Through My Lens

Iris Keltz

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Hurricane Irma and the Six-Day War

Although Hurricane Irma, the fiercest tempest ever spawned by the Atlantic Ocean is now a collective memory and a historical footnote, it impacted me deeply. I found myself reliving one of the more terrifying moments in my life—hunkered down in a basement apartment in Ramallah hiding with a Palestinian family during a war that changed the face of the Middle East. Days before the war, my mother sent me a telegram: WAR IMMINENT; TAKE FIRST BOAT OR PLANE TO CYPRUS.

In 1967 my mother chewed her fingernails to the bone. In 2017, it’s my turn. I am the anxious mother praying for the safely of my daughter Minka, my sweet 6 and 8 year old grandkids, my 102 year old mother and brother who survived the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam. All hunkered down in Lake Worth, Florida, hoping the walls of Minka’s house and bullet proof windows will protect them from a storm of unimaginable magnitude. My mind is riveted on this hurricane. I hardly think about anything else. I track the storm incessantly. The cone of the storm is predicted to go over Minka’s house. I think of the Angel of Death passing over the homes of the Jewish slaves. But God does not look like Charlton Heston as I was drawn to believe in my younger days. The Creator looks like the eye of Irma–awesome, churning, spiraling, growing, shrinking, ever changing, terrifying and beautiful in ways beyond my human intellect to grasp.

My imagination moves the storm east, into the Atlantic Ocean. I fear being cut off by phone. A day before the storm hit Minka installed a land line, as added insurance to be able to communicate with the outside world. The Ft. Lauderdale Airport closed twelve hours before she and the kids were scheduled flight. I cannot stop wishing they were with me in New Mexico. My mother absolutely refused evacuation. “Let the storm take me away,” she railed in a Shakespearian manner. “I am not leaving.” I imagine conversations with my family after the storm. There is only before and after the storm.

Am I being punished for being an intransigent daughter in my youth? I remember answering my mother’s frightened telegram to evacuate Jerusalem. “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.” War seemed impossible, an abstract nightmare that happened in history books and movies.

Now I feel as powerless as she must have felt. Friends tells me to light candles and pray. I’ve been up all night. The intensity of my prayers let me know that before today my prayers have been rather tepid. I pray for the safety of my family and for all people caught in the storm’s path.

Miraculously the eye of the storm traveled the west coast leaving Minka and family Between tornado warnings Minka, Aiden and Maya emerged from the safety of the windowless bathroom. My mother and brother from the windowless laundry room. When the winds died down my grand daughter would go upstairs, curl up beside the newly installed land line and read to me. She has just broken the code. Green Eggs and Ham has always been one of my favorite books but never did the word so poetic, the cadence so lovely that I wanted to dance. Like Sam-I-Am’s friend I too love green eggs and ham and am incredibly grateful for the safety of my family.

The day after the storm I got a phone call from Faisal. He wanted to know how Mama Janet had fared. “She is safe and back home in her condo,” I told him. “I’m so happy to hear that Erees. I was so worried about her.” It touched me deeply that Faisal was also incredibly grateful for the safety of my family, or should I say our extended family.


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Upcoming Events

October 9th @ 6pm, 2017:
Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse will host Iris Keltz who will read from her new book Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land. A conversation will follow. Please join us.

The bookstore is located at 202 Galisteo St. in Santa Fe. Downtown Santa Fe has metered parking, parking lots, and parking garages in several locations. Collected Works does not have a dedicated parking lot. The Sandoval Parking Garage’s back entrance sits across the street from our Water St. entrance. The first hour of parking is just $1!

October 14th @ noon, 2017
The New Mexico History Museum/ Palace of the Governors at 113 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe.

Iris Keltz with participate in Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest Public Program Series. Her 30 minute talk will be followed by an in-gallery Q&A.

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“Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land” has finally been published!

Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land: Journeys in Palestine and Israel

Nighthawk Press: Pub. date: May 1, 2017
Historical Memoir, 293 pp. $19.95 paperback
Available at bookstores, online retailers, or
Nighthawk Press
Iris Keltz might be the only Jew, American or Israeli, to have found sanctuary with the Palestinians during a war that changed the face of the Middle East. The Israeli military victory in 1967 should have been a jubilant moment for her. Raised on the narrative of Jewish suffering in a Diaspora lasting thousands of years, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust, Keltz believed Jews deserved a homeland in Palestine––the Promised Land. Her story of self-discovery takes her from the streets of Paris where she dreamed of becoming a writer to the volatile Middle East.

“Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land: Journeys in Palestine and Israel” is a timely historical memoir. This June, people around the world will be commemorating the fiftieth year since the 1967 Six-Day War. While Jews celebrate the reunion of east and west Jerusalem, Palestinians endure ongoing occupation and loss.

After hitchhiking from Paris to Jerusalem, Jordan in the spring of 1967, Keltz had to wait three days for permission to cross a U.N. checkpoint into Jerusalem, Israel––enough time for her to meet a handsome young Palestinian poet, musician, and world traveler. After a whirlwind courtship of less than three weeks, they married and were planning their honeymoon when war broke out. The day Israeli soldiers barged into a basement apartment in Ramallah where the newlyweds had found sanctuary with other Palestinians, Iris was frozen with fear. She meant to cry out, “I’m Jewish, American, and these are my friends.” Her silence that day compelled her to write this book.

Keltz’s first book, Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie (Cinco Puntos Press, 2000), documents the counterculture in Northern New Mexico where she has lived since the early seventies. The book was named a Top Ten Read Of The Century by New Mexico Magazine. It was also honored with a Women Writing the West Award. May, 2017 issue of New Mexico Magazine has an article by Keltz on this subject.

As a freelance journalist, Keltz’s articles, op-eds, and essays have appeared in print and electronic media. She has spoken in universities, synagogues, churches, high schools, and civic centers, and has represented her district in a national Tikkun lobby. She is a founding member of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP-Abq) and Friends of Sabeel Abq. Retired from a forty-year teaching career that began in Harlem, New York and ended in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Keltz is now free to write, travel and visit her grandchildren on opposite coasts.

“As a Jew with a profound love for Islam and a lifelong dedication to human rights, I am overjoyed to encounter this masterfully written memoir. With the ease of a bard and the rigor of a historian, Iris Keltz tells a deeply personal love story tragically set in a world on the brink of war. I will refer to this book often for intellectual clarity and political inspiration.” ––Mirabai Starr, translator, Dark Night of the Soul, and author of Caravan of No Despair.

“Blessed with clarity of vision and language, as well as bottomless compassion, Iris Keltz introduces us to both her Palestinian and Jewish families; she let us wonder at the possibilities for a peace beyond war, religion, and ideology.” ––Mark Rudd, author, Underground: My Life in SDS and in the Weathermen.

May 17th @ 7PM
Peace & Justice Center, 202 Harvard SE

May 20 @ noon; Women’s Focus with Carol Boss
KUNM 89.9 FM Abq. 90.9 FM Taos

May 27 @2-3:30 PM
OP.CIT Books; 124A Bent St. Taos

June 4 @ 3PM; Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW, ABQ

August 16 @ 7PM; SOMOS 2017 Summer Writers Series, 108 Civic Plaza Drive, Taos, New Mexico

Note: Iris Keltz is available for interviews, events, and bookclubs. Contact her at

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Boycott is Kosher

In 2012, our local Friends of Sabeel group in Albuquerque was organizing a national conference on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Wanting the event to be inclusive, we invited all denominations of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and any religious permutation imaginable. However before endorsing the upcoming conference, the leader of the National Council of Churches asked to speak with local Jews. They were worried about accusations of antisemitism. I volunteered. But by the time the church meeting happened, the only Jew-without-a-title sitting around the table was me. The circle included a rabbi, cantor, Hillel leader, and Jewish Federation representative. Before the meeting, the church leader had asked me to remain silent, “So the Jewish community will feel heard,” she’d said. There was no need to point out that I was part of this community. She knew. 

