Thursday, October 15, 2009

Freedom of Speech in Vietnam and at Home

After reading in today's NY Times that the US embassy in Hanoi condemned the arrest and conviction of non-violent peace activists, i thought i would write the ambassador to intervene on my behalf here in the United States.

Oct 15th, 2009

Dear Ambassador Michael W. Michalak,

It was with great interest that i read in today’s New York Times that the United States, through your embassy in Hanoi, condemned the arrests and convictions of nine non-violent democracy activists, as well as the violent expulsion of Buddhist monks from the Bat Nha monastery.

As a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and a follower of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on peace and non-violent activism i was encouraged to see this principled denunciation of human rights violations by the government of Vietnam. Here in the United States, freedom of speech and the ability to gather non-violently to express our views and to ask for redress of grievances is not only a cornerstone of our democracy, but is protected by our Constitution. i agree with you completely and unconditionally, that “no individual should be arrested or jailed for exercising the right of free speech”, although i was unaware that the “right of free speech” was considered a human right and even communist governments were expected to allow their citizens to peaceably assemble and that their speech was protected by international human rights commitments and the rule of law. This is fantastic news.

Of course, i was not in least surprised by the statement released by Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry, saying in effect, that the U.S. was “interfering in the internal affairs of Vietnam”. This seems to be the common response of Communist regimes worldwide. Nonetheless, i applaud your efforts.

While it may be an uphill battle to convince a Communist regime of the right to free speech, i have a request that may bear fruit much more quickly. As a non-violent peace activist here in the United States, i have been arrested and convicted of various false charges at least 6 times since early 2002, as i peaceably assembled in protest of the occupation of Iraq and the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. As i faced charges in various D.C. courts, prosecutors and judges summarily dismissed my claims of “the protected right of free speech”. You may be unaware of this, but our own government is doing everything possible to suppress my rights as well as the rights of other non-violent peace activists here at home. As you stated in your condemnation to the Vietnamese authorities, “The activists were simply expressing their views peacefully and posed no threat to Vietnam’s national security.” The same could be said of us. As you are obviously aware, a democracy without free speech and the right to peacefully assemble begins to resemble any one of the many unsavory governments around the world.

i implore you to send a letter to the White House and any and all jurisdictions that may benefit from your words, which are a strong reminder to United States authorities of our commitment to human rights, the rule of law, and democracy.


Johnny Barber

(Original press release from the embassy in Hanoi: )

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Make War, Win a Peace Prize

President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct 9th, 2009 "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Perhaps the committee men and women should have spent some time in Waziristan to see how the lofty rhetoric of peace and cooperation is actually playing out on the ground. Perhaps being one of the victims of the dozens of drone attacks perpetrated by the United States on the sovereign territory of another nation would give them pause. Below is a brief sample of attacks in Pakistan authorized by the newest Nobel laureate.

Jan 23, 2009 Three days after his inauguration, on January 23, 2009, President Barack Obama ordered US predator drones to attack sites inside of Pakistan, reportedly killing 15 people. It was the first documented attack ordered by the new US Commander in Chief inside of Pakistan. Since that first Obama-authorized attack, the US has regularly bombed Pakistan, killing scores of civilians. The New York Times reported that the attacks were clear evidence Obama “is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy.”

Feb 14, 2009 More than 30 killed when two missiles are launched by drones near town of Makeen in South Waziristan.

Feb 16, 2009 Strike in Kurram Valley kills 30, reportedly at a Taliban training camp for fighters preparing to combat coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Mar 26, 2009 At least four militants were killed in a suspected US missile strike in Pakistan’s north-western tribal region near Afghanistan. Two missiles believed to have been fired from a US pilotless aircraft hit a house in Mir Ali area of the North Waziristan tribal district, destroying the structure.

The house belonged to a pro-Taliban tribal elder identified as Malik Gulab Khan, local television channels reported. It was not immediately known whether Khan was killed in the strike.

It was the second suspected US attack in as many days. An airstrike killed at least seven Al Qaeda-linked militants in adjoining South Waziristan Wednesday.

