What difference does a rally make? Even a noisy and well-attended rally in mid-town Manhattan where we gathered to protest Israel’s bombardment of Gaza?
Everything is so predictable. The “precision” missiles and airstrikes killing “terrorists” in Gaza along with scores of innocent children. Just witness 2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021 and now again, the latest operation (Operation Breaking Dawn) began August 5th.
Everything is so predictable. The crude, home-made rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, and Israel’s Iron Dome knocking the vast majority of them out of the sky.
Everything is so predictable. U.S. officials spout the “Israel has a right to defend itself” bullshit to provide an excuse for the inexcusable, and urge both sides to “restore calm” while at the same time arming Israel’s military. A grotesque picture comes to mind — a master telling a slave to lay still and take the abuse and rape calmly.
Everything is so predictable. An army of social media activists frantically try to wake up the world to what’s happening (again) in Gaza with hashtags like “GazaUnderAttack”. Israel has its own social media activists trying to reframe the damaging reality and cleanse Israel’s reputation from all the spilt blood.
Everything is so predictable. I’m debating whether attending another rally is worth my time and effort. It’s hot and humid in NYC. Holding my sign “I stand with Gaza” really makes no difference in the big scheme of things. I write letters to Secretary Blinken, to President Biden, to the local newspaper, but even those small gestures feel so futile.
Then the unpredictable happened!
I arrived at the rally and was handed a picture of Mohammed Salah Naijm, 17 years old, one of 46 Palestinian martyrs, including 16 children since Friday. I don’t know Mohammed or his family but tears welled up and I was filled with grief. A week ago, Mohammed was going through the routine of a difficult life in Gaza with some expectation of a future. Israel took his dreams, his hopes and future away. He had survived each of Israel’s military operations (2008-09, 2012, 2014 and 2021) and likely believed he would survive another.
I held Mohammed’s picture and saw others holding pictures of child victims. At that moment, I realized that I don’t attend these predictable rallies to change the world or to “educate” Americans about our complicity in these atrocities. I don’t attend these rallies to express anger or outrage, although I feel both.
I attend rallies such as this one to stand in solidarity with the victims and their families. To share their grief and to let them know they’re not alone. If I could travel to Gaza and stand with them in person, I would. But my spirit is with them. Today and forevermore.
My letter to US Secretary of State Blinken (it’s easy to do online)
Dear Secretary Blinken,
Predictably, everything remains the same.
The U.S. confirms that Israel has a “right to defend itself” while that country is engaged in a preemptive military campaign in Gaza. https://www.reuters.com/…/us-says-it-supports-israels…/ And then you predictably urge the parties to “avoid further escalation” while our country provides Israel the military arsenal to use against 2 million Palestinians locked in the Gaza Strip with nowhere to flee for safety.
Israelis living in towns near the border with Gaza are offered free vacations abroad to Cyprus, Greece or Bulgaria during this “difficult time” while airstrikes killed five Palestinian children in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. https://ussanews.com/…/israeli-airline-offers-free…/
I want you to see the grotesque imbalance of power. The U.S. is aiding and abetting this slaughter. Your predictable words are absurd and a callous disregard to the reality on the ground.
I urge you to (1) comply with the requirements of the Leahy Act which forbid the U.S. from giving military financial assistance to countries suspected of human rights abuses, (2) urge an independent investigation of the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and (3) end your predictable one-sided statements attempting to cleanse Israel’s actions from international scrutiny and scorn.
I wish to point out that there are other Muslims being targeted and killed today in Gaza. The perpetrator is known, and might claim that the religious denomination of the victims is of no consequence. But the fact remains that the victims are Muslims and they are being targeted. The perpetrator is not Muslim. The victims, like the four men in Albuquerque, are unable to defend themselves.
Is there any connection between the slaughter of Muslims in Albuquerque and Gaza?
Yes! And it’s long past time that the world woke up and investigated and held the perpetrator accountable just as the NM Governor has done.
The connection between these atrocious acts is a learned and cultivated defect in the human spirit. When we educate our children to treat people — who don’t look like them, don’t talk like them, don’t pray like them — differently and with disdain, we are setting them on a path which ultimately leads to the murders in Albuquerque and Gaza.
The State of Israel (and the U.S. Secretary of State) claim that Israel has a “right to defend itself“. That justification is an old and threadbare excuse for the inexcusable. Israel is the long-term occupier who has all the tools available to end the occupation and accept the inevitable — living side-by-side with Palestinians (the “other”) with equal rights and dignity.
