Friday, December 28, 2012

The Deep Wound of Wounded Knee

December 29th marks the 122nd anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee. It is a story that remains fresh in the lives of many indigenous peoples across America. Each generation is taught to never forget.
In 1891, reviewing the history leading up to the massacre, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas Morgan said,
“It is hard to overestimate the magnitude of the calamity which happened to the Sioux people by the sudden disappearance of the buffalo. The boundless range was to be abandoned for the circumscribed reservation, and abundance of plenty to be supplanted by limited and decreasing government subsistence and supplies. Under these circumstances it is not in human nature not to be discontented and restless, even turbulent and violent.”
Commissioner Morgan was not empathetic about the plight of the indigenous people. He was just stating facts. One year prior to the massacre, in Oct 1889, he issued a policy paper stating his convictions regarding the native population.
“The Indians must conform to "the white man’s ways," peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must. They must adjust themselves to their environment, and conform their mode of living substantially to our civilization. This civilization may not be the best possible, but it is the best the Indians can get. They cannot escape it, and must either conform to it or be crushed by it. The tribal relations should be broken up, socialism destroyed, and the family and the autonomy of the individual substituted.”
The Wounded Knee Massacre is still commonly depicted as a “battle” that no one can be blamed for, but if blame is assigned it is always made clear that a Lakota fired the first shot. This is the justification for all that followed. A century after the murders, Congress issued an apology, expressing “deep regret” for the events on that day in 1890 when upwards of 370 men, women, and children were gunned down as they fled for their lives. But the Wounded Knee Massacre was not an anomaly, nor was it an accident. Wounded Knee is the entire history of indigenous peoples relationship with Imperialism made manifest in a single event.

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.” Black Elk.

The descendants of the victims commemorate the massacre in order to honor those who have fallen and to foster healing of their still devastated communities. The descendants of the perpetrators ignore inflicting the wound and the wound festers.

From Wounded Knee, where just days after the massacre a young newspaper editor named Frank Baum (later to become famous for the children’s story “The Wizard of Oz”) opined, “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.“

To Vietnam, where Lyndon Johnson’s call to win hearts and minds of the civilian population was corrupted by GI’s to, "When you have them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow."

To Iraq, where Madeline Albright was asked if the deaths of ½ million children during sanctions was worth it, she replied "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it."

To Gaza, where Dov Weisglass said, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

To Iran where a new sanctions regime is in place and the state department claims, “The sanctions are beginning to bite,” and dozens of places in between, the wound festers.

In each case, the power with the superior military claims that the occupied and oppressed are dangerous and threaten the very existence of the state, even as the state starves the population, restricts their every move and denies them the most basic rights under the guise of “security”.  All attempts by the “enemy” to seek peace are ignored or derided as “lies” while the theft of land and/or resources continue unabated. Each time the oppressed demand their rights or dare to strike back against their oppressors, the oppressor claims that the people are motivated by hate and seek the annihilation of the state. Negotiations are viewed as a sign of weakness and are rarely pursued unless they can be used as a tool to further oppression. The oppressors continually talk about “pursuing peace” as they systematically destroy any and all opposition.

We kill by starvation, we kill by denying medicine, and we kill by isolation. When that doesn’t silence dissent of the “malcontents” we do not hesitate to kill with bullets and bombs. Remember Commissioner Morgan’s words, “This civilization may not be the best possible, but it is the best they can get. They cannot escape it, and must either conform to it or be crushed by it.”

One day we too will be crushed by this flawed concept of civilization.

The Dahiya doctrine is a military strategy in which the Israeli army deliberately targets civilian infrastructure as a means of inducing suffering on the civilian population, making it so difficult to survive that fighting back or resisting occupation are no longer practical, thereby establishing deterrence. The doctrine is named after a southern suburb in Beirut with large apartment blocks. Israeli bombs flattened the entire neighborhood during the 2006 Lebanon War. But this doctrine is not a modern strategy for controlling populations. Nor is putting the people of Gaza on a “diet” new- subjugating an entire population through a combination of poverty, malnutrition, a struggle over limited resources, and violence is the American way, adopted by our closest allies, (and “the only democracy in the Middle East,” with the “most moral army in the world,”) the Israelis.

Dec 27th marks the 4th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, (the name derives from a popular Hannukah children’s song about a dreidel made from cast lead.) During this attack on Gaza, 1,417 people were killed (330 children), 4336 were wounded. 6,400 homes were destroyed. Hospitals, mosques, the power plant, and the sewage system were deliberately targeted.

Israel accuses Hamas of war crimes for shooting rockets without guidance systems indiscriminately into Israel. Israeli officials claim that “Hamas hides behind civilians” as a justification to bomb civilian population centers and infrastructure. Killing civilians in Gaza using precision munitions, is a war crime, no matter who is hiding behind them.

