Would I? Why? So dismal, so dry, so too perfect. Not for me. Money or not.

One of numerous high end hotels in Ein Bokek

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Near the Ein Bokek hotel complex in the southern sea, the sea level continues to fall. Thus, a new road LOWER than the old.

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Paradoxically, while water from the northern section is pumped into the southern to be evaporated for mineral extraction, the sea level is rising in some places because of the build up of salt deposits that remain after mineral extraction. Thus, a new road, higher than the old.

Where will I sleep tonight? How about the beach, in my car? I scouted various locations, spoke with numerous people, and learned essentially I could car camp most anywhere in Israel and not be bothered. Where would I find minimal facilities like an unlocked toilet in the morning for a commanding call? That is not so easy. I spotted a couple, she with head covered, apparently car camping. I could pull up beside them, spoil their privacy, and have little of my own.

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“According to the Israeli group Who Profits From the Occupation? (whoprofits.org), the mud used in Ahava products is taken from a site on the shores of the Dead Sea inside the occupied territory, next to Kalia. Ahava uses Palestinian natural resources without the permission of or compensation to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel denies Palestinians access to the shores of the Dead Sea and its resources, although one-third of the western shore of the Dead Sea lies in the occupied West Bank.” 

I surveyed a small shopping mall. Remembering the boycott of Ahava cosmetics because it uses materials from the Palestinian section of the Dead Sea I photographed the Ahava retail store, trying to combine the shop, sign, and beach. I bought a beer (18 NIS/$4.50) and drank half the can in my car, then napped, awakening to heat. The shadow had shifted. I bought a small tin of instant coffee, 20 NIS/$5. And made a cup of cold coffee to rouse myself after the beer for the drive further south. I photographed the old road which is higher than the new road, indicating sea recession, and then later, further south, I photographed the new road, higher than the old, because the southern basin is rising.

This is complicated: the Sea’s northern portion is clearly receding because of diversion and drought (altho I learned huge changes in sea level are common over a long stretch of time, level much higher in the century before the era of Jesus), and apparently for a while the Sea’s south portion receded as well. Then, with the buildup of mineral deposits from mining the water for potassium, sodium, etc, the level is rising in the south. Rather than curtail the mineral deposition the government has decided to revise the infrastructure. So we have here 2 major problems caused by changes in water—sinkholes and infrastructure, which includes the hotels.

deadsealevel.gif

I photographed as many manifestations of these phenomena as I could. I might have enough photos for a Dead Sea presentation alone. Include the Dead Sea works, pipes, cliffs, etc, and it may be a substantial collection. Add to that also the region I now write from, Neot haKikar, and I might have a unique collection. (I should research other photo sets from the Dead Sea. I long for aerial views, maybe next time bring a drone.)

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Pumps move water from the northern section to the south

Canals carry water to the southern section

Canals carry water to the southern section

Evaporation ponds

Evaporation ponds

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Dead Sea Works, for extracting potash, and other minerals

Last evening as I drove into the small moshav (agricultural coop), Neot HaKikar, for groceries, I noticed about 10 dark-skinned Asian men riding on a flat bed trailer pulled by a tractor. First thought: tourists. Second: they might stay where I’m staying, ghastly. Third thought as I discovered they shopped at the same “minimarket” as me and bought large quantities of beer, wine and vodka, along with some staples, Oh oh, what if they reside tonight at the camp lodge where I am? Could be rowdy and noisy. Fourth thought, as I heard their language, a singsong Cambodian-like language: Ah ha, they are foreign agricultural workers, probably from Thailand.

Workers from Thailand

Agricultural workers from Thailand in the cooperative farming village of Neot HaKikar at the southern Dead Sea tip

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Shkedi’s Camp Lodge in Neot HaKikar

I thought I might inquire of the man at checkout but this would be in the presence of the workers. Save the question for later, perhaps Gil, the lodge’s proprietor, who I’ve yet to see this morning (later he affirmed my speculation). Checking on line, I find references to Thai workers in this region. Local agriculture grows melons, tomatoes, squash, etc, that can survive on salty water.

I consider whether foreign workers throughout Israel could become a subtheme of my photography. I waited while they boarded a flatbed and then tried to follow them without being spotted. I made a few snaps, planning to scout further today. But because it might still be holiday—and the beginning of Shabbat—they may not work. Perhaps this is their reason for stocking up on booze.