Israel has spent the past 70+ years inculcating its youth and society to fear the Palestinians, the “other”. The Western media has bought into that framing of the “other” — so obvious with a casual reading of the New York Times. One side is given the moral high ground while the other is condemned as terrorists.
It won’t change until the world, like the New Mexico Governor, recoils in horror and commits to investigate and hold the perpetrator accountable. Until that happens, perps think they can get away with their deeds against the “other”.
If you’re still reading, you probably already have a hunch that something is not right with Israel’s attack on Gaza. Criticizing the State of Israel is hazardous, and I have no doubt that charges of anti-Semitism will be leveled against me. But if we don’t acknowledge the inhumanity we witness, and do everything we can to end it, are we any better than the perps?
And then there was the U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan earlier this week which killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s leader.
Each of these killings – a journalist, and a child, and a military strategist (ie., a terrorist) – were premeditated and the result of military action. My question to you, as the commander in chief of the U.S. military, is there a difference between lawful and legitimate murder, and unlawful terrorism? If there is a difference, does it depend on who the target is? What factors distinguish between lawful and legitimate murder, and unlawful and despicable acts of terrorism?
If the answer is — “it depends on the eye of the beholder” — would a military strike in the heart of Tel Aviv or New York City be lawful if the target was deemed legitimate by the military strategist perpetrating the attack?
The personal testimonies of people from around the country who have endured the indignities and the injustices that come from poverty, hunger, homelessness, unjust incarceration, loss of life to suicide and lack of health care were compelling and heartrending. I attended the Poor People’s March on Washington in DC on Saturday, June 18th and was grateful for the organizing, the people who showed up, and the good weather. I was grateful that these voices and issues were uplifted. I HEARD YOU!!
The multitude of signs hinted at the creative energy and the intersection of many issues. Sadly, there were probably more signs than people. Selfies and amateur photography captured the spirit of the day, but the mainstream media was MIA (missing in action).
I didn’t disagree with any of the messages I saw and heard but when the event concluded, I felt despair.
“King agreed to speak last, as all the other presenters wanted to speak earlier, figuring news crews would head out by mid-afternoon. Though his speech was scheduled to be four minutes long, he ended up speaking for 16 minutes, in what would become one of the most famous orations of the civil rights movement—and of human history.” (link)
Almost 60 years later, there is reason for my despair. The gap between the poor and the wealthy has grown wider; there are now 2,668 billionaires in the world commanding our attention, controlling much of the public discourse, and demanding allegiance from elected officials.
Democracy and democratic values are more fragile today than perhaps they were in 1963. Yes, there were madmen killing our leaders in 1963 but there are madmen plotting a coup in the halls of the Capitol Building today; and the level of voter manipulation and distortion of reality seems so much greater today. There’s not only disagreement about the way forward, there’s rejection of truth and facts and reality. How does a country move forward under such circumstances?
I don’t know the answer, but I know what I’m gonna do the next 4 months. I’m going to work my tail off to get people registered to vote and to the polls in November. I believe our votes can make a difference. What are you going to do?
The first time I visited Gaza was in 2004 before Israel’s siege and lockdown. In fact, I remember seeing Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and many checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers. After the election in January 2005 (which the Carter Center said was conducted in a manner consistent with international standards) and Hamas came to power, Israel declared Hamas (and by implication everyone who voted for Hamas) a terrorist, and severely restricted movement into and out of the Gaza Strip.
The purpose of my visit was to accompany an American psychologist who was presenting an international award to Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj at the Gaza Community Mental Health Center. Israel forbade Dr. El-Sarraj from leaving the Gaza Strip to travel and accept the award himself. I clearly recall sitting across the room observing and taking photos as my friend made the presentation, and thinking: “This Palestinian reminds me of my grandfather, a kind and gentle professional in the medical field. Why on Earth would Israeli authorities prevent him from traveling?”
When I returned to Gaza in 2012, I could see the horrific impacts on the economy and the lives of nearly 2 million Palestinians who were prevented from traveling. That year the United Nations predicted that the Gaza Strip would be unlivable by 2020.
Fifteen years after the 2007 closure, more than 2 million Palestinians remain locked down in the Gaza Strip. In a report just released by Human Rights Watch –
“Israel’s sweeping restrictions on leaving Gaza deprive its more than two million residents of opportunities to better their lives, Human Rights Watch said today on the fifteenth anniversary of the 2007 closure. The closure has devastated the economy in Gaza, contributed to fragmentation of the Palestinian people, and forms part of Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.
Israel’s closure policy blocks most Gaza residents from going to the West Bank, preventing professionals, artists, athletes, students, and others from pursuing opportunities within Palestine and from traveling abroad via Israel, restricting their rights to work and an education. Restrictive Egyptian policies at its Rafah crossing with Gaza, including unnecessary delays and mistreatment of travelers, have exacerbated the closure’s harm to human rights.
‘Israel, with Egypt’s help, has turned Gaza into an open-air prison,’ said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. “As many people around the world are once again traveling two years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Gaza’s more than two million Palestinians remain under what amounts to a 15-year-old lockdown.”
Israel has demonstrated that it can remove large settlement blocks and settlers from Palestinian territory, as it did in August 2005 when Israeli soldiers forcibly removed Jewish settlers from Gaza. Israel could remove the settlers from the occupied West Bank if there was political will and international pressure to do so. Obviously, there’s none of either.
Israel and the U.S. have been conjoined allies ever since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Israel is also the recipient of the largest amount of U.S. military aid, to the tune of $3.8 billion/year. After Israel so effectively labeled, demonized and punished Hamas and Palestinian men, women and children with years of imprisonment in the Gaza Strip, with U.S. complicity of course, I wonder today if the US government will take a lesson from that playbook and label, demonize and punish whichever political party is on the “outs” in this country? (Not such a far-fetch thought given the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021.)
I’m headed to DC and Baltimore in a few days. Here’s why I’m traveling on Amtrak, and not flying.
Flying is bad for our planet. For far too long, I ignored the facts. But the disconnect between my climate advocacy and my personal actions became unbearable. (I had serious misgivings about flying to Glasgow to attend COP26 as a delegate for the League of Women Voters US.)
Lora arrested in Washington, DC in August 2011 protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline
The Center for Biological Diversity notes: “If the aviation industry were a country, it would place sixth in emissions, between Japan and Germany. Left unchecked global aviation will generate an estimated 43 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2050, constituting almost 5% of the global emissions allowable to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the United States, aircraft are one of the fastest-growing sources of emissions: Emissions from domestic aviation alone have increased 17% since 1990, to account for 9% of greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. transportation sector. Flights departing from airports in the United States and its territories are responsible for almost one-quarter of global passenger transport-related carbon emissions, the majority of which come from domestic flights.”
Flying is an obscene privilege. Thankfully, most people in the world cannot fly. We’d already be toast if everyone had the same carbon flight-print that Americans have. In 2019, the Guardian shared some aviation statistics that might shock you. Or might not. (See here).
“According to figures from German nonprofit Atmosfair, flying from London to New York and back generates about 986kg of CO2 per passenger. There are 56 countries where the average person emits less carbon dioxide in a whole year – from Burundi in Africa to Paraguay in South America.”
Check your carbon flight-print with this handy calculator. Whether it’s absolutely accurate or not, is not the issue. In order of magnitude, it clearly demonstrates that Americans and other air travelers from developed countries are responsible for rising CO2 measurements. If I flew from Minneapolis to Washington DC and back, I would be generating about 250 kg CO2. There are 19 countries where the average person produces less CO2 in a year.
Thinking long-term. Many travelers and fossil fuel industry lobbyists minimize the impact of aviation by highlighting the fact that – in terms of decreasing or increasing surface temperatures – other things have a greater impact than aviation, such as fossil fuel production and distribution, followed by agriculture, waste management, residential and commercial, fossil fuel combustion for energy, biofuel use for residential and commercial, land transportation, open biomass burning, industry, and shipping. That may be true in the short-term, the next ten years. After 100 years, however, aviation’s impact is on par with that of other sectors, largely because the effects of CO2 on climate change tend to endure.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has been warning us for years about the impacts of aviation. (See here and here) But it’s not all bad news. I read recently that Delta Airlines and Airbus have signed an MOU to research and develop the first zero emissions commercial aircraft that runs on hydrogen fuel cells, by 2035 if all goes according to plans. Can you imagine?
Window is closing. In April 2022, the IPCC also warned us that the window is closing rapidly — the window that looks onto the future we say we want to leave our children.
We already knew the science in terms of the key things that we need to do: emissions must peak by 2025 and reduce by 43% by 2030. Our carbon “budget” to keep within 1.5C of global warming and therefore avoid the worst effects of climate change, equated to the amount we emitted in the last 10 years.