Jun 24, 2009 At least 45 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a series of missile raids by US drones in northwest Pakistan, Pakistani intelligence officials have said.

The first missile attack early on Tuesday hit what authorities said was a "Taliban training centre" in the South Waziristan tribal region that borders Afghanistan.

Several hours later a second attack was carried out during a funeral procession for those killed in the first raid.

Asked by Al Jazeera to comment on Tuesday's reported attacks, the Pentagon denied any US involvement.

Jul 9, 2009 The United States fired multiple missiles from pilotless drones in two separate attacks on insurgents in Pakistan’s South Waziristan district, killing up to 60 people. The attacks followed a US missile strike in South Waziristan on Tuesday that reportedly killed 16 people.

On Jul 21, 2009 A report released by the Brookings Institution claimed that for every militant killed in drone attacks, at least 10 civilians also die.

The Washington-based US think-tank acknowledged that it is difficult to confirm sourcing on civilian deaths in drone attacks, ‘but more than 600 civilians are likely to have died from the attacks. That number suggests that for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died.’

The report quotes counter-terrorism expert David Kilcullen as saying that: ‘When we intervene in people’s countries to chase small cells of bad guys, we end up alienating the whole country and turning them against us.’

The attacks have not stopped, in fact, they have increased and the CIA is calling for even more.

Aug 27, 2009 Pakistani intelligence officials say a suspected U.S. drone attack in the South Waziristan tribal region in the northwest has killed at least six people and wounded another nine.

Sep 25, 2009 At least 12 people have been killed and five injured in a suspected US drone attack in north-west Pakistan, district officials say.

Hundreds of militants and civilians have been killed in dozens of drone attacks in the past year. (A dozen or so militants, the remaining deaths were innocent civilians.)

Pakistan has been protesting US drone attacks inside its territory, saying these were proving counter-productive to the fight against terrorism by giving rise to anti-American public sentiment.

At a meeting in New York of major supporters of Pakistan on Thursday, Sept 24, 2009 US President Barack Obama said the US was "firmly committed to the future that the Pakistani people deserve".

God help them if the past 9 months is any indication of how the US plans to deliver that future.

Beyond Pakistan, the United States is still occupying Iraq and considering sending more troops to Afghanistan. President Obama refuses to hold those responsible for torture in this country to account, saying he would prefer to look ahead, not back. Perhaps a man of peace would consider the preferences of those who were tortured, recognizing that peace is not possible without atonement, reconciliation, and reparations. Guantanamo remains open, and Bagram continues business as usual. President Obama refuses to consider Israel’s actual nuclear holdings as important as Iran’s nuclear aspirations and continues to threaten Iran over their nuclear program. The US government is the largest purveyor of weapons in the world- we sell more weapons than the rest of the world combined, making the world more dangerous to everyone. Finally, the United States and Israel acted in collusion to bury the Goldstone report that accuses Israel of war crimes in Gaza, war crimes perpetrated with American weapons.

It seems that the Norwegian Nobel Committee, like many in the US and around the world, have been inspired by Obama’s words of hope and promises of change. Aspirations for peace are simply not enough in a war torn world, wars of America’s making, wars fueled by American arms sales. For me, actions speak louder than words.

A beaming President Barack Obama said he was both honored and humbled to win the Nobel Peace Prize and would accept it as a "call to action to work with other nations to solve the world's most pressing problems”. May the call be loud and clear, and may peace prevail.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Just Maybe

i wrote this note to a friend 2 years ago, and that friend continues to work for justice in dc and is facing arrest today for actions calling for the end to war and occupation. Many blessings to her and everyone who participated!

So maybe crossing the police line, though no one was in congress, though no one was home, may just be necessary- just for the fact that the struggle must confront the force opposing us and say no more, we will no longer be compliant while our "leaders" our "democracy" continues down this immoral path. Just maybe.

Those who pushed back and got sprayed with chemicals- was that act of pushing against the barricades "violence"? Obviously, some of the people participating were expressing their anger and even their words seemed violent to me, but what form should this resistance take- questions we ask over again, and must continue to ask. i just realized i have been arrested five times since that 1st White House protest in 2005. In each instance, i have maintained a non-violent presence in the midst of conflict- not the least i could do, but perhaps the best i could do; no, in fact forget least and best- it was ALL i could do.

