Al Khalil/Hebron Journal - A project started after a visit to Al-Khalil/Hebron in January 2013
Landscape and Power I: Al-Shuhada St.
Charcoal on paper
27 x 22.5 inches
Landscape and Power II
Mixed media on paper (charcoal, photograph)
21.5 x 24 inches
Security and Heritage (בטחון ומורשה)
Charcoal on paper
14 x 17 inches
Untitled (drawing lessons/ Al-Shuhada St.)
Mixed media (charcoal, pastel, photo-collage)
24 x 18.25 inches
I began working on this series in 2013. In summer 2014, the State of Israel launched its third military operation in Gaza since 2008. The two drawings below are part of a multi-image work-in-progress that has expanded the project's initial geographic boundaries - Al-Khalil/Hebron - to include this recent devastating chapter in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. These drawings are first attempts; they will most likely be reworked, perhaps replaced, and the group of images in the final piece may expand. The piece will also include a Hebrew poem by Yitzhak Laor titled The Harvester (הקומבין ). I feel fortunate to have this poem to work with, not only as an element in the series, but also for artistic guidance in searching for a visual quality that Joseph Brodsky, writing about William H. Auden's poem September 1939, described as "sorrow controlled by meter." In this case, to sorrow I should also add horror, and anger. Many thanks to Yitzhak Laor for letting me include the poem in the work, and to Rutie Adler and Chana Kronfeld for invaluable help in translating it.
Here is our big harvester, waiting like a dark mound, bald
in the night, in the rain, dripping clear water, and in the morning glistening and pure
it awaits, blinding bright like a lake in spring, in summer ablaze, it awaits
its turn, its quiet engine awakes, gurgles gingerly at times,
it trembles with desire to get going, go out, crawl across an insect-
covered land, maid-servant to the genius-man, but the moment is yet to come.
In stillness it awaits still its Big Day, the iron testicles of the
Master of the Place at the ready, to cover all with lead. A thrill cuts us like a scythe, a hollow body
waiting for a bit of
soul to be let into it, like air into an oboe playing hymns to the harvest. Into the streets
we shall go, into the fields we shall come, the miraculous revival of our rotten flesh, lo, like a giant
caterpillar it drags itself up to haul in its plunder, the smoke of exhaust fumes rise up
and the sweet savor of motor oil, holy incense of worship, our kids,
follow it, after waiting quietly in place, donning army gear and profane sands, the foreskin of their
conscience cut off, and he who is afraid, conquers
his fears, and he who worries is ashamed, and he who is shamed gets over it, this
is the greatest time of our lives, the body suddenly has a spiritual meaning.
And when the harvest is expelled, we remain silent, the loudspeakers talk
in our stead, blood pounds in the chest, flows from the mouths of broadcasters, attendants.
Behold our proud nation, a barren woman yells: I gave birth. Sing O barren woman,
Thou that didst not bear; go glean after the harvester.
Yitzhak Laor, 2009-10
Translated from the Hebrew by Rutie Adler, Chana Kronfeld, and Noga Wizansky
Harvest - Tour of Duty
Charcoal, photo-collage on paper
21.5 x 24.5 inches
Harvest, Gaza 2014
Charcoal, photo-collage on paper
21.5 x 24.5
Route to Al-Khalil/Hebron (A Jewish-Israeli-American looks at the occupied West Bank through a bus window), 1-6
Series in progress
Charcoal on paper
14 x 17 inches
2015 - ongoing
A Palestinian home protected from the stones and garbage that Jewish settlers routinely throw.
Charcoal on paper
14 x 17 inches
Several years ago on a visit to family in Israel (one of my childhood homes), I joined a tour to Hebron/Al-Khalil with the Israeli veteran combatant organization Breaking the Silence. The experience was informative and deeply disturbing. Photographs that I took on the tour became departure points for the drawing-essay on this page.
Route to Al-Khalil/Hebron 1
Route to Al-Khalil/Hebron 2
Route to Al-Khalil/Hebron 3
Route to Al-Khalil/Hebron 5.
Route to Al-Khalil/Hebron 6
The same is true of the work Breaking the Silence performs in the Occupied West Bank. On the tour, we heard sobering accounts by veterans who did not mince words about the things they had done while serving in Hebron/Al-Khalil, and saw the dehumanizing military order in effect - what else can you call streets segregating Jews from Palestinians with makeshift barricades; a Palestinian woman carrying heavy shopping bags made to stop and undergo a search at an internal city checkpoint, also makeshift, manned by four rifle-slinging IDF soldiers; or Palestinian homes sheltered with metal cages at their windows from the rocks and garbage Jewish settlers routinely hurl at them? . We spent the last two hours of the tour listening to the eloquent Palestinian peace activist Issa Amro describe his experience of life in Hebron. However, these lessons, in which Palestinian and IDF veteran perspectives combined to present a different view of the Occupation from those promoted by the state of Israel and its allies, did not change the fact that our group remained solidly within the compass of the military entity that implements it. Walking in Hebron under the auspices of former IDf combatants was informative, but it kept the enforced segregation between Jews and occupied Palestinians intact and by extension, it maintained the power relations between occupier and occupied, citizens and stateless inhabitants of the same land. Activists acknowledge this structural reality that characterizes even the most collaborative Israeli-Palestinian alliances. The framework provided by Breaking the Silence is especially insular, and reiterates in practice the real relations between Palestinians and Jews in the areas of Israel/Palestine that lie beyond the Green Line.
I am working on this project as part of a political commitment to a just and livable future for all inhabitants of Palestine/Israel. A discussion of the specific forms this future might take is beyond the scope of this text - for my part, I support a single secular democratic state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. I am sure though that there is no hope of even reaching for a future unless the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is ended.
