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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Very Strong Picture

I am back in Umm el Fahem, in my apartment in the gallery, for the final days of my journey. During the past several days, I have spent additional time in the Memory exhibit with Mohammed. One request Lilli had made was that I work with him on posting the English captions to the exhibit had They already had been written,and were on the computer. They just needed to be checked for the English and put on the wall. Lilli felt, and I agree, that it is important, with many English speaking visitors, to have the captions in English, and especially for the permanent exhibit.

Unfortunately, though, we discovered that the numbering on the captions is different from that in the exhibit. The reason, I am sure, was that this was originally mounted as a temporary exhibit, then rehung when it was decided to make it permanent. But it makes for a monumental task of trying to find and match the captions with the pictures. We printed them and cut a lot out of the nearly 500 captions. I doubt that we will get more than a couple dozen on the wall, if that. Lilli is nevertheless very appreciative, feeling that just getting it going is a big accomplishment. I hope so. Mohammed is very committed and motivated so perhaps he will see it through.

I am still focussed on the idea of creating a day trip here. Knowing how things seem to work, I am trying both to stay enthusiastic but not get overly invested in the idea. I keep thinking of the beautiful brochure that another volunteer, Anne, from England, put together last year, that was printed but never distributed, and is now unfortunately out of date. Again, though, Lilli says that whatever progress I make on the idea will be a help.

I have been in contact with Yoni/Jonathan (I guess he uses both names) Gilben, of GoEco, and briefly with Maoz Inon, owner of the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth, and also the Abrahman Hostel in Jerusalem, and I think at least part owner of Abraham Tours, as well.Abraham Tours runs the trip I took to Masada, the Dead Sea, the hike along the stream to the falls, the camel ride and Bedouin dinner and a number of other tours. GoEco is somehow connected to these other enterprises, although I am not quite sure how. The GoEco orientations take place at the Abraham, and include a free night’s stay there, and GoEco advertises the Abraham tours. Yoni and Maoz are both enthusiastic about the idea. There is another organization called Marvad Yarok,, in English, Green Carpet, that works to support tourism to this area, and I have met one of the women involved with that group at a conference here.

My thought is a trip that combines a visit to the gallery with some other stops, making a day of it, and hopefully luring some people here who wouldn’t otherwise think to visit. The archeological site of Megiddo, which is actually also known as Armeggedon, is only a few kms away from here, and I imagine people would be interested in that. Mohammed took me out there a couple of days ago.

There is a walking trail of Umm el Fahem, which has been published in book form with map and photos, developed by two men, one of whom is also involved with Green Carpet. I have been wanting to walk the trail, or at least part of it, since I got here. What has been holding me back is the incredible steepness of the hills. Yesterday, Mohammed and I drove through parts of the walk. There were some interesting spots, but unfortunately a couple of the places that sounded most interesting are no longer there, a sesame roasting place and a candy making business. For me, some of the most interesting places on a tour, like the one in Nazareth, are the hole in the wall places like a spice store (actually, that was a pretty big hole in the wall!), and that was what I was hoping to find. There had been a halvah factory, owned, in fact, by a relative of Said’s, but it has moved to a different town. Mohammed and I did run across an older man who repairs shoes, bags, and zippers, and talked with him for a while. But it seems like most of old Umm el Fahem has gone the way of many cities, not just Arab Israeli ones, but cities in the U.S. too, whose center has been lost to newer development.

Along our drive uphill and then back down, we came across someone Mohammed knew. Actually, we came across a lot of people he knew, not surprising. But this man got in the car with us, and Mohammed introduced him as an artist. Well, I soon found out, he wasn’t just any artist, he is one of the four showcased in the current exhibit here. His name is Nidal Gabarin. To be honest, I have focused less on his paintings than the other art on exhibit here, only because they are impressionistic paintings, most or maybe all from the six years he spent studying art in Russia, and seemed less unusual and less connected to this area. When I went on his website today, I was astonished at the sheer number of his works, hundreds of them ranging from the 90’s to the present. I was quite taken with many of them. Many are Israeli scenes, which I don’t believe are in the exhibit here. ( I am going to take a break soon and go look – the advantages of living in a gallery!)

Yesterday, thinking in my mode of designing a tour, I asked him if he had a studio, which he does, just outside of Umm el Fahem, and if he ever had visitors. He immediately invited me, of course, and we set up a time for tomorrow. Which I now have to change, because Said just let me know we are having a goodbye gathering, for me, tomorrow at the same time. I am hoping I can still fit it in, in my remaining three days. And I am wondering where he stores his hundreds of paintings. He also told me that he has recently moved into making copper sculptures. None of those were on his site, though.

There were several cafes mentioned in the walking tour, and I had wanted to stop at one. A couple were hangouts where men were sitting and playing cards. I wouldn’t have minded going in, in Mohammed’s company, but they didn’t seem to be places tourists would be inclined to stop at. One place mentioned sounded nice, with a view. We stopped there, briefly, but the few people there were playing pool, and it was too cold to sit outside, and Mohamamed decided to go to another place instead.