After the recent killing of 20 children in a Newtown, Connecticut grade school, President Obama, wiping tears from his eyes said,

This is our first task -- caring for our children.  It’s our first job.  If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.  That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations?“

The just completed eight-day Israeli operation against Gaza called the Pillar of Cloud (The name is derived from a Biblical passage) saw three generations of the al-Dalu family wiped out in a single bombing, including 4 children between the ages of 1 and 7 years old. The surviving son does not speak of surrender, relinquishing the families land, or disappearing. He demands justice. His tears are mixed with fury. Can he be blamed?

As the ceasefire went in to effect there was one consistent message from the people of Gaza. We are here. This is our home. We will never leave. They will have to kill every one of us.

Upon cessation of the bombing, our Congress immediately voted to replenish Israel’s bombs and munitions in order for Israel to “protect itself”. The wound festers.

In his speech the President went on to say,

“If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try.” 

Wounded Knee has not disappeared. The Lakota people remain. Gaza has not disappeared. The Palestinian people remain. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia people grieve for the loss of their children. The violence wrought upon them in our name continues.  If we can take one step to save another child, we have an obligation to try.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Expendible Lives

Children are killed. 20 by a man in a school in a small, "peaceful" community in Connecticut. 35 in Gaza, a place wracked by violence; a place where violence is openly advocated by Pres Obama, the administration, the Congress, & many Americans; a place where American bombs, bullets, helicopters and bombers do much of the damage. (Never mind a decade in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and American intervention in so many places that it boggles one's mind.)

In both cases the essential elements are the same. Children are murdered in an act of unspeakable violence. In one case it is an outrage, there is lots of hand wringing and questions of, "How it could possibly happen here?" In the other it is acceptable, met with barely a shrug of the shoulders, or maybe, in an act of appeasement, a call for "restraint".

i would like to call on the next mass murderer in the United States to show a little restraint.

The only difference between the 2 incidents is the fantasies we wrap around them with our minds. When these fantasies don't align with the culture, we label it "mental illness".

But what do we call it when the culture itself is so diseased that immorality is the norm, when killing children is acceptable? This has been the culture of America for generations. The unspoken agreement is this: Certain children, in America and in the world, are simply not worthy of our concern or our care. They are expendable for an idea.

Banning guns will not cure this disease.

In this picture, M Basyouni stands above the hole where shrapnel entered the bedroom and decapitated his 8 year old son in his sleep. Gaza Nov 2012.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Tear for Sandy Hook, None for Gaza

Gaza, Palestine; Dec 2012. A bomb landed in an olive grove 100 meters from this child's home. An 8 year-old child living across the road from the grove was killed as well as a teenage boy in the house down the street.

The president shed no tears.

The U.S. Department of Defense stated this week that it will now replenish all of the munitions used by Israel in its recent eight day siege on Gaza, which lead to the deaths of over 180 Palestinians and hundreds of injuries—a large portion being children. Congress is expected to approve the deal this week.

This should be considered as we mourn and listen to politicians and pundits in the coming hours, days, and weeks.

This child lives in Gaza. Her mother was wounded in the last Israeli attack. By replenishing of all the bombs, mortars, and bullets most recently used against Gaza by Israel, we insure another attack at a future date.

President Obama shed a tear today for the children of Sandy Hook. 

i wonder if he has ever shed a tear for the children of Gaza, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Somalia, or Syria, or Libya, or Pakistan, or Yemen, or any of the myriad other places we have sold weapons to or bombed ourselves.

One day, maybe one day, we will see our contribution to the mass killings happening in this country with fresh eyes. Only then will our path turn from darkness to light. Only then can we consider peace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fares was the Generator

Fares Al-Basyouni was 8 years old. At 10:30 pm on Fri. 16 Nov. 2012 an Israeli warplane bombarded an olive grove in the east of Beit Hanoun adjacent to Fares' home. Shrapnel, traveling approximately 100 meters, went through the wall of the home and decapitated Fares as he slept with his brothers and sisters. We visited with the family on 01 Dec 2012. Please take 20 minutes to view this unedited video and take just 1 minute to put yourself in the place of Fares' parents.

Friday, December 07, 2012

No Country Would Tolerate Missiles

Walid al Nassasra and two of his daughters stand staring into the pit where his brothers sheet-metal roofed, cinder-block home stood until it was hit in a pin-point strike with a precision guided bomb from an F-16 fighter jet (provided by the United States) on 19 Nov 2012 at 10 pm as the family slept. If not for the clothes and bedding strewn about, it would be  difficult to tell that a home once stood here. His brother Taqwfiq, like Walid, is a farmer. Their family has been farming in the Rafah area for 35 years. They are poor people, scratching out a living on a small plot of land. As we sat and talked with Walid, Israeli F-16's roared across the sky.
His brother as well as a 12 year old nephew remains hospitalized, the nephew is in the ICU with skull and hip fractures. His sister-in-law is blind after her head and upper body was severely burned.

