Monday, November 19, 2007


Many people are aware of the refugee crisis stemming from the war in Iraq- 2.5 million refugees have inundated Jordan and Syria and an additional 2 million people are internally displaced within Iraq. In response to these crises, we are often moved to donate to organizations that try to mitigate these disasters, but seldom do we have an opportunity to see refugees as a reflection of ourselves. What are missing are the personal stories for us to connect more deeply with this issue.

Americans have grown increasingly troubled by the news of the unending war on terror and are tired of the litany of fear that envelopes our leaders’ rhetoric regarding the world at large. There is a deep longing for compassionate action in this country, a deep yearning to reach out in a way to encourage understanding, respect, and love. I search for a way to bridge the divide cleaved between us as human beings. As a people we need to recognize our shared suffering and delve deeper into the repercussions of war.

After all, we are all refugees, moving across this landscape in the brief time allotted to us, exiled from our true self, searching for understanding, meaning, purpose and love. Our time here is uncertain, our circumstances tenuous. Here in the West we do everything we can to insulate ourselves from this truth. In doing so, we have become alienated from the natural world and from each other; we are convinced of our separateness. Because of this deep-seated dissonance we turn away from physical manifestations of exile, denying our responsibility in their creation, and refusing to consider the consequences of our perceived separation.

In a sense it is absurd to consider myself a refugee. Born into middle class “privilege”, American, white, well fed, educated, and housed. In saying this i am not comparing myself with people who are desperately trying to survive their dispossession. And yet, and yet, please hear me out, i am alien to this culture, i feel like an outsider, i feel other. i recognize something has been neglected and yet i don’t know how to return home. Lost. Disconnected. Caught in a culture of consumption that swallows everything whole this is an anguish that many Americans can relate to. This culture worships the individual, as if the entire world revolves around ourselves, and in doing so severs connections at home, in the workplace, and in the community. We have lost the connection to each other, and to the place we live. It is this very self-interest that is at the center of all divisiveness and the origin of conflict. Our minds have enormous capacity, our misguided self-interest greatly diminishes this capacity. We’ve lost touch, the very sensation that connects us to the world through our bodies. Losing touch we have lost perspective, and most of life is missed, though it is right in front of us. How do we regain this broader perspective, how do we reclaim that which we cannot even imagine we are missing?

Our belief systems have simply not left any room for not knowing, for mystery, or for people that do not think exactly like us. Yet, this is not the only possibility. i reflect back on my recent visits to the Middle East, speaking with a Lebanese father who with his bare hands dug his dead children from the rubble of a destroyed home; in Palestine tending a young boy, terror and pain etched on his face, who was shot by soldiers in the West Bank; and in Israel i listened as a father told the story of his soldier son killed in Lebanon in 2000. As i sat with these ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances, the power of their stories transformed me. i recognized the power of our willingness to hear each other and a bond was created. We welcomed each other into our stories, into the world we were creating in the moment.

As we delve into this matter of “refugee”, we will come to a deeper understanding of who we are, our hearts will welcome us home, and we will step forward to address these challenges with love. There is power in recognizing who we really are and the inherent possibilities of creating a world without suffering.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Balm of a Peace Process Infuses The War on Terror/ The Terror of War

(A Lament)

Can we win the war on terror with the terror of war? Each time we declare we will win the war on terror, we dig ourselves a deeper hole. Each time we kill an innocent child on a city street and call it collateral damage, each time we torture and lie that we don’t- we add to the anger and hatred directed against us. Might as well be pointing the gun at our own temple. Way back when, we routed the Taliban in Afghanistan, the war lords regained control and heroin production shot through the roof…soon we’ll be needin’ another, bigger and better war on drugs- this war will have to be fought in the homeland… the collateral damage will be our very own kids. Not to worry, Blackwater is growing, and looking to diversify. And now the Taliban are resurgent and vowing a new fight. Hamid Karzai (our puppet from Unocal), bunkered down in Kabul, offers them a place in the government if only they refrain from killing. A Taliban spokesperson refused the offer- as long as America interferes in their homeland, they will not negotiate, though i am sure they were tempted by a Ministry of Agriculture position.

In Iraq we routed the Republican guard, shocked and awed ‘em to kingdom come, along with thousands of innocents- tens times the innocents lost on Sept 11th (at least), and still, we’re counting the multitudes of dead, (apparently they can’t build coffins quick enough), and hey, one had absolutely nothing to do with the other, c’est la vie, or better yet, Macht Nichts, it doesn’t matter, we kill ‘em there so we don’t need to kill ‘em here- we certainly don’t like the stench of death on our city streets, unless it’s self inflicted, oh Katrina!

We haven’t won the peace and democracy is impossible- carnage reigns in the cradle of civilization and our leaders continually parrot “Progress…Progress…Progress”. But progress is elusive- we still haven’t gotten the Iraqi’s to sign away their oil. Now even the Democratic frontrunners for President refuse to say they will bring the troops home.

And what rough beast slouches toward Babylon revisited.

...Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity...

...And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
(Yeats; The Second Coming)

War, War, War- talk of endless war- has there ever been anything else? Cluster bombs litter Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. Depleted uranium litters Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq (and the lungs and bodies of men, women, and children- “ours” as well as “theirs”). Now onto Iran! Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the new Saddam Hussein is the new Osama bin Laden is the new Hitler is that old devil incarnate. But who are the children of Iran? Who are the children of Iraq? Who are the children of Afghanistan? Our smart bombs have pin point accuracy, yet always the children die. Have you seen the pictures? Oh, Smart Bombs!

(Aside: While we denounce Iran’s attempt to develop nuclear power, we sign a new contract with India promising delivery of nuclear material regardless of their efforts to further develop their nuclear arsenal. Oh, Hypocrisy! Oh, Mushroom Clouds on the Horizon!)

Ironically, the term “war on terror” was first coined in 1947 by newspapers describing efforts by the British colonial government to reign in terrorist attacks by Israeli gangs against Palestinians. The reign of terror continues. While the attacks against Israeli citizens get the media coverage, the Israeli military rains humiliation, violence, and terror on the Palestinian civilian population with impunity. And Ahmadinejad is the new Nasrallah is the new Arafat is the new Hitler, you get the picture. Over 20 children dead since June in the prison camp that is Gaza. And Israel threatens to cut off the water and electricity next.