On Sept 12th i watched "Cry Freedom", a movie made in '87 about Apartheid and Steve Biko (It was the anniversary of his murder in a S African jail)- and at one point he is defending confrontation in a court, and he speaks in defense of confrontation and the prosecutor interchanges the words "Confrontation" and "Violence" as if they are the same- but Biko, insisting on confrontation, responds "We are having a confrontation here, but I do not see violence."

My mind swirls around these issues and how to move forward, yet i heard another quote just recently about the Zen "attitude"- you settle the mind, and then you don't "Take action" but you "Let action take you." i cry out, Here i am, take me!

So now that i am home and perusing the "help wanteds" again, i am missing DC already and the feeling that somehow, in any small way my presence there means something and has value and the unity of 200 hundred people in jail means something. Though the numbers of people on the street are getting smaller, the attitudes of the vast majority of people in this country are shifting. Somehow, this shift in momentum is stirring change. On the surface it may seem to be meaningless, but what stirs below the surface may cause the tide to turn. Of course, finding tactics that work is vital, but the resistance itself is meaningful- no matter the form (Though for me, non-violence must always be the container).

Though it is getting late, and is too late for multitudes (reports today speak of the death toll in Iraq surpassing that in Rwanda!!!), we must move forward, naked, armed only with our faith and our trust.

Many blessings to you and thanks for your support. If no work opportunities present themselves i may return to dc later this week....(i know, i know, i went on about futility and not returning to dc, but my heart cries out, and my mind steps aside).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Departure

6 poems i wrote in the first weeks of my arrival in MT and posted in the mornings on my Facebook account... Not my usual fare, but food for thought.

The sun dips into the meadow.
Wildflowers shed last evening's frost.
The silence is interrupted by the dog's splashing,
mud splattering every which way as she flies by- smiling!
My hands warmed by the cup of thick coffee,
my bare feet muddy and cold.

The sun permeates the pine.
The new green of the Aspen
shimmers, deeply satisfied,,
like the glimmer in a lover’s

i watch as the lodge pole pine
are devoured by the fog.
Soon, i too will be enveloped.
The moose kneels in the meadow,

Deep in the woods.
The dogs spook an elk.
Coyotes howl nearby.
Spook us.

Snow gently falls.
The spring grass shivers.
But not one complaint
about shitty weather.

Rain clouds shroud the mountains.
The path is strewn with bones.
The old, lame dog carries
one home.
Something good to chew on.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Remembering the Dead, Memorial Day 2009

May 22nd, 2009, Wounded Knee, SD

Detouring south, i pass through the Pine Ridge Reservation stopping briefly in Wounded Knee. i park and leaving my dogs in the car, i walk to the dusty graveyard and the monument of the three hundred and fifty souls- men, women, and children who perished on that bitter winter day in 1890, gunned down by soldiers while attempting to flee the carnage all around them.

Another car arrives, maneuvering along the rutted dirt road, and three middle-aged tourists get out and walk quickly up to the monument. “Here it is!” “Yes, I found it, we did turn the right way!” We exchange hellos as we pass between the narrow rows of graves to look at the stone monument, i do not ask them what drew them to this place. They do a quick walk around the graveyard, saying little, before they climb back in their car and head back down the rutted track to the little souvenir stand at the junction of the main road.

It is getting late and the wind is blowing the prayer ribbons and tobacco pouches tied to the chain link fence. As i stand among the graves, i can hear the Hotchkiss guns singing their deadly song and the soldiers crying out “Remember the Little Bighorn” as they gun down children running away. i can feel the hatred coursing through the soldiers minds as they murder women with babies clinging to their breast. i can hear the peoples death songs whistling through the grass. i can hear the moaning of those left to die on the frozen earth as the soldiers turn and return to camp.

Congress awarded 20 Medals of Honor to soldiers that participated in the slaughter.

In October, 1990 the United State Congress passed a resolution to recognize Wounded Knee as a massacre and issued a statement of deep regret.

