A love affair with trains

Train travel enriches the soul and saves the planet. That’s it, in a nutshell.

I needed no hard sell to convince me that trains are magical. Riding the Rock Island Express and Super Chief trains every summer between Minnesota and New Mexico in the 1960s as a child prepared me for a lifelong love affair with them.

My most recent journey in June 2021 was deliberately chosen to experience new routes and scenery. My planned itinerary was Albuquerque to LA, then LA to Seattle, and finally Seattle to Minneapolis. Not the most direct route, but I was eager to ride Amtrak’s Coast Starlight which, I was told, has magnificent views of the California coastline.

I also wanted to ride Amtrak’s Empire Builder across Washington State, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota. My great grandfather, Albert H. Hogeland, was the chief engineer for many years on the Great Northern Railroad, the predecessor of the Empire Builder, and was instrumental (or so I was told as a child) in laying out where the tracks would be placed.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder — Chief Engineer A. H. Hogeland laid out much of this route in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

There’s a litany of reasons why =you= should ride the trains. My personal list includes (in no particular order of importance): meditating on the scenic wonders as they unfold; reading a good book when the landscape is not so wonderous; meeting new friends and some crazy characters who might take the seat beside me; capturing amazing memories on camera; writing on a project if a deadline is looming; supporting Amtrak so that Congress knows Americans care and want train service prioritized; giving psychic space to the people and places I’m leaving as well as preparing for the new energy of the people and places I’m expecting to meet at my destination; and so much more.

Without a doubt, the most important reason to ride trains, is to reduce our carbon footprint. We must give the Earth a fighting chance of recovering from the harm we’ve inflicted on her since the beginning of the “industrial revolution”.

Anyone who cares about reducing CO2 emissions and the climate chaos that is bearing down on us more severely and rapidly than even the climatologists predicted, should be riding trains. There’s no serious dispute that air travel has a super bad carbon footprint. Really bad! Trains are the smart mode of travel in this Anthropocene era. There’s no debate.


The downsides of train travel are huge, I admit. Chief among them is the time involved. Other challenges include: unreliable schedules (Amtrak is notoriously late); no Wifi onboard, the food in the cafe is mediocre; the cleanliness varies widely from train to train; and it’s chilly at night (bring a blanket).

Of course, your seatmate on the train might be a weirdo. Unlike air travel, you can usually move to the Observation car and avoid the crazies.

Despite these challenges, I’d step onboard a train rather than walk down the jetway any day of the week.

My recent Amtrak itinerary (June 16 – 21) was the longest train journey I’ve taken in the US, and included some bumps and many highlights!

The Southwest Chief from Albuquerque arrived into the Los Angeles Union Station 4+ hours late, and I missed my connection to the Coast Starlight traveling up the California coast. Amtrak guarantees that connection; and I finally caught up to the Coast Starlight more than 12 hours later in Sacramento. Amtrak put me on two buses and a train to make my connection — a long and weary day. I never saw the California coastline but I enjoyed the beautiful LA Union Station, and the interior farmland scenery, and talking with California commuters along the way.

I’ve had the joy of riding many trains around the world, including the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the Norwegian Railways, the ScotRail in Scotland, the Eurail, ItaliaRail, the Malaysia train and the Egyptian National Railways. The Bullet train in China was the fastest. The train through Mongolia and China was the biggest eye-opener!

So I speak with a measure of experience when I say that Amtrak in the USA has to scale a very steep learning curve in order to compete and become a serious 21st century mass transit system.

Some of the most memorable conversations have occurred on a train. In June, I met Osamu on the train when he glanced over and noticed the book I was reading. “Our History is the Future — Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance” by Nick Estes (2019). He had read the book too, and then I learned he incorporated the book into the class he taught at MIT about Indigenous Environmental Planning. Serendipitous! I mentioned that I was a city planner in an earlier life, and that I was traveling to Minnesota hoping to hook up with the Native Peoples resisting Line 3. Our conversation took off from there.

In the middle of the night, the train stopped at the station in Spokane where we waited for another train to arrive and connect up with us. Most passengers were asleep, but I was curious about what the train personnel were doing outside. I walked through the station to stretch my legs, and then stood on the platform to watch them preparing the train for the additional train cars that would be joining us. Then my jaw dropped. They were switching out engineers at this stop, and the new engineer climbing up into the cab appeared to be no older than twenty-something. GOOD FOR HIM!

On Father’s Day a young father was sitting in the Observation car with his toddler daughter. He was pointing out to her the community and farm where they lived near Glasgow, Montana. He spoke with so much pride. Listening to their conversation, I suspect that he purchased tickets for them to just ride from one station to another so she could see their farm from the train, another perspective. My heart melted. That’s when I thought that each and every member of Congress should be required to ride Amtrak across the USA. They could learn so much from people and places along the way.

Traveling during a pandemic requires extra precautions; Amtrak requires everyone to wear a mask unless eating or drinking, and the conductor announces this requirement at every stop. When we reached North Dakota, the typical announcement became much more stern. “If you fail to wear a mask, we will remove you at the next station, and you really don’t want to be dropped off in the middle of the night at ___ . So wear your face mask, no exceptions!”

I asked the conductor how many passengers were typically removed. Not many in other states, he said, but passengers boarding in North Dakota and Minnesota were stubborn and there had been a number removed for refusal to wear their masks. That explained why the announcement sounded more stern.

“I thought face masks were suppose to cover the mouth and the nose.”

Amtrak Joe‘ Biden is a big fan of passenger trains and wants to build Amtrak’s golden age. This should be a no-brainer but the big stumbling block will be the private freight companies that own the tracks on which Amtrak runs. The notorious Amtrak delays are usually due to freight trains on the very same tracks. They have priority use, and Amtrak trains must scoot over to a siding and wait. That explains why the Coast Starlight train I was riding was more than 6 hours late arriving into Seattle.

Freight traffic is important and needs to move efficiently. People are important too. If the private & public sectors can’t compromise in order to improve rail service for both, the freight rail service needs to be nationalized. A 21st century public transit system requires both people and goods to get where they need to be efficiently and safely. I suspect this means the US needs to put much more $$ into improving the railroad tracks, rail stations and signaling, and modernizing the rail cars themselves, and also building new tracks to presently unserved communities.

The U.S. has provided trillions in subsidies for the production and consumption of fossil fuels. We need to do an about face . . . pronto. Soon after taking office, President Biden proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, of which about $80 billion would be directed towards improving Amtrak. Now (August 2021), our leaders are discussing the $550 billion infrastructure bill, of which $66 billion would be targeted towards Amtrak improvements.

Lora at the Albany, NY Amtrak Station – July 2021

Amtrak passenger service is the future; and it’s time for all of us to climb onboard and advocate for Amtrak’s good health.

Contact President Biden here.

Contact your member of Congress here.

Contact your U.S. Senator here.

Contact the U.S. Department of Transportation here.


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#StopLine3 — an arsonist is in the house!

If an arsonist was sneaking into your home with the gasoline and matches to burn it to the ground, how would you respond?

If the professional firefighters were nowhere to be found, and no one picked up on your 911 call, how would you respond?

If your family and neighbors passed buckets of water down the line to help you put out the fire, but the police came to arrest your family rather than the arsonist, how would you respond?

These images went through my mind as I sat near the sacred fire at Camp Manoomin on the White Earth Nation lands in northern Minnesota in mid-July. One of five indigenous camps leading Water Protectors in actions across northern Minnesota, Camp Manoomin was my introduction to the devastation occurring from the construction of Line 3.

Camp Manoomin – White Earth Nation in northern Minnesota — July 2021 (photo: Lora Lucero)

Enbridge LLC, the Canadian company building Line 3, is working night and day to finish this pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Lake Superior and beyond.

With runaway climate chaos so clearly present everywhere this summer, can anyone deny that our planetary home is on fire? We’re being boiled alive. Climate scientists are admitting they might have badly misjudged how quickly and how badly our planet might be warming. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is warning us that we may have crossed some planetary thresholds (tipping points) which will be impossible to reverse and repair. And in northern Minnesota — the Line 3 pipeline will unlock CO2 emissions equivalent to 50 coal plants!

One of many Line 3 construction sites in northern Minnesota. (photo: Lora Lucero)
Enbridge pumping station next to the headwaters of the Mississippi River where the company is drilling to extend Line 3 below the river. (photo: Lora Lucero)

Line 3 is set to cross more than 200 waterways and cut through the 1854 and 1855 treaty territory where the Anishinaabe people retain the right to hunt, fish, gather medicines, and harvest wild rice. As Minnesota experiences a severe drought, Enbridge will be using nearly 5 billion gallons of water, 10 times more than it originally requested for construction.

