to the photo work of Skip Schiel in the Levant
© All text copyright Skip Schiel, 2011
Writer and activist
You remind me of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg who were "hoboes" traveling the rails in the boxcars glorying in this land, spewing poetry as they jounced along, manifesting in all they thought and did about the basic humanity of the folk. You are a noble heir of their legacy.
Former director of the Quaker youth program in the West Bank, Ramallah
I have a good story about a boy who went to his father, told him about his hard life, and asked advice. In reply, his father filled three pots with boiling water and put in the first carrots, in the second eggs, and in the third ground coffee beans.
After boiling for 20 minutes, the father asked his son what he saw. The son noticed softened carrots, a hardened egg and the strong smell and taste of coffee.
The lesson his father taught: that even though the three objects had faced the same boiling water, each result was different. The carrot was softened and weakened. The egg's inside became hardened. And the boiled ground coffee beans made delicious smelling and tasting coffee.
The point is that Skip seems to be the coffee. He improved the situation around him rather than being softened or hardened inside or outside by the boiling Palestinian situation.
Consulting Editor, Turning Wheel, the Journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Holocaust survivor
Skip Schiel has been documenting the Palestinian and Israeli reality through photographs and journal postings since 2003 - work with a better feel for the detailed texture of life in Gaza and the West Bank than any appearing in US media. Schiel spends time where most journalists dare not tread, amidst ordinary Palestinians, sharing in the dangers and frustrations of their lives.
His work has been invaluable for my own. As a writer for a Buddhist publication whose parents were victims of the Holocaust, I try to convey a view of the conflict that differs from the US media's, which obfuscates the injustices and sufferings inflicted on the Palestinians by Israel. Through his portraits of Palestinian men, women, and children striving to maintain ordinary routines despite harassment and attacks by Israel's military, Skip reveals to us the true face of Palestinians.
Palestinian Quaker and activist, Ramallah, Palestine
It saddens me to hear of the difficulties Skip is going through [finding an audience]. This is discouraging for us who are struggling in the situation. I never would have suspected that his pictures were not balanced. The first act of nonviolent resistance is to tell the truth. His pictures shared that. Let's pray our dear friend does not give up!
Former clerk, Friends Meeting at Cambridge
Skip's creative ministry has challenged, informed and inspired our Meeting for many years. His work is a visual reminder to us of the importance of remaining faithful to our peace and social justice testimonies.
Students in the American Friends Service Committee Popular Achievement program, Gaza
For us, Skip represented the realm of truth & reality, the realm of humans' supporting each other, Once, he asked us to write our experience in the Popular Achievement as a story, this thing opened our horizons & eyes towards a lot of things & experience we lived in the Popular Achievement. His photos were but a mirror of the facts, photos of every single living item. We would always that his photos were alive, so simple & so expressing.
Skip as a person was simple & friendly, He was so frank in transmitting the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for he was but an eye of truth & objectives, flying though pictures & thoughts, Skip always loved simplicity & originality. Actually, we felt sometimes that Skip was feeling the same as we do. Moreover, this man said his honest words about the fact of conflict in the Gaza Strip without subjective.
In short, life provides us with blessings & wonders & this time it gave us a magnificent creature, human being.
Director of a youth program in Gaza
He was here for short time but every one knows him or met him learned a lot from him. I am hearing the young people here talking about their experiences with him and some of them already started their own work to tell their stories, others are using the photos to express their world, it was great time to share and live with people here. You know for Gaza now very few people are coming and they challenging the danger here to know the truth and have the stories to tell about what they have seen, and on our side this is very important for people here to feel sympathy, support and solidarity by others. Therefore he should tell his people and keep his stories a live and don't worry about what they are saying because he should find some or few who believe in what they seen, the few people will increase gradually after while he will find more people in his close circle who are supporting him.
Coordinator - Cape Town, Phaphama Initiatives
Cape Town, South Africa
I first got to know Skip Schiel when he visited South Africa with the Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage in 1999 and when he volunteered at the Quaker Peace Centre.
I saw these as placing himself at the centre of the issue by volunteering and offering his services and skills in photography and communication at the service of the organization or campaign. This proved extremely valuable to the Quaker Peace Centre in our own publicity and I personally gained a friend from who I have learned so much from--about slavery, photography and how someone can creatively live the ideals one holds in a creative way.
I then had the unexpected pleasure of meeting him in Israel/Palestine where I was pleased to be able to facilitate his volunteering with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) where he unselfishly shared his skills in photography with the accompaniers as well as assisting EAPPI with media for their advocacy work.
I have then followed his activities through his email newsletter which has kept me up to date through the personal contacts he have made with peacemakers. From living in a situation of violence and change in South Africa I know how valuable it is to have the kind of support he is offering to peacemakers in Israel and Palestine--getting out the everyday stories of life, thought and peacemaking that don't make the international headlines. It helps keep the people on the ground going.
Friends Meeting at Cambridge
When I think of adjectives for Skip Schiel, the first words are "honest", "frank", "questioning", "intense". This is reflected in the visual images that come from his work in Israel/Palestine; he is committed to telling stories based on his experience traveling there. He would also like to be a channel for communicating a feel for the work of Quaker organizations that are involved there: the American Friends Service Committee, Friends United Meeting through the Ramallah Friends School, and Ramallah Friends Meeting's evolving Peace Center .