I didn’t speak until the Jewish community leaders explained that BDS threatened to “delegitimize Israel”. What does that mean? Did they think Britain might rescind the 1917 Balfour Declaration establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine? Or, the world would demand a return to the borders as defined by the 1947 UN Mandate to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab areas? Did they worry Israel would cease to exist because the country had broken the promise for “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion race or sex…” as stated in the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 15, 1948? Has any national entity ever been delegitimized because of transgressions of international law?

Shining a light on fear: non-Jews fear being labeled anti-semitic. Jews fear the delegitimization of Israel. Israeli-Jews fear suicide bombers and Arabs multiplying faster which threatens Jewish dominance in the “Jewish democracy.” The demographic fear is invoked whenever anyone suggests that Israel should become a secular democracy for all the people living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Ironically, Bernie Sanders, the first Jewish-American to ever become a major contender for president of the United States, had overwhelming support from Muslim-Americans. People do not vote for someone based on religious affiliation. They vote for someone who will represent their interests and values.

Palestinians, who exist under the thumb of the most powerful army in the Middle East, fear the loss of their land, the destruction of their homes, their lack of freedom, their inability to keep their children safe, and more. A heavy blanket of fear covers everyone.

The Israeli Knesset recently passed legislation barring entry into the country to any foreign national who openly calls for a boycott of Israeli products and institutions, even if the boycott is restricted to West Bank settlements. Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian with permanent residency in Israel has been arrested, released and subject to ongoing intimidation. Accused of tax evasion, he happens to be the founder and internationally recognized spokesperson for the international BDS movement.

Boycotts do not delegitimize Israel, nor are they anti-Semitic. In fact, boycott has a long history in the Jewish community. 

In 1902 a group of Jewish women on the Lower East Side of New York started a boycott protesting the rising price of kosher meat from 12-18 cents per pound. Inspired by the labor and suffragette movement, the women organized, agitated and challenged the corporations of their day who had made kosher meat unaffordable. The women convinced neighbors not to buy kosher meat, broke into kosher butcher shops and set the meat on fire. They forcefully took meat away from those who betrayed the boycott.

Sickness was no excuse. The women boycotters were arrested and put in prison. The New York Times called them ignorant, dangerous and accused them of speaking a foreign language. The boycott spread to other Jewish communities in New York and beyond. About one month after the boycott began, the powerful trusts of the day dropped the price of kosher meat. Many of the women were not yet American citizens, but they understood about resisting oppression by organizing and standing together. Perhaps the Palestinians read the history books and learned about the kosher meat boycott of 1902. Here’s a new trope––boycott is kosher.

We live in a global village. The only way to unshackle ourselves from the chains of fear and racism is to sit down and talk. Share bread, matzoh, pita, chapatis, tortillas, naan, fry bread, baguettes, sprouted grain, focaccia, gluten free or any staff of life you choose.

– See more at: file:///Users/iriskeltz/Desktop/MidEast:Art:Iris/Boycott%20is%20Kosher%20–%20Mondoweiss.html

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Shop Hebron

February 25, 2017

Palestinians living in Hebron are making a plea for international intervention to stop settler violence. Determined to fight for their human rights, fearless in the face of the Israeli military’s use of tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades, the Palestinians are joined by Israeli and foreign and activists. They are marching together through the streets of the divided city. This is the 23rd anniversary of a massacre. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American-born-Israeli settler in Hebron, entered the Ibrahimi Mosque during Ramadan prayers and killed 29 worshipers, wounding 125.

In response, Israel closed over 500 Palestinian businesses and welded shut their homes. Only settlers and internationals were allowed to walk on Shuhada Street, the main commercial center of the city. The mosque was closed for repairs. Blood-soaked carpets were replaced. The shrine reopened nine months later with separate entrances and security checks for Muslims and Jews. The Palestinian mayor of Hebron invited an international group of volunteers, the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT), to patrol the streets of the stricken city. He hoped their presence would help stop violent confrontations, especially on Friday afternoons, the Muslim Sabbath when Israeli soldiers often prevented young Muslim men from entering the mosque.