As i stand amidst the graves, i too feel deep regret from Wounded Knee to My Lai to Haditha, and all the massacres forgotten (a convenience only of the vanquisher) or left unsaid. i feel deep sadness for the ignorance that feeds them and anger at the lies our government uses to justify them.

i turn and walk back to my car. i, too, stop at the junction and two little girls run to my window and invite me to the jewelry stand. As we walk, the little one says, “You only have two dogs?” “Yes”, i reply, how many do you have”? “I have three!” The older girl says, “One boy and one girl nice.” Puzzled, i ask her, “How could you tell?” She says, matter of factly, “The girls have fluffy ears.” With a twinkle in her eye, she turns and runs.

The descendants of those murdered here continue on, mostly forgotten. Justice has yet to visit them, “change and hope” merely catch phrases relegated to dreams.

At the table, i look at the dozen offerings of jewelry for sale. i notice one piece has fallen to the ground and had been trampled in the dust. i pick it up- a necklace with a pouch for sage and cedar. Another car pulls up and the girls run off, shouting, “There’s another tourist!” i take a minute to buy the necklace before getting back on the road.

“Never forget” is a phrase oft repeated, but rarely embodied. So often, i never even take a moment to realize the truth. i mythologize war and ignore the inconvenient truths in the fabrication of our national story. “Never forget” becomes just another slogan to justify more war. This Memorial Day i will commemorate those living and dead who have been marginalized, victimized, and sacrificed at the alter of American power, including the soldiers who return from war damaged, isolated, and forgotten, suffering unbearable anguish for what they did in service of our nation.

i place the necklace around my neck, i wear it as a talisman against ignorance and forgetting.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Meditation in Orange #70

The sun is shining. i am late again, quickly donning the jumpsuit and grabbing a hood as the others are circled up and listening as Carmen reads excerpts from prisoners at Guantanamo. Even the birds fall silent as the cruelties are revealed.

Seventy days of the new administration and men are still being held at Guantanamo, irregardless of innocence or guilt. Men on hunger strike are still being force fed. TV pundits joke about the excellent conditions the prisoners have, and feign worry about the “ticking bombs” who may be “set free”. Seventeen Uighars, an ethnic Muslim minority in China, are still being held trapped in a catch-22. Cleared of all charges 2 years ago, China bars their return. No other country will accept them. They wait, with no end in site.

We bow our heads in silence. We form a straight line and slowly walk toward the White House fence. Mindful of the suffering men impose upon men, i walk. Mindful of self-righteousness and hypocrisy, i breathe. Recognizing i am not separate from the torturers or the tortured, my feet touch the earth. Passerby step aside as we walk solemnly in single file down the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk. Walking just beyond the “postcard zone” in front of the Whitehouse, we stop and turn.

It is a spring like day and the tourists and students stream by. Two sons stop in front of us. Their father grumbles, “Let’s go.” The younger son asks, “What are they doing dad?” He replies, “They’re pacifists.” The son asks, “What does that mean?” The father answers, “That means they would rather do this than do something constructive. Now come on, let’s go!”

We stand, silent. i’m curious about the constructive work the father has pursued to bring justice to the prisoners in Guantanamo. The family moves quickly away, the young boy looking back at us as he goes.

A large school group gathers around Carmen, peppering him with questions. The teacher asks questions as well, and allows her students freedom to ask whatever comes to mind. After ten minutes, the teacher reigns in her charges, says, “Thank you” and moves away.

An oblivious man and woman are nearly past us when the man sees us for the first time. Obliquely turning away from his wife and toward us, in a nearly inaudible voice but a voice filled with enough venom and hate to fill all the realms of hell, the tourist in a midwestern snarl, mutters, “Fuuuck Yooou!” Obviously pleased with himself, he turns toward his wife and smiles as they continue on their way.

We stand silent, bearing witness to hatred. It seems polarization is deepening in this country. Elements in the media fuel the hatred in our society. Discourse has become more difficult as we cling to concepts and beliefs that drive us apart. We stand, silent, reminding those who pass by of crimes committed in our name. No matter your point of view, conservative or liberal, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, how can torture ever be acceptable? Us versus them has come home to America, with right wing elements in the media playing a dangerous game. Just last week, Glenn Beck of Fox News, in a disgusting act of incitement, doused a “guest” in “gasoline”, as he stated, "President Obama don't light us on fire”. “You are either with us or against us” has taken an ominous tone indeed.

