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Photo by a Hamas security officer when I dropped by for a visit and he borrowed my camera, after tea

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Quaker Palestine Youth Program Popular Achievement coach

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

Photos

August 3, 2009, Monday, Gaza City, The Gaza Strip, my apartment:

On my first night in Gaza only one slender dream—about a boy, who like me had suffered some minor abrasion on one of his toes. A group of boys had gathered to examine him and comment, when an older man appeared. We told him the story. Which was just like mine: 2 toes mysteriously began rubbing together, chafing one of them, when they never did before.

Yes, I’m in Gaza. Thank god, Humdila. And the transport to Gaza and the Erez crossing was surprisingly easy: taxi from Ramallah directly, meeting the taxi at the Ramallah Friends School lower campus, over to Adel in El Bireh to pick up fabric for Jan’s group in Gaza, a minor problem when I directed the driver (based in Jerusalem, usually drives only in Israel, a Palestinian, he did not know Ramallah), down the main road toward the upper Ramallah Friends School the wrong way on a one way street, stopped for this, brought to the supervising officer (the driver, Husham, suffered this cheerfully, a testament to him and the way many Palestinians act when faced with adversity, one of their most endearing qualities and demonstrating how newly efficient the Fatah security forces have become, thanks I’m told to USA sponsored police training in Jordan), the 1.5 hr ride (costing 300 NIS ($75) plus a 20 NIS tip, Jan offered to pay 1/2), noticing the green fields and orchards (even in the height of summer), the terrain changing from stone to sand, the many amenities for Israelis along the road (such as gas stations, restaurants, housing, repair facilities), photographing this to use as contrast with what I will soon, inshallah, cruise by in Gaza, stop for a pee at the same restaurant I visited on my first try at entrance in 2005 (just in case I can’t use the toilet at Erez), and then the imposing, foreboding, grey and glassy, nearly empty Erez terminal-checkpoint-crossing point-strangulation point. And again the question: what right does Israel have to control entrance to Gaza?

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Mod’in, an  Israeli town, part of which is an illegal (by international law) settlement/colony in the West Bank of Palestine

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After sitting for about a 1/2 hr with 2 Italians who were later joined by 3 more, beside the road, with flies swarming around our faces, reading Poets Against the Killing Fields that Susan R gave me, and answering a single question at this first interrogation station, are you carrying any weapons? (I might have answered, you bet, my pen and my camera), I entered the complex, no idea what to expect, how long this will require, whether I’ll meet again the man who’d interrogated me for so long on my last entrance in January 2008, whether I’d get in. A long row of “passport control” stations, resembling an airline terminal, with one major difference: virtually no people and no amenities, certainly no duty free stores. Someday?

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Mod’in

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New light rail line connecting Mod’in with Jerusalem

No security personnel except for one staffed station encapsulating 2 young military women, looking their usual wary, bored and disrespectful selves (one, looking at me sullenly, wouldn’t allow me to back out of the cubicle to use a toilet), and virtually no “customers.” I did see one traditionally dressed Muslim woman with children, apparently exiting Gaza. They checked my passport against a computer record and after about 10 minutes let me thru.

I used a dolly for my heavy load of luggage: one hard black plastic rolly, weighing 25 kilos (60 pounds), heavy because of the 2 bottles of whisky and 4 D batteries, among other gifts, I was carrying in for some folks supporting Gazans; my knapsack with computer and Nikon camera; my shoulder bag with another camera (which I hoped to use when passing thru Erez), and a 10 kilo or so bag of fabric for the deaf adults and children at Atfaluna, the crafts training center.

Big change from last time: no anonymous barking barely comprehendible commands, only 2 turnstiles (a tight squeeze with my huge load thru the turnstile, at the first I cut my finger trying to pack all my gear and me in one small space that then had to slowly rotate—and no backing out), no huge body X-ray machine, no luggage inspection. (I should check my notes from other trips to see exactly what happened going in, going out. I might be conflating the 2.) Despite following the posted arrows assiduously, I suddenly found myself in what appeared to be a small locked room with no exit and no intercom. Trying the door several times, noticing the handle dangled ominously, as if someone else had in panic tried to escape (into what, where, Gaza?), not sure whom to call on my mobile phone, I finally managed to open the door. It was stuck.

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Destroyed villa along the Mediterranean Sea

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Free: to Gaza. Immediately a Palestine man took my bags from me. I resisted. No thanks, I can carry these, then I relented, thinking how few jobs he must have, being a Gazan. How much? 20 shekels, but it is a 2-kilo walk, meaning 2 km. He loaded my gear except for my backpack with its sensitive equipment onto a dolly and escorted me down a long walk way enclosed with rough cement panels, a small version of the Apartheid Wall, the tall concrete form. Thinking this might get me all the way to the taxi stand, I thought maybe not a bad deal.

A few meters in I noticed a boy with an IV dangling from his arm; he was loaded awkwardly onto a dolly, waiting with his mother and siblings to exit Gaza. He might have been one of the rare few with a permit to leave for medical reasons. I quickly brought out my camera and prepared to ask them by holding the camera up and gesturing ok? if I might photograph. Before I could, my handler adamantly pleaded with me to put away my camera. Had I been alone I might have persisted and made some dramatic photos—or I may have been spotted by the Israelis and turned back. One of the mysteries of my trade and sullen craft.

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Quaker Palestine Youth Program Popular Achievement coach

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My flat in the El Remal district of Gaza City, one & one-quarter rooms

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Outside my flat, where I do my early morning writing before the muggy heat of the day strikes me

I was mistaken about the luggage handling. Another group of similarly desperate looking Palestinians awaited me. My first lugger handed off my gear to 2 more men. How much for this? I inquired. Another 20 shekels. The first walk had required about 5 minutes. Not bad pay for 5 minutes of pushing a dolly. La shukron, no thanks, I’m strong, I can carry it myself. I had to forcefully take the gear from one man to demonstrate my resolve (I had mixed feelings.). I pleaded, I don’t have much money, I’m not rich (compared to them of course I am), I’ve just paid 20 shekels for a short walk, I’m strong, I can carry it myself. Thanks anyway.

Soon I felt I might have made a big mistake. Not only another long walk, maybe 2 km again, but at times thru sand and gravel, not too healthy for my old ailing black plastic luggage with wheels. Another team of Palestinians greeted me, this time one driving a huge bulldozer, the other directing him in clearing a road. The director beckoned me to wait; they would clear the road for me of debris. And so I finally arrived at the Gaza side, looking for friend and taxi driver, Awni.

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Summer Game run by the UN Refugee and Works Administration

Unlike other occasions, the Palestinian border control, thanks to the ever-efficient Hamas, had some definite procedures. The officer recorded my passport number; I filled out a form giving details of my visit, and then watched as another officer opened my luggage to inspect its contents. Oh oh, the liquor. Luckily Awni was with me, chatting up (as we say in the States: making diversionary small talk) the officer. He swiftly found the first container, Black Label, and asked, how many more bottles? Should I confess, one more? Awni told me that they allow one, but 3 or more are definitely forbidden—this is Islamic territory and devout Muslims do not drink alcohol. But two? Maybe two. I passed, all luggage intact. The 6 International Solidarity Movement folks would be very happy indeed.