Check out the interactive maps here.

Enbridge expects to complete Line 3 construction by the end of August, and commence testing and delivery by the end of the year. Although there’s an appeal pending in the Minnesota Supreme Court to stop Line 3, the decision will be too late. Action is needed today. How would you respond if the arsonist was sneaking into your home?

The Water Protectors are calling on everyone from everywhere to come to the frontlines to #StopLine3. Information about where to go, how to show up and make your voice heard can be found here.

The Tribal Council and Elders of the White Earth Nation are calling on Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan to meet with them, nation-to-nation, to respect the Treaties and the rights of the Indigenous peoples to hunt, fish, gather medicinal plants, harvest and cultivate wild rice, and preserve sacred or culturally significant sites.

Press Conference held in the Minnesota State Capitol on July 14. Good explanation of the treaties here. (photo: Lora Lucero)
Several hundred people attended the press conference. Where were Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan? (photo: Lora Lucero)

Water protectors are asking everyone to contact Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan here, contact President Biden here, contact Secretary of the Department of Interior Debra Haaland here, contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (agency responsible for permitting and monitoring the Line 3 construction) here. The message is simple. #StopLine3, Keep fossil fuels in the ground, Protect our water, Respect treaty rights.

In less than 12 hours, more than 100 people signed the petition to Secretary Haaland asking her to visit Line 3.

The Mississippi River looks very fragile when you stand at its headwaters in northern Minnesota. Drilling a pipeline below and near the river is the epitome of mankind’s arrogance and disrespect for Mother Earth. Please take action today, and visit the Mississippi headwaters if you can.

Mississippi River headwaters. (Photo: Lora Lucero)

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Mental health must be a human right

Today I joined about a dozen people in Albuquerque to walk the #Gaza5k along the Rio Grande Bosque trail. As I explained here, it was for a very good cause. We were moving for mental health, specifically raising funds for UNRWA-USA to support mental health professionals working in the Gaza Strip. Their clients, Palestinian refugees, are the primary beneficiaries of the #Gaza5k.

Each step along the way, I kept thinking of the freedom of movement that I enjoy, and how moving in nature helps to keep me sane and grounded. I wish the Palestinian refugees had that same freedom. Israel’s 14-year siege of the Gaza Strip must end, with or without Israel’s consent.**

I’m pleased that UNRWA-USA exceeded its goal and raised more than $1 million. My team — the New Mexico Roadrunners — exceeded our goal of $3,500 thanks to the generosity of many individual contributions, large and small.

Many of us take our mental health for granted. I know I do. But whether it’s a family member or friend in the U.S., or refugees we’ve never met abroad, mental health is the unseen flower inside each of us. We need to nurture and care for ourselves and each other more gently and compassionately. We need to listen and reach out to each other, never assuming that we’re alone in our own struggles or assuming that the “other” is not struggling.

In Gaza, this is particularly true. A 2020 study found that the majority of children and adolescents in Gaza experienced personal trauma (88.4%), witnessed trauma to others (83.7%) and observed demolition of property (88.3%) during the war. The research is here. Also published in 2020, another study found that 38% of the young people had considered suicide at least once.

Suicide rates in Gaza have been trending upward for the last 10 years. Current average figures put the number at 562 attempts per year. The suicide rate is much higher among young men aged 18-30 who make up about 75% of all suicide deaths here, with young men shouldering the social expectation that they will provide for their family. Feeling without value and unable to seek help due to the stigma attached to mental health, young men are turning to suicide as a means of escape.

Of the 17 UN sustainable development goals, the third goal is “good health and well-being”. Israel is clearly, without any debate, failing in this regard. As the occupier responsible for the Palestinian refugees, Israel owes a duty of care towards the Palestinians under international law and must be held accountable. Failing to provide vaccines to the Palestinians during this pandemic is just the latest example of Israel’s disregard for their health and well-being, not to mention Israel’s most recent military campaign against Gaza that left 66 Palestinian children dead and wiped out three entire families (generations) from the population registry.

Mental health should be a human right.

Our brothers and sisters in Gaza deserve no less.

