Posts Tagged ‘youth’

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.



Youth activist on water rights


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.


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.


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

June 8, 2017, Thursday


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.


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


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.


Detroit from Windsor Ontario


We The People of Detroit

Water Justice Journey Resource Packet


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


 Bassam Tamimi with his daughters


The Freedom Bus project was not started as a way of doing touristic and artistic tours of the West Bank. And this is not why we joined either. It is helping us to understand more fully this occupation and to speak to Palestinians first hand. Our role as witnesses is to go home and share the reality on the ground, which is way too often distorted in mainstream media. We are not innocent and have to transform knowledge into action – action that has been called for by the locals themselves. They are asking for political support, which can be demanded and fought for back in our own countries. They are also asking for the support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which should be implemented on a personal level as well as in our schools, supermarkets, offices and nationally. As internationals we have a role and we can work in solidarity with the Palestinians to make a difference.

—Sama, one of the bus riders

March 20, 2015, Friday, Cinema Jenin Guest House, Jenin, Palestine

Cool, low 50s, 80% cloudy with altocumulus, slight breeze.

Yesterday [March 19, 2015] was another full day: breakfast at 8; at 9 various warm ups for team building on the outdoor stage of Cinema Jenin (touch-don’t touch partner’s knees; call out names during a rhythm game; stretch together; shake out; breathe, stop-go, down-up, referring to the occupation, and then the reverse as resistance; and share a feeling with the group; all good techniques to use during my later photography teaching); a lecture demonstration by Eyad Burnat from Bil’in about what to expect at today’s Nabi Salih demo (gas, bullets, arrests, etc); lunch at the Freedom Theater with an intro to the theater and freedom ride by Joanna; tour of the refugee camp including the cemetery with its martyrs’ markers, then to the horse statue (made of pieces of shattered ambulances, pointing north toward liberation); a brief talk by a bureaucrat about maintaining the camp; a stunning musical performance by beginning and advanced students at the Al Kamanjati music school; a playback performance there (I offered my Gaza kidnapping story); dinner at the cinema garden (sitting with lubna, the translator, and the shy quiet woman from Acca), and finally, after staff twice grabbed the wrong DVD’s, a screening of Arna’s Children about the founding of the Freedom Theater.

I’d seen the movie before so it looked familiar, but I recalled very little of it. I was puzzled by the time sequence and asked Jonathan, the managing director of the Freedom Theater, who suddenly appeared for the discussion, about this. Most takes place during the battle for Jenin in 2002. Arna died in the late 1990s of cancer, and the Freedom Theater opened in 2006. I set myself in the movie’s time frame and realized I may have visited the camp with the delegation one year after the fighting, and the theater opened during my early period in Israel-Palestine. In fact I may have first visited shortly after it opened.

Trying to sort out what I will bring on the Freedom Ride, realizing I may lack some vital things (like a sleeping pad, suggested by Bryan), with all we human beings jockeying for space, with virtually no sort-out space like my bed available, is—as was true during my various pilgrimages—daunting. But rather than this lasting for 1 year as with the Middle Passage Pilgrimage (retracing the transatlantic trade journey), this is only 12 days. Thus it is tolerable.

Maybe differing from the pilgrimages, especially the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, is the feeling of camaraderie, mutual support, shared mission, and above all else, exceptionally fine organizing. Unlike that pilgrimage this is not a first time effort. This tour is the 4th annual.

March 21, 2015, Saturday, Guest House/school, Bil’in, Palestine

Cool, mid 40s, clear, slight breeze.

We are in Bil’in (pronounced with the accent on the 2nd syllable, and adding a sort of grunt at the ‘ —Bil-hi-een.). I believe we are in a school or community room, men in the main room, women in 3 separate rooms, all on the floor, luckily with plenty of mattresses and cushions, relatively quiet after about midnight (Fidaa asked for quiet around 11, reminding me of when I tried this on the Middle Passage Pilgrimage and was angrily opposed), me again next to Bryan (as I’d been in the Jenin guest house, after I seemed to have swiped, in his view, his corner space and his cushions, a very curious relationship), all leading to a fair night’s sleep (but short, 6 hours). I am back in pilgrimage mode.


Nabi Salih and the colony of Halamish

Yesterday we were at the village of Nabi Salih most of the day, for the demo, village walk around, and dinner. We heard of course from Bassam Tamimi, probably the chief leader, who gave a nuanced discourse about resistance. He joked that “we don’t need more tears, we have the tear gas.” Apparently he is originally from this village settled by Tamimi’s and is now filled with them, but in 2009 when the settlers in Halamish took over the village spring (on the other side of a divide), he returned to lead the resistance. His children are in the forefront of the struggle and were clearly the main presence at the demo when they loudly confronted the soldiers, all 4 sisters, ranging in age from about 6 to 11.


Halamish upper left, spring middle right, demonstration in the middle, Nabi Salih behind the photographer

As the sisters scurried up the hill, warned by the soldiers to leave within minutes or they’d be tear gassed, breathlessly one told me she could speak Hebrew and told the soldiers this was not their land, no one invited them here, the Palestinians were the rightful owners, and the soldiers and settlers should leave. To me she spoke in good English. Later she and 2 of her sisters spoke to our group, encouraged by their father and mother, electrifying us with their courage and articulation of the struggle.

Their mother, Nariman, was injured fairly recently, shot in the leg at close range with a tear gas canister. She used leg braces but attended the demo.

Unlike last week when the Israelis arrested 2 women and injured a boy, yesterday [March 20, 2015] they merely shot opening salvos of tear gas, and then allowed resisters to approach to about 5 meters, the kids closest, face-to-face with the army. I remained back, not at the very back where many stood on cliffs, but about 300 meters from the front line. Partly because I have trouble navigating the rocky hills, and mainly because I appreciated the new vantage point afforded by the elevation. Maybe a little confusion and fear as well.


Tamimi girls confront the soldiers

There I perched for about 30 minutes using primarily my telephoto lens, chatting with Lorenza, a young woman from Switzerland. So she could see the action better thru my long lens, we shared my camera from time to time. I felt I was photographing a tableau—lines of people constantly changing their geometry. (I thought of Henri Cartier Bresson, known for “the decisive moment,” his use of evolving human geometry in photography.) The kids, the acrobatics from one of the Freedom Theater members, the casually positioned soldiers, and the spring off to one side now developed by settlers. I used my wide lens to show the positioning of settlement, confrontation, and spring. I’d read about this but now could picture it.

Would the solders attack? A key question. This time, no, perhaps influenced by the large number of internationals, or perhaps wisely realizing, as police in the United States seem to be doing more now, that waiting out the demo is simplest, cheapest, and least likely to lead to negative publicity.

Writing this entry in the early morning, I sit now in the main room of the Bil’in center, leaning against the wall, cushioned by a pillow, on my sleeping bag and blanket (kindly lent by Ayman from the Jenin guest house), while others slowing awaken and rise.

Last night traveling here from Nabi Salih, the driver became lost. Which seemed to lead to a raucous songfest that disturbed me. I was sitting alone in the front, about 5 seats back, the front seats occupied by Palestinians, when they began singing. One woman in particular, who I’d earlier noticed seemed depressed, sitting sullenly and separately with her phone in hand, maybe not loving the bus experience, suddenly became suffused with wild energy. She jumped about, screamed, clapped her hands madly about her head, and was eventually subdued by the Palestinian with dreads. I thought she might be manic-depressive.

Later one of the men explained they sang traditional songs, often sung at weddings, similar perhaps to folksongs in the USA. This episode reminded me of terrible moments on previous trips, pilgrimages, especially the Middle Passage one, where the new living mode I’m subjected to just does not appeal. Let me off this bus, please!

During the spring of 1961, student activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched the Freedom Rides to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals. Traveling on buses from Washington, D.C., to Jackson, Mississippi, the riders met violent opposition in the Deep South, garnering extensive media attention and eventually forcing federal intervention from John F. Kennedy’s administration. Although the campaign succeeded in securing an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ban on segregation in all facilities under their jurisdiction, the Freedom Rides fueled existing tensions between student activists and Martin Luther King, Jr., who publicly supported the riders, but did not participate in the campaign.

—Freedom Rides in the United States during the freedom movement


On the wall of the Tamimi home



Freedom Bus blog

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Boggs school_logo_2




Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Excerpts from my journal

PHOTOS (in two parts)

November 25, 2014, Tuesday, on the train east of Cleveland heading home to Cambridge

The main event of yesterday [November 24, 2014], other than my departure from Detroit after 3 weeks (which on the universal scale counts for very little) was photographing the Boggs School, a publicly-funded charter school. Initially the head, Amanda Rosman, seemed nervous about my presence and asked me to estimate how long I’d be in the school. She also cautioned me against photographing the kids of one family whose mother refused blanket permission for photography, a prohibition that baffles me, especially at such a renowned school as the Boggs.



I was deeply impressed with the quality of education. The teachers seemed skilled in handling their subjects and discipline problems (the latter were frequent in one art class I observed, not in others). A main pedagogical principle is place-based education, meaning the students are to learn about where they live and go to school. One group, with the theme of orienteering, went for a walk around the block. When they stepped outside, the teacher, a burly fellow with thick arms teaching gym or physical education, asked them which directions were north, east, etc. I added and he agreed, what direction are the clouds coming from? and he added, and that means the direction of the storm—all central to moment and place.

[Place-based education is] local, and it’s connected to students in a way that they can identify with. It’s either a problem in their community or an event that’s happening, or it could be a geological phenomenon. But it’s something that they’re familiar with….so it means something to them. And then we ask questions about it.

—Cay Graig, Vermont teacher




After the walk —perfect for me because it shows the East-side neighborhood, typically deteriorated—they built something inside that I failed to locate and photograph.

Another teacher dealt with garbage, putting on the board 3 key questions: what happens to our garbage, where does it go, and what does it mean to throw it away? She had them write in their notebooks, and then read from them. Later she showed them an effecting movie about garbage.




The school runs kindergarten thru 5th, in 3 groups, something like kindergarten, 1-2-3, and 4-5. One teacher wears a hijab, about 1/3 the other teachers are black. Amanda, now softened toward me, not overseeing me as she did at our first location, the playground, and apparently assured I will do the school well, is a cofounder. I promised to send her a selection before I post, to make sure no kids whose parents refused permission are included.

Upon entering I noticed immediately two things: pizza for lunch and the policy of choices rather than self-control. The latter came up when a teacher in a contentious situation, rather than preaching self-control, reminded the student that he had choices. This reflected a conversation with my dear friends, Anne and Fred, when Anne advocated the choices approach. A good principle to keep in mind—with one’s self as well as others.

Because Thanksgiving was later in the week, let us think about Native Americans

Other observations: the art teacher showed them drawings of Indian language symbols in the context of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. (I wonder what spin they’d put on the traditional Thanksgiving story, probably a more accurate one.) Water bottles with names were in many rooms, presumably an effort to teach conservation. On my second pass at the bottles I photographed them with neighboring houses in the background. Often I used my Canon camera’s pullout viewfinder so I could hold the camera at my waist level, thereby distracting the children so they noticed me less.


Our challenge, as we enter the new millennium, is to deepen the commonalities and the bonds between these tens of millions, while at the same time continuing to address the issues within our local communities by two-sided struggles that not only say ‘no’ to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to crease the world anew.

—Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

Now the big story of that event, altho minor in the grand picture (too bad that I have no photos), this meant a great deal to me: wind. Gusting to more than 50 mph, swiveling between south and north, it blew me to the school, but ferociously resisted me on my little pedal machine (my folding bicycle) later when I tried to return home from the school. It nearly blew me over when I left the protection of a building and entered an intersection. I shifted down to the lowest gear to make headway against the tumultuous wind. Crackling, snapping, flaring, ripped-by-the-wind power lines forced a detour. I thought I might not make it without the intercession of either a divine being or someone like my neighbor Johnny with his huge truck. One block from the school, it blew over my bike when I stopped to photograph a recently burned house, stepping thru bags of what turned out to be shit to get a position. The wind-induced fall damaged my bike light needed in the dim, dank, afternoon darkness. Riding on the leeward side of buildings, on sidewalks, I achieved my objective: home. Thank god, humdilila. Outside my home I washed the shit off my boots and bike pedals and brought my bike inside.

My bike ride thru the wind might represent the school’s course thru the perils and challenges of troubled but perhaps recovering Detroit.

