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: