Friends talking to friends

Very good friends recently shared some advice with me.

“Talk and write more about the mainstream challenges that Palestinians in Gaza face — like climate change, population pressure, water quality and quantity, economic vitality, equity, democracy – rather than as victims because then we could better identify with them as humans facing similar challenges that others face.”

As it stands now, my friends (and probably most Americans) have a difficult time feeling sympathy for the Palestinians in Gaza despite knowing intellectually about their tremendous struggles and difficult circumstances. Their apathy (my word, not theirs) results from a feeling of not being able to make a difference, and so they turn their attention in a different direction.

My friends continue:

“Like it or not, given the sources of information available, we view the Gazans primarily as victims. But we believe that they have brought a portion of their victimhood upon themselves by selecting Hamas as their government. While we can agree that Israel’s oppressive actions are excessive, the Gazans will continue being victims as long as Hamas continues their adversarial role toward Israel. Gaza’s chance for a better future might happen if the Gazans would go to the streets to protest and insist that there should be a fair and free election that might bring a government that has their well being as it’s first priority. We have no idea if this is possible, or if it’s what the Gazan’s really want.  Perhaps we can talk more about this.”

Now I know I really have my work cut out for me … because my friends represent IMHO (in my humble opinion) the cream of the crop of American society. They are highly educated, well-read on the Middle East and politics, world-wide travelers, open-minded and willing to learn.

Yet, they think Hamas is the problem and the Palestinians are partially responsible because they elected Hamas.

There is SO MUCH to say in response. Where do I begin?

My friends have given me a gift.  I’m going to do my best to respond over the next couple of days. I’ll begin — but not end — with this opinion piece published in the Guardian this week.

Judge Hamas on the measures it takes for its people
Ahmed Yousef

It really doesn’t matter what political party you belong to in Palestine because every single one has first to deal with Israeli occupation, settlements, theft and expropriation before it can begin to campaign about public policy on jobs, healthcare and the economy. Despite this stark reality, the question I have faced most frequently since returning to Gaza in 2006 is this: does the Hamas charter, which contains passages deemed offensive to Jewish people, truly represent the movement’s vision and political goals? Diplomats, journalists, academics, parliamentarians and politicians from numerous nations have empathised with Palestinians; yet they all seem to struggle with this document.

The question is understandable given how frequently much of the foreign media refers to it. The reality, however, is that one would be hard pressed to find any member of Hamas who is fully versed in the content of the charter – a treatise that was actually never universally endorsed by the movement. Earnest students of Palestine should consider the context. This was a text written in the early days of the first intifada. Our youth rebelling against the Israeli occupiers needed a rallying cry – a written expression of their resolve. The charter was designed to be that inspirational document and it was never intended to be the governing instrument, the guiding principle or the political vision of the movement.

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Hamas is a Palestinian liberation movement that uses traditional Islamic teaching as its point of reference. Israeli media and many of the western channels that mimic it have far too easily succumbed to the Israeli establishment’s propaganda that the group is akin to al-Qaida and/or a front for Iran and/or a combination thereof. Were pundits to truly scrutinise Hamas’s actions since its inception, they would find not a single official statement or position that is based on denigrating another faith, certainly neither Judaism nor Christianity. Nor can anyone produce a shred of evidence that Hamas formally encourages prejudice against anyone’s ethnicity. And the group has been far more conscious of avoiding civilian casualties than the Israelis. We in Gaza are witnesses to the deaths of scores of our children, while Israeli television has largely been able to parade only the coffins of soldiers.

Hamas is simply a movement resisting occupation and besiegement. The cause of our conflict with the Israelis is their desire to make of us a servile minority or an emigrant memory and they have done nothing that would grant us the dignity of self-determination. Even now, it is the Israelis who issue a Palestinian his or her identity card under the terms of Oslo. Hamas draws inspiration from faith; yet religion has little to do with our struggle. Our faith determines our values, not our platform. What every Palestinian – Muslim or Christian and of every political hue – struggles for is dignity and freedom, for the right to be recognised in our own land, a struggle for our political and economic rights, a struggle for sovereignty and the right to govern ourselves.