(Aside: Did you know that Hitler originally planned to put the Jews on reservations in the Lubin area where their numbers would be reduced by starvation and disease? He got the idea from reading American history. In 1910 the US Department of Indian Affairs Superintendent wrote about "The Final Solution to our Indian Problem". Apparently Hitler appreciated how efficiently we dispatched our "problem".)

So Gaza is the West Bank is South Lebanon is Kabul is Baghdad is the new Warsaw Ghetto is the new Wounded Knee. It has been one endless Trail of Tears. Blast walls, check points, night raids and assassination. When will state terror = terror?

Yesterday our President denied a holocaust (for political expediency). Yet he implies the President of Iran is an international threat because he denies a holocaust (for political expediency?). Our democratic Congress, so concerned with a genocide from 1915 in Armenia, will perhaps one day have the courage to recognize the genocide that occurred right here, from sea to shining sea. In September the United States was one of four countries that voted no on the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the UN (which has been debated for over 20 years). Why? Because it went too far in giving indigenous peoples ownership of their traditional lands. Representative Sherman, a Democrat of California and a sponsor of the Armenian Genocide resolution said, "For if we hope to stop future genocides we need to admit to those horrific acts of the past." Forget about stopping future genocides, what about the one were are executing right now? (Please recall: the year was 1996, the program 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl (on U.S. sanctions against Iraq): We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it? Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.) Five hundred thousand Iraqi children are dead due to sanctions. One million Iraqis are dead, and there are four million displaced people due to our illegal invasion. Perhaps we should examine the blood on our own hands, before we pick up historical stones. Oh, Repentance! Oh, Truth!

But hold on, here it comes, what we've all been waiting for: Yes, our President has called for a Peace Summit to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What foresight, what compassion. Usually when our president talks of peace, more bombs fall. You know, to insure the peace. Not this time. Our very own self described “war president” deems it necessary that the Israelis and our puppet of the PA, “Abu Mazen” sit and talk peace, along with other undisclosed middle-east puppets. After all, haven’t the Palestinians been pushed about as far as they can go? What’s next, starvation? Oh, Hunger! After all, isn’t Abu Mazen prepared to sell the Palestinian people down the river, or in this case across the river? Oh, Treachery!

Did you see in the NY Times, (All the news that’s fit to print) Israeli Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon has asserted that his government will support a partition of Jerusalem? (oh, and yes 2 Palestinians were killed in Nablus today). Maybe so, but the NY Times didn’t see it fit to print that on the same day they quoted Ramon, the Israeli Army authorized the confiscation of 1100 additional dunams (nearly 300 acres) of Palestinian land- you guessed it- in East Jerusalem, and yes, you guessed it, to expand a settlement. Up is down, freedom is occupation, war is peace. Oh, Mendacity!

Back in the summer, when President Bush originally called for this summit, former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "I think a lot of people are inclined to try to treat this as a big peace conference. It's not." Of course it’s not. If people are not yet clear on the matter, President Bush is not at all concerned with Peace, nor are the Israelis. Peace would require justice, would require de-colonizing the West Bank, would require returning stolen resources, would require self-determination for the Palestinian people, peace would require an equitable solution to the refugee question. None of this is forthcoming, none of this is “on the table”. President Bush is only interested in acquiesce to American power. Israel is only interested in acquiesce to Israeli power.

(Aside: And where is the next Mandela who is the new M.L.King who is the new Gandhi who is the new Jesus who is the new Buddha? And what of the women, why are their names forgotten or left unsaid? The smart bombs do not neglect them...and Hillary, i know you have the cojones to be king, and that is exactly why you will never win my vote. Where is the Mother’s embrace this world so desperately needs? Blessed are the peacemakers. Oh, Love!)

So where do we go, and what do we do? Go where you can and do what you must for justice. We must do what we can and not waiver. The townspeople of Bi'lin are a model- they have had over one thousand non-violent demonstrations to save their land and have been met by ongoing Israeli army violence, yet they reject violence and persevere. The monks and the student dissidents in Burma provide a model as well. Though brought down by violence they have not surrendered.
i read there is a document circulating inside Burma that reads as follows:
Afflicted by military dictator and lackeys
Shootings and beatings
My head is bloody
But unbowed.
(Burma's Struggle: The Avowed Against the "Atheists"
By Cynthia Boaz; Perspective Oct 12th, 2007)

Oh, Justice!
Oh, Peace!
Oh, Revolution!

For Seven Generations.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Die-in at the Capital

i returned to Washington DC yet again for the Sept. 15th march organized by ANSWER and the Iraq Veterans Against the War. After marching from the White House to the Capital, i participated in the die-in at the Capital. Once again, i was arrested crossing a police line as i followed IVAW members, numerous Veterans For Peace members and 165 or so concerned citizens (190 people were eventually arrested), who were intent on delivering a petition to Congress to end the war. Very little mention was made of this march in the mainstream media, and when it was mentioned at all, the facts were widely distorted. Sitting in jail, i had the opportunity to reconnect with several IVAW members as well as Vietnam Vets who i accompanied on the March to New Orleans in early 2006 (to connect the events in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina to the illegal occupation of Iraq). As our government continues to beat the drum for war, one can only hope that more citizens "die-in" to take a stand for peace.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9-11 Forgotten

The sixth anniversary of Sept 11th has come and gone, and Americans have forgotten the lessons of that fateful day. As the U.S. continues to lash out blindly in the Middle East, causing death and destruction everywhere it turns, we at home continue to wave our little flags, put metallic ribbons on our cars and call for support of the troops. That Americans are now responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent peoples- exponentially higher numbers than those killed in the towers- is a fact. Few people here recognize the level of carnage unleashed on the civilian populations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Few people seem concerned with the anguish of others as they try to survive the US military occupation of their countries. Few people recognize in the anguished eyes of the Iraqi people the very same fear, desperation, determination and heroism of the people who suffered on September 11th at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in a flight over Pennsylvania.