His 4 year-old niece suffers severe burns and a fractured leg stabilized by an external fixation device. In this kind of reduction, holes are drilled into uninjured areas of bones around the fracture and special bolts or wires are screwed into the holes. Outside the body, a rod or a curved piece of metal with special ball-and-socket joints joins the bolts to make a rigid support. The fracture can be set in the proper anatomical configuration by adjusting the ball-and-socket joints. Since the bolts pierce the skin, proper cleaning to prevent infection at the site of surgery must be performed. Yes, i said his niece is 4 years old. She has been released to the home. They bring her to us to show us her damaged body, her face covered in burns, her leg with eight metal screws holding it together. She is crying.  All 9 surviving members of the family were injured in the blast.
2 nephews, Ahmed and Mohamed, were killed. (Yes, every Martyr, innocent civilian, and resistance fighter here has a name. Everyone killed here has family left behind who grieves for them. Everyone.)

There was no warning given. No calls, no leaflets, no roof tapping. Just an enormous explosion in the night that made Walid think his house was bombed, eighty meters away, as all the windows exploded and the walls rattled.

When Walid was asked what he would say to the people of the U.S., he said, "The American people already received our message. During Cast Lead the American people saw that the majority of the martyrs and injuries were civilians, and they didn't do anything. They deal with Israel as if it is a state in America."  

President Obama said, "There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders." We supply the planes, we supply the bombs, we supply the vetoes at the UN Security Council that gives cover to these crimes. We as Americans are complicit. The question is, "How much longer will we tolerate it?"

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Message

In Gaza. Here it is so easy to find anger. i denounce the enemy, and wonder what i am capable of. Yesterday a man told me, “I am a rocket without a base.” He raged against the injustice of it all. He was not wrong. It is easy to choose sides, factions, and flags. i consider victory. i'm lost in confusion. I stand in the rubble of broken houses and broken lives and i am ready to utter the words "i hate". Then a love sends a message and it breaks through the swirling clouds that surround me. i stand on the barricades as the sea crashes on the rocks. i find my ease, i smile and i hold everything, even my false distinctions, close.

Do you know what it is like to have such a friend? If not, maybe, just maybe, i can be that friend.

Huang Po

Give up those erroneous thoughts leading to false distinctions! There is no 'self' and no 'other.' There is no 'wrong desire,' no 'anger,' no 'hatred,' no 'love,' no 'victory,' no 'failure.' Only renounce the error of intellectual or conceptual thought-processes and your nature will exhibit its pristine purity--for this alone is the way to attain Enlightenment, to observe the Dharma, to become a Buddha and all the rest. Unless you understand this, the whole of your great learning, your painful efforts to advance, your austerities of diet and clothing, will not help you to a knowledge of your own Mind. All such practices must be termed fallacious, for any of them will lead to your rebirth among 'demons'--enemies of the truth--or among the crude nature spirits. What end is served by pursuits of those? Chih Kung says: 'Our bodies are the creations of our own minds.' But how can one expect to gain such knowledge from books? If only you could comprehend the nature of your own Mind and put an end to discriminatory thought, there would naturally be no room for even a grain of error to arise.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Tonight I am Confused

I have been in Gaza for five days now and I am having difficulty understanding the 8-day war and the subsequent ceasefire. Let me explain the difficulty I am having. The Israeli Offensive Forces insist they protect civilians in Gaza, only targeting terrorists. They have several methods to protect innocent civilians. One method is to call the civilians on the phone, another method is to drop leaflets telling them to flee for their lives, as an attack is imminent. During the latest offensive, Israeli dropped leaflets in the rural areas telling people to flee to the city. In Gaza City, leaflets were dropped warning people to flee to the rural areas. A new, ingenious method they use to protect civilians is to drop ‘loud, non-lethal bombs’ on a home as a warning for the inhabitants as to what will come. They even have a name for this warning. They call it ‘roof tapping’. Then anywhere from 3 minutes to 20 minutes pass before they bomb the house from F-16’s. These bombs are a very large and very lethal. The homes I have seen today have been completely flattened, and the houses around the target are also rendered uninhabitable.