The organization that is best positioned and equipped to provide those critical services to the Palestinian refugees is UNRWA-USA. From the bottom of my heart, I thank UNRWA-USA for stepping up to meet the tremendous needs and challenges in Gaza (food, education, health care). I thank my friends and family for stepping up and generously answering my request for donations. And I thank my #Gaza5k team who stepped up and shared their love and commitment to raise the funds for mental health services to Palestinians in Gaza. Together, we did it.


If you would like to contribute to UNRWA-USA’s campaign to support mental health services in Gaza, please make a donation online here. Thank you.

** Yes, I’m talking about breaking Israel’s land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip.


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Countdown to the #Gaza5K

This is really gonna happen on Saturday, June 12th —- the virtual #Gaza5k with nearly 2000 people around the country walking / running in their communities to support mental health services for Palestine refugees in Gaza. (I’m walking with friends in Albuquerque.)

My first introduction to Gaza in 2004 was a meeting set up with Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, a world-renown psychiatrist in childhood trauma. That year he was honored with an international award for his leadership in childhood trauma but the State of Israel would not allow him to leave the Gaza Strip to travel and accept the award. An American psychologist invited me to travel to Gaza to present the award to Dr. El-Sarraj personally.

I remember sitting across the room from him at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme which I believe Dr. El-Sarraj had founded. As my friend was making the presentation, I was documenting it with my camera and thinking “this man looks like my grandfather, why would anyone prevent him from traveling?” In 2004, I knew very little about the history, the occupation, or the politics.

On that trip to Gaza, I asked a Palestinian to drive me to Rafah (in southern Gaza) where a young American woman had been killed a year earlier (March 16, 2003). I wanted to see the site where Rachel Corrie, a peace activist from Olympia, Washington was run over by an Israeli bulldozer driver. Rachel had traveled to the Gaza Strip to work on a sister cities project between Olympia and Rafah, and while she was there she joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). On the day of her death, she had been standing in front of a Palestinian’s home in Rafah to dissuade the bulldozer operator from demolishing the home. He ran over her, not once but twice, and killed her.

Rachel Corrie, Rafah, March 16, 2003

When I visited in 2004, the site was absolutely barren. I got out and stood there a moment, and was soon surrounded by children, lots of them. They saw my camera and wanted their pictures taken. I complied.

And then my world changed.

An old Palestinian man (maybe in his sixties or seventies), wearing the traditional galabeya, came up and stood directly in front of me. He started forcefully telling me something in Arabic but I had no clue what he was saying. I could only stand there and maintain eye contact out of respect. But I could tell he was either angry, frustrated, upset or maybe all of it. After a few minutes, he waved his arms in the air and walked away. I hadn’t said a word to him but when I stepped back into the car, the driver asked me if I wanted to know what the man told me. “Yes! Of course!”

“He was telling you that foreigners come to Gaza all the time. They see how bad things are here, and how difficult life is for us. They cry big crocodile tears, and they take lots of pictures. Then they leave and nothing changes. The same is going to happen with you. You will leave and nothing will change. And then he threw up his arms in disgust and walked away.”

On the ride back to the hotel in Gaza City, about a 40-45 minute trip, I sat silently in the back seat looking out the window and thinking to myself . . . “I can’t be that person he described. I can’t be a disaster tourist and go back to my life in the USA unaffected by what I’ve witnessed. I need to educate myself and then take action.”

Fast forward to June 2021 — after years of study, reading, talking with the “experts”, visiting and living in Gaza (2012-2013) and trying unsuccessfully to learn Arabic at UNM — I am taking action this Saturday. I’m walking the #Gaza5k and raising money to support the mental health professionals who are so critically important to the lives of Palestinian refugees in Gaza. And I’m going to be thinking of Rachel Corrie, the young American woman who knew that her moral compass demanded she take action, which her parents have carried on. And Dr. El-Sarraj who I visited with again in Gaza in 2012 before he died in 2013 from leukemia. And I’m going to be thinking of that old Palestinian man in Rafah, whose name I never learned, and the important wake-up call he shared with me. TAKE ACTION!

If you want to join the virtual #Gaza5k on Saturday, June 12th — either with me in Albuquerque or in your own community, just register here ($45 adult, $35 student/child). (Your t-shirt will arrive after the event.) And you’ll be able to join the Digital Festival that begins at 1 pm ET. If you can’t walk/run, please consider making a tax-deductible donation here.

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Why is the world’s opinion changing?

