Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Jesus is a Terrorist

Jesus is a terrorist, there ain’t no one can doubt it. Born in Bethlehem, what more need I say about it? Thirty foot concrete barriers, soldiers armed with guns, being born in Bethlehem just ain’t much fun. Jesus stands on the corner, throwin’ stones at tanks. Israeli soldiers don’t hold back, they ain’t shootin’ blanks. Jesus stands defiant, a David ’gainst Goliath. Jesus is a terrorist, he ain’t allowed to pass. Being born in Bethlehem, life is over fast.

Jesus is a terrorist, he ain’t allowed to pass. You know what they’re teaching, in those Christian schools in town. He’s learning hate against the state, and what it means to martyr. Jesus is a terrorist, he don’t need Jimmy Carter. Jesus knows all ’bout them virgins. That ain’t no lie they tell ya, once you pass them pearly gates, it pays to be a fella.

Jesus is a carpenter, but he’s not allowed to work. He passes time carving trinkets for those Christian tourist folk. They come and kiss the ground where Jesus once lay swaddled. They bargain him down, and pocket some souvenirs, then they just turn on back around. They close their eyes to the soldiers, they close their eyes to the wall. Jesus, born in Bethlehem, don’t stand no chance at all.

Jesus rode a donkey once, straight on through to Jerusalem. Today, Jesus ain’t got a prayer, he’s not allowed to pass. Jesus can’t stoop low enough to kiss the soldier’s ass.

The tourists come back home, blind as before. They go to church, and they sing their songs, and look up on the wall. Jesus still is hangin’ there, saving them from the fall. But just like Judas, they turn their backs, no one heeds his call.

Cause Jesus is a terrorist, but don’t you worry none. It’s just a name they give you when you’re Palestinian. A savior born in Bethlehem- it’s quite a story, but just not right…cause Jesus is a terrorist, don’t you worry ‘bout his plight.

Today, the people of Bethlehem are imprisoned behind a thirty-foot high concrete wall, unable to move. The Christian community cannot travel to Jerusalem to pray at the church of the Holy Sepulchre- a short, twenty-minute drive from Bethlehem. The Israeli military occupation, nearing its 40th year, has strangled the economy as well as the people living in the Holy Land, and there is no end in sight. The people are constantly at risk, not even their homes are safe, no sanctuary available- anywhere. The checkpoints and the military incursions are constant reminders that the life of a Palestinian in Bethlehem is cheap. And the Christian community, as well as the world, looks on in silence. At this time of year, as we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, may all Christians, and all people of faith, raise their voices and demand justice for the good people of Bethlehem and Palestine.

The occupation must end.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Drinking Tea with Hizbullah

In the village of Silaa in southern Lebanon, on the forty-day memorial of the killing of 8 residents by Israeli aerial bombardment, a lunch in commemoration of the dead was provided to the villagers by the Campaign for Civil Resistance. After we completed our visit to the grieving families, we are invited to the muktar’s home, to share tea, fruit and conversation. The local representative from Hizbullah joins us. Upon learning that I am from America, he smiles and he entreats me to sit next to him. He asks me what I think and how I feel about the destruction I have seen. The nargillah is brought out and we leisurely smoke and drink tea, enjoying the shaded veranda and an afternoon breeze. We discuss the war, and the role of Hizbullah in civil society. I am told that Hizbullah is not a state within a state, but a state where none exists, for the south of Lebanon has been neglected for decades by the Lebanese government. In reference to the fighters, he asks, “Who wouldn’t fight to protect their families, their homes, and their communities?” How, he wonders, are we different from Americans?

This gentleman, his graciousness, kindness, his intellectual curiosity, and his intention of imparting a more compassionate view of Hizbullah to the American public strike me. His young boy sits in his lap, and he convinces him to eat, and ruffles his hair like I do my own boy’s. I recognize him as my brother.

This is the enemy my government has warned me about…the people Dan Gillerman (the Israeli ambassador to the UN) called, “a ruthless, cynical, cruel enemy, one of the most monstrous terror organizations this world has known”. I am not naïve and I recognize the loss of life “The Party of God” has caused occupation forces in Lebanon, including the US military in the 80’s, but the denunciations, the casting of Hizbullah as representatives of the devil himself, evil personified, just do not make sense to me as I sit smoking with Hajj and sharing fruit with his family. He is not interested in destroying freedom or stealing liberty; his is not the ideological struggle of the 21st century; he is not part of a calling (his or anyone else’s). He is interested in protecting his family and his community from an aggressor who had attacked and occupied his country. He is interested in my views as an American, whom he does not call enemy, terrorist, or evil. He calls me friend and welcomes me to his home. He is a human being, and he encounters me as a fellow human being- the result being a discussion and an opportunity to learn of each other- our common hopes, dreams, and desires. We speak of security, and education for our children, we speak of respect and dignity and self-determination. We respect each other’s opinions, as well as our differences.

Since my return home, I consider my President, (the “compassionate conservative”, the “uniter” and the self-claimed, “decider”), his administration, and our Congress. I think back on the myriad speeches about our new crusade. The speech of Sept 20th 2001 where our President vowed revenge in the name of justice- and our Congress stood and cheered. I consider his rhetoric of fighting them over there instead of here (where their children, wives, and elders can be bombed into oblivion, and we need not even change our shopping habits). Now the President has claimed “the war on terror” is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century- the calling of our generation, and the newest justification for the deaths of 600,000 Iraqis.

How, I ask you, can an ideological struggle be fought by dropping bombs?

Our President and Congress has provided Israel the means to attack Lebanon and lay siege of Palestine and has encouraged them every step of the way. We refuse to question the state of Israel about its development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. We continue to advocate that the United States develop new nuclear weapons, while condemning nations not in our favor for doing the very same thing. When other countries refuse to bow to US pressure, the President announces, “All options, including military options, remain on the table”. These policies cannot lead to peace.

The concept of America as an “honest broker” has forever been banished to the rhetorical scrap heap, along with the idea that America does not torture, that America respects human rights and America abides by international law. In countless speeches there has been no nuance, no recognition of any possibilities other than defeating the enemy, “winning”. (Is this the ideology he speaks of? The one he is so willing to kill for? What ever happened to decency, human rights, equality, and justice? What about compassion, tending the sick and weary, what about Love? In any of the Presidents speeches, does he ever utter the word Love, as in “Love your neighbor”?)

What on earth will we win? What is the price we will pay in order to win? As we pay a higher and higher price in blood and treasure doesn’t the possibility of “winning” fall further and further from our grasp?

Haven’t we already lost?

In Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and other countries the United States is viewed as sponsors of state terrorism (yes, the very same accusation our President hurls at Iran and Syria). Each speech by our President, each bomb that drops on Gaza, each checkpoint killing in Iraq, each cluster bomb death in Lebanon, each water-boarding incident at Guantanamo, and each beating death at Abu Ghraib confirm this viewpoint. And we have no moral high ground to fall back on. We are a country that lives by the warped idea that violence leads to peace, a country that lives by the sword. These policies will never ensure our security.

We in America have lost our way; we have surrendered our ideals and lost our freedoms. We have been lied to and misguided. Our president has no use for diplomacy, no idea of the middle way, no idea of reconciliation, no idea of truth, forgiveness, or Love. His sole solution is my way or the highway. I’m ready for the highway. Recently the President has said, “Nobody has accused me of having a real sophisticated vocabulary. And maybe their words are more sophisticated than mine.” Perhaps someone could explain to him the difference between truth and lies, freedom and oppression, and peace and fear.

Then we could begin anew. We as Americans must regain our humanity. We must work for justice nonviolently. We must work to reduce poverty. We must work to educate the poor and care for the sick. The greatest obstacle to this is the idea that we must preserve “our way of life”. The key to ensuring freedom in this country and around the world is surrender, not winning. We must be willing to give up the luxury we take for granted in order to lift up those who live with nothing. We must be willing to give up our indifference and stand up for justice. We must be willing to surrender our ignorance for truth. There is work to be done, let us begin.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I Shall Not Be Disappeared

I, for one, am standing up. I, for one, am facing my government, my so called leaders in Congress, and this corrupt, morally bankrupt administration that would strip the Constitution, suspend habeas corpus, and destroy the very foundation this country was built on while in the same breath promising the world that democratic reform will reduce tyranny. I, for one, will not be silent in these dark days of our dying democracy.

In a speech at Ft. McNair in March 2005 our President stated, “It should be clear that the advance of democracy leads to peace, because governments that respect the rights of their people also respect the rights of their neighbors. It should be clear that the best antidote to radicalism and terror is the tolerance and hope kindled in free societies.” If this is the case, what should we make of the passage of the “Enemy Combatants Bill”, the bill that curtails the rights of the American people and limits our democracy?

The bill passed by Congress would make it legal for a person to be picked up off the street and disappeared- the fate of so many in Iraq (prior to our occupation as well as now), in Chile, in the Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany, in so many places in the world ruled by despots and dictators, men drunk on power and corruption- men the US once stood in opposition to and now choose to imitate. (On second thought, this needs clarification. I recall Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam’s hand at the time he was gassing Kurdish civilians and Iranians as well. The CIA was involved in the coup that put the regime in power in Chile that caused so many to die …and under the law just passed by Congress, George Bush’s own grandfather could be defined an “enemy combatant” for providing financial assistance to the Nazi’s).

So I’m laying it on the line, spelling it out. Though I may be swept off the street, or taken from my home, I will never be disappeared, because here and now, I am telling my truth. Since George Bush’s infamous speech of September 20th, 2001, when he stated, “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists” I knew I was in trouble. I stood in my living room and calmly replied to my TV, “George Bush, I am not with the terrorists and I am not with you”. And as I write this, I have no qualms about my stand and can state today with certainty and conviction, “George Bush I am not with you or your administration, or this Congress that enables you to torture, to render, to imprison without due process. I am against these policies, 100%. In five years you have done more to curtail freedom, thwart democracy, and increase the threat of global terrorism then I could have imagined in my wildest dreams.

Let me state here that I am an ordinary person. Until recently I was an accountant at a major multinational corporation. I am a father. I volunteer my time to civic organizations. I enjoy my life and simple pleasures. As a Buddhist practitioner, I try to live a life of care, concern, and compassion. I take seriously the Buddhist precepts, especially the one concerning not killing.

It so happens that I was in NYC the morning after the twin towers came down. It was a defining moment for me, standing in the smoldering, pulverized concrete of those buildings. But my reaction was the opposite of my governments call for vengeance. I committed myself to working for peace and alleviating suffering. I made a commitment to meet the people of the countries my government chooses to demonize and try to learn something of their lives, and maybe learn something about myself as well.

Since that day, I have traveled to Palestine to promote non-violent civil resistance to military occupation. I spoke with Israeli activists and Palestinian and Israeli human rights workers. I stood with Palestinian peace activists in opposition to the wall and the expropriation of Palestinian land. I spoke with Israeli settlers, supporters of Hamas and Fatah, religious representatives, legislators, and people who have lost loved ones on both sides of the conflict. I listened to their stories and shared them when I returned home.

I traveled to Iraq before the war to dialogue with ordinary Iraqis caught in the crosshairs of our government’s malfeasance. I stood in vigil outside the UN inspector’s headquarters urging them to continue their work. I, along with others, hung signs on power plants and water treatment facilities that said, “Bombing this site would be a war crime.” On returning home I continue to denounce the conflict for what is- an immoral, illegal invasion and occupation.

Just three weeks ago I was in Southern Lebanon delivering emergency aid to those who lost their homes, their livelihoods, their elders and their children to precision guided rockets and cluster bombs provided to Israel by my government. Bombs made by American corporations who are enriching themselves through the many conflicts our government endorses in the Middle East under the guise of self defense and security. In order to do this, I along with others, spoke with Mayors as well as Hizbullah representatives of each village we worked in. This was necessary in order to provide aid anywhere in the south. I worked with them to deliver baby formula and diapers, food, water, and clothing to people who were left scrounging through the pulverized concrete (that was exactly the same texture and smell of the pulverized concrete of our twin towers) searching for anything to salvage of their lives.

By the terms and definitions of the legislation that has passed through Congress, I could disappear at any moment. This legislation defines an “enemy combatant” as anyone the President, the Secretary of Defense, or a tribunal approved by them, determines to have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its allies.” (Anyone who has watched this administration in action recognizes that anyone who disagrees with the President and his policies may be defined in these terms.) This legislation is so broad that individuals, including legal residents of the United States, including me, can be thrown into military prisons, tried by military tribunals with coerced testimony (AKA torture) and hearsay, and the testimony can be kept secret from the accused. It would allow someone convicted under these rules to be put to death- without a full judicial review of the evidence. If that isn’t disturbing enough, the bill suspends the writ of habeas corpus. This is a fundamental recognition that in America the government does not have the ability to detain people indefinitely and arbitrarily. This right is the very bedrock of our constitutional democracy.

In voting against this legislation, Russ Feingold said, “We must not jeopardize our nation's proud traditions and principles by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and permitting our government to pick people up off the street, even in U.S. cities, and detain them indefinitely without court review. That is not what America is about.” But it seems Senator Feingold is in a minority. This legislation passed with ease. Maybe we should stop fooling ourselves- in this day and age this is exactly what America is about. Makes no difference if my “representative” is a former POW, a Republican or a Democrat. Each and every person who voted for this legislation has put a nail in the coffin of our democracy and our freedom. Every person who failed to filibuster this bill is equally responsible.

Returning to the speech on Sept 20, 2001, George Bush said, “I ask you to uphold the values of America. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them.” Yet our President has turned his back on his responsibility to live by our principles, and he’s about to make it the law of the land.

He also said, “I know there are struggles ahead, and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them. As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.” Yet our President has pen in hand to strip the very laws that protect that liberty. His policies continue to threaten the liberty of myriad peoples across the world.

