The Occupation Notebooks: Entry 8: Jaffa and Lydd

For the morning of Friday, January 17, we took an historical tour of the Old City of Jaffa with Yousef Asfour.

Asfour is a history teacher at a local high school. He was a knowledgeable and gracious guide through a city with thousand-year old stories to remember that are now overwhelmed by the politics and economics of Israeli settlement.
One of the many stories Asfour told us was about the concerted effort of Israel to attract Israeli artists to the Old City. The port/harbor and surrounding neighborhoods boast what seems like hundreds of galleries, museums, and shops that purport to offer Israeli antiquities and modern art from the area. It is a profound performance of an Israeli cultural history that works hard to negate and suppress the thousand-year old history of Palestinians marked everywhere by the architecture, cultural objects, and people of the area. In that, it reminded me much of Ein Hod (see Entry 6: Nazareth and Haifa)–an invented tradition aimed at normalizing the occupation by an erasure of Palestinian cultural history in and of the place. Meanwhile, just about every store sells Israeli flags and swag–from tshirts to posters.
In the afternoon, we took an historical tour of the Lydd Refugee Camp with Khalil Abu Shehadeh.

We entered the camp through a small, dirt road.
Unlike most of the cameras we had seen, we were created with the surveillance put up around the camp by the drug dealers. Drugs have become a serious issue for the refugees–both in terms of substance abuse but also in terms of IDF raids and harassment.
Legally, refugees are not allowed to build, improve, or repair camp residences. They are allowed to own building materials, but if they use them they can be fined, arrested, and imprisoned. As a result, the majority of homes at the camp barely support the families that reside there:

While just over the wall, Israeli settlers live in luxurious apartments and condominiums.

While at the wall, Khalil Abu Shehadeh told us about the many family members and friends he has at the camp who have died unable to get to a medical facility in time to save them–the wall cutting off access roads . This reminded me of the stories we heard in Qalqilyia (see Entry 5).

Shehadeh also told us of a man who took a bulldozer to part of the wall after losing a family member. The entire camp protected his identity from IDF soldiers.

I took many pictures of the people of Lydd, including the group of children that walked around with us for most of the afternoon. I decided not to include their images here.

At some point, I have to wonder about whether or not I am indulging the kind of “poverty porn” that has plagued the U.S. news media in relation to indigenous communities of the United States. A “visual tour” through poverty can allow one to escape any sense of social relationship to or responsibility for it by suggesting, in the end, that it is the natural state of things.

It is a difficult negotiation between addressing the realities of the occupation in Palestine and for Palestinians in solidarity and simply providing a means of eluding those realities and one’s responsibilities to them. The fact is that the U.S. endorses, funds, and protects Israel’s occupation of Palestine in ways too familiar to its oppression of indigenous nations now located within its state and occupied territories. Every person we met, every place we saw, asked us to acknowledge these relationships and affirmatively take some responsibility for changing them.

Our final meeting of the day was with a former political prisoner and his brother now living in Lydd. Afterwards, two members of the delegation had to depart. We said our tearful goodbyes and returned to the hotel to debrief.
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