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Mohammed AM, who I’d met last time in my photo workshop and then at Dr. Mona Al Farra’s party, greeted me at the ground floor of the office building and valiantly lugged my black hard plastic 25 kilo wheely luggage up 5 flights to the Palestine Quaker Youth Program offices—on his shoulders, without puffing. Great service, I recoiled against the idea of toting it myself. Sitting down with him he told me his story of the war (as it’s called now by most Gazans, even tho it was barely a war, more a massacre, in my view). His family fled their home because it was in a dangerous area. His mother has diabetes and so could not swiftly move. They traveled at night, taking refuge in the home of Adham’s family in Jabalia refugee camp. This home was situated further from the fighting and thought safer. While there Adham, his host and friend, and Adham’s mother told Mohammed about me, remembering my stay with them in 2008. Mohammed often could not sleep. Nor could the rest of the family, for the bombs and rockets and machine guns attacked thru the night. He thought he’d die.

He told me I am scarred for life; I will never forget my fear. He is now volunteering for the Quaker youth program and with the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) which Dr. Mona al-Farra works with. He hopes to learn photography and writing better. He may be my assistant for the photo workshop.

AK has an equally powerful testimony. Earlier this summer he was sitting on the beach with several friends, one a journalist, one a woman from Gaza, when two men approached them and berated the Gaza woman for not covering her hair. At some point AK intervened. He insisted on asking the men who they were, who they represented, and what authority they had to declare clothing norms to the woman and apparently take one of the other men away. They beat him, he told me, and held him in prison for a short time. They declared him equivalent to an enemy of the nation, of Islam. Last night as he and S, my neighbor and his friend, and I sat on my “porch” or “patio” in the relative cool of the evening, he told us that he hates living here, hates Gaza, and wishes to flee. Forever, maybe to Norway. In my slide show about Gaza I feature AK and his blog. This story will update his profile.

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Beach refugee camp

At the office after profoundly greeting Ibrahem with hugs and kisses, I asked him about our mutual friend Yousef AG. Gone away, we both realized, and maybe permanently as an illegal alien in Sweden. Ibrahem told me Yousef had been invited to Sweden by an organization for ten days or so. Yousef had written me shortly after his departure, or just before, telling me he was going to Europe but not disclosing where. When I asked him later where and what doing, he was vague. He wrote the same way to Ibrahem, and the same to his own girl friend. Altho he did write his employer that he was quitting. Thus we conclude that probably he is illegal and can’t publicly disclose his location or plan.

Eva, meeting her at my place, giving her the whiskey, chocolate, batteries, battery charger, cash and cigars that she and other ISMers had requested, told me that she often counsels people like AK and Yousef AG who wish to flee. She tells them, life could be worse in your new country—locked away indefinitely with no communication, no legal help, without explanation, treated badly in something like a prison camp. This, she said, is true not only of the USA which is infamous for its treatment of undocumented immigrants (as Jim Harney so powerfully portrayed) but Sweden, Canada, and many countries of lower Europe like France. No easy life as an immigrant. Yet AK persists in believing—he told us that despite what might be reality I want to have hope for a better life—that he can succeed in Norway, eventually gain asylum.

More on these testimonies later, I hope. Life is unfolding rapidly.

Last night I declined the invitation to attend a wedding with Ibrahem and Adham in Jabalia camp—Ibrahem showed up at my home at 10 pm, too late for me—but accepted the invite to find some pizza. While Adham and S and I were chatting on the patio, we heard sounds of an Islamic wedding (Adham realized this, noting how in weddings of this sort they sing the traditional songs but with lyrics appropriate to Islam) and I concocted a plan which I vetted with Adham. After pizza I’ll wander over and photograph it. What do you think?

No problem. They’ll pick you out as a foreigner and greet and welcome you to photograph. Whereas if I tried that they’d be very suspicious. So, despite the late hour and my fatigue—I felt newly energized, maybe from finally being in Gaza after weeks of yearning—I joined the wedding. To my great delight and surprise, not only was I welcomed but I was (maybe) another honored guest (along with the groom and bride and their families I’m sure and local notables, but I was unique: a foreigner, the only foreigner). Men hoisted me on strong sweaty shoulders and danced me around the circle, they gave me a Hamas flag to lift high, they invited me into their circle dance, they photographed me. I tried to artfully dodge one young man’s earnest question, Hamas?, (meaning do you support Hamas?) by mumbling, I’m not sure, let me think about it. Holding the flag while being photographed might turn out to be a huge blunder, should photos of this become widely circulated.

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An Islamic wedding

Unlike friend X in Guatemala who writes that she is unsure how to photograph the people there because of their suspicions about being exploited or stolen, here I had to struggle to photograph while being danced about. They invited me to photograph them, and perhaps one of the best photos of the series will be the one of the man posing.

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They resisted me leaving, they asked me what I’d do with the photos and seemed pleased when I told them I’d show them widely in the States, to show how Gazans live—the joy and the sorrow. The man in the photo asked my contact info and I expect to be called later, maybe invited to his house. Such is the hospitality of the Gazans.

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Hamas security officer

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Main pump delivering water to Ramallah

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Pumping station, Ein Samia well field

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Ein Samia

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

Photos

Special thanks to Fareed Tamallah for this lead, and to Malek Baya who guided and hosted me.

July 26 & 27, 2009, Sunday & Monday, Ramallah Friends School apartment:

A story about a water source north of Ramallah, in the valley of Ein Samia, 20 km northeast of Ramallah: my friend, Fareed had told me about Malek Baya, who lives north of Ramallah in a village, Kufur Malek, near the source of a considerable amount of water supplying Ramallah. It is one of the few Palestinian controlled sources. This is the furthest in a long line of villages that seem water rich, compared with some other regions of the West Bank. Malek picked me up at Manarah Square (after he first suggested I take a taxi out, which would have been confusing and expensive), his little white car loaded with the rest of his family, wife, 2 daughters, one an infant, and two sons, one an invalid from a fall, brain damaged perhaps for life, unable to speak or move much, we headed north.

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Malek Baya

First along the “Ancient Route” that Adel had told us about on the Nablus tour, the traditional route over the mountains north and south, connecting Syria with Egypt, but the Israelis had blocked this and so we left it for smaller roads. First thru the village of Ein Sinya where we observed what may have been an ancient waterway, now dry (partly because of the season), carrying a putrid smelling sewage viaduct, bordered by green fields, some with curious white hoops covering plants. We found an old building which Malek claimed once housed a flourmill, now used as stables for sheep. Also a spring with a man filling up jugs. He did not want his photo made.

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Spring, Dura Al Kre

Further north to Dura Al Kre, another well watered village, with a similar configuration of waterway, but this time with numerous springs up about 5 meters from the lowest point. Water drained from splits in the limestone ridge and was collected in various ways, the overflow held in a cistern and later flowed to the fields. Debris floated in the cistern but the men told Malek that they periodically cleaned this out. A woman had gathered water and was carrying it on her head. They showed us another site further up which had been piped, the system paid for by a wealthy Palestinian-American who returned every summer. Apparently all of this infrastructure was built and paid for by local villagers and friends, not a government entity or non-governmental organization.

They told us that during the summer the main water supply thru pipes is turned off by some regional authority, presumably Mekerot, the Israeli company which supplies—at, the villagers claim,  inflated fees and capriciously—much Palestinian water (Palestine’s own water, by the way, stolen as some believe since the aquifer lies beneath the West Bank), and then the village relies on these springs. Which also can slow down but apparently never stop. People have to lug this water.