A retiree and his wife pass us with a look of disgust on their faces. He circles back and stands silently in front of us and slowly moves down the line. His wife asks Carmen, “Just answer this. Where do you suppose we should send the terrorists?” Her husband, unable to contain himself, says, “Why don’t you all join the military? Do something useful to protect your country.” He circles around, unsure why we stand silent. He repeats himself, this time a little louder, a little more anger in his voice, “Join the military. Do something useful!” Still, he is met with silence. He joins his wife, gesticulating, raising his scornful voice, “Join the military, be a hero!” as he walks away. Carmen follows, and their voices drift away, though the man continues to shake his head in disgust.

i recognize disgust as a mechanism to shield oneself from the painful truth. America tortures. Those responsible must be held accountable.

We fold our signs and solemnly walk to the shade of Lafayette Park. We remove our hoods and jumpsuits and stand in silence, with heads bowed, holding hands. Our little drama completed for the day. We remember those who are less fortunate, whose dramas continue.

The 100 day vigil to close Guantanamo continues Monday thru Friday 11am to 1 pm in front of the Whitehouse.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Meditation in Orange #65

I’m the last to arrive. A drizzle falls, enveloping the morning in drab grays as I don the orange jumpsuit. The magnolia tree over head is in full bloom, its soft pink/white petals heralding a new spring, a new beginning. I place a black hood over my head. Everything is muted; a veil over what is real. Quietly, Carmen says, “It’s time.” Our small group of “detainees” forms a circle. Pedestrians with umbrellas and their collars turned up hurry by as we bow our heads and grasp each others hands in silence. I wonder if our tableau reminds those who rush past of prisoners, broken and defeated, or priests huddled in prayer, I wonder if our circle evokes anything at all.

Carmen picks up a sign, red lettering on a white poster board, “Shut Down Guantanamo” and we fall into line behind him. Our hands behind our backs, we move slowly, deliberately through the park.

As I walk, I imagine the shackles binding my legs and hands. I am grateful my hood has not been pissed on by angry soldiers, my wrists are not cut from handcuffs that bound me to the cage, I have not been beaten with a bat, I have not been tasered, or struck with a cattle prod, my genitals have not been wired to a car battery. I have not been dragged around on a leash, made to bark like a dog. I have not been forced to masturbate, or masturbate someone else, as gleeful soldiers laugh and pose. Woman soldiers have not smeared me with what they claim is menstrual blood. I have not been humiliated, shamed, beaten or broken.

I am glad that my ears are not covered and I can hear the birds sing.

As I walk silently, I remember in this moment innocent men are suffering at the hands of Americans.

Kinhin is the art of walking meditation practiced by Zen monks over milennia. It is simply a continuation of sitting meditation. When walking you just walk. Coordinating your breath with the movement of your feet, you slowly step, one foot after the other. In deep meditation I move with the group toward the Whitehouse.

A young man approaches us from behind. As he passes, I see his shiny black shoes wet from the rain, his tailored black pants, his pinstriped suit jacket. He slows and says, “I know you are not supposed to respond, but I want to tell you, that I am thankful that you are here.” He hurries on.

We approach the sidewalk in front of the Whitehouse and turn to face the street, each of us holding a piece of a banner. In silence I stand, head bowed, noticing my breath, watching as children stop to stare, asking “Why?” and “What?” and parents grab their hands and say, “Let’s go, come on! We need to see the West Wing.” Some stop and calmly explain the torture of prisoners. One pre-adolescent girl shouts to her mom, “I want to help them!”. Like the magnolia tree, she heralds a new beginning, another possibility.

Many people increase their pace and pass quickly, averting their eyes, as they rush about their midday business. Some walk by stiffly, imagining we don’t exist. Some teenagers laugh as they pose with a thumbs-up in front of us, and I wonder if they connect to the sadistic soldiers who got off on abusing detainees, or if they are conscious of the abuses taking place at all. I watch as anger rises. My body begins to stiffen both from the emotions that arise and standing in the cold drizzle. I return to my breath.

