short update: another sunny, gorgeous day, a bit cooler than it has been. i sit on the roof, the doors open to the open air gallery, hesitant to move inside the apartment to work even though the screen is barely visible in the sunlight. the city is quiet. few cars on the roads/sidewalks generally crawling with cars, parked anywhere a driver can find space. walking on the sidewalk here in u e-f is a game, for one must dart out onto the road when cars block the pedestrian walk space.
if there is a demonstration going on we do not see it (we have a great view of the main street and beyond from our roof) and we do not hear it. we hear only an occasional car driving on the road below. the gallery is closed and most stores appear to be closed. we will ask tomorrow for someone to explain to us what was hoped to be gained by today's strike/slow-down/closures.
it is an ideal day to work and perhaps i will even have time left to seach my computer for images for my second talk this coming saturday afternoon (for the office staff/art instructors). i spoke last sat. about my "still lives" exhibit (2009) about the women among the first jewish community in nieuw amsterdam/new york and their female descendants. the question that surprised me most during my talk was "are you jewish?" i don't know why, perhaps because i can make myself understood a bit in hebrew, but i thought that everyone at the gallery, and on the streets when we spoke, assumed that i am jewish.
being here, welcoming each opportunity to experience life in umm el-fahem that is offered, or that i simply come across, and also sit down to write about what i have done, am doing, will do, is a challenge.
however, my apt.-mate, joanna liss, who arrived here the same day that i did and will remian here for six weeks -- teaching english & writing materials for the gallery, and she has also initiated the exploration of the development of a possible day tour of u e-f (the gallery & environs) through GoEco (the volunteer organization that she came through) -- IS diligent about keeping her blog up to date: http://bronxjo.blogspot.com/
so much happens daily that i most certainly will write in my usual stream of consciousness-mode. yes, i recognize that linear would probably not be a word most might use to describe me.
today was a very significant day in israel: the day gilad shalit returned to israel/his family. among the palestinians released in the swap was a man whose family lives in umm el-fahem. joanna and i had a conversation with j. (he is among the men doing community service at the gallery. his crime was being caught for the second time driving without a license).
j., who speaks english well, is a very hard-working man (+/- 40) from a large family. he imports meat from argentina for the arab community, in spite of the laws that make no sense but do make it difficult. i.e., meat brought into israel must be kosher even if it is designated for the arab community. he has been successful in business and lives a middle class life-style. he has 4 children (3,4 8,10, i believe) who are all learning english. he and i worked together this morning, going through the individual art storage bins to record the locations of all of the works that belong to the gallery's permanent collection (the creation of which is new for the gallery). this activity may sound straightforward but i must ask for a leap of faith for you to know that it was not.
we broke for lunch and went upstairs on the roof where the volunteer apt. is located and where the guys doing their community service sit and have their morning coffee and lunch. i learned that one of the palestinian prisoners being released today is from an umm el-fahem family. j., joanna and i began discussing this and j. was very clear that he does not feel that the returning prisoners should receive heroes' welcomes. he told us also that the family of the former prisoner has changed their views over the 20 years since he was arrested and he understands that they now do not agree that the murder he committed (of an arab who either worked for the israeli government or who was a spy for the israelis, i am not clear about this) was justified.
we spoke for a very long time about life in umm el-fahem, arabs and jews living together, the need for a palestinian state and the efforts that will be needed after statehood is achieved to go into making it a healthy, thriving country, how he teaches his children the importance of the arab saying that what is most important is to feed the head not the belly. he spoke of his many israeli (jewish) friends, of one who his son misses when things are going on in umm el-fahem that keep this particular friend away. he also spoke of those who want to develop relationships (i.e., arabs with jews) but who are sometimes afraid that they will be ostracized by some in umm el-fahem if they do. most of all he stressed that while there are things in israel that he disagrees with that life is good here and how important it is for israel and the palestinians to make peace and get on with their lives.
