Category Archives: Peaceful

The Human Spirit

Christmas message from December 2015, as relevant today as it was then, perhaps more so.   

World leaders have spent the last three years building walls, metaphorically and legally, to stem the tide of refugees. Donald Trump is demanding Congress cough up the money for his wall along the southern US-Mexico border, and now he’s closed down the U.S. government until they do. (Remember his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the wall?)

The absurdities are limitless. We (meaning the colonial Western powers) preach free trade and no economic barriers, knowing the benefits flow primarily in one direction — ours.

We export our military and new-fangled weapons of hideous destruction to countries and people who have no means to resist our “gifts” of democracy.

We lock people up for years behind economic, political and cultural blockades (occasionally dropping cluster bombs and white phosphorous on them) because they don’t behave as we tell them they should. They refuse to obey.

Meanwhile, we continue to shop for the latest fashions, attend the posh parties, gush over every theatrical production, and toast to the New Year.  The hypocrisy of all hypocrisies is that we believe we can live our lives free from the mayhem and chaos WE have spread throughout the world; that our selfish, malevolent actions have no consequences!

Until our leaders grasp the “cause and effect” of our exploitations abroad, we will continue to see desperate people fleeing desperate circumstances of our own making.

The human spirit seeks life.  I also believe the human spirit seeks to help those in need. 

Mural

Mural in Patras, Greece

That’s why Somer Sood, a California mother, created a nonprofit to bring backpacks to refugee children in Greece, along with some joy and dignity.

That’s why an American lawyer from Hawaii founded Advocates Abroad to provide legal assistance to refugees in Greece.

That’s why Sayrah Namaste, a New Mexico mother, regularly goes to the US-Mexico border to help refugees there.

And that’s why Judy Werthein, an Argentinian artist, created a new brand of shoes in 2005. (Brinco means jump in Spanish)  She distributed the trainers free of charge to people attempting to cross the border in Tijuana, Mexico. At the same time, just over the border in San Diego, she sold the shoes as ‘limited edition’ art objects for over $200 a pair. Wertheim donated part of the money she raised to a Tijuana shelter helping the migrants.

Today, they are on display in London at the Tate Modern Art Museum.

 

The trainer’s design includes eagle motifs inspired by American and Mexican national symbols, and an image of Saint Toribio Romo, the patron saint of Mexican migrants. The shoes also feature a torch, a compass and pockets to hide money and medicine. Printed on a removable insole is a map of the border area around Tijuana.

Werthein had the Brinco trainers produced cheaply in China. Many global companies manufacture products in countries where labour is cheap and often poorly regulated. The artist hopes to draw attention to how easily goods move between countries, compared with the strict regulations around the movement of people. The same governments that allow the import of cheap goods from overseas often strictly control, and actively discourage, migrants from entering the country in search of better living conditions.

Lora Lucero’s spirit wants to help refugees. Today it may be as little as purchasing and donating a cot to the shelter and shipping it to Las Cruces. Here is the address for shipping: Project Oak Tree 1280 Med Park Drive Las Cruces, NM 88005.

Tomorrow?  I hope I find the answer I’m searching for in 2019 — how can Lora best help the refugees seeking safety and security?

 

 

 

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Borders

Protest refugees 8

A simple message seen in London the week before Christmas. A few people protesting the government’s actions with refugees seeking asylum in the UK. They quietly read the names, dates and circumstances of those refugees who have died trying to find safety and a new home in the UK. I was shocked to hear how many suicides occurred after the refugee learned his or her asylum application had been rejected.

Sharing that photo on social media elicited many who supported it, with one person making the effort to point out that “Yes but sovereign countries do. And that matters a lot, whether you want to acknowledge it or not!”

My initial reaction, if I’m honest with myself, was one of scorn. I decided not to respond because I know we’re using different playbooks — I’m a Democrat and a Progressive, the poster is a Republican and a Conservative. Our worldviews clash, and there’s no point in engaging with someone who is so wrong and misinformed.

However, his reaction to a simple message of love for our brothers and sisters no matter where they may live, continued to needle me. Why would he assume I don’t acknowledge the importance of sovereign countries or understand that there’s a significant political dimension to borders?

Then it dawned on me —- he must think the same of me, as I think of him. That I’m wrong, misinformed, uneducated, naive, stuck in my box and unable to appreciate the nuance of any issue.

And then an “AHA!” moment —- there are different kinds of borders.

  • the legal, jurisdictional borders between nation-states,
  • the political borders such as the divisions between the Republicans and Democracts in the U.S., the Conservative and Labor Parties in the UK, and Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, and
  • the borders we create in our own heads every time we think about “us vs. them.” 

Refugees die on boats that are sinking in the Mediterranean as they try to cross the borders between countries, while politicians cavalierly throw up political and legal roadblocks and refuse to engage in any meaningful sense with the forces driving the refugees to flee their homes in the first place.

The Israeli military sharpshooters are killing and maiming Palestinians every week at the fence (not a legal border) between Israel and Gaza for the simple purpose of protecting their sovereign country.  Fatah and Hamas appear to be sabotaging each other and the dreams of a future State of Palestine because they have erected impenetrable borders between the two. “Either you’re with us or you’re against us!”

And I automatically threw up a border between myself and my friend on social media, refusing to engage with him, dismissing his comment, and moving on to others with whom it was easier to see eye-to-eye. Us versus them!

There’s no immutable magic in the geographical borders between nation-states. History demonstrates how often such borders have changed, and they will undoubtedly change in the future.

And there’s certainly nothing special at all about any political party, despite what the politicians may tell us.

But the borders we create in our heads are the most pernicious and impenentrable because (1) we don’t see or acknowledge them, and (2) even if we do, most of us are unwilling to eliminate those borders. It’s far easier to stay within my comfort zone where I’m right, or at least I feel affirmed in my beliefs. It takes work and perhaps a bit of humility to try to tear down those “us versus them” borders in our minds.

And so as Christians celebrate Christmas 2018, the message I want to share is to remember the Golden Rule, treat your neighbor as you wish to be treated. I think that’s the key to breaking down every type of border.

Bethlehem

 

 

 

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Movement

I’m reminded in so many ways that movement is a human right that many of us take for granted. And the politicization of movement is abhorrent.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that:

  • citizen of a state in which that citizen is present has the liberty to travel, reside in, and/or work in any part of the state where one pleases within the limits of respect for the liberty and rights of others,
  • and that a citizen also has the right to leave any country, including his or her own, and to return to his or her country at any time.

Consider the following:

President Trump has sent 5,000 troops to the US-Mexico border to erect concertina wire in an effort to thwart immigrants traveling in a caravan from Central America. The first are arriving in Tijuana this week.

A Palestinian friend from Gaza has recently been granted asylum in the UK (“Liberation from the Israeli occupation & oppression and freedom from social and cultural restrictions”) and he now has a UK travel document (“Reclaimed my freedom of movement”).

Another Palestinian friend sits with me at an outdoor cafe in Cairo and looks up into the sky. He points to the commercial airplane flying overhead and tells me “We never see such planes in the skies over Gaza; only Israeli military jets and drones.”

A Jewish American lawyer has been working with refugees in Greece for several years in their applications for asylum. She has recently come under attack with death threats by Nazis who want to scare her away.

The-Erez-crossing-between-007

The Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza. http://www.guardian.co.uk

A DHL employee in Cairo tells me that DHL can’t ship a box of books to Gaza for me, only envelopes. He says Israel has returned boxes with no explanation.

I want to speak with my US Embassy in Cairo about getting permission to travel across the Sinai to Gaza. The earliest available appointment is December 10, in one month. Are they really THAT busy?

Walking around the pyramids at Giza, my Palestinian companion is stopped twice by different security forces who take him aside. They want to see his travel documents, and pat him down. I step closer to him and when they see that we’re traveling together, they wave us both through.

Movement is power. If you can move freely, you have power. If you can prevent another from moving, you have power.

Movement is essential for accessing any other rights or freedoms. No movement = no health.  No movement = no education.  No movement = no dignity.

border

Israel’s separation barrier

While the U.S. and Israel spend their bloated military budgets ostensibly on security, but practically on thwarting the basic right of freedom of movement, the world grows ever more dangerous and deadly for many more people.

What would happen if we redirected our military budget into a global humanitarian budget, while welcoming refugees with open arms?

 

 

 

 

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Malaysia Welcomes Me!

Malaysia was as mysterious to me as Gaza is probably mysterious to many others.

I knew nothing about its history, geography, politics and people until I accepted an invitation to speak at the Freedom Film Festival. After a month in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Borneo in East Malaysia, I have a new appreciation for the value of travel. FFF

“Naila and the Uprising” was the perfect opportunity for me to prick the public’s conscience about the plight of the Palestinians. Naila and the Uprising (here’s a list of future screenings in the U.S.) is a true story about the role of women, and one woman in particular, who leads her people under very difficult circumstances with strength and moral courage.

My host – Viva Palestina Malaysia – arranged an interview with Juliet Jacobs on BFM Radio’s Feminist Fridays. What a treat that was! Juliet had obviously done her homework before I entered her studio. Our conversation about Gaza, the Freedom Film Festival and my interests in social justice advocacy flew by quickly.  Here’s the link to the interview.

The power of filmmaking to spur social change must not be underestimated. I didn’t fully appreciate that fact until I heard Joakim Demmer, an internationally-acclaimed documentary filmmaker, speak about how to bring a local story to an international audience. His most recent film “Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas” is about the new green gold, the massive global commercial rush for farmland, in this case in Ethiopia. My conscience was pricked.

“Hoping for export revenues, the Ethiopian government leases millions of hectares of allegedly unused land to foreign investors. But the dream of prosperity has a dark side – the most massive forced evictions in modern history, lost livelihoods of small farmers, harsh repression and a vicious spiral of violence. Contributing to this disaster are the EU, the World Bank and DFID, providing billions of dollars in development money.”

During a break at the festival, someone pressed a copy of (the just published) Sarawak Report into my hands. I couldn’t put it down! Investigative reporter, Clare Brown, uncovered massive corruption with a trail leading all the way up to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who was ousted from office just a few months before I arrived. The corruption involves the deforestation of Sarawak, Borneo on the east side of Malaysia, and a global money-laundering scheme worth USD Billions, with the U.S. now seeking extradition of an ex-Goldman banker from Malaysia.

Penang Hill view 4

From Kuala Lumpur, I took the train north to Penang Island near the border of Thailand. The Gift of Rain (2007) and The Garden of Evening Mists (2012) by Tan Twan Eng had captured my imagination and I wanted to see for myself how this area had survived the Japanese invasion in WWII.

I learned about the delicate dance between the Chinese (about 60% of the population of Penang Island) and the Malays (32%). There’s a national law giving Malays preferential treatment over the Chinese in education, jobs, etc in an attempt to equalize the perceived inequities between the two groups.  I met some serious high school students at the public library quietly studying on a Saturday morning amidst displays promoting study abroad in the USA, including at my son’s alma mater, the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The construction cranes were perched everywhere on Penang Island, a testament to the rapid growth and development occurring there. I met with representatives from Think City, a “community-focused urban regeneration organisation working closely with the local authorities, communities, institutions, private entities, and global experts to rejuvenate cities and solve contemporary urban issues with an emphasis on historic city centres.” I walked, walked, walked everywhere in the old center city of Georgetown and felt the energy of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In addition to the amazing hawker stalls selling an extravaganza of food with names I can’t begin to pronounce, I also tasted the infamous Durian, a native fruit with such a malodorous smell that hotels, airlines and public buses warn people not to bring the Durian inside!

On my last day in Georgetown, I was invited to attend a press conference where a local environmental group (Penang Forum) was challenging the environmental impact report prepared for the new highway proposed to cross the island. Astonishingly, no alternatives to this mega-project had been analyzed even though it appeared to have already received the stamp of approval from the authorities. I expressed my dismay and shared that an EIR with no alternatives wouldn’t pass muster in the United States. Of course, as the “expert,” my opinion made it into the local paper the next day.

During my last week, I decided to visit Bario, a community of 13 – 16 villages in the Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak East Malaysia. I was drawn to Sarawak because of the book by the same title, but I was also blessed to have an introduction to a family in Bario by my hostess in Kuala Lumpur.  Bario arrivalI was routinely asked throughout my travels about my age and whether I was traveling alone, which must have struck many as very strange. I told everyone that I had angels with me everywhere I went. Flying into the remote Borneo highlands in a small plane full of men required no courage at all.

Bario farmer woman in rice field

The Kelabit are an indigenous people in the Borneo highlands whose agricultural practices and rice paddies are very much the same as they were hundreds of years ago. Their families live together in longhouses built above ground on stilts to avoid the flooding.

I learned that most Kelabit are Evangelical Christians. On Sunday I attended a long church service and sat next to an old Kelabit woman who asked me to pray for her (through an interpreter) because her husband died recently. She also asked me to send her a copy of the selfie we took. I was captivated with the youth group’s singing. Lora and friend

The next day I walked down the road to the school and asked if I could visit a classroom.  As luck would have it, many of the teachers in this secondary school were away attending a conference and I was enthusiastically welcomed to teach three classes (in English of course) that morning.  The students come from the surrounding villages and live at the school except for the holidays when they return home to their families.

I learned about their dreams and aspirations and was surprised how much they knew about the U.S. — both politics and popular culture. Some were shy, others were inquisitive, and all of them were very polite. Bario school students 2

After school, I walked to the public library near the school to donate my copy of The Sarawak Report. I was disappointed to see only children’s books on the shelves and asked the librarian why there were no adult books. She said the adults aren’t interested in the library, and only the children are patrons who come regularly with their classmates. It still seemed appropriate that The Sarawak Report should end up in the Bario public library.

Leaving Bario, I flew over Sarawak and saw the devastating impact of deforestation and introduction of palm oil plantations. It seems to me that the Kelabit have so much to teach the world about sustainable farming and living gently on the land in this era of climate chaos, but outside forces are rapidly overwhelming the landscape and the people, I fear.

Sarawak aerial view 5

The people I met, even more than the landscape and places I saw, were the highlight of my travel to Malaysia. Alhamdulillah!

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Beyond Talk: Five Ways the American Jewish Establishment Supports the Occupation

A new report was just released by If Not Now, an American organization that says it’s “building a vibrant and inclusive movement within the American Jewish community, across generations and organizational affiliations … to shift the American Jewish public away from the status quo that upholds the occupation.”

“Beyond Talk: Five Ways the American Jewish Establishment Supports the Occupation” is a short 35 pages with footnotes to back up the points made in the report.  The pdf can be downloaded for free here.

border

Thankfully, more Americans are waking up to the insidious role of the U.S. involvement in the Israeli occupation. This report focuses on the Jewish organizations in America that support and enable the occupation despite the fact that there is a growing schism between these organizations and the younger American Jews who denounce the Israeli occupation.

Some major take-away points from the report:

#1  Directly fund organizations that uphold Israel’s military, economic, and political control over Palestinians’ daily lives.

  • Between 2009 and 2013, 50 American 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations gave over $220 million in tax-deductible donations to settlements and other extreme right-wing organizations, according to an investigation of American and American Jewish organizations’ IRS tax forms by the Israeli daily Haaretz.

#2  Lobby American politicians to put unconditional support for the Israeli government and its policies above Palestinian human rights.

  • The educational arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and organizations such as local Jewish Community Relation Councils send regular delegations of politicians to Israel to boost unequivocal support for the Jewish state while hiding the reality of the Occupation. The limited engagement with Palestinian perspectives on such trips was described by one participant, former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, as “a sort of token process.”
  • In addition to lobbying for Israel, the majority of Jewish institutions lobby against any and all criticism of Israel’s Occupation. Of all American Jewish organizations with large national memberships, only Americans for Peace Now, Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street, and the New Israel Fund supported the U.S. administration’s abstention in the December 2016 United Nations Security Council Resolution recognizing Israel’s settlements as illegal under international law. The mixture of condemnation and silence from every other national American Jewish organization demonstrates an investment in a status quo that benefits settlement expansion over Palestinian rights.

#3  Amplify prominent individuals and organizations responsible for deepening the Occupation.

#4  Promote a culture within the Jewish community that omits and denies the legitimacy of Palestinian narratives and rights.

  • Many Jewish youth groups promote the state of Israel while barely acknowledging the existence of the Occupation. For example, many camps and Hebrew schools use maps of Israel without the Green Line in their educational materials.
  • Hillel International, which oversees the largest network of centers for Jewish life on college campuses, maintains “standards of partnership” guidelines that prohibit Hillel-affiliated organizations and student groups from hosting or partnering with organizations or individuals that “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel,” effectively barring engagement with Palestinians opposed to the Occupation.

#5  Silence and intimidate those who oppose the policies of the Israeli government, shutting dissent out of the mainstream Jewish community.

  • In 2014, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which was founded in the 1950s to represent all major streams of American Jewry in national affairs, voted against J Street’s membership; vocal opponents said that it was not sufficiently pro-Israel because it opposed the Occupation.
  • Mainstream Jewish organizations have refused to speak out against and even funded watchlists, like Canary Mission, that vilify individuals and organizations that speak out for Palestinian rights. Canary Mission is a database that catalogues the photos and names of Palestinian rights activists, encourages employers to blacklist them, and has been used as the basis to deny entry to Israel.

The report’s message is clear. American Jews who stand up for human rights and oppose Israel’s occupation must make their voices heard within these organizations that purport to represent them. They must use their influence and power to pushback against the Zionist behemoth that maintains the occupation.

“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

 

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Feminine power

There’s not much disagreement that these are dangerous times and we are in a world of hurt right now.

ostrich-head-in-sandFrom the global (climate change) to the international (refugees crossing borders) to my very own backyard in the USA.  It’s disheartening to think about the trajectory we’re on, so some of my friends prefer not to think about it.

I don’t have that luxury.

Certainly, the so-called first world countries have set us on this path with many others mistakenly following suit.

Certainly, both men and women have contributed to building the contours of this dangerous path.

Perhaps, some of us remain convinced that this path is the right one, with merely a tweak here and there to improve it. I know we must get off this path quickly if we’re going to leave a sustainable legacy for our children and beyond.  The current path is a dead end.

[A future blog post about what I see on this destructive path we’re blindly following.]

To find this new path requires a new form of energy, and a new way of thinking. I’m seeing glimpses of it emerging every day, but I honestly don’t understand its contours . . . yet.

I believe feminine power is the new energy to propel us forward to a sustainable future. What is feminine power? Better yet, what is it NOT?

WeAreOne-MedFeminine power is not female. It may not make sense intuitively, but feminine power can be found in any gender (I write “any” deliberately.)

Feminine power is not patriarchal, by which I mean the values, structure and assumptions that uphold the current system.

Feminine power is not exclusive, not selfish and not finite.

So what is this new (actually very old) form of energy that I’m calling feminine power?