I recognize my feeling of separateness, as a wide swath of empty sidewalk opens up in front of us and crowds congregate fifty feet away laughing and shouting, squeezing together as mom takes a photo for the family album.

As the vigil comes to a close for the day, our signs are put away and we slowly turn. In single file we walk away, leaving the Whitehouse vista clear. Passerby will no longer need to avert their eyes.

The 100 day vigil to close Guantanamo continues Monday thru Friday 11am to 1 pm in front of the Whitehouse.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Look Back in Anger

“Do not excuse evil with reference to intent.
The thought does not count,
and your actions have consequences.
You have choice now and now again;
the responsibility for what you do is yours alone.”

“Can you find me a lawyer in the United States?” Aswad, an uneducated, poor farmer from a remote region of the Syrian countryside believes that in America, justice can be served. Aswad believes that in America no one is above the law.

I met Aswad in a Damascus café in the fall of 2008 after learning of his story from a humanitarian aid worker. He confided in me the hell he had endured as a pawn in the “War on Terror” and convinced me of the necessity of holding those responsible accountable for their actions.

Aswad, a Syrian national, was abducted November 2003 in Mosul, Iraq by US military forces. Aswad claims he suffered physical, mental, and emotional cruelty at the hands of American interrogators in Iraq. Forced to stand hooded, naked, and shackled, he was beaten mercilessly for eight days. When he passed out from exhaustion and pain, he was doused with freezing water, and the “interrogation” resumed. When he provided answers that were unsatisfactory, he was tasered by his interrogators. Incarcerated for five years without charges, Aswad was released in the summer of 2008.

Try explaining to Aswad that we need not dwell on the mistakes of the past. Try telling Aswad’s nine children who suffered from his absence that their suffering has no recourse. Physically incapacitated and with permanent eye damage due to his beatings, Aswad cannot return to the strenuous work that provided for his family and they continue to suffer.

Although the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers were overwhelming and undoubtedly the Iraqi Sunni population would have preferred a forward-looking approach to the end of the regime, the Bush administration consistently pointed to the fact that Saddam’s torture chambers were silenced by our invasion of Iraq. If, in fact, human rights abuses are one pillar in our justification for war, we must demand accountability from our leaders when our government’s human rights abuses are exposed.

The election of Barack Obama has generated a pervasive feeling of a new day dawning. How do we begin to heal, not only here but throughout the world? As a nation we are currently faced with many challenges that demand our immediate attention. But as any victim of abuse can tell you, turning the page is easier said than done, especially when the perpetrators of the abuse walk free, convinced they are above the law. President Obama has proclaimed, “We are ready to lead once again.” He must begin by looking back. There can be no renewal without rehabilitation and reconciliation.

During President Obama’s speech to Congress he emphatically stated, “We do not torture!” and Congress replied with thunderous cheering. President Bush made the same claim, even though documents continue to come to light that our recent past was filled with torture. Bush, in a final act of hubris, implicated himself in authorizing torture. In discussing the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on Fox News on Jan 11, 2009, Bush claimed, “...the techniques were necessary and are necessary to be used on a rare occasion to get information necessary to protect the American people... So I ask what tools are available for us to find information from him, and they give me a list of tools. And I said, ‘are these tools deemed to be legal?’ And so we got legal opinions before the decision was made.” We know from previous admissions from the Pentagon that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water-boarded.

Some Americans feel quite comfortable with these illegal policies. Those of us weaned on American exceptionalism are simply convinced that America always acts in the name of goodness, always acts in the name of “democracy and freedom” and therefore, our nation and leaders are above the law. This blind faith demands we never look back lest the façade of exceptionalism begins to crumble.

