1. eight weeks now of attempting to understand new soils, lands, cultures, conflicts and trying to gain my own sense of place among a landscape that emphasizes a sense of war.
I returned yesterday to ra’anana after ten days in the negev; meeting with bedouin peoples, seeing their villages and resilience amongst the demolishing orders and chaos, seeing ‘remote’ jewish villages where people wish to be individuals, not of the kibbutzim or moshavim style and jewish settlements and ‘forests’ built upon arab-bedouin land so they can never return. Seeing landscapes that feel open and breatheable – learning only seconds later that the majority of it used for military training and is therefore outofbounds; but most-of-all gaining a feeling that we have now something in our hands, thoughts and guts that we have something that could-be of worth if we do it right.
So if you don’t mind i will transcribe my diary entries here from the beginning of this last chapter:
i am sitting in a bomb shelter in be’er sheva, there is an arabic class in hebrew going on in the next room; just ate falafel from a street-side vendor (which elad refused to eat from) and am attempting to grasp the history of the bedouins here in israel.
We are staying here tonight as no where else came through, it’s free and we did not wish to pay 300 sheqels for a seedy smokey motel, and, as artists, it’s a much more creative and interesting experience. It’s acting as a bomb shelter during the war in gaza, as some of Hamas’ missiles are falling here in be’er sheva; schools are off and children are looking for things to do amongst the sometimes-desolate streets.
Apparently even if the sirens go off no one will come here anyway, it takes longer to reach than the time it’s supposed to take for the missile to ‘arrive’. It seems most people are just carrying on as normal unless it sounds really close.
So when the shelter is not acting as a shelter it is a Jewish-Arabic community centre ‘Dukium’ (http://www.dukium.org) – as the negev is home to some 76,000 bedouins, most of which are living in unrecognised villages with no electricity, sewage, roads and demolishing orders from the israeli government.
Met up with Josh (joshberer.wordpress.com) who is working with the Regional Council for Unrecognised Villages primarily as a translator for people who come from abroad. He speaks Arabic, Hebrew and English and organised for us to meet some people in nearby unrecognised villages to talk with them about their connections/disconnections, removal, displacement from the land here and the struggles they have been facing since the creation of the state of israel.
And so; it is strange to be sitting here in a public bomb shelter where people might come if missiles are to land nearby; and thinking about peoples connections/disconnections to the land and what might be going through peoples thoughts as they drop bombs, blow up buildings and murder innocent civilians in the name of…? I wonder what global mental shift is needed to change this madness- is it possible to change this madness? or will it continue until earth’s resources are depleted beyond the last speck of mineral wealth and can longer provide the war machine with what it needs to create this madness; but that, again, is only the physical component and disregards the much larger, much more complex and deeply sitting mental component that needs urgent attention. The hugeness (yet banality) of these questions scare and overwhelm me; no wonder people are so mentally, ethically, emotionally and spritually disconnected in this world.
so; this ‘adama’ land-earth journey takes its pencil and begins another chapter- one i hope will bring together some of the concepts, understanding and hopes we have for this work, as well as personal connections, relationships and understandings that will foster new thoughts and ideas for hereafter – beyond this act of physical time and space.
It is how i hold myself, my strength and passion, love and yearning that will determine the direction of these next pages. i must remain grounded…
There is a vaccum of sound coming into the bomb shelter, i cannot tell if it is wind or rain or a helicopter flying over head – the air is blowing into the plastic bags stuck over the ventilation pipes creating an almost pattern of breath – of ‘the outside’ – this shelter reinforces ‘the inside’, the protected, the almost claustrophobic if it weren’t for these sounds.
i’m reading a chapter from ‘before philosophy’ which Zeev (the curator of ‘adama’) has passed on to me; and some lines are resonating with my current processes:
– realm of nature and realm of human not distinguished
– speculation = development
– man/woman part of society, society embedded in nature and dependent upon cosmic forces – cannot stand in opposition – or different modes of cognition
– ancient – modern – thou – it
– subject and object = dualistic thought/existence
– when ‘I understand another living being’
– fear and anger – share with animals
– impression = direct = emotional = inarticulate
– intellect = emotionally indifferent, articulate
– Thou reveals itself – an individual made only known as thou reveals itself.
– Thou = experienced emotionally in a dynamic reciprocal relationship.
– inanimate world
– Thou = life confronting life.
after notmuchsleep due to sounds of plastic bags breathing big lungs of air – sounds of doors shifting, people talking – thinking someone will come in – and due to the mind and it’s way of being and thoughts that, these days, i am normally happier letting them be present and being with them rather than when i am trying and shut them out, but sometimes that mode doesn’t work and they just irriate the shit out of me.