Compassion, despair, harsh realities, and human drama grip his heart and his camera, an inquiry based on experiences with Palestinians and with Israelis in the peace movement.. By showing what has moved and informed him in his travels, he hopes to lead us into interaction and questioning, and ultimately into trying to understand one's personal role in peacemaking. He opts for telling the stories from what may be seen as the less powerful side, if resources, military might, and freedom are the measure. With that perspective, and because he feels called to witness to personal experience which is inevitably subjective, his work and words can be seen as either provocative or evocative. I am moved because I have seen some of what he shows and describes, when I traveled to Israel/Palestine, and because I know Skip's witness entails risk, bodily and emotionally. I would like to support his ongoing learning and his work as a catalyst for our involvement.
Suzanne and Brayton Shanley
Directors of Agape, a lay Catholic nonviolence center in Massachusetts
Skip Schiel is a brilliant photo-journalist, Quaker, and a man touched with a poetic soul. His travels and photographs depicting them have taken him thru South Africa several times, to Chicago, and to the Pilgrimage Retracing the Route of Slavery from the US to Africa, among other journeys.
During the decades of his travel, he has led a steadfastly simple life in a rent-controlled apartment, joining with others in the community as a community activist in the midst of soaring apartment rentals to advocate for the poor.
Always a man of faith, Skip's deep spiritual connectedness, his resilience, exceptional skills at mediation and facilitation, in addition to the breadth and scope of his many travels, will place him among the great nonviolent disciples and missionaries spreading the truth of the Soul-Force of nonviolent love.
Storyteller and poet, often in Iraq
Skip is a deeply engaged artist who struggles to understand and reveal the many faces of injustice, oppression, economic exploitation, and environmental destruction. At the same time, he seeks to capture through his photography and writings those individuals and social movements that offer positive, life-affirming alternatives.
For the past many years, Skip has become increasingly concerned about the ongoing crisis in Israel-Palestine. His concern has led him to travel to this region and to live and work there as a teacher, photographer, and engaged witness. I believe his leading--in the Quaker sense of this word--flows from Spirit and has guided Skip toward ever deeper levels of compassion and empathy.
But his time in Israel-Palestine is only half of the work. Back home, Skip is fully committed to sharing his vision with others. Through his talks and slide show presentations, he seeks to reveal what life is like for the people of Israel and Palestine. He does not flinch from presenting the truth as he sees it. He does so, I believe, not to enflame or divide, but rather to engage others in the pursuit of justice and peace.
Writer, editor, activist
I have known Skip Schiel for over 16 years. We have traveled together through countries at war and countries trying to recover from its devastation. He is a person of integrity.
Skip Schiel has spent a good part of the last four years in Israel and Palestine, living and working closely with the inhabitants of those beleaguered lands. He has experienced fear and the wrenching emotions resulting from the loss of life.
Skip does not carry a bias against any person or group of people, but he possesses a clarity of discernment when justice and injustice are operative in a given situation. He will express this clearly in his photography and writing. Persons who want a particular viewpoint to emerge in the presentation of his experiences in the Mideast should not attend them. Those who really want to know what is happening beyond the hype and propaganda can do no better than to engage with his words and photographs. Skip is a companion to suffering, a fellow to courage and a person dedicated to the always difficult pursuit of witnessing to the truth.
Friends Meeting at Cambridge
Frequent participant in Skip Schiel's clearness & support committees
My mother (Polly Thayer Starr), who is a painter and eighty-nine years old, was so moved by the material Skip sent her that she has said she wished she could be young again, if only to participate in these activities.
In an issue of Peacework on nonviolence, prayer and politics, Tony Mullaney speaks about prayer as, among other things, "(offering) the gift whereby we confront violence and suffering face to face, yet the feeling of hope remains...the promise of prayer is awareness, a loving look at what is real..."
I believe the same things can be said of Skip's compassionate presentation of the human situation. Skip entitled a recent photographic exhibit at the Friends Meeting at Cambridge, As you are, so you see--searching for the eye of God. I feel the converse is also true: as you see, so you are--and act; and that Skip helps us to see in a way that widens and deepens our perceptions and moves us to respond.
Loretta Williams, with Louise Dunlap
Director of the Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry
"Riveting" was the word that Louise Dunlap and I used independently on reading Skip Schiel's weekly journal postings from Palestine.
Skip is an ethical witness photographer. He lived with, observed, and learned through participation how Palestinians are resisting the injustices of occupation -- one of them a 350+ mile wall of separation crazily placed with 700+ checkpoints and permanent obstacles between homes and farm land, between one family member and another.
On this, his third trip to the region, Skip offered his services to many community organizations. He taught photography and writing workshops to young people who wanted to gain additional skills to better get the real stories out about current realities for Palestinians. One photograph shows Skip with youth trainees of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
Skip photographed and participated in several non- violent demonstrations. About one in Bil'in, he noted:
At times, soldiers attempted to arrest or at least pull out Palestinians, but each time other Palestinians and internationals - this is where internationals play a crucial role - would grab onto the person pulled by the soldiers, hanging on, sometimes being dragged across the rocky terrain. And each time, eventually, the soldiers relented, releasing the Palestinians.