Youth look out at remains of a destroyed home in Jabalya Camp.
The ‘non-lethal bombs’ penetrate rooftops and can travel through 4 stories. Children or other civilians sitting under these bombs lose limbs, suffer head trauma, shrapnel wounds, and other injuries. The idea behind these warnings is that inhabitants will flee their homes once they are warned. If elders, small children, newborns, or disabled people are in the home, this can be a difficult endeavor. If a child suffers an amputation, fleeing will take a little more precious time. But lets ignore these complications as they just muddy the waters. I am amazed at the generosity of the Israeli occupiers. You see, they are the “Most moral army in the world,” everyone knows this. The generals and politicians have been saying this for decades!

But this is my consternation. If you are so bent on protecting civilians and killing ‘terrorists’ why warn civilians to leave? Do they think the terrorists, who everyone knows hide behind civilians, will remain behind after the warning?

An even more confounding question remains. Why flatten an empty home?

After the most recent ceasefire agreement, it was stated that farmers would be able to reach their lands in the buffer zone that Israel established after they so generously abandoned their illegal settlements in Gaza. The farmers were thrilled that they would be able to farm on the 300-meter swath of land known as the buffer zone- better known here in Gaza as the no go zone, because if they dared try to access this land they were immediately targeted by Israeli snipers, but I digress.

On Wednesday we accompanied farmers to the buffer zone in Johr el Deek. It was amazing! We walked right up to the razor wire barrier! We watched as 2 Israeli jeeps approached the fence. I was smiling as they got out of their jeeps, but my smile was erased as they lifted their weapons and fired toward us. Of course, they didn’t shoot us, the ceasefire was in effect for an entire week! I was confused though, as they lobbed tear gas canisters at us, and continued firing over our heads as we retreated. Perhaps the soldiers were as confused as I was about the details of the agreement. After all, unfettered access to the land is a little vague. Perhaps the farmers misunderstood.

The fishermen faced a similar dilemma. After the ceasefire was announced, the fishermen were told that Israel, in it’s magnanimity, would allow the fishermen to fish in Gazan waters up to 6 nautical miles from the shore. This was double, (yes double!) the limit that has been in effect for the past 6 years. The fishermen were happy. They would have an opportunity to provide for their families. Never mind that the Oslo Accords stated fishermen would have access to 20 nautical miles of the sea. That was way back in 1993. Who could expect agreements so old to be respected now?

The fishermen I spoke with said they had access to the 6-mile limit for two whole days. Two days of fishing without risking their lives to feed their kids! It was great. So I was astonished to learn that on Wednesday, exactly one week after the ceasefire agreement, numerous fishing boats, in waters from 3 nautical miles to 6 nautical miles came under heavy attack by the Israeli Navy. One boat was sunk, 3 boats had their engines destroyed by gunfire, one trawler was confiscated and 9 fishermen were arrested. Of course, the Israeli officers made sure the fishermen stripped and jumped into the sea before they sunk the boat. They were safely in custody on the Israeli gunboat before the Israeli Navy blasted the fishing boat to smithereens.

The fishermen received no warnings. Of course everyone realizes that cell phones don’t work so far from shore and dropping leaflets would be impractical as most of the leaflets would fall into the water. And even I know ‘roof tapping’ at sea would be way too dangerous, as the possibility of harming the civilian fishermen would be high.

The best approach is to simply start firing from hundreds of meters away as the gunboats accelerate toward the fishing trawlers. This gives the fishermen at least 3 minutes to pull up their nets and escape back to port. I am not certain what changed on the third day for these fishermen, but few fish were caught.

We also visited the homes of 2 children who were killed. One was 15 year old, Hassan Jamal Nasser. The other child was 9-year old Fares al-Basyouni. Both were killed in their homes as they slept.

Fares' father stands near the spot where his son was killed.
Shrapnel that penetrated the wall decapitated Fares. His father described the horrific scene. ‘We didn’t hear the bombs. We woke to the sound of windows shattering and the house shaking. The house was full of smoke. My daughters and sons were screaming as I moved from room to room to find them.’ Fare’s lifeless torso landed on top of his 14-year old brother, who ran screaming from the house into the night.

I thought this was impossible- didn’t they receive the warnings? Hassan’s cousin Mohammed confirmed leaflets fell from the sky 20 minutes after the attack. So, you see, they were warned.

One thing is certain. Israel has a right to defend itself. President Obama said, ‘There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.’ I agree with this wholeheartedly, who can deny it? I also understand that Israel has to teach its enemies a lesson from time to time, and I imagine the sooner the better. They certainly don’t want the people of Gaza to imagine what it must be like to be free, this would only encourage the terrorists.

So you see my dilemma. What I read in the corporate media and what I hear from my government and Israeli politicians doesn’t quite square with the eyewitness accounts on the ground. Maybe the IOF can drop some leaflets and set me straight.