Category Archives: COVID-19

The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian

ICRC building on the hill

International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva

There’s a saying in Gaza (at least among some) that the Palestinians are living under THREE occupations.

The first, of course, is the Israeli military occupation. The United Nations and nearly the entire international community recognize this occupation. It’s been going on for so many decades that at least one scholar prefers to call it colonization, not an occupation. It’s perhaps the best documented occupation in world history.

The second is the internal political occupation.  Palestinians in Gaza are living under Hamas, and Palestinians in the West Bank are living under the Palestinian Authority (PA). “Living under” is the correct terminology in both cases because there haven’t been elections in more than a decade (no concept of “term limits” in the Arab world as far as I can tell) and both Hamas and the PA rule with an iron fist.

I learned about the third type of occupation when I was in Gaza in 2012-2013 and met with local city officials to discuss planning issues in the community. They told me bluntly, “What plans? It’s whatever the NGOs are willing to fund. Their plans get implemented, ours stay on the shelf.” So I call this the NGO occupation. Donors’ good intentions can actually backfire because they disempower the local communities they’re meant to serve. US-AID projects are a good example.

Amid the turmoil and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are new challenges and opportunities for both nation-states and the private sector attempting to address the serious needs of the most vulnerable. Things are changing rapidly.

ICRC Museum

ICRC Museum Entrance — Geneva

Focusing on humanitarian action, as it has since its beginning in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) asked the following question in this new COVID-19 world we’re entering:

How then should aid organizations anticipate and prepare for this new reality, still opaque in many ways, and balance it against the expected overwhelming needs? Better yet, rather than adapting and anticipating to this new reality, how can aid organizations lean in and embrace the present crisis as a conduit for radical change, proactively reshaping and repositioning an aid sector that is fit for purpose to protect and address the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized?

The question is important, the answers that follow may profoundly change the way NGOs address the needs of the most vulnerable.

This 18 minute audio of a blog posted by Raphael Gorgeu provides a good explanation of how the NGO landscape may be changing. The world tomorrow: COVID-19 and the new humanitarian.  Have a listen.

A public health crisis to begin with, the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly metastasized to nearly all fronts of society. Considered one of the biggest crises in modern history, the pandemic’s effects will deeply impact the lives of billions of people, shake the foundations of our solidarity models and redesign parts of the international humanitarian sector. The way aid actors move forward now will shape the future of the humanitarian landscape: pre-existing trends are speeding up as new ones are brought into play, all while the overall balance is placed under scrutiny. In a myriad of ways, many still unforeseeable, the intensity of the present period is accelerating change.

 

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Filed under COVID-19, Occupation, Politics, United Nations, Video

Two deaths

Peace cranes 1

Origami Peace Cranes

My family and friends know I’m a prolific letter writer. I must send several notes to elected officials each week about one issue or another. Yesterday I realized I’m now sending more condolence cards than my standard fare of political action notes, a sign of the new Covid-19 times we live in.

Two deaths this week hit me hard, not because of who had died (I didn’t know either man personally), but my heart is broken for their families left behind. Both deaths seem so unfair.

One was a young healthy man who died of COVID-19 in NYC. Very successful in business with a tremendous future in front of him, he left behind a wife and young daughter and parents who are all grieving his loss.  A ZOOM memorial can’t cover the distance the hearts must travel to make any sense of the senseless.

The second death was a well-respected Palestinian physician in Gaza who had been suffering from cancer for some time. Israel has prevented essential medical supplies and medicines from entering Gaza for years now, and routinely denies permission for patients to leave Gaza to seek medical attention elsewhere.

His son in the U.S. has left no stone unturned to get the critical medicines and vitamins to his father, even though he could never travel to Gaza himself to visit, that was verboten by the Israeli authorities. I was pleased to play a minor role in that transit process a year ago. Today his son is mourning his father’s death, unable to join his mother in Gaza and grieve together as a family.

I don’t know the religious traditions of each man, but I suspect one was Jewish and one was Muslim. It really doesn’t matter at all. Both are gone and have left huge holes in the hearts of many.

Argentine cactus bloomIf there’s such a thing as heaven (I’m not at all sure about that) then they are probably both sitting there, digesting their new surroundings where all of the superficial differences have disappeared. The “other” is an unfathomable idea.

They both recognize the pain and sorrow they left behind, and likely want to comfort their family and friends.

In my own musing about these two families’ unbearable sadness, I want to touch their hearts with my heart and ease their burdens.

We are one, there is no other.