Our president has stated, ”Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom -- the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time -- now depends on us. Our nation -- this generation -- will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.” With the passage of this legislation our leaders have failed. They have failed to uphold our Constitution, they have failed to uphold our democracy, they have failed to uphold fundamental human rights and the rule of law, they have failed to rally the world to our cause, and they have failed to protect the American people.

Yes, great harm has been done to us. We have suffered a great loss. But that harm and loss has been increased by orders of magnitude by this President, this administration and this Congress. I do not recognize the America I live in today. But I give credit where it is due. The President is right on one point. The advance of freedom now depends on us, the American people. We can no longer count on our representatives. We must demand a return to basic decency.

Returning to the speech at Ft McNair, our President stated, “Pervasive fear is the foundation of every dictatorial regime -- the prop that holds up all power not based on consent. And when the regime of fear is broken, and the people find their courage and find their voice, democracy is their goal, and tyrants, themselves, have reason to fear.”

So friends, true lovers of freedom, true patriots, I, for one, have found my courage and I have found my voice. I write this so that the day I am disappeared, in this land of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, each one of you will know that I have not succumbed to fear, that I stand tall and free.

Peace and Love, Johnny Barber

free·dom n
1. a state in which somebody is able to act and live as he or she chooses, without being subject to any, or to any undue, restraints and restrictions
2. release or rescue from being physically bound, or from being confined, enslaved, captured, or imprisoned
3. a country’s right to rule itself, without interference from or domination by another country or power
4. the right to speak or act without restriction, interference, or fear

lib·er·ty n
1. the freedom to think or act without being constrained by necessity or force
2. freedom from captivity or slavery
3. any of the political, social, and economic rights that belong to the citizens of a state or to all people (often used in the plural)
See also civil liberties

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Arrest for CD Sept 26th, 2006

(This was a letter written to friends and organizers who participated in the civil disobedience in Washington, DC on Sept 26th and 27th in support of the Declaration of Peace.)

Dear Max and June and Caterina and my dear Cynthia (as well as each and every participant in the Sept 26, 27th actions),

i don't know quite how to express my gratitude for all you do. In the Buddhist tradition, we bow to each other. So, i offer you nine bows of gratitude. i am sorry i was unable to change my ticket and join you yesterday, but i am happy that i was with you on the 26th.

The action at the Senate sounds very powerful. Our action at Congress was as well. For me, the action had quite a few memorable moments that are still with me this morning.

i stood in silence in front of a young woman as well as a young man, both members of the Capital police, holding the line, barring our progress to the steps of the Capital. I held the white rose i had been given in the park close to my heart. Giancarlo (a poet and gardener from San Francisco) stood next to me, holding the cardboard coffin over his head. The entire time, the young male officer in front of me, eyes hidden behind dark shades, stood tensed, ready for confrontation. The young woman officer stood tensed as well, but over the course of the "negotiations" she visibly relaxed. She was short and the white rose i held was very near her face (we were toe to toe, like dance partners). Her face was freckled, she wasn't wearing sunglasses and her eyes were beautiful, green and clear...So in this tableaux, we stood, silent- and the earth roared! For a moment, i wondered where they were at, what they were thinking, but I did not ask. Together, we shared the scent of a rose (what does a rose mean but love, beauty, delicacy, and care) and i loved them.

After a short amount of time, and several arrests, Giancarlo was left holding the front of the coffin by himself, and actually put it over the heads of the 2 big cops in front of him. He said, "Can you feel it? We are all in this coffin together. Can you? Can you feel it?", he implored, "This coffin is the Iraq war and we are all in it together." He words blew me wide open. Me, a white rose, the police, their arms linked barring our way, freckles and clear green eyes, a coffin with the photos of dead children and soldiers, the names of the dead scrawled across it. The edifice of Congress, like an unattainable Oz, or the great city on the hill (equally unattainable), maybe one hundred yards distant. Yet the truth right at hand (God bless the poets). "Can you feel it?", he said.

Can you?

Meanwhile, the arrests continued, there were 4 or 5 of us left. The officer in front of me, tensed like an offensive lineman, hands up, ready to defend the line, seemed unmoved. i looked at him closely, leaned towards him, and nearly whispering, i said, "No one is going to try to push past you." "We have to be ready", he replied. i said, "Yes, but we are here non-violently. i am holding a rose". He smiled briefly, "Yes, I know", he said. "i will not break through the line", i replied. After several moments i noticed he relaxed, and unlinked his arm from the officer next to him. Giancarlo was led away, but before he moved, he asked the policewoman next to him if she would hold the coffin for him- and she agreed. She took the front of the coffin and held it over her head, and became part of our action! When it was time for the person holding the rear of the coffin to be arrested, they placed the coffin gently on the ground, as if they were laying someone to rest. As they looked at each other, he said, "These pictures represent the hundreds of thousands who have died in this senseless war".

As i was handcuffed and led away, i noticed the tourists who had gathered, particularly a father and his two young boys, who watched me carefully and i thought of my son, his kindness and understanding (as much as a 7 year old can grasp these things), as well as his fear of what i do, and i wondered how this young father would explain these events to his sons. Walking to the police van, a supporter said, "God bless you" and i felt blessed. Waiting to enter the police van, i asked the cop holding my elbow how he was doing on this morning, staring straight ahead, he replied, "I'm ok." "That's good", i said, as i broke into a big smile, "Here we are together, both doing what we need to do, what could be better?" He said, "Yeah... I guess so." I continued smiling as I climbed into the van and the doors slammed behind me.

This morning, the white rose is fading to brown, though its fragrance is even stronger than yesterday. i sit with it and embrace my soul mates on the other side of the line; freckles and the lineman, the cops in the coffin, and the beautiful police officer who agreed to hold the coffin as Giancarlo was cuffed and led away. i think of all those who work for peace and justice, and what you are willing to give, and i recognize a beauty that is indescribable, but sustains me like food and water, like breath. And i contemplate a Rumi poem: "In the driest, whitest stretch of pain's infinite desert, I lost my sanity and found this rose."

May this dreadful war end. May all beings be at peace.
May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May they not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May they dwell in equanimity free of passion, aggression, and prejudice.

Blessings, Peace and love, Johnny

ps: i think it is imperative that we do an action close to the elections. Are the baltimore folks planning anything? i would be willing to come to DC again at the very end of Oct, if this is possible...what do you think?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Marwahin in Black

"Nothing is safe [in Lebanon], as simple as that." Israeli Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, (Haaretz; Jul 13th, 2006)

The village of Marwahin hugs right up against the Israeli border. This intimacy does not make for good neighbors. On July 15th, 2006 the residents of Marwahin heard an announcement over loudspeakers from the Israeli military garrison that they had 2 hours to evacuate the village, or face the consequences. The villagers were trapped. Israeli tanks, armored personnel carriers, and army jeeps were poised on the south side of the village. On the hillside behind the village, Hizbullah fighters were spotted. Being Sunni, the villagers of Marwahin have long standing tensions with Shi’a Hizbullah organization. Taking the threat of an attack seriously, they immediately began to evacuate.

