Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Do Something!

A young girl in the ruins of her home. Jabalia, Gaza, Nov 2012.

There is Nothing Left of Johr al-Dik.

I have hesitated reading the anonymous soldier testimonies released by Breaking the Silence regarding the Israeli attack on Gaza last summer. I didn’t want to read the admissions that seemed all too obvious, all too predictable. As in other testimonies released by Breaking the Silence I expected stories of civilians being targeted, random wanton destruction, and lax protocols that made it all acceptable. Just following the news of last summers attack and the narratives provided by Gaza residents would draw you to the same conclusions. I didn’t need soldiers’ confessions to collaborate these facts.

I am currently in Jordan with a friend trying to return home to Sheja’iya, in Gaza. We have been here for 3 weeks waiting for word on the Rafah border crossing. Although we hear rumors about possible openings, to date the crossing is sealed. We have spent our days sitting with both Syrian and Palestinian refugees. I have spent too much time in coffee shops, drinking too much coffee and reading too much news.

Yesterday over coffee my friend Intimaa and I were debating which was the most beautiful spot in Gaza. The list always gets reduced to two areas, the farmland around Faraheen or Johr Al-Dik. Sitting smoking shisha I recalled the silence in the rolling fields of Johr Al-Dik, interrupted by the occasional barking dog or the chirping birds. I recalled the crops of eggplant, tomatoes, and cucumbers that struggled to thrive with a water source contaminated by salt. I recalled the wind rustling through the fruit trees, the slanting sun illuminating the olive trees at dawn.

And I remembered Nasser, his beautiful children, and the tragic story of his life. How in the spring of 2010 his wife, Naama was cut down in the front doorway by a flechette shell fired from an Israeli tank. It was late afternoon, the sun was shining, and the kids were playing nearby. I recalled how the ambulances were blocked from entering the dirt road to the home. How Naama bled to death there, in front of her children. We stood in front of the house as Nasser pointed out the watchtowers and the placement of the tank that fired the deadly shell. The Israelis claimed there were militants in the area, but offered no explanation as to why Naama was targeted and killed.

Nasser recalled how his house was shelled less than one year later, destroying the 2nd floor, injuring 2 of his sleeping kids, forcing him and the children to retreat to the village. Once again, Israel claimed there were militants in the area. The home they were staying in was near the graveyard. One night Nasser found his children crying at their mother’s grave. He and his family returned to the land, living in tents under his trees until the funds were secured to rebuild his home. They hung a white flag from a pole near their home to alert the Israelis that they were there and they posed no threat. Nasser realized he or his children could be killed at any time.

Nasser and his kids are part of what I love about Johr Al-Dik, families surviving on their land and refusing to give up even in the face of unbearable Israeli aggression.  

Last evening, I relented and downloaded the soldier’s testimonies, “This Is How We Fought In Gaza”. Scanning the Table of Contents, Testimony 18, page 56, caught my attention. It is titled, “Check it out, theres nothing at all left of Juhar al-Dik.”[1]

Check it out, theres nothing at all left of Juhar al-Dik
Unit: Armored Corps •Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

Before we entered we saw orchards on a slope, a low fence beyond them and then Juhar al-Dik up on this little hill. You’ve got the barrier [between Israel and the Gaza Strip] and then Juhar al-Dik is on some high ground that overlooks it, and it’s very green. Of all the houses that were there, I think I saw maybe four or five still intact, or relatively intact. Most of it was D9s (armored bulldozers). They just took down all the orchards. Not a single tree left. Lots of houses. The D9s destroyed lots of houses.

Quotes from men in the company: “Listen man, it’s crazy what went on in there,” “Listen man, we really messed them up,” “Fuck, check it out, there’s nothing at all left of Juhar al-Dik, it’s nothing but desert now, that’s crazy.” The D9’s worked on it for three weeks. When they didn’t have a specific job like leading our way or opening up a specific route for us or some other mission, they just went and flattened things. I don’t know what their specific order was, but they were on a deliberate mission to leave the area razed, flattened.

I contacted a friend at PCHR for an update on Nasser and his family. He texted me this terse message, “Hi dear, Nasser and his family were forced to evacuate to an UNRWA shelter in Buriej camp. His house was destroyed completely. I'm in touch with him. They survived a very critical condition during their evacuation.” Once again, Nasser has been forced from his land. His home was leveled, his fields destroyed, the trees razed.

Consider this. In the context of rocket fire from Gaza and consider this in the context of the wider “War on Terror”. Nasser and his children are one family in Gaza. What exactly do you wish them to do? They are given limited options. They cannot leave Gaza. They have been living in a UN school since August. Many of the schools have been housing homeless families since the attack ended, the children cannot learn. UNICEF estimates nearly half of Gaza’s 900,000 children need “psycho-social first aid”. (Children comprise 50% of Gaza’s population, why aren’t Israel’s attacks framed as a war against children?) Unemployment is 45% or more. Farmlands, and therefore food sources, have been destroyed. Clean water and electricity are scarce. Building materials are banned. Israel’s crimes against civilians continue unchallenged, and they are already planning the next attack. My friend Intimaa managed to speak directly with Nasser. He didn’t have very much to say. Once again he is rebuilding. He said he simply doesn’t know what to do. Every time he builds a house, Israel destroys it. He is grateful that at least his children are all well, and for the time being, safe. In closing he said, “You know the situation. There is nothing left.”