Down the street

Burnt house



Boggs School website

Boggs School Facebook page

A story about the founding of the school

Place-based education

“The Boggs School Oral History Project: Linking Youth and Elders to the Past, Present and Future,” by Laura de Palma, December 2014

Children’s Voices, Dave Eggers Illustrates Stories by Elementary Schoolers,” by Maria Russo, December 2014

Detroit Walk-In Portrait Studio, a video about a photographic project at the school conducted by Corine Vermeulen, December 2014

New coalition on Detroit schools unveils its membership,” by Ann Zaniewski, December 2014

Activist Boggs honored for work toward social justice,” by Amy He, December 2014

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 Ban al Ghussain, Islam Madhoun, and their son, from their Facebook page

After the Israeli assault on Gaza, yet another, probably the most damaging, with Palestinian deaths topping 2,100 and injuries 11,200, most of them civilian, more than 106,000 displaced in UN shelters and with host families, one half million children unable to begin the new school year, restricted electricity and severely threatened water supplies, and with 71 Israeli deaths, 66 of them soldiers, and Israel’s astronomical financial and political costs, after a cease-fire, I wrote some of my friends in or from Gaza. Knowing electricity is often limited to 3 hours daily, I’m even more appreciative for their replies (and for those from my Israeli friends, living in Sderot and Netif Ha’asara within one mile of Gaza and under attack, and another in Jaffa, threatened while protesting the violence):

Thank you very much for your loving wishes and mail …  love you so much. I really hope to see you soon (Ban al Ghussain)


Thank you my friend, miss you. I hope everything going to fine after ceasefire, See u in Gaza closely (Islam Madhoun)


I hate the fact that we reunite only after a devastation hits Gaza. However, it’s always nice to hear from you. You are missing a lot in here my friend. Thus, you should come over as soon as you can. Meanwhile, Keep safe. (Hisham Mhanna)


Hisham with his father, 2012

Hi dude! I hope u r ok. we hope it will lead to a permanent solution. u are mostly welcome…..just tell me when u come to celebrate your coming. stay safe. (Muntaser Abu Kmeil)

Muntaser Facebook
From his Facebook page
Mr. Skip, Thanks a lot.. We trust Allah, everything will be okay in shaa Allah We will heal our pain . Thanks for sending me (Suhair Hajjaj)
Suhair my secondary school in  copy
Suhair’s secondary school in Shuheya
Thank you Skip for your lovely and compassionate support of Palestine. Actually, you are one of the people who made the Palestinian justice work more lively in New England Area and beyond. I hope our paths will cross again soon. (Ayman Nijim)
Ayman facebook
Here are two other articles offering perspectives, the first from Rana Alshami in Gaza:
Whatever was going on in Gaza for the past 51 days has finally ended. People can finally breathe, sleep, live! My family and I lived and experienced the worst of times, but we are still alive. We survived….
And from Alex Cane, a form of reality check:
The cease-fire that ended seven weeks of hell in Gaza is only two days old. But the countdown to the next round began as soon as the ink dried on the agreement between Israel and the Palestinian armed factions….
This is what I earlier wrote Gazan friends:
with you perhaps i celebrate the extended cease-fire. i’m sure you’re relieved that you can now return to a relatively safe location and situation. “relatively” is a tricky word. will the cease-fire lead to the end of the siege, reconstruction of gaza, and freedom and a just peace after so many years of suffering? i pray for all this and for you personally.
my most recent blog outlines what might happen, a fantasy which could become a world-shaking reality.
I hope to see you again sometime next year, inshallah.
Your enduring friend,

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We at the East Jerusalem YMCA, and as an active and indigenous segment of the Palestinian social movement, contribute to the reconstruction of Palestinian society, which has been facing decades of systemic destruction, dispersal, and violations of its national, legal, and human rights. Within this current political situation we perceive the need to concentrate local, regional, and international efforts in order to recover the just rights of our people and to build a democratic state where transparency, equity, and social justice may prevail.

—Policy mandate statement



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

May 16, 2013, Thursday, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem Occupied Palestine


There are many sides to the various stories emanating from this region. One not often heard or seen is how Palestinian society deals with the effects of occupation: trauma, physical injury, loss of work, degraded dignity, and despair (for a short list).

Thanks to my geographical proximity to the East Jerusalem YMCA (despite the name, the organization serves the entire West Bank of Occupied Palestine), a 20 minute walk down the main road of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem—plus my intimate experience with the Y during my early university years—I finally thought, hey, the local Y, let’s investigate how it manifests its “aim of positively contributing to the physical, mental and spiritual development of children, youth and the community at large…”

(The site is also the third of 3 purported shepherds’ fields sites, significantly less visited than the Latin/Catholic and Greek Orthodox sites but touching nonetheless.)


Raed Abu Jriers, the East Jerusalem YMCA’s’s affable media and communication coordinator, set up 2 visits to people benefitting (beneficiaries) from the rehabilitation program. First to Raed Ateyyah, a 37-year-old who at the age of 17 was shot by Israeli soldiers—not during a demonstration but when local settlers attacked his village. His mobility was impaired, he could only work common labor jobs where he didn’t have to stand or walk, but now, with the help of counseling and vocational training, he is employed in a small garment factory producing clothing for “export.”


Benificiary of the Rehabilitation Program, Raed Ateyyah, severely injured by Israeli soldiers, with Abdullah, his social worker (middle),
and Raed Abu Jries (left)

His case manager or guide, a social worker, Abdullah, explained that currently after one month of work, Raed only earns 35 NIS (about $9.50 daily) but pays roughly half of that for transport to and from his village near Bethlehem. Leaving a net gain of some 20 NIS or $5 for a day’s labor. Where are these garments sold? I asked. —We export them. —And where is that? —Israel. —And what  label does Israel sew in? —“Ketty, made in Israel.”


Raed endured my photography, never offered much affect, a withdrawn expression on his face. This perhaps is an indicator of his trauma. Images of tranquil nature scenes covered one wall of the shop, which made a powerful counterpoint to the machinery and workers. A sister-brother team apparently owns the facility. (Background on what I photograph is often scant and since I’m not writing I do not apply myself very diligently to that aspect.)


Co owner of the garment factory

Our second visit was to Jamil Al-Wahsh, his older son, Ali, and the little one, Muhammad, in the village of Za’tara. Jamil is in his 40s, born with a major defect that rendered his feet splayed out, his legs akimbo, thereby severely cutting down his walking ability. Three of his 7 children have the same malady. Luckily for my photography they were home from school—Nakba Day—and so could demonstrate for me how they walk. The rehab program first counseled the father, and then installed additions that offered the family a more comfortable existence. Namely an entrance ramp, a sit-down toilet (vs. the squat), and for the youngest boy leg braces (which he refuses to wear). Contrasting with Raed Ateyyah, the garment worker, this man and his entire family were jovial, outward, and seemed to play to the camera.


Jamil Al-Wahsh, his older son, Ali, a daughter, and the youngest son, Muhammad, in the village of Za’tara—all 3 males have congenital leg problems.


On the ramp constructed by the Y program




With the family’s social worker

Preceding the tour, the director of the program, the humble and highly articulate Nader Abu Amsha, explained the genesis of the program. I was struck by how exploratory and experimental it was, beginning in 1989 as a response to injuries from the First Intifada, (“shaking off” or uprising, which began 2 years earlier), learning as they developed (he was first a volunteer, then paid staff), and then evolving into what appears to be a comprehensive program addressing many aspects of suffering: counseling, vocational training, physical services, advocacy, and general education. Some 50,000 children and youth were injured during just the first year of the First Intifada (roughly 1987-1993), or, according to Save the Children, over the first two years, an estimated 7% of all Palestinians under 18 years of age suffered injuries from shootings, beatings or tear gas. By 1993, the YMCA had shifted its treatment approach from the individual to a more holistic one, involving the entire family and perhaps the community, schools in particular.