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Spring water, Ein Sinya

My constant question was how this region looked hundreds or maybe even a mere 20 years ago, before global climate change and before the expansion of the population? From the geological record it appears much water once flowed thru here, perhaps gradually diminishing over millennia. I have to remember—and this requires a fertile imagination—that this entire region was once beneath a vast sea or ocean, and the limestone is the deposit of the aquatic life once flourishing here. It is organic rock.

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Water to Ramallah

Finally, Malek’s village, Kufur Malek (odd that his first name is his village’s last name), and after resting and eating, a trip to our target, Ein Samia, site of the well field supplying some of Ramallah’s water. His wife served muqlubah, upside down casserole, with chicken, potatoes, carrots, onions, and rice, with a few skinny noodles thrown in. Along with salad, sweet drinks, water, and later, after we’d returned from the main excursion, ice cream. A feast in many ways.

While waiting to leave for Ein Samia, Malek’s uncle, also father in law (he married his first cousin, after medical tests which found their genetic profiles safe for marriage, a love marriage, not arranged, he was quick to point out, 9 years, and they seem very happy together) played with the youngest, a mere babe in arms, another lovely child in this family of extraordinary and precious people. I played minimally with the 5-year-old daughter (5 next November), lending her my mechanical pencil with which to draw or write, after she’d showed me her coloring book that she and her older brother had colored. I raved about her coloring, solidifying our relationship. Who can resist strong, heartfelt praise? While playing I made a series of photos of her, moving the camera down low, at times using my Canon’s S3 fold out screen, and finding later a few might show her radiant spirit. There is something very special about this child, as is true for the entire family.

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Daughter of Malek Baya and his wife

And about the uncle who I learned is a jolly and robust 69-year-old widower. At first when I noted our age equivalence, I thought, he looks very old. Do I look this old? How creaky is he? As creaky as I feel? Not at all, he is nimble, agile, truly bouncy where I, by contrast, despite X’s belief that I am bouncy, feel like and might be creaking to a halt, a permanent halt. I’ve never felt so old. (Tho today I feel younger. Is it the food supplements? The night’s rest? The beautiful people in and around Ramallah?)

OK, enough domestic verbiage, let’s keep on point: hydropolitics. Uncle, Malek and I bundled into the car and drove off. Up and up some more. First past a limestone cutting facility spilling chips along the road. The beginning of viewing the long pipe line between the source at Ein Samia and its destination, my mouth in Ramallah—and that of about 25,000 other thirsty mouths waiting to be watered.

What is the story of the line’s construction? Dates back to the early 1960s, after electrification of the region but not Malek’s village, and during the Jordanian occupation. If I have the story from Malke correct, the brother of King Hussein of Jordan, a prince, met and loved the beautiful wife of the Ramallah mayor. Prince abducted and raped the woman, she committed suicide in despair and shame. Ramallahans were outraged. King did not punish his wrongful brother but as penance paid for the installation of the water system, including the electric line needed to power the pumps.

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Israeli placed road block

A long diversion here (with some legalese thrown in), since I’ve not been able to corroborate the story of the Jordanian prince, what follows is the official version as promulgated by the Jerusalem Water Undertaking (JWU), the agency responsible for this system:

Until late 1950s, the population of Ramallah and Al-Bireh cities depended almost entirely on cisterns for drinking water with the exception of a few local springs. Following the war of 1948 and the resulting influx of Palestinian refugees into the area, the need to increase the water supply in the region became vital. Thus, Ramallah and Al-Bireh Water Company was established to deal with this burden.

The new company planned to draw on Ein-Fara springs northeast of Jerusalem and succeeded in concluding an agreement with Arab East Jerusalem Municipality. A distribution network and a main pipeline were constructed for the purpose of conveying water from Jerusalem to the Ramallah and Al-Bireh area. Though, the limited quantities of water were insufficient for the served population.

In 1963, the Jordanian Government concluded an agreement with the International Development Agency (IDA) for a loan of US$ 3.5 millions to develop drinking water projects in some parts of the Kingdom. The Government decided to utilize the groundwater resources in Ein-Samia wellfield, 20 km northeast of Ramallah, and initiated construction in what later became known as the Ein-Samia Water Project.

Pursuant to the respective agreement between the Jordanian government and IDA, the founding law of JWU was issued in 1966 with a mandate to develop new water resources and control all water projects in the area with the responsibility of providing the population with potable water. According to this law, JWU was established as a non-profit, independent, civil organization run by a Board of Directors including representatives from the three main municipalities in the area; Ramallah, Al-Bireh and Deir Dibwan, in addition to a representative from Kufr Malik village and an assigned Official from the Government.

Since 1967 occupation, the Israeli Military Authorities subjected all works and projects pertinent to water and water resources to its direct control through the Military Order No. 92/1967.

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Illegal (under international law and UN resolutions) Israeli settlement/colony

The mentioned order prevented any organization or undertaking from the execution of any work connected to management, maintenance and development of water services or resources without obtaining prior approvals and licenses from these Authorities.

In 1982, the Israeli Occupation Authorities dissolved the city councils of Ramallah and Al-Bireh cities, thus, disabling JWU Board of Directors from performing its duties. For five years and without the Board of Directors, JWU top management met the challenge and made all daily and strategic decisions to achieve the Undertaking‘s Mission.

At the end of 1987, the mass public Uprising Intifada started in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The whole political, social and financial situation in the area changed. Many people were put out of work, thus, putting an extra burden on JWU. Through these tough days of Intifada, the Undertaking managed to survive.

In the wake of the rule of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) was established in 1995 assuming the regulation powers of the water sector in Palestine. In 1996, the Government representative in the Board of Directors of JWU was invited to join the Board for the first time since 1967.

Nothing about the Jordanian prince, true or false, Malek says true.

With more data here.

So hydrologically the water has accumulated in a low place on its way to the Jericho valley. This is in a wide wadi that in the old days might have flowed regularly with much water. Wells, pumps, and the water is brought to the surface. Then it has to be pumped over the hills and up to Ramallah which is not only about 20 km distant but 500 meters higher.  Should electricity fail—and Malek told me it very rarely does—that’s the end of this source of water. Or should the aquifer deplete further, as it is doing, and should Israeli restrictions continue to apply about well depth, so long water. Or should the water become polluted from sewage and farming chemicals, a real possibility, the end of this source of water. Likewise the vulnerability of the pipes themselves, which would be catastrophic if violence again hit this region. The pipeline could be easily destroyed by Israeli incursions. I’m surprised they did not attack it during the 2002 invasions, if they didn’t. This remains a constant threat.

This water, this life, is precarious.

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Grain mill from the Roman period

So back in the car, higher and higher, road narrower and narrower. The road, uncle tells us, was built during the Jordanian period, between 1948 and 1967. Malek told me that now hikers regularly traverse this same region, Ramallah to Jericho. I might try this sometime. Jericho is only about 30 km from Ein Samia, and maybe 40 km from Ramallah itself. Distances are shockingly short here, yet long because of the matrix of control, the occupation.

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Uncle told me about the quarry pit which is clearly on Palestinian land but often the Israelis prevent them from using it or if they allow use charge them a fee. Where else in the world would this be allowed?