What’s next for Nasser and his young family? What choices are expected of them? How should they protect themselves? On the international stage Israel continually talks of “peace” and “fighting terror”. Nasser and his children know better.

When I sat for tea with Nasser, back in 2011 (2 “wars” ago), his children still managed to laugh as they played in the garden. Nasser was a soft-spoken, gentle man, prone to chain-smoking cigarettes.  He worried about his kids. He was calm, deliberate, and determined. At the time, I didn’t see any signs of anger. He didn’t speak of retribution. In an earlier draft of this piece, I ended with a question, “But with all that has transpired, if hatred were to rear it’s ugly head dare you blame him?” But this is the mind of those who attack him, poisoned by hate. Perhaps it is better to point to the resilience of the human heart that continues to love and persevere in even the most desperate circumstances. There is something left in Johr al-Dik, something the Israelis fail to see, and something bombs will never eliminate. The spirit of the people remains. Nasser will persevere. He will rebuild his home, replant his fields, and tend to his children. He will hope for the day that Israel will be held accountable for it’s crimes, but he will not wait.

[1] From “This Is How We Fought In Gaza” Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation “Protective Edge” (2014).
Published by Breaking the Silence

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Gaza to Gaza Camp

The Never Ending Nakba

Immediately preceding the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the country that now demands others acknowledge it’s “right to exist” depopulated and destroyed over 400 Palestinian towns and villages, forcing the inhabitants to flee for their lives. The new state planted trees and established national parks over the ruins of dozens of villages where Israelis now spend quiet afternoons and enjoy picnics in the shade. The cries of the dead are drowned out by the laughter of children playing on the remains of ancient homes. The Arabic names of the destroyed villages have been erased. The Israeli state still clings to the myth of “A land without a people, for a people without a land,” and deny the Nakba took place, just as many Americans still deny an indigenous genocide in “our” country. Zochrot, an Israeli NGO, has identified and mapped every destroyed Palestinian village and town in order to reeducate the Israeli public. Their message is largely ignored.

The evidence that could not be erased- the millions of displaced people living across Israel, in what remains of Palestine, in camps in neighboring Arab countries and the wider Palestinian diaspora are marginalized in an attempt to silence them. Silenced, they are more easily forgotten.

Take Gaza for example. As Hamas and Fatah announced critical gains toward establishing a unity government in the summer of 2014, Israel escalated hostilities in Gaza. In response to Israeli violence, including drone strikes and targeted assassinations, rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel. Both sides escalate the violence. Suddenly, Gaza exists again- as a threat to the state. Hamas is condemned in the media. Politicians declare, “Israel has a right to defend itself!” Israel, with the backing of the United States, begins an assault that includes a sustained aerial bombardment as well as a ground invasion using tanks, howitzers, and thousands of troops against a largely unarmed, civilian population. From Gaza rockets continue to fly in unprecedented numbers.

7 civilians are killed in Israel.  1660 Palestinian civilians are killed. In Gaza, hospitals, mosques, schools, and office towers are destroyed. Entire neighborhoods are pulverized to rubble. Israel faces harsh criticism as pictures of carnage flood social media. After 50 days a ceasefire is brokered by Egypt. Israel makes concessions. The buffer zone will be reduced. Fisherman will be able to fish further into the sea (but still well within the limits granted to them during the Oslo process). The siege will be loosened, allowing people to travel. Materials, including concrete, will be permitted into Gaza to begin rebuilding. Nations around the world promise billions of dollars to help with the rebuilding effort. “Calm” is restored.

The ceasefire is broken by Israel in a matter of days. Farmers are shot in the buffer zone. Silence. Fishermen are attacked at sea. Silence. The Rafah border crossing with Egypt is sealed. The siege is worse than before the Israeli attack. Silence. Ten months later, building materials have still not entered Gaza. The billions of dollars promised for rebuilding doesn’t materialize, nothing is rebuilt. Silence. Thousands live in the rubble of their destroyed homes. Children freeze to death during the winter. Thousands more remain in the UN schools they fled to during the July attack. Silence.  Israeli soldiers publish testimonies that point to war crimes committed in the offensive. In America, the mainstream media largely ignore the testimonies. Silence. Gaza is forgotten.

The U.S. Congress praises Netanyahu. Obama congratulates him on forming a new cabinet, and no one comments on the newly appointed racists in his coalition government- one of which said killing mothers of martyrs is justified to prevent “more little snakes being raised there,” another calling Palestinians “sub-human”. Aid, in the billions of U.S. dollars continues to flow unabated to Israel.  