Nader Abu Amsha, director of YMCA Rehabilitation Program
& Beit Sahour Branch

According to an estimate by the Swedish branch of Save the Children, as many as 29,900 children require medical treatment for injuries caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers during the first two years of the Intifada alone. Nearly a third of them are aged ten or under. Save the Children also estimates that between 6500-8500 Palestinian minors were wounded by Israeli gunfire in the first two years of the Intifada.

—Institute for Middle East Understanding

I asked, how do assess the presence and severity of trauma? Answer: from the point of view of resilience. We first discuss options with the beneficiary. We build trust. We share stories. We ask what they think and feel, which is usually revenge at first. Boys often manifest the “hero” complex, overrating their strength. We don’t give advice. We ask questions. We ask our beneficiary to report their suffering—Israel arrests an average of 700 children aged 12-17 every year. And we develop criteria for improvement. Obviously, the earlier the intervention the better, otherwise they become sick and need serious treatment. (paraphrasing)

Needless to say, I was impressed. So when Nader told me other agencies outside Palestine often invite staff to do trainings, like in Columbia, I was not surprised.

Rather than attempt to write a full account of the riches of this interview with Nader—a pity my news agency chose not to cover it, seems like poor judgment—I’ll simply refer my readers to the website listed below.

During the Second Intifada (roughly 2000-2005) as of January 2004, the Palestinian child rights organization Defense for Children International/Palestine Section (DCI/PS) had documented the deaths of over 500 Palestinian children (under 18). These deaths were the result of Israeli occupation policies implemented in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip since September 2000. DCI/PS reports that an estimated 10,000 children were wounded during that period.

If Americans Knew

After nearly 45 minutes of this introduction I asked, has anyone ever written a book about all this or made a comprehensive movie? No book but several movies, mostly by the Y rehab program itself. (I list several on-line below.) My general impression of Nader is that he is sharp, talented, dedicated, and works hard. I enjoyed listening to him but found photographing him at the same time a challenge. He admitted he was distracted when I brought out my camera so I doubt I have any photos useful of him. And my writing is so fragmentary. I am torn between practicing my photographer’s eye and my writer’s ear. And I fail to understand the apathy about this story by the news agency I volunteer for. Maybe limited time and scant staff. Or maybe an inability to recognize a good story.

I walked to the Y in a drizzle, under nearly overcast skies, a stretch of my legs that is a good way to begin the day. A little after noon I walked back, again in some drizzle speckled with bright sun, and found a 3-person olive wood factory (factory is too grand a name, how about the less imposing and vaguer manufactory?) with the participants either eager to be photographed or quiescent. Two were smoothing out contours with tools that may have originally been dentist drills, while the third, a young man chain-smoking, operated a duplicating machine. The operator, a sort of magician, multiple times resurrected the dead and wood-embalmed Jesus with this clever machine. He gently traced shapes and 2 rasping drills dutifully followed instructions and carved out—resurrected— many Christ’s.


I photographed freely, and when finished the man nearest the door who’d beckoned me in gave me a little gift: a patriarch statue, maybe King David himself or perhaps one of the Wise Men adoring Christ. The face is too old to be that of Christ. He looks sad. His right hand has a hole in it, perhaps it once held a staff. What looks like a nail protrudes from the base, making the statue unstable. I treasure this artifact and introduced it to the other elements of my altar: Christ, Buddha, jasmine (in season), stun grenade, 2 cartridges, 2 candles, incense, various political lapel pins, photos of family and friends, Mediterranean sea shells from Gaza, and the ceramic plate AFSC staff gave me when I left Gaza. All treasures.

I ponder: are any of these olive wood workers beneficiaries of the Y’s rehab program? How have they been affected by the occupation? If not for the occupation what lives would they now live? Will their conditions be any different when free?

And further: as the wood workers can in effect resurrect Jesus, does the YMCA rehabilitation program resurrect—positively transform lives shattered by onerous conditions—its beneficiaries?




East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program

Their movie links:

Coming Home

Buds of Hope

The Suffering of the Palestinian Child Under the Israeli Occupation by Ahmed El Helal and Mariam I Itani

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Gaza, 2010

I have followed Skip’s activities through his email newsletter which has kept me up to date through the personal contacts he has made with peacemakers. From living [myself] in a situation of violence and change in South Africa I know how valuable it is to have the kind of support he is offering to peacemakers in Israel and Palestine—getting out the everyday stories of life, thought, and peace and justice making that don’t make the international headlines. It helps keep the people on the ground going.

—Jeremy Routledge, former director of the
Quaker Peace Center in Cape Town, South Africa

Dear friends:

In various ways, I’ve faithfully reported to many people about my work concerning Palestine/Israel. For the past nine years, not only while I was most recently in the region in 2010, but subsequently with my US-based work, I’ve tried to keep people informed and motivated thru my photos and stories.

Later this month I will begin my 7th journey of photographic discovery and exposure of conditions and struggles in Palestine/Israel. I hope you can join me, as a viewer and reader—and as a financial supporter.

Yaffa/Tel Aviv, Israel, 2010

Gaza, 2010

For this 10-week trip I plan to volunteer my photographic services again with the American Friends Service Committee in Gaza and the West Bank, Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, Al-Rowwad in a Bethlehem refugee camp, Friends of the Earth Middle East in both Israel and Palestine, and the Jenin Freedom Theater, as well as other organizations who request my services. Mainly I will photograph for them and also, when asked, teach photography to  high school and university age youth. The AFSC plans a traveling exhibit about the occupation; they’ve sought my photographic contributions. All this is at no or minimal charge to the organizations. Thus I need financial help.

Public opinion in the US is slowly becoming more responsive to Palestinian experiences, the numerous violations of human rights and international law, and the expanding non-violent resistance against the injustice perpetrated by the Israeli government (with corresponding violence and sometimes criminal actions by Palestinians). The United States and many European governments mutely accept most of the illegal and unjust Israeli policies. Slowly, incrementally, a mild trickle of awareness is percolating into what could become a torrent of support for Palestinian rights. On March 30 international organizers plan The Great March on Jerusalem into Israel across the borders of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. I plan to be there to photograph. I hope to be part of the larger movement for human rights and accountability to international law. With your help I can achieve this.

