Saturday, March 30, 2013

In Honor of Mahmud Zagout

Thirty-seven years after the first Land Day demonstrations, Israel continues its expropriation and colonization of Palestinian land. Israel continues to expand its illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, forcing Palestinians from their land. Palestinians also face dispossession and displacement inside Israel.

Last year i was at Erez crossing as Palestinian youth threw stones and attempted to plant the Palestinian flag on the closed gate. Dozens were shot, one was killed by a shot to the neck. Mahmoud Zagout would be 21 years old this spring. His cousin, who was with him that day and carried his limp body from the front, said to me, "Mahmoud could not place the flag at the gate. I will. Or my children will. We will continue to resist until we win our rights. Mahmoud’s blood will not be wasted. Hundreds will take his place. We will fight for our rights, for our children, we will fight until we get our land back.”

“The occupiers want us to forget about our land, and about Jerusalem, by turning our focus on our troubles- no jobs, no cooking fuel, no power, no gasoline, but we will not forget. My family is a family of resistance. My uncles have been killed, they’ve been to prison. They died for Jerusalem. Everyone around you here may die for Jerusalem. We are proud to do this.”

Today is Land Day in Palestine. 37 years and youth are still being killed as they fight for freedom. How many youth will die today, resisting to live?

Mahmoud's cousin, Nazir

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Third Day of Spring, 2013 (#2)

This morning in the news, there is a photo of a man set on fire in Egypt and an entire neighborhood in Burma burning. Man's inhumanity is neverending. As the sun rose a mourning dove perched on the fire escape and sang to me. The whole world is burning. i am beyond talking about winning and victory. What we all need, each and every one, is the ability to surrender. Surrender into our brother’s arms and declare, "i wish to live in peace."

The Third Day of Spring, 2013

Tragedy everywhere, ongoing thru time. In the moment, peace arises. On the fire escape a mourning dove coos. The sun, a fiery orange, illuminates the street. A man is set on fire in Egypt. A community burns in Burma. Ashes to ashes, but by my brother’s hand? Screams of all the victims echo across the universe, they settle in my heart. i've heard said, "My religion is kindness." To live that, in the mayhem of this life, means it is time for me to begin work. (It is always time for me to begin this work, and i begin again.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

10 Years on i Remember

10 years on.

i remember peaceful people failed to stop the crime perpetrated on the Iraqi people by my government. One day justice will be served on those who lied and manipulated us into war.


i wrote this 10 years ago today, just 1 mo after returning from Iraq with Voices and CPT. In the ensuing years, millions marched to no avail. i often wonder about the hotel clerk, and i dread to think of the life he has led over these 10 terrible years.

March 19, 2003

The people of Iraq are caught in a trap. Two overwhelming powers approach
from opposite sides. Like an animal in a steel trap, they gnaw at their own
leg, hoping somehow for freedom, even at the cost of a limb. They watch as
the smiling hunter approaches, singing songs of freedom, singing songs of
righteousness. They hear the words, "In God we trust," and "God bless

The clerk looks up and welcomes me "home" with graciousness and a smile
each time I enter the hotel. Since we have arrived in Baghdad, this man
has been kind to me, patient with my inability to speak Arabic, concerned
whether I had a good day or a bad day. He has a deep and abiding sadness
in his eyes.

Tonight, he asks, "John, what do you think about this war?" I explain that I
think it is immoral and a tragedy of enormous proportions. "Why did you
come?" he asks. I tell him I want to support my Iraqi friends and stand in
opposition to my government. I came to Iraq because he is not my enemy, but
my brother. He says, "You are better even than us. We do nothing. You come
here to help. We can do nothing, do you understand?"

"My family is here in Baghdad. My father, my brothers. Do you know I go home
each night and I just sit. I only think of one thing: 'What am I to do? War
is coming, What am I to do?' That's it. Tomorrow, the next day, I can do
nothing. I just sit. My brothers, my father, the same."

I look deeply into his eyes. Days, months, years, in this trap. "Why this
war?" he asks. I cannot answer. I want to console him, but I cannot. I want
to hold him like my child, and tell him it will be all right, but it will
not be all right.

"Thank you and your friends for being here, you have good hearts", he says.
He puts his hand over his heart--a common gesture here in Iraq. It is a
reminder for me. For a moment we stand across from each other, holding our
hearts, holding our anguish. We both begin to cry. When I can bear it no
longer, I turn and head for the lift.

The people of Iraq are caught in a trap. They watch as the smiling hunter
approaches, singing songs of freedom, and singing songs of righteousness.
Then they notice the look in the eye. The smile is not for them. The hunter
merely appreciates the prey. He is thinking he will end it quickly and go
home with his prize. The songs are not for them. In the eyes of the
approaching power freedom, democracy, and security is only for a select
group. As the prey looks up in a final plea for mercy, this truth becomes
self evident.

Among the Date Trees

On the anniversary of the start of the Iraq bombing and invasion, i dug out a piece i wrote 10 years ago when i was in Iraq with CPT and Voices.

Feb 7, 2003 -- Sitting in the shade of the palm trees, drinking fresh orange
juice, our hosts encourage us to eat more, drink more, enjoy the sun, enjoy
the company. The children are curious, our hosts relaxed. As the threat of
war looms like a firestorm on the horizon, here on this small fruit farm
the threat seems distant. The feeling is surreal. One of the boys sits next
to me and rests his head on my thigh. I love this child, who honors me with
his trust. More dates arrive, and cakes. But where, I wonder, are my
enemies here beneath the date trees? I feel no divisions here. Looking at
the table, an orange sits next to a grapefruit. Our host points out that
the skin is the same but for the color. Inside the fruit is so different,
but equally nourishing. "This is the greatness of God", he explains. I look
at his hand as he holds the orange, and I look at my hand too.

We take a brief tour of the farm, walking along a narrow path among the
orange, tangerine, and pomegranate trees, the date palms towering above us
swaying gently in the breeze. A boy no more than four picks dandelions as
he tags along (remember picking dandelions when you were just a child? It
has been too long since I have held that innocence, though it is a joy to
behold.) Our host picks oranges and insists that we eat. No is not an
answer, only yes,yes,yes. I recall the soldiers in the West Bank,
destroying olive groves under the guise of security. Where are my enemies?
Are they here amongst the silent trees?

We are invited inside to enjoy a bountiful meal. Our hosts stand behind us,
pulling tender lamb meat from the bones, and filling our bowls. The bowls
are piled high, a feast for guests who come in peace. (The skin is the
same, but for the color. The fruit inside so different, yet equally
nourishing, this is the greatness of God!)

Our leave taking is bittersweet. We place our hands on our hearts, and bow
our heads. We drive off with waves and shouts. Filled and smiling, the
truth is clear. There are no enemies here, just friends, just family. Will
we meet again? Inshallah (God willing), we will meet again, and peace will
fill the air as the date palms gently rock in the breeze.