In the days after September 11th we as Americans stood together, and reached out to each other. Much of the world reached out to us as well. In our grief and disbelief there was a moment to recognize community- not just the community of New York City, or even the community of our nation, but the community of humankind. For a moment, however brief, it seems we understood, we were clear, we recognized our commonality and we recognized our dependence on one another- on the streets of New York even perfect strangers could embrace each other and hold on for dear life. In the immediacy of the blasts, love and support came to the fore, not anger, nor hatred. But how quickly that was lost! Our so-called leaders immediately called for revenge. It had little to do with justice and even less with understanding. A shocked populace was easily caught in a destructive, unholy nationalism. Quickly we, and the world, were divided into two camps, those who were “with us” and those who were “against us”.

Six years down the road and our perceived enemies, including women, children, the aged and the infirm, continue to pay an incredible price. And this price will increase for years to come as the expense of using depleted uranium munitions, chemicals like white phosphorous, and cluster bombs is paid for with children’s lives. The war in Iraq is an abomination. An illegal and unjust war based on the lies and deceptions of our government. Now, we are told by General Petraeus that a premature withdrawal will have devastating consequences. What could be more devastating than the destruction we have already meted out?

Meanwhile, the ringleader responsible for planning the attacks on September 11th is alive and well, apparently in Pakistan. Bin Laden continues to use the ineptitude of the Bush administration as a recruiting tool. And the US is now threatening Iran. Greater disaster, greater death, greater destruction is promised on the road to "Peace". For all those who claim that America is safer today, that we are “fighting them over there so we don’t fight them here”, I return to General Petraeus’ dog and pony show on Capital Hill yesterday. When asked if our strategy in Iraq made us safer, the General uttered perhaps his only truth of the hearings, ”I don’t know, actually.”

On the anniversary of September 11th we are called to remember the innocent people who died and the heroes who answered the call to help, including the myriad cleanup crews who are now suffering lung disease and illness due to their efforts, and are largely forgotten. We are also called on to remember all the innocents that have died as a consequence of our retribution. One million Iraqis are dead- when will the killing be enough? In remembering, we are called to act. Stop for a moment, look into the eyes of an Iraqi, and recognize yourself. Their terror is our terror.

Then do something, anything, to stop this war.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Sound of the Bell

Talk on Chapter 11; from "No Beginning, No End" by Kwong Roshi

"During the more intensive practice periods one of the things you will feel in the sangha is a kind of intimate bonding and communication. This communication is not based on our sitting around telling one another about our lives. It takes place almost without speaking, without touching, even without looking at one another. This intimacy manifests itself because of the awareness we bring to our activities. This presence is the manifestation of our Buddha nature. The communication expressed is pervasive, it includes everything."

On Wednesday evenings, we come together for discussions that may seem to be the opposite of this. We are asked to share experiences and aspects of our lives to communicate something, to give something. But these evenings are meant to be a part of the intimate communication- in spite of our talking. These meetings are not meant to be ‘off the cuff’ chats. Particularly during council practice, but also each evening, we want to create a sense of deep intimacy, transparency, and protection- nothing less than that which is created during intensive practice periods. It is a practice of the heart not the mind. Speaking from the heart we seek to use the stories of our lives to deepen our understanding. It is an opportunity to cultivate deep truth and deep listening. When we arrive, we should sit in silence for a few moments and use this silence as a border crossing from our busy lives to the intimacy of council, the intimacy of this space. Do not fear the silences or gaps that will present themselves. It is not necessary to ask someone to speak. The gaps need not be interrupted, they need not be filled. When these gaps arise, rest in them. This moment is Buddha birthing. Recognize the silence as nothing less than the communication of the mountains, the rivers, the butterflies and the stones in the garden.

The Sandokai “Each thing has its own intrinsic value.” Our translation says, “Each thing has its own being which is not different from its place and function.” It is in this very spirit that we approach our life. We realize the self within each activity because the self becomes the activity. We surrender the self to the activity. If our activity is listening, by listening with devotion to non judging and absolute tolerance we can listen with and in the speaker. No listener, just listening. If our activity is speaking, speaking from the heart and being lean of expression- delving to the very marrow of the matter- intimacy is created. No speaker, just transmission, water pouring over rocks. Another way of bearing witness, we reflect back to the speaker her own heart. This practice dissolves the false barrier between observer and observed, the barrier between you and me.

Kwong Roshi:
"The whole world is a single flower is just another way of saying san do kai.
“San” means "many."
"Do" means "same" or "together",“as one”.
“Kai” is a word that means "intimacy."
There is an intimacy that is beyond measure, between the one and the many. This is the big theme in Zen. "The whole world is a single flower" is the same conclusion: it is one. But how do you get to one? We must remember that the river within us longs to return to the ocean. And not just once, but many hundreds, thousands, even millions of times. When you arrive, the whole world is a single flower. San do kai."

In speaking of prostrations and the need to do them completely, Roshi states: Surrender with the body- the mind and breath are in accord. It is not meaningless ritual, it is a body teaching that orients you toward the path of the dharma, of giving birth to the Buddha. Surrender yourself completely to the task at hand- this is the complete spirit, attitude and understanding of zen. i do not know the reason behind each ritual we do in the zendo, i only recognize that each one is necessary and devote myself to doing them fully- with my body, with my heart. For example,when the speaker is finished we bow to each other. In this gassho is everything, our gratitude and respect fully offered. So when it is our turn to speak, we don't need to thank or compliment the speaker, we allow the gassho to be everything.

Young Morita’s father communicated to him that the spirit and attitude and understanding of zen is to give yourself completely to every activity. And as he rang the bell, it sounded with the inspiration and compassion of his father. The sounding of inspiration and compassion arose naturally, of itself. A manifestation of heartfelt practice. It was not preconceived, nor hoped for, nor decided upon.

The world comes to us “As it is” can we accept it without condition? Can we hear it, see it, smell, taste, and touch it as it is, without our judgments and demands? This possibility is the gift of our life and practice--To receive each moment as new, fresh, unencumbered by the past or expectations of the future. The world in its entirety presents itself over and over and over again. It never tires of my rejection, every moment it offers itself and asks nothing of me. Why do I wrap myself in Buddhas robes?

