Protestors Shut Down Palestinian Photo Exhibit at Massachusetts Library

Black and white close-up of an elderly person's hands resting on a light-colored fabric. The hands are adorned with signs of aging, showcasing wrinkles and veins. The individual is wearing a long-sleeved garment with intricate patterns on the cuffs.
One of the photos in the exhibit. Fatima Al Khawaja (2018) by Skip Schiel

Photography exhibitions are, in general, quaint affairs offering a space for people to contemplate and reflect on the art in front of them.

But that was not the case in an affluent suburb of Boston earlier this month when the local library exhibited the work of photographer and activist Skip Schiel.

According to WBUR, police had to attend the photo show held at Newton Free Library after protestors supporting Israel and Palestine showed up on the opening night.

Pro-Israel attendees sat in the front row shouting “shame” and “antisemite” to which Palestine supporters responded with “free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea.”

Schiel and three other speakers were expected to talk on a panel but library staff decided to leave the building and locked up the PA system after the raucous. The photographer tried in vain to give a speech anyway.

The commotion spilled out onto the streets outside with protesters waving Israeli and American flags and heckling Palestinians who were attempting to give a speech outside of Newton City Hall.

“I feel upset, obviously,” Schiel tells PetaPixel over email. But adds that he is “joyous in how the reception debacle has elevated the Nakba story and my photography — the inevitable law of unintended consequences and discredited the right wing of Israel’s supporters.”

Panoramic view of a large construction site with heavy machinery, excavated earth, and partially built structures. On the left, a paved walkway runs alongside the site, while cranes and tall buildings are visible in the background under a cloudy sky.
Schiel took photos inside Israel that were former Palestinian settlements. This is Beit Nattif which was depopulated during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. | Skip Schiel

The photography displayed by Schiel is his work documenting Palestinian life in the West Bank which he visited in 2018 and 2019. He took black and white photographs of historically displaced Palestinians in the West Bank and would then go and find the sites in Israel where they or their families lived before Israel’s independence in 1948.

“Those Palestinians cannot go back to their former homelands,” Schiel tells WBUR. “But I can.”

Residents in Newton, which has a large Jewish population, took exception to the exhibit’s title: The Ongoing & Relentless Nakba: The Palestinian Catastrophe of 1948 to Today.

“‘Nakba’ is now being used as a way to essentially say that Israel was conceived in original sin,” Newton resident Jeff Kosowsky tells WBUR, an initiator of the Pro-Israel protest. “‘Ongoing and relentless’ is code for ‘Israel has no right to exist.’”

A map displaying the region around Boston with roads and local towns. A large red arrow points to a specific location labeled "Yonden Field Day" situated southwest of Boston. Coastal and inland areas are shown, with a mix of green and white backgrounds.
Newton Free Library | Google

Schiel, who has been involved with leftist issues most of his life including being a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, says that he submitted the exhibit to Newton Free Library back in July.

However, given all that has happened since then, some of the town’s Jewish population felt it was insensitive to have a photo show about Palestinians in the West Bank.

Not all of the protestors agree with the rowdy methods employed. Doug Hauer organized a silent vigil outside the building but tells WBUR that he supports the photographer’s right to conduct his show.

“It’s just unthinkable to shut people down, and to shut them down in a manner that is not consistent with how we should operate as Americans,” he says.

Despite the hoo-ha on opening night, Schiel’s photos remain on show and will do until May 30.

“Now is the time to see it,” he adds. “After all the controversy surrounding my attempt to portray ordinary lives of extraordinary people under tough conditions.”