So, we wound up, the three of us, at a restaurant which several people from the Gallery had mentioned to me, early on, as one of the best places in town. It was the same place that Suzi had not wanted to go her last night because the food wasn’t Arabic. I had really been looking for a very local type place, but I guess Mohammed didn’t realize that. I was getting hungry, though, so decided this was going to be my big meal of the day. The menu was only in Arabic, though, so I had no clue what was available. And it was extensive, which made translating difficult. I finally settled on roasted chicken, which arrived with fries and the requisite assortment of salads. It was, of course, much too much to eat. I wound up sharing it with both men, after convincing Mohammed that even though he was on a diet, it was fine to eat the cucumber and tomato salad with lemon and parsley. Once convinced, he partook of all the salads, lots of bread and hummus, a small amount of chicken, and a large number of fries.

This morning, Said’s brother Farid was here, the one who did the powerful performance piece at the Haifa Art Museum. I reminded him that he‘d said he would give me something written in English about his art. And I told him I’d written about him, and posted a picture from his performance on my blog. It was the picture of the kiffiyah and the tallit tied together at the end of the performance. I showed him the photo, still on my camera, and he said “very strong picture” as if complimenting me on my photograph, when it was actually the image he’d created.

Last night, Said introduced me to a man who was visiting from New York, although he was originally from near here. He had never been to the gallery before, or even known of it, until he recently met Said in New York. His name is Sameh Zoabi, he is a filmmaker, just finished his first full length feature, which is called Man Without a Cellphone. It sas recently shown in festivals in NY and at the MFA in Boston. He is married to a Palestinian American woman who grew up in Brooklyn and they have a one year old. He comes here over a dozen times a year to visit.

As you can see, there is a pretty constant parade of visitors, and I know I haven’t mentioned all of them. I can think of several more even as I write this. One photographer who was here a couple of days ago commented to me, everyone knows of this place. Everyone in certain circles, I said, to which she agreed.

I am beginning to get concerned about going through Israeli customs and security. The first thing that made me worried was when Lilli said, on the day Suzi was leaving, that the former volunteer, Anne, had been given a hard time when she said she’d been in Umm el Fahem. The advice Lilli gave Suzi was to not mention she’d been here unless she had to, not to lie, but to be vague and say she’d been travelling around the country. Which both of us have, in addition to being here.

I am having very mixed feelings. First of all, I am uncomfortable about lying. Not from any moral grounds, from fear of being caught. Also, there is a part of me that wants to be totally upfront, out of curiousity and also out of defiance. Lilli understood me perfectly.Suzi and I bought some glassware in Ba'arta, a town with a market near here. A town, I later found out, that was split down the middle some years ago, so there are now an East Ba'arta and a West Barta, and a fence between. Security questioned Suzi about the glassware, but didn't give her a difficult time. I look at mine now, realize they are wrapped in an Arabic newspaper. Is that what caught their attention? Or did they recognize it as Palestinian design? I have several other items of Palestinian design, needlework pieces. I ask Lilli if she can bring me some Hebrew language newspaper.

I would like to think I am being a bit paranoid ,but unfortunately I know I am not. The longer I have been here, and the more I have read, the more convinced I am that the Jewish government has and continues to treat not only the Palestinians but also Israeli Arabs as inferior citizens in many ways.

I am reading a book by a British born, Zionist raised, now Israeli woman who decides to live in an Arab town. She is vehement in her denunciation of most Jewish Israelis, even the most liberal ones, for their treatment of Arabs, beginning with the seizing of their land and homes in 1948. So many of the situations she describes, of people incredulous that she could live with Arabs, and with condescending attitudes to them, ring true to my experiences here. She also writes of young Israeli soldiers traumatized by what they are required to do. Of course, that could be said of Americans in the military as well. In this case, though, they are doing it, in the case of the Israeli Arabs, to citizens of their own country. I don’t know if that makes it worse, but perhaps it makes it harder to rationalize. The biggest point Nathan makes is the irony of Jews ghettoizing and treating Arabs in some of the same ways Jews were treated in the Holocaust and throughout history. She makes it clear that while the extent of atrocities isn’t the same, that in no way excuses what the Jews have done, and continue to do.

I, as a short term visitor, would not presume to make these judgments with the little I know of Israeli society, but I must say that most of her arguments align with my thinking, and that they are things I was already thinking before reading her book.

The book, The Other Side of Israel, was published about five years ago. The author’s name is Susan Nathan.. I am curious as to whether she still lives in the same Arab town, if her feelings have changed at all, if she has more or less hope for the future now than when she wrote it. I am thinking of writing her to ask.


nicollebol said...

you should write your own book Joanna. You are obiously a very good writer and good at expressing yourself. You are making a great journey and it's a shame not to share that with the rest of the world!

Joanna said...

Thank you! How did you come across my blog?

nicollebol said...

you posted the link on Facebook, I read it when I think of it (it's me, Nicole from FB)