While rockets from Gaza garners some attention, other Palestinian refugees suffer in complete isolation.

Just a 5-kilometer drive from Jerash, the beautifully preserved remnants of a once wealthy Roman city, is Jerash Camp. Known locally as Gaza Camp, it was established in 1968 as a temporary camp to house 11,500 refugees fleeing Gaza during the 6-day war. Many of the refugees were refugees for a 2nd time, having originally fled Beersheba during the Nakba in 1948. The refugees from Gaza were not granted Jordanian papers.

The situation facing those in Gaza Camp is the most difficult of the 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan today. Now home to an estimated 30,000 people, the camp sits on less than .75 sq. kilometers of land. The sewage system is an above ground channel system that cannot contain the volume of waste, which flows down the alleyways and streets, the only space where children can play. The UN itself estimates that 75% of the houses are uninhabitable- some still have the original cancer causing asbestos and corrugated tin sheeting provided for roofing in 1968. The refugees are denied support by the Jordanian government. Electricity and water are supplied to the camp at cost. Internet connections are not available. There are no pharmacies in the camp, and only one health clinic administered by UNRWA. The residents of Gaza Camp cannot access public health care. They cannot open bank accounts or purchase land.

Education is highly valued. University students from the camp finish in the top percentiles of their class, but higher education is costly, as students can’t access public education. Children sometimes go hungry so parents can keep them in school. Others go hungry because the average family lives on $2.00 a day. Those who finish their college education cannot pursue the occupations they trained for. Doctors, engineers, and lawyers are denied licenses and employment by the state.

While Benjamin Netanyahu calls out to Jews around the world to “come home” to Israel, the original inhabitants of the land are denied that right. In fact, their rights are not even part of the conversation. In order to claim it is the “only democracy in the Middle East,” while subverting the rights of its Palestinian citizens, Israel must maintain it’s Jewish majority. The Arab nations that house the Palestinian refugees are not much better.  They claim they deny citizenship so people’s refugee status remains intact. But that doesn’t explain the denial of basic human rights that would allow people to live with basic necessities, some comfort, and the hope of a better future.

The Nakba did not end in 1948. It is an ongoing process of marginalization and erasure. Although Israelis may deny their history, the people of Gaza Camp cling to their memories of Palestine like a lifeline. The children have absorbed the stories of their elders to their very core. If you ask them where they are from, they’ll tell you, “I am from Beersheba, I am Palestinian.”

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Sunset over Occupied Territory

The Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee, and Palestine viewed from Umm Qais, Jordan 05/05/2015.  All afternoon we walked through the ruins of Gadara, considering the silence, the ancient architecture and the follies of men. For centuries Gadara was contested. Men, women, and children died in various wars dating to the centuries before Christ. Today, the Greek-Roman columns crumble, weeds fill the Ottoman homes that came much later. Cows move slowly among the ruins, feeding on the grass and wildflowers that push up through the stone. The ancient city of Gadara, now called Umm Qais is quiet now. But nearby, men still kill each other over cities, towns, waterways and desert. They occupy and oppress, and they kill for beliefs, ideologies, and greed. The horror taking place in Syria is just a few kilometers to the east. The occupied territories of Palestine just to the west, over the next hillside.

In the silence of Umm Qais, the wind stirs the branches of the olive trees. Flowers bloom on the pomegranate trees. Children laugh. I stand with three Palestinian women, looking for their homeland. And the ghosts of all the men who fought and died on this land watch silently as the sun slowly sinks in the west.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Appeal for Support, Gaza 2015

Friends, relations, i am accompanying a friend on their return home to Gaza leaving on or around May 1st. As of today, Rafah crossing has only been opened for 5 days this year, so we are expecting possible long delays in Jordan. i am seeking donations to defray costs, to bring necessary medicines, and to establish a chicken farm in Nusairat camp. My intention is to use my time in Jordan to interview Syrian refugees. In Gaza we will examine the situation since the attack last August.                                               In particular, i want to document the attack and aftermath thru the eyes of Gaza's children. Any donation $10 or over will receive a 5x7 photo of Gaza port. (Of course, if you can't send $10, i could still send you a photo!) 

My photo website Thank You!

Please share with your networks.

Monday, December 29, 2014


Genocide. America.
Say those two words together, and often.
Never forget.
Massacre, America.
Say those two words together, and often.
Never forget.
Torture. America.
Say those two words together, and often.
When others claim American greatness
say these six words,
"Genocide. America. Massacre, America. Torture. America."
The facts are simple.
It is not a question,
nor up for debate.
When others claim we are exceptional,
recognize the hubris.
Recognize the lie.
Remember the dead men, women,
and children, their corpses
frozen on the snowy plain.
Wounded Knee. Dec 29, 1890.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Burn It Down

Burn it down.
Burn the stores.
Burn the signs.
Burn the banks.
and the thin blue line.