So anyway, after waking up looking tired and talking with Haya from Dukium about JNF and their criminal plantations over arab villages and on bedouin lands, attempting to hide history and prevent bedouins from returning to their ancestral lands – we go to the RCUV office and josh takes us – via an arabic share taxi to a recognised village where we meet Mahmoud and his mother living in a tent-structure next to a stove fire and spinning thread on a stick. Mahmoud doesn’t shake my hand as i offer temporarily forgetting cultural differences – and so after some tea and some translations we go to the unrecognised village of Wadi Na’am where Mahmoud also lives – and we see where his straw bale mosque had been recently demolished by Israeli authorities and where he is building a new mosque, this time not straw bale. So we walk and talk and listen and photograph the village/encampment and try to imagine what life would be like here; ‘normal’ for those who live here and interesting and novelty for those that don’t- like myself.
After sitting down and hearing his story, of land, earth, god, government, politics etc. which i have to later get translated again by josh. Finding most important that no matter how much the government tries to remove him from the land and destroy his mosque and home, he believes in something much more powerful that allows him to remain calm, grounded and strong within himself. I also learn that he put thousands and thousands of his own money time and time again into building the mosque/s and yet, it still doesn’t worry him.
We then get a ride to be’er sheva and eat hummos ful then visit another unrecognised village ‘Al-Grein’ where many houses have been demolished over the past 20 years and many more to be demolished, including Ali’s home-turned-education centre; and what more, is that they, Ali and family, are supposed to demolish their own homes! and if not, they will get a further fine!
The feeling here is more political, less religous, and more..populated? right across the highway (which was actually built right across the village) is one of the 7 ‘recognised’ towns where the bedouins are supposed to move to; which remain to have low quality standards of living, bad education, high unemployment, bad healthcare, crime and poverty. why, why would they want to move off their land to these overcrowded towns?
Ali is very honest, speaking mostly in hebrew to elad and josh, i get various translations, but want to know more. We are invited to food and it comes on a large communal plate – rice and chicken – we all take spoons and dig in. Then tea, very sweet tea – in order to feel full – and laughter – of learning that what Ali really loves is to see the children in the education centre, his home, learning and being active and hoping for their future – although he says he knows they will suffer and it breaks his heart.
We return to the miklat (shelter) and a small meditation circle arrives shortly after and we join – even though my thoughts are active – they are calm and breathing.
I realise i have not written about the description of the villages – this is probably because i put too much emphasis on the photographs that will appear in the coming week (after i process my film) – and of the digital photos i am posting now – and because i am a photographic artist and hope the images will explain some of what i am seeing as well.
– not much sleep due to thirty x 17 yr old pre army youth movement crashing bomb shelter just as i am about to lay myself to sleep. they are volunteering in the shelters while the war is on and doing activities for kids etc. but yeah – way too much spray deoderant in a confined space.
– visited an ugly new (4years) Jewish ‘settlement’ in the negev, called Giveot Bar, walk around feeling sick knowing it’s being built by sons of men and women whose land it was for a thousand years before. Walk back along the beeping highway alone to Rahat junction – only now i can think – attempt to say hello to the land around me in a less disracted way – of interpretations, translations and a reinforcement of not being from here. I turn around and look directly west – which appears to be Gaza, as smoke is billowing high high into the sky and army jets and helicopters are flying to and from that direction
– we dinner in an indian restaurant with Abigale – a woman from Dukium who has offered her place for us to stay in nearby Omer. We drive past and stop to gawk and photograph a place in Ramot where a missile from Hamas had landed two hours before – blowing up a car – shrapnel damaging a 7 year old boy. the footpath had already been filled in – it was a big hole – the concrete all messed up, tree damaged – very surreal feelings, unsure how to feel or what to think – mostly about what gaza looks like through the images we are receiving – and i know i shouldn’t because all war is bad – but how minscule this is in comparison.
i sleep well.
get up late after a long talk with em, wishing her presence as usual; she bought a motorbike, i am so jealous – i dream of hooning across into africa and downwards.
We visit Ali in Al Grein and he takes us to his fathers land where they were removed in 1948. there are masses and masses of birds flying in the distance and scattering the sky- the photos here cannot even bring them justice. the image needs to be metres by metres. It feels like the most ‘remote’ place we have been so far – hills, sandy windy desert, semi unpopulated. even though i cannot understand what ali is talking about as elad is trying his best to listen and film let alone translate i can understand Ali’s connection here and the deep sadness he feels from the removal and the current government actions against bedouin peoples.
We return to Al Grein where we are invited to a big family dinner in memory of Ali’s father passing away two years ago. I sit with the women, maybe 20 or so, and elad sits with the men. We drink coffee, tea, and eat traditional Maqlubbeh with cous cous – again communal plates each with a spoon. It feels really warming to be amongst such a large group of women who are laughing, chatting, welcoming and sharing their traditions and culture with me, something i have never had in my own life in the same way – and yet feel comforted by their connections with eachother and the emphasis on bringing the family together.
– return to abigail’s and i read the news – think of the madness and succumb to it; return to the feelings of not knowing what to do or where my passion lies – what my most strong desires or wants are, where to put my energy, what imagery to really make and where to show it, where to get it ‘out’.