Gaza, 2010

Airfare is roughly $1300, accommodations, food and local transport will cost me approximately $1400, photo equipment and supplies another $500, and miscellaneous about $300 for a grand total of $3500. I’d deeply appreciate any sort of contribution, large or small, whether money, airline ticket benefits, equipment (photographic or computer) and prayers. I welcome your suggestions about making this journey. You could also help by organizing a showing of my up to date slide shows or photo exhibitions.

Checks can be made out to me, Skip Schiel, mailed to 9 Sacramento St, Cambridge MA, 02138 USA, or you can use PayPal on my website, teeksaphoto.org. I’m not able to offer you a tax deduction.

Thank you so much for your support.


Dr. Mona Al Farra, Gaza, 2009

Kalandia Checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, Ramadan, blocked from attending Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, 2009

You might want to visit these internet sites to view and read what I’ve done over the past 9 years on this project.

teeksaphoto.org (photos)

skipschiel.wordpress.com (writing and photos, plus movies)

eyewitnessgaza.net (movie by Tom Jackson about my work)

www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2902195 (recently published book of my Gaza photos)

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Some will rob you with a six-gun
And some with a fountain pen.

—Woody Guthrie

Excerpts from my journal


May 2 and 4, 2011, Cambridge Massachusetts

Clear, chilly, low 40s, still, lilac buds appeared.

Yesterday Bread and Puppet theater assembled at the Paul Revere mall in Boston’s North End, providentially under his statue, so as I sat resting from the previous 3 hours of intense photography with my Spring Light Charles River workshop I finally realized I can show the Haymarket Martyr puppets standing close to the statue’s base. (I’d snacked on a small chocolate mint cupcake with coffee and peed at Mike’s Bakery—effectively embedding in the largely Italian district—and felt the tourist in me merge with the artist.) Another episode in a splendid spontaneous day.

All but one of the paraders was easily under 30 years. They wore the colors of revolution and anarchism, red and black. Some wore IWW insignia, International Workers of the World—An Injury to One is an Injury to All. I recognized a few from the Bread and Puppet cast which I’d seen perform recently at the Boston Center for the Arts in the Cyclorama. They brought instruments, gradually more and more filled in the ranks to form a march that processed thru the North End, stunning residents and visitors with their grand music and the somber martyr puppets.

(The death of someone many would term a martyr was announced this morning, NPR is devoting its entire morning broadcast to the event—Osama Bin Laden is dead. Martyr only meaning martyr to some, evil man to others. As some—many long ago during the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago—would have called the Haymarket Martyrs evil or murderers or terrorists, when in fact they were organizing for the 8 hour day and other workers’ rights.)

I tracked the parade, anticipated it, and caught up with it, happy, as I was earlier in my solitude and with the earth as I led the photography workshop, to now be with a multitude and with the politics of May Day. More and more often and with more and more people International Workers’ Day returns to Boston. The issues of immigration rights, worker rights, and revolution generally seam together in this popular movement. The march ended in the Rose Kennedy Greenway, met by others who’d assembled previously. More youth, more people of color, more good energy: May Day in Boston. (I noticed that none of my current photo students showed up, despite an invitation from me, nor did I see any I recognized from my Boston email contact list, nor anyone from the local Palestine rights movement. Very curious, the lack of awareness about May Day and is significance.)

In viewing and photographing the May Day parade thru the North End I observed that the music and festive nature of the paraders—the geniality and joy—alerts the audience to politics rather than educates or exhorts them. A good lesson for my own work. I am too much the educator, the exhorter, the preacher, the pontificator, and not enough the inspirer, the pinpricker that simply alerts others to an issue or cause or need or topic: set the stage, plant a seed, prod a weary soul, content oneself with that, and keep on parading, blowing my horn, beating my drum.


The Brief Origins of May Day (aka International Workers’ Day)

Bread & Puppet Theater

Earlier photos of Bread & Puppet Theater in Boston

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Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.


Have you ever heard of the hour of the wolf? … It’s the time between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning. You can’t sleep, and all you can see is the troubles and the problems and the ways that your life should’ve gone but didn’t. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart.

(Commander Susan Ivanova in an episode of the science fiction television show Babylon 5 entitled “The Hour of the Wolf” and from Swedish and Finnish folk religion, also the title of a horror film by Ingmar Bergman where I first learned the term and phenomenon.)

(Click here for an enlargement)

November 23, 2010, Tuesday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

I’m nervous this morning, for a variety of reasons. 1. I teach the first session of the photographic workshop tomorrow [November 24, 2010]. Altho I feel very prepared and confident enough I always feel nervous beginning a workshop series. I focus more on past failures than successes, on my problems at Birzeit University and with the Haifa Israeli Arab youth when I taught at both sites, rather than the long string of successes at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program (QPYP), Cambridge Center for Adult Education and Harvard University. 2. My computer problems. 3. My flashlight’s bulb seems to have burned out, not a big deal but precipitating a return of my Hour of the Wolf syndrome, keeping me awake with flooding thoughts, visions, worries. 4. Where in Gaza can I find an ATM for cash? 5. The money transfer question. All of these swamped me last night as I struggled to return to blissful sleep—and eventually did.

I am befuddled by the weekly schedule here. Week begins on Sunday, Friday is a holiday. I have to shift my thinking from Monday begins the week, Saturday and Sunday are holidays.

A dream despite or inspired by the problems of the night: true to my habit (and I’m thankful for this one) I was preparing to teach a photo workshop, not in Gaza but at home. Working around my wife, a stand-in for my former wife, I gathered materials including an old digital camera that I’d dismantled, blank film, cords, and other paraphernalia that if I were actually home and about to teach I’d collect. A bulb had burned out. My wife provided me one. I inserted it and I could see better what I was collecting. Last night I devoted myself mainly to preparing for the workshop tomorrow and I’m certain the dream was an offshoot of that. Unlike at home, I don’t have the materials I dreamt about gathering.

The second dream was about gathering a woman to me—another sort of gathering—inviting her into my intimate circle. She was young, desirable, available. I’d arranged for her to sit with others in a sort of pit. The pit began enclosing her and others. I jumped in. Some in the pit became food. She finally agreed to be with me intimately. I felt mutual love. Patricia Watson, an old dear Quaker friend and mentor, entered the story somehow; maybe it referred to her without her actual presence. How strange this one was. Unlike any dream I can recall having and definitely unlike any known courtship procedure.

November 24, 2010, Wednesday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

What provoked last night’s episode of the Hour of the Wolf was the following extremely vivid dream: I was meeting my workshop group for the first time. It was set in Gaza, large, around 15, the usual mix of people. For some reason a pole or column separated them into 2 smaller groups, which made seeing them at one time difficult. One of the students rudely and demonstratively played the piano loudly in the back of the room. I asked her to stop. Sullenly, she complied.