This moral blindness may be diminishing. As information continues to trickle out, Americans are appalled by the blatant disregard for the law exhibited by the members of the former Bush administration. A USA Today/ Gallop poll released on February 12th suggests that upwards of sixty percent of the American citizenry are now supportive of inquiries into Bush administration torture policies. Sen. Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) are advocating a “Truth Commission” to investigate abuses and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is advocating support for John Conyers (D-MI) convening a panel into potential lawbreaking in the Bush administration. Now is the time for citizens to pressure lawmakers to act decisively.

In order for justice to be served investigations into torture and human rights abuses must begin and those responsible prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Officials at every level must be held accountable for crimes they committed.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Chasm that Separates Us

On Sunday Jan 4th i attended a demonstration in Miami in support of the Palestinian people in Gaza. On one side of the street stood Palestinians and their supporters, on the other side of the street, Israelis and supporters of Israel. The cars passing between them ran a gauntlet. Many people looked dumbstruck as they passed between the demonstrators screaming at each other. Others quickly chose a side and either gave a thumbs up or the finger to the side they supported/ denied, with the side getting support cheering wildly and those denied support jeering. Skirmishes flared as one side grabbed the flag of the other and stomped on it, spit on it, or wiped their ass with it. Taunts flew, invectives flew, spit and fists flew. Anger and hatred disfigured the faces of women, children and men, Israeli, Palestinian, and American, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Atheists alike. Besides the traffic streaming by and the policeman lining each curb, the gap between each side was filled with a lack of recognition. A lack of perception that made a three lane street a chasm as deep as the chasms of hell. Hell on earth- not an afterlife destination, but rather a hell here and now, a hell we human beings have created and continue to create on a daily basis. A hell we are living because of our lack of recognition. And it was a microcosm of the hell of Gaza/Israel.

What was the missing ingredient? The ingredient that has the possibility of transforming the hells we have created? What is the recognition that i am talking about? It is simply this- we are not separate. That is all. The recognition of this fact transforms our relationship to everything, but particularly our relationship to our ill-perceived enemies. It transforms our self-righteousness and it transforms our insistence that our position is the correct position. My anger is transformed from a creator of hell realms to an energy that deconstructs the hells of our creation. The road becomes a bridge over the chasm, and we can walk together, toward peace and toward justice, which are merely reflections of each other. Once we recognize that we are not separate, we can begin to work constructively, together, for just solutions. The issue becomes how can we fulfill each other instead of how can we oppress each other. Rather than seeking power and dominance we seek equality. Rather than a boot to the neck of those we have differences with, we embrace them and work for a mutually beneficial experience.

Of course, there is incredible opposition to this perspective, because incredible pain and suffering has been created by our ignorance, and in our ignorance those who are interested in power, not peace, have exploited our fear. As individuals we begin this journey alone. We must persevere. This recognition leads away from passivity and acceptance of injustice and leads directly towards action because our lives become intertwined with each and every being facing injustice, and each and every being perpetrating injustice. Our work is to fill the gap. Peace is the natural outcome of this shift in perspective. Then we can face each other and say Shalom, Salaam, Peace be upon you.

There are many histories at work here, and individuals rely on what they have been taught to justify their positions. i, too, have been taught that, “if you don’t learn from history, it is bound to repeat itself.” That would explain why on one side of the street Israeli supporters held signs reflecting their darkest historical moment, the holocaust, repeating a common refrain, “Never again”. It also explains why Palestinians on the other side of the street held signs equating current Israeli policies in Gaza to Nazism. Neither side held signs reflecting the resistance to the policies of Hitler’s Germany. Neither side held signs reflecting the possibilities of a citizenry participating in subversive activities that were diametrically opposed to the regimes grab for power and dominance. Neither side held signs calling for peaceful co-existence. Neither side could see how history bound them to a limited view of the present moment. This history is a limitation that continually pushes us apart until we consider violence upon the other (not only violence to subdue, but violence to eliminate the other) as the only viable option.

Facts may be pointers, but misconstrued they lead to devastation. The facts never reveal what is in a person’s heart. The facts never reveal a persons true source of power. The history of facts ignore the individual and paint a broad picture that bends reality to fit a framework that benefits those seeking power. The history of facts is used to distort the present moment in ways that create fear, distrust, and anger. This history kills the individual. It creates a chasm in Miami that allows people to shout “terrorist” and “baby killer” at each other.

