Hello readers - I have been with the RAGBRAI cycling event in Iowa for the past week, out of contact with the internet. Ann
This journal entry was written by a participant in the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions' [www.icahd.org/eng/ ] fifth annual Summer Rebuilding Camp.
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Today was a collapsible telescope… a day that highlighted the dramatic shift from intimacy to distance and back again according to the subtle curve of the beholder’s lens, the minute convexity or concavity of the heart of the witness. Throughout this trip, I have been invited to try on the various spectacles of everyone from a Zionist settler to the impoverished members of a demolished tin shanty in the Negev, to an ex-Israeli soldier who served in Hebron, to the matriarch of an Anata family turned upside down by the destruction of their home. Each time I put down one to pick up the other, I glance up fuzzy-eyed at the inscrutable shapes extending from my nose to the horizon and I can sense the unknowable complexity around me. Lenses focus, inform, and illuminate, but they can also narrow, manipulate, and distance.
At lunch, Jeff, Linda, and Temma spoke to us about advocacy at home, about transmuting what we have seen here into action through the very useful but very narrow channels of fundraising at home and (in my case), the American political system. I find myself balking at the prospect of relaying what is happening around me. There is simply no translation for the feeling(s) of being here, the reality that happens in the moments between lenses. I recall my inability to listen, to really listen, to my father’s stories when he returned home from ICAHD summer camp two years ago. Despite his passion, despite his explanations, anecdotes and photographs, it all remained two-dimensional and abstract. What I heard was his voice; I couldn’t hear the echoes of Palestinian voices he heard as he spoke. Nonetheless, I was provided a hook, for which I am so grateful. Now that I am here, I understand and appreciate the absurd challenge of awakening a sleeping people back home… rocks thrown at a tank. I am baffled as to how to invite my friends out of their tanks and into these stories, to come and see for themselves.
After dinner, while watching “Arna’s Children,” I was struck by the efficacy of the use of a lens, a camera lens, to connect. The documentary by Juliano Mer-Khamis tracks the lives of seven boys from their experience in a theatre group in Jenin to their participation in the Intifada, and seeing it made me painfully aware of how much we are missing in our brief encounters with the Palestinian people. The camera in this case acts as a secret mirror, a microscope with which we are allowed inside the language, the town, the homes, and the families of the least investigated and least heard voices- those whom we call “terrorists”. What has been presented to us through the lens of mainstream media as the blank surface of a dark ocean is in fact a whole confounding world of color and life and flux, that we can see if we but choose to put on a mask, jump in, and peer below the surface. In truth, I have no idea what the young boys whom we work with are saying, much less thinking and feeling. As closely as we witnessed the demolition of the little house near the Hamden house, moving bags of personal belongings, we have NO IDEA what it feels like to live on edge. We do not understand. Can we understand? How much, in the end, can really be communicated?
After the film, an animated conversation regarding identity, self-expression, and violence ensued. Juliano stressed the intertwining of Palestinian identity with Palestinian freedom, saying that the necessity of recapturing an authentic sense of cultural identity that has not been co-opted by the Israeli system is key to the survival of the people. In his theatrical work with Palestinian youth, Juliano provides an emotional outlet for the stifled reactions to the trauma of the occupation. By expressing themselves, the youth are able to define themselves on their own terms and not merely in response to the Israeli army. Nonetheless, as we saw in the film, artistic expression does not necessarily preclude communication through the language of violence. By the end of the film, nearly all of the featured young men have died as martyrs for the Intifada. It is all well and good for a people to dialogue creatively and share within itself, but how does one express him/herself to a world that is not listening, to a system that is actively and systematically silencing it? The wall is a deaf ear, a turned back. It is the shut-down theater in Jenin, it is the absence of Palestinian voices in mainstream media across the world. In essence, violent acts are a last-ditch attempt to be heard. Reducing a people to the label of terrorist, refusing to see and listen to them, and shutting them out from the global discussion can only perpetuate the self-fulfilling prophecy of suicide attacks. If we truly want the cycle of bloodshed to end, we must listen to the voices of the people before they reach this fevered pitch. We must help build a solid stage on which they can stand and pack the house.
To read more journal entries from the rebuilding camp, go to:
For more background on ICAHD, see: www.icahd.org/eng/about.asp?menu=2&submenu=1