Congress: Invite Jimmy Carter to the Capitol!

April Fool’s Day came early to the U.S. Capitol this year. March 3 to be exact. That’s the day that Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of Congress, denouncing Obama’s nuke talks with Iran. Without even consulting the White House or following proper protocol, Speaker Boehner had the audacity to invite Israel’s Prime Minister to the Capitol only days before Israeli elections were held, making good campaign material for Bibi back home.

By many accounts, Netanyahu didn’t do himself any favors with his American benefactors, but he won reelection, and that’s all that really mattered.

After promising Israeli voters that there would be no Palestinian state established under his watch, he proceeded to form “an extreme right-wing coalition that represents a danger for the Arabs of Israel and the entire region”, said Ayman Odeh, head of the predominantly Arab Joint List in the Knesset.

Maybe Congress will forget the egg on their faces, and move beyond this embarrassment, but I think it’s the perfect time to remind them that what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.

I started an online petition to Congress urging them to invite former President Jimmy Carter to speak to a joint session about the Middle East.  In less than a week, more than 400 letters have been generated and sent to Congress, in support of the petition.  Check it out here and add your name if you agree.  If you wish to remain anonymous, you have that option.

Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu’s talk focused on the current negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China, facilitated by the European Union).

Security and peace for all people in the region appears to be more elusive than ever before.

No other American leader has more experience in the Middle East than former President Jimmy Carter, who has spent decades working for peace and security in the region.

In early May 2015, President Carter visited Israel and the West Bank and spoke with Israelis and Palestinians about the current situation. Members of Congress would benefit greatly from Carter’s vast experience and insights about the Middle East.

If an invitation to address Congress can be extended to a foreign leader without Presidential consent, then surely a former U.S. President, a Nobel Laureate, and one of the most respected humanitarians in the world, should receive Congress’ warmest welcome.

We ask Speaker Boehner to coordinate with other leaders in Congress and with the White House to extend an invitation to President Carter to speak to a joint session of Congress on the topic of peace and security in the Middle East. We also ask that Carter’s speech be televised for the public.

Lets tell Congress loud and clear, “INVITE PRESIDENT CARTER and hear from a wise elder with considerable experience in the Middle East.”

Gro Harlem Brundtland & Jimmy Carter visit a kibbutz next to the Gaza border.

Gro Harlem Brundtland & Jimmy Carter visit a kibbutz next to the Gaza border May 2015

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Palestinians at the cafe talking about their future

Al-hamdulillah!  A discussion amongst Palestinians in a Cafe in Ramallah in the Occupied West Bank was filmed in August 2012. Their conversation ranged from the divide between Fatah and Hamas, about the “peace process” and Israel’s Occupation, and their future.  British political journalist, Mahdi Hasan, moderates.

Mehdi Hasan, British political journalist

Mehdi Hasan, British political journalist

If you’re a Zionist, you should watch this 47-minute video to hear what these Palestinians think about the future because it’s YOUR future too.

If you’re a member of the U.S. Congress, you need to listen to these Palestinians describe the important issues that obstruct any future peace in the region.

If you’re an “activist” looking for justice for Palestinians, you might pick up some nuances that help your work.

If you think you know the future and what the Palestinians want, think again and watch this video.

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On Poverty and Climate Change

(This article was written by Gerard O’Connell, special correspondent in Rome, and originally published in America 4-29-15, and then reprinted in the Saint Ignatius Catholic church bulletin on May 17, 2015.)

“We are the first generation that can end poverty and the last generation that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.” UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, told this to a conference of 60 scientists and academicians, political leaders (including the Presidents of Italy and Ecuador), business experts and representatives of the world’s major religions, at a summit in the Vatican on April 28.

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

He addressed the high-powered gathering after “a fruitful and wide-ranging conversation” with Pope Francis, during which the pontiff confirmed that his encyclical on protecting the environment is finished and being translated, and expected to be published in June.

“I am very much looking forward to the upcoming encyclical,” the UN chief said; “it will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience.”

Indeed, he noted, “eradicating extreme poverty, ending social exclusion of the weak and marginalized, and protecting the environment are values that are fully consistent with the teachings of the great religions.” Listening to him were representatives from the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the World Council of Churches, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, all of whom expressed full support of the call for action.