I was using my seminar approach, asking questions in the Socratic manner, mostly about photographic design. As an illustration I used  the element of repetition. I didn’t have actual pictures to look at, a major omission. At first I thought this was going very well, not plunging directly into the nuts and bolts of making photos but delving into some of the deeper topics—I love doing this. I felt I was doing it expertly. Gradually I noticed some of the students shaking heads at each other, a condemnatory shake, expressing, this sucks. This guy is a total shit. I do not like being in this workshop. I knew I was on the wrong path, not sure how to find the right one. I awoke with a sudden thud. Oh, oh, I said to myself, don’t take that road today when you teach, anything but that road.

On my morning walk a few minutes ago I realized I should begin the workshop by thanking everyone for the opportunity to work with them, for their choosing to enroll, do the work, and share my passion for photography, to give me a chance to learn from them. Yes, be very thankful and humble. To confess my gratitude, dependence on them, willingness to learn. Then to ask them to introduce themselves, with specific reference to photography. Tell us what you’d like to learn and why. The take away, the payoff. This will be challenging because of language barriers. (I’m hoping for good translation, which I had last year, making a huge difference.) Then maybe look at their photos, if they brought them as I asked Islam to invite them to do. At least look at my prints.

Then maybe a how to see deeply exercise, a guided meditation, and run thru the camera settings (how do this without the AV camera cable?). Concentrate on providing them many opportunities to actually photograph and later review their photos. To state this at the outset: make and comment on photos, the spine of the workshop. That usually works in most settings.

The QPYP staff were surprised to see me show up so early yesterday, ready to teach. Then I realized my mistake—I was one day early, one more night to suffer thru, the Hour of the Wolf will come again. I confided to Amal, the director of the program, how nervous I am. She is my mother in absentia. The moon, recently full, is waning. On the next full moon night I may either be preparing to leave Gaza or preparing to leave Yaffa and Israel, homeward bound.

Ibrahem Shatali and Amal Sabawai, program officer and director, respectively

November 25, 2010, Thursday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

~~Electricity just went kaput as I was beginning this entry. Last night in an adjoining neighborhood near the sea, the power was out. Off at 7:20 pm, we’ll see how long before the generator kicks in.~~

The workshop yesterday, in my preliminary and self-interested perspective, went surprisingly well. 10 of the 12 enrolled attended, about half arrived on time, the others within 10 minutes of start time. They seemed engaged for the most part, those without English struggling to keep up. Rana and Hesham shared translation duties. All but one had cameras and that one used his mobile phone camera which apparently is fairly sophisticated. I lectured about a few basic digital principles like the difference between a photograph, a print, a file, and an image. For a later session we’ll discuss bits, bytes, and pix, color space, calibration, etc, rudimentary concepts that I find fascinating and vital to understand. Will they?

Because I lacked my AV cable allowing me to show camera settings, I lectured on the topic and had them follow with their cameras: auto, P for program, A for aperture priority, etc, leaving for later when and why these different settings are useful. All basic stuff. The students are less advanced than I’d assumed after talking with Amal and Islam. I thought they said these would mostly be practicing photographers who wished to upgrade their skills. Not so—some entry level, a few more advanced.

I’d laid out prints I brought of family and the coast, had them observe, comment on what they noticed, discuss how to improve certain photos, much like what I do at home. (No one else brought photos, even tho I’d requested it.) I also showed the slide show of photos from last year’s photo workshop, Starting Point, commending the photos and hoping to raise a standard. So that—and I tried to lay this out provisionally, not a promise or commitment—that if their photos are good enough we can have an exhibition at the Windows from Gaza gallery.

Maybe the hit of the 3-hour session was actually making photos, first in the room we worked in, and then the roof where I’d been several times with other groups. [A sampling of student photos from the entire workshop is at the end of this blog.] On the roof I challenged them to effectively show a vista and to make use of the high roof position. I’m saving my schema for making a good photo—be aware, observe the light, choose a camera position and shutter release moment, etc—for later. Returning down the stairs, I pointed out the viewpoint someone previously had discovered for making an abstract photo: straight down the stairwell. They all tried it, I photographed them trying it.

~~7:30, power returned a mere 10 minutes later, thanks to a local generator I’m certain. Last year the generator was nearly outside my door, loud and smelly, small also. It remains but is not used. I have no idea where the working generator is, probably on the rooftop. I’ve never heard or seen it. [Later I learned the building’s owner has tied into another neighborhood’s power lines so that when that neighborhood has electricity our building is powered.]~~

I introduced myself, very personally—grandpa, divorced, love Gaza, photographing since my dad gave me my first camera at age 7, etc—and they did the same. They are young, perhaps between about 18 and 25, most are college students, a few in business administration, a few in media. Some work for partner agencies. Hesham works with the guy I’ll probably hire as cameraman, Yousef.

So I’m relieved, greatly relieved. From time to time during the session, silently I compared the nightmare vision I’d had the 2 nights before to what was transpiring in front of me: night and day, night and day. I slept very well last night.

At times I’m frightened by the situation here. I read reports from the Gaza NGO Safety Office, GANSO, such as:

At approximately 1550 hrs on 7 October 2010, an IAF [Israeli Air Force]  drone fired a missile targeting a private vehicle carrying Palestinian militants affiliated to Al Nasser Salah Ad Din Brigades on Al Mughraqa Bridge, between Al Nuseirat and Al Zahra, North West of Al Nuseirat. However, the missile failed to hit its intended target, and instead exploded in front of a passing vehicle, injuring 5 civilian passengers, and 1 seriously. Similarly, at 1130 hrs on 3 November 2010, a private vehicle was targeted by the IAF in the vicinity of the de facto security services headquarters in Gaza City, N of Al Azhar University, killing an Army of Islam operative driving the vehicle, with injuries sustained by a passerby. And just last week (17 November) at 1640 hrs, a private vehicle was again targeted by the IAF on Al Wihda Street in Gaza City, resulting in the deaths of 2 Army of Islam operatives.

The central concern with respect to these attacks is that they occurred during daylight hours and, most particularly with respect to the two most recent incidents, in built up areas. In the previous Bi-Weekly Safety Report (17 – 30 October) GANSO highlighted the danger of internal hazards and their unpredictability. Much of the advice imparted on that occasion can also apply in this context, though tempered perhaps by an even greater degree of unpredictability. At this juncture, the most effective mitigation measure that GANSO can suggest is that NGO’s clearly mark their vehicles (particularly from an aerial perspective) when travelling throughout the Gaza Strip, while organisations are also strongly encouraged to keep a First Aid Kit and fire extinguisher within their vehicles at all times (and ensure staff are aware of how to safely and effectively use the equipment).