When we arrive in the village, we are invited to sit with a family who recount the events on that morning. They heard the announcements and with other families, they loaded a truck and several cars with men, women, and children and went to the nearby UN post, only to find the gate locked. They were not allowed to enter, and were told to return to the village. They decided to head to Tyre along the coastal road, but between the villages of Chamaa and Biyada the truck and a car was fired on by Israeli attack helicopter. The first missile missed its target, causing panic in the truck. Many of the children jumped down and began running. The next two rockets found their marks, 21 people were killed including 13 children and 2 pregnant women.

We walk to the outskirts of the village with a village elder who had lost family members in the attack. He insists on showing us the gravesite. When we arrive, we find an old woman curled up on the ground, holding one of the concrete markers and sobbing. “My sister”, says the old man. We sit with the man as he shows us the photos of those who were killed and buried together on the hilltop. Across the valley, on the very next hilltop, I watch a hummer leave the Israeli garrison and follow the border road on a patrol. I notice, in passing, that bombs had not destroyed a single Israeli home along the border. It is very quiet; the only sound is that of a grandmother crying.

Walking back to the village another elderly woman meets us and begins to tell us of her loss. She invites us to her daughter’s home, which has been partially destroyed by a fire. She explains that she is afraid to return to her home because of cluster bombs and the fact that the Israeli army is still operating in areas just outside the village, very near her home.

She tells us that she lost her pregnant daughter (7 months), her son-in-law, and 6 of her grandchildren in the convoy attack. She says, “If they had not been killed in the convoy, they very well may have been killed inside their home.” The fire had gutted the family sleeping area.

We leave Marwahin as the blood red sun sets in the west. The yellow Hizbullah flags, so prominent in other villages in the south, are conspicuous in their absence, replaced by black mourning flags waving gently in the evening breeze. We descend to the valley below and the road north.

"Half Lebanon is destroyed. Is that a loss?" The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, fighting for his political life after failing to eliminate Hizbullah. (Haaretz; Sep 6th, 2006)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The One Handed Fisherman

Today we visited the Jabal Aamel hospital in Sur (Tyre). We were given the name of Ahmed Mroueh, the hospital director, and wished to speak with him regarding cluster bomb casualties. The receptionist called the doctor, who was traveling for the day and could not see us.

In the emergency room, we are given the names of several doctors to speak with. We return to the reception area, and we begin to ask about the doctors. The receptionist turns to the young woman next to her and says, “Her brother is a victim.” The girl looks up and says, “Yes, but I'm sorry, he can not speak with you, he isn’t capable. He is in a very dangerous condition.”

As we are taking our leave, a security guard rushes over and says a victim of a bomb is just arriving in the emergency room. He looks at me and says, “You are in luck.” In the ER we go to the room where we hear loud moaning. A Reuter’s news team is filming a man on a gurney as doctors, medics, and nurses quickly transfer him to a bed. His right hand is wrapped in gauze so thick it looks like a giant club. His arm and shoulder is peppered with shrapnel, and his head is wrapped in a turban of gauze already saturated, and the blood is pooling under him. In moments, the man is transferred down the hallway to the MRI. He is moaning on every breath, somehow the moans seem to emanate from far away. A man who had entered the emergency room with the patient is distraught, pacing back and forth, up and down the hall, uncertain where to go or what to do. Finally he backs into a corner his eyes darting from person to person. Someone gives him a cigarette, and I put a hand on his shoulder. He speaks to me in English as tears well up in his eyes, “My brother is a fisherman, and a bomb became entangled in his net.” My understanding is that he was in a boat nearby when the explosion occurred. “He will lose his hand”, the brother says, “He is just a fisherman, trying to provide for his family, four children...four children…what is he supposed to do?” he said, dragging quickly on his cigarette. “I want people to know, I what you to show people what this is. I want people to know…” his voice trailed off and he walked quickly back down the hallway. It reminded me of a story I heard in the village of Blida a week earlier. We were shown the room where a tank shell had penetrated the ceiling, amputating the legs of an elderly taxi driver as he slept. The blood was still on the floor. When we stepped outside, we were shown the man’s taxi, demolished by a second tank shell. It was like a cruel, sick joke- a taxi driver without legs, a fisherman without a hand.

Five minutes later, the doctor who examined the MRI sits with us. He says the man is unlikely to survive, depending on how much shrapnel can be removed from his brain. He also has a collapsed lung, and yes, his hand is to be amputated. He speaks in even tones, without emotion, as he takes a slow drag on a cigarette. He says the hospital is seeing the worst trauma cases in the region, usually 2 or 3 victims every day since the start of the war. They are mostly children and young men, “active people” he says, “workers”. Most suffer multiple traumas to the head, torso, and limbs. I ask how it was to deal with these injuries on a daily basis, and he said he was used to seeing such things. As an ICU doctor, car accidents, industrial accidents, it was normal. “But”, I say, "How do you deal with the fact that these injuries are not accidents, but purposely inflicted by other human beings?" He shrugs and says, “before this war started we were still treating cluster bomb victims from the last war.”

So far, the UN has identified 450 cluster bomb sites and this number is climbing daily. They estimate that it will take from 12 to 15 months to clean up. An independent group in Lebanon, clearing unexploded ordinance in the south from the last war, estimates that it may take 10 years to clean up. If Vietnam is any indication, children will be dying from unexploded ordinance for decades to come. Currently, the United States is opening an inquiry into the use of American made cluster bombs in Lebanon. Apparently, the United States had undisclosed agreements with Israel restricting when cluster munitions can be employed. The hypocrisy of this is that the United States does not hold itself to the same norms and drops cluster bombs on Iraq and Afghanistan whenever it deems it a military necessity.

Much has been made of the fact that Hizbullah fired 4000 rockets into northern Israel. In Haaretz on Sept 8th a reservist artillery officer estimated that the Israel army fired up to 160,000 shells into Lebanon, including several hundred cluster bombs. The majority of cluster munitions were fired in the last 72 hours of the conflict. These munitions are notorious for failure (the failure rate for American cluster bombs is estimated at 25%), meaning the areas where they are dropped become literal mine fields. Dropping them in civilian areas ensure many civilian casualties. To date, they have been found on soccer fields, in homes and schools, on hospital grounds, suspended in tree limbs in orange groves, and now, in fishermen’s nets. Often, the one who finds them is not "in luck". Undoubtedly, there will be many more stories of legless taxi drivers, one-armed farmers, and children maimed for life.

Friday, September 08, 2006


i have received emails questioning where i am coming from as well as criticism that my work is just an anti-Israeli rap, and not really concerned with peace and justice. i wanted to address these issues, i also want to thank those who have written me with these concerns. i fret over how my written words are perceived, i feel that my photos tell a heart story, my words may not.

i came to Lebanon to be with the people who are suffering at the hands of my government. The people of South Lebanon have been portrayed as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers who deserve what they get. They have been called cowards, inherently evil, full of hatred for Jews and freedom, fascists, akin to Hitler. The purpose of my coming here was to recognize the people for who they are. i have sat with those who are portrayed as “terrorists”. i have mourned with them. i have listened openly to their stories, their concerns, their problems, their loves and their hatreds. i have rediscovered what i have known all along. They are no different than i am.