Referring to my speculations about dangers from falling rocks at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve:

The Neot HaKikar disaster (Hebrew: אסון נאות הכיכר), which occurred on 30 December 1970, was until the Mount Carmel forest fire of 2010 the worst natural disaster in the history of the State of Israel. Heavy rains caused rocks to detach from an overhanging cliff and crush a dining room in an Israel Defense Forces base. 19 soldiers and one civilian were killed and ten soldiers were injured (three of them severely). (Wikipedia)

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Looking south toward the Red Sea, Dead Sea approximately in the middle, Sea of Galilee near the bottom, the Mediterranean Sea on the right

LINKS

Salt Production at the Dead Sea

“Israel Chemicals Moves Dead Sea Salt for $1 Billion,” by David Wainer, 2013

“The Dying of the Dead Sea,” by Joshua Hammer, 2005

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Dead_Sea-_DSC9482

Lying in the heart of the Syrian-African rift valley at the southern outlet of the Jordan River, the Dead Sea region is internationally known for its unique geographical, biological, and historical characteristics. It is the lowest point on earth and world’s saltiest large water body. The Basin’s historical features include Jesus’s baptism site, Masada, and Mt. Nebo, among many, many others.

Despite the lack of wildlife in the Dead Sea itself, the region around it is blessed with unique flora and fauna, including endangered species such as ibex, leopards, and hyrax. The wetlands surrounding the Sea support several species, such as the indigenous “Dead Sea Sparrow”, and serve as important resting and breeding sites for millions of migratory birds crossing between Europe and Africa each year.

Together with its ecological interest, the Dead Sea is rich in a wide variety of minerals, making it an attraction for millions of visitors wishing to take advantage of the therapeutic qualities of its minerals.

EcoPeace-Middle East

 

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

PHOTOS

April 22, 2015, Wednesday, Ein Gedi Hostel, Dead Sea, Palestine-Israel (Earth Day)

Yes, I made it past the sinkholes, a Dead Sea version of the pothole, but large enough to fall into. Maybe more like some of the recent potholes in Detroit [during November 2014]. I saw many but none close to the road, except maybe near the town of Ein Gedi where I reside now. The road is partially blocked; the government constructed a detour that skirts or enters the nature reserve, possibly endangering the animals who are not familiar with vehicles at night. The road south resumes on the other side of the detour. I drove it last evening to buy food in Kibbutz Ein Gedi but saw no sinkholes. I shall look again today when I drive further south along the sea. I spotted numerous bright red signs warning people about the dangerous conditions.

A series of sinkholes

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Sinkholes in agricultural fields, photo by George Steinmetz, 2007

Yesterday, north of here, I stopped numerous times to photograph the holes, layered shore line, sea views, abandoned buildings including what was claimed to be the first Jewish neighborhood, and maybe most importantly the general region where the Jordan River meets the sea.

Slightly closer view, actual entry point obscured

Northern tip of the Dead Sea, where the Jordan River enters, partially hidden

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Site of an early Israeli hotel near the northern section of the Dead Sea

This I photographed badly. A fence prevented close examination. I tried using my camera’s live view but the sun washed out my screen image. I tried estimating the field but missed on all but one occasion. Same with the knocked over guard tower. If I remember, I will try again on my return trip. The site was the first beach access point, inundated with tourists. I photographed the buses.

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Kalia Beach, most Palestinians unable to reach this beach
even tho it is in the West Bank of Palestine

At the site of many abandoned buildings which I presumed to be former Jordanian army barracks, I became lost on the rutted, dried mud roads. Not panicking but wondering whether I’d be mightily embarrassed if I couldn’t find my way out. Or if I drove into a ditch and required a tow. I managed, slowly.

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I recall first observing this general area with the 2003 delegation (I note that its two leaders, Scott and Tariq, are now both dead, as is at least one participant, the old man.). Twelve years ago we drove thru the area on our way to the beach. Today is Israel’s Independence Day celebration so housing and shops and housing may be affected. Last night a siren sounded for a minute or so to commemorate the deaths of all Israeli soldiers and others killed as a result of the conflict. I wrote to my list the following with an article:

Memorial day in Israel

tonight as i rest overlooking the dead sea, in a pristine oasis known as ein gedi (beset by sinkholes caused by a receding dead sea), i hear the siren commemorating israeli soldiers’ deaths. many of them, 67 from last year’s foolish assault on gaza known as operation protective edge.

here is today’s editorial in a leading israeli newspaper, ha’aretz.