The Korean-born UN leader commended Pope Francis, and the faith and scientific leaders present, “for raising awareness of the urgent need to promote sustainable development and address climate change.” He identified climate change as “the defining issue of our time” and emphasized that on this subject ”there is no divide whatsoever between religion and science.” He believes the leaders of the world’s major religions now have a key role to play in the quest to get the community of nations to truly embrace sustainable development and reach a global agreement to address climate change.

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson

“2015 will be a defining year” in this regard, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told the conference. In a wide-ranging talk he recalled “the great achievements of the last two centuries,” marked by remarkable scientific, technological and economic progress that has led to “significant numbers enjoying lifespans, livelihoods and lifestyles unimaginable for our ancestors”; a progress “that has lifted hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty” and transformed transport and communications.

This progress, however, has come with “unacceptable costs” and “starkly rising disparities,” the cardinal stated. It has left “vast numbers of people excluded and discarded, their dignity trampled upon,” in what the Pope has branded as “the throwaway culture.” As a result of this, “at least three billion of the seven billion inhabitants of the planet are mired in poverty, a third of them in extreme poverty, while privileged global elite of about one billion people control the bulk of the wealth and consumes the bulk of the resources.” He recalled how “the world produces more than enough food to feed its 7.3 billion inhabitants, but over 800 million (over 11%) go hungry,” while each year “one third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted.”

“We have treated the natural world with the same indifference, abusive treatment and throwaway approach,” the cardinal stated. Thus today, “the ever-accelerating burning of fossil fuels that powers our economic engine is disrupting the earth’s delicate ecological balance on almost-unfathomable scale.”

“In our recklessness – he said – we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries. And the lesson from the Garden of Eden still rings true today – pride, hubris, self-centeredness are always perilous, indeed destructive. The very technology that has brought great reward is now poised to bring great ruin.” He mentioned the disasters that have happened already in the Philippines and elsewhere.

The Vatican cardinal concurred with the UN Secretary-General and the renowned scientists present including Nobel Laureates such as Paul Crutzen, as well as representatives of the major world religions, and leading authorities in the field like Jeffrey Sachs, that climate-related disasters are a reality both for poor countries on the margins of the modern economy and for those at its heart.”

Speakers concurred that all the evidence leads to one conclusion: “We must fundamentally change our ways” (Ban Ki-Moon); “We clearly need a fundamental change of course, to protect the earth and its people” (Turkson). Participants later gave voice to this in a joint statement at the end of the day-long conference, which was held in the Vatican at the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Science, whose president, Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chaired the meeting.

Both the UN chief and the cardinal explained that crucial agreements to ensure a safer future for the whole of humanity and greater social justice are within reach at the high-level international conferences that will be held in 2015, if there is the political will. In July, the third International Conference on Finance for Development will be held in Addis Ababa. In September, the UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development (and the goals to achieve this) will be held in New York, at which Pope Francis will give the opening address. Finally, government leaders will gather in Paris from 30 November to December 11 to forge a meaningful agreement on climate change.

An essential goal for a meaningful agreement on climate change requires states to sign onto an accord to prevent global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. But Ban Ki-Moon warned that this is imperative because “we are currently on course for a rise of 4-5 degrees Celsius, and this would alter life on earth as we know it.” To keep within the 2 degrees limit means moving to a low-carbon pathway and investing in clean energy that can power truly sustainable development.

Jeffrey Sachs

The technology exists to effect such a change, at a relatively low cost in global terms. Professor Jeffrey Sachs told the conference. “To stay below the 2 degrees Celsius limit we have to decarbonize the world’s energy system. It requires us to move to a very low-carbon electricity through the use of solar, geo-thermal and hydro-powers. This requires putting a price on carbon to create proper economic incentives so that utilities move to a clean system and away from fossil fuels.”

He explained later in interviews that “this means leaving ‘stranded assets’ such as oil, gas, coal, underground” but here, he noted, “the largest oil-producing countries and the major oil-companies are the ones that are most resistant to the changes that are needed to make the world safer.”

Asked about the minority who deny the scientific evidence that climate change is due to man and are against such a move to decarbonize the world’s energy system, Sachs said they ignore the fact that climatology is an established science for over a hundred years, and that the scientific evidence “is overwhelming.”

Professor Sachs said these people persist in a libertarian ideology that wants to operate freely without government interferences, whatever the cost. He said misinformation about climate change is disseminated by a smaller group that has a lot of political power in the USA right now: the very rich, the power of the oil and coal industries, and they pay politicians. Such misinformation is spread by the media linked to the fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – industries, such as that of the Koch brothers. That same propaganda is also very strong in Robert Murdoch’s media. Nevertheless, Sachs believes that about two-thirds of Americans understand the issue properly; they know that it’s dry in California and there are big storms, and they know things are changing.