When i stood in Nader’s house and he pointed to where his sister died, pointed to where his wife died, pointed to where he dug his daughter from the rubble, i did not ask him if he was Hizbullah, he very well may have been. That made no difference to me. The same was true when i was in Israel in 2002, sitting with the father of a soldier who had been killed in an earlier Lebanon war, and we cried at the young life snuffed out by war. He was not an enemy, he was not the "other", he was not separate from me and my grief----in fact it was the GRIEF, shared by all sentient beings, that we were experiencing, and the shared connection was holy. In both these moments of a shared heart, I knew who we were, completely.

My condemnation of US and Israeli policy, is not a condemnation of people, or of religion, or race, but of structures that are doomed to failure and increased human suffering. In writing, i am trying to share the perspective of those without power being dominated by those with power. It does not absolve the powerless from their responsibility in these matters, nor is it an attempt to assign blame. But i do hope to shift my readers attention to a different perspective, a perspective that is not of privilege, a perspective that can not afford complacency, and a perspective that moves beyond generalizations to intimacy.

The destruction here is hard to imagine and hard to convey---over 1300 civilian deaths, somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 homes totally destroyed. 130,000 homes damaged. Cluster bombs litter the streets and fields, killing people everyday, poor peoples livelihoods are completely destroyed. Roads, bridges, hospitals, mosques, factories, stores, gas stations, an oil depot, fishing boats, ports, and airports are demolished. Hizbullah has signs and posters claiming a "divine victory" everywhere, and citizens that have never supported Hizbullah are now singing Hizbullah fighting songs. As for Israelis, people are outraged that the military effort did not crush the “enemy” and this alone may be enough provocation to fight again. So it seems likely this insanity will be repeated, probably on a larger scale. This is what i rail against. What has happened here is disgraceful. i, in my ignorance, cannot imagine what it takes for a human being to drop tons of bombs on a densely occupied city. i, in my ignorance, can not imagine what it takes to drop the majority of cluster bombs in the final 72 hours of a war my government is negotiating a cease fire for. i, in my ignorance, cannot fathom how this is victory. i walk around this place dumbfounded. i spend time in the Beirut suburbs where people are scratching through the debris for the most meager remembrances of their lives; a photograph, a piece of jewelry, anything to remind them of home. Hizbullah flags blow in the breeze and Hizbullah souvenir shops have sprung up amid the wreckage- anyone for a Hassan Nasrallah key chain? i return to downtown Beirut where Ferraris and BMWs race by, people heading to the nightclub, or off to have a cappuccino by the sea, the suburbs might as well be on Mars. Decades of war is exhausting, i am told. People need to continue their lives.

And what of me? i wander around here....doing what? At times i feel perverse, an intruder on these peoples lives, asking for a photograph, sitting for a cup of tea, asking questions, "How do you manage?"...."What is it like?"...Most often i just listen as deeply as i can, as another human being talks of death and loss, and in the end i may hold his hand for a moment, look deeply into his eyes, then turn and walk away. Usually i say nothing, i cannot even begin to convey my feelings.

And it is all too obvious why anger and hatred manifest. People have always hated, but this is not the province of the “enemy”, i hold it myself. It is the result of my delusion of separateness. i recognize that this hatred is not blind, but a flowering of many causes and conditions. As i watch my anger and hatred arise, i can learn from my misperceptions, especially my attachment to self-righteousness, and my lack of compassion. i can see where i still cling to thoughts of us and other. Perhaps this is why i have been criticized, and i am grateful to be reminded of these shortcomings.

Paraphrasing Dr King, violence is not ended by violence. Only love can do this. So where is the love? And how do we shift from the extremist point of view that the bigger the attack, the better the peace that will result....(if only we had more troops on the ground in Iraq, if only Israel had those bunker busters prior to the attack on Lebanon, we need mini-nukes to deal with Iran)...Can true Peace ever come from the barrel of a gun? Must we demand this love from others before we open to it ourselves? Do we even know what the hell this love is?

If it is true that we reap what we sow, we have sown death and destruction for far too long. Looking ahead for seven generations, our children will reap the flowers of these seeds for years to come, and it breaks my heart.

i hope my blog gives a sense of where i am at, and what this all means to me. i am confused, deluded, angry, heart broken, and at times, as destroyed as the twisted buildings lying in the dust. It is the people i have met here who remind me of love, consideration, care, steadfastness and beauty. So where is my enemy? I can’t find him anywhere.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Qana Redux

Qana Redux, Sept 1st, 2006

Today I went to Qana, a village located southeast of Tyre in southern Lebanon. On April 18th, 1996, during “Operation Grapes of Wrath” Israel shelled a UN compound while fighting Hizbullah forces in the area. About 800 villagers had taken refuge in the compound when fighting broke out. 106 civilians were killed in that attack, and a monument in the village stands in their memory.

On July 27th, 2006, the Israeli Minister of Justice Haim Ramon, said, “Everyone remaining in southern Lebanon will be regarded as a terrorist”.

On July 30th, during “Operation Change of Direction” (a misnomer if there ever was one), another Israel attack killed 27 people from three extended families sleeping on the ground floor of a 4 story building. Israel called the rocket attack a mistake, while also claiming to be shooting at Hizbullah positions nearby. Israeli officials absolved themselves by saying the residents had been warned to leave by leaflets dropped from the sky. An Israeli Army spokesman, Jacob Dalal, said, “Clearly we did not know the civilians were in the way.”

The civilians were not “in the way”. They were huddled on the ground floor of the building when the bombs hit. They had gone to the house because they thought it was the strongest house in the area.

At the time, Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, said, “We are dealing with a ruthless, cynical, cruel enemy, one of the most monstrous terror organizations this world has known.” (It should be noted that since the IDF pullout from Lebanon in 2000, and prior to the reinvasion of Lebanon in July 2006, 6 Israeli citizens have been killed by Hizbullah, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. In just 2 attacks in Qana alone the state of Israel has been responsible for 20 times more civilian deaths than Hizbullah)

In Qana we met Ahmed Hashem. He slowing walked over to the building that he thought would offer refuge to his family. There was a huge crater and a mound of rubble. He told us how he and his family were trying to sleep when the bombs hit, and how he was blown across the room, into a corner that had not collapsed. He pointed to the overhanging ceiling and told us how the rubble from the blast buried everyone. As the bombs continued falling, no one could escape and no one could come to help. They began digging victims out by hand. In the morning the Red Crescent arrived, for most of the victims it was too late.

Ahmad and I crouched in the dust, and he took some pictures from an envelope. His wife, his father, his three young sons, his five nephews. His hand lingered over the picture of his youngest son, his fingers tracing the smiling face.

