Playing catch – or not?

Communication is what makes the world go ’round. Everything — the good, bad and the ugly — can be traced back to communication — either good, bad or destructive communication.

I’m flummoxed about why some of my communication on “hot button” topics is so frustrating.

Sign on church fence in Baltimore

#BlackLivesMatter sign on church fence in Baltimore

Two recent examples. In the first, I’m responding to a friend’s objections to my T-shirt with the words #BlackLivesMatter. He finds the message divisive and offensive (his words).

I explain that #BlackLivesMatter is not #OnlyBlackLivesMatter, and certainly not #OthersLivesDon’tMatter but that it raises the real and pervasive racist policies and prejudice against black people engrained in our national psyche.  I think my friend agrees that we need to stimulate a national dialogue about it but he thinks my T-shirt hinders, rather than facilitates, a productive discussion.

“You should be sensitive to how people might react to your #BlackLivesMatter T-shirt,” he tells me. “I don’t care what other people think!” is my retort, and we drop the conversation.

The second example has taken place over many weeks on Facebook with an ardent Zionist about various issues related to Israel and Palestine. He responds to my posts about Israel/Palestine respectfully but never understands the points I raise. Here’s a recent exchange on Facebook about the video above.

Zionist friend: Some might point out the restraint the Israeli soldier displayed allowing himself to be beaten up without fighting back, instead of blaming him for arresting a juvenile rock thrower. It is sad that these soldiers have their hands tied when it comes to their own defense because they know that they’ll be blamed for anything they do to respond.
Lora: George Orwell might have described the soldier’s actions as “restraint” but no one using the English language today would.
Zionist friend: I’m not sure why you think that. We both saw the same video. Getting hit repeatedly on the head seriously hurts. The soldier could’ve easily started swinging wildly in self defense, but he choose to take the blows instead. We should both be able to agree that it took considerable restraint on his part not to respond.

Lora: I saw a soldier running after a Palestinian boy with a cast on his arm…take him down in a choke hold and then get pummeled by the boy’s mother, sister and others. Given the persistent pattern of IDF violence (killings) in the West Bank, I think these women were very lucky there was a video camera capturing the whole thing. The soldier’s “restraint” is directly proportional to the videographer’s determination to keep filming.

 

Zionist friend: Rocks thrown by a boy with a cast are not any less dangerous. These women knew that they could beat the soldier without serious repercussions because of the insane restrictions and scrutiny placed on the IDF.

 

Lora: I cannot open your eyes. Goodbye!

 

Zionist friend: Not sure what part of what I said was incorrect, but I guess I’m getting used to our conversations ending this way. Goodbye.

There’s usually more than one version of the events, and so there is in this case about the Israeli soldier, see here and here.

I’m aware there are different variables at play in each of these examples. The first involves a good friend I’ve known for many years about my age, a white professional, and our conversations occur face-to-face.

The second example involves an anonymous person on Facebook whom I’ve never met but suspect that he’s young, has probably been raised in a Zionist household and has bought that worldview hook, line and sinker.

Baseball_HowtoThrow_03_300x350

Now a good conversation is like a good ball game. One person tosses out the ball so the second can catch it and return it. The conversation, as a good game, proceeds smoothly with both participating and enjoying the give and take.

Some communication can be wild games where one throws curve balls which are impossible for the other to catch; or throws the ball over his opponent’s head never intending that the ball be caught; or slams a hard ball into his opponent’s gut. Who wants to play ball under those circumstances? I would just pick up the ball and go home.

My example #1 above resembles a stunted game of toss — but no catch. The conversation is frustrating because I don’t think my partner understands the #BlackLivesMatter message. No matter how I might pitch the ball, he doesn’t catch it.

Instead, he tries to toss another ball back to me — about how others might respond to #BlackLivesMatter — not about whether there is some validity to the assumptions behind the #BlackLivesMatter message. I want to talk about substance (and I pitch that ball) and he wants to talk about process (and tosses back a completely different ball). I suspect my friend may disagree with the substantive issues involved, but it’s too difficult to admit or discuss.

The substance about #BlackLivesMatter that I want to toss to my friend includes:

  • Black Americans are far more likely to be homicide victims than white Americans. See here.
  • Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated in federal, state and local prisons than white men. See here.
  • The black vs. white economic inequality (income, jobs,unemployment, etc.) is staggering. See here.
  • Homeownership is much more difficult for blacks than it is for whites. See here. And there are many more stats.

My friend either doesn’t acknowledge these statistics, or doesn’t agree with them, or perhaps agrees but doesn’t think the #BlackLivesMatter meme is a constructive way to raise awareness. He doesn’t want to toss my ball back to me, he wants to play with another ball. He’s likely as frustrated as I am when I reject his ball.

What type of ball game is my young Zionist friend playing?

Although he’s respectful and seems genuinely interested in playing ball (contrary to many Zionists I’ve met on Facebook), we aren’t having a very satisfactory game of toss and catch. This is very perplexing for me.

I don’t expect my friend in example #1 or the Zionist in #2 to agree with me.  A good game of catch doesn’t require agreement, but it does require the ability to catch and respond. Neither are catching my ball and responding. They each want to play with a different ball entirely — a way of deflecting the game to their agenda. So I’m left wondering, what can I do differently to have more satisfying and productive conversations?

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Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby (video)

This extraordinary video (released in 2009) connects the dots between Israel’s Lobby and strong influence on UK politicians, the Guardian and the BBC. I found it was well-documented and very thought-provoking.The 48-minute video is divided into three segments.

I’m looking for similar information about the impact of the Israel Lobby on American politicians and media.

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The Fork in the Road – Building Trust or Digging in Deeper?

There’s certainly been plenty of impassioned rhetoric spewed in recent weeks about the P5+1 agreement with Iran.  (P5+1 stands for the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia plus Germany ). Few people have even read the agreement I suspect, but you can right here on the White House website, all 159 pages, if you really want to.  Frankly, I have no desire to read the fine print, but I think the explanation provided by this nuclear physicist is a good substitute. The State Department’s website has plenty of information about this agreement too.

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson spoke in favor of the Iranian nuke agreement this week in Albuquerque at Congregation Albert. Although linked to J Street, the Ambassador made clear that he was speaking only for himself. Two weeks earlier, the synagogue invited a speaker sponsored by AIPAC opposed to the agreement. In good humor, Wilson noted that he didn’t want to be the goy between the two Jews.

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson

Former Ambassador Joe C. Wilson speaking at Congregation Albert 8/26/15

Americans might best remember Ambassador Wilson for his role in exposing the Bush Administration’s lies about Saddam Hussein obtaining yellow cake from Niger. Bush needed to fabricate a reason to go to war, and after Wilson exposed his lies in an article in the New York Times, the Bush Administration exposed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, ending her career. Her book, Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent was Betrayed By Her Own Government has been made into a movie and I understand Sean Penn plays Wilson. Now, I have to see it!

On to serious matters.

Ambassador Wilson says the Iranian nuke agreement is both a technical and political agreement. Scientists from both Sandia Labs and Los Alamos Labs were involved in the negotiations. Iran has agreed to “very intrusive and comprehensive inspections” with very close oversight for the next 15-25 years.

The IAEA negotiated a “side agreement” with Iran on technical issues that has apparently created some angst among the naysayers, but Wilson didn’t appear concerned. He said Congressman Jerry Nadler, a Jewish Democrat from New York, has written the best piece about the agreement that he’s read.

Presentation at Congregation Albert - Albuquerque, NM

Presentation at Congregation Albert – Albuquerque, NM

“We can’t trust the Iranians!”  Wilson said it goes both ways, the Iranians don’t trust the Americans. We don’t need to trust the Iranians to live up to the agreement because there are mechanisms in the agreement to allow inspections and the scientists tell us that no one can remove nuclear traces within 24 days (the time designated in the agreement within which Iran must let IAEA inspectors to come in and look). Our scientists are telling us that there’s no way Iran could surreptitiously build a nuclear bomb without the world knowing about it. That argument against the agreement sounds like a red herring to me.

“Iranians will still have centrifuges — even after signing the agreement.”  They will be required to reduce their stockpile of centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104 (I think is the # Wilson said.) Fewer is better than allowing them to continue to build new ones, which would be the case without the agreement.

Centrifuges

Centrifuges

“What will the Iranians do with the $150 Billion returned to them when the embargo is lifted (I think that’s the # I heard)?”  I don’t think Wilson speculated about the answer, but said the U.S. will be the big loser in a “profound way” if we fail to sign the agreement. “Our standing as a world leader will be sorely tested” and will “play right into the hands of the extremists in Iran.” “See, we told you the Americans can’t be trusted.”  Wilson doesn’t believe it would be in Israel’s long-term strategic interests to walk away from the agreement either. Retired members of the Israeli security support the agreement.

This doesn’t mean that the relationships between Iran and the rest of the world will come up all roses, Wilson said.  But this agreement will give the world 10-15 years to pursue confidence-building actions in the region. The negotiating process brought together allies, adversaries and competitors …. really a first!  “It’s a good deal to benefit the region.”

Question from the audience: “What happens if the U.S. doesn’t sign?”

The U.S. Congress would have to override President Obama’s veto. Then everything would be up in the air. Both the U.S. and Israel will be isolated from the rest of the world. Other countries will do business with Iran. Wilson believes the Iranian moderates won with this agreement, and the hardliners lost out. If the U.S. fails to sign, then the hardliners’ position is strengthened.

Ambassador Wilson said that Israel needs to find peace with its neighbors. This agreement gives Israel time to do that. Wilson did not hide his disdain for Netanyahu or AIPAC, which he said is an arm of Likud and divides all of us.  AIPAC shapes the discussion in a toxic way.

“Agreements lead to potential new agreements.” 

“De-escalation of tensions leads to further de-escalation.”

Iranians have a very long memory. Americans don’t. If the U.S. fails to sign onto this agreement which we played a leadership role in designing and negotiating, future generations of Iranians will understand they can’t trust America.

I was going to ask about the letter in the New York Times written by Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian lead negotiator, urging the only nuclear country in the Middle East to follow suit now and agree to negotiate a nuclear free Middle East.  But someone else from the audience asked a related question, which Wilson deflected so I didn’t think he would answer my question.

I left the gathering at Congregation Albert believing that Congress is really standing at a fork in the road — with an opportunity to build trust in this volatile region or dig ourselves deeper into conflict and war. This is a very important decision for our members of Congress, for our nation’s future influence in foreign policy, and future generations. I hope they make the right decision.

Jafar Panahi, a leading Iranian film director (who has won numerous international awards including the Golden Bear in the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in 2015), supports the Iran Deal, as do many others.

Thanks to the talented Mike Swick who recorded the Ambassador’s remarks, here’s the entire 1+ hour video.

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Day #51 – August 26, 2014 – The End until it Begins Again

On this day last year, Israel and Hamas agreed to end the 51 days of fighting.

2,251 Palestinians in Gaza were killed, including 551 children, and 11,231 were injured.  During the fighting, more than 500,000 Palestinians were displaced (28% of the population in the Gaza Strip).

More than 18,000 homes were destroyed, and an estimated 80,000 homes and properties need to be rehabilitated.

63 water facilities were damaged and 23 were completely destroyed.

Gaza’s education sector was already overstretched prior to the hostilities – with a shortage of 200 schools in 2014, and almost 80 per cent of school classes running double shifts. The destruction of, and damage to 209 schools as a result of the conflict exacerbated these deficits. Three universities are reported to have been directly hit by Israeli strikes, while eight sustained collateral damage. 274 kindergartens were damaged and 11 were destroyed. Overall, the quality of education in Gaza is reported to have worsened, because classes are now larger, the time spent at school shorter and psychological and economic challenges are considerable, according to UNFPA. (para. 585, UN Independent Commission of Inquiry).

The World Bank has reported that the economy in Gaza is on the verge of collapse. Youth unemployment exceeds 60%, the highest in the world. 39% of the population lives below the poverty line.

More than 1,500 children were orphaned during the 51 days of Israel’s campaign against the Palestinians in Gaza. Almost 800 women were widowed. The psychological trauma inflicted on the youth especially cannot the underestimated.

“Children are afraid to die; they ask all the time if there will be another war.” Dr. Mona El Farra, a Palestinian doctor in Gaza.

The U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry concluded that the impact of the 2014 war cannot be assessed separately from Israel’s long-term blockade, and made a number of recommendations which I’m going to share in another post.

Denny Cormier from Santa Fe, New Mexico lived in Gaza during Israel's 51-day assault in July-August, 2014.

Denny Cormier from Santa Fe, New Mexico lived in Gaza 

An American, Denny Cormier, living in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge shared his observation that night when the fighting ended.

This is a night for joy and happiness.

Nader and I took to the streets of Al Jundi, and it was a night when thousands and thousands came to celebrate. The mood was infectious – for a few hours, the war was left behind, and the future looked brighter.

There were joyful prayers from every mosque in the city… the prayers filled Gaza and were the first reactions to the cease fire… and then came celebratory firing of rifles in the area – cries of Allahu Akbar.

Children filled the street – released from a too long confinement.

Parents and others followed close behind.

Banners were hung at Al Meena. Firecrackers were all around us.

Cars and trucks passed by in parade almost immediately – filled with young men who waved banners, shouted slogans announcing the end of war – holding hands up in the sign of peace.

I was immediately overwhelmed…. tonight was a night for joy but I also wept from the pure joy of seeing my Palestinian friends at this special moment in this journey to Gaza.

I will remember this night forever.

The people of Gaza have suffered horribly during these last 50 days. So many have died and been seriously injured. We have witnessed the photographs of so many martyred and injured children. Many villages have been destroyed altogether…. thousands and thousands of homes and mosques and buildings now lie in rubble. Many residential towers lie in ruin…. with another joining them in Gaza City last night.

Some might wonder how Gaza could celebrate in the face of such great loss and destruction…

But there is much that we have yet to learn about this people of the resistance.

Gaza celebrated its survival, its resistance, its relief, its innate love of life tonight – its strong belief in a merciful and loving Allah – and took a few hours to celebrate the end to this war, and the hope of a new beginning.

And I swear to you – I truly believe that even those who lost their lives and are now in Jannah also joined this celebration.

But this is just a beginning, my dear friends…. the celebration of the evening is fading – and now the real works begins.

The final ceasefire agreement is still filled with question marks and unresolved issues – years of reconstruction lie ahead – the dead are still being buried – the injured may have months of recovery and rehabilitation before them – the infrastructure has been destroyed – raw sewage still pours into the sea. More then 50% of the working population is unemployed (and that number will rise in the coming days)…. many people have become homeless (hundreds of thousands of them)…. and many of them have no place to go – no home to return to….. thousands and thousands are without food and water (or are food insecure)….

As one astute observer in Gaza wrote tonight – We have won the war but there is still no electricity and water tonight… the city is mostly dark, my dear friends.

There is reason for celebration in Gaza tonight because nearly 50 days and nights of bombing were a horrific experience for many who thought that they might die at any moment… that their children would meet the same fate.

Children will look to the sky for many weeks to come and run to their mother or friends hoping to find protection.

The drones are still in the sky over Gaza tonight.

Gaza is still an open air prison.

More than at any other time – the good people of Gaza need our support.

They need protests in the street until their freedoms are won.

They need us to learn more about their heritage and their future.

They will need us to dig deep in the coming days.

They will need us to continue the work of boycotting Israeli goods and investments in Israeli corporations (and those corporations that have supported years of apartheid in the West Bank and years of siege and blockade in Gaza).

There is still much to be done.

The bombs and destruction have ended for the moment – but please remember that little has changed yet – and it will not change at all without our support.

Israel is still the Occupier. The blockade and siege remain in place except for a piece of paper and promises.

One of the world’s largest armies is ready to attack again at any moment.

Thanks to Allah, I am alive – thanks to Allah, the nights are quieter – thanks to Allah, there is “temporary” peace in this land of beautiful people.

Thanks to Allah for your prayers and support and for your sacrifices, dear friends.

Gaza is still under attack.

And it will be for years to come unless we continue our work.

We must continue this work.

I love you, dear friends.

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Day #50 – August 25, 2014 – “Full human rights”

Rania Masri

Rania Masri

This video features a speech by Dr. Rania Masri at a public forum held in Raleigh, NC last summer (August 6, 2014) titled “Crisis in Gaza and the West Bank: Context and Action!” The forum was sponsored by the Coalition for Peace with Justice at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

Dr. Masri speaks forcefully, authoritatively and (in my view) convincingly about Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, the denial of basic human rights and why the narrative needs to be changed.

When she was speaking in Raleigh, Israel’s military assault was continuing with no end in sight.

She later added a correction and said that Noam Chomsky supports the right of return.

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Day #49 – Aug. 24, 2014 – NY Times Blames the Victims

I’m sharing a blog post published today on TimesWarp written by Barbara Erickson, a professional journalist. She dissects  a recent article in the New York Times about the lack of reconstruction efforts in Gaza since last summer’s military assault.

As Gaza Lies in Ruins, The NY Times Blames the Victims.

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Day #48 – August 23, 2014 – Gaza’s 9/11?

According to the Israeli  military, since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8, Israel had launched more than 5,000 airstrikes in Gaza, while fighters in Gaza had fired close to 4,000 rockets and mortars into Israel by August 23, 2014. Something changed on that date.

Israel destroyed one of the largest buildings in Gaza, a 12-story apartment building in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City. This might be considered the 9/11 moment of the war. Within seconds, 44 apartments were destroyed, 44 families were made homeless. Israel claimed that Hamas used an apartment in the building as a base of operations, but a resident of the building denied that claim and said the Israelis were lying.

Although the IDF had targeted specific apartments within buildings before, this was the first time the IDF destroyed an entire building. It appeared that Israel was putting pressure on the elites in Gaza to end the battle which had raged for 48 days.

On that same day, Hamas signed a pledge to back any Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court which could expose Israel, as well as Hamas, to possible war crimes prosecution.

If the Palestinian resistance fighters could have brought down a multi-story building in Tel Aviv, I have no doubt they would have. The IDF’s attack on this apartment building in the middle of Gaza City highlighted once again the asymmetric nature of last summer’s battle.

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