Burn the symbols. Burn the guns. Burn the cars.
Burn it til it's all undone.
Burn the prisons. Burn the courts. Burn the sentences.
It's a last resort.
Burn it down.
Burn the system. Burn the constructs. Burn the norm. Burn the insults.
Burn it til we all transform.
Burn the broken hardheartedness.
Burn the hate.
Burn it down.
The world can't wait.
Melt the chains.
Crack the seed.
Burn the binds that cinch the mind.
A monk once said, "A single spark, the whole forest burns."
Light it up.
Burn it down.

(in memory of MLK and Mike Brown gunned down in the streets of America.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Lost Lessons on 9/11

Thirteen years have gone by. Thirteen blood filled years. The number of deaths perpetrated by the United States boggles the mind. The numbers of U.S. deaths, including the first responders dying of cancers and lung ailments, soldiers dying on the battle field, or soldiers killing themselves at home, pales in comparison to the retribution we have meted out across the globe- often to completely innocent victims of our self serving “justice”. Yet our President endorses more bombing, more destruction, and more death. On the thirteenth anniversary, with the carnage stretching from North Africa to Central Asia our President says, “ISIL has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.” He could very easily be describing us.

This time he assures us, it is different. Our service members are less likely to die because there will be no boots on the ground, (he then explains he is sending hundreds of advisers to Iraq). The method is not much different than the policy of murder we have carried out in sovereign countries during Obama’s presidency. We will bomb them. Innocent men, women and children will die. The weapon manufacturers will prosper. Our Congress members will continue to enrich themselves. Opposition to the United States will grow.

The President points to Somalia and Yemen as success stories in the war on terror. He does not mention the street protests embroiling the capital of Yemen as that country teeters perilously close to chaos. He fails to mention Libya, now a failed state after our intervention. Iraq and Afghanistan are spun as success stories now that the troops are coming home, but incredible levels of violence persist.

He claims we are safer because of these interventions and in the next breath says we are in mortal danger.

He says, “We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world.” He goes on to claim, “Our timeless ideals will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.” Though these contradictions make no sense we are asked to accept them, and support them to show our “united front.”

President Obama speaks of living in a time of great change, yet our policies remain mired in violence and coercion. The promise of “change” propelled Obama into office. And change we’ve seen. President Bush has all but vanished, painting paint by number self-portraits in his shower. Cheney’s got a brand new heart and it’s a perfect match, he hasn’t an ounce of added empathy, and he may be even meaner than before. Obama has also changed, his rhetoric morphing into the words of his predecessors. Like Bush, Clinton, the senior Bush, and Reagan before him, he talks of America’s goodness, our endless blessing, our timeless values, and our leadership in the world. He speaks of our pursuit of freedom, justice, and dignity as F-16’s and drones decimate people around the globe. In times of crisis you may find him on the golf course. In due time he may be painting watercolors as well, though for two more years he will paint with a broader brush, his color crimson and his canvas the deserts and gardens of Syria and Iraq.

In New York there is a new museum display, a 9/11 shrine for family members of those who died in the towers is now opened for public viewing. You can go online and do a virtual tour and zoom in on the thousands of personal notes for those who were killed. It is heartbreaking. The multitudes of notes cry out about loss, and memory, and love. I recognize this heartbreak descending across the globe and settling on every village we bomb. Every innocent we kill has loved ones left behind. The shattered lives of 9/11 now echo and multiply exponentially across the globe.
I did not see any notes that call for retribution or endless war. This is the call of our government. Bombing is not the answer. Violence is not the answer. Vanquishing is not the answer. Thirteen years teaches us.

The lessons were not lost on our government. They have proven time and again they simply are uninterested or incapable of pursuing peace. The lessons lost are lost on us, the citizens of America. We are asked to remember our values, but not how they have been abused. We are reminded of our personal goodness, but asked not to apply it to the state. We are reminded of our greatness, but not of our faults. We are told to look ahead and asked to ignore the current enrichment of a few at our expense.  

How much longer will we tolerate our government’s endless war? How much longer will we tolerate our failing infrastructure, our failing schools, our failing economy with our leaders promising a brighter future that never comes? How much longer will we tolerate our soldiers returning home only to kill themselves? How much longer will we tolerate the crushing of dissent with our ultra-militarized police forces?  The war on terror brought to our streets.

President Obama likens ISIL to cancer. And like a good doctor he warns us that risks are involved. But like a bad doctor, he never tells the patient that they have alternatives to the often-fatal treatment he provides. He never warns the patient their behavior contributes to the cancers spread. He never tells the patient that they can be a proactive, positive influence on their disease.

The President proclaims we “Uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.” Lofty rhetoric aside, how much longer will it take Americans to recognize that it is our government who offers hate, divisiveness, and destruction to the world? How much longer will we accept the utter devastation of foreign peoples in the name of our freedom? How much longer?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Innocent in Gaza

The innocent of Gaza will never forget what is being done to them. In our ignorance we speak of non-violence. We debate the use of rockets. We call anyone who fights back a terrorist. We repeat, again and again, Hamas, Hamas, Hamas along with self-defense, self-defense, self-defense.