This is from a Transmission Speech of Zen Master Dae Gak (Guiding Teacher Furnace Mountain Zen Center)
a koan from Zen Master Man Gong:

"All Zen Masters say that in the sound of the bell they attain enlightenment, and at the sound of the drum they fall down. Anyone who understands the meaning of this, please give me an answer."

A student named Song Wol stood up and said, "If the rabbit's horn is correct, the sheep's horn is false." Man Gong smiled.

Zen Master Seung Sahn's comment: "If you cannot hear the bell or drum, you are free. If you hear both sounds you are already in hell."

This thinking mind, always comparing- how could you possibly know God? Intimacy breaks this habit of “one thing is better than another”. It is possible for us to be free from our conceptualization and our suffering. Surrender.

Master Seung Sahn's comment: "If you don't hear either sound, you are free; but if you hear either sound, you fall into hell."

Master Dae Gak: But what if you make the great mistake of falling into hell? What can you do? Of all the animals on earth, humans don't know what they are supposed to be doing. We have technological advancements that exceed our wildest expectations. We can walk on the moon. But, in the history of man there has never been a period without war. We live in conflict. We are attached to our opinions and ideas, the result being that our fellow beings are in a constant state of suffering. So if you fall into hell and are confronted by demons every day, what can you do?

This whole world is turning, turning, turning.
Before this world existed, there was only silence.
After this world disappears, only silence.

Silence before, silence after,
Then where does sound come from?

The sound the bell gives birth to the Buddha. Wakeup- this Buddha is you! What on earth are you waiting for?

(the bell sounds)

Listen, listen,
this wonderful sound brings me back to
my true home.

The sound of the bell is the voice of the Buddha calling us home, calling us back. Each of us has the capacity of the Buddha. When we hear the sound of the bell, we touch our true nature, the peace, love and joy within us.

(the bell sounds)

Body, speech, and mind held in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness
and transcend all anxiety and sorrow.

(the bell sounds)

May the sound of this bell penetrate deeply
into the cosmos
so that beings, even those in dark places,
may hear it and be free from birth and death.
May all beings realize awakening and find
their way home.
Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya

(the bell sounds)

This Monday past marks the 62nd anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima by our nation. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. It is not the last time we have used nuclear weapons. What can you do?

(the bell sounds)

Saturday, August 04, 2007


In the zendo in the early morning, i notice as the sun rises and streams through the windows throwing brilliant light and deep black shadows across the floor. As i sit, breath gently rising and falling, i notice weaving in and out of the light the shadows of butterflies. Only now, as i write, do i wonder the brilliant colors of their wings flashing in the sunlight. While sitting, i only notice the interplay of shadow and light, and the gentle rising and falling of my breath.

This morning i noticed that the butterflies were dancing inside my head, throwing shadows on my skull while they were simultaneously dancing outside the windows and on the floor before me.

This has left an impression. Have you ever been walking in brilliant sunshine and a bird crossing the sun suddenly sinks you in shadow? Startled, you search the sky. It reminds me of hearing the sound of F-16’s ripping across the heavens. My heart racing, i look up, searching and wondering what comes next.

All day the dancing butterflies inside my head have passed behind my eyes and in that instant everything falls to black. My heart cries out, all is lost. Just as suddenly the shadow is lifted, light pours in and all is illumined.

©Johnny Barber 8/4/07

Thursday, June 07, 2007

On the 7th Day, Isreal Built

By most accounts it was a phenomenal day in the history of Israel. No longer the little nation surrounded by enemies, the David vs. the Arab Goliath, Israel was the victor in a lightning quick war that routed three Arab armies, and changed the political landscape of the Middle East. Overnight Israel controlled the entire former British Mandate of Palestine. The sweet euphoria that enveloped Israel that summer in 1967 and that is being celebrated this past week has been supplanted by the tragedy of forty years of occupation of the territories conquered during those six days.

On June 10th, 1967, one million Arabs came under the control of Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan. Villages were razed, entire communities were rounded up and exiled, and an estimated 300,000 people became refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. This was the 2nd exodus for the Palestinians. In 1948 upwards of 700,000 refugees fled the fledgling state of Israel to camps in Gaza and the West Bank. At first, the occupation of territories seized during the war was considered temporary. In July 1967, the first settlers arrived in the Golan, and the settlement movement of Greater Israel was actualized. From that fateful day, as journalist Gershom Gorenberg makes clear, “the purpose of settlement has been to create facts on the ground that would determine the final status of the land.” Today, over a quarter of a million Israelis live in colonial outposts (“neighborhoods” and “settlement blocks” in the language of occupation) throughout the West Bank and these settlements continue to expand, appropriating additional land and resources as they grow.

Of course, like the Europeans before them, and like America today, In 1967 Israeli’s leaders thought of themselves as enlightened occupiers. Whether this was self-deception or merely propaganda to “sell” the theft of land and resources to it’s own citizenry and the international community it is hard to discern, but as resistance to subjugation grew the tactics of control grew harsher. Forty years down the road, victory is hardly recognizable, peace illusive.

Israel’s security has become the first and foremost consideration, in fact, the only parameter by which we are allowed to judge the situation. Any mention of the suffering of the Palestinians, any mention of the injustice done to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories- the dispossession, the massacres, the home demolitions, the oppression- is met with derision, threats, slander, and claims of anti-Semitism. In 2007, terror trumps all.

Each and every act of violence perpetrated by Palestinians is framed as terrorism, committed by people without conscience, people taught to hate from birth, people who hate democracy, people without a moral compass, the personification of evil itself, people who can not be reasoned with, and after all, “We Will Never Negotiate with Terrorists!” Terror. Terror without reason, completely separated from history, without any possible cause.

These claims are closely followed by the lament, “We have no partner for peace.”

Each and every violent act perpetrated by the state of Israel is framed as a strike against terror, no matter that the electric power plant was destroyed- collective punishment for entire communities; no matter that the perpetrator was a child throwing stones at a tank; no matter how many women and children are killed, no matter that the wall divides your land and steals your resources. No matter. Security is paramount. Terror must be defeated. We have no choice. State sponsored violence is righteous, necessary, and the Palestinians have brought it on themselves. (If only there was a partner for peace!) State sponsored violence is the only answer.