I have been advised that it is a sad fact that in any war, civilians are killed. We call their deaths regrettable, but necessary. We call it “collateral damage” to distance ourselves from the pain suffered by people in far away places, without names or faces. We dehumanize the victims in order to accept their deaths by our guns and bombs. We blame the “enemy”, we blame the “intelligence”, we blame the victims for "being in the way", searching ceaselessly to place the consequences of our actions outside ourselves. We rationalize, justify, and explain away the lives of innocents in such an easy, reckless manner. Politicians encourage this, making lofty pronouncements about the great things to come after the war is won; the defeat of terrorists; and the necessity to stay the course, less evil win. Crouching in the dust of Qana, watching Ahmed trace the lines of his darling boy's face, I pause to reconsider.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Return to Houla Aug 29th, 2006

Today we returned to Houla. From the village you can see the border with Israel. High on the hilltop you can see the Israeli surveillance towers. Israeli snipers fired on the village throughout the war. Bullet holes from a large caliber gun lined the exterior walls of the homes facing the hill. I was told the Israeli army suffered twelve deaths when ground forces tried to enter Houla. They withdrew and began shelling the village.

We met with a family who lost their mother on August 6th. The room in which she was killed faced the hillside. Each day she would make bread for her family who lived next store. Clearly the snipers watched this woman each day as she entered her kitchen. On the day she was killed she entered the kitchen as usual. A tank mortar followed closely behind her. Her brother tried to recover her body but was trapped in the room by the snipers for several hours, and finally had to leave unable to recover her body. It would be several days before the snipers relented and let her body be moved. She left behind five boys and a girl as well as her husband Yasser.

Now, Yasser stands in the doorway of the kitchen, pointing to the hillside and telling the story of his wife’s death. I realize that the Israeli army is most likely watching us from the home they still occupy high on the hillside. I wonder if a sniper has a bead on any of us. The eighteen-year-old daughter, Afaaf cheeks flush and tears well up in her eyes as her father recounts how her mom was killed. I cry too. Yasser ends by saying, “the Israeli’s killed 83 people in Houla when they created their state in 1948, and they continue to kill us today”.

For a minute we all stand silent, then turn and climb the steps. Yasser’s neighbor, Nader beckons us to his home across the street. The home was struck by a bomb on July 15th. He invites Mohammad and I into the house. The walls of the house are all buckled outwards, but somehow the house remains standing. In the entranceway I step over curtains and a sewing machine. Broken furniture, clothes, photographs, toys and papers lie scattered on the floor. The TV remains on the shelf, it’s screen blown out by shrapnel. We climb over the wreckage. On the 3rd day of the war, July 15th, Nader was in his home having dinner with fifteen relatives. A rocket fired from an Israeli jet entered through the front door. Nader points to where his wife Zainab was killed, as well as his sister Sabna. “Right there, we were gathered, eating”, he points to the broken bowls and food that lie scattered on the floor. Nader tells us that he pulled his relatives out of the house one by one, including his seven-month-old daughter and his severely injured brother. His brother remains hospitalized. It is obvious that since the bodies were removed, nothing else has been touched. Mohammad tells me it is OK to photograph, but I can’t- it feels profane. I tell him I can’t do it, it seems like sacred space. We turn and climb through the debris back to the street. Nader invites us next door, and we join him in the sitting room. He shows us pictures of his sister and his wife. We sit quietly, not saying anything. Nader’s pain and grief are etched in his face and his eyes express a sorrow that can’t be quantified. He is crying, but without tears. He sits cracking his knuckles, and rubbing his hands. He seems unsure what to do next. We take our leave. He thanks us for coming.

Kofe Annan also came to Houla today. He did not visit the home occupied by the soldiers, he did not visit with Yasser and his daughter, nor did he step into Nader’s tableau of pain. We asked a woman if she saw him in the village. She said, “Did he bring meat? He didn’t. I don’t care about Kofi Annan, the UN has done nothing for us.”

Zebquine Aug 27th, 2006

Once, after a bomb destroyed an apartment building in Gaza, Dan Halutz, currently the Israeli Army Chief of Staff, was asked what it felt like to drop a large bomb on people. He replied, “I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb's release. A second later and it's gone, and that's all. That is what I feel."

Today I attended a funeral in Zebquine along with several members of the Campaign for Civil Resistance. It was for a family of 12 who died on the first day of the air attack. The family lived on the outskirts of the village, and the father thought it would be safer to stay with relatives in the center of the village for the night. The next morning, the father went outside, started the car and began collecting everyone to return home. It was a trip that would never be completed. A large bomb hit the house, leveling it.

The funeral was a somber one. In one room the men spoke of martyrdom and the impulse to resist and fight for your home, your land, and your people. To fight for what was right and just. They said that as the bombing began there were members of the community who they had never considered fighters, in the streets with weapons, willing to defend their families and property. I am certain many Americans can appreciate this reaction. It is the principle advocated by the National Rifle Association. In defending Israel, Americans are quick to retort, “What would you do if we were invaded by another country? You have the right to self-defense don’t you?” The people of South Lebanon have exactly the same impulse.

On the porch, the women spoke of the family members who were killed, and they brought out smiling portraits of each of the twelve victims.

When we left the funeral, we went to the destroyed home. It was one of dozens destroyed in the village center. A green living room set covered in grey dust sat in a corner. Everything else was a twisted pile of rubble. A child’s nightgown patterned with red hearts and the word ”love” was in the dust of the street, the pages of a book were fluttering in the breeze. The women who accompanied us explained that it took several days to dig all the victims out.

As we continued down the street, a young man surveying the rubble stopped me as I passed and began speaking rapidly in Arabic. He smiled and waited. He asked what I thought of his village. He asked me if this was right, if this devastation was somehow deserved. All I could say was, “Of course not.” He said, “What can we do?” I did not reply. He pointed to the home he had been looking at and said, "two men died there". He pointed across the road to a van crushed by a fallen home, “A school bus” he said. We turned another corner, and he picked up a school tablet, “in this house the man had three school children”, he dropped the book back in the dust.

This evening the skies are crystal clear. The Milky Way, in its majesty, drapes the sky, there are more stars than I can imagine. A shooting star races to the horizon as the crickets chirp their song. All I can think of is bombs raining down like shooting stars with sound, as Katushyas race to meet them. All I can think of is a child in a nightgown with hearts and love, whose dreams were ended in the flash of a smart bomb.

I wonder if the crickets sing as homes explode in the night? Or does the natural world bear witness to this sacrilege in silence?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Houla and Kantara Aug 26th, 2006

Houla and Kantara

Today I traveled to south Lebanon with a grassroots organization called Lebanon Solidarity. This group began organizing when the war began. The group has two main goals in the short term; the first is to get basic relief to the hard hit regions of the south, particularly the small villages that have been overlooked by the major NGO’s. The second goal is to join participants from across Lebanese society in organizing a united response to the Israeli aggression that has done so much damage throughout Lebanon.

We first traveled to Houla a village of 1500 homes, 40 of which were completely destroyed, 250 of which have significant damage. The major concern at this time is the water supply, many of the homes in the village depended on the village water supply for all their needs. The 4 main water tanks as well as the motor for the pump were the first things destroyed by Israel’s aerial bombardment. Why water? Can this possibly be a legitimate target in the “war on terror”? Or would Israel merely dismiss this as another instance of “collateral damage”? The Israeli forces hit Houla hard. The heart cannot find words or expression to what the eyes record. Home after home lie in complete and utter ruin. What can be the explanation for this destruction? Self defense? To defeat terrorism? To teach a lesson? To make a point (perhaps might makes right?) The infamous words of our President come back to haunt me, “This is an opportunity.” The hollow words of a blind man that strike me hard as I wander through the wreckage.

While assessing damage in the village, we are met by a ninety-year-old man Ahmad Hagg, who showed us his destroyed house. He was sleeping in the house when it was bombed and was lucky to get out alive. One family member died in the attack. Out in his garden an unexploded bomb lay near where he had his tobacco crop drying in the sun. He insisted over and over again that we tell the world what happened in Houla.

From Houla we journeyed to Kantara. Just 2 days earlier, and over a week into the ceasefire, Israeli soldiers kidnapped 2 residents of the village and removed them to an unknown location. I walk along the main street with fifteen-year-old Mohammad and his nine-year-old brother Ali. They invite me into the remains of their uncle’s house that has been gutted by a fire resulting from rocket fire. As we continue down the street, the boys point to cluster bombs lying in the dust by the side of the road and a landmine which has rocks piled around it to warn people to stay away. (Later that night we learn from UN coordinators that over 300 locations of unexploded ordinance had been identified to date, and many villages had not yet been reached due to security concerns.)

Cluster bombs pose a particularly deadly post war threat. Up to 25% of the canisters do not explode when they hit the ground. One cluster bomb holds dozens of bomblets that disperse over a wide area. Each bomblet is small and inconspicuous. If you find one unexploded cluster bomb on the ground, you can expect there are many more in the vicinity. If a child were to kick one, or try to pick one up, it is very likely to explode, sending shrapnel in all directions. I ask Mohammad about the danger and he tells me many parents are keeping their children indoors until Unifil arrives and clears the area. I ask him, “Why are you and your brother outside?” and we all share a laugh. With such a backlog of locations, it may be weeks before the streets of Kantara are safe for children. In the US media we continually hear analysts report on how Hizbullah has munitions loaded with ball bearings in order to maim and kill as many civilians as possible, and Israel uses precision guided weaponry to avoid civilian casualties. On the ground in Lebanon this myth is easily exploded. Since the end of the war thirty-eight civilian casualties have been reported due to the detonation of cluster bombs, and these numbers are growing everyday. The cluster bombs are American products, like most of the weaponry used to destroy Lebanon.

Everywhere, Hizbullah flags are flying. Photos and posters of Sheik Nasrallah are everywhere. Outrage over Israel’s destruction of infrastructure and against the civilian population was palpable. Whatever the dynamics involved in attempting this misadventure, whether it was pressure from the US, or attempts of the new Israeli government to “prove itself”, or retaliation for the capture of two Israeli soldiers, it was a huge miscalculation. From all appearances on the ground, Hizbullah has gained wide spread support not only for the resistance but for the practical and timely measures taken since the ceasefire took effect.

One can only wonder what measures Israel will consider next, now that Hizbullah is even stronger than before the bombing began.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Made in the USA

South Beirut, August 24th, 2006

Before I left for Beirut, a friend said, “I’d like to support you, but I ask you to not forget about the Israeli victims.” I have not forgotten them. Over the years I have been called one sided in my condemnation of Israeli policies, and American support and encouragement of these policies. It is not because I don’t care about Israeli victims. I criticize these policies because they cannot lead to peace, but only lead to more death and destruction. These failed policies can be seen strewn throughout the Middle East from Afghanistan to Iraq to Palestine and Lebanon. In all of these areas “the war on terror” has led to violence that is unprecedented and shows no signs of abating. As talk of striking Syria and Iran increase, the threat to civilian populations across the Middle East increases as well.

Today I traveled to South Beirut, an area heavily hit by Israeli warplanes. The destruction was devastating, entire city blocks reduced to rubble. The recovery is already in full swing with bulldozers clearing debris and people doing what they can to salvage their homes and businesses. It seemed as if many people were still in a state of shock, just standing in front of the piles of rubble, staring as bulldozers clawed at the remains of their homes. There were posters everywhere, proclaiming in English as well as Arabic, ”made in the USA”, and “Extremely precise targets.” I was amazed, as I always am, that no animosity was directed toward me as I photographed the destruction caused by American made bombs and weapons, and the direct result of American foreign policy. Instead, people said to me, “show these pictures when you go home, show the people what your “smart” bombs do.”

As I walked through the rubble, I had a strong sense of déjà vu, but couldn’t quite place it. I was reminded of many scenes from the West Bank, the cities of Jenin, Qaladia, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, and Nablus have all suffered this kind of destruction. I was also reminded of walking through the Gulf Coast region destroyed by hurricane Katrina, but that was not it either. Then it struck me- the smells, the pulverized concrete, the empty shoe lying in the dust, the battered child’s toy, the bystanders in small groups conversing quietly or just watching. I was once again standing in the dust of the World Trade Center. As the 5th anniversary of that disaster quickly approaches, I thought about the multitude of 9-11’s perpetrated on Middle Eastern countries in the name of “self defense” or the “war on terror” since 2001. But this is not the first time Lebanon has suffered this kind of destruction. The influx of the PLO in the late 60’s, decades of cross border raids by Israel, a bloody civil war, years of Israeli occupation, the formation of Hizbullah in the early 80’s to counter the occupation, and the current crisis- it seems like 9-11’s are a regular, if unwelcome, guest in this part of the world.

Walking through block after block of destroyed apartment complexes I felt outraged and grief stricken at the scale of the destruction. How can this be? Even if you agree with the argument that rockets were fired from civilian areas and that is why they were targeted, no rockets were fired from Southern Beirut. Even if you believe the rhetoric that Hizbullah was hiding (not living, mind you!) among the civilian population, does this justify the bombing of civilian population centers? And just because Israel dropped leaflets warning people to leave the area, does this validate aerial bombardment on this scale? If Hizbullah warned the residents of Haifa to leave before bombing them, would that make it OK? Where do we draw the line, and why is our self-defense always justified, but our “enemy’s” is not? Today, Amnesty International issued a report stating that the wanton destruction of infrastructure and civilian areas was not the result of collateral damage but was in fact an integral part of Israel’s war plan. These charges as well as charges against Hizbullah demand a comprehensive and independent UN inquiry. Governments must also be held accountable for war crimes perpetrated against civilians.

