Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

on this Thanksgiving day i remember all i am thankful for.

And i remember the first peoples of this land and the fact that 'til this day, i too, occupy a land that was taken by fraud, manipulation, theft, destruction and death from it's original inhabitants. And all the casinos (so called economic opportunity) across this beautiful land will not make it right.

on this Thanksgiving day i honor those native people who still struggle for their freedom.

on this Thanksgiving day, i recognize the fact that native children from the Pine Ridge reservation and across South Dakota are still being stolen from their families thru the state run foster care system.

on this Thanksgiving i realize the role i play.
i don't often pray, but on this day i pray that i may be a force for change. i pray that am granted the good grace to change myself. That all my greed, hatred and ignorance may dissipate in the powerful light of love. That i may give more than i receive. That i have the strength to stand courageously with those fighting for justice.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Whatever Happened to Women & Children First?

 “All wars, whether just or unjust, disastrous or victorious, are waged against the child.” Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children, 1919.

In Kabul, the children are everywhere. You see them scrounging through trash. You see them doing manual labor in the auto body shops, the butchers, and the construction sites. They carry teapots and glasses from shop to shop. You see them moving through the snarled traffic swirling small pots of pungent incense, warding off evil spirits and trying to collect small change. They can be found sleeping in doorways or in the rubble of destroyed buildings. It is estimated that 70,000 children live on the streets of Kabul.

The big news story on CNN this morning is the excitement generated as hundreds of people line up to buy the newest iphone. I can’t stop thinking of the children sitting in the dirt of the refugee camp, or running down the path pushing old bicycle tires, or the young boy sitting next to his overflowing sacks of collected detritus. He has a deep infection on the corner of his mouth that looks terribly infected. These images contrast with an image of an old grandfather, dressed in a spotless all white shalwar kameez squatting on the sidewalk outside a huge iron gate, embracing his beautiful young grand daughter in a huge hug, each smiling broadly, one of the few moments of joy I have witnessed on the streets of Kabul.

In Afghanistan, one in five children die before their 5th birthday, (41% of the deaths occur in the first month of life). For the children who make it past the first month, many perish due to preventable and highly treatable conditions including diarrhea and pneumonia. Malnourishment affects 39% of the children, compared to 25% at the start of the U.S. invasion. 52% don’t have access to clean water. 94% of births are not registered. The children are afforded very little legal protection, especially girls, who are stilled banned from schools in many regions, used as collateral to settle debts, and married through arranged marriages as young as 10 years old. Though not currently an issue, HIV/AIDS looms as a catastrophic possibility as drug addiction increases significantly, even among women and children. Only 16% of women use modern contraception, and children on the streets are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. This is why the “State of the World’s Mothers” report issued in May 2011 by Save the Children ranked Afghanistan last, with only Somalia providing worse outcomes for their children.

Retired Army Col. John Agoglia said, “A key to America’s long-term national security and one of the best ways for our nation to make friends around the world is by promoting the health of women and children in fragile and emerging nations”–in Afghanistan, this strategy is failing. Not a single public hospital has been built since the invasion. It is not an impossibility; it is a matter of will. Emergency, an Italian NGO, runs 3 hospitals and 30 clinics throughout Afghanistan on a budget of 7 million dollars per year. This is ISAF’s (NATO’s International Security Assistance Force) monthly budget for air-conditioning.

Polls have consistently shown that over 90 percent of Americans believe saving children should be a national priority. Children comprise 65% of the Afghan population. Afghanistan was named the worst place on earth to be a child. In Afghanistan children have been sacrificed by the United States, collateral damage in our “war on terror”.

The mothers of these at risk children are not faring any better. Most are illiterate. Most are chronically malnourished. 1 woman in 11 dies in pregnancy or childbirth, this compares to 1 in 2,100 in the US (the highest of any industrialized nation). In Italy and Ireland, the risk of maternal death is less than 1 in 15,000 and in Greece it’s 1 in 31,800. Skilled health professionals attend only 14% of childbirths. A woman’s life expectancy is barely 45 years of age.

Women are still viewed as property. A law has been passed by the Karzai regime that legalizes marital rape, and requires a woman to get the permission of her husband to leave the house. Domestic violence is a chronic problem. A women who runs away from home (even if escaping violence) is imprisoned. Upon completion of her sentence she is returned to the husband. Self-immolation is still common as desperate women try to get out of impossible situations.

Shortly after the U.S. invasion, Laura Bush said, “The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control.” President Bush said, “Our coalition has liberated Afghanistan and restored fundamental human rights and freedoms to Afghan women, and all the people of Afghanistan.” Actually, the former warlords responsible for the destruction, pillage, and rape of Afghanistan were ushered back into power  by the United States. In 2007, these very same warlords, now Parliamentarians, passed a bill that granted amnesty for any killings during the civil war. A local journalist said, “The killers are the ones holding the pens, writing the law and continuing their crimes.”

When Malalai Joya addressed the Peace Loya Jirga convened in December, 2003, she boldly asked, “Why are we allowing criminals to be present here?” She was thrown out of the assembly. Undeterred, she ran for Parliament, winning in a landslide. She began her maiden speech in Parliament by saying, "My condolences to the people of Afghanistan..." As she continued speaking, the warlord sitting behind her threatened to rape and kill her. The MP’s voted her out of Parliament and Karzai upheld her ouster. In hiding, she continues to champion women’s rights. She has stated that the only people who can liberate Afghan women are the women themselves. When we spoke briefly to her by phone, she stated that she was surprised to still be alive, and needed to cancel our meeting, as it was too dangerous in the current security situation. The Red Cross states that the security situation is the worst it has been in 30 years.

In America, as our total defense budget balloons to 667 billion dollars per year, women and children are faring worse as well. In the “State of the World’s Mothers” report, America has dropped from 11th in 2003 to 31st of the developed countries today. We currently rank behind such luminaries as Estonia, Croatia, and Slovakia. We fall even farther in regards to our children, going from the 4th ranked country to the 34th. Poverty is on the increase with an estimated 1 child in 5 living in poverty. More than 20 million children rely on school lunch programs to keep from going hungry. The number of people living in poverty in America has grown by 2.6 million in just the last 12 months.

Dear reader, I hesitate to bother you with so many statistics, I eliminated the pie charts and graphs, and this report is still dull. After all, the new iphone has Siri, a personal assistant that understands you when you speak. You can verbally instruct it to send a text message, and it does! Now that’s excitement! CNN states there is no need to panic; the Atlanta store has plenty of phones to fill the demand.

Looking only at numbers it is easy to avoid the truth of the enormous amount of human suffering they envelop. Drive through the streets of any American city and these statistics come alive in the swollen ranks of the homeless. Drive through the streets of Kabul and these statistics come alive in the forms of hungry children begging for change.