The world’s opinion about Israel, Zionism, the occupation and Palestine has noticeably changed between Israel’s brutal slaughter in its Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and its most recent military campaign in Gaza, Operation Guardian of the Walls.

A big reason for this change is that we’re now hearing and reading more Palestinian voices, both in the mainstream media like the New York Times (My Child Asks, “Can Israel Destroy Our Building if the Power is Out?”) and in social media. There are big lessons to be learned here for social justice activists worldwide.

One of those prolific Palestinian voices is Refaat Alareer, a professor of English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. He’s also the editor of Gaza Writes Back (2013) and coeditor, along with Laila El-Haddad, of Gaza Unsilenced.

Today (Sunday, May 30, 2021) he was on a panel discussion sponsored by the Popular Front of India. He spoke about why the world’s opinion is changing, and the important context that the mainstream media and many western journalists have missed (or omitted) for decades. Refaat’s comments begin at hour-minute 1:04. This should be required viewing for everyone.

Another reason the world’s opinion is changing is due to the fact that American Jewish voices are rising in opposition to the State of Israel’s prolonged and brutal military occupation. Exhibit #1 is this open letter signed by many rabbinical students calling on U.S. Jews to hold Israel accountable. Exhibit #2 is Rabbi Sharon Brous’ sermon on May 22, 2021 to her congregation. Take a listen and share her words if you agree.


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‘War Crimes’, ‘Resistance’ and an American’s love for Gaza

Thanks to UK journalist and filmmaker Harry Fear for sharing his recent conversation with Denny Cormier, a citizen journalist, humanitarian and Palestine solidarity activist, originally from New Mexico but now in Massachusetts.

I met Harry Fear in Gaza over pizza in 2013. We had both been monitoring and sharing our observations about Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 from Gaza. Harry’s voice and talents reached a far larger audience than mine ever has. I was even following Harry’s postings on social media from my room in Gaza during the 2012 bombardment.

Harry Fear’s award-winning 2019 film – Gaza: Still Alive is a remarkable documentary about the ongoing trauma experienced by many Palestinian refugees in the besieged Gaza Strip. It’s available to download for free and I highly recommend it.

I first met Denny in Cairo in 2015 (I think) and remember sitting across the table talking about our shared concerns about the Palestinians we had met in Gaza.

Denny Cormier is the American I wish — more than anyone else — I could clone over and over and over again. The world needs many more Denny Cormiers. Watch the short 25 minute discussion between Harry and Denny …. posted above …. and you’ll see why. Denny exudes the qualities of compassion, empathy, curiosity and intelligence that the world needs so much more of. Truthfully, both Denny and Harry share those same qualities, and they both know how to use them responsibly and generously. The world is a better place because of them.


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Walking for children in Gaza – join me

I’m walking again this year in the virtual #Gaza5K on June 12 to raise money for UNRWA-USA — a 501(c)(3) organization that supports mental health service providers in the Gaza Strip.  There are an estimated 2000+ people around the country participating on June 12th.  The goal is $700,000 and we’re almost at $500,000.  

Would you please help my team (New Mexico Roadrunners) reach our goal of $2,500 with a small contribution?  Donations can be made online here. And I would be very grateful if you would share my message with friends and family. 

This snippet from NBCNews yesterday (May 23) discusses the impacts of trauma over a whole generation of children in Gaza. There’s never been a greater need for mental health services in the Gaza Strip. 

Eric Maddox, the host of the Latitude Adjustment podcast, talked with two young Palestinians from the Gaza Strip earlier this month about Israel’s bombardment and the impact it has on the mental health of Palestinian refugees. It’s a compelling and heart-wrenching episode, and I hope you will take time to listen.

Episode 81: Palestinian Voices: Gaza – Resilience and Mental Health https://www.latitudeadjustmentpod.com/podcast/2021/5/15/81-palestinian-voices-gaza-resilience-amp-mental-health

If you want to join us on our virtual walk/run on June 12th, there’s still time to register here. Just scroll through the teams until you find NM Roadrunners for Gaza and sign up.  We’d love to have you safely walk with us in Albuquerque. And since it’s a virtual #Gaza5k, you can participate from anywhere in the world. Questions? Ask me in the comment below.


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Resources this week on Palestine (2)

Just as I did a week ago, see here, I’ve pulled together some of the MANY articles I’ve seen this past week on current events in Palestine. There are really many excellent resources, much better coverage than I recall seeing during the 2014 Israeli bombardment which lasted 51 days. And the diversity of voices, including Palestinian voices, is a welcome sign that mainstream media may be waking up to its responsibility and role in perpetuating the injustices and human rights abuses, here and abroad.