 

 

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Filed under COVID-19, Spiritual - Religion

To Dream the Impossible Dream: One Democratic State

Iris Keltz is a member and cofounder of Jewish Voice for Peace in Albuquerque, NM and the author of Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land: Journeys in Palestine & Israel, an award winning book available in print and Ebook.  Iris extends an invitation (see below) to a zoom chat on May 7th about the proposal for a One Democratic State in Israel.

Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to listen to Andy Williams (1971), watch the zoom chat on May 7, and read two books (Iris’s and Deb Reich’s No More Enemies and here.)

Iris Keltz explains the zoom meeting:

Jeff Halper and Awad Abdelfattah, two leaders of the One Democratic State Campaign in Israel will be speaking on May 7th at 2:00 pm Eastern time.  Here’s the link to connect to the Zoom meeting.

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85769809039?pwd=cGhnOXl0djhhMkMrVytpVENBcC9Ydz09.

Awad Abdelfattah is former General Secretary of the National Democratic Assembly party (Balad in Hebrew), one of three parties in the Israeli Knesset that represents Israel’s Palestinian 1.4 million minority population.

Dr. Jeff Halper is head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and author of War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification (2015).

Are these men tilting at windmills, dreaming an impossible dream? Both Abdelfattah and Halper believe that for the sake of future generations of Israelis and Palestinians a single democratic state is the best way forward, albeit something that might not happen in our life time. They agree that in order to dismantle the current settler-colonial regime, a detailed political plan is necessary. Halper, who once reluctantly accepted the idea of two-states, pointed out that “BDS” (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) is a strategy— not an endgame.

In spite of the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel (aka ’48 Palestinians) are second class citizens, their significance and influence has long been underestimated and undervalued. They are a rising force in the Knesset and in emerging grassroots initiatives related to the containment of COVID-19. Abdelfattah proudly pointed out that 17% of doctors in Israel are Palestinians who are caring for people during this frightening pandemic regardless of ethnicity or religion.

The strong Palestinian middle class in Israel can be attributed to the value they place on education. Since 1948, they have suffered the loss of ancestral lands, homes and villages. Most families have relatives in refugee camps around the Middle East. The Nakba has continued for them as well as for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. They expose the internal nature of Israeli apartheid. However, Abdelfattah remains open to working with Progressive Jewish-Israelis. He expressed great regret for the end of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid and credits this Jewish-American as having started a powerful social justice movement supported by a majority of Muslim-Americans.

In order to promote the dream of a single democratic state, a critical mass of Palestinians and Israelis is essential. At least 1,000 Palestinians are needed to sign on to this agreement, a seemingly modest number. Once embraced by the PLO, this idea is typically rejected by Israel because of “security concerns” where control of the military is the most important question for the one-state.

According to Halper, the Israeli psyche has become more Fascist and more right wing. It was profoundly disappointing to hear that even among progressive Israelis the idea of one democratic state is not strong. Palestinian-Israelis remain divided. Abdelfattah emphasized the importance of unifying ’48 Palestinians with West Bank Palestinians who are further oppressed by the Palestinian Authority, and with Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza. Arguably both movements are essential and can be worked on simultaneously.

Being an idealistic pragmatist, Halper pointed out that different models are available for the greater Middle East. “Consider bio-regionalism, bi-national, a confederation, etc. The possibilities are limited to our imagination.” Both leaders agree that the idea must be framed in a way that is acceptable to both people. Words like “secular” or “religious” should be avoided. “One person, one vote” is a more neutral description. Unfortunately human rights and international law have no teeth and the impossible dream seems to be slipping further into the future.

“We don’t even have a name for this new country,” said Halper, leaving me to ponder about the significance of names. To name someone or something is to recognize their humanity. And that’s just what is needed.

Recommended read— “The Wall & the Gate” by Michael Sfard, an Israeli attorney who represents various Israeli and Palestinian human rights and peace organizations, movements and activists.

 

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Filed under Book Review, COVID-19, Israel, Nakba, Peaceful, People, Politics, Uncategorized, Video

Critical thinking in the age of COVID-19 and climate change

Humans are lazy thinkers — me included.

Give me a book, a video, a manuscript that supports my worldview, and I’m a happy camper.  (We’ve all heard of confirmation bias.)

This week I was challenged to reconsider two beliefs: one dealing with COVID-19’s stay-at-home orders and the other, a film that Michael Moore released called Planet of the Humans.

My first response in both cases had nothing to do with my brain but with my gut. I didn’t want to be corrected nor embarrassed if my initial opinion had been wrong. Maybe I could just dig in my heels and “prove” why I was right and explain why those who disagreed with me were wrong.

