Category Archives: United Nations

The gift of quiet self-reflection

I grew up in a mixed family (Christian and Jewish). As a child, I loved opening a gift each evening of Hanukkah, and then on Christmas morning, opening a whole bunch more. As a spoiled, middle-class brat, both holidays for me were all about the gifts, with a smattering of religious ceremony and reflection thrown in for good measure.

Nearly half a century later, when I was living in Gaza for a few months (2012-2013), many new friends asked me “What are you? A Christian? A Jew? Something else?” Labels help us make sense of each other, but my standard response to my inquisitors was not so simple.

After explaining my family traditions, I told my new friends that I don’t consider myself a member of any organized religion today, followed by their expressions of  astonishment or disgust. Then I would explain that I try to live my life by one simple (yet not so simple) rule — to treat others as I would want them to treat me. The Golden Rule in the Christian faith is also a bedrock principle in Judaism and Islam.

Last night I wished my Jewish family, friends and colleagues a quiet time of reflection on this first night of Hanukkah 2018. Here’s what I wrote on social media:

I believe tonight is the beginning of Chanukah. I was going to wish my Jewish family and friends a “Happy Chanukah” but instead will wish each of you a time of self-reflection about what it means to be a Jew after 50 years of Israel’s military occupation. How is that working for you? How does it make you feel? I hope you have quiet time to reflect.

The responses ranged from disappointment tinged with anger, to support and agreement. (I’ve copied several below without author identification.

Wow, I have reflected on your post and am saddened. We always celebrated this holiday in the spirit of hope for humanity and kindness. None of us free from association with a country that has committed acts of brutality and sometimes barbarism. As Americans, we can point to any number of atrocities. To use the actions of a government to issue such a wish to a people, such as the Jews, is inappropriate.

And then this —

I absolutely agree [with the previous comment]. This is like asking those who observe Christmas how they feel about celebrating a holiday associated with a religon that committed the worst brutality and atrocities ever in the name of furthering its creed.

Writer #1 offered further —

We do not succeed in changing people’s hearts and minds through insulting them. I have worked on many campaigns, invested time, money, and effort to influence policies toward justice. I feel it is dangerous to say that Jews who are citizens of other countries are responsible for the Israeli government’s atrocities. The occupation needs to end, but we will not build a coalition by this approach.

And then a third writer chimed in —

I was going to wish my white American family and friends a “Merry Christmas” but instead will wish each of you a time of self-reflection about what it means to be white American, with access to all of America’s privileges, after a century of U.S. imperialism from death squads in Latin America to Vietnam to drones, the NSA, and support for Saudi Arabia. How is that working for you? How does it make you feel? I hope you have quiet time to reflect.

How does that sound to you Lora? It sounds very condescending and patronizing to me. To say that, I would be setting myself above the people I’m talking to, saying “*I* have reflected on these issues and obviously you haven’t so I’m asking you to do so”.

What you said is worse because, while Americans do have some responsibility for America (to the extent that our democracy works, which is not very well), you are assigning to all Jews responsibility for Israel. I do think it’s especially important for us as American Jews to oppose what Israel is doing, because the position of American Jews plays at least some role in American policy toward Israel (though again, in practice, there is not much democratic power). But that doesn’t mean we are responsible for Israel’s actions simply because we are Jews.

hanuka1Others felt I was conflating Jews with Zionists, which I’m clearly not.  Surprisingly, no one has called me an anti-Semite, usually the default position for many who disagree with my words.

A time of reflection is what I wish — and I hope the reflection is focused on Israel’s half-century brutal and dehumanizing military occupation of the Palestinians.

Why should American Jews reflect on Israel’s actions?