The good news is the rate of increase of emissions has decreased – we’re increasing at roughly 1.3% each year and in the previous decade it was around double that. So, we are almost reaching that peak but it needs to be achieved by 2025 and we need to reduce emissions by 45 to 50% by 2030. The bad news – our current policies, pledges and actions are not enough to avoid a catastrophic future. There’s a tremendous gap between where we need to be and where we’re headed. (IPCC report)
My decision, my choice. Everyone needs to make their own decisions about whether to fly or not. As for me, during these critical years (2022 – 2025) when our global CO2 emissions must peak, I’m going to be riding the train and avoiding air travel.
“The Prison Remains the Same is an intimate rumination of a Palestinian anthropologist who shares his journey of indoctrination under a Zionist colonial occupation and a lifelong quest to reclaim his cultural history and identity.
Mixing current and archival footage, the film weaves a tale of expulsion and return, through the origins of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to the resistance and political acquiescence of an entire people. Filmed across various locations in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Israel, the film is a thoughtful, yet searing look at physical and psychological oppression.
Dr. Khalil Nakhleh is a Palestinian anthropologist from the Galilee, Israel/Palestine. His academic and applied occupations focus on how to transform Palestinian society and people from an occupied, colonized, and fragmented society to a liberated, productive, free, and self-generating society, not dependent on external financial aid.
Dr. Nakhleh has authored a number of academic books and articles on Palestinian society, development, NGOs, and education, including The Myth of Palestinian Development: Political Aid and Sustainable Deceit and Globalized Palestine: The National Sell-out of a Homeland.
THE FILMMAKER Sharif Nakhleh is an independent filmmaker living and working in San Francisco with over 20 years of experience as a director, writer and editor. His body of work includes documentary and narrative films, music videos and commercials. The Prison Remains The Same is an homage to his father’s legacy and nod to his own identity as a Palestinian American.
Shireen Abu Akleh. Remember her name. I’m waiting for Reporters Without Borders, the organization that monitors press freedom and abuses worldwide, to catch up with the news of her killing today (May 11, 2022).
Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist with more than 20 years experience reporting on Israel’s military actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, was shot and killed today in Jenin. She was clad in her official PRESS helmet and PRESS flak jacket. That wasn’t enough to protect her from a bullet to the head, just below her helmet. Her producer was shot in the back and is now hospitalized.
Shireen Abu Akleh was a professional, and knew the dangers that accompany journalists reporting in “hot spots”, “conflict zones”, and “battlefields.” The Occupied Palestinian Territories qualify as all three because of the incessant military incursions by the IDF. At least 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed since 2000, but I’m not aware of any independent investigation into any of these killings. Israel routinely exonerates itself after it completes an investigation of its soldiers.
Shireen Abu Akleh can’t just be another statistic.
May 11, 2022
President Joe Biden U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken
I call on each of you to use the authority of your offices to demand an immediate investigation into the killing today of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist. She was shot in the head below the press helmet she was wearing. She was also clearly identified as a journalist with her Press vest. At the time of her murder, she was covering the Israeli military’s actions in Jenin in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Shireen Abu Akleh was a prominent journalist with over 20 years’ experience reporting on Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territories; she certainly understood the dangers involved in her work. She would not have put herself or her team in harm’s way, which raises the grim prospect that she was targeted. Her producer was also targeted and shot in the back today. According to one report, Israel has killed 46 Palestinian journalists since 2000. https://tinyurl.com/35pv4htc
Journalists are protected under international humanitarian law against direct attacks, and violations of this rule constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) notes that journalists must be protected, but there is “a failure to implement existing rules and to systematically investigate, prosecute and punish violations.” The United States must demand accountability for Abu Akleh’s killing; and the first step is a neutral, transparent and thorough investigation by an impartial group that commands the respect of the international community.
The second step is to withhold military aid to the State of Israel until the conclusion of the investigation and the findings are made public. The Foreign Assistance Act stipulates that no assistance can be given to a country that regularly violates human rights. The Leahy law (22 U.S.C.A. § 2378d) prohibits the U.S. government from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights. I urge you to invoke both laws and immediately suspend foreign aid to Israel. Such preemptive action would demonstrate to Americans and to the international community that the U.S. acts consistently when there is demonstrable evidence that gross violations of human rights have been perpetrated, whether in Sudan or in Israel.
I would appreciate a direct response from you concerning my request. Thank you.
The response to any global refugee crisis may be deplorable and heartwarming at the same moment. It also illustrates a fundamental flaw in our human evolutionary journey. Let me explain.
Men, women and children have certainly been fleeing danger and violence since time immemorial. We have an undeniable thirst for life and an aversion to death.