It is difficult to ascertain what benefit America is deriving from our continued military presence in Afghanistan, though exploitation of natural resources certainly plays a role. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent in a military strategy that is failing by all indicators. Yet the politicians in this country continue to back this strategy. Arms dealers and contractors, like G.E. and Boeing, all with lobbyists on Capitol Hill, continue to reap big financial rewards and in turn reward politicians with financial support. Our politicians claim to be “tough on terror” and profess we are “winning”. But by what measure do they ascertain this? The only Afghan people benefiting from our presence are the people supporting the occupation forces, the warlords, and the drug lords. As the poppy fields produce record yields “poppy palaces” are springing up all over Kabul, ostentatious signs that someone is benefiting from our interference.

One measure to judge the success of a nation is its ability to protect its most vulnerable populations. America is not succeeding. The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is still a matter of deliberate human cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control. When will our politicians hear the desperate cry of the street children of Afghanistan, who, with all the incense in the world, simply can’t ward off the evil of our occupation?

To support the vital work of Voices for Creative Non-Violence please see

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Message to Freedom Square on the Anniversary of the Invasion of Afghanistan

Good evening from Afghanistan.

We are sorry we cannot be with you in body, know we are with you in spirit.

What you are doing in Freedom Square is critically important, not only for Afghanistan, and America but for the entire world.

After 5 days in Afghanistan, one thing is painfully clear. The impetus for change needs to come from Washington DC. Our job is clear, we must continue to demand an end to occupation and war from our government. The status quo is unacceptable.

10 years of occupation and things are getting worse. The Red Cross has said that the security situation in Afghanistan is the worst it has been in 30 years.

In 10 years of occupation, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, not a single public hospital has been built for the people of Afghanistan. The only things that have been built in Afghanistan are security barriers and prisons.

UNICEF has claimed that Afghanistan is the worst place in the world for children. 65% of the population is children.

The question must be this: If after 10 years, countless lives lost, hundreds of billions spent, nothing is going right in Afghanistan, when is it time to change direction? This is the question the people of Freedom Square must help our government answer.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Darkness Approaches, A Light Shines Bright

Today in Afghanistan people feel an unnamable horror lurking just below the surface of their everyday lives. It has been described as a tension, a feeling of pressing apprehension, as if a breaking point is about to be breached. People wake each day with this feeling; it accompanies them through their dreams each night.

Driving through the streets of Kabul I watch people set about their business deliberately. There is little laughter, the absence of joy as palpable as the heavy brown dust swirling through the streets choking off the sun.

We turn down a pock marked dirt road. Reminded of a video game my son used to love, we swerve from side to side to miss as many obstacles as possible, including oncoming traffic of all varieties, crashing through spine-jarring potholes with regularity. We spot the large pink building behind a huge steel gate. The guard points to a door and tells us to call inside.

We have arrived at the New Learning Center, a school serving the children of Afghanistan. Founded and directed by Andeisha Farid, is a young Afghan woman, who was herself a displaced person during the Soviet war and grew up in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan. Andeisha had one simple idea. If she could help one child, that child would return to her family and influence the family. In turn, the family would influence the village, the village would influence the province, the province would influence the country. This simple idea has turned into 11 orphanages, serving 700 children, and the New Learning Center, newly opened in May 2011.

The school curriculum teaches boys and girls grades 6 through 12. The school is a model of diversity, accepting children from every province in Afghanistan. About 50% of the children are truly orphans, the rest are from families struggling with dire poverty, conflict, displacement, or drug addiction (a new and significant problem for Afghans). Their parent’s let the children travel to Kabul so they have an opportunity to learn and an opportunity for a better life.

Ian, an American working at the school (and in fact the only westerner working there), gives us an introduction to the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO) in the rose garden. We ask about the threat of terrorism. He says the most pressing problem is the current Afghan government, which has elements that oppose teaching girls that match the Taliban’s position. Recently the school had experienced a raid, prompted by rumors and innuendo in the community, by Parliamentarians and armed security men. When they were unable to substantiate the rumors they apologetically left the grounds and the school returned to teaching the children.
 In a land where ethnic diversity forms barriers and racism is rampant, where girls are 2nd class citizens at best, religion often teaches intolerance, and war has torn at the very fabric of life, the learning center is an oasis of peace, respect, understanding, and love. Walking through the center I am astounded by the polite, smiling children moving from class to class with enthusiasm and a sense of empowerment and pride I have not seen on the streets of Kabul.

Visiting with Ian’s 8th grade girl’s humanities class, the thirst for knowledge is striking. Reading about Amelia Earhart in English, the girls help each other with difficult passages. There is a twinkle in the girl’s eyes as they read with confidence and steal glances at the strangers watching them. Amelia is quoted as saying, “I did it because I wanted to do it.” Ian emphasizes this passage for the young girls, saying this is the one passage from the reading to never forget.

We meet with Nasrin, the director of the Learning Center. An intelligent, poised young woman, Nasrin gives us a tour of the center and explains the education in Fine Arts, Music, Computers, Humanities, Math and Sciences serves as an adjunct to the public school system and guides the children to a path of higher education.

We interrupt a class in portraiture to look over the shoulders of young artists as they sketch a fellow classmate. As we sit in the lobby and pepper Nasrin with questions, a classical sonata for piano wafts through the hallways from the music room below.

Nasrin reminds us why she loves her work at the center, “The children of Afghanistan are our future. We provide them with opportunities so the future will be better.”

To learn more about AFCECO and help them accomplish their mission, see

Thursday, October 06, 2011

10 Years After. Welcome to the Failed State Americastan

As we step off the Turkish Air flight and walk across the dusty tarmac to the terminal, we are greeted by a large billboard. In big bold English it proclaims, “Welcome to the Home of the Brave.” It stops me in my tracks. I shake my head, thinking, “damn weird” and continue in to passport control. After waiting in a short line, I present my American passport to the guard in the booth. He doesn’t acknowledge me. He flips through the shiny new pages until he gets to the visa. He stamps it. He turns to the picture. He gives me a precursory glance and hands the passport back to me. I turn and enter Afghanistan.

I have come here with two friends from Voices for Creative Non-Violence, forming a small delegation interested in developing relationships with ordinary Afghans and gathering stories of everyday life since the American invasion in 2001. After collecting our luggage and taking a short bus ride to the parking area, Hakim, Mohammed Jan, and his brother Noor greet us warmly. Hakim and Mohammed Jan are our hosts and the organizing force of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.

On our trip from the airport to Kabul, Hakim offers an update since the last delegation has left. Things have deteriorated considerably. People are feeling more hopeless, even amongst the youth group. There have been no opportunities for optimism. As we drive the clogged streets through clouds of brown dust, I watch as small children with huge sacks slung across their backs pick at scraps along the streets. Men pull huge carts filled with scrap metal. Beggars on crutches stand in the streets or lie by the street side, hoping for any generosity from the passing cars.

Not a single sector of public or private life is running properly. Tension is high. The people may appear unwelcoming and angry, because they are. Hakim tells us you may see people in a heated argument end it by laughing. In order to defuse the tension of the moment, they shift to a joke.

Attacks in Kabul are on the rise. In just the last month there has been the brazen attack at the US embassy as well as the suicide bombing that killed Rabbani, an advisor for the Karzai government as well as a warlord, (responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands, engaged in ‘peace talks’ with the Taliban), in his own home.

We are told that it might be best to avoid following a routine. Do not to travel alone. Do not go out at night. Do not linger outside of our car, or our apartment. It’s best not draw attention to ourselves. We are reminded that not only do Afghans distrust foreigners, but also, many have come to hate us over these ten long years.
Ten years. Untold numbers of deaths, 200 billion dollars (or is it 300 billion?) spent on eradicating the Taliban, eliminating a safe haven for Al Qaeda, and stabilizing Afghanistan, to date, all lost causes.  The Karzai government is either despised or mocked. The people recognize it for what it is, a puppet regime that is not responsible to the Afghan people but to outside forces. Corruption is rampant, crushing poverty everywhere. Allegiances shift easily as desperation and greed drive people to make decisions based on possible cash rewards.
Nothing works. The education system, the health care system, and the public works systems are in tatters. The various police forces, even in the safest sections of Kabul, can’t (or won’t) stop the violence. The Red Cross states that Afghanistan is more dangerous now than at anytime in the last 30 years. You can’t drink the water from the tap, electricity goes off and on in rolling blackouts, the sewer system is archaic, with open trenches of raw sewerage running through the streets. There is no garbage collection. 200 billion dollars spent and there is little to nothing to show for it.

Family systems are in tatters as well. Everywhere you turn, family members have been lost to war. Hundreds of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands maimed. War has divided families and dispersed the fragments throughout the country. Civil society is falling apart because people have lost a sense of community, things have deteriorated to ‘everyone for themselves’. Distrust is a cancer spread throughout society. Ethnic groups distrust each other even more than usual. Business associates distrust each other, neighbors distrust each other, and even family members distrust each other.

To most of the population, peace is an impossibility. Most feel a turn toward more violence is inevitable. Possibilities of peace are not part of the dialogue, few are even willing to voice the words ‘peace’ or ‘non-violence’. Most people only talk about selecting the best of several very poor possibilities and all of these options are militaristic ones. People are being squeezed between the insurgency and occupying powers. For some, especially in Kabul, the best of the poor choices is continuing on the path of US occupation. The sense of hopelessness is palpable, people feel there is no way out. Harun, a young Pastun tells us, “Perhaps Afghans just need to suffer more.”

I ask myself, “What am i doing here?” This entails the broader question, “Why are we, America, here?” Former President Bush famously said, “We will fight them over there so we do not to fight them over here.” I don’t think it ever dawned on him that if we don’t fight them over there, we might not need to fight them at all.

America’s continuing involvement is a difficult issue. If you believe a common thread of American exceptionalism, that America is good and only wants what is best, bringing “democracy”, “freedom” and “human rights” to the people of the world, when do we relent? If nothing is going right in Afghanistan and our presence only brings more militarization and more misery, when is it time to leave? Under the exceptionalism model, America can’t lose, or surrender, it is simply too shameful to admit mistakes, too embarrassing to admit that the world’s most advanced military can not achieve it’s objectives in a country already devastated by years of war. Few choices remain except to stay the course.

If you believe another common thread of American discourse, Afghanistan is only getting what it deserves. Harboring the terrorist group responsible for 9/11 bears a heavy price tag. But ten long years have past. The Taliban are not defeated, and it is getting harder to define who, exactly, the Taliban are. If a farmer picks up a weapon to defend his land and his family, he is defined as Taliban. If a local worker in the CIA office in Kabul begins shooting employees, he is Taliban. This is not necessarily true. Some tribes have resorted to violence against all outsiders. They do not differentiate between NATO forces, American forces and Taliban forces, they defend themselves against them all. As the situation deteriorates and the international community continues to defend it’s presence here with lies, distortions, and intransigence, hatred grows. Hopelessness grows. People with no ties to religious fundamentalism resort to violence and are then added to the list of Taliban. Hakim says with a smile, “Soon, everyone in Afghanistan will be labeled Taliban.”

People in the U.S. are misled, fed a rote formula of religious fundamentalism fueling insurgency because they hate what we represent. The Afghan people do not hate what we represent, they hate what we do to their families, their community, their tribes, and their country. I do not blame them. Retaliation and retribution only assure us that future acts of violence are inevitable. When President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, he schooled us on why Martin Luther King was naive, why violence was a necessary component of fighting terrorism. He did not school us on how state violence creates terrorists and ensures continuing cycles of mayhem.

Now seems a good time for a joke. Ryan Crocker, the new ambassador to Afghanistan recommends more of the same. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he states, “The Taliban needs to feel more pain before you get to a real readiness to reconcile.” The interviewer did not question this subtle ridiculousness; perhaps he was too busy laughing out loud.

So the current dynamic is a lose/lose situation for America as well as Afghanistan. American children continue to be deprived of basic health care, education, and food safety as money flows endlessly into the open pit of American militarism. American defense contractors continue to benefit. Our elected officials, proving they are “tough on terrorism” get re-elected. The Afghan people continue to suffer. Afghan children will be deprived of the same things as America’s children, but to a degree 100 times worse. Hatred will continue to fester. Out of necessity, Afghans will become masters of comic timing.

America is not, and will not be safer for the misery imposed on Afghanistan.

In closing, here is a final joke to diffuse the tension. It is still funny, though it has been repeated ad-infinitum by America’s politicians and pundits: America is winning in Afghanistan.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Remember and Act!

The media remembrances are unrelenting as 9/11 approaches. Today, all the news is plastered with "a credible but uncorroborated threat of a car bomb attack in NYC or DC." The question for me, as it was 10 years ago as i stood in the ashes of the World Trade Center is, "What can i do to foster positive change?" i still struggle mightily with this question.

In Oct i will travel to Afghanistan with Voices for  Creative Non-violence to speak with people who suffer daily from our response to that fateful day.  The people of Afghanistan have 10 years of 9/11's with no end in sight. 