—Skip

“The 67 Israeli soldiers who fell during Gaza war [2014] died in vain” (by Iris Leal)

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Showing the extent of Dead Sea in the West Bank

LINKS

Israel prevents Palestinians from going to the Dead Sea” (August 2007)

Aerial images from George Steinmetz

“Boycott of Ahava Dead Sea products makes an impact,” by Adri Nieuwhof

TO BE CONTINUED

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Only by awakening can you know the true meaning of that word. —Eckhart Tolle

PHOTOS

From early March thru end of May I photographed, videoed, and wrote in Palestine-Israel, north to south, east to west, Israel and Palestine, wet and dry, happy and tragic, brightly lit (oh that Mediterranean Light!) and dark. With what I hope is an open heart, available to all parties, a fair-eyed and handed treatment of different experiences.

Highlights include:

  • Nearly one month along the Jordan River from its headwaters on Mt Hermon to its tragic termination in the dying Dead Sea.

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Mt Hermon, headwaters of the Jordan River, Israeli surveillance center

  • Organized annually by the illustrious Freedom Theater of Jenin, the two-week Freedom Bus Ride thru the West Bank visited inspiring nodal points of suffering and resistance such as Bil’in, Tuwani, Nabi Salih, and the Jordan Valley, often staying for several days while sleeping on floors.

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Bil’in

  • Teaching photography to young adults for two weeks thru the Freedom Theater in Jenin’s refugee camp.

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Two of my photo students in Jenin

  • Exploring the eastern sector of Jerusalem by photographing for Grassroots Jerusalem, while residing for one month in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

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Examining how Israel dominates Jerusalem’s eastern sector, nominally Palestinian

  • 5 days with Israelis who live on the Gaza border, often attacked by home-made rockets and mortars launched by Gazan militants, photographing and filming there (on kibbutzim and moshavim, i.e., cooperative agricultural communities) an organization called Other Voice, Jewish Israelis calling for negotiations rather than war to resolve the conflict.

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Looking from Israel into Gaza, less than 2 kilometers from each other

  • Photographing two conferences, one about coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis, the other about cohesion of the various Palestinian groups in 1948 israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

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An Israeli and a Palestinian together at Global Village Square, Bethlehem Palestine

Problems occurred during the photography training when apparently I did not satisfy students’ wishes for more advanced training. Altho one of the Theater’s requests was to fully explore light in photography, one of my most practiced photographic elements, I might have failed to help them understand how light works. Given the conditions, expectations, and my expertise in photography I did my best. Another problem was that I was not able to enter Gaza. The organization I usually work with that can get me a permit, the American Friends Service Committee, did not need my services. Also since the summer 2014 Gaza war, Israel has tightened entrance. I was close to Gaza when with Other Voice, and phoned my good friend in Gaza, Ibrahim, which only exacerbated my (and his) frustration.

Was my trip a success? How measure this? Achievements? Photo and movie production? Insights? Survival in relatively good health?

Was my trip useful? Will it help end the conflict, assure security for the Israelis and justice for the Palestinians?

What is the point of my work? An adventure, a vacation, a wish to demonstrate my bravery? I answer, respectively: Maybe, time will reveal. Possibly, I undertook it with good intentions. A compulsion, an itch, a need, unfathomable.

Conditions In Gaza (Gaza Blockade In Numbers) are the worst since the 1948 birth of Israel and the catastrophe it caused for the Palestinians, the Nakba. Altho unable to witness Gaza directly, thru study and conversation I learn virtually nothing has been rebuilt, Israel continues to block entrance and exit (my case), and altho fighting has not resumed in this past year, most people I spoke with, inside and outside Gaza, expect another war, possibly more devastating than the one last summer. Unless major compromises are made by all contending parties.