Some people in this world are entitled to self-defense. Some people are not.

What will we, in our ignorance, and from a great distance, ask of the innocents of Gaza? Will we ask them to forgive? To ignore? To pretend? Will we ask them, "Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?" Will we ask them why they don't want peace? Will we ask them to cooperate? To negotiate? Will we ask them why they hate? Will we ask them why they fight? Will we ask them to forget?

Yes, we will.

Gaza is being reduced to rubble. Living, breathing, beautiful human beings, just dust and ashes now. We watch from a distance. We believe we are doing all we can, or we believe there is nothing we can do. We absolve ourselves. Like a cold bucket of ice water, our concepts bathe us in a soft light of self-satisfaction.

While Gaza burns.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Are You Still Alive?

i passed you on the street one day.
You stood in front of the rubble
Of your once beautiful house,
Your palms extended to the sky.

i sat with you at
Your child’s funeral tent.
We drank sweet tea, you told me
“Fares was the engine of our home.”
Just another boy,
Martyred in his bed.

i was with you, reaping
In the fields of Khouza.
i was with you in the Gaza sea,
The gunboats lit us up.

You called me brother.
You called me habibi.

i saw you on the battlefront,
a flower in your hair.

i was with you in the camp.
You had a message for America,
You said, “Tell your friends,
We are here in Gaza,
But we are not afraid.”
Mohammed, eight years old,
brave beyond his years.

Today, i saw a picture
Of a small blood soaked shoe.
And the Israeli occupiers
Are bombing homes again.

Today, i have but one
Question for you:
My friend,
Are you still alive?

A Message from Gaza by Intimaa Al-Sudoudi

DO Something!

Don’t let us- indigenous Palestinians- lose faith in YOUR humanity, because your silence is, literary, a crime against humanity. First, you have to consider that what the Sate of  Zionist Israel  is doing to us-Palestinians-, is apartheid by definition. Lynching our kids, uprooting our trees, destroying our houses,  killing our pregnant mothers, the medieval siege, the segregation wall and the nasty checkpoints are APARTHIED. Second, the current situation and the breaking news are showing that in each single spot there is a massacre; Gaza strip is a massacre, Gaza city is a massacre, and all Gaza camps are massacres.

Let me ask you a question! Why are you waiting? Children turned into hot, bloody pieces. Whole families have been slaughtered, and we are still waiting for you to wake up! We are fed up with your silence. We do not need a year or even another moment of your silence. We do not need another press release. We do not want you to condemn and deplore. What we need is a concrete action. Show us your humanity expel the devil out of your country because what is going on right now in Gaza is by your name and your governments  support of Israeli crimes that violate international laws.

Hello, I am sure that you heard that within less than three days  more than hundred Palestinian were murdered, and over six hundreds were injured, and the majority of them are kids and women. Hey, you! Don't close your eyes or give us your deaf ear.  Palestinians are not allowed to leave the Gaza Strip for urgent medication due to the imposed siege since 9 years and what did you do in all these years to stop this? How many decades do we have to stay in an open prison? Let alone the destruction of our houses, infrastructure, mosques, churches, schools, and hospitals. Have you not seen our loved ones turned into headless bodies, and dismembered corpses?! Have you not seen the murder of a fetus on his mother's womb?  How many decades do we have to die in silence while everybody is watching? Wake up!

We will not forgive your silence.  The children’s blood will always haunt your conscious.
Do not tell us that you are sending money, tents, and food! Shut the hell up! Do not tell me that you are going to post a solidarity statement on Facebook and Twitter!

Show us your anger, your rage, your humanity. Say no to the devil in your land. You’ve heard the children’s pleas haven’t you? You’ve seen Palestinian flesh, bones and blood scattered everywhere. True? What are you waiting for? More blood? We ask all of you, human beings, to go and protest against the Israeli embassy, look to them in the eyes and shout; stop Israel’s genocidal war, ethnic cleansing, collective punishment against civilians and innocent populace and end the horrific barbaric siege that is sucking our humanity.

Your actions matter, your rage can save Palestinian kids, and your support is your humanity.      

Message from indigenous Palestinian
Let me hear you as soon as possible,
There is an F16 hovering over my head,
Respond to the call of humanity,
Because Palestinians are human beings,
Exactly like your families.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Letter to a Friend as Gaza Burns

Thank you for your note. It is with a sick heart that i write this from my kitchen table. About 3 mos ago i made a vow to my partner that i would be here for her and not travel this summer as we prepare to move to Florida. i have already broken that vow once. i can not do it again.

It is incredibly difficult- i feel physically ill. Not because my presence in Gaza would solve anything, but only because what is happening to the people there is so egregious and so stunningly inhumane that i prefer to stand with them--- in a sense to reclaim my own humanity which is diminished every time a bomb demolishes a home. Anything less doesn't seem like enough. So i feel like i've failed, not just a small failure before me, more a universal failure----a failure without redemption.