When does this become no longer questionable? when do you just follow what you know is right? I feel like such an amateur in times like this…
what to do with a heart, a conscience and a camera? run to gaza? run away? – talk about the conflict through ‘other’ imagery? other stories that link to ‘why’ this is happening in the first place?
go diving? do a fast? go running? drink a beer? go south? go north? think beyond israel/palestine? stay focused? join ISM and get ‘involved’ more? continue questioning everything i do and say and think? follow no-path? take off my shoes? go to sleep?
attempting to sleep before 10pm tonight in the faux bedouin style tent turned hostel – very tired after lots of walking toward people/places that didn’t work out – but for me – apart from not eating much and getting frustrated at directions/dead ends – i love the exercise – and walking around out here, this country, near Mitzpe Ramon is really amazing – even on the main roads. I feel like i can breathe deeply again – there is space! although a lot of it used for military training, it still feels precious; mountains, hills, sand coloured desert landscape – not sure how to explain – different from the red earth of australian desert.
Went to Jaffa last night for an anti-war rally – some 3000 turned up to say ceasefire now! whilst the discussions on the ceasefire were taking place. powerful to be here at this time. even with the security and police presence – holding guns hiding in the shadows, helicopter flying over head beaming its ohsopowerful spotlight on the demonstration – intimidating.
Supposedly a ceasefire has been called in gaza – lets hope for real eh? 1300 dead and israel claims they’ve “won” – what is the win i wonder?
So many fighter jets, helicopters, booming sounds, guns firing and military practices all around out here. beautiful landscaped tainted by perpetual war and division.
And so; again we find ourselves in the miklat in Be’er Sheva; it’s becoming so familiar now i could stay for a while! Yesterday we made our way slowly to Ezuz from Mitzpe Ramon – not far (2km) from the border of egypt. The land out there is beautiful – for lack of a better descriptive word – reminding me of sandy versions of places in outback SA – but no connectivity can compare those places for me just yet; especially when almost every where that isn’t inhabited in the negev is used for the war machine.
So after arriving at this out of the way place at around 3;45pm on a bus with one child on it coming home from school, we wandered around for a while, taking photographs, i spoke with some young soldiers on duty “stopping drug smuggling from egypt to jordan and the west bank” and also “helping the Sudanese refugees” who are often shot by the Egyptian army at the border trying to cross into Israel to find a new home, fleeing their own country in perpetual war – “we are the good guys here” they tell me. And so i take their photos as i do –
I am amazed by the magnitude and the effect of the military in/on this land – military bases scattered all over the negev – bumping into machine guns on public transport and leftrightandcentre. – explosions, jets, helicopters, radio transmissions, “missions” 4wds and army vehicals trawling the place day and night – i wonder why people think it’s peaceful out here. it all feels to me like a virtual reality; a world they’re living in within the real world – that i have no part of and never could imagine being a part of this mandatory war machine.
“You photographers didn’t do a very good job in gaza..” a soldier tells me. “only showing the bad things [we’re] doing, not the positive things…” what do you mean? I ask ” only showing the bad side, like palestinians dying…we’re just fighting terrorists….” and beacuse it’s been such a nice day and the sun is glowing down in the desert is pinkish orange and i do not feel like getting into an argument with a young man with a machine gun right now, so i smile and “uhmmm” and walk away nicely down the hill.
So today; after not much sleep again, even though sleeping under the stars which i love, and smelling the campfire i tended to endlessly for hours (due to bad burning wood) – the first real camp since leaving the soils i know so well in australia – – got in to bed very early – very tired – yet my brain switches on and then it gets incredibly cold as it is winter in the desert and i cannot get comfortable on my incredibly thin foam sleeping mat and not made for this cold type of sleeping bag and all the army 4wds driving by and gun firing sounds in the distance – but all in all it does not bother me too much even when the sun rises and i wonder did i sleep at all? – i walk up a hill to feel the space around me.
Later we meet Celia and Dror, two of the ‘original’ people of Ezuz who came here 26 years ago – they tell us of their Zionist dream to do what no one else was doing in israel – create a place where people could have their individual plots and lives and not have to do everything together like in a Kibbutz or Moshav and live away from the populus and work ‘with the land’ and do things that in the 80’s appeared crazy to the government but now seems normal – i.e. living without too much impact on the land. – strange feelings and conversations here – not really sure where to sit or what to say – just listen to their story is all i really want to do anyway. They offer us food and a place to stay – we eat as we are starving but leave to get back to Be’er Sheva to sleep.
So elad left yesterday back to raanana and i felt like i needed to be quiet by myself for a few days – i got on a bus to ein gedi and then Kalia on the dead sea – stayed in a moroccan place in a big tent with no one else in it and felt sleezed upon – and floated in the dead sea and felt strange and looked over at jordan and thought of conflict and then didn’t feel quiet and washed my clothes in the notsoclean bathroom sink and then decided being quiet right now wasn’t so useful for me – so left and returned to raanana yesterday to a real bed and a hot shower and a jewish mother where there is plenty of food and plenty of hebrew bickering and… so here i am at a cafe telling you all of this and wondering much as i do – and well it helps me to reflect. and so. here you go.