In the West Bank and Israel conditions vary according to location (mid June 2015 UN report here). As I wrote in more detail here, most Israelis seem oblivious about the occupation, not affected directly by it, even if in West Bank settlements (as long as there is “quiet”). For Palestinians in the West Bank, especially the regions the Freedom Bus Ride visited, including Jerusalem, the tight Israeli military and economic control continues. I’ve heard that Hamas, ruler of Gaza, is losing support and people are outspoken about that. And in the West Bank where Fatah rules, many people have abandoned the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, the Authority without authority, handmaiden to the Israeli government.

Struggle against oppression continues, but it is localized to a few key points in the West Bank, and virtually absent in Gaza. Or put differently, it seems effective and strategic in only a few places. Otherwise, West Bank resistance seems pro forma: a group gathers in protest, maybe against land loss or prison conditions. The process may begin nonviolently (this as a value and tactic is much debated) but usually boys, the shabab, throw rocks and the soldiers fire, depending on who is among the protesters, live ammunition, rubber-covered metal bullets, tear gas, skunk water (chemically treated to resemble sewage and stick to clothing and skin) or stun grenades. Quid pro quo. Predictable and pointless. Or so some, including me, think. I search for strategic resistance with a vision for the future and found it among all the groups visited by the Freedom Bus Ride.

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Women’s Day March on Kalandia Checkpoint

I hope my materials give a deeper sense of my experiences and perspectives.

I end this report with an idea: one’s perspectives are generated not only by relevant experience, study, and influence—my trip in this case—but by personal points of reference, often subconscious, often not related directly to one’s opinions.

I speculate that those tilting toward Israel in their perspectives share points of reference, whereas those tilting toward Palestine might not. Jews usually tilt toward Israel by referencing anti-Semitism, the horrors of the holocaust, and persistent, nearly existential fear of Iran (going back to the days of exile in Persia?). A tilt toward Palestine could be from a variety of points of reference. One person might have experienced oppression, as with African Americans. Or being raised during the 1960s, radicalized by the Vietnam-American war and the Freedom Movement like me. Paradoxically Jews might also tilt toward Palestine if not for their Jewishness—Jewish proclivity toward justice could be a key point of reference but Jewish fear for their own and Israel’s survival overrides their sense of justice.

My reference points are—altho I shouldn’t be too hasty to decide—Wounded Knee, my early Zionism, the African American Freedom Movement, and a dream I had in South Africa about Martin Luther King Jr. I came of age thru Wounded Knee: playing the cowboy who killed Indians when we played; my early Badlands experience, near the massacre site, with my family; later reading books such as Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee; and then my first visit to the actual site in 1982 while roaming the Great Plains alone. One year later I lived and photographed on the reservation with the Jesuits. Seven years after that in 1990 I was on the Pine Ridge reservation again in South Dakota with my partner for the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee. These adult experiences led to a major photographic project.

Thru this process I learned compassion for the “extreme other”—people not in any of my circles, not in my family, neighborhood, or ethnic group. They were on the other side of the planet (or a different planet), not my skin color or sharing my first language, etc. Wounded Knee victims were truly the “extreme other.” As the Palestinians had been other to me—until I visited in 2003 and met real Palestinians.

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Wounded Knee, 1890

Secondly, my early Zionism—growing up admiring the kibbutz, the pioneer, the tanned and muscled young man with a rifle over his shoulder, working the land with an array of similarly tanned and muscled beautiful young women with rifles over their shoulders (oh how I desired to join them); then teaching at Maimonides School in 1966-67, celebrating the outcome of the Six Day War; later the period of Munich and airplane hijackings; and slowly shifting direction as I observed parallels between South African apartheid and Israel while visiting South Africa.

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Zionist Pioneer

Thirdly, the African American Freedom Movement interwove with my Zionism, especially during the mid 1960s when I contemplated going south for Freedom Summer but feared and refused, forever regretful. Now I discover that regret leads to my willingness to enter danger zones in Palestine-Israel.

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Freedom Movement

Finally, the dream about Martin Luther King Jr. I dreamt he appeared to me and in effect said, while he tapped me on the shoulder, “Skip, I’m dead, you’re alive, it is now your turn.” Which meant: utilize his analysis of the triplet of racism, militarism, and extreme consumerism to struggle for justice. He did not point me at Palestine-israel; only later did I make this connection.