For many days i have been besides myself with anger. Writing these words helps dissipate the violence in my mind and allows the incredible sadness of my being room to breathe. Unfortunately, it does nothing to stem the violence raining down on the people of Gaza.

i reach out to touch the beauty around me, my friend, my dog, the ocean, the blue sky and it sustains me for a moment, realizing it is a temporary panacea as the bombs (our bombs, my bombs) continue to fall far around the world. i recognize the people of Gaza have few moments to reach out as the unrelenting bombardment continues.

Last night they blew up the port and many fishing boats. They attacked a mosque (in this holy month of Ramadan), they attacked a hospital. They buried people in the rubble of their homes(as they have done everyday since the beginning of this onslaught). It is beyond my understanding.

When human beings, my friends, like the journalist (and a new father) Mohammed Omer write, "I don't know what else to say. I think we are going to die." And my dear friend Intimaa writes, "i am going to try to call my family. I hope they are not all dead." my spirit is crushed.

These are dark days.

May beauty sustain us. Love, Johnny

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The City of the Dead

The City of the Dead in Cairo is an ancient graveyard that for decades has been home not only to the dearly departed interred there, but for their relatives as well. The mausoleums not only house the dead, but one million family members who are some of the most marginalized people in Cairo. It is not unusual for generations of family members to be undocumented- without birth certificates or identity papers. Many never attend a school. To the government, these people are not only dead- they never existed in the first place.

In the run up to the first election since the military coup overthrew the Morsi government, Field Marshall Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made no electoral promises and guaranteed only one thing- that the going will be more difficult for Egyptians in the coming years.

In Cairo the pictures of Sisi are everywhere-from the shops in old Islamic Cairo, to the bridges over the highway, to the buildings downtown, they are plastered on taxis, donkey carts, and Mercedes automobiles. The slogans range from “Egypt is my mother and Sisi is my father” to “The Lord Jesus invites you to vote for Sisi in order to bring to an end the Muslim Brotherhood”, (when churches burn it may be important to remember this one).

It was most disheartening to see banners hanging high above Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the revolution. The place where Egyptians of every sort gathered and talked about change and what they hoped for their kids in the new Egypt- the Egypt they were imagining together. An Egypt free of the Mubarak regime and their cronies, free of the corrupt business elite, and free of the military’s influence over the government. Tahrir Square, whitewashed and sanitized like all the massacre sites around Cairo, holds no hint of the young people who gave their lives for their country and their dreams. They too never existed. In the center of the square sits a monument to the martyrs erected by the hypocritical coup government, defaced the day it was unveiled, today a tombstone for the revolution. All of Cairo is a graveyard, a new City of the Dead and Sisi’s visage looks down on it all.

Outside several polling stations around the pro-military Abassaya neighborhood the atmosphere was festive and the cult of personality that surrounds Sisi was in full bloom. The young men and women who spearheaded the revolution were visibly absent. Parents and grandparents, with children in tow, danced and waved flags, holding up their hands with the now ubiquitous dyed finger. They wore t-shirts emblazoned with portraits of Sisi, and sang along to the blaring sound systems and the honking horns. They posed for photos with policeman and soldiers—some of them undoubtedly responsible for the murders of their countrymen at Mohamed Mahmoud St, Abassaya Square, Tahrir and Rabaa and they voted for the man who orchestrated their deaths. The chants of “Down with SCAF” and “No to Military Rule” echoed deep in my heart, but the voices that raised this cry in the streets of Cairo and throughout Egypt have been murdered, imprisoned, or silenced with threats.

Early returns show Sisi winning the election against his only opponent, Hamdeen Sabbahi with 90% of the vote. Not one poster of Sabbahi adorns any walls in Cairo. He is invisible too. You see he lives in the new City of the Dead. 

The turn out on Monday was so low Tuesday was declared a national holiday in order to get the vote out, when that failed, voting was extended for an additional day. The news anchors of the state sponsored news channels, some with tears in their eyes, implored people to vote. 50% of the electorate turned out to vote in the real elections- the elected government Sisi overthrew. Preliminary counts of voter turnout on Monday show an anemic turnout of 6.5%. It will be difficult to claim a mandate of the people or even a legitimate election if this number doesn’t improve. As I sit writing this, pictures of empty polling stations around the country are crossing my newsfeed. Trucks circle the neighborhood with sound systems cranked up, exhorting people to vote. The City Stars Mall, the largest mall in Cairo has been closed and people are being told to leave and go vote.

This will not deter the Western election observers from declaring a “clean” election. This will not deter Obama from declaring Sisi the legitimate leader of Egypt and renewing the military cooperation that never really ended in the first place- just last month the U.S. delivered 10 Apache attack helicopters to the coup government- they will be used against the Egyptian people living in the Sinai. No US Congressperson will raise their indignant voice to remind the American people that Sisi, like Saddam and Gaddafi and Assad, has killed his own people and should be removed from power. Sen. John McCain will not stand with the protesters demanding the ouster of Sisi. Asst. Secretary of State Nuland will not be delivering cookies.