i don't mean at all to make the conversation sound simple or obvious. j. shared many descriptive anecdotes and explained his feelings in a way that made clear the difficulties of being an arab in israel. but he also spoke of the comfort that he feels here (he is a citizen) and how he wants his kids to grow up here although he cannot understand why the arab schools, and the other services, or the lack of basic services, in umm el-fahem, are so awful and wanting as compared to schools, services, ... for jewish israelis.
he spoke of the village that has grown into a "city" (but is not really a city yet) of umm el-fahem as compared to the other (jewish) cities of israel and the lack of parity. the discussion was very fact-based and bottom-line he was positive and forward looking.
i relate this particular conversation at this particular time because it began when someone mentioned how happy people in umm el-fahem were at the return of the prisoners. i have heard views similar to j.s from others who want parity, want peace, have jewish friends, want to continue to live together arabs and jews and build a shared future.
i have personally felt no undercurrent of tension or attitude since i arrived in umm el-fahem. but i also understand that umm el-fahem has historically been a stronghold of radical islamists.
i have not yet gotten under the surface enough to understand how that impacts life for the people who i have met who are not guided by their anger and do not exist in states of aggression against israeli jews or other jews (e.g., joanna or me).
last friday around 5:30pm i walked back to the gallery building from the bus stop, having returned from haifa, where, with vivian's family, i was given an high level tour of the city, i guess they call it.
that makes sense as our guide was haifa mayor yona yahav. vivian, yona and i worked together in the early 70s: yona sat in london as the secretary-general of the world union of jewish students, wujs, and in a mouse crap-filled loft, ..., on west 27th street, nyc. vivan worked for the jewish student press service and i for the north american arm of wujs, the north american jewish students network, "network"). traffic had been congested and i saw as i walked that there was a demonstration at the roundabout at the entrance of the road into
there were palestinian flags and placards with arabic writing. the demonstrators were young (college students?). there was a significant police presence and while there was the chanting one expects at demonstrations there was no violence or physical activity.
so, while i do not mean to be naive i can only "report" on my experience, which is that there are many people in umm el-fahem that want normal relationships, value dialogue, and want equitable conditions.
said abu shakar leads the effort to dialogue as he grows the gallery, develops plans for a museum, and brings community groups and school children -- through a formal program with the elementary schools -- into the gallery where they are exposed to art, culture, and much more.
as well as children's fee-based classes on saturdays.
o.k. i need/want to eat dinner. i have so much more to share: last night we went to a huge outdoor celebration, before which we had coffee/tea in Said and his wife Siham's incredible home. and after the party we socialized with then two different sets of friends in their homes as Said and Siham were giving us a night tour of the u e-f views and while riding around they kept seeing friends out walking (we also passed moshav me anni adjacent to umm el-fahem). but that will all have to wait.
for after i eat i want to start entering (into the new format) the information that j. and i today and lilli and i yesterday were able to pull together.
and the details of my wonderful tale of unplanned exploration this afternoon will also wait.
a tragedy occurred here last night, the murder of a father and two sons -- ages 46/7, mid teens and 19. it had to do with a rich young woman falling in love with a poor young man, a mother who asked her husband to reverse his absolute no re: an engagement and marriage after the couple ran away and the daughter and mother were in touch by phone. it is suspected that the young woman's father contracted someone to murder the family. because of the murdes and increased crime tomorrow there will be a total strike in the municipality. as i think that means that all stores and offices will be closed when Said was about to leave around 2:15pm i asked if he would drop me off at the entrance of the road to u. e-f (i believe 2.4 km from the gallery). the return walk was an up-hill walk that really gives one's calf muscles a workout. details on the excursion anon.
before i came lilli suggested that i bring many books as i would probably be bored after the gallery closed. while i am enjoying reading the books late at night as i try to relax to then sleep (never a strong point) there is not a chance of my being bored as the days of my short stay speed by.