There’s absolutely no excuse for Americans to remain ignorant. And since the U.S. provides 20% of Israel’s military budget every year (over $3.8 billion), paying for much of the sophisticated weaponry that Israel uses in maintaining its military occupation of Palestine, Americans must exert pressure on Congress and the White House to end Israel’s decades-long and ongoing Nakba in Palestine.

The big news of course is the ceasefire announced 11 days after the bombardment began.

There are many photos and videos of Palestinians celebrating in Gaza and throughout the oPt — but there’s also a somber reflection among many Palestinians in the Diaspora, as well as among solidarity activists, that the status quo that preexisted this horrific violence cannot resume. This is the moment, perhaps unlike any before it, for Americans and the world to force Israel to end its military occupation of Palestine.

On Friday, May 21, the Washington Post published Jehad Abusalim’s opinion piece which captures the ambivalence and concern of many Palestinians. (Read it here.) Jehad Abusalim is a Palestinian from Gaza, currently in the U.S. and the education and policy associate of the Palestine Activism Program at the American Friends Service Committee.

Along with other Palestinians, I’ve been surprised by the wave of global outrage at the Israeli military and solidarity with Gaza over the past few days. But I can’t help wondering whether the world will now look away from the slower destruction and death of the continued siege and occupation.

For the past 14 years, a suffocating Israeli blockade has trapped people in Gaza within a 140-square-mile area, barring us from even the most basic goods and supplies. Growing up during this blockade, the very passage of time felt violent for me.

A 23-year-old Palestinian woman who survived the bombardment in Gaza wrote a letter to President Biden published in Current Affairs on May 21. Haneen Sha’at’s letter is available here. She’s dead tired but her voice is strong and clear, sharing how Israel’s military operation impacted her personally. She ends her letter with questions for President Biden.

Mr. Biden, why are you waiting to condemn Israel’s massacres? Why are you continuing to pretend that ceasefires and “restraint on both sides” will put an end to this systematic destruction of Palestine? 66 Gazan children have been killed. 39 women. 17 elderly. What more will it take? Is just being born Palestinian a crime we have to pay for with our lives? Your decision to send even more of the military equipment Israel is using right now may well kill me and my sister. What are our lives worth to you? You have the duty to answer this question. Perhaps you already have.

What’s different this time? Israel’s military operations in Gaza (2008, 2012, 2014 and now 2021) have grown more brutal each year with heavier casualties, greater physical destruction of buildings and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, and accompanied by more brazen acts of theft and violence by the Zionist settlers protected by the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank and occupied Eastern Jerusalem. What’s different this time is that the Palestinians have united everywhere — whether they are stuck in Gaza, in the West Bank, within the 1948 borders of Israel, or in the Diaspora unable to return to their homes in Palestine. They are united in voice and spirit.

And they have the world’s attention. On May 19, the news came that the world’s biggest wealth fund — Norway’s $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund — decided to exclude Shapir Engineering and Industry Ltd and Mivne Real Estate KD Ltd. for their activities associated with Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The companies were excluded based on advice from the Council on Ethics “due to unacceptable risk that the companies contribute to systematic violations of individuals’ rights in situations or war or conflict,” the fund said in a statement.

Many believe (myself included) that the only way to end Israel’s military occupation of Palestine is by holding Israel accountable at the International Criminal Court for its gross violations of human rights, and by imposing economic sanctions. Israel must not be allowed to continue as it has for the past 70+ years, killing Palestinians with impunity, either outright as we witnessed in Gaza this month where whole families (multiple generations of the same family) were slaughtered, or slowly strangling them to death as we are witnessing with the 14 year blockade. (U.N. announced Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020.)

Americans have a role to play in redefining the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel which has enabled the military occupation to continue. This week Bernie Sanders and AOC are introducing resolutions to stop the $735 million arms sales to Israel. Dozens of U.S. rabbinical students signed an open letter accusing Israel of ‘violent suppression of human rights’ and enabling ‘apartheid in the Palestinian territories.’ And there’s much more we can do.

I’m encouraged by the observations of international law and international relations scholar, Richard Falk, who pondered on May 18th whether this is the beginning of the end of Israel’s apartheid regime?

The endgame of South African apartheid reinforces this reassessment of the changing balance of forces in the Palestinian struggle. Despite having what appeared to be effective and stable control of the African majority population through the implementation of brutal apartheid structures, the racist regime collapsed from within under the combined weight of internal resistance and international pressure.

Outside pressures included a widely endorsed BDS campaign enjoying UN backing and military setbacks in Angola against Cuban and liberation forces. Israel is not South Africa in a number of key aspects, but the combination of resistance and solidarity was dramatically ramped upwards in the past week.

Israel has already long lost the main legal and moral arguments, almost acknowledging this interpretation by their defiant way of changing the subject with reckless accusations of antisemitism, and is in the process of losing the political argument. 

Israel’s own sense of vulnerability to a South African scenario has been exposed by this growing tendency to brand supporters of BDS and harsh critics as “antisemites” which seems in the context of present development best described as “a geopolitical panic attack”.

I find it appropriate to recall Gandhi’s famous observation along these lines: “First, they ignore you, then they insult you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Read Richard Falk’s entire piece here.

Americans must keep our eyes open, and our voices raised, because justice is on the horizon. Alhamdulillah!

Published in the Albuquerque Journal, May 22, 2021

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Letter to Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham

Refaat Alareer (right) and Rawan Yaghi (next to Refaat) meet Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham (D-NM) in Spring 2014

May 20, 2021

Office of the Governor of New Mexico

490 Old Santa Fe Trail Room 400
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Dear Governor Lujan-Grisham,

In the Spring of 2014, we met in your DC congressional office, along with two Palestinians from Gaza. They were in the U.S. on a book tour and I remember how gracious you were with your time and attention. Thank you.

This week, Refaat Alareer, one of the Palestinians you met, was featured on a broadcast prepared by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). He talked about the current situation in Gaza. I hope you remember him and have time to watch this broadcast. Israel’s military bombardment of Gaza is far worse now than it was in 2014.

Refaat also published an article in the New York Times last week. Maybe you saw it?

I realize your limitations, as the Governor of New Mexico, to impact foreign policy. But would you reach out to your friends in Congress and urge them to do three things?

1) Support the resolution introduced in the House by Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, and Rashida Tlaib:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the issuance of a license for the export with respect to any of the following transfers to Israel is prohibited: (1) The transfer of the following defense articles, including defense services and technical data, described in license document DDTC 20-084, submitted to Congress pursuant to section 36(c) of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2776(c)) on May 5, 2021: The proposed transfer of defense articles, defense services, and technical data to support weapons integration, flight test, and hardware delivery of Joint Direct Attack Munition variants and Small Diameter Bomb Increment I variants for end-use by the Ministry of Defense for Israel.”

Other co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Cori Bush (Mo.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and André Carson (Ind.). I believe Senator Sanders will be introducing similar legislation in the Senate.

2) Urge President Biden and Vice-President Harris to lead our country with moral clarity — standing on the side of international human rights and humanitarian laws — and not obstructing the U.N. Security Council in its work regarding Israel and Palestine.

3) Join my team in the upcoming virtual #Gaza5K on June 12. We’re raising money for UNRWA-USA to support mental health services for trauma victims in Gaza. We would love to have you walk with us, and contribute too. I know that one of your personal passions is improving mental health services in New Mexico. I hope you will help us support mental health services in Gaza too.

Thank you!

Sincerely, Lora Lucero

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Action is the best antidote

Watching the barbaric and indiscriminate slaughter of innocent Palestinians in Gaza fills me with rage, helplessness, and determination. My lack of sleep makes me shudder with guilt over the deprivations and hardships that every single family is experiencing everywhere in the Gaza Strip.

Action is the best antidote for anger. I truly believe that much-needed action in many ways (large and small) can make a difference. So here’s a list of what I believe we can do. Please share your ideas in the comments or message me directly.

We must talk with people outside of our “activist bubbles” and inform them about the facts. Don’t let anyone tell you “it’s complicated”. It’s not. But it’s important that people standing in solidarity with the Palestinians educate themselves so they aren’t hoodwinked by Israel’s framing of the narrative — the Zionists’ hasbara. I’m going to continue posting resources that we all might find helpful in our education, but this blog post is not that.

This is a list of actions we can take immediately, assuming we have already informed ourselves of the basics of the Nakba, the occupation, and the siege on the Gaza Strip.