This bothers me—first aid kit and fire extinguisher, big help, forget it! Reminds me that if I happen to be out walking or with someone driving, at exactly the wrong moment and place, I could be hit, hurt, killed. Damned luck. I’m not sure my muses can do much about this. I’m not sure how cognizant they are about either the Israeli military or the Palestinian militants. The OP’s, Palestinian Operatives, to use the language of GANSO.

From Prof. Abdelwahed, published July 18, 2009:

“Gaza war in child’s memory (True story),”

Raid Fattouh is a Palestinian. He is married to Natasha, a Ukrainian woman. They live in Gaza with their four children: Karma 13, Jabr 10, Diana 6 and Hakeem 1. Two weeks ago, Raid and his Natasha wanted to travel to Ukraine after 13 years stay in Gaza. It was so hard for the parents to convince their children that traveling by airplane is comfortable and safe! Children could not sleep well for long nights before their land trip to Amman. They were scared of the airplane! Their persistent question was on their situation if the airplane bombed somewhere and killed innocent people like what it did in Gaza during the war! The image of the airplane was an image of a machine to kill the people in the streets and at homes! It was enormously difficult for the parents to convince the kids to step up into the airplane at Amman airport. The nightmare remained, and children were really horrified; they cried until they were on board. Their father told me that the most pathetic moments where those when kids were going upstairs the airplane! Once they were in they believed their parents.

—Prof. Abdelwahed, Department of English, Faculty of Arts & Humanities,Al-Azhar University of Gaza, Gaza is phoenix in burning flame


STUDENT PHOTOS (click photo for enlargement):

Photos by Samah Ahmad

Photos by Rana Baker


Photos by Omar Shala


Photos by Meslah Ashram

Photos by Lina Abd Latif


Photos by Khaled El Rayyes


Photos by Hesham Mhanna


Photos by Abd Nassla


Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

My photo workshops in the United States

My teaching philosophy

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TODAY: I dedicate this blog entry to the release of colleague, Vittorio Arrigoni, a journalist and human rights defender working in the Gaza Strip, who was kidnapped by Salafists, members of a very small extremist group in Gaza.


UPDATE: He’s been murdered, allegedly by members of a Palestinian Islamic splinter group in Gaza. However, questions remain: who benefits from his death, why was he killed hours before the deadline, and why Vittorio?

Testimonial from Jeff Halper

Vittorio on the right, with Adie Mormech of the International Solidarity Movement, during a meeting with farmers in the eastern buffer zone

Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.


The ultimate wisdom of the photographic image is to say: “There is the surface. Now think—or rather feel, intuit—what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way.”

—Susan Sontag

December 7, 2010, Tuesday, Gaza City, my apartment in Rimal

Yesterday people were very late to the photo workshop, #4 in the 8 part series, despite our new policy [We look only at the photos of those who show up first. Late? Too bad, can’t review your photos.]. 10 AM, start time, no one there. I looked out the window and saw one young man languidly entering the lower entryway, slowly making his way to class. He arrived at about 10:10. He was not one of those with adequate English. This could be a problem. Let’s start, I said, what do you have to show us? Student #2 walked in at about 10:15, another without much English. Luckily student #1 had some good photos from our trip last week to the crafts village, but wished to show us something else, some location, also very good architectural photos. I commented but without translation so there is no knowing how much came or went thru.

~~There were to be 2 more paragraphs continuing this story but MS Word froze, as it’s been doing off and on during this trip. I lost the paragraphs. Are they recoverable thru my personal memory? Let’s give it a whirl. But remember: save more often!~~

By 10:30 all of the 7 of the regulars (out of the initial 12) eventually appeared. Including Ahmed and M, 2 of the more involved and vocal students, along with R. No H today: can’t make it in, sorry, he texted me.

Despite the upsetting beginning—I had begun ruminating, has the workshop collapsed? How are we to make the movie about me teaching if I have no students?—the session turned out very well indeed. R said later, this session was amazing. We discussed beauty along with beauty and horror mixed, depth of focus (only a beginning, more on this next time), backlighting (ditto), showing one’s political and social reality, independent projects, portraiture (the main theme of the morning), exemplary portraits from Dorothea Lange (Migrant Mother with the story of Dorothea’s persistence which resulted in making her fine iconic photo—which none present had ever seen or heard about, a completely different cultural context) and W. Eugene Smith (from his Minimata series, mother and daughter in a tub, resembling the pieta which also was new to my students), and other related matters. Much energy this morning, I felt, even tho all were tardy.

Later from Islam I learned about cases of absentees—Sharek Youth Forum closed by Hamas, schedule conflicts, illness, without anyone admitting the workshop was not to their tastes, or too hard, or too soft, or just not right thing at the right moment. This is the first time I’ve gotten such feedback. And it is because of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program’s IT officer Islam’s devotion to the program. A stellar man.

To the mina, or port, which seemed to excite everyone. Rain had fallen that morning, the first rain of the season. I’d tried photographing and videoing it outside on the my home plaza. Stills failed, motion worked. And I showed both to the students, with the challenge of how can you show rain with stills, and, beyond that, show the first rain of the season? Key questions, I believe, that shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of the photographic medium. These themes, water, rain, challenges, might have helped inspire the field trip. 2 exercises (or 3 if I count the awareness exercise): cardinal direction awareness, in place, one of the 4 directions at a time, scan from low to high, repeat; followed by find a location, make at least 10 different photos from that one spot (I chose the new construction, showing lots of cement and a crane, very unusual for Gaza), and one frame, multiple moments for an emphasis on time (I chose flapping fabric as an illustration, doing this in 2 different locations).

New fishers’ shacks

The sky added to the thrill of the trip, large, roiling, scurrying clouds covered the entire sky. And receded as we worked, always varied, always wondrous. We were well positioned—coastal—to view the entire sky.

We concluded at the breakwater where other students had discovered the huge breaking waves. Here we romped, as if kids, playing, having fun, dodging the water (several were doused). We photographed each other photographing each other and the sea. The port is archetypal for Gazans—its freedom primarily, and the blockage of freedom, knowing the fishing industry, once thriving, is for now dormant, ruined. A complex mixture of joy and sorrow.

Skip Schiel, photo by Mesleh Al Ashram

A personal gain was discovering two men in one of the fisher shacks. I’d noticed a cat eating the remains of a fish dinner. Thinking I was alone—I’d seen no one else in this extensive series of shacks, thought they were all abandoned, perhaps people waiting for the opening of a new set which I also photographed—I spoke gently to the cat. Then I heard soft talking from the other side of the wall. Someone was there. They probably heard me. I looked around, said marhaba, continued on, heard one man say, chai?

Initially I declined, walked on, then thought, hey guy, this is an invite, not only for tea but possibly for photos. So I sat with them a while, drank the tea (la sukkar-no sugar), and was surprised when the host pointed at his friend and my camera, indicating, make a photo of him. Friend demurred, so, miming, I asked the host if he’d allow a photo of himself and off we went. Merrily along with the fishers.

At the end of this session I felt relieved, energized, happy. Truly mubsut-happy. If only they’d show up on time, if only everyone would attend, if only they’d do the assignments, if only, if only. Why worry, revel in the moment instead.

A powerful update from Y about life in Oakland, filled with trauma—and I thought I had a hard life in Gaza!—and the beginning of winter. Plus one dream that I can recall, in a night of solid dreaming:

I was lecturing a group of Gazans, young adults, maybe in a university setting. Our main theme was cross cultural differences, or intercultural understanding. I used the idea of meals as a reference point, breakfast in particular. I joked with them about the words in English and Arabic that describe the same items. The lecture was extremely interactive. It was going well until I noticed a young man, resembling Ibrahem G who in real life I’d met a few days ago while walking to the souk (market), who’s been incessantly phoning me and then because of our language differences discovers I am not very communicative with him, nor warm to meeting him again. He asks me, in the most broken English, where are you, at the katiba (parade grounds)? Where are you!? I tell him I’m home working and busy. I am sure he wants to meet—but to what point? I hate being so distant but it reflects our painful reality. I believe my dream last night reflects my dilemma about Ibrahem, wishing to be close, finding it impossible. Unless of course one of us studied the language of the other.

So an “Ibrahem” type character was in my dream, joking with a male friend, and visibly not paying attention to the lecture and dialog. He was rattling me, distracting me from the event. I just wish you’d go away, is what I thought—and didn’t utter.

Despite his interruption, I carried on. The dream ended as we produced a form of chorus, not using words, but sighs. All together now, sigh.

~~Power off. Kaput. Just off. Computer continues for awhile on battery power, but because my battery is old and feeble I doubt if I have even 2 hours remaining. Plus Internet is gone, since the router is off and there is no neighborhood network I can access. Woe is me. Let’s see how long until power resumes. It is now 7:12 AM. I will open my shutters and let in the faint light of the cloudy morning. Yesterday at the office power was also out. But the generator worked immediately this time and my workshop was not impeded.~~



As an example of the work done by people such as Vittorio Arrigoni and other International Solidarity Movement workers under the direction of local Palestinian leaders, my blog about a buffer zone demonstration in Gaza

Blog: El Mina—part 1

Photos: El Mina—part 1

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Beit Hanoun

Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.


Be a haven for the distressed,
Be a defender for the victim of oppression,
Be a home for the stranger,
Be a balm to the sufferer,
Be a tower to the fugitive.

—Iranian (Thanks to Carrie and John Schuchardt)

December 15, 2010, Wednesday, Gaza City, my apartment in the Rimal neighborhood

Omsyat Awaja

One unpredictable part of yesterday [December 14, 2010] was meeting Omsayat Awaja, a young woman who’d traveled to Poland with Raghda last year. I was able to confirm with her, on video, that indeed, the story Raghda told me that I’ve endlessly repeated whenever possible is true: afraid to be happy. She may have added one detail that I’d missed: afraid our happiness would end once we returned to Gaza. This woman, maybe high school age, was carrying an infant. I’m not sure it was hers.

She lived in a tent complex with her mother and siblings. Her tent, unlike most of the others we visited—and this is 2 years after the destruction of their homes by Israel during Operation Cast Lead, the vicious assault harming mostly civilians—was neat and clean. She had a computer but the power was out so she couldn’t show us her Poland photos.

Writing this, belatedly, I am thinking I should have asked her email address and asked if she’d send me some of those photos. Or Raghda might have them. This might add to the story.

During the first of 2 visits in this area to people still living in tents, the thought occurred to me: this would be a good place to donate money. Back in the States before leaving on this trip, Phil had given me all the cash he had at the moment, $1, with the admonition to donate it to people or organizations in Gaza and ask for a receipt. This follows the Jewish tradition that Marty introduced me to many years ago: god will protect me until I’ve completed a commission someone has laid on me. I expanded this idea with the  Airlift to Gaza notion [linked below]. And thought, why not assume at least a few people will donate to the option I listed, to me as a trusted vehicle, so I in turn can donate to overlooked individuals and organizations? I expanded the sum from 3.6 shekels (the local currency equivalent of the $1 Phil gave me) to 80 shekels, or about $50, 40 shekels to each of 2 families.

Omsyat’s mother and brother

Her brother, wantonly murdered during the Israeli invasion and slaughter
of Operation Cast Lead, January 2009

This had to be finessed. I discussed the idea with Adham, my movie director in Gaza, and Hesham, the soundman, first. Don’t embarrass anyone, give it privately, they told me. Don’t do it on camera because the Islamic tradition is to give without receiving publicity—don’t let the right hand know what the left is doing, a traditional Islamic adage.  I believe part of the discussion was recorded, but not the actual donation of money.

I’m not sure how to write about this to my Levant list. I could write, thanks to an anonymous donor responding to my Airlift appeal, I’ve donated such and such to 2 families living in tents. The young woman who’d visited Poland will use it to buy a new pair of shoes, much needed.

December 16, 2010, Thursday, Gaza City, my apartment in Rimal

Two weeks remain on this journey. We are about 1/2 way thru the movie project, and I have ample time to do more photography. If only the leads materialize. Key among them: John Ging, the director of UNRWA (UN Relief & Works Agency), maybe OCHA (UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), Friends of the Earth Middle East project in the south of Gaza, the Maia water project at MECA (Middle East Children’s Alliance), mentally ill people thru Ted and Marwan, children with psychological damage thru Marwan and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, something more with Dr. Mona Al Farra, and various other ideas. I’ve not dealt at all with the expatriates theme, or much about extremism. [I completed about half of this list.]

With 2 weeks to go. 4 weeks running.

Today [December 16, 2010]: all day video and photograph in the south—Rafah crossing, commercial borders, sewage and water, Quaker Palestine Youth Program partners and coaches, refugee camp, etc; tonight celebrate.

Who is giving the gift to whom?

Sick child

Here’s how Adham put it in an email to me:

We meet at 8 o’clock in the morning at Skip’s house, then we go in Gaza City to meet  Mohamed Abutyoor to film him talking about his brother who was killed during Operation Cast Lead, I found that his brother killed in Gaza not in Rafah as we thought.

After that we go to Palestinian fishermen, Gaza valley, Mawasi area, an empty space indicating the siege affect on agricultural sector.

We continue to Rafah border and tunnels, Yabous Association, partner of AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), Rachel Corrie where she was killed, clean water station in Khan Younis and finally vehicles at the border…

Much to do…



Airlift to Gaza

One Family in Gaza, a video by Jen Marlowe (about the family I write about above and photographed)

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