The misconception that peace is only possible by military victory, destroying your enemies at any cost and projecting strength "in a dangerous neighborhood" holds sway not only in Israel but America as well. The deeply held fear and the untenable anxiety of the citizenry, ratcheted to ever higher levels by those who are expected to govern and lead, traps us in a vicious cycle. The rhetoric of righteous violence corrupts all that it touches. In this atmosphere, neither “side” is a valid partner for peace. And citizens, both Israeli and Palestinian, are fodder for their politician’s disingenuous posing and ineptitude.

Forty years down the road, the “road map” is shredded, the idea of a “peace process” exposed as an illusion. The West Bank is divided up into cantons separated by walls, by-pass roads, settlements, and military checkpoints. The Palestinians are on the verge of civil war. Chaos, poverty, and destruction reign in the territories. 8000 Palestinians including women and children are in Israeli prisons, many held without charges. The Israeli government is ineffectual, weakened by the war with Lebanon, (yet another war that was forced upon Israel). We are faced with the monumental political folly of all sides, the absolute failure of all parties to seek justice in a framework of true reconciliation and atonement. Extremists on all sides are increasingly vocal and gaining strength. The rhetoric of violence, retaliation, and retribution grows louder. Storm clouds gather. A generation knows nothing more than occupation. The euphoria has dissipated on the wind. Victory has never seemed so shallow a concept.

©Johnny Barber 6/7/07

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Tortured Lives of Torturers

i read "The Tortured Lives of Interrogators", an article published on June 3rd in the Washington Post and was struck by many things. The first question that i raise is why the sympathetic coverage of people who torture? Would one of Saddam's interrogators have been talked about in such an understanding way? How about one of Arafat's? Or one of Mubarak's, Assad's, or Ahmadinejad's? How about one of Hitler's torturers? How about any of the torturers that acted with impunity in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, or Paraguay during the Reagan years - they were trained and supported by us, they were on our "side" weren't they? (i'm certain these torturers have a few funny anecdotes to share ala the Israeli interrogator in the article) If they are not worthy of equally sympathetic coverage, we must ask ourselves, "Why not? Why is one of "ours" more worthy of sympathy, compassion, and empathy?"

Ah, yes, "the good fight for democracy and freedom" demands it of us. Demands that “patriots” consent to diminish their humanity because we are fighting the good fight, whereas these "others" are less than human, "evil-doers", devils and worse. All of these are rationalizations, all are unworthy arguments. Torture, for whatever reason, is a deplorable abomination in our world- and no rationalization makes it justifiable, worthy, or admirable.

The article claims, "The border between coercion and torture is often in dispute." Legally, the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention on Torture, and US Law are quite clear about torture, the border clearly delineated. It is only since the Bush administration's twisted legal rationales on torture came into play that this border has suddenly become blurred. i would dare say, that each of these men know very clearly what moral boundaries they crossed as they delved into torturing other human beings and this, irregardless of the laws in place, is precisely why they suffer.

The comment by Darius Rejali, an expert on modern torture, "Nothing is more toxic than guilt, which is typical with democratic interrogators. Nazis, on the other hand, don't have these problems." is an outright fabrication and further fuels the propaganda machine that drives the divisions of self and other, good-doers (us) and evil-doers (them). Human beings suffer from guilt. All human beings, regardless of ideology. Those that torture, like the Nazis, and like the Israeli, Sheriff, survive by cutting away parts of their humanity- as he said himself, "I've got a clean conscience because I rarely use it." This diminishing of the human spirit diminishes us all.

Perhaps the Washington Post could follow up with an article that includes interviews of the people who were tortured at the hands of these men. Even more useful would be to convene a truth and reconciliation circle between these men and their victims. As was shown by the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Committees, we can go a long way to regaining our lost humanity by looking one another in the eye and sharing our stories, pain, and common humanity.

Of course, the moral high ground that Americans hold in these matters has always been nothing more than an illusion. We have outsourced torture techniques to third world countries for dozens of years (training at the School of the Americas and Fort Huachuca, Ariz amongst many others) and our proxies have learned their lessons well. Now that these techniques have been exposed (again), honorable human beings must stand up and demand change. i feel deeply for the interrogators, and i feel deeply for all the victim's they tormented. i hope each of them find a way to recover all they have lost. The burden each of us carries is heavy. May each of us find a way to ease this suffering and be at peace.

The original article can be found at

©Johnny Barber 6/6/07

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Expanding Universe


This morning I read the attached article in the NY Times, which to me, is simply an amazing piece...conjecturing what human beings or other future inhabitants will be able to determine about the universe billions of years from now. What folly, what arrogance, what blindness we suffer. The author is saddened because humans will not be able to tell that the universe is expanding. He thinks we "know something" that other astronomers will miss in 100 billion years.

There is a great line: James Peebles, a Princeton cosmologist, said there are more pressing worries. We might be headed toward a universe that is “asymptotically empty,” he said, “But I have the uneasy feeling that the U.S.A. is headed into asymptotic futility well before that.” (like a couple billion years before that, perhaps, like now maybe???)

As my practice seems stifled and even withering, this article brings me to a new level of incomprehension. How we fill our lives with "knowing", "understanding", and "teaching", in order to escape the reality of the emptiness we are faced with- not 100 billion years from now, not tomorrow, but right now, this very moment (and which is indeed our birthright and our “redemption”). How desperately I try to convey what I know, what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced. How I strive to create something that expresses “who I am”. How I search for someone who “understands” or “recognizes” me. And how I nod in appreciation when Nancy says, “The apple never falls far from the tree!” when she is commenting on how much my son is like me (and she is usually not applauding my “better” attributes!)

It's funny, really, that I should read this Times article now, after i've spent the morning with an issue of Aperture magazine (number 95 Summer 1984) called “Minor White, A Living Remembrance”. He stressed concentration and awareness in his movement through life and in the creative process- returning to right now, this present moment. Connecting to Minor White's ideas of photography- the capturing of surfaces but then using the resulting image to delve deeply inward, beyond the surface, leading ultimately (if the photo is good and the viewer receptive) to evoke the unity or the co-arising nature of our lives. I hope this is exactly what my images of people in Lebanon, Palestine, and the Gulf Coast are useful for- to evoke an physical, visceral response, to feel it in your bones or muscles or organs and then to step beyond the feeling of the emotional state that is aroused into what I would dare call the “soul” or “spirit” of our lives. But does this, in fact, bring us closer to any "truth"? When the search for this truth or the attempt to express it reaffirms how “smart” we are, how "in tune" we are, or how deep our "deep understanding" flows, (whether this reaffirmation is consciously or unconsciously manifested), we just delve so much further into our own ignorance and delusion. For some, this trap is never recognized. Perhaps, at least, they die happy, feeling they have "achieved" something. For me, the ache just deepens.