Following WWII, international laws and administrative systems were put in place to help millions of Europeans who had lost or fled their homes. (History of UNHCR and History of UNRWA). For more than 70 years, these agencies and a growing industry of refugee NGOs have stepped in to assist refugees from nearly every corner of the planet, a truly global effort. Likewise, individuals have played a critical role – opening their wallets for refugees (I see this every year when I walk the #Gaza5k), as well as volunteering their time and sharing their love to support refugees during what may be the most difficult time in their lives. (Read my blog post in 2016 about a Greek bookstore owner on Lesvos Island, and my blog post in 2013 about a Syrian I met in Cairo where he was guiding a young Syrian woman to safety after Assad released her in a prisoner exchange.)
For a few days in early March 2022, I witnessed some of that generosity of spirit in Calais, France when I had an opportunity to volunteer in the Refugee Community Kitchen. Steve (event organizer), Paula (doula), Sam (chef), Janie (activist) started this communal kitchen in 2015 and it’s still going strong with the help of both short- and long-term volunteers.
I helped with food preparation, washing pots and pans, drying even more pots and pans, serving meals at one of the distribution sites, and even sorting and folding jackets. Volunteers were predominantly in their 20s, and laser-focused on their responsibilities. A Frenchman was studying refugee logistics at his university and spending a few months learning on the ground. A young Italian woman had just completed her PhD in biomechanics, and was taking a break before entering the workforce. A mother and daughter pair from the UK were spending time together doing something valuable “to make a difference.” Everyone has stories about what motivates us to reach out to help refugees. (Note: RCK needs more volunteers!)
As heartwarming as the RCK experience was in Calais, the response to the global refugee crisis is deplorable. Refugees are typically living for weeks or months in miserable camps that are dangerous and unsanitary. Border authorities often harass and beat them to dissuade them from their journey. Refugees are typically forced to hire smugglers at great expense, and the trip can be both arduous and deadly.
Calais is only 27 nautical miles across the English Channel from Dover, UK. Last year, more than 28,000 refugees crossed the Channel in small boats. At least 44 people died or went missing during the attempt, 27 in a single day. And refugees are particularly at risk to be victimized by human traffickers.
We are failing refugees everywhere – you and me – and our governments. Let me count the ways: (1) Funding and prosecuting the war machine in their countries – think Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, and everywhere there is conflict. (2) Imposing economic sanctions which weaken or destroy the job market in their countries – think Venezuela, Palestine and everywhere there are diminishing opportunities to work and support their families. (3) Environmental disasters such as flooding, soil erosion and droughts – think of many of the internally displaced persons in Africa. (4) And the looming impacts of a human-induced changing climate will likely force hundreds of millions to leave their homes. (Migration and Climate Change – IPCC).
We can, and must, do better.
(1) Issue humanitarian visas to every refugee, no questions asked. This allows them to travel safely, paying a lot less for a seat on a ferry or plane than they currently pay to a smuggler. Once they arrive in the country where they wish to seek asylum, the application and vetting process can begin. Thanks to Professor Alexander Betts for first bringing this idea to my attention.
(2) Plan, design and build refugee camps that are safe and sustainable. My friend from Gaza is an architect who is completing her PhD in Turkey this year and is focused on this very issue in her dissertation. In 2015, Professor Economakis from the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture proposed temporary refugee villages on the Greek Islands. Not only would they provide decent housing for refugees, these villages could be valuable assets for the community once the refugee crisis has dissipated at that location.
(3) Redirect a portion of each country’s military spending towards humanitarian and human rights endeavors — providing food, jobs, health and education to the most vulnerable. If only 10% of the military spending in the top ten countries, based on the latest figures, was redirected, we might have $142.6 billion next year for life-affirming actions rather than death and destruction.
United States ($778 billion); China ($252 billion [estimated]); India ($72.9 billion); Russia ($61.7 billion); United Kingdom ($59.2 billion); Saudi Arabia ($57.5 billion [estimated]); Germany ($52.8 billion); France ($52.7 billion); Japan ($49.1 billion); South Korea ($45.7 billion)
(4) Evolve and understand a fundamental truth — that “We are One”. This is a tough one because it’s beyond our grasp, at least for now. Until I feel it in my gut, that the Eritrean refugee I served a meal to in Calais is me, and I am him, I will continue to see him as the “other”. I may embrace him with my mind and heart, but there will still be a wall between us that prevents us from bridging our differences at the core. Humanity cannot succeed in the long-term without evolving to meet this truth and flourish together. Our governments respond to the refugee crisis as if it’s a zero-sum game, but that’s a basic fallacy that prevents us from ending the deplorable global response to the plight of refugees everywhere.