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January, 2017, a room-size installation called Doors Open, Doors Close at Ceres Gallery, 547 W. 27th Street, 2nd floor. Tuesday-Saturday noon-6, Thursdays noon-8. Small works by women in domestic violence shelters are incorporated into my larger work.


I have 300 tiny works in Artists in the Archives: The Alternet, a collaborative project with over 75 artists, created by Carla Rae Johnson. still traveling since Jan 2013.

My third solo of drawings at the Morningside branch of the New York Public Library, February, 2017. Check back for details, or sign up at my blog for announcements.


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Monday, November 21, 2011

West Bank Notes, continued

I met a friend in Jerusalem, to spend the afternoon walking around the city in neighborhoods that drew me in tight enough to start asking about rents.  At the Waffle Bar we discussed getting to her settlement south of Hebron.  She said we could take the bus to Kiryat Arba and hitch home, was I OK with that, or we could have someone pick us up at the bus stop.  I was OK with hitching since she did it all the time, no need to disturb anyone.  I'd hitched all over Israel many years ago and across the US, when I too was in my twenties. She said she often stayed at her sister's house at the settlement rather than by her parents ever since the recent terrorist murders, because there were bars at the windows and she felt safer, and I asked, why then was she willing to hitchhike? She said she didn't mean to frighten me, we could take the bus, it's bullet proof. We're taking the bus, I said. But when we got to the outskirts of Kiryat Arba, it was clear that hitchhiking meant waiting at the bus stop with several others also waiting for rides, and that, out there, passing cars always stopped. Jewish cars. We got a ride.

There was an agreement between me and those I was visiting not to discuss politics.  I didn't bring up the causes of violence, or the substance of fear.

The settlement is a beautiful cluster of homes for 100 families, with hilly streets that seem coiled around like a big challah roll. At the edges, the landscape falls away into the vast expanse of the South Hebron Hills, now brown with winter coming.  Nothing seemed to be growing in the far out-thereness, no animals grazing, but it was a spectacular view nonetheless, especially in the morning mist and at sunset.   But inside the cozy leafy planted watered settlement, with playgrounds and schools and synagogues, I was actually reminded of my parents neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo in northern San Diego, though here much smaller, of course, hillier, and less affluent. One other distinguishing characteristic: the settlement has for its nearby neighbors a few Bedouin families in their alarmingly poor ramshackle dwellings on the other side of the fence, at one point not more than a few yards away.

One water pipe leads from the settlement to the village, all its valves on this side. Water is the symbol and the actuality of the tensions in the West Bank.  Many people say that future wars will be fought not for oil but for water. Here the rumbling is already audible. At the table inside the house someone who I know is sensitive to all suffering complained that we were wasting water, and someone else replied Use all the water you want.   No need to talk politics, the air was subtly quietly saturated with it, at that moment at least.

As we walked to the synagogue Friday night Bedouin boys were playing soccer in a part of the fields closest to the settlement.  I was happy to see that.  In the synagogue, the women were separated from the men by a wall.  When asked on Saturday morning if I was going again to the synagogue, I said no, I was not happy behind a separation wall.  My message was perhaps missed in the moment and taken to refer only literally to the separation of women, but I'm sure it was discussed later on. This is the only time I can ever remember being grateful for the women's section.

It was in many ways a wonderful shabbos, with many people who I was delighted to meet, or meet again after a long time.  At suppertime, someone brought an M16 to the dining room and parked it near him against the wall.  Ordinary, I was told.   He is a member of the security patrol.  I discovered, though, that the doors of the house were never locked, and everyone went out for walks alone or in small groups at all hours.  On Saturday everyone napped for a few hours. What really are the contours of peacefulness, and what is the motivation of fear?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

West Bank Notes

Just before leaving for Israel, to join a 10-day learning with Rabbis for Human Rights - North America, I had a premonition that I would not return from Israel. No doubt it was anxiety about the itinerary into the West Bank precipitating a head-on collision with my Orthodox family in Israel. But now I know it means that my life's preoccupation will never leave Israel. My attention has been permanently bonded, right now in sorrow because of the daily injustices we witnessed and the understandable fear on both sides, hopefully in exuberance as well by the end of the trip, because those two can exist together. It remains to be seen what of my art will be clearly about this heart-breaking conflict, and what part submerged, felt only by myself.

Of course we grouped together on the first evening for introductions. The next morning we were off to a Palestinian farm in the West Bank near a village called Sinjil to help plant olive trees. I was a little wary of this when I first saw it on the itinerary, as I didn't come here for eco-tourism. How sweet, planting trees. But in fact the Palestinian farmers request a Jewish or at least sympathetic presence when they plant, cultivate and harvest, and have been doing so for years, as the Jewish settlers who live on the hilltops above them sometimes raid the planting and then the harvesting, doing damage not only to crops but to tractors and, often, farmers. The army is/was there to protect Jews. Rabbis for Human Rights, when they began, had a staff of two or three and during the harvest came out every day, and now there is a continual presence of volunteers and human rights groups. RHR also went to the courts (they say repeatedly that their best tools are Israeli democracy, to try to insure its application to everyone). The Supreme Court finally ruled that the army must protect the Palestinian farmers, and their crops, must prevent vandalism on the part of settlers, and must bring the vandals to justice. There has since been some progress in the protection part, but the “vandals to justice” part doesn't seem to be happening.  Anyway it was an extraordinary experience, and at lunchtime we sat under some almond trees and the farmers brought us fresh felafels, the best I've had so far (out of many).