Please support me if you can. Donate!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

We Belong to Each Other

From my teacher Roshi Joan Halifax  (on twitter!):
To Whom and what do we belong?
One answer... "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."
Mother Therese

And you?

My reply:
i have no peace because i remember that we belong to each other. Innocents dying in Gaza today. Each belong of me. i, in my safe enclave of Big Sky, wild flowers blooming still, streams running strong, rumbling of American f-16's, sold to Israel, shatter my stillness, reverberate in my soul, or is it just the water rushing over stone? i repeat we belong to each other, we belong to each other. my tears race away, joining the stream, the river, the ocean, the sky. We belong to each other.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

While in Gaza

“Dear Johnny –
While you are in Gaza, please visit Gilad Shalit. He is the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped from outside Gaza 5 years ago, and has been held by Hamas without visits by anyone, including the Red Cross or Red Crescent, in violation of international law. I trust you are committed to human rights for all, and this small gesture should be quite easy to do as compared with the magnitude of arranging your flotilla. I look forward to seeing your video or photos or voice recording evidencing that Gilad is being treated well and is in good health.”

I thought about Shalit quite often as I traveled around Gaza. Though the writer of the email assumed I was unaware of the prisoner or his circumstance, it was not true. I knew he was just a teenager when captured. I knew he was a combatant- a gunner in a tank on the border of Gaza. I knew he was taken prisoner, not kidnapped.

I thought about the fear he faced as he was dragged from his tank 5 years ago, and his uncertain days imprisoned since then, days spent without family, without friends, without any contact with outside agencies. I tried to imagine the yearly landmarks; the birthdays, the anniversaries, the myriad dates and shared memories that mark our movement through life, passing without acknowledgement. I tried to imagine what his parents were going through, not knowing his condition or circumstance.

Even in Gaza, Shalit’s name comes up often. I attended the weekly demonstration of prisoners families held outside the ICRC every Monday. Mothers, fathers, wives, and children hold photos or posters of loved ones imprisoned in Israel for months, years, some for decades. A gentleman, recognizing I was from the U.S., said sarcastically, “Don’t these people know there is only one prisoner? His name is Shalit.”

Since 1967, 700,000 Palestinians have been “detained” by Israel. Currently 7000 people are imprisoned. 37 of them are women; over 300 of them are children.

When I visited the Ministry of Detainees in Gaza City I was challenged by the minister to name another region of the world where such a ministry was needed. The minister explained that this was an issue particular to Palestine because Israel imprisons so many people without charges and through military courts where evidence is hidden and trials are rigged. Many are convicted on coerced confessions. The minister’s position was that all prisoners, including Shalit, be treated with respect and dignity.

I was introduced to Umm Ahmed through Doa’a, a Ministry official who coordinates the weekly demonstrations at the ICRC. Umm Ahmed’s 19-year-old son, a university student, is imprisoned in Israel for just over a year. His story is not unique.

Video: Ahmed's Story Part 1 

Ahmed was seriously injured during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. Families near the buffer zone were given permission by the Israelis to leave their homes to get supplies. Umm Ahmed and her family were returning to their home. Half of the family members had come inside. Ahmed, and 3 cousins remained in the doorway when the drones were heard overhead, followed quickly by 2 missile strikes. Ahmed and one cousin were gravely injured, blasted into the alcove of the home. Ahmed’s abdomen was eviscerated, he had lost an eye and several fingers, and he was bleeding profusely from shrapnel wounds all over his body. No ambulances were in the area. Family members scooped up the broken bodies and rushed them to the hospital. On arrival, Umm Ahmed was told her son was dead.

Ahmed, despite his injuries, managed to cling to life. After emergency surgery he was transferred to the hospital in Al-Arish, Egypt where he underwent 10 surgeries in 10 months, including the removal of his pancreas, leaving him diabetic and dependant on insulin injections for the remainder of his life. On his return to Gaza, suffering from life threatening infections to his wounded arm and hand, the family sought additional treatment outside Gaza. It proved impossible to have him transferred to Europe, but after several attempts he received permission from Israel to travel to Jerusalem for the needed treatment.

On the day of his departure, November 25, 2009, his mother prepared food for him, adhering to a new diet specifically for diabetics. When he departed with his brother and father for Erez crossing, she followed him out the door, hugging him tightly. When she let go, she sensed something terrible was about to happen. 

Shortly after 4pm when Ahmed, his brother and father reached Erez, Umm Ahmed received a call from her son, asking for Mohammed, the eldest brother. Umm Ahmed asked, “What is it? Is something wrong with Ahmed?” Her son hesitated then told her Ahmed had been taken at the crossing and was in Israeli custody.

The soldiers demanded that Ahmed and his father both strip naked. Ahmed, in his wheelchair, needed his father’s assistance to comply. Ahmed, though missing fingers on one hand and suffering from infections to his hand and elbow, was handcuffed and taken away. His father would not see him again. Ahmed’s father demanded Ahmed be released and allowed to return to Gaza. He was literally thrown out of the crossing and told to return to Gaza without his son. Without recourse, Ahmed’s father returned home.

Unlike Shalit who was taken by Palestinian fighters while on active duty in a tank on the Gaza border, the Israeli’s took Ahmed as he attempted to get treatment for wounds incurred at Israeli hands. Many Palestinians are ‘detained’, or perhaps my email writer’s term is more appropriate, ‘kidnapped’, by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints, from their cars, or from their beds in the middle of the night, and taken to Israel. Although the transfer of detainees to locations within the occupying power’s territory is illegal under international law, all Palestinian prisoners are currently held in Israel.
Ahmed was held under investigation for 38 days as the Israeli’s tried to elicit a confession. Regardless of his injuries, he was blindfolded, handcuffed, and routinely denied his medications. He suffered through diabetic comas throughout the 38 days. He did not confess. He was found guilty of monitoring Israeli activities in the buffer zone and sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison.

Since Hamas won an electoral decision in 2006, family visitation rules were tightened. Since 2007 all Gaza families have been denied visitation. In December 2009, the Israeli Court ruled that the right to family visits in prison is not within the “Framework of the basic humanitarian needs of the residents of the Strip, which Israel is obligated to enable” and that there was no need for family visits since prisoners could obtain basic supplies through the prison canteen. So like gunner Shalit, 700 other families have been denied visitation with their sons, daughters and children.