Then I decided that I’d better have a closer look. Asking others to use their critical thinking skills means nothing if I’m not willing to challenge myself.

Case #1 – COVID-19 Stay-at-Home orders

In the first case, a thoughtful friend of mine from Colorado told me he believes the stay-at-home orders are unwise and unnecessary. I watched the interview of two doctors who presented loads of statistics and personal experience to support their strong conclusion that the stay-at-home orders are not based on hard science and are actually contra-indicated.  Their position flies in the face of nearly every medical expert we’re hearing from in the world.

I’m not an epidemiologist and don’t have an ounce of comfort when throwing numbers and statistics around. How should I evaluate this claim about the stay-at-home orders? Here’s what I did.

  1. Who are these two doctors making the claim and can I discern what their motives might be? They admit they’re “entrepreneurs” in the interview, they own the largest testing site in Kern County, and mention that people are fearful of coming in for a test. The last hint was a comment Dr. Erickson dropped about “constitutional rights” in his answer to one of the reporter’s questions. From this I surmise that they’re concerned about their business, and they’re politically conservative individuals which may (may not) be the motivation for their contrarian views.
  2. What are other professionals and colleagues saying about their claim? I found several news reports disagreeing with them, and I found no one else that publicly supports them. Dr. Navin Amin’s interview directly contradicted Dr. Erickson.
  3. How do I weigh the evidence and form an opinion? Since I can’t bring any independent scientific or medical expertise to the question, I weigh the opinions of others and judge the pros and cons of each side. What are the positives of removing the stay-at-home orders and opening up our communities? What are the downsides? What are the positives of keeping the stay-at-home orders in place for the time being? What are the downsides?

Factoring 1, 2, and 3 together, I believe it’s wise to keep the stay-at-home orders in place while ramping up our COVID-19 testing abilities, and preparing for re-opening our communities based on clear and non-discriminatory criteria.

Case #2 – Planet for the Humans

In the second example that challenged my critical thinking skills, Planet of the Humans made my head explode.  You can watch the full movie here (1 hour 40 minutes).

My take-away message from the film is three-fold: clean energy comes with an environmental cost which we’re often not talking about or taking into consideration; consumerism and a technological fix to our rapidly deteriorating planet is not the answer; and human population growth exceeds the Earth’s limits and we’re not talking about that much either.

I watched the film earlier this week when there were fewer than 200,000 views. Today there are more than 2 million views. Planet of the Humans is certainly getting attention and stimulating discussion. It’s also generating considerable criticism; enough that filmsforaction.org decided to remove and then restore the film to its website.

We are disheartened and dismayed to report that the film is full of misinformation – so much so that for half a day we removed the film from the site.

Ultimately, we decided to put it back up because we believe media literacy, critique and debate is the best solution to misinformation.

You can read the entire statement from Films for Action here. I applaud their decision.

The criticisms of the film can be boiled down to:

  1. the filmmaker didn’t include positive messages about the wind & solar potential (there appears to be universal agreement now that biomass is destructive); its message was totally negative against green energy without sharing alternatives.
  2. the film was a hit piece on the environmental leaders and groups that have earned the trust of generations of Americans.
  3. the film was manipulative and deceptive, using clever editing and misinformation to shape the viewer’s opinion about the topic.

Check out the following for more details:

This review from Vote to Survive (which details both its merits and flaws).

“A movie that purports to care about the environment and the future of humanity and yet seeks to undermine support for the very things we must do to save this planet, and ourselves, is worse than a disappointment. It’s reckless.”

This in-depth review from Ketan Joshi who says the film’s contents are old, really old, and by implication, irrelevant.

“Later, they visit the Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) solar farm, only to feign sadness and shock when they discover it’s been removed, leaving a dusty field of sand. In the desert. “Then Ozzie and I discovered that the giant solar arrays had been razed to the ground”, he moans. “It suddenly dawned on me what we were looking at. A solar dead zone”. Which is a weird one, because the latest 2020 satellite imagery shows a site full of solar arrays, and a total absence of any “dead zones”. The damn thing is generating electricity.

This review from Neal Livingston.

Planet of the Humans uses the most worn-out editing techniques to emotionally manipulate the viewer. We see windmills from the early 1970’s, the early days of wind power, which are long gone. We see on the street facile interviews, with film editing techniques to make environmental leaders look dumb. We see a dying orangutang as the film ends to make you cry. But nowhere does the film show us how to get off fossil fuels, by showing us where renewables are working. Nor does the film help us to stop forest destruction, by showing us places that have taken steps to protect nature, and there are many places that have done so.