This morning I sit and recall my friends voice, I do not forget the Israeli victims, nor the Lebanese victims, but I wonder where does this all lead? When will the safety of everyone in the region hold equal value. When will each death, regardless of nationality, be one death too many?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Letter to the US Attorney

August 18th, 2006

U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Washington, DC

Re Violation Number : P0571225

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am in receipt of your letter dated July 1st, 2006 in regards to the payment of my fine resulting from the conviction of the above referenced violation being 120 days past due. I guess at this point it is coming up to 180 days past due, and I understand from your letter that your office “will proceed with further legal action against me without notice”. I am writing to tell you that this is fine with me.

I stand accused and convicted of demonstrating without a permit. I should probably make it perfectly clear that I have absolutely no intention of paying the assessed fines, penalties, court costs, and interest.

As I discussed in court, my reasons for participating in these actions was deeply rooted in my belief in nonviolent resistance to the criminal behavior of my government. My grievances are numerous and far ranging. To recap the most egregious grievances:

• The invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation that posed no threat to our country.
• The wholesale slaughter of the Iraqi people.
• The use of white phosphorus on the people of Fallujah,
• The use of depleted uranium throughout Iraq.
• The systematic use of torture on prisoners at Abu Ghraib, at Baghdad airport and elsewhere in Iraq.
• The use of war, mayhem, and violence to drive our economy and enrich the corporate cronies of the Bush Administration.

Despite the courts decision, I was acting under the Nuremburg principles of resisting the illegal conduct of my government. This is demanded of us as citizens. The only way my government can continue pursuing these immoral agendas is with the silence and complicity of its citizens. I refuse to be silent. I refuse to be complicit. I resist the Judiciary's complicity with such criminality. I will not pay fines for illegitimate and politically motivated charges. I will not pay fines levied against me for my nonviolent activism.

I understand that such a principled stand may present a problem for you. I must state here that I am willing to go to prison for my intransigence. I also have another option to present to you. On Sunday, August 20th I will depart for Beirut. While in Lebanon I will be documenting the results of Israel’s 34 days of bombing. As you may be aware, many of the munitions used were produced by American companies. Most of the devices used to deliver these munitions were also “made in the USA”. F-16’s and Apache helicopters have come to symbolize terrorism across the region, from Iraq, Gaza, the West Bank, and now Lebanon. Upon my return I will gladly provide community service so that American citizens can see our countries contribution to “the birth pangs of a new Middle East”. I anxiously await your response to this idea.

In the mean time, please note that I have used all monies for the assessed fines, court costs, penalties, and interest to support my trip to the Middle East. I think we can all agree that this is a much more appropriate use of my funds.

Sincerely, Johnny Barber
Three Treasures Buddhist Peace Fellowship

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Thank You

Dear Friends,

In the midst of preparations for my departure to Lebanon, I wanted to take some time to thank all of you who have so generously supported me in this endeavor, both with monetary support as well as spiritual support. I will carry your messages of peace and generosity with me, not just on this trip, but always.

I will carry this generosity each step of the way, as I offer what I can to the victims of war. As is always the case, innocent people have suffered, and are suffering still. How can we even begin to measure what has happened over these past 34 days? This war, so cruelly identified as an “opportunity” by our President and a “birth pangs” by our Secretary of State, has not brought about a “new Middle East”, but only reinforced the futility of war as a means to peace. As each “side” declares victory, citizens step gingerly into the streets, avoiding the pulverized concrete and broken glass, wondering how long the ceasefire can last.

Last evening, our Zen group had a discussion on Dana paramita, the unsurpassable giving in our lives. I reflected on all that I am receiving, and how lucky and grateful I am for each thing given. I in turn, will give what I have received. Maezumi Roshi offers a second definition of Dana paramita as “giving yourself away”. He goes on to say, “As a standard of giving, we say the best thing to give is no-fear.”

So how does each of us manifest this “no-fear”? Is it not true that this “no-fear” is already manifesting each moment, in all of our lives? If so, can we avoid giving this “no-fear”?

May each step of our journey be a reminder and an example of this beautiful gift.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom.

Thank you, Johnny

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

As August Approaches

Dear Friends,

As August quickly approaches, i spend my weekends with my son at the ocean, playing hours on end in the surf, or at home behind closed doors, reading and enjoying the air conditioning as the humidity and temperatures outside reach into the 90’s. For most of July thundershowers have brought late afternoon relief, and a respite from the heat. But for me, there has been no respite from the news, and my deep misgivings of the path our country has chosen.

i have been deeply distressed, as i know you are, by the news out of Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon. i have read endless news accounts of the suffering of civilians while the strongest armies in the world bomb, maim, and kill indiscriminately. The savagery of the attacks and the resulting mayhem has shown the true colors of our government and allies. i sit, incredulous, as our representatives continue to assert this is for the good of the Iraqi, Lebanese, and Gazan people. My disbelief hit an all time high last week, when it was reported that America rushed a fresh supply of “smart” bombs to Israel, (don’t want ‘em to run out of bombs before they’re finished killin’), and the next day announced a 30 million dollar “humanitarian” package for Lebanon- while the bombs, our bombs, were still raining down on Beirut and points south.

As this debacle continues to unfold, i have decided to return to the Middle East on August 20th. The plan, as of now, is to travel to Beirut and bear witness to the suffering of the Lebanese people. As on each of my journeys, i will listen to their stories, and offer myself in any way i can. i will stand in solidarity with the ordinary people of Lebanon who are, yet again, enduring the brunt of war.

Recently and regularly, i am asked, “What good will that do?” To this i respond, “It does good to listen, and give those who are marginalized, demonized, and isolated their voice. It does good to say in the strongest way i can, i oppose the policies of my government and our allies that so callously ignore the suffering of human beings as they pursue their disingenuous ends.” On my return home, i will share what i’ve learned through words and photos so their stories will not be forgotten or ignored.

Another question i often hear- “What about your son---he needs you?” And i remember my time in a small village just outside Jenin when an Israeli soldier purposely shot a child, not much older than my boy, in the leg. With horror and fear etched into his face, he hobbled into my arms. He, too, was my child. He, too, was my responsibility. The children of Qana, the children of Haifa, all the future generations who will inherit the poison of this violence- our responsibility. i do this work for my child as well, that he may recognize that fear, intolerance, and hatred is in each of us, but how we approach these obstacles in our life is our choice. And so he may learn: you must put your faith where you heart is.

So this letter is a request for funding in order to support this trip. On this trip i will be representing many people here at home who are not able to go themselves, and yet feel the need to do something to counter our governments destructive policies in the Middle East. Many of you are already doing enormous work with total dedication and commitment, and each of you guide me in my choices, -thank you, i am already supported greatly by the example you provide!

A final question, (recently raised by my mom, who i thank for the opportunity to clarify this!), is “What’s wrong with you, have you got a death wish?” My answer is simply “i have a life wish.” A teacher (Joan Halifax) once told me “Every moment is an opportunity to carve our heart open.” i view this journey as an opportunity for me to learn of love.

Be well, and Peace, Johnny