Skip's journal postings reflect on the experiences and context of the photos with intensity, often including the voices of the many working for peace and justice for the Palestinians. We do not see such photographs, or this level of discussion, in the mainstream media. His work takes us into the heart of the maelstrom of Palestinian reality. For example, on May 27th, while alternative media in this country were decrying internationally withheld medical supplies (boycotting the democratically elected Hamas government), Skip wrote:
The main work of the day was visiting Gaza City's main hospital, Shifa. Calling it the house of suffering would not be an exaggeration. Expertly toured by Mohanad Al-Helo, a medical doctor working for an advanced degree in community health, we visited sick and dying people, suffering not only from the usual pains and threats of life but the siege, the occupation, the problems induced by the current political conditions, especially the US-led funding slashes. Causes of the injuries include the factional violence that cuts down innocent children, hits by the Israeli army, and even family violence generated by the anxieties of the siege. Most revealing, most difficult to observe were the children. Some on IV tubes, some with advanced cancer, some with bodies distorted by congenital disease, and the babies in incubators.
The photos show the human face of anguish as parents stand by a dying child who could have been saved had not the medicine supply been cut off by our government. No cancer drugs, either, only palliatives; weekly dialysis treatments cut from three to two.
Friends Meeting at Cambridge
I had a few minutes to look at your web pages and am amazed at the time and thought and skill you have already given to this complex situation...
Those first photos of Israeli and Palestinian tears, laughter, and work promoted discussion by sympathizers with varied segments of the situation = a timely opportunity to enlarge ones view. The new photos are in a much more sophisticated framework, that to me arouses a little suspicion that there's more to the total situation.
I'm so glad some differing views are being pulled together. Wish I knew enough to be of some use beyond encouragement to continue moving.
Participant in the Popular Achievement Program
Life taught me that man is but principles and experiences, life thought me that man is who feels man, with man & not against the humanity.
I study English literature at AlAzhar University. Through skip visit to Gaza, I felt that it was the first time I saw an honest American or all the powerful countries. Skip so understood for the Palestinian & their life.
Actually, he thought me things about the creativity for writing stories; I believe that everyone has the right to speak freely, to express his own beliefs towards anything. Skip showed me a new picture and image for a free soul. Today, the free countries must always provide a free horizon for its citizens to fly in the atmosphere of freedom. Skip by all means tried to revel the reality of the situation in Gaza Strip.
His photos, his topics were the measure of truth.
Finally, the eye of truth is the eye of a freedom.
To Skip: keep your principals & your freedom of thought as a free bird & never feel depressed of destroying voices
Participant in the Popular Achievement Program
We have a digital camera in our center which used mostly for documentation our work. Frankly, I was photographing without using the right technical way, I was using flash all the time .But all that have been changed when I received an invitation by Quaker Palestine youth program to participate in a workshop in basic photography on 18 of May, 2006.
I took my camera and went to the workshop in which I met Skip Schiel, an American photographer who taught us about camera principles. I have still remembered his words about steps to making a photo--notice, think, try, and try again. He wrote on the board three main principles that we have to follow while taking a photo --follow the light, choose the position and time, design the photo. After that all of we moved to take photos and I took many photos and also he shown us photos taking by him in several positions. After this workshop I can call myself as I have an experience in photography, but not a photographer yet. Now when there is any activity in our center , they prefer me to take photos.
Skip ... I have to thank u about that and also to certificate that u are one of people who supports Palestinians in their struggle, because Palestinians not only have to fight Israeli occupation, they also have to take good photos to show the world our suffering and also our skills and abilities...
Skip .... You don't give us cameras, you do better than that as this proverb "you can serve the people by giving them fish, but we perform a greater service when we teach them how to fish."
Skip .... We are very pride of American like you and please tell u people that we love American like you who believes in justice, human rights, dignity and equally between all kinds of people.
I wish everyone in our country could see [your slide show about Gaza]. We bought 2 of your wonderful photos and this [enclosure] is extra payment. They are worth ten times more.
Port Townsend Peace Movement, Washington
In February 2007 Skip Schiel presented his slide show "Hydropolitics in Israel and Palestine" in Port Townsend, Washington. We found his presentation ["Hydropolitics in Israel and Palestine"] articulate, well informed, and very helpful in understanding yet another dimension of the Israel-Palestine situation.
Skip was well prepared with his [equipment]. His information was quite detailed, including a long historical perspective and tie-in with Biblical times. His photos are sharp, beautiful, recent, and abundant. In discussion afterwards, with an audience that included many who already knew a lot, Skip's responses were thought provoking and well received.
I would recommend him to any group wanting to know more about the Middle East.
Paul J. Neil
Your [report] of your west coast trip is superb and very lucid. The sense that you are doing what you are supposed to do is very strong in your writing. In the tradition of all great pacifists, you journey without rancor or bitterness and what you are revealing to the world is truly valuable. Thanks so much for sharing your journey.
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