Uncle is a study in traditional Palestinian life. His trade is stone cutting; he also sells cut stone and gardens. He is not retired, tho at retirement age, 69, one year older than me. He will not leave the village for the city, should the family decide to move to Ramallah permanently. (Malek, with a flat in Ramallah closer to his job as software engineer and less subject to closures and road obstructions, wishes to eventually move back to the village, when conditions ease more.) Uncle cares for the infant and the children, obviously good with them as I try to show in my photos. He grew up when this land had no road access to the fields in Ein Samia where his father farmed. So he’d ride a donkey to bring the lunch food. He knows the plants, picked for us early figs. He also seems expert in the history of the region, overjoyed to find someone like me so interested in learning. And then when Malek and I had had enough and wished to return to Malek’s village, uncle wanted to go further and did, lingering in fields that must bring back many memories. As I’ve written earlier, tho he’s one year older than me, he is much more agile and perhaps stronger.

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Malek’s uncle & father in law

His wife died 6 years ago and Malek told me they’re trying to find him a new wife. Is he lonely? Does he enjoy life at the homestead when the rest of the family is in Ramallah?

I wonder about how the family is changed by the presence of the 7-year-old infirm boy. He’d fallen from a swing or see saw, injuring his brain, and because of the limited medical resources will probably live out his years in this condition. Can’t speak but can understand speech. Can barely move. Cries when his siblings go off to school or play. They treat him with respect. His body is contorted. I wished to photograph him, especially with siblings and mother, but never found the opportunity. Maybe another time, should we meet again. This family also is a story in itself. A marker of the current occupation.

While waiting to go, for the rest of the family to pack, Malek toured me thru part of the village. Very hilly, pretty, many new homes, and this being summer, the wedding season. Several each week. All in the village of about 3000 are invited, but only the core element will be fed.

Lights were coming on as we departed, and just as we left the driveway a group of 3 young girls met us and chatted. This gave me one last opportunity to photograph the village, the lights on the horizon.

And this might end my lengthy account of water and life north of Ramallah. For now.

Water

Courtesy of the Internet

LINKS:

Jerusalem Water Undertaking

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Display about Mahmoud Darwish

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

Photos

July 27, 2009, Tuesday, Ramallah Friends School apartment:

These sketchy dreams: I smashed a man in the face and stomach, knocking him out cold, after arguing with him about passage thru a confined space, or so I recall. He was shorter than me, and tho I fought regularly when a boy, I rarely dream of fighting. Perhaps an effect of where I’m living and what I’m witnessing? The most interesting dream had me hitchhiking with a small child, I didn’t know precisely where we were going so I couldn’t say exactly to the few drivers who stopped to offer a ride what our destination was. Someone reminded me several times about the destination but I could not remember it for more than a few seconds. Was I then doomed to live out my years on this small road not knowing where I was going? IMG_0228 The Popular Achievement (PA) festival was truly gala. And large. And noisy. The Ramallah Cultural Palace was filled with excited youth as young as about 8 years and into their early 20s. I met Grace, from the same Minnesota university that originated PA (usually called Public Achievement); she is here as an intern researching the program. She told me she is the first person from the university to visit here, and that PA in Israel-Palestine is one of the most successful incarnations. Inquiring about why this might be she offered that it is badly needed here, there are few alternatives; whereas in the States, where PA has not proved popular and maybe not effective, there are many programs for youth. She feels it is also well used in the Balkans and Northern Ireland, with a strong connection between PA Palestine and in Northern Ireland. IMG_0211 We both noted, and I’d asked Thuqan, the regional coordinator, earlier about this, that this year’s sites are clustered around Jerusalem. She and Thuqan explained this was because Jerusalem needed attention, mainly the Old City, East Jerusalem and the refugee camps. By contrast, the northern West Bank, Jenin in particular, has already had many programs. I noticed also that a fair proportion of programs were one offs—meaning, the project was to do something once, like hold a conference or party, rather than a sustained activity like the library in Gaza, or the landscape maintenance work there, or the abandoned army base converted into a sports field in Jenin. Thuqan hinted that access and mobility were other factors, since I doubt anyone would have imagined the relaxation of travel restrictions that has occurred when planning sites last year. Some of the projects this year included: an education exhibit about Mahmoud Darwish, the late acclaimed Palestinian poet, projects with orphans and the elderly, establishing a gateway for a village, renovating and cleaning a youth center, enhancing a school’s wall space, developing a young child program, attending to those with special needs, teaching thru play, helping children with cancer, among others. For the festival the groups had made displays which I photographed finished and in process, and then I think some performed on stage. Here comes the dabka, in several forms, and singing, and play scenes, one about a shooting by an Israeli soldier. This phase of the festival was very lively and robust, with much participation from the audience.

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IMG_0297 The general idea of the PA is to train college age volunteers in leadership and community building skills, then require each coach, as they’re now named, to recruit a group of high school age youth and teach them the same skills in an interactive manner (using tools of Popular Education). Those youth are then required to decide on a community service project, design and implement it, and in turn require participation from sectors of the community—financial donations, volunteer participation, etc. IMG_0173 During the performances in the huge auditorium of the Ramallah Cultural Palace (which had been jointing constructed by the UN, Ramallah municipality with funding by the Japanese government, a sturdy “fact on the ground”) I was sitting midway back when suddenly a quartet of young boys began dancing in place, mostly the dabka I assume. I photographed this, then videoed it. The photos do not show the movement or the idea, the video very effectively does. (Please scroll down for the video.) During the routine the music suddenly stopped but the dancers continued, responding to clapping from a large contingent of audience sitting to one side. IMG_0291

Dabka, the traditional Palestinian dance

The show seemed self running. Thuqan had introduced the program, greeted the honored guests, which included the prime minister, Dr. Salam Fayad. Earlier as I wandered the halls looking for photos I noticed men with guns, Kalashnikovs, Uzis, pistols, men wearing with different uniforms. Who are these guys? I asked Thuqan nervously, they seem to contradict the non violent tone and principles of the PA program. They’re preparing for the visit by Dr. Fayad, he explained to me. I assume security is tight because of the threat from Hamas. Or perhaps there are other political and personal rivals I’m not aware of. At any rate, their presence added excitement. IMG_0257

Thuqan K. Qishawi, Middle East Coordinator for Youth Programs, American Friends Service Committee

The auditorium was frigid. And the presentations became repetitive, and I couldn’t understand the language, and being with so many jubilant people tires me out, especially when I don’t share the jubilation—tho I share the appreciation and wish to express gratitude. And of course I have to decide if I’m made enough photos. So, peeing, watering up, snagging a few pastries on my way out, I departed, walked home, and began working on the photos. Soon I’ll be in Gaza, working with the counterpart to the PA there, and photographing their festival on August 13, Providence willing. Finally, my Nikon camera. It now works, or seems to. I am curious. Card problem? I should use only Nikon approved cards. Heat problem? Let it sit in the sun awhile and see if problem repeats. Can I pinpoint exactly when the files first were corrupted? On the Jerusalem trip, during the cave exploration? Earlier? Later? Certainly by the trip home, since all the files from the light rail series are lost. My photographer daughter, Joey, believes the ringing of a cell pone, if too near a digital camera, can corrupt files. First I’ve heard of that. Very odd, another page in my massive and rapidly expanding Book of Mysteries, an idea that dates back to a discussion Dan and I had on the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995.

LINKS:

The Quaker Palestine Youth Program (QPYP)

My photos from the program in Gaza, 2006

Public Achievement in Northern Ireland

“Learning by Doing: the Experience of Popular Achievement in Palestine” by Suzzane Hammad & Tareq Bakri

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Nablus Old City

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

Photos

July 21, 2009, Tuesday, Ramallah Friends School apartment:

Thanks to Jan Hayden for suggesting this tour leader and Max and Jane Carter for welcoming me to the tour.

Another night of plentiful dreams, among them:

I was with a large group of young men and women, on some sort of walk or mission. We’d stopped for some reason, maybe to rest. The men were sitting along a wall, dangling their legs. Some of the wall’s edging was wood and someone had begun chopping at it with a small axe, maybe for firewood. He stopped. I picked up the axe and continued, until I had hacked all there was to hack. In moving down the line, I joked with various men about moving or I’d chop off their feet. I felt at last I had a strong roll with this group, that I was being recognized. I wielded the axe expertly.

Women sat in a different place. They were preparing food. One had severe back problems; someone was trying to treat her. I considered telling her about my experience with back pain and what I’d found helped. But never had the chance before the dream ended.

So, a mix of old and new themes, old and new people, but without anyone I truly know and love appearing in a clearly recognizable form.

Now about yesterday, a full day with the Guilford College group. The ride to Nablus, which I’ve made many times under different conditions, this time in 2 hours, about the swiftest I’ve experienced tho not as swift as it might be. Adel Yahya, our tour leader from Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE), explained when coming to a roadblock, that the block marks the northern end of the Ramallah-Nablus road, otherwise known as The Ancient Route. The Israelis put this up (I believe he said) in 2000, the start of the Al Aqsa Intifada, to protect settlements in East Jerusalem. Prior to the blockage, Palestinians had begun building homes. These are now deserted. The roadblock forces a diversion requiring 30 minutes. But the other checkpoints are for now unstaffed. And this includes the notorious Harawwa which we passed easily thru. Several of us made photos from the bus and a soldier noticed, then tried to wave us down. We sped thru, the driver not even aware of the problem. I fretted that when returning they might stop us and confiscate equipment, or try to.

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Harawwa checkpoint, south of Nablus

We were 15 people, a group that seemed warm to each other, not so much to me. Except for a few—J the rabbi who asks good questions, B the young perhaps photographer to be, P the woman who resembled Dotty in some ways.

The ride was about the safest I’ve experienced because Adel had some control over the driver, and the driver wasn’t trying to make time and thereby money. But the bus was not well sprung, so we bounced high at every speed bump.

Let’s get to the heart of the journey, what we saw, learned, did. Highlights: the Samaritan priest and director of the Samaritan’s museum, Husney W Kohen, on Gerizim Mount, the heartland of the Samaritans. Their site overlooks Nablus. These people are most famed for their role in the Christian Gospels, the Good Samaritan, helping an injured traveler when all others refused. Husney was warm, gracious, loving, and a loveable fellow. Several in our group later referred to him as sweet. He told us the Samaritans were divided between those in Tel Aviv and the mountain overlooking Nablus (The City of Fire, so named because it’s been traditionally an incubator for resistance to the occupation), tho all believed and practiced according to the Torah, the original 5 books from Moses. The two groups meet periodically, and some of us were curious about how they manage this division. Between the Torah and modernity there is no conflict, Mr. Kohen claimed, when I’d asked him. Samaritans are well educated, the women in Tel Aviv wore mini skirts, they use technology fully, there simply exists no conflict.

He informed us further that the checkpoint we suffered at—the only one of this day’s journey, at the entrance to the compound, delaying us for more than 1/2 hr—was not for their security, but for the army base nearby. That explained all the military vehicles on the main road. Samaritans are Palestinians, they are also Israelis, and they are Jews. In addition they hold Jordanian passports. Adel told us that they are much favored by many parties, including the Palestinian Authority which has granted them a seat on the legislative council despite their small numbers, some 600. This is because of all the massacres perpetrated against them, in turn a result, Husney was quick to point out, because of their own aggressiveness. As someone exclaimed later, oh, if only other belligerent parties would apologize and sue for peace.

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Husney W Kohen, on Gerizim Mount, the heartland of the Samaritans

Their site adjoins the archeological site of the ancient Samaritan, another hilltop. But they are prohibited from visiting it except on Yom Kippur and another holy day. (They are also kept confined during the night.) The general population is completely prohibited from the archeological site, with promises of some day allowing access. The Israelis control it, excavate it, but do not share the artifacts with the Samaritans.

An equally impressive historic site was near Nablus, a Canaanite city, Tel Balata (AKA Shechem, meaning shoulder, the site chosen because it sat on a shoulder between two mountains, a crossroads, north-south, east-west, an unusual choice of site because generally Canaanite cities were on hilltops for security, much like Israeli colonies now. Whereas Palestinian sites are usually lower, for access to fields and water.) predating the Roman founding of Nablus, or Neapolis, the new city. Tel Balata was walled and included a temple, the remains partially visible. …from the middle bronze age, probably the best preserved Bronze Age remains in the country despite the poor state of preservation at the site, to quote Adel’s literature. We walked on it, heard stories from Adel about it, but little is known. Apparently a German team excavated during the British Mandate period, stored artifacts and records in Germany, and the Allies destroyed them during World War 2 air raids. Here there were no descendants of the ancient Canaanites except perhaps the young boys who visited us, engaging with 2 of our members. I show them gleefully bidding goodbye to Thad who befriended them, perhaps speaking limited Arabic and playing the wave with them.

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Greek Orthodox church over Jacob’s Well

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Tomb of Jacob (one of several)

Earlier we’d visited Jacob’s Well and the Greek Orthodox Church built in 380 CE, but destroyed in an earthquake in the early 20th century and just recently rebuilt thru the passion of the priest now living there. This church is visited primarily by tourists since the local Greek Orthodox have their own church elsewhere in Nablus (I recall attending a service there on another visit.). The well itself, beneath the church, may or may not be the original well where a local woman is alleged to have given Jesus a drink when he asked, and the waters the original waters. We were invited to sample, I declined, my usual fear-based self overtaking courage when offered what could be contaminated potions, contaminated by other human beings, my fellows.) The waters are believed to have miraculous powers, making the barren fertile, for instance, or perhaps the lovelorn lovable (should I have tasted?). Photos not allowed. I bought a postcard. And the nearby tomb of Joseph, or the alleged tomb, one of several this illustrious figure is supposedly buried in, fought over by Israeli Jews and local Muslims, and partially destroyed by Muslims when in their eyes the site was desacralized, contaminated, polluted, by Jews.

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Olive oil soap making

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Then there was the soap factory, rudimentary technology, initially olive oil and a plant substance that legend declares was accidentally mixed together by an early Nablus woman who discovered its cleansing powers. Caustic soda now replaces that earlier plant substance, barilla. And making kunafah, the universal Arabic sweet made from crushed wheat and honey, baked, turned upside down, served warm, alleged to have been invented in Nablus where the finest kunafah is found. And the Turkish bath, with coffee, eating our kunafah here while resting. And wandering around the old city, gawking and being gawked at.

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Freshly made kunafah, a traditional Palestinian sweet, Nablus-made said to be the best

We dined at what Adel claimed was the finest restaurant in town, the same one I’d eaten at when last here nearly 2 years ago, staying with the International Solidarity Movement. No, it was earlier than that, when with the ecumenical accompaniers, maybe 5 years ago, a radically different time. Now tourists like us are beginning to return. Money has reappeared and people seem less strained, afraid, stricken. The Palestinian Authority now  controls Hamas who I’m told has gone underground. Even the prison that 2 years ago remained destroyed is now under renovation. (Whether as a prison or something else, perhaps a museum or visitor center, is unclear). Nablus is returning, for now, so it seems, to its earlier position as commercial heart of the West Bank.