Gaza 2014 - credit D. Cormier

Gaza 2014 – credit D. Cormier

Palestinians are no different from any other people around the globe. But we certainly are less capable than the Israelis of manipulating the media. First they rallied the world against communism, then they labeled the nationalists terrorists; and now Islamists are the true villains. Yet look beneath the rhetoric with a just eye and you will discover that we are not fanatics who want to impose beliefs that others don’t share. All we seek is to be given our rightful place among the family of nations.

Scrutinise the manifesto upon which we were elected to govern in 2006 if you really wish to understand the political vision of Hamas, not a charter drawn up decades ago and long forgotten. Sadly we were deprived of the opportunity to implement in full many of the reforms set out in that policy document. Nonetheless our record of government in Gaza, despite the almost impossible circumstances created by the eight-year-old siege, demonstrates our willingness to work for the overall good of society and not just our own supporters. Hamas believes in the democratic process and that is why in 2006 we relinquished the right to govern alone in favour of a broader coalition that would reflect the aspirations of all Palestinians. Unfortunately our proposal was rejected, a fact that seems to have been conveniently overlooked in the desire to demonise our movement as power-seeking fanatics. Again more recently in our wish to move forward and to promote Palestinian reconciliation, we voluntarily handed over power in Gaza to a technocratic government.

When Hamas decided to engage fully in the political process we did not abandon our legal and moral right to resist occupation and the daily Israeli aggression. This we hold in common with many other liberation movements around the world. The price we have paid for this is exclusion by many western countries that at the same time chose to overlook the brutal and illegal actions of our Israeli occupiers. The right of the occupier to purportedly defend itself trumped our right to exist in peace.

We have been condemned for firing home-made rockets in protest at a siege that is aimed at depriving over a million and a half people of the basic necessities of daily life: electricity, clean water, medical drugs and equipment. We are also blocked from importing everyday building, industrial and farming materials necessary to provide jobs and develop a viable economy. Our students and our sick are denied the right to travel for their education and healthcare. The list is endless and yet we are the ones who are condemned. When we enter into ceasefires and our forces impose months of calm despite no change in the status quo, we see no tangible results – the relentless, dehumanising weight of the siege continues unabated. Why, then, is the world surprised when we resist? What people on this planet would sit quietly and allow themselves to bleed out a slow death without fighting for survival?

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Judge Hamas on the measures it takes for its people. Do not rely on the words of a document – the charter – written under entirely different circumstances. Declare it dead, some have said; and yet, to do so would be to succumb to yet another Israeli demand. We do what is right, not what we are told by an occupier. We will continue to resist so long as the injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian people go unaddressed. But we will also continue to look for ways to move forward and to address the core issues of our conflict with the Israelis.

We embraced the ballot box as a way to advance the Palestinian cause in 2006; but despite the democratic mandate we received from our people we were ejected from the political process by a set of preconditions (imposed by the Quartet) that no serious political party would sign up to without prior negotiations. We relinquished our control in Gaza in favour of Palestinian unity in 2014 for the sake of our people. A united Palestinian front is an essential step towards finding a just and durable solution to this conflict; and yet, perhaps, it is this unity that worries the occupier. A divided people, after all, are far easier to subjugate. Hopefully the international community will not be duped again by Israeli hawks and will give the dove a chance to carry the olive branch forward.

Shujaya 9

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Light replaces darkness in Albuquerque

Love and peace overcome hatred in Albuquerque.

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Last week, some nut threw a Molotov cocktail at the Islamic Center of New Mexico. His action was caught on security cameras. He caused minor damage but his hateful message of intolerance spurred an outpouring of love and peace in response.  Within hours, the New Mexico Conference of Churches issued a statement:

“Christians across our state reject such hate-based violence,” said the statement. “We recognize our Muslim brothers and sisters as fellow children of God and as our neighbors whom we are called to love.”

The Los Angeles Times reported on the attack. Check out the KRQE coverage here.

Susan Schuurman, Coordinator at the Albuquerque Peace & Justice Center, put out a call to friends and activists to march to the Islamic Center to show solidarity and support for our Muslim brothers and sisters, thinking maybe 20-30 people might come.

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A number of groups joined her call, including the Albuquerque Chapter of United Nations Association, Jewish Voices for Peace, Stop the War Machine, Stop 30 Billion to Israel, and ANSWER Coalition —- and easily 200 to 300 people appeared to march about 1/2 mile to the Islamic Center.