Umm Ahmed is concerned that her son is receiving inadequate treatment for his diabetes. It has been regularly reported that security prisoners receive inadequate food- both in quality and quantity. Regarding medical care, the Israeli prison authority has adopted a policy of systemic negligence in all its facilities. Prisons are extremely understaffed by medical personnel and visits to a doctor can take weeks, with actual treatment taking months. For a prisoner suffering from diabetes this can be deadly. Ahmed also needs constant care to treat infections resulting from all the shrapnel wounds to his body. Upon his detention, Ahmed spent 3 months in the hospital as a result of his mistreatment. While hospitalized it was determined he needs an operation to control his diabetes. In order to get an operation, Ahmed must wait. Ar-Ramleh prison hospital has a limited number of beds. Because of his inadequate diet and medication regime (most ill and injured prisoners live on aspirin, painkillers, and tranquilizers), his health continues to deteriorate. Though the operation has not yet been scheduled, the family has already been notified that Ahmed will not be released from prison until the fees for the operation are paid in full.

When Ban Ki-Moon visited Gaza in March of 2010, Umm Ahmed and her husband met with him and explained the situation of their son. Because of this meeting and the negative publicity it triggered for Israel, the family has received only sporadic news of their son. For the last 5 months they have heard nothing. The parents are anxiously awaiting word of their son.

I left Gaza without managing a visit with Shalit. But I left with the knowledge of thousands of Gilad Shalits in Israeli prisons. Many, like Ahmed, have no involvement in military operations. They were not dragged from their tanks, but were dragged from their cars, dragged from their beds, even dragged from their wheelchairs. Hundreds are children. They too, deserve basic humanitarian considerations. They too, deserve to be treated with decency and their health maintained. Their families also deserve answers and consideration. Shalit may be the only prisoner Americans have heard of, but he is not alone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

To Gaza with Love/ The Audacity of Hope

Compilation of Love

I've made a short compilation video of my time in Athens with the Audacity of Hope as a participant in the Freedom Flotilla- Stay Human.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Flotilla Is Not Over

 The Flotilla Is Not Over
 'Every single heart, soul and mind out there not giving up on breaking this blockade is the flotilla, we ARE the flotilla.' It serves us to shift focus to the journey not results. i am not informing, i am being informed. Roots grow deeper, connections strengthen. The words 'success' and 'failure' lose meaning. Trust, love & faith grow. This is the flowering of my resistance. This is the evolution of revolution.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Blindness and Tears

In Gaza i met a mother 
who’s son was lost  20 years
in the occupier’s prison. The tears
of all those years left her blinded.
My son held my hand as
we walked in the woods.
i imagined him taken from me
by the fools of power.
The sunset stripped of color,
would still carry majesty.
the sea would lose its depth,
yet hold it’s mystery.
What doesn’t kill you
makes you stronger or
so i’ve heard, but that
doesn’t lessen the pain.
A blind man hesitated,
once and then once again
his stick rhythmically tapping
on the broken concrete curb.
i held him gently by the arm
and said, ‘Can i walk with you?’
he smiled and said, ‘Brother,
are you not blinded too?’
All the raindrops falling,
every drop in the endless sea
fail to match years of  tears
of the mothers of Palestine.
I met a boy blinded
by the occupiers rockets
no longer can he shed a tear
i cry for him throughout the year.
Yet, flowers bloom in
the Palestinian desert
the rushing sea purifies
the Gazan shore.
The tears of the youth
etch truth in the heart.
i am not blinded by tears,
at least not yet.
The tears of the brokenhearted
burn clear, clarifying our dreams,
sanctifying the parched earth
with every golden drop.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Syntagma March in Support of the Flotilla

Sunday 7/3/11 we went to Syntagma Square the seat of the resistance in Athens. In less than 12 hrs they organized a demo/march in support of the flotilla and Gaza. 600+ at it's height. If you don't care to watch the whole video, at least watch the last 2 minutes as we return to the square around midnight to throngs of cheering supporters.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Audacity of Hope Stopped at Sea

The Audacity of Hope, engine chugging, free of its moorings, slipped from the dock. The gangway was hoisted to the cheers of the passengers as well as the land team and journalists dockside.

Finally, after a year of preparation we were underway. As we gently churned past the end of the dock and the large freighter docked to our starboard, the horizon broadened and i was shocked to see that no Coast Guard vessels were in sight. Could it be? Would we be allowed to pass? After weeks of warnings and bureaucratic delays we had determined it was best to challenge the Greek authorities. So on a quiet Friday afternoon, one week after being presented with a challenge regarding the seaworthiness of our ship, we decided to move.

As the numerous American flags flapped in the breeze and the boat cut through the calm seas, the smiles and laughter of the passengers belied the tensions of the prior days. But our relief was short lived. Less than 20 minutes out at sea i spotted a Greek Coast Guard vessel off our port side making a wide sweep and turning towards us. In a matter of minutes, it was alongside, demanding we turn back. When our captain continued, they passed in front of us, cutting off our path. Finding radio communications difficult, the 2 captains spoke directly to each other across the several meters of sea that separated us. It was clear that no matter what we said, we would not be allowed to continue. After a standoff of several hours the original Coast Guard vessel was joined by a zodiac with about 10 commandos. Our captain continued to argue that our vessel was sea worthy, all the inspections had been completed and we requested safe passage to international waters. The Greek captain insisted that we needed to return to port to get our documents in order and said, “you will leave tomorrow.”

Finally as our boat drifted perilously close to a reef and sunken boat, our captain relented. He would turn back after getting assurances that we would dock in a secure place. Little did he know that we would be directed to a naval dock. The Audacity of Hope now has zero chance of moving without Greek authorization. The next morning, rather than being allowed to leave, our captain was arrested and charged with several misdemeanors as well as a felony count- disturbing sea traffic- which includes endangering the lives of those on the ships.

The passengers were detained on the boat, but as the days wore on, we were allowed to come and go as we pleased, the port authority police easing up, recognizing we were no threat to them. Since our attempted departure Greek ministers have announced that no boats heading to Gaza will be permitted to depart from Greek waters. It is still unclear what this means. It is equally unclear as to how long our boats will be held. We remain strong and dedicated to the cause. Many of us are leaving over the coming days, but are already making plans to return once the boat is released. There is no talk of giving up, only a resolute sense of determination. One day the siege will be lifted. Gaza will be free.

See the Video:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

With Friends Like This Who Needs Enemies?

The State Dept issued new travel warnings regarding Gaza on Jun 22, 2011, stating in part:

"U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in injury, death, arrest and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the government of Israel." It goes on to explain that a U.S. citizen was killed last year in an attempt to reach Gaza by sea, while the U.S. State Dept did nothing to assist. The warning intimated that the State Dept. is prepared, once again, to do nothing if Israel kills American citizens on the upcoming flotilla.

The really bizarre aspect of this travel warning is there is no mention of Hamas or terrorism, or the supposed  risks citizens of the U.S. would face from Hamas if they were to travel in Gaza. Apparently all the risk in traveling to Gaza as an American citizen comes from our "best friend" in the region. In his May State Dept speech, President Obama declared, "As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values." One would think these shared values would include the safe passage of unarmed civilians through international waters.