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Turkish bath

Entering the soap factory—in a former khan, or way station for traveling merchants—I noticed my vision once again slowly deteriorating: a small scale migraine, leaving me with a manageable but vexing headache. Luckily my vision returned within about 15 minutes, causing no noticeable impediment to my photography.

LINKS:

Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE)

Nablus, holy city, Atlas Tours

Samaritan’s Museum (also in English)

‘Rachel’ screening in San Francisco shows a growing movement tired of being censored about Israel, by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, July 27, 2009

A Jewish state — or Jewish values?, by Adam Horowitz, July 20, 2009

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Courtesy of Bethlehem to Ramallah by Boat

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Separation Fence, near Qalqilia, West Bank, Palestine

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Israeli settlement in the background, Palestinian greenhouses in the foreground

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Israeli watchtower

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

Photos

July 22, 2009, Wednesday, Jenin Creative Cultural Center:

Special thanks to Fareed Tamallah for this lead, and for many others as well.

Empty of dreams, for the most part, one fleeting thru my last phase of sleep about JC signing a check with a signature that twisted in 2 directions. What does this symbolize?

Mostly the day was cruising with a new short-term water based colleague, Miroslawa Czema (Mirka for short), from Poland, working with the Polish Humanitarian Organization, on a variety of projects which are largely about water. This one, in the small village near Qalqilia, Izbet Salman, is primarily to assess the fundability of connecting a well to existing pipes and adding a reservoir. If funded, this would be constructed in conjunction with the Palestine Water Authority. A PWA water engineer traveled with us, Kamal Isse, an affable handsome man with sharp features who later invited us to meet his family and have tea and sweets in his Salfit home.

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Miroslawa (Mirka) Czerna, Acting Head of Mission, Polish Humanitarian Organization

Photographing on this theme of water politics is tough: so many pipes, tanks, irrigation hoses, greenhouses, pumps, pumping stations, pumping station attendants that to make anything vital to watch and think about presents a major challenge. One way to surmount the imminent borability of this theme is to craft the presentation around stories, sometimes stories of persons, sometimes stories of facts, for instance how Israel came to dominate the water share. And what that means to various people. Like Ramzi in Bethlehem running out of water a few weeks ago just when I visited.

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Bananas

So the story is first we met with the head man/school headmaster of the village, Huseen Qosmar, with a gracious big-toothed smile, decent English, friendly and warm, and of course eager to please Mirka. The group discussed the nature of the proposal, in detail, with a set of questions Mirka used to guide the discussion. Then the site visits which included a variety of water tanks ranging from decrepit to relatively new (she admonished them to periodically clean the tanks, something they don’t do, compromising the water quality), locations where the new pipes, to be all underground (as opposed to the existing mostly rubber and plastic tubing above ground, but this will be difficult since the terrain is limestone), the site of the new reservoir on a relatively high plane, several wells and pumps, meeting the attendants (and giving me more to photograph), walking thru irrigated  fields of guava, banana, avocado and other produce (a highlight for me, seeing the plants, the fruits, the fruits of the water), and generally perceiving the overall situation, the setting. They’ve tested the water at the wells, and claim it is pure. But there is no testing after the tanks, and no purification, so chlorination is built into the proposal.

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Huseen Qozmar

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Proposed site of a new reservoir, beyond the cucumber field

Mirka is not trained in hydrology but rather in Mid East studies so she is fluent in Arabic and knows the culture but is learning the engineering. She is round faced, with a protruding upper lip and teeth that give her a slight lisp, adding to my troubles understanding her language since her English is heavily accented already.

She’s to contact the potential funders, present the case, answer their questions, and if funded, guide or direct the project along with the PWA engineer, Kamal, and presumably local contractors. One requirement is that only Palestinian contractors be employed on this project.

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Attendant of water pumping station

Riding, I sat in the back of her small car while she chatted with Kamal, freeing me to gaze and photograph. I’ve been thru this region now so many times that I’m learning how to anticipate scenes. If I’ve missed them earlier, I might snag them on this trip. Such as the Burkan industrial settlement near Ariel. This time I think we passed it on the side opposite from the first time when with Fareed 2 years ago. I hope I’m perfecting this technique of photographing from moving vehicles: fast shutter speed, 50 mm lens, wait for the right light, keep both eyes open to anticipate. And aim, try not to rely on wild mind photography.

We feasted at what seemed to be a large rarely used restaurant with a superb view of the Separation Fence, mainly set up for hosting weddings. In this region most cooking is done, Huseen  told us, by roasting the food in a closed underground container, much, I told them, like American Indians did for the clambake. They thought Mirka and I would appreciate seeing and photographing the rising of the cooked food. Very clever: a round container first stuffed with fired wood, allowed for one hour to burn to embers, food inserted on a sort of rotisserie, lid closed, bake for 2 hours, remove lid, attach chain from hoist to rotisserie, and hoist. Delicious.

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Son of Kamal Isse, water engineer

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Son and wife of Kamal Isse, water engineer

Traveling back I noted how near the settlements are to the Palestinian villages, just literally “a stone’s throw” away.

I found Y’s most recent comment to my blog—it had landed in my spam queue. I think because it was so laudatory. Here it is:

Hey Skip

It looks as though your heat-sufferings are leading to engaging writing and photos that morph the mind.  These are wonderful! What in the world is that substance in the background behind that bullet-hole?

I hope everyone out there in cyberspace is following more closely than I am.  These are important slices of life.

—Y

And here’s a typical one from the queue:

What a blog filled with vital and important information this is .. It must have taken a lot of hours for you to write these yourself. Hats off from me for your hard work. If you got time, …[it goes on to request a link.]

So I think the selection might be based on the frequency of laudatory words. Most spam that I saw was unrealistically approving, promising that the writer would subscribe, tell all her friends, etc. Thank god most of these are blocked, and I must remember to periodically check the queue for bona fide comments.

Of course, I’m gratified to find Y’s approval. I’ve worried that maybe I’m being both too confessional and too self-restricted. I’m never sure I’ve found the proper line. Which is one of the main challenges of this sort of writing.

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Israeli water pipes

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Courtesy of the Polish Humanitarian Organization

Links:

Fact Book from the Palestine Monitor, an invaluable and current compendium of facts about Palestine and Israel

About the Burkan industrial settlement and a recent boycott forced divestment—Improper Advantage

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All photos made in January 2008

Complete set

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Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, January 2008

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Gaza City

To enter Gaza one needs a permit from the Israeli authorities, the District Coordination Office (DCO) for Gaza. And one needs to apply thru an international non-governmental organization, a NGO. Since 2004, I’ve gotten a permit thru the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and only once, in 2008, did I experience difficulties—nearly one hour of sharp interrogation at the Erez crossing.

Planning my work in Gaza to begin on July 20, 2009, I wrote the director of the AFSC’s Quaker Youth Program in Gaza. She began the application process more than one month ago. Ordinarily the process takes no more than 2 weeks. However, after the devastating violence by Israel on Gaza for 22 days beginning on December 27, 2008, including possible war crimes on the parts of several parties, the process has become more complicated. In fact, Israel prevented  the UN team investigating alleged war crimes from entering, so they had to go thru the Egyptian crossing at Rafah.

When Amal, the director in Gaza, phoned the DCO to learn about the application, either no one in the office answered the phone, or they told her, call back, we’ll let you know tomorrow. Frustrated after repeated tries, she asked me to call. Same response. Then two days ago they informed me that the AFSC was not registered, not accredited with the privilege of applying for a permit. This was the first either of us heard. Why, we wondered, hadn’t they told us that earlier?

This strikes me as deceitful, unjust, wrong, and suspicious.

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Ibrahem Shatali, program officer

Furthermore, let us ask: 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 prohibit 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. And yes, Israel surely has the right to control entry from Gaza.

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?

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My case is a microcosm of the larger situation: vast injustice, to the point of breaking international laws and contravening UN resolutions.

I suffer minimally. I am not stranded at the Egyptian border with thousands of other Gazans pleading to be allowed home, stranded without amenities in the heat or cold, without water, some of us dying. Egypt colludes with the US and Israel in maintaining its border. Nor am I stuck inside Gaza as were some 25 Fulbright scholars last year who Israel prevented from leaving. Nor am I lethally afflicted with injury or disease, untreatable inside Gaza by the limited hospital facilities, often without medicines and equipment in repair, qualified to leave for medical care in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or even Israel, but blocked at Erez.

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Skip Schiel, volunteer photographer and photography teacher

My suffering is minor. I live in a flat in Ramallah, with food, water,  shelter from the sun, and with friends and colleagues. I can continue my photographic work. I’m only prevented from serving in Gaza, making photographs for various organizations about their humanitarian work—the AFSC Youth Program, the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and the Palestine Water Authority struggling valiantly to purify the polluted saline aquifer water and treat at least partially the vast sewage created by 1.5 million human beings in one of the most congested, poverty stricken regions of the world. And I might not be able to offer photographic training thru the Youth Program and a university.

Unlike most Gazans, I might be able to communicate with a few people in the global community, touch them with a story, a photograph, a message, a plea. Not just for me to enter Gaza but for Gaza to be free, for acts of violence to stop and be adjudicated, responsibility taken, and reparations made by the responsible parties. This is my hope, my prayer, my request.

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If you’d like to help, please consider contacting your Congress people (if you’re a US citizen, or the equivalent if you’re outside the US), best if in person with a group, but by phone, email or some other means, to demand: 1. remove the restrictions on entering humanitarian workers, 2. open the borders for humanitarian aid, 3. hold all parties accountable for violence and breaking international laws, and 4. end the siege, free Gaza.

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Please feel free to forward this widely.

A minor update about the permit.

As of today, July 27, 2009, there is still no progress. But I just learned that the Middle East regional coordinator of the AFSC youth programs, Thuqan Qishawi, is also prohibited from entering Gaza, as is an American intern, Grace. This exacerbates the problem and allows me to claim that the entire program is jeopardized by this closure. If any wish to add that to messages to the legislators, please do. Other NGO’s report similar problems.

Of course, for years, the AFSC staff in Gaza is usually prevented from leaving. So this is a gigantic problem for any Palestinian programs with branches in the West Bank and Gaza. How can they coordinate?

Links:

Free Gaza

Alice Walker: Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters “the horror” in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel

AFSC in Gaza

Expanded Vision: Our Trip to Rafah (honoring Rachel Corrie), January 2008

Read Full Post »

The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.

—Lorraine Hansberry

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Jenin

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Burquin

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Jenin

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

Photos

July 17, 2009, Friday, Jenin Creative Cultural Center:

Home again, in the Ramallah Friends School apartment, and truly it feels like home: privacy, quiet, comfortable, secure, friendly, compatible, a suitable mattress, set up for me and me alone. How I love it. A good stroke, to rent the place, and now if only I could swing it thru the end of this tour of duty and not have to struggle to find a new place and move there.

With the return to home, possibly the return of dreams, a bunch of them, and some of them significant:

I was setting up to make a large-scale photo presentation to an odd assortment of college age youth. They’d returned from a study trip to Central America and had options for attending various presentations and seminars. They were free to join me or not. The set up was elaborate: audio, video, a TV production of my show, a large room that gradually shrunk as more and more gear appeared. A few students straggled in, one told me I’d be lucky to attract more than a handful because of their many options.

I did something to the installed computer so it had to reboot, and I wasn’t sure it would open properly, the usual problem. Workers stuck partitions thru the space, shrinking it even further. The room felt stuffy so I opened windows. A young man caught my eye and engaged me in a game of catch with a small rubber ball. I excelled in being able to catch it with my left hand (tho right handed), even when my back was turned. I was a wizard. A little boy joined us.

The only photos I brought with me—and I don’t now know the topic—were 8 by 10 prints. So I wasn’t sure how well they could be viewed.

Second dream: I watched as a family fled terrible bombing (might relate to Gaza), over and over again, the bombs, and the family returning and then leaving. They used a small rowboat; they had to flee over water. Something exploded under the boat and threw the father into the air. Someone explained, that was a dum dum, not meant to hit anyone directly but to explode near and cause big troubles.

Ah, having and remembering so many rich dreams is very nourishing. And raises the question: why so few in Jenin and so many on this 1st night home?

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After reading an article sent me by Sue from last year’s Friends General Conference gathering Palestine/Israel workshop, about the new dispensation in the territories, the newly relaxed mood, expanding normalcy, and reading about a shopping center in Jenin for home furnishings, I discovered from Charley where it was, and a few evenings ago set out to explore it. About 5 stories tall, with the owner’s name prominently lit in red on the roof, Herbawi, it sprawls. One floor for bedroom furnishings, one floor for kitchen, etc. I counted maybe 15 people shopping, max, but then it was after 9 pm. One woman in traditional black clothing languidly dusted the merchandise. She eyed me as I photographed, walked over to me, and seemed to nod me in the direction of a very young man sitting at a desk. I approached him, held up my camera, put a quizzical look on my face, and asked, OK? He seemed to signal OK back.

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But then why did he follow me around for about 5 minutes? I glanced back at him, smiled, and continued. He went away. I found an elevator, pushed the button to the top floor, 6, door opened, lazily with a grating sound, and before me appeared a semi darkened cavern filled with packing crates and other debris. Same at floor 5. I didn’t have the gumption to exit. I was also nervous about the elevator stranding me somewhere between floors in this vast emporium.

With deep regret I realized I had only my 50 mm Nikon lens, no wide angle. This would have been a perfect setting for the wide. How can I improvise with what I have? What I lost in focal length I gained in speed because this is a f/1.8 lens, the wide is about f/3.5.

Outside I had to back way up, across the street, down a gravel road, smelling sheep, past some rough square little buildings, maybe where the sheep live, to find a proper position for my camera. Moving like this, rather than zooming, is an old experience that I’d forgotten how to do.

Trying to find my way back to the Center, temporarily lost (I make occasional useful discoveries while lost) I stumbled onto a children’s entertainment-play area, jammed with brightly colored plastic climbing and sliding devices that require air to expand and become more or less stable (what happens during power outage?). The kids screamed, romped, some cried, the little ones especially, and no one seemed to mind me photographing. I’d asked permission to enter and use my camera, the attendant brought me to the manager who told me he also was a photographer, Saif Dahlah, and worked for the French press agency (AFP), and sure, he cheerily said, no problem.