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A button I proudly wear

What next? Lots of work this summer and into the fall preparing exhibits, slideshows, movies, blog, website, and eventually touring in the USA to show my results. Which is where you, dear reader, comes in.

Would you like to sponsor a presentation?

Here are some of my current projects, slideshows, movies, and prospective photographic exhibitions:

Thru my Lens: Palestine-Israel
The look and feel and meaning of the situation in this troubled region. Based on my recent three-month journey of faith in action, I will show and discuss my photographs about coexistence, Palestinians in Jerusalem, nonviolent resistance to the occupation in the West Bank, and other topics.

Freedom Bus Ride thru the Palestinian West Bank
A slideshow by Skip Schiel about Palestinians under occupation practicing exemplary strategic nonviolent resistance. The renowned Freedom Theater of Jenin West Bank organized a two-week bus journey inspired by the Freedom Movement and Bus Rides in the United States, some 60 international and Palestinian riders, to explore some of the most attacked and resilient communities in the West Bank—Bil’in, Tuwani, Nabi Salih, the Jordan Valley, and Jerusalem itself, known by thousands for their creative struggles against oppression.

Jerusalem Day: the Controversial March of Flags
A slideshow-movie by Skip Schiel about the annual celebration of Jerusalem’s “reunification.” In reality, Jerusalem is not unified, but in the eyes of many of its Palestinian residents, it is occupied. All governments refuse to locate their embassies there, but instead base in Tel Aviv. The march provocatively begins in Sheik Jarrah, a contested Palestinian neighborhood, marches thru the eastern, largely Palestinian sector of Jerusalem, thru the Damascus Gate, and into the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall. I photographed and videoed this year’s march, trying to carefully depict both sides of the controversy.

Other Voice: Gaza’s Israeli Neighbors
A movie by Skip Schiel about courageous Israelis advocating for talks, not tanks, diplomacy, not war. Living within two miles of Gaza, these Israelis suffer the brunt of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, most recently infiltration as well. Yet they call for an intelligent response to the violence in their neighborhood, in league with similarly minded Gazans.

Holy Land Water
Hydropolitics in Palestine-Israel, from Mt Hermon, the headwaters of the Jordan River, to the dying Dead Sea, the River’s terminus.

In addition I circulate these earlier photo presentations GeneralTour2014AnnouncementSchielSM. i hope to hear from you. You can email me.

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Hassan Muamer of the Battir Landscape EcoMuseum, an initiative, with the help of UNESCO, that has been dedicated to restoring and sustaining the environmental stability of Battir, continues to fight the human rights violations presented by the wall.

“There have not been protests here since the first Intifada,” Muamer said, “we opted for agriculture as resistance.”

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PHOTOS

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

May 1, 2013, Wednesday, Bethlehem

Yesterday [April 30, 2013] was the Battir terraces tour that I’ve long hoped to photograph after G suggested it months ago. With J, the new volunteer at the news agency where I also volunteer as a photographer, G guided us thru some of the terrace landscape. Not the Palestinian village of Battir itself, however; this she promised for later, maybe an early morning walk, most importantly with a Palestinian guide rather than herself, an Israeli. Much of the tour was on foot, usually mild inclines and declines. When she suggested a rougher walk I demurred, stated, I might need to walk slower than you both, I have knee problems. She suggested a less strenuous route.

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Click map for larger view

The terraces are vast. This is one of the areas in Israel-Palestine most dense with terraces, G from Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) thought because it has historically been prime agricultural land, as contrasted with the Galilee for instance. It is more suited to agriculture partially because of the warmer climate. There is archeological evidence that terraces existed here at least 4000 years ago. Of course the main reason for terracing is to increase arable land. Slopes can be converted into small plains by forming rock walls which in turn create the arable flat zones. This also traps rain water. Earlier, people moved the more fertile earth from lower elevations to the terraced plains. Now, G explained, with fertilizers this is no longer necessary. Hills prevent use of machinery so much work is done with donkeys and hand labor.

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She showed us places where farmers had renovated old terraces and planted, usually olive trees. Some Israeli farmers are using traditional irrigation techniques supplemented by piped water to foster early growth. Maybe Palestinians as well?