Our State Dept mission statement reads, "Advance freedom for the benefit of the American people and the international community by helping to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world composed of well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty, and act responsibly within the international system."

Our State Dept. should respond to American citizens needs by demanding the safety of flotilla participants. It seems it would fall under their job description. Seems like the least they could do.

Please call the State Dept. at 202-647-4000 and demand protection of the Freedom Flotilla. Remind the State Dept.  It's their job.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rafah is Open, The Siege is Over (part 2)

We arrive at the Rafah Crossing at 9:00 am in the morning. Six buses are lined up at the gate, pilgrims waiting to cross for Umrha. For weeks I have been checking in, making sure I was prepared with all necessary information in order to cross the border. Each time I was told not to worry, everything was fine. Internationals have no difficulty. No one mentioned Umrha. We weave our way through the people and cars to the front of the gate. When a car is permitted through, we follow closely behind, passing through the gate. We hand our passports to a man in a small booth. He takes our information and tells us to go back to the other side of the gate. He would call and see if we have permission. “Five minutes”, he says.

Returning to the other side of the gate, we speak to Palestinians who tell us of daily visits to Rafah, each day repeating itself like a Kafka story. In the heat and dust,  people push and shove up to the bars of the gate, thrusting papers and passports towards the guards, hoping someone will listen. Each day they are told to return to Gaza. They wait all day anyway, repeatedly trying to get someone’s attention. At days end they go home vowing to return to the crossing the following day.

With a look of relief, Mohammed informs us that his friend, who works with border control, was coming to the crossing. He would personally escort us to the border. One half hour and he would arrive.

An hour passes. We call again, “ten minutes, ten minutes” we are told. We cross through the gate a second time. Our status as Internationals gives us benefits denied Palestinians. “Go back”, the man in the booth tells us angrily. We return to the shade and wait.

Another hour passes. We receive many calls, “you can pass once the Umrha buses are through.” “You can’t pass.” “You can pass.” “You have not been cleared.” “You are cleared, just wait.” Just wait.

We interview several Gazans who have come back to the crossing for days on end. A son who desperately needs to return to Saudi Arabia for university exams, denied. He had the proper permissions, he arrived on the proper day, but because of Umrha he could not pass. Denied.

A man visiting his mother needs to return to the Emirates to renew his residency. If he does not leave today, his residency will expire. Denied.

A woman with her two small sons, trying to get out so her youngest boy could give a bone marrow transplant to the older boy. She has come to the crossing everyday for a week. Though theses types of medical emergencies are supposed to travel without restrictions, she was denied for a week because of a backlog of people waiting to cross.

Egypt sets a daily limit. The number seems to vary from 300 to 500. Desperate to get her child the emergency medical care he needs she subjects herself to the daily humiliations at the border.

I call the American embassy in Cairo asking for a call to the Egyptian side of the border, so we are permitted to cross. The representative says, “The border is open, you should have no difficulty.” She promises a call back. It never comes.

We pass through the gate for the third time. When we get to the other side, the booth is closed, the man we had been dealing with gone. Mohammed continues making calls, one phone at each ear. We watch as a Palestinian policeman gets in a tug of war with an old woman, grabbing her bag and tossing it on the other side of the gate. She breaks away from him, screaming furiously, and comes and sits near us. I realize my privilege will do nothing to protect her. I feel ashamed.

 A border guard shouts at us- we must return to the other side. We refuse. Every time the gate opens to allow a car to pass, people push past the guards. Tempers flare. Reinforcements are called in. Shoving and shouting ensues as desperate people are pushed back. Denied.

A half dozen border guards jump out of an SUV and begin moving people back to the other side of the gate. Mohammed speaks to one of them and comes back to us saying, “No matter, what we will not go back to the other side of the gate. We will stay here until you are allowed to pass.” We agree. Another American approaches us. This is her third day at the crossing. Mohammed includes her passport with ours and approaches the guard yet again. He continues to press the guard, who returns to his SUV and leaves, promising a call. He returns shortly, but ignores us. Mohammed approaches him once again. He takes our passports and drives toward the border.

The university student I spoke with earlier is nearby. He moves from guard to guard, trying to get some help. Shouting, one guard grabs him by the arm and points. He goes back.

I notice a small girl with inquiring eyes, who I had photographed hours earlier near the tea stall, has made it inside the gate. She hobbles past us, desperately following an old woman who is imploring a guard for help. Frantic, she tells the girl to raise her pant leg, to show the guard the terrible urgency that they seek medical care. The little girls leg is terribly deformed, scar tissue running from the knee to the ankle. The guard, exasperated, turns away. He is not permitted to send her to the Egyptian side without permission. There is nothing to be done.

The SUV returns and the guard calls us over. “The Americans will be allowed to pass.”  We clamor into the police vehicle to be delivered to the border, leaving behind the Palestinians who remain trapped in Gaza. Hours later, while still waiting on the Egyptian side, we see the woman with the two small boys, finally being allowed to pursue her child’s bone marrow transplant. The old woman and the child with the damaged leg is nowhere to be found. Rafah is open. Gaza remains a prison. Gazans persevere under the harshest of circumstances. We are told the situation in Gaza is not a humanitarian crisis. The crisis we face, as Americans, is a moral one.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nasr's Farm

Nasr's Farm Jun 14, 2011

Nasr used to live in a house with his wife and 5 children on a beautiful patch of land that he farms with his brother. They have an orchard, olive trees, watermelon, peppers, aubergine and squash. Walking down a narrow dirt road past the orchard, the land suddenly opens to gently rolling farmland. In the distance you can see the border fence.

Nasr and his family live on the edge of the buffer zone in the northern Gaza Strip. Following the border fence you can see several watch towers securing Israel. No one ensures the safety of Nasr and his family.

One year ago the Israeli army attacked his home. The children were playing outside, Nasr’s wife, Naama, was in the front yard. Shortly before sunset a tank located on a mound 500 meters from the home fired shells packed with nails at the home. Nasr's wife, torn to ribbons, bled to death in the yard when ambulances were not permitted down the narrow dirt road to his home.

Nasr's home was attacked again this past April. Nasr was afraid to move or even put on a flashlight, for fear of additional shelling. He heard two of his children cry out. They were buried under the rubble in the hallway of the upper story of the house, but they survived. On both occasions the Israeli military claimed to have been shooting at terrorists.

You can see the Israeli military outpost about 2 kilometers from Nasr’s front entrance way. The sheet metal siding of the house has hundreds of nail shaped holes in it. Nasr points to the spot where his wife died as we enter the house.