  • Because Israel’s government officials have declared ad nauseum that they represent Jews worldwide, and have even invited Jews living anywhere on Planet Earth to come make their home in Israel. (That will certainly help with the “demographic threat.”)
  • Because the U.S. government has aided and abetted this 50 year occupation with the largest financial aid appropriations made to any country (most recently $38 Billion over the next 10 years). The U.S. consistently shields the State of Israel from being held accountable at the United Nations. The U.S. Congress gives Israel’s leader standing ovations when he speaks at the U.S. Capitol, and it is certainly clear that the vast majority of Congressmembers are at the beck and call of AIPAC, Israel’s lobbying organization in the U.S.
  • Because Israel’s three military campaigns against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, its 12+ years of economic, political and cultural siege on Gaza, and its deliberate killing of men, women, children, paramedics, and journalists at the #GreatReturnMarch at the fence between Israel and Gaza since March 2018, has occurred without any reprecussions, and no Israeli leaders have been held accountable. The killings will surely continue.
  • Because American Jews can and are playing a very important role in educating Congress that “Israel doesn’t speak for us” and younger American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel by greater numbers every year. Some personal reflection must have helped move these particular Jews to speak up and against the occupation.
  • Because when an American Jewish constitutent has an opinion to share about Israel with their member of Congress, I believe it carries much greater weight than my opinion (no matter how informed or eloquent I may sound.)

My Hanukkah wish casts no blame on Jews as a group or as individuals, despite what some writers above might have felt. That’s perhaps the biggest reason why my Jewish family, friends and colleagues should spend some time this Hanukkah in self-reflection on the issue I’ve raised. They may be carrying the weight of Israel’s horrific human rights abuses but they shouldn’t.  Quiet reflection may do the soul some good.

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Filed under Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy

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.

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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.

 

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“It’s complicated!”

The two magical words — “It’s complicated!”

They diminish any inquiry or argument; they absolve the need for an explanation; they give a convenient pass for the rest of us to remain ignorant; and they obfuscate rather than enlighten.

The next time you hear — “It’s complicated!” — be offended and push hard for the explanation.  

You might hear that climate change is complicated, leading to feelings of despair and disempowerment.

I most frequently hear — “It’s complicated!” — with the topic of the Middle East and Gaza.

Why is Israel confining 2 million Palestinians in the largest open air prison in the world, preventing them from traveling, and enforcing a 12 year economic siege against them that has resulted in de-development of the Gaza Strip?  “It’s complicated!”

Why are Palestinians of every age and background spontaneously rising up and participating in the #GreatReturnMarch every Friday, risking death and dismemberment?  “It’s complicated!”

Why are Israeli sharpshooters stationed at the Gaza fence killing unarmed protesters, medics, journalists and children every Friday like clockwork?  “It’s complicated!”

Why are the parents of these young children allowing them to join the #GreatReturnMarch?  “It’s complicated!”

NONE OF IT IS COMPLICATED.  It’s actually very simple.

Israel removed its Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and created the open-air prison for the Palestinian refugees there because it’s easier to dehumanize, control and kill the “other” when they are physically separated from us.  We have experience with that methodology from the Warsaw Ghetto. “It’s simple!”

In 2012, the United Nations predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020.  Since then, Israel has launched two military operations against Gaza in 2012 and 2014, killing thousands, maiming tens of thousands, and destroying the infrastructure and key economic sectors in the Gaza Strip. Gaza is unlivable today (2018). That’s why Palestinians of every age and background are spontaneously rising up and participating in the #GreatReturnMarch every Friday, risking death and dismemberment. “It’s simple!”

Israeli sharpshooters are killing Palestinians demonstrating at the Gaza fence every Friday because they have received orders to shoot to kill, in clear violation of international law. There have been no reprecussions. No one has been held accountable.  “It’s simple!”

Why are parents allowing their children to join the #GreatReturnMarch? Rather than blame the victims, the question needs to be clearly recentered — why are Israeli sharpshooters killing children? Let’s not obfuscate the facts and absolve the perpetrators of this gross inhumanity.

We need leaders with moral clarity who will speak the simple truth as Representative Betty McCollum is doing with her bill to protect the human rights of Palestinian children held in military detention by Israel.  (H.R. 4391)

We need soldiers in every battlefield telling us the simple truth.

And we need to keep our hearts and minds open to be able to hear the truth.  It’s not complicated!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Walking the Talk

Friends and I made a large human peace sign at UNM on Friday (9/21/18).  I reflected on the forces that have marched us towards many more wars since the signing of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights 70 years ago. Perhaps we are less safe, less secure and less peaceful than the human community was in 1948.

my gaza5k 3The next day I joined the #Gaza5k run/walk in DC virtually by walking 5k in Albuquerque around the UNM Golf Course. I measured my distance with my Steps App and felt a sense of accomplishment, although I wish I could have been with my friends in DC. Action together is more fulfilling than solitary action.

During my personal #Gaza5k I meditated about the extreme hardships occurring in Gaza today which are preventable, fixable and avoidable if only the U.S. government had the political will to stand up for the oppressed, rather than kowtow to Israel’s every whim.

Today (9/23/18) I attended the First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque and met Gilbert. He was staffing the table for the Immigrant Justice Task Force and informed me about the work of the group called No More Deaths. They travel to the southern expanses of desert in Arizona and New Mexico to leave water, food and clothes for the immigrants crossing this dangerous border. The volunteers work together in teams during all seasons of the year risking arrest. A friend of mine has taken donations from Albuquerque to this group in the desert. It is noble work they are doing.

UU Church

The sermon really resonated with me too.  It was about generosity and the take away message for me was that every gift, donation or contribution is meaningful but the most meaningful gifts we can make, whether large or small, are those that are made with a generous heart.

I invite you to make a gift, donation, contribution to my #Gaza5K campaign to help UNRWA provide important mental health services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza.  No matter the size, your generous heart will connect with the Palestinians. Online tax deductible donations can be made here.

Over the past three days, I’ve learned that action is important — whether taken alone or together with others. We must walk our talk to make this world a better place.

 

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Southwestern-style buffet for sale for UNRWA #Gaza5k

I’m selling this southwestern-style buffet for $1,500 to raise vital resources for UNRWA. Please contact me if you’re interested at LoraLucero3@gmail.com

The buffet is 5 feet long, 18 inches deep, and 37.5 inches tall.

buffet for sale

Mouin Rabbani spells out Trump’s magical thinking in an article in this week’s issue of The Nation.

This week marks 25 years since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo agreement on the White House lawn. It was also the week in which the United States effectively severed diplomatic relations with the Palestinians by ordering the closure of the PLO mission in Washington, DC, capping a series of punitive measures that have included the termination of US funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the elimination of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the cessation of an American program that supports Palestinian hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem.

No word adequately describes these contemptible acts, nor captures my anger. I’m livid.

But I must stay focused on my goal of raising funds to support UNRWA’s life-saving work with the Palestinian refugees in Gaza.  I know the importance of UNRWA’s work and the very good reasons to support UNRWA, including:

  • UNRWA USA is a 501(c)(3) registered with the IRS and your donations are tax-deductible.
  • 91% of all donations made through UNRWA USA directly support UNRWA’s work for Palestine refugees.
  • UNRWA USA receives platinum, the highest rating for transparency, accountability, and administration from Guidestar. Of every dollar spent, 91 cents goes toward helping Palestine refugees. Just 6 cents of every dollar is spent on fundraising costs and 3 cents on operations. The UNRWA USA website has all of the 990 tax forms available for viewing and downloading.
  • The majority of UNRWA’s annual budget comes from voluntary contributions from donor states, such as the United States, the European Commission, the United Kingdom, and Nordic States, individual donors, and NGOs. Reductions in donor states’ contributions due to the slow economic recovery, and the ongoing crises in Gaza and Syria, have left UNRWA with significant budget shortfalls, making contributions from private donors, such as individuals and foundations, all the more crucial.
  • More than half of UNRWA’s regular budget is devoted to education. UNRWA believes that education is essential to Palestinians’ future and to stability in the region. UNRWA’s education programs aim to encourage a tolerant and empowered Palestinian population who can serve as partners in peace.
  • UNRWA is a direct service provider, it doesn’t contract out its work to any third parties, and 99% of the 33,000 person staff across Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine, are refugees themselves, so the admin costs go toward paying the salaries of refugees who are support families of 5+ people. UNRWA’s staff works tirelessly to uplift their communities while facing the same hardships as the people they serve — sometimes even risking their lives.
  • UNRWA is the most trusted way to help Palestine refugees. In fact, the United States government has historically been the single largest donor. In light of the recent funding crisis, donating provides urgently needed assistance and shows our government that Americans care about Palestine refugees — and that it needs to continue supporting them.

 

 

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