Protests have been banned and the crackdown has been harsh- estimates vary widely as to those detained. Wiki Thawra announced that 41,000 people have been detained, many without trials, or sham trails- some courts sentencing hundreds to death in a matter of minutes. Included in the arrests are (mostly local) journalists attempting to alert the world to the situation in Egypt. Most of the major Western media outlets have disappeared--- the aftermath of the coup is a lot less photogenic than the spectacle of the “Arab Spring”. Independent journalists are under threat, and largely absent. On Friday three anti-government protestors were killed and dozens injured and arrested in protests around the country (which went unreported in western media) by a police/military force that has killed thousands of citizens with immunity since the coup in July 2013.

So it will be back to business as usual in Egypt. The election will be hailed as a democratic success. The average Egyptian will continue to suffer with a lack of food, poor sanitation, poor infrastructure, terrible schools, and decrepit hospitals. Government employees, doctors, nurses, and teachers will continue to receive a pittance for their labor. Others will scramble to survive. The crackdown will persist. Thousands will remain in detention and more will die. Sisi will move into the palace. Exchanging his uniform for a business suit, he will take Mubarak’s place at the trough.

The revolution, once the hope of tens of millions of ordinary Egyptians and people throughout the world, is buried. But those who live in the new City of the Dead exist and they will not remain invisible forever.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New York City Mayor de Blasio Visits AIPAC

The new mayor gives a speech to AIPAC. In the speech, he said visiting Sderot, a city near the Gaza Strip especially moved him. Mr. de Blasio said, “If they wanted to have time for their kids to play, they have to be in a missileproof, bombproof play area, because you could not know otherwise if your children would be safe.”

Back on Election Day, John del Cecato, the de Blasio campaign's chief media strategist, said, "De Blasio will win because New Yorkers have not accepted that this tale of two cities needs to be our future." I have a different “tale of two cities” for the new mayor.

Fare's father stands in his son's bedroom.
 I traveled further west, to the village of Beit Hanoun in Gaza, where I met a young father whose 8 year-old son had been decapitated in his sleep by an Israeli missile during the “Pillar of Cloud” attack. Fares Al-Basyouni was 8 years old. The children of Gaza have no “missile proof, bombproof” play areas, and they are not safe from Israeli missiles even while they sleep.

Paraphrasing Mr. de Blasio, “You can’t have an experience like that and not feel solidarity with the people and know that they’re on the front line of fighting against so many challenges.”

I stand on the side of justice.

If pandering to AIPAC is the “progressive path” the mayor claims to be on he will be a massive disappointment to real progressives.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A New Exhibit at the Museum

On Jan 11th, the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, WAT opened a new exhibit at the museum of American History- an interactive exhibit denouncing the Guantanamo Prison Camp and calling on the administration to close it down.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Free Djamel

CCR client Djamel Ameziane, one of the first men interred at Guantanamo Bay, has been sent from Guantánamo to Algeria against his will and in violation of international law. He is now being held in secret detention and is at risk. Djamel is an innocent man who has suffered detention at Guantánamo for over a decade, despite having been cleared by both President Bush and President Obama.

On Friday, December 6, in front of the Algerian embassy in NYC, representatives from CCR, Witness Against Torture, and World Can't Wait demonstrated to call on the Algerian government to release Djamel immediately, and to respect and protect his human rights.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Tension Between “Never Forget” and “Looking Forward, not Backwards”

It is reported that this year the commemorations for 9-11 will be “low key”. The names of the dead will be read. Bells will toll. Moments of silence will be observed. I didn’t lose a friend or a family member on 9-11. I imagine it is a rare day that goes by when a loved one doesn’t remember that dreadful day. I imagine life is never “low key”.

The same mourning is played out across the globe. For every person lost in the attack on the twin towers there have been thousands of deaths around the world. The brunt of America’s retribution fell on Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9-11. America’s attack on Iraq was based on lies and fabrications. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions have died. Millions are refugees, their families dispersed on the wind. Babies are born each day with horrendous birth defects. Children die from cancers and diseases unheard of prior to America’s attack. President Obama often claims credit for ending the war in Iraq and bringing the troops home. Yet the war is not ended for those who served. Every day 22 veterans and service members kill themselves in the United States. Suicide is at epidemic levels, the death toll surpassing those killed on 9-11. No one claims credit for this. And Iraq is in chaos. Car bombs and suicide bombers kill dozens on a nearly daily basis. One thousand people died in July alone. The war is not over, though America has moved on.

Those responsible for the illegal war on Iraq remain free. Their lies have been exposed. Their crimes are obvious. Rather prosecute these men and women, Obama said he believed “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” There is expediency in looking forward, especially when your administration will take up the policies of your predecessor and continue to act in unlawful and immoral ways. Drone attacks now kill in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The President reviews a “kill list” on a weekly basis. Targeted assassination is the norm. Innocent men remain imprisoned in Guantánamo. Libya is decimated after our humanitarian intervention.