That afternoon we went to East Jerusalem, first to Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood where the tenants are slowly being evicted and Jewish settlers are moving into those houses. It isn't clear who owns the houses. Also, in all fairness, Palestinians have not been paying rent in many cases for protest reasons, but it isn't clear why they have a lesser claim than those being moved in. On one street there was a house with two sides. A Palestinian family lived in one side and a Jewish family in the other. They had to enter through the same tiny courtyard. On one side was a banner in Arabic proclaiming revolution. On the other side, maybe 5 feet away, was a sukkah with a plywood wall, which said things like “Left wing scum” and “Arabs get out”. Over the little fence in the neighboring courtyard, an older Palestinian women was up on a ladder slapping olives (or almonds) out of a tree to the ground, who stopped to shout to us her very angry version of what was going on. Arik Ascherman, a founder of RHR, was with us, and he is well known in these parts, probably in most of the West Bank, and infamously in the rest of Israel.

We went to another neighborhood called Silwan, and also “City of David” (believed to be the site of David's original Jerusalem), where there is a huge excavation going on. The Palestinians believe that the excavation is causing cracks in their houses and this seems to be mostly true, though probably some cracks were there before the excavation. The neighborhood is divided, Palestinians and Jews, and the garbage collection and general state of city services on the Palestinian side is noticeably deplorable. There is a Jewish information center, so the Palestinians started their own, and tiny and poor though it is, it provides some refuge for children who are otherwise developing in hatred and rage or in frustrated resignation.

Next day, up at 5, bus to checkpoint Qalandia into Ramallah, with a member of Machsom Watch, which has been a presence at the checkpoints for 15 years in an attempt to curtail some of the worst abuses by some soldiers. They have met some success. Ordinarily 5000 people pass through this checkpoint every morning on their way into Jerusalem for work, school ,and hospital.  But it was a Muslim holiday, so no children and far fewer workers, maybe 1000, were passing through. We passed through easily coming out from Jerusalem. Picture going to New Jersey over the George Washington Bridge. Then picture coming home through the tollgate. The army only cares about people entering Jerusalem. Here we see a very bleak arrangement of concrete and metal. The Palestinians, almost all men, must line up in a long narrow cage-like corridor with a turn-style at the end. Great pushing and shoving at the end of the line, though I don't know why, maybe frustrated sport, as they do this six days a week, starting at 5 a.m., in order to get to work on time. Every few minutes there is a whistle and three people get through the turn-style only to line up at the next corridor. Eventually people come to the “check-out” lines and spread out, into still more lines with turn-styles, and when they are through they must show permits and identification, which has information coded on metal strips. Children under 12 must bring original birth certificates every morning. Ages 12-16, identification, and over 16, permits, the getting of which is another story entirely. We were permitted, through Machsom's relations with the head of security, on the “humanitarian” line, which closes at 6:30 a.m. If a pregnant woman goes into labor and must get to a hospital in Jerusalem and it's later in the day, or any other emergency, one must first get a special permit, get a ride to the checkpoint, be carried by stretcher through the checkpoint, where an ambulance is hopefully waiting on the other side. Several stories of maternal and infant deaths. Our guide, veteran Machsom member Hannah Barag, had lots of painful stories to tell.

We are finally on our line, and we look at our watches. On this quiet morning, a holiday, with no children, no sick people, relatively few workers, it takes each of us 45 minutes to get through this last turn-style to have our passports checked. Imagine the delay, mayhem, humiliation, frustration on an ordinary day.

I'll only report here that the rest of the day included a wonderful visit with Dr. Melila Hellner-Eshed for study in preparation for our later visit to the Tomb of Rachel, for which you can never be prepared. That's for another writing. Maybe I'll name that writing “Tombs”. After visiting the tomb, we went then to Bethlehem, had some guided walks, including one through the refugee camp Deheisha established by the UN in 1954, also another story, but you should read about it in David Grossman's “The Yellow Wind”, which I've heard brought many skeptics and thousands of previously uninterested Israelis into the social justice camp. It's an incredible book. We stayed that night and the next in private Palestinian homes in Bethlehem, two of us with a family. The families were mostly middle class Christian Orthodox Palestinians  living in substantial homes. We all reported varying degrees of interaction, and though I felt my family and I enjoyed each other's company very much, very little was exchanged in regard to their perceptions of the Palestinian “situation”. The topic of water came up (the Arabs in the West Bank outnumber the Jews by something like 5 to 1, but have available to them 1/5 of the water) but it was met by a nod of recognition only, and the family went to great lengths to include abundant water in their hospitality. Being shut out of Jerusalem was their greatest concern, it being just too difficult to get a permit to pass through. 
 
On the day of the second sleep-over night, Hebron, and after lunch, the Cave Dwellers of the South Hebron Hills. 

Hebron and South Hebron Hills. Four or five heart-wrenching chapters in my forthcoming book, and some sort of summary soon in this blog.   Those using the words "apartheid" and "ghetto" are likely referring to Hebron. On the way from the first, where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, to the second, in the wilderness, we passed a settlement close by some Bedouin dwellings. This weekend I'm visiting people who live at this settlement, and though we've agreed not to talk politics, we have not agreed not to talk religion, and here there is a very fine, if any, line. I hope just to listen. When talking about anything else, though, I have a lot of affection for them.

I have to stop here, and I've barely scratched the surface. I'll write it all up in pieces.