For me, this commitment includes an apology, to the extent that one is even possible, to Palestinians living on the other side of barricades, thieving and abusive policies, deceptive rhetoric, guns, bombs, tanks, bulldozers, all established, spoken, and deployed in my name as a Jew and Israeli citizen, all buttressed by tired yet enduring mythologies, inflamed ideologies, and cold capitalism.  An apology also for my American taxes, which make me a contributor to the Occupations's most generous funding project.
This project has a personal dimension as part of an ongoing effort to better understand "where I was from," work that involves among many things, revisiting narratives from childhood that became formative components of my identity well into adulthood. The temptation to refuse this personal history and the affiliations that come with it has been great in recent years. But, while I have left my childhood home physically, I can't erase it from my consciousness or concern. No matter how despairing and angry I become, I am tied to Israel/Palestine through family and friends who live there, by a love for the Hebrew language and the literary and artistic cultures artists of Israel/Palestine continue to create; by memories of smells, sounds, and shapes that shadow insistently and incessantly the looking I do at the physical world I now inhabit; by the homelike familiarity that descends on me each time I return; and by deep respect for the people I know who continue to work across national lines and against all odds it sometimes seems, toward a humane future in the region. I would not want to refuse these connections, nor am I able to.
We left northern Tel Aviv in a chartered bus on a mild winter morning. The ride to Al-Khalil/Hebron, 68 kilometers, took just over an hour. In other respects, the distance between the two cities is enormous. My companion, a resident of Tel Aviv traveling beyond the Green Line for the first time in many years, told me that he began feeling afraid forty minutes into the drive, as soon as we started passing stretches of land and built spaces that looked quite different from those tended or designed by Israeli urban planners and landscapers. Rolling hills, terraced and cultivated in small patches; dense cities with buildings irregularly sited and punctuated by rising minarets; land studded with rough shacks and torn tents. All these signaled that we had crossed into "The Territories," which for this Tel Aviv dweller felt foreign and cloaked in an aura of danger and irrational enmity.
Breaking the Silence works to expose the Israeli public to the realities of life for Palestinians living under the state's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip, and to the conduct of the IDF soldiers who enforce it. It does this work by gathering first hand testimonies from soldiers who have served in these territories and disseminating them in publications, lectures, public tours, and exhibits. The tour I joined served its purpose. I left Hebron/Al-Khalil with no illusions about the brutality and degradation Palestinians experience on a daily basis at the hands of the Israeli military, or about the hollowness of arguments still invoked with tired regularity in defense of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.
However, when I return to the West Bank it will not be with Breaking the Silence. Not because the group's work isn't valuable, but because of the silences it inevitably sustains and legitimizes even as it seeks to disclose realities, which the Israeli public does not, and in many ways refuses to see. Breaking the Silence gained expanded visibility in Israel and beyond after publishing a report with testimonies collected from soldiers who participated in Israel's crushing military assault on Gaza in 2014. Rela Mazali and Ghada Ageel have argued persuasively that the report achieved visibility only because the testimonies were those of combatants, who hold a privileged place in the militarized sensibility of the Israeli public. As such, their declarations are recognized as valid evidence, even while this recognition has largely taken the form of scorn, anger, and accusations of treason from high-ranking politicians, military figures, the media, and the general public. Mazali and Ageel do not dismiss this response, but turn instead to the problematic respect the group has won in some circles, mostly among the Israeli left. They remind us that the stories provided by soldiers are neither new nor unique; during the summer 2014 assault, Palestinians - civilians, professionals, human rights workers, government workers, and the media - compiled and disseminated an enormous amount of information about the devastation unleashed on them. This information, the voices of Palestinians, have been rendered virtually invisible in Israeli mainstream discourse, and also in many Western media venues. Mazali and Ageel point out that Breaking the Silence's identification with the IDF, no matter how critical, necessarily excludes Palestinian testimonies from the reports they produce and effectively continues to silence them: "The entire, vast body of knowledge and evidence to the very policies they 'disclose,' documented, researched, filmed, aired, written and spoken by so many Palestinians and civilians, is portrayed as a silence, a void." 
By extension, my drawings for the Al-Khalil/Hebron Journal are marked by the power of the occupier. More bluntly, they represent views of an apartheid system from the vantage point of its enforcers and beneficiaries. They represent the experience of someone who has never lived in the West Bank or Hebron/Al-Khalil but who, when she traveled it, was secure and free to move in ways that its Palestinian inhabitants are not; someone who saw the Occupied Palestinian Territories initially through the glass pane of a comfortable bus and then from places in them where only Jews and other non-Palestinian visitors are allowed to tread. I try to signal this viewpoint in several ways: through perspectives encoded with the spatial privileges visitors with Breaking the Silence occupy, observed places interrupted with distant landscape forms that make power relations visible within the drawing frame, and fingerprints that invoke the bus window separating my body from the occupied space I was traveling in. All these attempt to open the signifying work of the paper surface - allowing it to simultaneously evoke open space and a glass barrier; the infrastructure of occupation; presence and segregation; longing and grief.
1. Ghada Ageel and Rela Mazali, "Breaking the Silence 'Confessions' Part of the Problem, not the Solution," Middle East Eye, 18 May, 2015
2. Two years later, this description of harassment at checkpoints pales before the current reality of extra-judicial killings of Palestinians carrying sharp objects, or simply suspected of doing so by Israeli soldiers manning them.
3. Gadi Algazi, “Offshore Zionism,” New Left Review 40, July-Aug. 2006, 27-37