The Buddha said he taught just one thing, that there is suffering and an end to suffering. How I hope to learn that lesson well!

Love, JB

NY Times article can be found here:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

To Judge King Upon Conviction

March 26, 2007

The Honorable Rufus King III
Superior Court of the District of Columbia
500 Indiana Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Judge King,

I was convicted in your court on March 14, 2007 for crossing a police line on the grounds of the Capitol on September 26, 2006. Enclosed is your order to pay $50.00 in Compensation to the Victims of Violent Crime by April 16, 2007. i am writing to you to notify you that i refuse to pay the assessment and i will briefly explain my position on the matter.

In your judgment against us on March 14th you claimed that your personal viewpoints were irrelevant and your position as a judge means you must stick strictly to the law. You also stated it was not the job of the court to second-guess the police in setting up a police line. As I stated in court (with appropriate references to previous DC appeals court decisions) it is exactly your duty to review the appropriateness of decisions leading to establishing a police line, especially when first amendments rights are at stake, especially on the grounds of the Capitol, the very “seat of our Democracy”. Obviously, whether you adequately considered this is a matter for the Appeals court to determine. Regardless of that outcome, i believe that i have a duty and a moral obligation to bring to Congress my concerns of the immoral and illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. Whether this is through the use of a symbolic coffin with the names of the dead scrawled upon it, or numerous letters, phone calls, or visits to congressional offices, the duty remains. i am bound to this duty through my humanity. It is a duty that i cannot abrogate.

During my most recent visit to the Cannon office building, (the day after my conviction), a friend stated, “I used to condemn the citizens of Germany for doing nothing while their government slaughtered millions of their countrymen and woman, and now I see how it can happen.” As a citizen and a human being I cannot allow the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to continue under the guise of bringing freedom or democracy to Iraq while our Congressional leaders remain insulated and isolated in the halls of Congress.

Dear Judge King, in court you stated (forgive me for paraphrasing) that you appreciated our sincerity, dedication, and non-violent means. This is simply not enough without appropriate, lawful, and just decisions on your behalf.

I have traveled to Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon in order to better inform American citizens of the effect of our government’s policies on the people of these regions. i have traveled to the Gulf Coast to volunteer (along with the Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace) in the rebuilding efforts that my government has so dismally failed to provide. i have done my best to share with people what I have learned of peace and love, i have done what i could to help. i do not share this with you in an attempt to impress you. i share this with you because it shows change is possible. In fact, your honor, i submit i have committed a crime. i have failed to do enough to stem the bloodshed perpetrated in my name.

The effects of our government’s criminal behavior can be seen not only in the Middle East but right here at home. As billions are poured into the “war on terror”, our fellow citizens do without. They do without adequate food, adequate shelter, adequate medical treatment and adequate education. Everyday people at home and abroad are suffering as a direct result of our government’s policies.

I cannot continue to pay into a system that perpetuates this injustice under the guise of the “rule of law”. i have seen an elder woman made to clean the streets of DC, her “community service” for daring to sit in front of the White House. i have seen Franciscans, rabbis, and priests handcuffed for hours for approaching the Capitol building. i have seen concerned citizens arrested for voicing their anger in hearing rooms across the Capitol. Yet our government officials continue unabated in their criminal enterprise. When our Constitutional rights are abridged by arbitrarily imposed regulations and the result is the continuing enrichment of our government leaders at the expense of our fellow citizens and human beings around the world, i simply must refuse to cooperate. Silence and acquiesce is complicity.

If you deem it necessary to further expend resources on this matter, please feel free to respond, I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Peace to you and yours,

Johnny Barber

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Support the troops.

On Valentines Day my son was asked to make a valentine’s card to send to the soldiers in Iraq as part of a “support the troops campaign”. He declined and told his buddies, "You shouldn’t do that, I’m not going to do it, the troops do nothing for me.” This remark incensed his after school councilors, and Cosmo was placed at the “time out” table in the front of the auditorium. (Though I was assured by the councilors that he was not being punished.) I spoke to the administrators, supporting my son’s stance, and thought the incident was water under the bridge, until an administrator chose to single me out and give me a letter of thanks from the local police department that organized the “Support the Troops Campaign”. What follows is my response.

February 27th, 2007

Dear Ms. Frederick,

I am in receipt of the letter provided JCC from Kathleen Andrews of the Plantation Police Department thanking you for organizing the “Support the Troops” campaign. I am not quite certain why you deemed it necessary that I should be singled out to receive this letter, but I would love to revisit this topic in more detail. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity.

As I write this, over 3000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, upwards of 60,000 have been maimed, countless others have suffered deep psychological scars that will remain with them for their lifetime. Over 600,000 Iraqis have been killed, (not including the 500,000 children who died during the Clinton years and sanctions) millions more maimed, untold numbers have been poisoned by depleted uranium, and will suffer for generations to come. Who knows how many have suffered psychological trauma, no one is keeping count of this statistic. Millions are displaced, homeless, without means to support themselves or their families. Four years into this occupation, millions more have been sickened by drinking dirty water. The lack of doctors, lack of medicine, lack of necessary medical equipment and the lack of electricity have all contributed to this catastrophe, and now, even food is a major issue. (Where exactly do you suppose the 100’s of billions of taxpayer dollars that have been poured into this quagmire have ended up? Certainly not in the rebuilding of Iraq, nor in the “support of our troops”, who are still lacking in even the most basic gear critical for their survival- though a McDonalds can be found in the Green zone.)

As you may or not may not know, the vast majority of the Iraqi casualties are children, woman, elders, and other non-combatants. I won’t begin to guess how many of these casualties come directly at the hands of our troops. But I will say this- unequivocally- their deaths are the direct result of an immoral American foreign policy, and each of us, as American citizens, carry this burden and this responsibility.