I witnessed it at the Freedom Film Festival yesterday in Malaysia. I witnessed it in Gaza in 2012-2013. And I catch glimpses of it from time to time everywhere I go in the most unlikely of places. I typically feel the power rather than actually see it.

My preliminary stab at defining “feminine power” includes the following: (subject to revision and ongoing reflection).

  • power that gives, does not take
  • power that adds, does not subtract, withdraw or diminish
  • power that is based on generosity, not miserly or limited
  • power that connects, does not separate
  • power that opens opportunities, does not close or limit them
  • power that flows from all of the human senses, rather than from muscular strength
  • power that springs forth from a higher source than mankind

I’m still thinking about this feminine power, and I welcome blog readers’ ideas.

 

 

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The Power of Filmmaking – Mend the Gap

Films can be a powerful catalyst for awakening change. Remember Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth“?  I suspect many Americans were launched off their sofas to make a difference on climate change as a result.

Maurice and Lora on High Road to Taos

Lora and Maurice in northern New Mexico

I came to appreciate the hard work that goes into filmmaking when I spent several weeks this summer in a cabin in a remote part of northern New Mexico with filmmaker Maurice Jacobsen who was editing a new documentary about Gaza. A lot of work, patience and love go into every minute of a new film. Watch for Maurice’s new documentary to be released very shortly. Here’s a snippet. 

Then I received an invitation to attend and speak at the Freedom Film Fest in Malaysia. This is the 16th year of the annual fest, which showcases award-winning social justice and human rights films. Appropriately, the theme this year is a call to action to “Mend the Gap”, which draws its inspiration from the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which says that “no one should be left behind.”FFF

The organizers of the film festival note that “despite progress in science, technology and democracy, the gaps between the rich and poor, the have and have nots, the powerful and the powerless are getting deeper and wider.” I might add that the gap between the occupier and the oppressed in Palestine is obscenely grotesque. 

Film Festival

In 2012, the United Nations reported that Gaza may be unlivable by 2020.  Israel’s seige and blockade of the Gaza Strip is deliberately stripping Palestinians of their dignity and their basic needs for survival. While Israelis have clean water, 24/7 electricity, and everything else we take for granted in a first world country, the Palestinians suffer 60%+ unemployment, 2 hours of electricity per day, no drinkable water unless they can afford to purchase bottled-water from Israel, and vanishing healthcare services. The gap between the occupier and the oppressed grows wider.

“Gaza has continued on its trajectory of de-development, in many cases even faster than we had originally projected,” said Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, in July 2017.

“When you’re down to two hours of power a day and you have 60 percent youth unemployment rates … that unlivability threshold has been passed quite a long time ago.”

Israel’s new “nation-state law” — adopted this summer — has formalized the ugly truth that has existed in Israel-Palestine since the 1948.  The law does three big things:

  1. It states that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.”
  2. It establishes Hebrew as Israel’s official language, and downgrades Arabic — a language widely spoken by Arab Israelis — to a “special status.”
  3. It establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value” and mandates that the state “will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”

The gap between Jews and Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) has just been formalized into the basic laws of the State of Israel. 

Perhaps the gap is nowhere better illustrated than at the fence between Israel and Gaza where the Palestinians have been protesting each Friday since March 30, demanding their human rights and their right to return to their homes and villages from which they were expelled in 1948. Israeli sharpshooters have killed at least 174 Palestinians and wounded more than 18,000 people participating in the Great March of Return, according to health officials in Gaza.

The gap between the best-equipped army in the Middle East, and the Palestinians throwing rocks resembles David and Goliath. 

What can we do to mend these gaps?

  1. Educate ourselves about what’s really going on, on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank. Don’t rely on the mainstream media.
  2. Read about the injustices occurring in Palestine. The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights by Michael Sfard.
  3. Speak truth to power and speak up against injustices everywhere, including those perpetrated every single day in Palestine.

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