#1 Large signs to catch attention and start a conversation. A home-made sign in your yard or window, or in your car, might do the trick. In just the past 2 days, I’ve had a number of discussions with people who saw my signs and asked me questions. “What’s the Nakba?” I even generated a few supportive honks.

#2 Letters to the Editor and Opinion pieces. Simple and meaningful, especially if they get published. The editor of my local paper just called me (no kidding!) to verify that the letter I sent was really from me. Even if your letter isn’t published, it makes a difference if the editor sees numbers of people care about the issue. Of course, if my letter is published, I’m going to magnify its reach and circulate it on social media. A secret — I even drafted a letter for my California friend to send to her local paper. If you are comfortable writing letters to the newspaper — seek out friends in other communities who might want you to ghost write a letter.

#3 President Biden needs to hear from Americans. I actually write to President Biden every week on an issue of importance to me.

My letter to the President this week using the online contact form. https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Dear President Biden,

You aren’t using the power of your office to end Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law, and I hold you accountable.

As of today (Sunday, May 16) Israel has killed 188 Palestinians, including 55 children this past week. Ten Israelis have died.

Your words echo the milquetoast sentiments that the U.S. government has used in the previous 3 Israeli bombardments on Gaza (2009, 2012, 2014) and they are just as ineffectual in 2021.

The words you need to convey ASAP are: “The U.S. condemns the multiple provocations at Al-Aqsa Mosque and evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem that led up to the current violence.”

“The U.S. condemns violations of international humanitarian law the world is witnessing in Gaza and Israel.”

“The U.S. condemns the violence that the State of Israel has unleashed on the Gaza Strip with weapons paid for by U.S. taxpayers.”

“The U.S. acknowledges the imbalance of power, the ongoing Nakba “catastrophe”, and the military occupation that has subjugated several generations of Palestinians, with U.S. support and complicity.”

The actions you need to take ASAP are: “My Administration will not stand in the way of any actions the U.N. Security Council decides to take in response to the current violence in Israel – Palestine.”

“My Administration will freeze expenditures to the State of Israel until we (the U.S., Palestine and Israel) negotiate a conclusion to this violence which must include lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip immediately with no preconditions.”

President Biden —- you have the power to save lives. Use it. Restore our country’s moral compass. The future of Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans depend on it.

#4 Our Members of Congress need to hear from us too. It’s simple, takes only a minute or two, and you don’t even need to know the names of your U.S. Senators or Congressperson. Just dial the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell the switchboard operator which state you live in and they will connect you directly with the correct Senate office. When the Senator’s staff answers, give them a quick and easy message like “I’m watching Israel’s bombing in the Gaza Strip and it’s wrong. Israel must stop killing innocent men, women and children. I want Senator ___ to take a strong position to stop the violence and support the Palestinians.” The Senator’s staff is counting every phone call. Your call counts!

#5 Media needs to hear from us as well. If your local TV or Radio covers the current holocaust in Gaza, listen carefully. If they do a good job, let them know. It makes a difference if they hear support for their work, especially on topics like Israel-Palestine that are so often ignored or treated unfairly. This weekend my local TV covered a Rally we held in the public park. There were strong speakers and great signs. KRQE covered it very well, and I called them to thank them. The person who answered the phone at KRQE sounded surprised, and was speechless. I ended by saying “We appreciate news coverage that is fair and balanced. Thank you!” If you’re a New Mexican, listen to the story on KRQE. Give them a holler at 505-764-5240 and let them know what you think.

#6. Raise funds for an organization helping Palestinians in Gaza. If you’re a fundraising pro —- this is the time to get to work. And if you’re not comfortable asking for money, but you have funds to donate, there are many reputable organizations that deserve your attention. I’m raising money for UNRWA-USA’s annual #GAZA5K — a program that supports mental health services for Palestinian refugees in Gaza. The timing of this year’s #GAZA5K with the horrific bombardment happening now in Gaza is a poignant reminder that Palestinians older than 11 years of age have experienced three (now four) military assaults on their homes and neighborhoods. Nearly everyone in Gaza has some form of PPTSD (perpetual post traumatic stress disorder). Mental health services are critically important. I welcome a donation in any amount here. I recommend this recent episode of Latitude Adjustment podcast where Eric talks with a young Palestinian woman about her experience in Gaza during this bombardment, and why mental health services are so important.



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