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I delighted. After about 30 minutes of this, clicking furiously, marveling at the access— state-side I’d probably have to get every parent’s signed permission, and this would be granted only after a criminal background check—3 adult men carrying two way radios and one younger looking sweaty fellow stopped me. None had any English, I couldn’t understand any of their Arabic, but I understood their gesture—hands out front, passing quickly over each other, to mean we want you to finish and be out of here. You’ve been here long enough!

I argued, but the manager gave me permission. They weren’t convinced. Maybe the word boss would work. Ah ha, it did.

Come with me, the sweaty boy gestured, and he brought me to the boss. Oh, the boss explained, you didn’t understand, we want you to drink a coffee and then you can get back to photographing.

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Which I did. Another 10 minutes and I ran out of camera memory, not bringing my bag with extra memory, thinking, it’s evening, dark, I won’t do much photographing. Wrong. This should teach me: bring the camera bag, bring the extra memory, bring the extra battery, and lug that heavy wide-angle lens.

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My last day in Jenin included the last of the 4 photo sessions. As usual, I showed up at noon, the start time, Abdullah was there, no one else, I asked him to find the others. He disappeared. About 15 minutes later we found Mays and Touleen but they begged for a delay of 1/2 hr so they could go to lunch with Sophie.

OK, but what about the others? No answer. We finally began at around 1, providentially. Shortly before noon the power went off. All my plans depended on the computer. Now what? I asked Ala what she would suggest. Well, she said, you’ve been to the roof, you’ve been to the tunnel, how about photographing around the Center for the website and displays?

Not a bad idea, but what is happening around the Center that might be photographable? This silenced us. Nothing. Ah well, we’ll find something. Luckily the power returned. But the idea had been planted: photograph around the Center.

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And then just a few minutes before we began I noticed Sophie teaching a drawing workshop. We could begin there. And we did. The 3 of us (2 absent) with Yusef’s brother Mohammed, aka Ahmed, taking the turns on the various cameras.

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Returning to our chaotic room (the German language class was still running, and boys had entered the computer space and were loudly chatting) we inched our way thru their photos, constantly beset with computer problems, but surmountable, and then we barely approached what I’d hoped would be the main topic, editing, and with that beginning work on the exhibit Yousef requested. Mays had brought previously made portraits, and she didn’t want us edit them. I thought this would have been a good exercise—to make selections and talk about why we were doing that. Not to be. We viewed Abdullah’s video that I’d helped him put up on YouTube. That was a hit. Others gathered around to watch and congratulate.

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Sophie Furse, photo by Mays

So the workshop ended reasonably successfully. As did my entire 2 week journey there, or so I thought. Yousef gave me a bar of olive oil soap in thanks, he posed me with others in the obligatory group photo, and best of all, Abdullah walked me to the taxi station carrying my black shoulder bag. He is a dear, I gave him one of the hospital photos, and wished him good luck and much success. I hope to see him again. Mays also wished me goodbye, as did Yousef’s nephew Mohammed and brother Ahmed. I did not see or seek out the Gang, happy to be away from them.

I leave with them a partially completed website, hoping Yousef will continue the design and assure the maintenance. I’m done.

Jenin Creative Cultural Center

The trip back to Ramallah was relatively pleasant, thru winding valleys, many of them cultivated tho brown, not much traffic, a reasonably caution driver, plenty of leg room despite my pack on the floor in front of me. 2 hours, 1 major checkpoint that caused only minimal delay, I should find out if we passed thru the old Huwarra. Soldiers checked a few taxis perfunctorily. Some soldiers wore heavy battle gear, others were more casually dressed. When one peered into our taxi I peered back, trying to efface any hint of smile, and just slightly nod in recognition of him and his humanity. This is a delicate manner: how to treat the soldiers?

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Checkpoint south of Nablus, temporarily unstaffed

While attempting to nap—I’d also been photographing, mostly the fields—I remembered to make a few important calls. Fareed about the water person today (not available). Jerusalem Studies for the Nablus tour (signed up, but it costs 140 NIS and I learned later I can join another one led by Jan’s friend, Adel, on Monday, which will probably be cheaper and more oriented to history and archeology than the Saturday tour which is about shopping, tho that also could be photographable). And most important the permit people. I reached a few officers directly, lost connections, and tried again. With the result:

I wrote Tom this:

tom,

the latest is slimly encouraging: the officer i spoke with in the permit office knew my case. after first saying the permit was granted, he retracted and asked me to call back. i phoned several times and finally heard him say, can’t seem to find a definitive answer in the computer, the answer is probably on my co’s desk, call back sunday.

when i told amal about this she sounded furious. they say that every time, or something like it, she exclaimed. call them tomorrow (fri).

so i’ll do that. the officer, polite and civil with very good english—the face of oppression can be very gracious—, told me also there was confusion about the different applicants thru the afsc. which might be partly true. but here also amal dissented, saying, i applied for each one separately, there should be no confusion.

so at least you and i are not yet declared forbidden…

i have no idea whether senator john kerry’s office is intervening. they don’t reply to me or my quaker friends back home. so annoying.

but let’s keep trying.

good luck and let’s hope to be together over here soon,

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Having the mobile is a great convenience. In this case, while finishing the long taxi ride, 2 hours, I had my office with me. And despite using the Israeli Orange network, I usually have coverage.

Arriving in Ramallah, I bought 2 falafels, 2 beers, showered, and relaxed. Then I napped, then I ate, and then I did my email, now having a connection, not a reliable one but enough to bring me a letter from Y…

In N, she is pursuing finding housing, talking with realtors, finally reifying her long quest to live on the West Coast. Good for her—a fear of mine since we met now finally is no longer a fear, not such a big one. I’ll miss her when she moves permanently there, but know, somehow or other, or so I wish, we will stay in touch. However, she does get busy, as she admitted in her letter, and lacunae might grow, resulting in a total detachment. As with Kathleen.

Ah well, impermanence, why worry about it? It’s part of the teaching, part of the practice. The hardest part: detachment.

Last night I felt a corresponding closeness with X, wondering where and how she is. I listened to the music she gave me, finding it fresh and inspiring reminiscence and reverie, and I searched for info about volunteering medical services in Guatemala which is what she’s doing.

So run the ramblings of a lost and lonely soul, on the road in the Land of Troubles, the land of light, the land of romance.

In the evening I felt mellow, and turned to one of my favorite pursuits, web surfing. I just meandered about, aimlessly, or serendipitously, depending on one’s attitude. The weather in various parts of the world, organizing my browser’s bookmarks, viewing photos of others, this and that. A sheer joy. One of the best aspects of 21st century experience. How can anyone feel lonely with all this potential interaction? Easily. Look at me.

Gaza is the main question: will Israel grant me a permit? If yes, I’m heading there next week; if no, I make other plans, including appealing to the Israelis (if such an appeal process exists, which I doubt) and writing my Congress people for assistance. I’m mixed about going to Gaza. Amal tells me, everyone’s waiting for you. Which is attractive. And I long to see friends and offer services and make new photos. Yet, it will be hot, at times dangerous, I may lose my privacy if they insist on having an accompanier with me at all times. So, 2 months from now, September 13, back in Boston, or earlier, I’ll know the answer to this question: Gaza yes or no?

The question itself adds drama to my story. Some, those few who might ponder my fate, might ask, where is Skip now, did he ever get into Gaza?

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