But let us put this history aside for a moment and delve into another history- the one left behind in the face of “the facts”. This history is not constrained by time or place but rather holds these parameters. This history is the very mystery of our lives. The sacred history of our place on this planet is never revealed by the facts. Stories of real power, and dare i say, stories of love, are dismissed as weak, or fantasy, or naiveté. To examine this history reveals where each of us has gone wrong, where each of us has condoned the atrocities that have taken place today and throughout space and time. To realize this history reveals our individual flaws and causes us to look at ourselves in a new light. And because of the huge responsibility this places on each of us, we turn away from it. We do what we can to ignore it. It is the written facts that take precedence, whether they are true or not. These facts are then manipulated, debated and spun depending on where one imagines one stands. This is the true meaning of history repeating itself. Ignoring the sacred history of our planet and our humanity and relying on the “facts” demands a fight or flight response and puts us squarely in this moment of suffering and pain. Those deemed “other” or “enemy” are condemned. They are not given room to breathe. Innocent children die, and it is acceptable, because they are "other" and have been stripped of their humanity. We do not see our own child torn apart. We do not feel our own heart torn open. Our fear and ignorance based on “facts” allow us to commit atrocities without reservation or reflection. In “victory”, it makes us small and ultimately inconsequential. We claim, “Never forget” but we never take the time to remember that our story is not different nor is it exclusive- that we, in fact, are not “a chosen people” but just people in this time and this place. The people on the other side of the street share the same story- in fact there is no other side of the street, just our false conception of a reality left unexamined. One story. Our story. This recognition leads us away from the abyss.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Israel Sends Season Greetings to Palestine

It is amazing that Israel can deny people the most basic human rights -- that is, the right to food, water, shelter, security and dignity, blame it on the very people they are oppressing, and act surprised and victimized when people, sorry, i mean terrorists, strike back. It is the malevolent policies of Israel that result in rockets raining down on Sderot.

The propaganda we hear is typical of a belligerent regional power bent on destruction and oppression, and reminds me of the propaganda our departing administration has spewed about fighting terrorism in Iraq. The two regimes go hand in glove, though it is difficult to tell which is the hand and which the glove. Of course, like Saddam and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the situation is all the fault of Hamas. All talk is about how a truce must be implemented- Hamas must stop what it is doing immediately while Israel bombs entire apartment blocks, a mosque (or two), a university, and ambulances rushing the injured to hospitals. And the argument goes like this: Israel is the most tolerant nation of all, they desperately want peace, but they are surrounded by enemies. Israel has shown tremendous restraint. What other nation would allow a terrorist group to send rockets into their territory without responding with force? No mention of the fact that the rockets are inaccurate and largely ineffective. No mention that the rocket attacks are often in retaliation for the state sponsored terrorism of Israel. No mention that Israel broke the most recent truce. It is Hama’s desire to kill that must be stopped- rather than Israel’s actual killing. It is Hama’s refusal to passively accept Israeli oppression that must be deterred. Forget autonomy, forget self-determination, forget justice, it is obedience that counts. For all the talk of peace and a peace process, Israel, like all colonial powers, only considers peace if the opposition comes to heel.

There is no mention of the fact that Israel has been systematically starving the civilian population of Gaza for two years, with Dov Weinglas actually saying in February 2006, "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger." The hospitals of Gaza have been deprived of medicines and equipment for so long that the hospitals can no longer meet the minimum daily needs of the Palestinian civilian population, never mind a population under a bombing attack. People are dying for the lack of medical care. Children, not terrorists, are malnourished, and now dying under American supplied bombs. There is never a questioning of this “tolerant” Israeli position of collective punishment. To hear Condoleeza Rice explain it, you’d think it was Israel under the bombs. It’s a lot like blaming a murder victim for standing in front of the gun. At least she’s not calling it the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” Perhaps she recognizes it’s the same old death throes of the past 60 years.

Talk of peace is cheap. Providing real security for your citizens requires more than the ability to drop bombs. Shock and Awe does not deter. The war on terror ensures terror for years to come, and the ignorant cry, “Why do they hate us so?”