Bill McKibben’s response (to get his side of the story).

Like the film-maker, I previously personally supported burning bio-mass as an alternative to fossil fuels—in my case, when the rural college where I teach replaced its oil furnaces with a wood-chip burner more than a decade ago, I saluted it. But as more scientists studied the consequences of large-scale biomass burning, the math began to show that it would put large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere at precisely the wrong moment: if we break the back of the climate system now, it won’t matter if forests suck it up fifty years hence. And as soon as that became clear I began writing and campaigning on those issues. Here’s a piece of mine from 2016 that couldn’t be much clearer, and another from 2019 in the New Yorker about the fights in the Southeast, and another from 2020 as campaigners fought to affect policy in the Northeast. The other side has definitely noticed—here’s an article from the biomass industry attacking me, 350.org, and others. I’m reasonably sure that most of the valiant people here and in the UK that have been fighting this fight will vouch that I’ve been a help, not a hindrance.

I’ve watched the film a second time, thinking about the criticism leveled against it, and have the same opinion. The filmmaker got me thinking about a very important issue that many people (even environmental leaders and organizations) don’t discuss.

We need to look at ourselves, our lifestyles, our consumption of the Earth’s resources, our greed, our economic system, our belief system — all of it — and make big changes.  No, we need to reinvent ourselves! Richard Heinberg (The End of Growth), Richard York, Nina Jablonski and others said it very well in this film, and their voices are a wake-up call.

I certainly understand why Bill McKibben, Tom Solomon (350 New Mexico), Michael E. Mann and some establishment environmental groups might take umbrage with Planet of the Humans. It’s really, really uncomfortable to have one’s worldview challenged, and this film certainly does just that. It also calls into question whether there’s an unholy alliance between these environmental groups and the titans of our capitalistic system. Interestingly, none of the responses to the film touch on that last point at all, or dispute those assertions made by the filmmaker.

Use your critical thinking skills —- and you may come away with a different conclusion than mine —- but THAT is the whole point of critical thinking and, I venture to say, the making of this film.  The filmmaker is making us think about the issues he has raised. Good for him!

 

 

 

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Filed under Climate Change, COVID-19, People, Uncategorized, Video

Prisoners are COVID-19 sitting ducks

A fact of life in this COVID-19 world is that prisoners sitting behind bars are some of the most vulnerable potential victims of this deadly virus.  In the U.S., the highest number of COVID-19 related cases in the courts today are petitions by prisoners seeking release from confinement. Prisons are Super-Spreaders of the coronavirus. In response, some states and local governments have released prisoners, (check the status of these actions).

Israeli prisons house both Israeli and Palestinian prisoners.  “Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” human rights experts say.

I’m sending the following U.N. press release to Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Representative Debra Haaland (D-NM) because McCollum has demonstrated her concern about Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons (see, H.R. 2407) and Haaland is my Congresswoman from New Mexico. I want them both to know what the human rights experts are warning.

GENEVA (24 April 2020) – A group of UN human rights experts* urged Israel not to discriminate against thousands of Palestinian prisoners facing high-risk exposure to COVID-19 and to release the most vulnerable – particularly women, children, older persons and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

“There are currently more than 4,520 Palestinian prisoners, including 183 children, 43 women and 700 detainees with pre-existing medical conditions in Israeli jails. They remain dangerously vulnerable in the context of the current pandemic and the relative increase in the number of transmission rates in Israel,” said the experts.

“Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” they added.

The experts said prisoner releases should also include those in administrative and pre-trial detention. “Israel should be taking steps to release those facing arbitrary measures as well as vulnerable groups in its prisons to reduce overcrowding and ensure the minimum conditions to prevent the spread of the virus.”

They noted that family visits have been banned since the COVID-19 outbreak and access to lawyers restricted for Palestinian detainees. “It is critical that any such measures are medically justified and, if so, alternative means for communication, such as video conferencing, should be made available. Special and more relaxed measures should also apply to children and women for visits.”

The experts also expressed serious concerns over reports that Israeli authorities are impeding efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem. In one reported incident, Israeli authorities recently raided a testing clinic in the densely populated Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan under the pretext that its testing kits were provided by the Palestinian Authority. Israel has also arrested doctors.

“It is inconceivable that, in the current conditions, especially in light of the lack of testing kits and other equipment, Israel would undermine existing efforts to ensure that a larger portion of the Palestinian population is tested. Such efforts are especially needed when recent data suggests that rates of COVID-19 have significantly increased in occupied East Jerusalem,” they noted.

Palestinians under occupation, as a protected population under international humanitarian law, should have equal access to treatment and testing without discrimination. “Cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians to ensure protection, prevention and treatment of all is critical. Such acts as raiding Palestinian clinics can only undermine such efforts,” the expert said.

(*) The UN experts: Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair), Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Seong-Phil Hong and Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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Filed under COVID-19, Israel, People, United Nations

Palestinian Prisoners Day Twitter storm

This Friday, April 17th, marks Palestinian Prisoners Day, an annual day of action in support of Palestinian prisoners and a commemoration of the monumental role they’ve played throughout the struggle for Palestinian Freedom. The global COVID-19 crisis has made it clear: it’s more important than ever before to support and free incarcerated people, from Palestine to the US!
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From Rikers Island to Palestine, coronavirus is spreading in prisons. On Palestinian Prisoners Day, spread solidarity with us at a Zoom rally and twitterstorm.

Featuring:
Marc Lamont Hill, Professor of Media Studies and Urban Education at Temple University
Bassem and Ahed Tamimi, Nabi Saleh, Palestine
Arab Marwan Barghouti, son of Palestinian political leader and hunger strike organizer Marwan Barghouti.
Randa Wahbe, Al-Shabaka and Addameer
Brad Parker, Defense for Children International Palestine
Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal & Advocacy Director, Project South; past president, National Lawyers Guild
Lex Steppling, Director of Policy and Campaigns, Dignity and Power Now
***During this rally, we’ll be responding to calls to action from Palestinian prisoner rights advocates and from anti-prison organizers here in the US.  Come ready to make phone calls, tweet, and participate in other actions****
Directly following this event on Friday, the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) is organizing a live conversation with the Executive Director of Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoners Support Association, plus a twitter storm!  Details here.
 
These conversations/actions on Friday are pieces of a movement-wide mobilization. For a list of other events related to Palestinian Prisoners Day, check out this calendar: https://samidoun.net/events/
 

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Filed under COVID-19, nonviolent resistance, People, Uncategorized

The Possibilities

When I visited the Duomo di Milano (the second largest cathedral in the world) on March 24, 2019, I stood in awe of the magnificent interior, and then scrambled around the rooftop with hundreds of other tourists.

I never imagined the possibility that Piazza del Duomo in Milan would be empty a year later, or that I would be listening to the Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli perform inside that empty cathedral.  Today I sat alone but joined more than 2.5 million people from around the world for his performance. Alone but together, I couldn’t have imagined that possibility either. A link to his performance is here. Bocelli did not accept a fee for his performance but his foundation has established a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to purchase protective equipment for doctors and nurses here.

When I arrived in Rochester, Minnesota about 3 weeks ago to visit the orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic about a hip replacement, I was pleased when he said “yes” and not surprised when he said “but we don’t know when we can do it” because the Coronavirus put an end to all elective procedures. I’m a patient person and can certainly wait, but I couldn’t have imagined that I would be sheltering inside for weeks with my brother and his family. (He probably couldn’t imagine it either since we haven’t lived in the same house together since he was 4 years old. He’s much younger than me.) 

My Baltimore friend shared a short 13 minute audio clip of a discussion about the significance of language, and especially the metaphors, that we use to describe things like the Coronavirus. President Trump and many in the U.S. talk about our “war on this virus” and we want to name and defeat this enemy.  Other leaders are using very different metaphors, and a famous epidemiologist uses education metaphors.  Here’s a link to that audio clip. Check it out and see what you think. I couldn’t have imagined the possibility that we might actually build bridges and conceptualize in concrete terms that “We Are One” just by changing our language.  Truly a new paradigm for relating with the “other.”

And my New Mexico friend shared the joy of Easter with me today.  His Argentine cactus bloomed on Good Friday.  I never imagined that a cactus could produce such a beautiful flower.  I can see it.  I believe it. (Photo credit: David Day)

What other possibilities can’t we imagine in this world, and in our lives?

Restoring the Earth and eliminating the catastrophic damage of climate change?

Repairing the social contract between all humans who deserve shelter, food, healthcare, education, love and dignity?

Ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and finding harmony and peace for all people in the Holy Land?

In my old age, with half a century or more of hearing the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, I never really believed in that possibility. It didn’t make sense and it didn’t seem particularly important to me.  Today, I have a new appreciation for the possibilities that might be just on the horizon.  (Thank you Grandma for sharing the Easter story every year.)

 

 

 

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Filed under Climate Change, COVID-19, Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized