Germany’s Open Door Policy (padlocked)*

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A few days ago the New York Times published an article about the German pavilion at the Venice Architectural Biennale. This year the theme was Germany’s open borders; its heartfelt welcome to refugees; and consequent social changes. You may read it here. The exhibition represents open borders by cutting openings into its building. The pavilion’s website provides access to a database of projects for housing the new refugees who are pouring into the country in record numbers. Yet the reviewer notices that “Absent from the database are the voices of refugees or meaningful consideration of what it feels like to live in these spaces, something the curators acknowledge, but attribute partly to the fast-changing situation on the ground.”

The problem of housing the refugees, providing them with a permanent status and a way to seek work and education did not begin with the present crisis, however, as the curators of the Biennale well knew. The country is already crowded with thousands of refugees immobilized by bureaucracy, prevented from working, and isolated from society in facilities that the refugees refer to with the loaded German term “Lager.”

In the pavilion, you will find a selection of photographs by Stefanie Schulz, a young photographer with whom I had the honor of sharing an exhibition, “The Waiting Rooms of History.” The exhibition, at the Kunstverein Paderborn, is open until June 6, 2016. For a year, Stefanie followed refugees in a camp at Lebach. Originally intended as a first admittance facility for brief sojourns of a few months, the camp instead devolved into a long-term residence where some refugees have spent as much as fourteen years. Those who were born here are growing up knowing no other home. While her intimate portraits (you may view some here), do not substitute for voices from refugees themselves, they offer a glimpse into lives in stasis and contradict the idealized vision of Germany’s open arms and heart cherished by many on my side of the Atlantic. Her title “Duldung” means “tolerated” with the connotation of “but just barely,” or “endured.” It is the official status inscribed on refugee’s identity cards until they acquire permanent status – if they do. The feeling goes both ways. The refugees barely tolerate the stasis in which they are forced to live. Duldung is better than nicht geduldet (not tolerated), but in no way does the term mean “welcome.”

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Oranienplatz. No remnants of the demonstration remain today.

I visited a refugee in Berlin who has lived for more than three years in a facility in an abandoned school. In 2012, refugee activists themselves occupied the Oranienplatz, a square in the Kreuzberg neighborhood in central Berlin, where they camped out in tents and then wooden huts. The activists were eventually evicted from Oranienplatz; the tents demolished. The activist artist group Bewegung Nurr, built “the house with 28 doors,” a gathering place and resource center. Activists continued to meet there until March, 2015, when arsonists burnt it down.

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Late in 2012, some of the activists occupied the nearby Gerhardt Hauptmann School on Ohlauer Strasse. The plan was to live there and create a refugee center with facilities for workshops in music, theater and crafts. The refugees demanded access to German lessons, the job market, and education as well as an increased period of “Duldung.” There were several attempts to evict them and many left. But the refugees remaining in the school ultimately won a court order allowing them to stay and for now they remain.

Only residents may enter and leave the building. The ritual of locking and unlocking is repeated interminably. The guard rises from a chair

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or leaves the guardhouse

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unlocks the gate, locks it up again, and returns to his place.

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The rationale for the guards and the padlock is that they protect the residents from skinheads who would break in and attack them. They also protect the residents from visits by journalists, educators, and friends.

The police were adept at dodging the camera. If I return long enough to become better acquainted I will photograph the resident activist I met there.

But for now, a portrait of a wary padlock will have to do.

All photographs and texts © Margaret Olin, 2016.

 

20160525-IMG_5949-2crp*Thanks to Gregor Wendler for introducing me to the  Ohlauer Schule, Oranienplatz and other significant sites for refugees in Kreuzberg.

A Birthright Trip for Photographers? “This Place” at the Brooklyn Museum

I owe the comparison with Birthright to Abby Glogower, so this post is for Abby.

“I came to think that there was something very special in this land that a lot of people recognized and wanted to claim for their own.” Stephen Shore, about his contribution to This Place

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A pro-Palestinian, anti-gentrification protest. The protestors are standing in front of a projected photograph by Josef Koudelka, in the exhibition This Place, Brooklyn Museum, May 7, 2016.

It’s all about the land. The same land visited by young Jewish men and women in free trips organized by Taglit-Birthright with an eye to giving them a closer connection to that land and encouraging them to marry other Jews. Similarly, the project This Place brought twelve world-famous photographers to Israel and the West Bank for extended periods to offer them a chance to forge a visual relationship to “this historic and contested place.” The hope was that they would portray Israel in a “universalizing” way and transcend the “polarizing perceptions and familiar images of the region in the mainstream media.”

The introductory text on the opening wall of the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition This Place did offer a comparison, but not to Taglit. The text states that this project, spearheaded by Frédéric Brenner, rivals the photographic project of the Farm Security Administration, an undertaking of the United States government during the Great Depression, and the Mission photogtraphique de la DATAR, a French documentation of the French countryside in the 1980s. The differences here, according to the same wall label, are that This Place was privately funded, not publicly, and that its photographers were foreign, not Israeli. On the face of it this comparison is ambitious: I won’t speak to the French project, but the Library of Congress has put 167,000 Farm Security images on line.

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Frédéric Brenner, organizer of This Place, exhibited his own photographs in the exhibition along with those of the famous photographers whom he recruited for the project.

It might seem superfluous to enumerate the differences between it and This Place, but here are some anyway. Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, photographers of Roy Stryker’s project, were in their thirties or even younger, much of their famous work still ahead of them. They came to document poverty amid an economic crisis in their own country. The photographers that Brenner has gathered are all well established; most are in their sixties, seventies, even eighties. They were not brought in to document a crisis, although one certainly existed and most of them wanted to see its effects. Brenner had to be persuaded to allow them to visit the West Bank as part of the project; he wished them to avoid politics. Several of them touched on it only obliquely. Certainly they did not come as part of a New-Deal-like effort to combat rural poverty and inequality out of a commitment to social reform. No Migrant Mother can be found in the exhibition, and although part of the bargain with each photographer included the publication of a book, no Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is likely to emerge.

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Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936.

 

The photographers of This Place were strangers come for extended, but still limited times. The question, what can a stranger’s eye hope to illuminate in this situation, applies to me as well in my own ongoing project, and this is the light in which I see and worry about This Place.

 

 

 

 

 

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Photographs by Thomas Struth in the exhibition “This Place,” Brooklyn Museum.

Some of these photographers are my favorites, but their contributions to this exhibition are not my favorite work. Thomas Struth was well aware of the ethical situation in which he was enmeshed. His almost surreal look at the settlement Har Homa is perhaps the classic image of that terrible place. But within the framework of the exhibition it is little more than an example of one of his classic genres, along with others: monumental street photography made with a view camera, family portraits, cityscapes and landscapes.

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Josef Koudelka sought to portray Israel’s “security wall” as a force for the destruction of the environment. I appreciate Koudelka’s attention to the way in which the wall affects the landscape and I take his concern seriously. Yet his work, beautiful here as always, in the main shows me what I have already seen and photographed. Murals in the Aida camp, for example, the way the “separation” wall loops through the landscape, swooping to enclose a bit of land in a greedy fist, and the barbed wire that stretches and curves everywhere in the world, but for some reason, is almost irresistible to photograph here. All these subjects immediately strike my eye.

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Protesters in the exhibition This Place

But I could never have duplicated Faisal Sheikh’s series Desert Bloom. It sent me back to my own photographs to look at their subjects differently. He arranged his photographed traces of Beduin villages in the Negev, taken from the air, in a tile like grid format on one wall of the exhibit. I have no interest in making areal photographs; it is too important to me to stay down on earth among people. Yet I could not tear myself away from them.

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Demonstrators near the installation of Desert Bloom by Faisal Sheikh

The unremittingly pale brown, washed out beauty of these desert tiles pulled me in. Subtle deviations in the ground are indications of cataclysmic changes. They signify the nearly effaced suggestions of the people who once lived there. The ominous feel of the title, “desert bloom” alludes to Ben Gurion’s call to the Jewish people to “make the desert bloom.” Here the “bloom” looks less like fertility than like the cruel beauty that keeps a desert from sustaining life.

20160507-IMG_5872lvlcrpOnce I have looked at these distanced photographs, oddly similar to Alan Cohen’s photographs of boundaries in close-up, I can no longer see the ground in the same way again.

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Alan Cohen, Gila River Indian Reservation, 2004. From Lines of Authority

 

Sheikh has provided ample reading material to explain the subtle clues to large changes that have taken place in the land. I look for images like those that Sheik has photographed from far away but writ large that will explain for me patterns of dispossession and camouflage and the sheer effort to go on in the face of them.

 

 

 

 

I wonder what areal views of green strips of land might look like where Palestinians and their sheep are not allowed.

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A Ta’ayush action, 24 March, 2015, South Hebron Hills. For more, look here

I wonder also about areal views of green strips of land where only Palestinians and their livestock are allowed.

 

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From above, volunteers from Ta’ayush accompany a Palestinian grazing his sheep to protect them from nearby settlers. Israelis and, I was told, anyone eligible to become one are prohibited from descending into the valley. Soldiers ensure that we obey the rule.

Can you see isolated solar panels from the air?  abandoned fences and poles and destroyed houses?

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This Place, with photographs by Thomas Struth, Frédéric Brenner, Josef Koudelka

How does an exhibition with well-intentioned photographers fail to attain the complexity to which it aspires? The curators may have something to do with it. The calm, cold beauty, the isolated photographs, the laconic captions with little or inadequate explanations. Jeff Wall’s photograph of Beduins sleeping near a prison in the Negev desert, “where this traditionally nomadic Arab people has lived for centuries.” What exactly does he know, assume, about their centuries-long Nomadic life? Have they always lived in the Negev? What does it mean to be a nomad? Did they always sleep outside on the ground covered only with blankets? Wall himself explains, in an interview, that he sees and photographs in a bubble, but that the photograph “knows” more than he does. I am with him this far, but not when he goes on to say that he can detach the social conditions of the work from its aesthetics.

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Photographs of people Rosalind Fox Solomon met while traveling on commuter buses in Israel and the West Bank.

Sometimes there is no explanation at all.

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Stephen Shore, Nabi Musa, 2010

In an effort to bring to light some of what the photographs, if not the photographers might “know,” demonstrators on Saturday supplied new captions for Stephen Shore’s landscape photographs of “this land that a lot of people want to claim for their own.”

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Photographs by participants in workshops run by photographer Wendy Ewald in Palestine and Israel. What do the explanations say? A line on the floor discourages visitors from finding out.

There are other strategies. The small photographs taken by Wendy Ewald’s workshop participants are arranged on shelves. Wall copy is also arranged on shelves, but viewers cannot come close enough either to the photographs or to the written explanations to examine them and perhaps have their assumptions challenged.

The exhibition strives for complexity but what is complexity? For the most part it seems to suggest that complexity is even handedness. Once one side occupies the other, however, it is impossible to deal an even hand. Similarly, complexity is not universality. To universalize tends to normalize the unacceptable. Complexity demands a degree of nuance that some of these photographs possess but that the framework keeps hidden. All of the photographs “know” more than their photographers, just as my own photographs “know” more than I do. But the neutrality of the installation mutes this knowledge.

The private funding does, too. That the organizations and individuals that funded This Place are not governmental entities means that the organizers did not have to confront the cultural boycott advocated by BDS, the movement that uses cultural boycotts among other strategies to force an end to the occupation. But all the same the funders for the most part fund Zionist organizations; some of them funnel money to settlements and even the Israeli military. None of them fund initiatives to help Palestine or Palestinians. The exhibition itself, which prefers the term “West Bank” to “Palestine,” has tamed its subject.

Perhaps the funders of Taglit-Birthright felt some kinship between This Place and the mission of the Birthright trip to tie young Jews to the land and to one another. The co-founder of Taglit and several of its donors are among the organizations funding This Place. But sometimes a Birthright trip backfires. A young birthrighter may come to see the agonizing contradictions between the framing narrative of the trip and the intolerable ethical situation that confronts any visitor whose Jewish education taught her to regard ethical responsibility as its basis. If so, she might leave feeling that she has been used, and these photographers should do the same.

and one more thing: The demonstration on Saturday, May 6, yoked two protests together, a pro-Palestinian protest aimed at exposing the ideological “neutrality” of This Place and  another that targeted the museum’s role in gentrification through pandering to real-estate moguls on its board. For that protest, the demonstrators targeted an exhibit, Agitprop, about the use of art for social justice.

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Interactivity was built into the exhibition Agitprop

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It also featured numerous protest videos.

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Here, museum security closes Agitprop to actual demonstrators.

if not otherwise identified, all photographs and texts © Margaret Olin, 2016.

 

 

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Women, Tents, Energy, Caves: The Rural Women Association and Comet-ME

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“Do you teach about this at your university? Do you teach about our lives here?” asks Fatma Nawaja as she prepares for a meeting of the Rural Women Association.

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“I’m not qualified to teach about your lives. I can make a few photographs, perhaps of baking . . .

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or the pigeon roost.”

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“But I would rather photograph your meeting.”

On March 15, 2016, eleven women converge on a tent in Susiya from four scattered villages in the South Hebron Hills. They are determined, Fatma says, to develop the necessary financial and educational resources to achieve autonomy. As she uses the word,  “Autonomy” means individual  advancement toward a collective aim. An autonomous  woman is able to take responsibility in the family and contribute to its support.

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Working together, the women have instituted workshops, school activities and summer camps, but their most important achievement may be that they are meeting at all.

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The association is a new idea and it is not easy to arrange the meetings. Were transportation available, more members from more villages could attend. Today the group comes from four of them: Susiya, Al Mufaqarah and Umm al-Khair, all tent villages, and at-Tuwani, home to the high school and two NGOs. The treasurer of the group, Naima, is from the Beduin village Umm al-Khair. Support for the group comes from small annual dues and donations.

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Of these towns (and several others), at-Tuwani is the only one that can be found on google maps. The “Susiya” on the map is not the village where we are meeting but the Israeli settlement that took part of the village’s land and all of its  name. The archaeological site (see “ancient synagogue”) marks the place where the town was located before the residents were expelled in 1986 to create the archaeological park. The former residents constructed a village on some of their remaining farmland between the two locations named “Susiya.” They have been expelled several times from this location also.  According to Wikipedia, Umm al-Khair is located at 31°25′29.60″N 35°11′46.41″E.

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The Oslo accords placed these villages in “area C,” under Israeli control, and the authorities have refused the residents permission to construct permanent buildings. In the past few months, the civil administration has carried out several demolitions . Since this meeting, too, it has destroyed a number of structures in Um al Khair. I am told that a demolition order is also pending against a memorial erected at the entrance to Susyia in memory of a Palestinian baby burned to death in his home last year by settlers in Duma.

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Naima reports on the group’s financial condition

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The women discuss the development of their  website  – it is unfinished but it lists many of their current and planned initiatives.  Many of them center on education.  English lessons for example are scarce, expensive, and crucial.

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School is another topic. They have been helping children who are struggling, but the school needs trained social workers. Recently one of the woman offered a workshop to children to help them recognize explosives so that the children will stop picking them up on the way to school.

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Economic issues are another topic. Many of the women engage in crafts.

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They sell their wares at fairs and at their embroidery shop in a cave in Susiya. You can see the interior in a previous post here.

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A workshop on techniques for making yogurt and machinery and the skills to spin wool professionally come up in conversation.  Wool from the sheep in the villages tends to go to waste in the summer.

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Dreams and energy fill the room – including the energy without which the meeting would have been next to impossible. The Israeli government sponsors power lines for Israeli settlements; these bypass the Palestinian villages. But an NGO, Community Energy Technology (Comet-ME), has for some years provided renewable technology to these communities and the expertise to maintain it.

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COMET’s office is in a pre-existing building but the added roof over the terrace is subject to demolition. Hence their workshops are in caves:

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There a staff that includes Israelis and local residents makes solar panels, wind turbines and water filtration systems for tent villages in South Hebron.

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The energy also powers television sets in Susiya. There, a mother and her six children can watch Bollywood films at bedtime with their overnight guest after a day that began before dawn.

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text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2016

*For information about how to donate to the Rural Women's Association
click here; for Comet-ME, click here.

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Unlocking the Eruv: Asfar, 12 March 2016

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Photographs tend to personalize, not to visualize, as is the nature of microcosms. It is hard to avoid the temptation to focus a camera on the lone child standing beside one ruined house rather than on the systematic character of land appropriation as seen in borders and structures and other visual signs that articulate land through materials and shapes.

On this day the microcosm is a micro victory: The members of a Palestinian family were too afraid for years to enter their land next to the Israeli settlement Metzad (Asfar). But they realized that visual signs of neglect on the land could eventually lead to a declaration of abandonment followed by confiscation. They decided to risk returning.

20160312-IMG_0271lvlcrvcrpWith the promise of support from Israeli activists from the organization Ta’ayush who accompany them, they began to tend their land again. Last week, they made their micro victory visible. From a thicket of dense bushes they trimmed away years of neglect, first with a power hedge trimmer and then with more delicate clippers. 20160312-IMG_0199lvlcrv

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Watchers and learners helped make or gazed through piles of trimmed branches – – farmer’s child, volunteers, and soldiers from the civil administration

 

 

 

 

 

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and the shape of an orchard began to emerge like a statue freed from a block of marble.

20160312-IMG_0269lvlcrvThe land bears other marks of changing borders: barbed wire and the remains of fence posts

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20160312-IMG_0193lvlcrvcrp2flt And abandoned eruv poles. An eruv is a symbolic courtyard used by orthodox Jews. You may read a previous post about eruvin here or familiarize yourself with them visually here. For one day each week, Shabbat, an eruv turns a neighborhood encompassing many private dwellings into one shared home for anyone who lives there and wishes to take part. The transformation allows its inhabitants to carry things (a prayer book, a meal, a key or handkerchief) from their private homes into the public space and throughout the eruv, an activity otherwise forbidden on that day. For some people, Shabbat would be a somber affair without an eruv. To construct one involves a complex series of rules originating in a notoriously difficult Talmudic tractate devoted to the subject. In South Hebron, as in Israel, characteristic eruv poles connected by strings or wires high above the ground usually mark the “walls” of the shared home. People who do not need an eruv may never notice it, and often something must be attached to the line to make it even faintly visible to those who do. Yet the owners of the land through which the eruv runs, whether users of the eruv or not, must give permission for the boundary markers through their own authorities.

When I first heard of the eruv I thought it beautiful, a subtle way to mark space that makes community while acknowledging others among whom one lives.

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an eruv line in New York City

Yet when I first visited South Hebron two years ago, I immediately noticed differences in the eruvin. Eruv lines extend for miles through what appears to be wilderness, through farmland and uninhabited areas where I thought eruvin were not supposed to go.

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In these settlements, or rather near them, an eruv helps create facts on the ground that can, like untended olive trees, encourage dispossession. I knew that it would be just a matter of time before I would cross an eruv line and have to show a passport. It happened sooner than I thought it would, about a year ago near the settlement Mitzpe Yair, not far from which some of these photographs were taken, as I passed  under the eruv shown in the photograph below.

5-10-20150321-IMG_5411-lvlcrvdistflt.jpgAn eruv is a sensitive border. Its movements, in relation to utility poles that it parallels and which tower above it, to barbed wire fences along which it runs; and to the movements of shepherds and the civil administration, articulate the land. 20160317-IMG_0844lvlcrvcrp

When the land changes, the poles are abandoned.

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Or they are abandoned because the symbolic walls are replaced with real ones

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The new, agressive significance of the eruv is well understood. When, in a rare move, the civil administration demolished a settlement building, it also uprooted and broke the eruv poles used to claim the land around the building.

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A few meters away settlers had uprooted olive trees.

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The day at Asfar ended badly. Fortunately the new walls and fences, if not the defunct barbed wire and eruv poles, kept the  young settlers far enough away to give us time to escape the heavy, slow moving rocks with which they celebrated Shabbat. 20160312-IMG_0358lvlcrv

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Later they taunted us

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while police and civil authorities ignored our complaints. You can watch the incident in Guy Butavia’s video here.

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We only hope that the farmers, who fled with their frightened three-year-old child, will return again.

In the long run, the most important spatial articulation involves stark juxtapositions like this one

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Susiya, a tent village under the eyes of the Israeli settlement of the same name

between a neat red-roofed Israeli settlement on the hill and a poor village of tents below. The authorities, after evicting the residents of Susiya years ago from their historic village, will not issue a permit for a single permanent structure in the village that the farmers reconstituted on their lands. If villagers look up they see a settlement and beyond that the huge power lines that service it. Perhaps they see the eruv lines. What do the settlers see when they look down?

Here the eruv allows residents to live against, rather than with, other people, and some residents make use of its blessings to carry, and to throw, rocks.

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text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2016

 

Ezra Nawi, Ta’ayush, and 30 seconds of video

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Ezra Nawi, May 31, 2014

“Just as they film, so we film as well”

 

How powerful is a photographic medium? In Israel, thirty seconds of it is enough to arrest a man and keep him incommunicado for days without access to his lawyer. Enough to prompt from the Prime Minister a vicious condemnation of those who would hide behind the hypocrisy of “caring for human rights,” and, from the Defense Minister and the Education Minister, even more extreme attacks against human rights organizations. At best, there are calls for the “moral left” to repudiate the man who is under arrest, to condemn him without a trial, as well as “to thank the two journalists for their courageous, professional work.” You can read this piece by Ari Shavit here. The officials posted their remarks on their respective Facebook pages.

So: how powerful is a photographic medium? The question has occupied me for a few decades. Most recently, on-and-off over the last year and a half, I have been using my own camera to investigate how human rights groups in Israel use their cameras. One especially has absorbed my attention, the group Ta’ayush, a rather small all-volunteer organization that works through legal channels to win back land stolen from Palestinians in South Hebron and prevent further robberies and demolitions. On Saturdays members accompany Palestinians to their lands to protect them from settler violence while they plow, graze their sheep, plant and harvest crops. Their cameras are always in action. You can see some of my results and a few of my anxieties in past posts on this blog. Their work is heartbreaking but still manages to inspire hope. To me the group means far more than an academic exercise.

But my epigram is not from my own research. It is a translation of some of the first spoken words in an incriminating half hour video that appeared on January 7 on Uvda, a major Israeli investigative news program. Author of the report is Omri Assenheim, an award-winning journalist. The report is about two members of a far right organization – Ad Kan – who “infiltrated” Ta’ayush, filmed its activities, and zeroed in on its most loud-mouthed member. The two, a young man and his girlfriend, eventually succeeded in goading him into saying something outrageous. He said that he hands over “them” (we eventually find out that “them” means Palestinians who sell land to Israelis) to the Palestinian Authority. The infiltrator asks him what happens to the people after that, and he answers that the Authority kills them, after first subjecting them to beatings. There are many problems with facts in the video, and some good commentary on the film points them out.  In English I recommend David Shulman’s report here. You might also read the report in Haaretz by Amira Hass here. I will add only that I know Ezra Nawi through Ta’ayush and while he might say anything at all, he would never knowingly send anyone to his/her death. Indeed this case is no exception.

Here I want to concentrate on the video itself. When I first saw it I found it hard to imagine that anyone could take it seriously; it has all the hallmarks of a hack job, a video tabloid. Clips taken on different days are bunched together randomly and accompanied by scare music and voice-over narration that romanticizes the investigators. Images of Ad Kan members setting up their cameras are interspersed with those of scary-looking Ta’ayush volunteers. There is a faint possibility that one of those alarming “lefties” hiding behind a camera could be this writer, a not-very frightening aging scholar like several other members of Ta’ayush. The founder of Ad Kan says he was horrified to hear a few such people make demeaning remarks, right in front of a young soldier, about his failure to remember the values he must have been taught in high school. The identities of the moles are hidden. The young woman’s face is blacked out in an interview, but not before we are treated to a tantalizing silhouette of her slim body in profile as she tosses back her long silky hair. I have seen many similar videos, some, for example, from anti-abortion groups in the United States seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood. The word “heavily edited” was on everyone’s lips concerning these videos, but other methods are often used to enhance such editing. Shooting so as to conceal the lips of the speaker for example, can hide the cuts that leave out words central to the speaker’s intentions. Most of the planned-parenthood videos are far more subdued than this sensationalized video by Uvda, however. While watching it eyes roll. At least they should.

The crux of the video from Uvda centers on Nawi. There is a good deal of discussion of a putative land sale by a Palestinian who, we are given to understand, Nawi wishes to lead into a trap. But perhaps the decisive moment takes place in a car, in footage made with a hidden camera and first aired two minutes into the program. There, in less than 30 seconds, Nawi makes the above-mentioned incriminating remarks. The visuals are terrible. It is impossible to see him as he talks. Lights flash twice in the middle, blotting out everything.

But this is just a teaser toward the beginning of the program. The same conversation reappears twenty minutes later in the course of a longer discussion of the deal with the Palestinian selling land.

Or rather, the same audio reappears, but the video is different. This new video, also in the car, has a different time stamp about 15 minutes later than the first one. Or perhaps it was taken on a different day altogether, since there is only a time stamp and no date stamp on the first video. The camera angle is different. A paper in the foreground on the first run-through has mysteriously vanished and there are no blinding flashes. Only in the later video does Nawi wear sunglasses. In the middle of this new video, after Nawi says that he turns people over to the Palestinian Authority, but before he is asked what happens to such people next, there is a cut, and suddenly the time stamp registers a six-minute long gap. Were there two – or three – hidden cameras? I doubt it. Did Nawi repeat the same words with exactly the same inflection after fifteen minutes, then after another six minutes, or on other occasions altogether? I doubt that as well. Only the speaker, whose mouth is invisible in both versions, connects the visuals. At the end of the new 30-second clip you can finally glimpse his mouth and it is smiling. Is Ezra’s “vicious smile” (in the words of the Jewish Press) the reason that the conversation was attached to these visuals and not to others?

Why does the altered video matter? Am I acting like an academic book reviewer who discredits someone’s hard-won argument because of a misplaced comma or a typo? I don’t think so. At best the discrepancy reveals sloppiness in the television producers and at least one place where the video takes words out of context. We should consider the possibility that there may well be more. The incriminating words could have been spliced into the program at nearly any point. Perhaps this thirty seconds is indicative of the false premises on which the entire thirty minutes were constructed.

On this basis, a man has been subjected to death threats and then arrested. Worse, all human rights groups and especially Ta’ayush are immediately drawn in and subject to wholesale condemnation although there is no suggestion that they had anything to do with the land deal. And this at a moment when the government is in the midst of a campaign against them. As I write, Ezra Nawi is about to come before a judge. His guilt or innocence or whether he is charged at all will presumably be decided without the help of this doctored video. I hope he is released unharmed and soon, but whatever happens, it should not affect the work of Israeli human rights organizations. Any Jerusalem resident reading this might consider accompanying Ta’ayush to South Hebron one Saturday.

*since I wrote this, two more arrests have been made; two more dedicated activists are held behind bars with no access to lawyers, no formal charges, and their names under a gag order.

Thanks to Yagil Eliraz for assistance with Hebrew.

Text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015Project20140531_0532-crp2

 

 

 

 

book marks: a digression

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for Kate Wolff

As a newly minted PhD in the 1980s, I wrote a rather surly review of a monograph published in 1984 about the famous Bauhaus-trained graphic designer Herbert Bayer (1900-1985). Most of it I dismissed as hagiography and much of the rest as meaningless mumbo jumbo about Bayer’s engagement in “sustained investigation of the means by which intimate nature, monumental nature, and ultimately celestial nature can be made the apposite to human finitude.” I accused the author of depicting the great designer “as a mystical, pantheistic painter who designed on the side,” the escalation of a deplorable tendency to fetishize artists of the German Bauhaus.

The monograph’s author was a publisher and expert on typography who had assembled a wonderful portfolio of typographic design, The Avant Garde in Print, a copy of which was a cherished possession of a calligrapher friend of mine. But another friend who read my review, a Phd candidate in the University of Chicago Divinity School, informed me that the author was much more than that. Did I know that Arthur A. Cohen was also a famous Jewish theologian? I sensed a tone of disapproval.

Twenty-five years passed, several twists and turns on my career path led me to a faculty position in a divinity school, and one day I found myself searching in Yale University’s undergraduate library for an English edition of Franz Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption. The book, published in German in 1921, is regarded as one of the most important works of Jewish philosophy in the twentieth century. The plan was to scan readings from Rosenzweig for my class in “Jewish Spatial Practices.” I was dismayed to find the only available copy marked up, with so many underlining and marginal comments that it would be useless to try to scan it for my students. Yet as I leafed through it, the marginalia began to attract my attention. They were interesting; a very good student must have written them. Some even began to affect my own thinking about the text.

More interesting to me, however, were the unusually expressive marks in the book. The underlining might start out fairly straight: “To the nations war means staking life in order to live.”

But the marks then become agitated, tremble along in waves, vibrate with the mounting excitement of reading an important passage and seem to gain speed. The wavy lines nearly cross out the “two legitimate reasons” for waging war. Sometimes a line undulates to echo the rhythm to which it sways.

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In marginal notes, “ascenders” ascend, like the “d” in God, wandering up aspirationally and folding back on itself to then climb slowly down as though resigned to life on earth.

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2014-09-29 14.10.22crpThe handwriting conveyed a sense of the beginning and the end of a phrase. On the inside of the front cover short paragraphs in the same handwriting were strewn over the page, and below them I found a severe, Bauhaus-inspired bookplate that read “Arthur A. Cohen.”

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An artist once told me that everyone can draw, because everyone has learned how to form the intricate letters of handwriting. Even handwriting that is not beautiful – and Cohen’s handwriting was not always beautiful – is expressive. My own scrawl, at times illegible even to me, might seem to contradict this, but in this book writing is drawing in action, the writing and its underlying hand the companion of the words to which it responds. And of the words it spells out; the marks on the page seem in dialogue with Rosenzweig, and perhaps they put Cohen’s design sensibilities in conversation with his religious thought. Certainly they come together in his writing on Herbert Bayer. A scholar could perhaps find material at Yale’s Beinecke Library, where Cohen’s extensive papers are held.

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My review of Cohen’s book about Bayer yielded some insights that I used in essays about other matters, but it took another negative review for me to understand how to remain respectful while critical. Eventually it occurred to me that Cohen, writing at the end of Bayer’s long life, may have intended his book as a mitzvah. Bayer died in 1985, before my review appeared in print, and Cohen the next year at only 58. Perhaps this post begins to make amends, or maybe it just amounts to my own marginal note against digital readers.

text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015

Children on the Beach

handala-syrianchild1I can’t bear to disseminate the now all-too familiar and completely devastating photograph of the drowned Syrian child on the beach alluded to in this drawing.

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Another image of the child, in the arms of a Turkish police officer, is reminiscent of one that the photographer Tyler Hicks made for the New York Times in Gaza last year, of a boy running on the beach carrying a dead child.

You can see the image and read what I wrote about it here.

Another lifeless body of a boy on the beach. Once more one child’s suffering stands for that of all children in war. And also once more the hope, embedded in the very idea of photography, that an image can have the power to turn the hearts of governments, to make them eager to respond to suffering and open their doors so that refugee children and their parents  do not have to die trying to reach an elusive and reluctant safe haven.

Governments, and often people who support them unconditionally, seem remarkably capable of bearing these sights. Last year, Tyler Hick’s photograph was met by objections: it did not constitute balanced reporting; it failed to present the “other point of view,” the “other side” to the story that would have explained why the strike that killed the child had to take place. The people who found the photograph effective were for the most part already persuaded of the injustice and imbalance of the war.

This time perhaps the outcome will be different. What, after all, could possibly constitute the “other side”? What could explain the necessity for the body of a Syrian child named Aylan to wash up on the beach because in the course of a desperate attempt to reach Greece, his boat capsized and drowned him along with eleven other refugees? There has been some discussion about the wisdom of showing the images, for example because of the impossibility of obtaining the child’s consent, or because the picture could be seen as exploiting the tragedy of the refugees for gain. But such objections fade when we consider that the exploitation that counts here is not by the media but by ruthless smugglers taking advantage of the blindness and indifference to the fate of the refugees by the people, institutions, and governments who should be helping them.

One hopeful sign is the image in the  drawing with which I began. It is a variation on one of the most ubiquitous images in Palestine. “Handala” is the trademark figure of the political artist Naji al-Ali, assassinated in London in 1987.

HandalaThis barefoot refugee child remains forever ten years old, the age that his creator was when he was forced to leave his home in Palestine in 1948. Handala forever turns his back to us.

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He faces countless atrocities and injustices and is reproduced in countless forms and at all skill levels on walls everywhere in Palestine.

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A crude Handala figure in the Dheisheh refugee camp, Palestine. Photograph: Margaret Olin

Walter Benjamin interpreted Paul Klee’s painting, Angelus Novus, as the “angel of history.”

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Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920. Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

His horrified expression registers the catastrophes that pile up as he is driven backward into the future.

I like to think of Handala as an Angelus Novus seen from the rear. We can view the catastrophes of history along with him as he waits, hands clasped behind him. But here with the angel lying drowned on the beach, history ends as indeed it does wherever a child dies.

The transformation of the image of the boy in the photograph into Handala, if the example is followed and it continues to evolve into other forms, is a hopeful note, suggesting that this photograph might transcend the photograph by Tyler Hicks. It could become not merely the most recognizable image of a summer news story but an “iconic” image along with images like the “hooded man” in Abu Ghraib.

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The “hooded man” ran through a long series of variations – even appropriating an ad for the IPod.

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The hooded man turned into the very image of torture and profoundly affected the way that the world saw wartime interrogation and the treatment of prisoners. We need a profound change in our image of the refugee, too. Perhaps the photograph of the boy on the beach can help bring it about. But perhaps it is too difficult to look at. I for one, cannot bring myself to reproduce it.

text © Margaret Olin 2015

This post originated in a comment I made on a facebook post by Nicholas Mirzoeff. Thanks to Ahmed Hmeedat for alerting me to the drawing in Arabi21 News.

Photographic Aggression, Trust, Shame: Susiya, Sheikh Jarrah

20150626-IMG_6883lvlcrvYou won’t see the touching photograph I took at a memorial wall in New York after September 11, 2001, when a woman’s smile gave way to tears as my shutter clicked. It amounted to inadvertent aggression. Some regard all “street photography” categorically as aggressive and unethical. But I think photographic aggression needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis, even when that can be difficult. Such moments arise frequently during and between my intermittent visits to Palestine this past year, where I have been thinking about and documenting photographic practices while engaging in them. As a foreigner I learn local customs slowly. In my effort to do no harm, I navigate photography’s interrelations and worry about breaking photographic taboos.

For my last post (here) I emailed a photograph to a subject who had not wanted me to take her picture. I planned to add it to an urgent report by David Shulman about the immanent demolition of the Palestinian village Susiya in area “C” in the South Hebron Hills. David has been sharing and following the travails of these families for years, but I am only beginning to know them. It might make sense to illustrate his post with pictures of ragged tents and sad-eyed children. But those images could feed into a patronizing justification for the demolitions, according to which villagers, and especially women (“to improve the(ir) status” in the words of the Civil Authority) would be better off further straining the resources of an already over-crowded, under-served town elsewhere. I prefer to visualize the villagers’ determination to make their tents and temporary structures into a livable town in the face of settler harassment and Civil Administration obstructionism, and even under the shadow of immanent demolition. Fatma’s picture could help me add a hint of this subtext with the face of a strong woman. She granted permission almost immediately; to me the photographic exchange signified trust.  You may learn more about Fatma’s organization, The Rural Woman’s Association, here.

The rest of this post is the one I dropped last week in order to concentrate on Susiya. It also concerns street photography and photographic interaction around it, but on a real street, in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. While my own worries remain with Susiya, still in grave danger, Sheikh Jarrah is worth a detour if only because it involves patterns of appropriation similar to those of Susiya, patterns that involve refusals to issue construction permits to Palestinians, eviction on the basis of missing permits, court cases that drag on for years, and settlers who are welcome in the meantime to stay and build on the “vacant” property and live in the “abandoned” homes, with or without permits. I won’t, however, discuss the details, readily available on the internet, for example, here.

Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, June 26, 2015

20150626-IMG_6889crpcrv2Local residents are waiting for me on a sidewalk on Othman Ibn-Affan street in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. They are members of three families who were evicted in recent years from homes behind us and across the street.

20150626-IMG_6877distcrvSix years ago, Israeli Jews took over the houses, aided by an NGO that seeks to turn East Jerusalem into a Jewish neighborhood. They set off a complex series of legal proceedings as well as Friday afternoon protests at a nearby intersection. A few years ago, these protests were large and boisterous, and attacked by an equally loud and boisterous police force. They were “a scene,” I am told. The court cases and the protests continue and the families remain locked out of their homes, but the land grabs have slowed. The demonstrations, now smaller, are thought to have had an effect. 20150605-IMG_5803crv In early June the anniversary of the occupation attracted a larger crowd of peacefully chanting protesters.

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A panicky police force arrived and set off a stun grenade

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There were three arrests.

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Saleh, a Palestinian activist, promised to tell me about Sheik Jarrah over coffee after the rally but he was arrested. Although no charges were filed, no one was released until after midnight. I did not manage to return for three weeks, but finally I am back and Saleh still remembers. Now it is Ramadan, so we have our discussion without coffee – but with, and about, photographs. He flips through a bundle of well thumbed pictures at a breakneck speed that makes them as hard to focus on as the confused action they depict. They are faded and crinkled, but with them Saleh relives moments in the story and he pulls each one out like a trump card. They show evictions. 20150626-IMG_6882crvOr they show settlers on the same sidewalks where we are now, with police or soldiers or Palestinians

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“The photographs are proof.”

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“That’s this yard right here. Can you believe what he’s doing?”

I would photograph the settlers now living in Palestinian homes across the street,

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but they are leaving for Shabbos.

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“These people have other places to go. They don’t even live here on the weekend.”

Eventually a settler parks a motorcycle on our side of the street.

“Please photograph him,” requests Nabeel al-Kurd. “He lives in my house.” The settler turns around as I raise my camera. The other settlers are Americans, but apparently not this one. In labored English, asks me not to take pictures:

“They forget something. The house it is not Jewish, but isn’t the land Jewish? I know, I know. These houses are Palestinian. But anyway I do not want to live here. This is uncomfortable. It is too hot. I want to move. I have only lived here six months.”

He is pleading now.

“Do not take my photograph. It is my private self. I am really no more than just a visitor. It is not my fight. I do not want it. We are friends, right?”

He addresses all this to me. He says nothing to Mr. al-Kurd. After he leaves Nabeel says, “He knows what he is doing is wrong.” He fears that his picture could be used, like the one in Salah’s pack, as photographic ammunition. Any photograph is like an assault, a small thrown stone, and the man with the motorcycle does not want one aimed at him.

But sometimes photographic aggression is warranted. “My camera is my weapon. No one should go into the field without a camera,” I am told by Guy, who works with the human rights organization Ta’ayush and Rabbis for Human Rights. What weapons should they use instead? No one would argue that it is unfair to film or photograph a crime in progress. In the United States, film and now videos have played an important role in the opposition to police brutality. Maybe they will help to reduce it some day. Even an aggressive, hostile look deserves an aggressive, hostile look back through the eye of a camera.

Is photographic aggression called for today in Sheik Jarrah or is this settler’s near admission of wrongdoing, his awareness of the complexity of the situation he has waded into, enough to justify deleting the photograph? Will he move out soon? When he does, will the al-Kurd family get its home back? If I show it, will my photograph follow him wherever he goes and cause him harm? And why is the prospect of the photograph so frightening? After all, unlike Saleh’s photographs, mine can show nothing but a man parking a motorcycle on a city street. The only explanation we can come up with is that he does not want to face his own shame.

“May I take your picture?” I ask Mr. al-Kurd.

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text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015

 

 

 

From Bi’r al-‘Id, about Susya (David Shulman)

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View of Susya June, 2015

David Shulman’s prose is vivid enough. But I hope my photographs will help convince any doubters that Susya (also spelled Susiya) is neither a theoretical nor a literary entity. Click on any photograph to enlarge it, and share this post, especially with anyone who can help.

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A previous Ramadan Saturday at Bi’r al-‘Id. 8:00 AM

July 11, 2015   Bi’r al-‘Id

From early morning, when the air is still almost cool, until noon, when the sky is aflame, we work on the rock-and-dirt path to Bi’r al-‘Id. First you gather the medium-size rocks from the side of the road and the hill and arrange them in even rows; then you gather many bucketfuls of gravel and sand, scraped with rakes and picks from the caked surface of the soil, and pour this over the rocks; then you cover it all with earth carried in buckets from wherever you can find it. You split open the biggest boulders on the path with a pick-ax or heavy hammer. It took us three and a half hours to even out 15 meters or so of the path. It’s good work. As Yair says with a smile, it has a Zen-like quality, this endless filling of buckets and carrying them over the thorns and stones uphill. Besides, it’s something good to do during Ramadan, when everyone is fasting and there’s little activity of the shepherds and almost no agricultural work to be done.

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The same day, 1:00 PM

It’s a long path to Bi’r al-‘Id, just barely passable today by vehicles except for the patches that we’ve upgraded like this over the last years. We calculate that if we work like this for another two hundred days or so, the whole length will be finished. By then, I say in gloomy jest, the Occupation will surely be over. Meanwhile, Bi’r al-‘Id exists, a miracle, a source of pride, for here, at this tiny point overlooking the desert under the shadow of the settlement of Mitzpeh Yair, we helped not only to stop the remorseless movement of expulsion but even to reverse it, for now.

As I work, fried by sunlight, I think mostly of Susya, not far away. We know for sure that very soon, probably between the ‘Id festival at the end of Ramadan and the sitting of the Supreme Court on August 3rd with Susya on its agenda, the State of Israel will demolish at least some of the Susya homes. They have what they must consider a window of opportunity; the bulldozers are already sitting nearby. For years this demolition-cum-expulsion has been threatening to happen, for years we’ve managed to stall it by a fierce campaign with effective international pressure, but now, under the new government, we’ve reached the point of destruction, unless some of you can mobilize someone out there. We don’t yet know how many homes they will liquidate in the first round. Perhaps “only” a few. I am confident that Susya will somehow survive, but first there will be sorrow and horror, and the Israeli settlers in the settlement they, too, call Susya, stealing not only the land but also the name, will rub their hands in glee.

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Fatma in Susya’s embroidery shop

There can be no doubt that we are awaiting a crime, a crime against humanity, a crime that undermines the integrity, if that is the right word, of this state, a crime against the conscience of every Israeli, whether they know it or not, whether they have a conscience or not. Here is what Vladimir Jankélévitch (a new hero of mine) has to say about that: “The moral conscience is not a particular thing in the mind like the color blue, the association of ideas, or the love of women. The moral conscience does not exist. But we discover our conscience proper on the day when certain actions that are legal or indifferent or permitted by the police inspire in us an insuperable disgust” (The Bad Conscience: University of Chicago Press, 2015, p. 35).Conscience, apparently, is mostly a potential capable of being activated, if we are lucky, under special, or maybe even ordinary, conditions—thus capable of becoming real.

20150606-IMG_5986lvl-2crv2crplvlBut for me, today, thinking of Susya, this goes well beyond disgust. My moral conscience, such as it is, seems to inhabit the pores of my skin and my ability to love. It comes from a site where the word “moral” has not yet been born, and only from that dark place does it reach toward my mind. I know next to nothing about morality, but like all other persons, I know about pain. As for the action in question, it is not merely permitted by the police but initiated and actively pursued by the government and abetted by the courts

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Comet-Me, an Israeli NGO, supplies energy systems, and the training to install and maintain them, to communities that are not connected to the electricity grid because of political reasons. A resident of Susya volunteers to show me theirs.

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Susya is not some theoretical entity somewhere on a map that is itself an abstraction. Susya is the home of Nasser and his family, including his baby daughter; of the large Nawaja’ clan, many of whom we know well from years of visits and protests and summer camps and meals and celebrations and nights in the desert; of the wind turbines that Noam and Eldad put up years ago, and of the wells we have cleaned of their ancient silt; of several friendly and idiosyncratic donkeys and dogs, and of the olive trees we have harvested together with our friends; home to the winter winds and the summer sun and the special smell of the rocks and the thorns. Suppose the soldiers throw Nasser and his wife and children, including the baby, out of their home and mow it down with the bulldozer. The Nawaja’ family will live, they will of course rebuild, as they have before, but I, for one, I promise you, will never forgive.

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Members of the Nawaja family, above and right

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States, I suppose, are routinely cruel to their citizens. In the case of Israel, the Jews are routinely cruel to Palestinians. For nearly five decades, the Occupation has poisoned us all with its lunatic bureaucracy, its violent settlers and soldiers, its delight in stealing land, its innate racism, its pervasive rule of terror. All this we know, it is nothing new. What is new is the scale of what they want to do to Susya, and after that—who knows to whom? It is hard to think about wickedness inflicted on millions, but it is not hard at all to imagine wickedness directed at a family I know and love.

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Two young residents of Susya, Manar and Qamal, correct a photographer’s spelling of their names.

So for me, waiting for the crime to happen, waiting to see the state torment and injure and violate my friends, driving them from their homes and their ancestors’ lands, driving them out with guns and patronizing words about what the state thinks is good for them, for me there is a question about what a decent human being can or must do in such a time and place, and what a decent person can and must say in words, because words matter, too. Perhaps some of you, my readers, know the answer.

20150613-IMG_6326-2lvlcrvcrpsat2text: David Shulman   Photographs and captions: Margaret Olin

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Obstructed Vision 2: Filling Holes in a Road June 13, 20, 2015

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In South Hebron, vision is obstructed in ways that are clearly visible.

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“All That’s Left: A Diaspora Collective Against the Occupation” has been planning for weeks a show of support for Susiya, a village threatened with immanent demolition that has appeared more than once on this site. The idea was to converge on Susiya on Friday, June 12 for an overnight visit, learn about it and support it

20150613-IMG_6343crpby working on significant projects.

20150613-IMG_6360crpSome 70 young women and men participated, joined on Saturday by Israelis from activist organizations like Ta’ayush. Because of the demolition threat, Susiya has become a symbol of anti-occupation work and supporters of the boycott against Israeli products made in settlements. A few weeks ago Susiya hosted representatives of the European Union in the same tent where All That’s Left is meeting this week.

A road used by the village is badly damaged. Initially the young activists believed that they could bring20150606-IMG_5969lvlcrv construction materials and equipment and pave the road properly. More seasoned activists from the village and from Israel were able to help them better channel their energy and enthusiasm. It is important to face the reality of the situation and abandon the assumptions you bring with you, both about tangible matters like building roads and intangible matters like how to help.

20150620-IMG_6555lvlA group of them are indeed working on the road. While the several truckloads of materials necessary to do the job would never make it past the checkpoint, filling holes in a road is itself a good idea for a group of twenty-somethings. This work accommodates any speed, any level of skill and any size group, by itself or with any number of other activists. The cheerful but serious sounds of their discussions give the occasion the feeling of an oppositional answer to Taglit-Birthright, free ten-day trips whose aim is to encourage young Jews to identify with Israel and later to marry other Jews. By the following week it is Ramadan, and road work is something activists can do without supervision or help. So, for a few more weeks, Ta’ayush volunteers will continue working on the road.

Here, where it is forbidden to bring in materials or machinery, it can take an infinite amount of time to quarry rocks and fill holes first with large rocks, then smaller,

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20150620-IMG_6594crvcrp2strtand collect dirt to cover the rocks.

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20150613-IMG_6447crplvllvlFeet and vehicles finish the task.

20150613-IMG_6455lvl-EditNot that there is really any danger of finishing.20150627-IMG_6909

Some of worst parts of the the road are too near a settlement even to think about working there.

So while it is certainly helpful to fill some holes and smooth out some of the deep pits in the road, the road work is really a sign – like one that members of All That’s Left are painting back in the village.

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The work is a more beautiful sign, certainly. After all, quarrying can be photogenic. For all appearances this is a group of Halutzim, Zionist pioneers, clearing the land.

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20150613-IMG_6425lvlcrpHalutzim and even Birthright trips are frequent themes in All That’s Left’s website, Facebook page, and blog where members post photographs of themselves at work, contribute accounts of their experiences as young activists and perhaps recruit more members.

Activists young and old need an imaginative vision of our work.  Our visions differ one from another, but all have in common that they help us to avoid looking at the road and the insurmountable task of fixing it. When I ask fellow volunteers where this road leads, one person answers: the road leads to hope. No, answers another, the road leads to despair.

20150620-IMG_6642lvlcrp2The road leads to Yatta, the nearest city. It is one of two roads that the inhabitants of Susiya can take to reach the city with their goods and shopping baskets. The goal is to help them get there.

The goal is also to keep them away from Yatta. The demolition order against Susiya is contested, but in May a judge on the Supreme Court refused to stay the demolition in advance of the hearing in August. Many in the government, the nearby settlement, and the Civil Administration are set on demolishing the houses and forcing the residents of Susiya to move. They hope to send them to Yatta, whose inhabitants already have to deal with overcrowding, serious problems in infrastructure and in the areas of education, employment and healthcare, as well as lack of access to their land and their crops. To add 340 residents of Susiya to this mix is unlikely to improve conditions.

20150613-IMG_6397lvlSurely when local Palestinians see us working on the road, they look past the activists and see their threatened homes, in Bi’r al-‘Id, perched below the road in “Firing Zone 918” or beyond, in Susiya.

20150606-IMG_6033lvlbalSurely the settlers also see, although to avoid their notice is important to the activists. If they do happen by, however, or look from their windows, settlers may see a slight delay in their plans to expand the settlements. They may see well-meaning do-gooders who do not understand the complexity of the situation. Some of them may see traitors and foreign agitators. Thankfully, no settlers come to disturb us today.

Some watchers have power, but while we can see them, we do not know what they see. We know only that they have not yet carried out the demolition orders.

20150620-IMG_6623-lvlFilling holes in a road, then, is a detour, though a necessary one, immediate help for people where long range help remains out of reach. It is also a medium, like photography, through which the occupation and its injustices are made visible. Photography itself offers another layer through which such actions are filtered. It can help turn the tiny village of Susya into a microcosm of the occupation, hopefully for dissemination by news and social media. 20150613-IMG_6394lvlcrp

When volunteers stop to watch themselves filling holes in the road, they see hope or despair or more likely they see both.

text and photographs © Margaret Olin 2015

on Ta’ayush, see http://www.taayush.org on All That’s Left see http://www.allthatsleftcollective.com/

 

 

 

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