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Battir 1893

G showed us cisterns and canals in a small park. Also the ruins of Byzantine structures dating back some 1600 years, olive presses and maybe a church. Across the valley she indicated ancient structures built during Roman and Crusader periods, and a hillside now barren which once had been an Arab village. Possibly people recycled the limestone from the buildings into the terrace walls. She also pointed to where an ancient Jewish fortress, Khirbet al-Yahud, once stood. At 2 of the parks people had congregated, one to camp. We saw tour buses at a third site, but the hikers may have been on other trails.

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Photographing all this in an effective way was challenging. Much the same challenge I face with my water theme: how to make interesting photos of intrinsically fascinating scenes when seen with the unaided eye and with commentary but that do not necessarily lend themselves to photography? J also made photos and we shall compare. Perhaps I can learn from her, she from me.

G leads an excellent tour. She’s done this many times, knows the hills intimately, walks and rides horses over them. She knows history, ecology, geology and other areas that fuse together so she can present an overall view of the terraces. She is empathetic with human needs and rights, often referred to the human being as central in the argument of what to do about the Separation Barrier (called by some the Apartheid Wall) and the terraces. In fact, the proposed route of the Barrier in this region is what motivates concern for the terraces. Many would be destroyed if the wall/fence is built according to plan. At the moment this is being adjudicated in Israel’s high court—potentially a landmark legal case for Palestine-Israel.

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Railroad tracks near the proposed route of the Barrier

With a curious combination of influence groups: the Israeli Defence Ministry argues on the basis of security, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and Friends of the Earth Middle East for environmental integrity, and local Battir village residents for their human rights—they demand no barrier of any form. G claimed this is the highest adjudication level of an environmental issue possibly superseding the all-powerful motive or justification of security. Of course the scales would tilt dramatically toward security should Palestinians attack Israelis violently. Such a precarious balance.

Returning from the terraces’ tour we cruised thru Tsur Hadassah, an Israeli town on the Green Line near Wadi Fukin which I visited in 2007 with FoEME (pronounced FOE-ME). And skirted around Betar Illit, the illegal settlement nearby that often—unintentionally, G claimed—spills raw sewage down the slopes into Wadi Fukin. Thus potentially ruining the ancient agricultural practices of Wadi Fukin.

She did not wish to bring us to Battir village itself, feeling justly that this part of the tour should best be led by a Palestinian. So that remains to be done. She also mentioned other events we could be part of, such as the cistern exhibit on May 27, 2013.Palestine-Israel-Battir-Terraces-5150

Palestinian village of Battir

G spotted “illegal” workers in the bushes along one of the small roads. She explained that they are walking across the fields and terraces between Palestine and Israel, working in Israel. Many Israelis never notice this—or choose not to. I did not see the men. I did not even think to look for them.

I am impressed with how many people, multitudes across the millennia, not knowing each other, contribute to terraces. Rock upon rock, field after field, labor spans centuries. People who never actually meet reach out their hands in friendship. Together they build and use the terraces.

At UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meeting next month, the terraces at Batir will come up for recognition as a World Heritage Site. The terraces are watered by an ancient system of springs, pools and wells. In addition to destroying the watering system, residents say, the part of the barrier in the Refaim streambed next to the Green Line, or Israel’s pre-1967 border, could separate the villagers from 740 acres of their land.

—Haaretz

To be contrasted with a recent speech by the president of Israel, Shimon Peres:

“I remember how it all began. The whole state of Israel is a millimeter of the whole Middle East. A statistical error, barren and disappointing land, swamps in the north, desert in the south, two lakes, one dead and an overrated river. No natural resource apart from malaria. There was nothing here. And we now have the best agriculture in the world? This is a miracle: a land built by people.”

Sheer ignorance or political manipulation?

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TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

High Court orders Defense Ministry to halt construction of part of West Bank barrier

News about the terraces’ decision – Environmental Peacemaking

“West Bank Barrier Threatens Farms”

“Palestine: Land of olives and vines. Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir” (UNESCO description preparatory to considering the terraces as a World Heritage Site)

“Refaim Valley: The Palestinian villages of Al Wallaja and Battir Archaeological View” (from Emek Shaveh)

“When Israeli denial of Palestinian existence becomes genocidal,” by Ilan Pappe, April 20, 2013

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