ISLAM - The message of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad

ISLAM – The message of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad

I was struck by the banner hanging at the entrance of the Islamic Center. I heard this same message from many friends in Gaza – “A good Muslim must embrace the other traditions and prophets.” I wonder what religious tradition, if any, the angry Molotov cocktail terrorist follows.

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Members of the Islamic Center greeted us and then we sat in the courtyard awaiting many others following behind —- old and young —- many carrying candles and flowers.

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I was really pleased to see my UNM Arabic teacher – Christopher Adam – introducing speakers and moderating the short presentations.

Chris Adam moderated the event.

Christopher Adam moderated the event.

Sally McMillan

Sally McMillan

Sally McMillan shared a statement from the Albuquerque Center for Peace & Justice.

As groups and individuals working for peace and justice in Albuquerque and the world, we are deeply concerned and saddened by reports of an attack on the Islamic Center of New Mexico last week, and we send our love and support.

We deplore the prejudices prevalent in our society that lead to such hateful acts, and we pledge to do our best to confront violence and the misconceptions that lead to violence. Many of us have visited your Center and have worked with you in efforts to improve the lives of all people in our community and to show how our common humanity unites us all, both locally and around the world.

We are with you during this time of distress and we offer our help in any way that may ease the pain and educate the community to the blessing that you are among us.

Sister Joan Brown

Sister Joan Brown

Joan Brown, a Catholic Franciscan Sister from Rochester, Minnesota (my hometown) and Executive Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light working to educate the community about climate change, shared the Prayer for the Decade of Nonviolence.

I bow to the sacred in all creation.

May my spirit fill the world with beauty and wonder.

May my mind seek truth with humility and openness.

May my heart forgive without limit.

May my love for friend, enemy and outcast be without measure.

May my needs be few and my living simple.

May my actions bear witness to the suffering of others.

May my hands never harm a living being.

May my steps stay on the journey of justice.

May my tongue speak for those who are poor without fear of the powerful.

May my prayers rise with patient discontent until no child is hungry.

May my life’s work be a passion for peace and nonviolence.

May my soul rejoice in the present moment.

May my imagination overcome death and despair with new possibility.

And may I risk reputation, comfort and security to bring this hope to the children.

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Imam Shafi and Abdul Rahman Emawy (President of the ICNM) each expressed their gratitude for the community’s support. “We are one!” was their message that resonated with me.

Imam Shafi

Imam Shafi

I was very moved by it all and grateful that I live in a community that responds so beautifully with love and compassion. I’m putting Sister Joan’s prayer into my purse to carry with me to Gaza.

Thank you Susan, and to everyone who made this event so meaningful.

Susan Schuurman, Coordinator of the Albuquerque Peace & Justice Center with a volunteer from the Islamic Center of New Mexico

Susan Schuurman, Coordinator of the Albuquerque Peace & Justice Center with a volunteer from the Islamic Center of New Mexico

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The Simple Truth

Imagine you’re a Palestinian. You have every right to resist. In fact, it’s your civil duty. No argument there. The occupied people’s right to resist occupation is secured in natural justice, in the morals of history and in international law.  Read opinion here.

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Filed under Israel, nonviolent resistance, Occupation, Uncategorized, Video

Israel Cashes in on Gaza Reconstruction

Lora Lucero:

What the New York Times (and other mainstream media) fail to report about the recently-concluded Donors conference in Cairo.

Originally posted on TimesWarp:

In a story notable for what it fails to say, The New York Times today tells us that donor nations have pledged $5.4 billion to rebuild Gaza. Although we get some numbers here, the article avoids the big question: Why are other nations asked to pay for Israel’s destruction in the strip this summer?

This is not a new concern. International organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International have called on Israel to make reparations after past attacks, and even the U.S. State Department recently said that Israel should make a material contribution to the rebuilding effort. This year Human Rights Watch has already made a strong statement in support of Israeli reparations.

None of this, however, appears in the Times story by Michael Gordon. In fact, the article avoids mention of Israeli culpability in the massive destruction of Gaza and the deaths of more than…

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Goliath and PEP

The Lensic in Santa Fe holds 821 people but last night I think they must have squeezed in a few more to hear Amy Goodman (Democracy Now) and Max Blumenthal. I only got in because my friend had the foresight to pick up tickets early. If you missed out, I think the program will be available online next Sunday — check here.

Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, NM

Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, NM

The focus of the evening was Max Blumenthal’s new book — GOLIATH: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel — Nation Books (2013). Unlike his earlier book — REPUBLICAN GOMORRAH: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party — which received a boatload of attention from media and talk show hosts, this time the reception in the U.S. has been silence. Amy Goodman interviewed him about his book here and here, but you might be hard-pressed to find any other interviews.

Why the silent treatment, even from some of the “liberal” and “progressive” media? Blumenthal shared PEP with the audience, an acronym I first heard this summer, “Progressive Except Palestine.” I’ve used PEP to describe several Facebook friends who, needless to say, have chosen no longer to be Facebook friends!

I’ve never understood how many self-described “progressives” can have a blind spot when it comes to Israel-Palestine. Last night, I think I came up with an explanation.

Blumenthal described what he witnessed in the Gaza Strip during a ceasefire in Israel’s 51-day assault (“Operation Protective Edge”) this past summer.  I’m still scratching my head, trying to understand how he managed to get into Gaza through the Erez Crossing.

Max Blumenthal, author of GOLIATH

Max Blumenthal, author of GOLIATH

In addition to reciting facts and figures, many Arabic and Israeli names rolled easily off his tongue, as if they were neighbors or good friends. The Gaza fishermen who took him out on the sea one night. Max Steinberg, a Jewish jihadist from Los Angeles, who joined the elite Golani Brigade in Israel and died in Gaza this summer. The men in Gaza who served Blumenthal tea while standing in front of a pile of rubble, their destroyed homes. He mentioned Refaat Alareer by name — a university professor in Gaza and Editor of Gaza Writes Back — and I decided right there and then that I would ask Blumenthal to autograph a book for Refaat which I plan to deliver when I return to Gaza.

Max Blumenthal and Amy Goodman

Max Blumenthal and Amy Goodman

Blumenthal spent 4 years researching Goliath. About the research, he says:

Thanks to my U.S. passport and Jewish heritage, I have been able to report from the frontiers of Israel-Palestine with relative ease, receiving favorable treatment from ethnic profiling experts at Ben Gurion International Airport, passing effortlessly through checkpoints, and cruising from the West Bank to Tel Aviv on highways made off limits to most Palestinians. I spent months living in Ajami, a rapidly gentrifying Palestinian ghetto just south of Tel Aviv; in central Jerusalem, an increasingly frenetic hotbed of Jewish religious nationalism; and in Ramallah, the occupied, seemingly prosperous capital of a Palestinian state that may never be. I have interviewed leaders of Israeli political parties and leaders of Palestinian protests…These are the stories of people living under a regime of separation, grappling with the consequences of ethnic division in a land with no defined borders.

Imagine 89 families (entire families) wiped out or “liquidated” by the Israeli military this summer. Blumenthal says that raises the question of of genocide. I would agree.

He just returned from the Russell Tribunal, the People’s Tribunal, earlier this month where he presented testimony about possible war crimes. Listen to some of the horrific stories he heard in Gaza. (15 minutes)

Max Blumenthal came under fire from liberal Zionists for portraying Israel in such a critical manner, but Operation Protective Edge has proven him right, and now those liberal Zionists have nothing to say. The reality of Israel today is much worse than what he describes in Goliath.

“The mask is off” Israel now and Blumenthal believes there has been a “massive shift in public opinion in the U.S.”  There are now more Jewish Voices for Peace chapters on university campuses in the United States than there are J Street chapters, whose members have been moving to JVP in droves.

When asked by a member of the audience to speak about AIPAC, Blumenthal acknowledged it was the second most powerful lobby (after the NRA) in the U.S. but it has no base; it’s top heavy and buys off the the elites.

Max Blumenthal  autographing book for Refaat Alareer

Max Blumenthal autographing book for Refaat Alareer

Blumenthal is a great story-teller (on paper and in person) and his descriptions of Shu’jaya and Rafah and Gaza City drew me back to my Palestinian friends with both great sadness and joy because his experience mirrored so many of my experiences when I lived there.

The evening’s take-away message for me — the one I don’t want to forget — is that there is no hope of reforming the State of Israel or ending the military occupation from the inside. Israel has moved so far to the right politically, and Israelis have been so isolated from Palestinians, that Blumenthal believes they’re preparing for a permanent occupation of Palestine. Force has to come from the outside in the form of the BDS movement, in international public opinion, and from action at the ICC to hold Israel accountable.

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So here’s my PEP theory — why self-described progressives can turn a blind eye towards the injustices that Israel’s military occupation is perpetuating on Palestinians.  Some of these PEPs are good Jews who visited Israel during their impressionable years on a “birthright” tour, just like Max Blumenthal did when he was a young man, and accepted without question the “special” stories they heard. To challenge those messages now would (1) make them feel foolish or (2) upset their moral universe in which Israel = good and Palestine = terror/bad.

Psychologically, when someone’s identity is so tied up into a place (Israel), he can’t acknowledge the evil warts that exist in that place without acknowledging his own warts. Even though, rationally speaking, a state and an individual don’t have to be so intertwined, Israeli leaders don’t want any daylight to exist between the State and the good Jew so that they won’t question the actions of the State. And that’s why I fear that my friends and family who find themselves intertwined with the State of Israel in this way are in for a very big fall.

Friends at the Lensic following Max Blumenthal's presentation.

Friends at the Lensic following Max Blumenthal’s presentation.

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Media, Occupation, People, Politics, Video

Thunderclap for #Freedom4Gaza

This is my first Thunderclap. A week ago I didn’t know what a Thunderclap was.

“Palestinians have a right to dignity & freedom. Respect their humanity. Lift the blockade. #Freedom4Gazahttp://thndr.it/Za0YOy

Leaders of the international donor community are meeting in Cairo on 12 October to pledge billions of dollars for Gaza’s reconstruction… again. Just five years ago, this same donor community met in Egypt and pledged billions to reconstruct Gaza following a previous round of hostilities.

We, the international humanitarian community, academic institutions, civil society and concerned individuals, demand an end to this familiar cycle of destruction and reconstruction. We demand that those with the power to influence address the underlying causes of the hostilities. Reconstruction must not be overshadowed by the fear of another round of destruction. Aid is not a substitute for human rights. While pledging billions for reconstruction, let us remember that the denial of freedom can never lead to lasting peace.

The Palestinian people must have freedom of movement, freedom of access, freedom to trade, freedom from aid dependency and freedom from the fear of death and destruction. Palestinians in Gaza have been living under the Israeli-imposed blockade for seven years. We say with one voice: “yes to reconstruction, yes to lifting the blockade and yes to #Freedom4Gaza”. Safeguarding Israel’s security must come with respect for the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people. Palestinians, too, have legitimate security concerns and the right to live free from death, destruction and fear. They are being denied a future. That future must be restored.

Please join your voice to the millions calling to the international donor meeting in Cairo for #Freedom4Gaza. With just one click you can tell world leaders that precious aid money cannot be squandered in the now familiar cycle of reconstruction and destruction. There is no lasting solution without ending the ongoing occupation and lifting the blockade. Never again, enough is enough.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Register for the Thunderclap and encourage your followers to join: When you sign up to join the #Freedom4Gaza Thunderclap campaign via Twitter or Facebook, a custom message will be issued on 12 October to encourage the donors meeting in Cairo to end the familiar cycle of destruction and reconstruction by ending the ongoing occupation and lifting the blockade.
  2. Use our suggested tweets to spread the word and call for #Freedom4Gaza

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/16679-freedom4gaza/embed

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Time for some compassion!

“L’Shana Tova” to my Jewish friends and family. “Kul ‘am wa enta bi-khair!” to my Muslim friends.

My gift to all of my observant Christian, Muslim and Jewish friends is this 22 minute TedTalk by Karen Armstrong where she talks about the common denominator between the three great Abrahamic religions – the Golden Rule.  You’ve probably heard of it but I bet you haven’t heard of the Charter for Compassion which Armstrong describes.

The Charter for Compassion is a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world.

The Charter for Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has endorsed the Charter for Compassion. And there are tools for making compassionate communities, see here.

I’m not a believer in any religion. I try to live my life by the Golden Rule, and I think I could get behind the Charter for Compassion.

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