In 2010, I saw the bones of occupation in Hebron laid bare. The city had been still sliced into two sectors since 1997. Palestinians living under Israeli military control dealt with extended curfews and restrictions on their movement. The lines between the sectors were becoming increasingly blurred as settlers expanded into so-called Palestinian Zones. Shuhada Street was still closed to Palestinians. Only settlers, soldiers, and internationals were allowed to walk there. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, by 2006 over 1,000 Palestinian homes in the center of Hebron had been padlocked, and almost 2,000 businesses and shops welded shut by the Israeli government. Windows were covered with iron bars to protect them from being smashed by settlers. Ancient walls were scribbled with recycled Holocaust slogans: Arabs to the Gas Chambers, Transfer Arabs, Kill Arabs.

I was disheartened by the hatred. Gone were the old men playing backgammon and drinking coffee by outdoor tables. Where was the blacksmith bending steel at his forge, the squawking chickens, the bakery, the glass blowers, and the pottery vendors? Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron had created a ghost town.

We stood on a rooftop in the Palestinian sector of the city with our guide, a 66-year-old former nun from the States, who was part of the Christian Peacemakers Team. A temporary project that started after the 1994 massacre had become as permanent as the occupation. From our vantage, we could see the Tomb of the Patriarchs, nearby synagogues, Jewish settlements, Muslim and Jewish cemeteries, the abandoned market, and soldiers on military rooftop outposts who watched us as we watched them. The outposts looked like makeshift wooden shacks, but “temporary” things in this land have a way of becoming permanent. “Restrictions change minute by minute, soldier by soldier,” our guide explained.

Back in the street, we walked under wire netting hung by local Palestinians. Spanning open courtyards and passageways, the netting protected people, their produce and merchandise from garbage and debris thrown down by settlers and soldiers, but there was no protection from urine, eggs, and human feces. A former Israeli soldier who once served in Hebron told me, “Our orders were to protect the settlers—not to protect Palestinian families from settler violence. Soldiers are combatants, not police.” As if to excuse the inexcusable, he added, “Rooftop shifts could last twelve hours—without bathroom breaks. to keep myself awake I sang at the top of my lungs.” He helped me understand that young soldiers sometimes found themselves in positions of authority over civilians who had been living under occupation longer than they had been alive

Passing a Palestinian home recently taken over by settlers, our CPT guide warned, “Let me speak if we’re stopped by soldiers.” Defying the Israeli government’s order to evacuate the home, settlers had continued to make repairs, claiming their right to remain in the home. The Knesset knew what was happening, but nothing changed. The rift between Israeli law and the implementation of the law is growing.

International law affords all children the right to attend school, including Palestinian children in Hebron who walked to school along rooftops to avoid being spat upon or attacked. The children reentered the street through a house near their school, known as the Ladder Lady’s house—a mythic- sounding place, but unlike Jacob’s ladder to heaven, this one led straight into the jaws of occupation. Our guide told us that when Palestinian children played games, they pretended to be soldiers. They understood that whoever carried guns had real power.

Before leaving the city, we ate lunch at the Resistance Café, where the owner limped around while serving us falafel sandwiches, sodas, and bottled water. We were his only customers. When his work was done, he sat down and spoke with us.

“This café is a symbol of the struggle to maintain Palestinian life in Hebron. Most Palestinians have made a commitment to stay no matter what. Like many others, I have been tortured in an Israeli prison. We would rather die than walk away from our homes like we did in 1948. My greatest act of resistance is to keep this cafe open.” He helped us understand the importance of this café which was little more than a few tables under a tarp. With each bite of falafel and sip of water, we became a small part of the resistance.

Walking back to the bus, we listened to vendors cry out, “Help us. We are merchants. Buy something, anything.” We passed stalls filled with dresses, scarves, jewelry, glassware, trinkets—including trays of old metal keys. Each key represented the end of a dream to return home. We looked to be the only tourists in town, but we were in a hurry, and all we bought that day were falafel sandwiches, soda pop, and bottled water.

After the tragedy of 9/11, our president famously exhorted Americans to “go shopping” as a response to terrorism. It’s time to go shopping––in Hebron.