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.