One thing Kathleen Andrews fails to address in her letter is the sense of abandonment our troops feel because they have been abandoned by our government. They are ill equipped (lacking basic armor for their Humvess as well as the proper vests for themselves) on a mission that seems pointless, if not reckless. Nor does she address the fact that they feel abandoned because many are on their 3rd or 4th tour, with no end in sight, and even less progress to show for their sacrifice. I would propose that if people are serious about supporting our troops, they take a minute, or an hour, to write to their Congress people demanding action- proper equipment, proper training, limited deployments, and a mission that has clear objectives and goals. Perhaps the best support one could offer is a demand that our troops end the occupation and return home. Far from “negativity”, as Ms. Andrews would describe it, this would show a true concern for our men and women in harms way.

Once home, perhaps we could demand that they get the care they need- especially for the psychological trauma they suffered while in the war zone. Perhaps you are familiar with the story of Jon Schulze, a US Marine from Minnesota, who recently committed suicide after being turned away from a VA Hospital, even though he told them 3 times in as many days, that he was suicidal. He was found hanging from a rafter in his basement. His case is far from an isolated incident. I personally know vets who are a hairs breadth away from killing themselves and the only help they get from the VA is prescription drugs. So, perhaps we should get serious about what constitutes “supporting the troops”.

One thing you have mentioned repeatedly is that Cosmo is “just a boy”, implying that he shouldn’t have an opinion about these matters and he should just do what he is told. I disagree completely. One thing I have impressed upon him is that in the face of injustice, silence is not an option. Even though he is “just a boy”, I am thankful that he had the courage to speak up and to refuse to do this project. He was particularly upset when he heard his councilor say that the troops were “saving America”. It’s nice to know even an eight year old knows better.

I think it is a shame that 8 year-old children (and even younger I assume, as children as young as 5 or 6 attend your program), were told to write valentines cards to the troops in the first place, and the fact that they are expected to do this without thought or question is ridiculous. Any teacher worth their salt should be encouraging children to think for them selves, question authority, and never, ever do anything blindly on faith- isn’t that what education (and democracy) is all about?

I can think of plenty of valentines that could have been written around the topic of the war that would have been useful and positive. The children could have been offered an option- perhaps it would be kind to write to children in the war zone, expressing love and hope for them (and us). Perhaps the kids could write to the children of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq, or who have lost their limbs, or their minds, expressing sympathy, love and hope for them (and us). Perhaps the children could have written valentines to our so-called leaders who continue to fund this catastrophe, expressing love and hope for peace (for them, and us). Of course, in writing to the troops, they could ask them not to kill (but I ask you, would you have considered this “supporting the troops”?)

One thing that Cosmo has learned from me at his young age is that peace never comes from the barrel of a gun and the vast majority of victims of war are children just like him, as well as their mothers, fathers, and grandparents. While adults easily dismiss this “collateral damage”, children get it. They recognize the immorality (though they may not label it as such) and the horror of this fact. No rationalizations, no denials, no obfuscations overcome this basic fact of war.

I teach peace in my household, not war. I have a deep and abiding faith in the concept of “Not harming any living being”, (the first precept in Buddhism), and in working non-violently for change. In living this, I am far from perfect, but I endeavor to protect and take care of all living creatures. I do not believe in the efficacy of violence to solve anything, and recognize that war is self-defeating. I also recognize that this country is steeped in violence. We imprison over 2 million citizens, we endorse the death penalty, pass laws against feeding the homeless in public parks, we build walls to keep out immigrants and allow vigilantes to track them down in the desert. We spend 1.7 billion dollars a day on the military (again- not enough armor? You must be kidding me.)

I would like to quote Dr King, who said, "I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."

Sadly, things have not changed much in 40 years. Again, quoting King, “Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of (Vietnam) Iraq. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in (Vietnam) Iraq. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.”

And finally, “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam Iraq and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

I share teachings on non-violence with my child. He is free to ask questions, and often, my response is simply, “I don’t know”. This encourages both of us to look deeper. This education will benefit my son, his friends, his classmates, and society at large far more so than being blindly told to “support the troops”. Real support for the troops in Iraq and the many troops to come (including, someday, my boy’s peers) is teaching peace as a process, a process that begins with me. A process that includes social justice, equality, love, equanimity, and compassion- a process that has understanding as a catalyst. It comes with the recognition that those deemed my “enemy”, are in fact, not separate from myself. It goes hand in hand with the concept of tikkun olam, and the work before us as individuals and as community. This supports not only the troops, but all living things. Perhaps the next time JCC wishes to support something, the JCC administrators can think about including peace, love, and compassion in the lesson plan. This would benefit us all a great deal and I think my son would be an enthusiastic participant.

Ms. Frederick, I understand you may not hold one single belief of mine as your own. This is fine with me. (Perhaps you have never been shot at by a soldier, or stood in front of a tank as it leveled it’s canon at you, or been hit with a sound bomb or tear gas canister, perhaps a 10 year old child, shot by a soldier, has never run, terrified, into your arms. Perhaps you have never sat with a distraught soldier as he told the story of his best friend blown up by an IED.)

This letter is in no way trying to impose my belief system on you. I am simply sharing my feelings, thoughts, and experiences.

I am asking, though, that you take care with those whose care has been entrusted to you. As you know, children’s minds are supple, but they can also be easily molded. What is open, loving and pure can be closed, distorted, and easily manipulated. We need look no further than our own experience for proof of this. As a teacher, I hope you encourage children to think for themselves, ask questions, and make positive choices. I hope that because “he is just a boy” you don’t feel obliged to impose your beliefs on my son or any of your other charges. This would be a grave disservice to them. Perhaps if we encourage our children to question, and remain open, loving and kind, their world will be just a bit brighter, a bit more caring, a bit more loving then the world we birthed them into. And perhaps, just perhaps, we may be open enough to learn something from them.

Finally, I understand you may feel good and right about your participation in the “Support the Troops” campaign, and I imagine that is why you chose to share the letter with me. I hope it is equally fine with you that we chose to express our support in what we believe is a more wholesome manner.

