Presidents Bill Clinton, G. W. Bush and Barack Obama have all tried and failed to cut through the Israel-Palestine gordian knot. Next up is President Donald Trump, who wants to negotiate in an effort to unravel the seemingly intractable situation.
But in the absence of Alexander the Great’s sword, Katie Archibald-Woodward has another solution — a multimedia campaign that brings together photographs, recordings and blogs to propel an end to what she unequivocally calls “the occupation.”
Having studied theology as both an undergraduate and a graduate student, she has joined her passion for ministry with photography and is focused on the Palestinian-Israeli region where she hopes “to help our global community gain a fuller picture of life in Palestine/Israel and compel viewers to join movements to end a dehumanizing status quo and catalyze peace and equity for Palestinians, Bedouins and Jewish Israelis alike.”
Although her campaign has been pretty much a solo flight, she isn’t without allies including the non-profit Creative Visions, which is the legacy of Dan Eldon, the teenager whose photographs were featured in newspapers and magazines throughout the world before he and his photojournalist colleagues were stoned to death by a Somali mob.
Ms. Archibald-Woodward is more cautious than Mr. Eldon, but she embodies the same ardor for creative activism that produces media “which inspires solutions to global challenges.”
The latest manifestation of this commitment is “Through the Checkpoint,” a multimedia project, which she hopes provides “vision and voice to life lived amidst occupation…”
Her exhibition recently was on display at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany on Ponce de Leon Avenue, where Global Atlanta learned that she is endeavoring to share the interactive experience at other venues including places of worship, art galleries, schools and universities.
While she may travel alone, she actively seeks out partnerships “with the ongoing efforts to foster justice and peace for all living in the Palestinian-Israeli region by the continued call for equity, end of human rights abuses and the pursuit of coexistence without occupation.”
In addition, she has sought out companionship from a wide network of personal acquaintances and friends from her student days or organizations such as Jerusalem’s Dialogue to Action-Kids4Peace that brings Israeli and Palestinian children together.
The scope of her most recent visit in the fall of 2016 is revealing in the range of her acquaintances as well as her resilience as a traveler. On the West Bank, she visited Ramallah, Beit Sahour, Hebron, Bethlehem, Efrat Settlement, Aida Refugee Camp, Tent of Nations, Qalandia Checkpoint, and Nablus. In Israel, she visited Jerusalem, Zababdeh, Ibillin, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, Saffuriya, Haifa, Jaffa and Tel Aviv.
During her 10-weeks she visited friends, including both Israelis and Palestinians, and she reached out to make new acquaintances. For instance, while in Jerusalem she met with Dalia Landau, the subject of the book The Lemon Tree, which recounts the friendship that evolved between Bashir Khairi, a Palestinian, who in 1967 went to Israel to see the stone house with the lemon tree that he and his family had fled in 1948. There he met Ms. Landau, an Israeli college student whose family fled Europe for Israel following the Holocaust.
While Ms. Archibald-Woodward’s photos and interviews captured many of her experiences over her latest visit, the images she evoked in the Global Atlanta interview focused on life in the settlements and the checkpoints.
She contrasted vividly the lives of the Palestinians, who continue to live in the West Bank but are forbidden, for example in Hebron, to use certain streets right outside their front door, requiring them to exit from their rooftops, clamber over neighbors’ homes and descend on ladders to get wherever they are going.
On the other hand, the Jewish Israelis living in the settlements, many of whom are from the United States, can drive into what resemble U.S. subdivisions with European-style houses that have red tile roofs. “Everything is green and lush,” she added, “because they have all the water that they need. [The West Bank] is the area where there is the most water in the entire region.”
Meanwhile, she cited accounts that the Palestinians have to rely on buying water tanks placed on their roofs to catch rainwater because they have access to only 20 percent of the water produced in the West Bank whereas the Jewish Israelis receive 80 percent. The Palestinians have not been granted permission by the Israeli government to build improved piping and thus must purchase water from Israel despite having the resources right in the West Bank. In the summer months water tanks are also vital because the Palestinians, she said, are subject to water shut offs by the Israeli government as a form of collective punishment.
The accounts also say that the Oslo Accords perpetuated the discrimination in allocation of water between Israel and the Palestinians. They allotted 80 percent of the water pumped from the mountain aquifer – one of three underground water reserves shared by Israel and the Palestinians – to Israel and only 20 percent to the Palestinians. The accords further established there would be no cap to the supply of water to Israelis, whereas the water supply to Palestinians would be limited to predetermined amounts, namely approximately 118 million cubic meters (mcm) from drilling points active prior to the signing of the accords and another 70-80 mcm or so from new ones.
At present, Palestinians in the West Bank must purchase from Mekorot (Israel’s national water company) more than double the amount water specified in the accords, an amount that now equals about one third of available water in the West Bank.”
And Ms. Archibald-Woodward underscores that the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law hold “it is illegal for any citizen of an occupying power to inhabit an occupied area,” despite Israel’s counterclaims. “It is illegal for Jewish Israelis to settle in the West Bank,” she said, “but settlers—born in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere—feel that they have a religious right and Israel also gives incentives.”
The living accommodations are reflective of a host of other inequities, she added, including the experience that Palestinians endure while traveling through the checkpoints.
She also said that she experienced some of the same hassle that Palestinians do passing through the checkpoints since she lost the visa slip she was handed when she entered Israel.
Israel’s domestic security service closely tracks Palestinians who pass through the checkpoints and can revoke work, travel and medical permits at will. Ms. Archibald-Woodward was questioned at the notorious Checkpoint 300 by one of the teenage soldiers about her lack of a visa and was told that she would have to go to the Qalandia Checkpoint, miles away, to pass through into the West Bank. Her firm objections changed his mind, but her empathy for what the thousands of Palestinians experience regularly has remained with her.
Her travels also have taught her the complexities of the situation and its intransigence, but they have increased her ardor rather than diminished it.
“I grew up in a family that valued culture and travel,” she said. “Traveling was the best way to connect with and understand other cultures. It was deeply ingrained in me as I was growing up that other cultures are to be celebrated, valued and connected with.”
At age 31, she remains convinced despite her awareness “of how divided we are,” that “richness comes out of knowing and spending time with people who have different ways of living and being and speaking and eating.”
That said, she remains committed to her ministry without Alexander’s sword, but instead with her camera and voice recorder.