Category Archives: People

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?

 

 

 

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Peaceful, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy, Video

Eloquent truth-telling at the United Nations

International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People Special Meeting at UN Headquarters November 28, 2018

Professor Marc Lamont Hill at the United Nations calls for “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” to chorus of applause.  This 20-minute video says all that needs to be said about Israel’s long-term, illegal occupation of Palestine, about human rights, about the facts on the ground today in the West Bank and Gaza.  CNN fired Professor Hill the day after he spoke the hard truth at the UN.

1 Comment

Filed under People, Uncategorized, United Nations, Video

US Mimics Israel at US-Mexico Border

No More War

My social media Facebook feed is overwhelmed with photos and messages of horror about the current actions of the U.S. military at the US-Mexico border.  Check out the story here, if you haven’t seen it.

We (I use that pronoun deliberately) have closed the border and we are now violently throwing tear gas canisters and shooting rubber bullets at men, women and children migrants.

Here are several videos of the migrants being attacked at the US-Mexico border.

I’m not shocked by Trump’s aggressive and violent response at the border, and neither should any American be shocked. We’ve been watching the same actions occurring at the fence (not border) separating Israel and the Gaza Strip since March of this year.

Israel, our best friend and ally in the Middle East, has deployed its military to the perimeter fence line shared with Gaza to shoot tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, and live bullets at Palestinian men, women and children participating peacefully in the Great Return March. 

Palestinians have paid a great price for their call for life with dignity during mass protests held along Gaza’s boundary with Israel over the past eight months.

Some 180 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli occupation forces and nearly 6,000 others injured by live fire during the Great March of Return.


Altogether, a staggering 24,000 Palestinians have been injured during the Great March of Return protests – more than one percent of the territory’s population.

See Maureen Clare Murphy’s full article here.

Neither Trump nor the U.S. Congress has stood up to Israeli leaders and told them to stop this barbarity.  Trump probably thinks he has the tacit support of Congress for his deployment to the US-Mexico border.  The US and Israel are playing by the same playbook now. Americans shouldn’t be surprised.

I, for one, fully expect snipers to be deployed at the US-Mexico border. And I won’t be surprised when the U.S. military is deployed against Americans inside our country. This action today against the migrants in the South is only a precursor to future, more aggressive actions to support our nascent Fascist government.

1 Comment

Filed under Gaza, Israel Defense Forces, People, Uncategorized, US Policy, Video

My Letter to Senator Rand Paul

November 24, 2018

Dear Senator Paul,

Although I don’t agree with you on many issues, I applaud your decision to place a hold on the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018, which cements in the $38 billion weapons deal over the next 10 years that former President Obama struck with Netanyahu.  I suppose the proponents of this deal want it sealed into law (rather than merely an executive MOU) so that it won’t be subject to a change of heart in the future.  After all, $38 billion IS a lot of money and could pay for some big ticket items at home — healthcare, pre-K education, failing infrastructure, for example.

If American taxpayers only knew how our contributions to the U.S. Treasury are subsidizing the human rights violations and instability in the Middle East.

The Congressional Research Service’s report “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” written by Jeremy M. Sharp, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs, dated April 10, 2018, provides the following:

According to the report, the United States gave Israel $3.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2018 in direct bilateral military aid (also referred to as Foreign Military Financing or FMF). Congress also authorized $705.8 million for “joint” U.S.-Israel missile defense programs (designed to protect Israeli territory from potential outside threats), bringing total military aid to Israel to more than $3.8 billion per year.

Put another way, American taxpayers give Israel over $10.5 million per day. Over the last 20 years, the U.S. has slowly phased out economic aid to Israel and gradually replacing it with increased military aid. In September 2016, the United States and Israeli governments signed a new ten-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) where the U.S. pledged to give Israel $38 billion in military aid ($33 billion in FMF grants plus $5 billion in missile defense) over the course of 10 years (FY2019 to FY2028). This new MOU replaces the current $30 billion 10-year agreement signed by the Bush Administration that will expire in 2018.

Israel is by far the largest recipient of U.S. foreign military aid (see how other nations compare). According to the CRS report, the President’s request for Israel for FY 2017 will encompass approximately 54% of total U.S. foreign military financing worldwide. The report continues, ” Annual FMF grants to Israel represent approximately 18.5% of the overall Israeli defense budget. Israel’s defense expenditure as a percentage of its Gross Domestic Product (5.4% in 2015) is one of the highest percentages in the world.”

Contrary to ordinary U.S. policy, Israel has been and continues to be allowed to use approximately 26% of U.S. military aid to purchase equipment from Israeli manufacturers. According to CRS, “no other recipient of U.S. military assistance has been granted this benefit.”

Thanks in part to this indirect U.S. subsidy, Israel’s arms industry has become one of the strongest in the world. Between 2001 and 2008, Israel was the 7th largest arms supplier to the world, selling $9.9 billion worth of equipment. And it continues to grow stronger. In 2015, Israel sold $5.7 billion in military goodsto other countries.

The former assistant Secretary of Defense from 2007 to 2009 asked, “How inexplicable is it that we are competing against the Israelis in the Indian defense procurement market at the same time we are subsidizing the Israeli defense industry?”

A U.S. government source estimates that Israel is using approximately $1.2 billion each year (38.7% of the aid it receives from the U.S.) to “directly support its domestic budget rather than to build on its arsenal of advanced US equipment.”

By all accounts the United States has given more money to Israel than to any other country. The Congressional Research Service’s conservative estimate of total cumulative US aid to Israel from 1949 through 2015 is $127.4 billion (not adjusted for inflation).

Please hold firm on your decision to oppose the  U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018.

Sincerely,

Lora A. Lucero

6 Comments

Filed under Israel, People, Politics, US Policy, Video

UNRWA AND PALESTINE REFUGEE RIGHTS – New Assaults, New Challenges

By Francesca P. Albanese (Published in Institute for Palestine Studies, November 2018)

Francesca_Albanese

Francesca Albanese

Although most Americans may not be aware of President Trump’s assault on the U.N. agency responsible for the Palestinian refugees, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) — those of us who keep our attention focused on Israel & Palestine have been watching his Administration’s pronouncements this year with a mixture of alarm, disgust and disdain.

In her monograph (available here) Francesca P. Albanese has clearly summarized Trump’s actions vis-a-vis UNRWA and the Palestinians, spelled out how his actions are contrary to historical facts and international law, and concluded with a commonsense recommendation: if the U.N. General Assembly believes that UNRWA needs to be reformed, then bring it up for discussion within the framework of UN rules and procedures. The United States and Donald have no authority (much less competence) to unilaterally reform any U.N. agency.

It’s very unlikely that anyone in the current U.S. Administration will take the time to read or digest Albanese’s points, but I’m going to forward it to members of Congress (especially the new ones taking office in January) because their staff needs to have this information in their arsenal. It might come in very handy when drafting speeches or arguments against Donald’s destructive notions of reforming UNRWA.

Access and read her full monograph here.

And today is always a good day to make a tax-deductible donation to UNRWA-USA to help provide critical mental health services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza.  Check out my fundraising page here. Thank you.

Francesca Albanese is a human rights lawyer (LL.M, SOAS) who spent 12 years working in the field of human rights, including with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and more recently with the UN Agency for Relief and Work of Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Her legal expertise includes research, policy advice and capacity building on various human rights issues -mainly in Asia and the MENA region. This includes the protection of refugees and migrants,  interaction with the international human rights system, the establishment of national human rights institutions and mechanisms for the prevention of torture.

 

2 Comments

Filed under People, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy

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!

3 Comments

Filed under Environment, Peaceful, People, Uncategorized

Hate kills, we kill

Hate kills. Racists, bigots, anti-Semites, you and I kill.

We may not put our fingers on the trigger, but we must shoulder some responsibility for these killings. Until we do, they will continue, just like clockwork.

The names and ages of the most recent victims, killed within days of each other, are circulating on social media. #WeWillNeverForget

But we will forget; most of us with no connection to the victims will not be able to remember their names this time next year.

Gregory Bush

Gregory Alan Bush

Maurice E. Stallard (69) and Vickie Lee Jones (67) were both killed in Jeffersontown, Kentucky on Wednesday (October 24). Gregory A. Bush (51) has been arrested and the crime is being investigated as a hate crime. The innocent victims are black, the perp is white.

Robert Bowers

                       Robert Bowers

On Saturday (October 27), while praying in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Joyce Fienberg (75), Richard Gottfried (65), Rose Mallinger (97), Jerry Rabinowitz (66), Cecil Rosenthal (59), David Rosenthal (54), Sylvan Simon (86), Bernice Simon (84), Daniel Stein (71), Melvin Wax (88) and Irving Younger (69) were shot and killed. Robert Bowers (46) faces 29 federal charges involving hate crimes punishable by death. He made anti-Semitic statements during the shooting and targeted Jews on social media, according to a federal law enforcement official.  (Watch CNN videos here.) The victims are innocent Jews, the perp is white.

The following day, Sunday (October 28), while playing near the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel, an Israeli airstrike killed three young Palestinian teenage boys. Khaled Bassam Mahmoud Abu Saeed (14), Abdul Hameed Mohammed Abdul Aziz Abu Zaher (13), and Mohammed Ibrahim Abdullah al-Sutari (13) “were apparently involved in placing an improvised explosive device” near the fence, the Israeli military said. Their parents deny that the boys were involved with any militant activities.

Succumbing to the “he said, she said” arguments about what these boys were doing on the Gaza side of the fence on Sunday distracts from the fact that an extrajudicial killing took the lives of three young teenage boys who posed no danger to the Israeli military monitoring the fence. The victims were innocent young Palestinians, the perp was likely a white Jewish member of the Israel Defense Force perhaps acting on orders from other white Jewish members of the IDF. Since I can’t show you a picture of the perp, I’ll share a photo of the victims in Gaza. 3 boys killed

These killings on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday have much in common, although Americans might not understand the similarities after watching the mainstream media.

Let me explain.

  1. All of the perps are filled with irrational hate and fear of the “other”.
  2. All of the victims are innocents caught up in a larger hate-filled narrative.

Most thoughtful Americans will easily acknowledge that the perps who killed the two Blacks in Kentucky and eleven Jews in Pennsylvania are deranged madmen — White Nationalists consumed with hatred and fear of the “other”. Clearly, Robert Bowers is an anti-Semite. Some may not be able to draw the connection between all three massacres because (1) the US mainstream media portrays the victims in Gaza differently from the victims in the US, and (2) feeling empathy for the “others” in Palestine may be more difficult than feeling empathy for Americans.

“But that Israeli fighter pilot wasn’t acting out of rage or hatred,” you might say. “Presumably he was carrying out orders from above.” 

Hatred and fear of the “other” is not limited to the individual who pulls the trigger, it can rear its ugly head at the highest levels of government.  Call it Trickle Down Hatred (TDH).

Eleven Jewish community leaders have said that Donald Trump is not welcome in Pittsburgh until he decides to “fully denounce white nationalism”, following a shooting in a synagogue on Saturday.

The group are all affiliated with the Pittsburgh branch of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership, a liberal movement made up of “tens of thousands” of progressive Jewish members across the US, according to its website.

“For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” the leaders said in an open letter to Mr Trump. See here.

Americans have been watching in horror as Trump’s hate-filled nationalistic rhetoric eggs on his base. The same has been occurring at the highest levels of government in the State of Israel. For many years, Israeli leaders have openly expressed their fear and hatred of Palestinians. They regularly talk about the perceived demographic threat where Palestinians outnumber Israelis, and condone actions designed to dehumanize the Palestinians on a daily basis, and even openly call for the death of Palestinians (eg. an Israeli minister calling for the death of Palestinian mothers who give birth to little snakes).

Naftali-Bennett

Naftali Bennett

Most recently, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s far right wing Minister of Diaspora Affairs, drew a parallel on Sunday evening between the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman and Hamas. (See here.)  Without any hesitation, Bennett casts Palestinians (ALL PALESTINIANS) as the “other,” a certain death sentence if a child is playing too near the fence.

 “Unequivocally I say that just as in Lebanon and Syria, those who cross the fence are shot. They are not 12-year-old children — they are terrorists. Those who launch balloons from Gaza must be shot . If we do not shoot them, they will multiply. We must put an end to it.”  (See here.)

The victims, whether Blacks and Jews in America or Palestinians in Gaza, represent the “other” that threatens the dominant narrative and must be eliminated. It makes absolutely no difference that a lone madman was the perp in two cases and the government of Israel sanctioned the perp’s airstrike in the third case. The same fear and hatred of the “other” motivated each of these killings.

“But how,” you might ask, “am I responsible for these hate-filled killings?” 

“I don’t hate Blacks or Jews, and I don’t have any feelings about those people in the Middle East.”

What is the opposite of hate?

Many will say it’s love, but I suggest that it’s really empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  And without empathy, we each run the risk of being complicit in the actions of those filled with hatred.

It takes real courage to empathize with another. I’m not Jewish, I’m not Black, I’m not a Palestinian. So at one level, I might think the hatred and violence perpetrated against them doesn’t touch me. Can I move beyond the superficial feelings of sympathy for these victims, and pull empathy from deep within my core? What does it take to fully and sincerely empathize with another?

  • Vulnerability — I must be honest with myself and recognize my prejudices, biases and blind-spots. I’m not the epitome of acceptance, love and understanding that I might wish to cloak myself in. This may be the hardest part of nurturing an empathetic soul.
  • Inquisitiveness — I must be willing to question myself and others, to learn from others, to pay attention, and to continually reassess what I think I know about the “other”.
  • Stepping into the shoes of the other — I will never be Black or Jewish or a Palestinian, but making the attempt to understand and experience the world in their shoes is important and a necessary step for building the empathetic soul. At a minimum, it requires respect for the other.

I believe the atrocities we are witnessing in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Gaza and elsewhere can be directly linked to mankind’s undeveloped empathy for the “other.” We may know how to put a man on the moon, but we haven’t evolved sufficiently to put ourselves in the place of the “other.”

And if you believe that the connections I’ve drawn between the victims in the three tragedies described above, are somehow a false equivalency, then I suggest you go back to step one and make yourself vulnerable to learn about the Palestinians and the horrific events occurring there daily with our tax dollars.

“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands

speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Gaza, Hamas, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, People, Uncategorized