He’s calmly optimistic that agreement on climate change can be reached in Paris. The signs are good as many leaders in the oil industry are taking personal responsibility and reflecting on the risks to the world, and saying we need to do something. But he’s waiting to see if, for example, Exxon-Mobil in the United States will come on board and take a moral stance too.

He noted with joy that shareholders around the world are saying we will not invest in irresponsible practices; they are calling for shareholder resolutions and divestment protests. Many universities and foundations have now divested and the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Norway, which is the world’s largest wealth fund at almost a trillion dollars, is going to scrutinize its investments through a moral framework.

Sachs said the call from scientists and religious leaders is very important in helping people understand the urgent need for change, and he believes that Pope Francis’ encyclical will have a big impact in supporting the dynamic for change at “this historical moment.”

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#Gaza5K pictures

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This morning I walked the #Gaza5K to support UNRWA’s important work in Gaza.

The start location in Rock Creek Park was a bit cryptic and many folks, like me, ended up in the wrong location. But we finally connected up with hundreds of others who were registered to walk/run on this beautiful day in Washington, DC.

UNRWA raised $101,707 in this event. Yeah!  I personally raised $1,055 and feel very blessed to have the support of friends and family.  Thank you!

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There are still two #Gaza5K events planned, if you want to participate —- in San Francisco on October 17, and Orange County, CA on October 24.  Check them out here!

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I heard that 900+ people signed up for the #Gaza5K today in Washington, DC. Not sure how many actually showed up, but there were 100s and a lot of energy at the start of the race!  Some of us were dragging a bit by the end — with the uphill climb.

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I met several new friends along the route — and found good conversation with Leila, a retired doctor from Pittsburgh who worked in Gaza and the West Bank.

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And I survived! I crossed the finish line at 1:03:34. Even though the small dogs and babies in strollers beat me, I felt good about my accomplishment!

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al-Nakba Day on Capitol Hill

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Today I visited Washington, DC where the Capitol Building is getting a facelift. My goal was to connect with staff in each of the offices of the New Mexico delegation to talk about al-Nakba.  It went something like this . . .

Staffer: Welcome to the office. We always like to hear from our constituents.

Lora: Thank you for taking time to meet with me. I have a personal interest in the Middle East (and I proceeded to share a bit about my background to set some context).  Have you heard of al-Nakba?

Staffer: Nope!

Lora: Maybe you know about Israel’s Independence Day which was celebrated yesterday.

Staffer: Oh sure.

Lora: When the Zionists declared the new State of Israel in 1948,  they began to forcibly expel over 750,000 indigenous Palestinians from their homes, businesses, and land. Many were killed. Over 500 Palestinians villages were destroyed. That expulsion is referred to as al-Nakba or “Catastrophe” in English, which continues to this day.

Staffer: <furiously scribbling notes>

Lora: What does the Senator / Congresswoman think about Israel & Palestine?

Staffer: Well, Israel has a right to defend herself, but we think Israel’s bombing of schools and hospitals last summer was over the top.

Lora: The situation in the Gaza Strip is dire. More than 2,000 Palestinians (most of them civilians) were killed last summer. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds of families remain without shelter today. The status quo cannot continue. In fact, the U.N. issued a report in the summer of 2012 that said the Gaza Strip would be unlivable by 2020!

Staffer: Yes, but the situation is complex. What do you think the Senator / Congresswoman should do?

Lora: Well, we could begin by recognizing the State of Palestine.  “Direct negotiations” between Israel and Palestine will not be fruitful if the international status of the parties remains unequal. This week Pope Francis recognized the State of Palestine.  And as of October 2014, 135 of the 193 member states of the United Nations have recognized the State of Palestine.  I think it’s long past time for the U.S. to recognize the State of Palestine too.

Staffer:   Hmmmm! OK.

Lora: You know that the official U.S. policy regarding Israel/Palestine has been consistent for decades and under the Administrations of both parties. Carrots haven’t worked, it’s time to use sticks. Expressions of “concerns” about Israel’s settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories (a violation of international law) have not resulted in any change.

Staffer: What kind of sticks?

Lora: Such as reducing the $3+ Billion/year the U.S. taxpayers give to Israel;  supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; and refusing to shield Israel from criticism at the United Nations.

Staffer: What’s BDS?

Lora: <exacerbated but remaining calm> You know, like what we did with South Africa to help end the apartheid regime? And since Congress heard Netanyahu speak in March, maybe an invitation  to Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s permanent observer to the U.N., and former President Jimmy Carter, to speak to Congress would be helpful. Shouldn’t Congress hear from both sides?

Staffer: When an important vote comes up, the Senator / Congresswoman always asks staff “who have we heard from in the District about this issue and what did they say?”

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham's office sitting with the office dog - Mattie.

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham’s office sitting with the office dog – Mattie.

Which leads me to the point of this blog post. Don’t take it for granted that your members of Congress understand the issues in the Middle East. Reach out to them, call or write, and tell them what you think. Although the AIPAC and J Street lobbyists are known to Congressional staffers, other groups (Jewish Voices for Peace) and individuals may be unknown. We need to be heard in Congress. It’s easy (check out this website) and there’s no excuse not to.

My hunch is that not a single member of Congress has heard of al-Nakba. I know the staffers of the New Mexico delegation hadn’t.

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The Emperor’s New Clothes

As an American, I sometimes feel like that young child in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, when I listen to members of Congress and mainstream media blathering about Israel. Really!

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Have they been so duped by AIPAC (the swindlers weaving a good tale) that they honestly believe Netanyahu is interested in “direct negotiations” for a meaningful peace agreement with the Palestinians?

Netanyahu is strutting around the globe completely naked. I see it, don’t you?

Bibi has no interest in a two-state solution and settlement building continues in East Jerusalem and the Occupied Palestinian Territories unabated but President Obama will be meeting with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at Camp David on Thursday to tell them he has hope that the two-state solution is still possible.

What does Obama see that I don’t?

A critical mass is building — those who see the State of Israel is wearing no clothes — and the Vatican joins them in recognizing the State of Palestine.

The Vatican has officially recognized the state of Palestine in a new treaty.

The treaty, which was finalized Wednesday but still has to be signed, makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic relations from the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.

I suspect Netanyahu (like the Emperor in the fairytale) knows he’s naked and the world can see through his costume woven with the “finest silk and purest old thread.”  Pope Francis sees the truth.

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

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#IDF soldiers in #Gaza speak out

As the mother of a US Navy veteran, I decided it was my responsibility to sit quietly and read the full report (240 pages) released by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli veteran combatants who expose the truth of their service in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The report details the brutal and unethical actions of #IDF soldiers and their commanders during the Protective Edge Operation in Gaza in the summer of 2014.

Mothers of warriors everywhere suffer alongside their sons and daughters when they go off to fight. I can’t imagine the unbelievable pain if they don’t return home. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers did not return home last summer. Fifteen soldiers committed suicide, slightly more than double the number from 2013.

In Gaza, civilian casualties greatly exceeded the number of resistance fighters who were killed. According to the United Nations, between July 7 and August 26, at least 2131 Palestinians were killed in Gaza as a result of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge.” 1473 of the dead were civilians, including 501 children and 257 women, with another 379 individuals yet to be identified.

The report is chilling.

This Is How We Fought In Gaza is a collection of testimonies from over 60 soldiers in mandatory and reserve service that took part in Operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. About a quarter of the testifiers are officers that go all the way up to the rank of major. The testimonies underwent a meticulous investigative process to ensure their veracity. The testifiers, who served in various units – from ground, to naval, to air forces, and in headquarters and command centers – expose the nature of IDF operations in various combat zones. The testimonies in this collection close the yawning gaps between what the IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.

While the testimonies include pointed descriptions of inappropriate behavior by soldiers in the field, the more disturbing picture that arises from these testimonies reflects systematic policies that were dictated to IDF forces of all ranks and in all zones. The guiding military principle of “minimum risk to our forces, even at the cost of harming innocent civilians,” alongside efforts to deter and intimidate the Palestinians, led to massive and unprecedented harm to the population and the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Policymakers could have predicted these results prior to the operation and were surely aware of them throughout.

Democracy Now featured the #IDF soldiers’ testimony and Breaking the Silence posted many clips on its website. I weep for the Palestinians and for these soldiers too. While commentators speculate that Netanyahu’s new coalition will move Israel further to the extreme, I think my focus has to be on educating Americans and the U.S. Congress about the “facts on the ground” in Gaza.

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