Syria, already in shattered from war, is now under threat of an American attack. After two years of watching the carnage unfold, an American red line has finally been surpassed. In the lead up to bombing, there has been little looking ahead and many calls to never forget. Hitler has been conjured by Kerry, Clinton, Obama and the media pundits, as usual, when America wants to demonize a “brutal dictator” like Ahmadinejad, like Hussein, like Gaddafi and now Assad. Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons (supplied by the United States) against Iran has also been called upon as evidence of Assad’s depravity. There has been no mention of America’s use of chemicals. No mention of dropping Agent Orange on Vietnam and the ongoing health crisis in that country four decades later. No mention of napalm (for this John Kerry should hang his head in shame). No mention of the chemicals sprayed over wide swaths of Latin America in our endless “War on Drugs”. No mention of white phosphorus used on civilians in Fallujah. Our “never forgetting” has its limits, you see, as does our “not looking backwards”. Quoting Kerry, “Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.” Unfortunately our morality has its limits as well.

President Obama claims our ideals, principles, and “world leadership” are at stake in Syria.

Laying out his moral justification for a cruise missile attack, on the eve of Sept 11th, Obama had the audacity to claim, “America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

With humility and resolve Americans should deal honestly with our past, with our present, and with our dire future. With modest effort and risk we can make the future safer for all children. We can do this by simply demanding accountability of our leaders and recognizing the only thing that is exceptional about America is our inability to see other’s lives as valuable as our own.

No one forgets the loss of loved ones at the hands of their oppressors. No one forgets their child’s (or their parent’s) suicide when they return from war. Loved one’s memories are long and children inherit the stories. Looking forward does not erase the past, except perhaps in the “victor’s” history books.

In time, Hilary Clinton, John Kerry and Obama will find their places in history alongside Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney, and Bush. Each and every one of them are hypocrites, liars, and war criminals. And as the world has paid for the criminal acts of 9-11, we Americans will one day pay for our countries crimes.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hunger Strike Song

Day 96 of a Hunger Strike at Guantanamo. The vast majority of the prisoners are participating. Many are being force fed. Contact your Congress people, contact the White house. Demand action. Close Guantanamo. Free all the men who are cleared for release. Share this song. Stand and sing!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I've Seen Them Before

i haven’t looked at the images from Boston. i’ve seen them before. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and myriad other places.

i haven’t read the stories emanating out of Boston. i’ve heard them before. Roz Mohammed, whose brother was killed in a drone attack in rural Afghanistan; little Ayoub, who was blown to pieces under the lemon tree in the family garden in Gaza City, his mother holding a blood splattered lemon as she spoke of her little boy, kissing her goodbye and running outside to go to school; eight year old Fares, the “generator” of the family decapitated as he slept in the family home in Beit Hanoun. These stories are commonplace in the world where American foreign policy is at work. And i am tired of hearing them. i am tired of mourning tents and mother's tears. My heart has been carved into little pieces. In this butcher shop of a world i begin again.

The mistake is the belief that there is a difference between here and there. There is not.

People, all of us, have been paying in endless death and dismemberment. If you woke up angry and vengeful this morning, take a very careful look in the mirror. Go beyond this blemish or that, and look in those angry eyes. Delve deep and see how tarnished and hard our hearts have become. If you do not recognize that the children killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, are as very precious as your children or the children injured and killed in Boston, you are gravely mistaken, you have been blinded.

We Americans, each and every one of us, are killers. We are supporters of terrorism. Each and every time a child is killed by a drone, a tank shell, a bomb (errant or not), machine gun fire, we hold the trigger. We are the terrorists we have been searching for.

There is no "just war". There is no "legal bombing". There is only hatred and ignorance or love. Until we recognize our place as perpetrators in this terrible cycle, hate and ignorance will out.

i choose love.

These stories resonate in light of Boston. It is beyond the time to find a new course in the world.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Land Day is Everyday, Everywhere

In the end they will take it.
Why not surrender?
Relent . Give up.
Decades of struggle.
Stones vs. tanks.
Like arrows vs. Gatling guns.
It’s silly.
Undeniable as well.

They want it all.
Every last hectare.
Did they tell you?
There is no place for you.
Did they tell you?
Your children will die.

Manifest destiny.
Propaganda to propagate
colonizers on native land.
Judea and Samaria.
Propaganda to propagate
colonizers on Palestinian land.

Land day is everyday, everywhere.
It is not a nostalgic look back.
It is a possibility
of what yet might be.
A possibility to recover
what was lost.
Stolen .

A possibility to stop
the theft happening now, 
in front of you.
You don't see it? 
You think 
it's ancient history?
You are trapped.
In your settler mind.
In your colonizer comforts.
i know. 
i too live on stolen land.

Land day is everyday, everywhere.
A possibility to resurrect
a way of life.
A possibility to
recover your heart.

Surrender is not an option.
Collaboration is a crime.
The savages are the civilized.
The terrorists are the state.
The fight will continue
Until the very last stone.
Until the very last drop of blood.