If you have a chance, watch Cloy Richards talk about his tour of duty:

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Letter to the Editor of the Florida Sun-Sentinel

I take exception to the recent editorial denouncing Jimmy Carter’s new book "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid". As is common amongst apologists for the state of Israel, the editors call Jimmy Carter dishonest and biased yet not one example of his “dishonesty” is given (of course, this may have something to do with the fact that the editors never read the book they are denouncing).

The editors claim that the Israelis and Palestinians do not occupy the same land, and this much is true. Palestine is not part of Israel, but only one people are occupiers. The editor may claim that, “Israel has no obligation to return it (the so-called “disputed land”, in fact occupied land) until a permanent peace is achieved”, but this is not the law. The settlements in the West Bank are not Israel, and they are not on disputed land, they are on occupied land, and Israel has international obligations that it is flagrantly ignoring in continuing it's expansion of these settlements.

The editors found no comparison to Apartheid. Perhaps I can elucidate a few. A wall has enclosed the West Bank, locking Palestinians into ghettoes where they are prisoners at the mercy of their Israeli jailers. Furthermore, nearly 9000 Palestinians including women and children are incarcerated in Israeli jails without charges. Palestinian homes, businesses, orchards, and olive groves are regularly and systematically destroyed under the guise of numerous Israeli laws that specifically target the Palestinian population. Is there any clearer example of Apartheid than the fact that there are two major road systems throughout the West Bank- one for Jews only- traveling from Israel proper to their homes in the illegal settlements throughout the West Bank, and one for everybody else? Is there any clearer example of Apartheid than the hundreds of military roadblocks, closures, and checkpoints throughout the West Bank denying movement of the Palestinian population, but allowing the settlers free movement and access? Is there a clearer example of Apartheid than the fact that large areas of the West Bank are closed to the Palestinian population through military closures but access is freely given to settlers? How about the city of Hebron, where entire Palestinian neighborhoods have been locked and shuttered by the Israeli Army in order to allow unfettered access to the militant settlers who reside there? Is this not Apartheid? Perhaps the editors have a better name for it.

These policies seriously undermine claims of democracy. Claiming a state is a democracy, as your editors do, does not absolve it of its racism, enacted through laws, unequal enactment of those laws, the enforcement of those laws, and the states’ tendency to discriminate against whomever it chooses. Because America is a democracy does not mean it is not a racist state, ask any resident of the 9th Ward, ask any black NYC resident who may be subject to the treatment Abner Louima was subjected to, ask any black man who has been subjected to stints in America’s prison system, ask any Native American whose family was forced from their lands and placed on reservations, their children stolen and forced to learn the oppressors ways in boarding schools far from their homes. These are truths of America’s democracy. They are not pretty, but they are the truth nonetheless. No, certainly claims of “democracy” do not ensure justice, nor freedom, nor equality.

The same goes for Israel. Israel treats its Arab citizens as second-class citizens at best. Israeli government officials are very upfront when speaking about preserving the “Jewish character” of the state and the threat posed by the Palestinian “demographic bomb”. This bomb may be a greater threat to the current Israeli state than suicide bombers, and is the main reason the state of Israel has no intention of actually seeking peace (as opposed to spouting rhetoric about peace) with its Palestinian neighbors.

Israeli law and practices takes this “demographic bomb” into account. These policies severely restrict non-Jewish immigration to the state, but ensures the “Right of Return” to anyone who is Jewish, whether or not they have any historical connection to Israel. Restrictive land laws prohibit non-Jews from the right to purchase land. Israel’s Nationality law, recently upheld in court, does not allow Palestinian families to reunite in Israel. When renewing the law, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, "This law will be guided by demographic considerations meant to ensure a solid Jewish majority for years to come. There is no need to hide behind security arguments. There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state."

Israeli Arabs are regularly denied permits to build or expand their homes, when they build anyway, they, like their West Bank counterparts, face home demolition. Israeli Bedouins are being forced into villages, denied their traditional grazing rights, and their culture is being destroyed. Throughout Israel’s brief history, the non-Jewish members of society have been marginalized and discounted. In closing, I cannot fail to mention Avigdor Lieberman, a racist and the new Deputy Prime Minister of Israel who openly advocates for the involuntary transfer of undesirable communities (the Arabs) out of Israel.

On calling Israel a “wonderful democracy”, Jimmy Carter was far too kind to the state of Israel. In denouncing Carter and blindly advocating for the state of Israel, your editors do a grave disservice to the community. This may be willful ignorance, or, just perhaps, it is your editor’s own dishonesty that is (as they claim of Carter's viewpoint) beyond “unfair, vicious and inexcusable”.

Original Editorial:
Posted December 23 2006
South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
Carter's Book
ISSUE: Former president lambastes Israel.

Jimmy Carter, one of America's most ineffectual and incompetent presidents, has nevertheless in his post-presidential life gained a well-deserved reputation as a decent and honest man of peace. But he has now written a book, that, if published reports about it are to be believed, damages that reputation.

The very title of the work -- Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid -- sends a troubling message. While it's not wise to judge a book by its title, published excerpts from the book as well as interviews Carter has given suggest the former president's latest take on world affairs is pretty dishonest.

Where is the "apartheid" in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians? In an excerpt from the book released by ABC News, Carter himself defines apartheid as "two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other."

But Israel and the Palestinians do not occupy the same land. "Palestine" is not part of Israel. It is disputed territory captured in war. Under international law, Israel has no obligation to return it until a permanent peace is achieved. Comparing the situation in the territories to South African racism is beyond unfair. It's vicious and inexcusable.

Israelis aren't racists. Carter acknowledged as much in an interview with Tim Collie of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, calling Israel a "wonderful democracy with freedom for everybody," including Arabs.

Worst of all, Carter ignores the fact that the Palestinian leadership to this day remains committed to Israel's destruction. Thus, what he calls "apartheid" is, by any honest reckoning, self-defense. He also ignores the fact that Israel has twice withdrawn from occupied territories only to subsequently be attacked from those areas.

This is a book that, by most accounts, reveals a shocking and appalling bias against Israel and Israelis. It is not Carter's finest hour.

BOTTOM LINE: The book, by most accounts, is dishonest and biased. Jimmy Carter has damaged his reputation.