After the second attack, Nasr’s family moved to a house in the village, near to the cemetery where his wife was buried. One night, around midnight, Nasr woke to find his children gone. He went outside and found them at their mother’s grave. The next day he left that house and returned to his land.

Nasser and his family now live in a couple of tents near his olive trees. His brother’s family remains in the first floor of the house. The second story is destroyed. Nasr and his brother still continue to farm the land. He recognizes that another attack could happen at any time, but he refuses to leave the land he was born on.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rafah is Open, The Siege is Over

Rafah Crossing Video Jun 16, 2011
The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt reopened to great fanfare on May 28th 2011. World news agencies trumpeted, “The siege is over.” At the time, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Menha Bakhoum said the decision was made to "Ease the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip." This has not been

I spent several hours at the Rafah crossing. I watched as people desperately trying to cross out of Gaza into Egypt were met with closed gates, yelling policemen and, finally, soldiers. Vehicles inched forward; hundreds of people surrounded them and pressed up against the gate, waving papers and passports, yelling at the Hamas policeman on the other side, imploring them for passage. Tempers flared. Women were crying, some simply from exhaustion, some from despair. People were treated like animals, herded behind the gate, policeman prodding and pushing people to clear the way.

Some people explained to me that they were turned away because their name was ‘not on the list.’ When they asked how to get on the list; they did not get an answer.

A British mother, Wesam Farah had come Gaza with her 2 young sons, Qasem and Qayis for her son’s school holiday. They had planned to visit family for three weeks, but they have not been permitted to leave. They have returned to the crossing on a daily basis for the past 2 weeks, their holiday turned to nightmare. Finally she was allowed to cross the gate, but the border patrol still held her family’s passports and she was uncertain they would pass. For the moment, she was relieved just to have some space to breathe.

A small boy caught my eye, as he stood pressed up against the gate. He held his mothers hand and he did not speak. I asked his mother how long they had been waiting. “We have come everyday and waited all day, only to be turned back. We have received no explanation, just told to go back.” She had planned the family visit for years, spending four thousand dollars on airfare for her family. Her departure flight from Cairo was leaving in 2 days. She was uncertain whether she would make it, but didn’t know what to do to rectify the situation. After our interview, the gate opened and as people surged forward, she was allowed to pass. The authorities still held her passport, her fate was still undetermined, but the relief of making one small step brought both tears and laughter.

Rafah Crossing is Open  (a little bit)
I would watch for hours as these 2 mothers ran back and forth, trying to find out where their passports had gone. Dodging in between cars and ambulances crossing back into Gaza, they searched for the men who had taken their documents. Finally, passports in hand, Wesam and her boys loaded their bags into a taxi and departed for the Egyptian side. I lost track of the Ukrainian woman, and could only hope she had managed to get out.

Later last evening after arriving back in Gaza City, we received a call from Wesam. She was back in Gaza. After 6 hours of waiting, the Egyptians turned her back. She was not allowed to pass and was told to return on Saturday and try again.

For the majority of Palestinians leaving Gaza is like a Kafka tale. The fanfare has faded, the misery persists.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Beit Hanoun Jun 7th, 2011

Beit Hanoun March to the Buffer Zone Video
We marched to the buffer zone with about 20 others including members of the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative who have been organizing non-violent demonstrations for the past three years, as well as several members of GYBO (Gaza Youth Break Out). Carrying flags and alternately chanting, singing and walking in silence we approached the Israeli border. This is a no go zone for Palestinians. Israel has deemed that 300 meters from the wall is a buffer zone, so Palestinian farmland is taken away.

Waving flags and chanting we reached the edge of the buffer zone and continued walking. Almost immediately, dust kicked up just ahead of us, a warning shot rang out. We stopped, daring to go no further. Climbing a small embankment we waved our Palestinian flags and chanted to the soldiers hidden in the guard towers. Not five minutes passed and 2 shots rang out, one kicking up dust at our feet. 19 year old Mohammed Kafarna grabbed his neck, turned, and ran back in the direction we had come. He had been hit with shrapnel.

That effectively ended the demonstration; we turned and headed back toward the village. I was stunned that two dozen people could pose such a threat to Israel that the army would resort to using live rounds of ammunition against us. Of course, we were not a physical threat, I imagine the Israeli soldiers laughed at us as we turned and headed back. But non-violent demonstrations do cause a threat, especially when people walk to the wall and demand access to their land, their olive trees, their resources, and their homes. Israel has only one method to disperse non-violent demonstrators and that is through violent repression.

We often hear of Israel’s need for security, yet the people of Gaza are under occupation by the state of Israel and no one utters a word about their security. For years Palestinians have been killed with impunity, always with the words “Israel has a right to security.” Over the weekend after dozens of unarmed protesters were killed by Israeli forces in the Golan, Netanyahu declared, ‘Unfortunately, extremist forces around us are trying today to breach our borders and threaten our communities and our citizens. We will not let them do that’. The Israeli military said troops fired warning shots into the air after people started approaching the border fence, then issued verbal warnings to protesters to stay away. After some of the protesters reached the fence, soldiers opened fire, ‘with precision’, at their legs. Amongst the dead was a 24 year old woman Enis Shriteh, a fourth year English student. There was no explanation on how she got confused with ‘extremist elements’. There was no explanation of how shots to demonstrator’s legs killed her. There was no questioning of Israeli statements at all. Enis Shriteh’s death did not warrant mention in the mainstream press.

Certainly no one in our group was an extremist, nor were we a threat, merely Palestinian youth and international supporters trying to reach Palestinian land. There is no denying this: Gaza is a jail and Israeli soldiers are the jailers. Imprisoned without charges, the people of Gaza are trapped. Israel would have the world believe they are beneficent and kindly jailers, desperately seeking peace. This is a lie. Gaza is under siege.

You don't believe me? Come, we'll walk with the people of Beit Hanoun down to the buffer zone.

See my first video ever at:
(Weekly Beit Hanoun non-violent demonstration met with live gunfire, shrapnel injury)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

First Impressions of Gaza:

Gaza Rising

The port is quiet. Fishing boats sit empty,
tossed along the shore.
A blood red sun sets.
Waves painting the shore whisper freedom.
But the gunboats, out of sight,
are not far. No, they are not far.
Bending toward justice,
the youth rise up to meet the waves.
Tomorrow is a new day. And gunboats
can not stop the rising tide.
Gaza rising, a new day.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Shared Values, Ironclad Security and Incredible Hypocrisy.

President Obama gave a Middle East policy speech at the State Department on May 19th, followed by an address to the AIPAC convention on May 22, 2011. The rhetorical flourishes were beautiful, but the chasm between the President’s rhetoric and the actions of the United States in the Middle East is both disheartening and heartbreaking.

President Obama spoke of the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israeli security. Without any background on the current situation in the Middle East and particularly in Israel and the Occupied Territories, one would never know that Israel has the 5th largest military in the world and the only arsenal of nuclear weapons in the region. One would be hard pressed to know that during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in Dec 2008, 400 Palestinian civilians died for each Israeli civilian killed.

Obama at AIPAC:
‘America’s commitment to Israel’s security also flows from a deeper place —and that’s the values we share. As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers fought must be the work of every generation. As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedom we cherish must be constantly nurtured.’

President Obama failed to recognize the fact that the Palestinian people also find themselves struggling to win their freedom against overwhelming odds- with both Israel and the United States aligned against them. He also fails to mention that the liberties and freedoms we cherish are denied Arabs in Israel as well as the West Bank and Gaza.

Obama at the State Dept:
‘There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.’

Perhaps better words than ‘decades of accepting’ would be ‘decades of enabling’ as America’s policies in the region kept despots in power and people oppressed. Our President fails to recognize that the Palestinian people have a stake in the Arab Spring and they will continue their struggle for self-determination, dignity, and equal rights, with or without the support of the United States.

Obama at the State Dept:
Speaking of the events in Tunisia that sparked the revolution, our President said, ‘It is the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world – the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens' dignity.’

There was no mention of the Israeli military checkpoints in Hebron where males as young as 10 years old are made to lift their shirts before they pass, or the demolition of countless Palestinian homes for the lack of an Israeli permit.

Obama at the State Dept:
‘The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.’

Again our President doesn’t include Haifa or Jerusalem where Arabs are 2nd class citizens, he does not mention the web of roads for Israelis only in the West Bank, nor does he mention any of the unrecognized towns under demolition orders in the Negev. He does not include Ramallah, Bethlehem, Bi’Lin or Gaza City. Surely this was an act of omission, a mere oversight. Of course he recognizes that Palestinians, whether citizens of Israel or citizens of the Occupied Territories should be afforded the same ‘universal’ rights?

Obama at the State Dept:
‘Let’s remember that the first peaceful protests in the region were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran. The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory.'

Is President Obama unaware that the Palestinians have been demonstrating peacefully against the Separation Wall, the illegal appropriation of their land and resources, the illegal checkpoints and other abuses of the Israeli state for many years? It is unfortunate that the image of 11 year old Muhammad al-Durrah, dying in his father’s arms, gunned down by “the most moral army in the world” is not seared in his memory. It is unfortunate that the image of the al-Samouni family, 29 persons in all, killed by the IDF in Gaza during “Cast Lead” is not seared in his memory. It is unfortunate that the image of a young American woman, Rachel Corrie, run down by an Israeli bulldozer, is not seared in his memory.

Obama at the State Dept:
‘The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.’

‘The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests. It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests. So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet represses its own people at home.’

Syria should be called out for its abuses as well as Libya… But why are the Libyans who have declared violence against Gaddafi and taken up arms considered freedom fighters and Palestinian youth who have taken up stones called terrorists? And why was there no mention of the gunning down of peaceful protesters on Israel’s borders just 4 days earlier? The Iranian regime doesn’t have a monopoly on hypocrisy in the region.

Obama at AIPAC:
‘As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.’

If only the statement that ‘Israel must be able to defend itself- by itself’ meant that the United States was ending the $3 billion in military support we provide on a yearly basis, but I’m afraid not.

We have heard continuously about Israel’s security. Not once in the past week did President Obama speak of security for Palestinians. This is a reflection of Israeli propaganda, which blames every civilian death on the victims themselves. Often they are described as human shields. Always their deaths are blamed on ‘terrorists’.

This propaganda directly contradicts the Israeli military concept known as the ‘Dahiya doctrine’, formulated during the Lebanon war. This military doctrine views disproportionate destruction and creating maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve military and political goals. Major General Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli Northern Command chief, expressed the premise of the doctrine: ‘What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. […] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. […] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.’

In his Middle East policy speech our President spoke of freedom, non-violence and democracy. In his AIPAC speech he failed to mention these concepts, but clarified America’s ironclad commitment to a secure Israel, a commitment that comes in the form of weapons used to oppress the Palestinian people.

President Obama states that every state has a right to self-defense. In the next sentence he states that a Palestinian state will be denied this right in order to secure Israel.

The status quo remains. It is business as usual for Israel, the President and the United States, Arab Spring be damned.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why I’m going to Gaza.

Every time I hear American journalists use words like “storming”, “rioting”, “infiltrating” and “terror, terrorism and terrorist” in describing Palestinian protesters marching with flags, or youth throwing stones at tanks, APC’s, and soldiers armed with American weapons, I vow to support those who march for their dignity and resist the theft of their lands and resources.

Every time I read that Palestinian youth throwing stones are met with Israeli soldiers firing teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition, and now, using attack dogs, I vow to support the youth being shot and mauled.

Every time Israeli soldiers kill a child and our country declares Israel has a right to defend itself, I vow to stand with the children.

Every time America proclaims that people have a right to freedom, and my country acquiesces as non-violent Palestinian activists are shot, I vow to stand with the activists.

Every time America lashes out at China and other countries for the illegal detention of dissidents yet remain mute regarding the thousands of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons, (including over 300 children), I vow to stand with the prisoners.

Every time I hear our Congress pushing resolutions that deny the Palestinians their rights and blame them for their plight, I vow to stand by the oppressed.

Every time I hear our representatives veto resolutions at the UN aimed to hold Israel accountable, I vow to stand with those denied a voice.

Every time I hear Netanyahu proclaim that non-violent Palestinian protesters are intent on “destroying Israel”, and my country stands mute, I declare that my voice will be heard.

Every time I hear someone deny the Nakba (which continues to this day in the Jordan valley and throughout the West Bank) and deny the rights of Palestinians the very same rights we claim are “universal” for others- the right to security, the right to self-determination, the right to land and resources, the right to medical care, the very right “to exist”, I vow to support the Palestinian people in securing these rights.

Every time an innocent dies for the rights and freedoms I take for granted, I vow to stand up in the face of oppression.

Every time I am called an anti-Semite or a “supporter of terror”, I vow to speak the truth to what I witness.

Every time I hear a new war crime charge against “our enemy” while the United States and “our friend” kills with impunity, I vow to stand for justice.

This spring I will join with others on the “Audacity of Hope” the American flagged ship sailing to Gaza to break the illegal siege and bring relief and aid to Gaza’s people. For those of you who would like voice your support, the US to Gaza organizers are soliciting letters of support for the Gazan people as well as donations to fund our trip. You can read more about this effort at

If you wish to support me in my efforts, donate what you will.