Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

The Single Garment of Destiny in 2017

Are the protests and marches the new normal around the world in 2017?

I’ve attended plenty of marches in my day, beginning in the 1980s when I took my children, the youngest in his stroller, to protest nuclear weapons.

The largest by far was the Women’s March in DC the day after Donald’s inauguration. Wearing our pink knitted pussy hats, we roared like mother lions.

Perhaps the most polite march was the smaller group of clergy and religious leaders of many different faiths that I joined on April 4th to remember the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. We marched in straight lines, smiling and chanting all the way to the White House.

The #taxmarch on Saturday, April 15th was far more noisy. In more than 150 cities around the country, people took to the streets to demand that Donald release his tax returns.crowd 3

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Representatives Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., had a very appreciative crowd when they called for Donald’s impeachment. I was heartened as the speakers at the podium in front of the U.S. Capitol passionately connected the dots between all of the issues — tax reform, ethics, climate justice, a livable wage, immigration and refugees, and more — but the best speaker was President Trump himself.

The entire event was filled with a mixture of outrage, humor and creative energy. Walking among the crowd, snapping pictures, I felt the camaraderie even though I knew no one.

Fifty years ago, Dr. King called for a “radical revolution in values” and beseeched us to see our common humanity; our interconnectedness. His profound truth — that we’re “tied together in a single garment of destiny” — is the radical revolution still waiting to be ignited in our human spirit. This truth seems to be just as elusive today as we grapple with the laundry lists of issues that scream for our attention!

Why do I march?

Aren’t we stuck in the past with these marches focusing on the symptoms rather than the transformational change that we so desperately need?

I’ve heard that marching may be mobilizing but it isn’t organizing, and we need to organize to effect real change. I’ve heard that marching certainly won’t accomplish the goal of getting Donald to turn over his tax returns. A friend criticized the #taxmarch because its goal was not as worthy as the goal of stopping the bombing in Syria.

Those thoughts certainly have merit. If I expected concrete results from the marches — other than the obvious benefits that I enjoy from walking and socializing — I’d have to agree.  We may never see Donald’s tax returns, but there is much more involved and unseen by the naked eye.

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Marching is worthwhile in its own right. I commend everyone who participates, and hope those who don’t find other actions that are satisfying. The physical exertion involved in marching is cathartic and helps me express my feelings.

Marching is worthwhile because it gets us off our couches and empowers us to engage with issues. Many Americans are content to be mere observers, not even invested enough to vote. Our democracy may not survive without many more Americans actively engaged – marching, calling Congress, and voting. Any type of nonviolent engagement is positive and shouldn’t be discouraged.

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Marching is worthwhile because it sends a public message, one the public won’t hear by simply reading the newspaper or watching social media. Regardless of whether Donald even heard the tax protesters calling for him to release his tax returns, many Americans and people around the world heard. Like the circles that spread when a stone is thrown into the calm lake, the marchers touched many spirits who will, in turn, touch many more in some way. We don’t need to know how or to what effect.

Marching is worthwhile because the very act invigorates everyone who participates, reaffirming that we are not alone but acting as a community.  Strength comes from community in incomprehensible ways.

Marching is worthwhile because it spreads the spirit of change.  I’m reminded of the story of the Hundredth Monkey.  I shared that story in a lecture in Gaza in 2012 and I wonder if it made any sense.  I believe in the phenomenon that the scientists witnessed in the 1950s on that Pacific island, a phenomenon that spread around the world when the critical mass was reached. We don’t know how, but the evidence is clear.  I believe that the energy manifested at marches is similarly building towards that critical mass.

The future in non-linear terms

As a city planner, I was educated in the linear model of setting goals, preparing plans, and then implementing the plans.  Of course, there were many steps involved, but it all proceeded from A to B to C. One action led to another, and the process was rational and defensible, if the public was duly invited into the process. We knew where we wanted to end up, and the future we wanted to build. There was some measure of comfort in that way of thinking, and perhaps a bit of arrogance. We even thought ourselves prepared for the unexpected and had contingency plans ready to pull out when needed.

While there’s still some merit in that way of planning and thinking, I’ve come to appreciate that our survival depends on adapting and learning to think in non-linear terms.

My personal revelation didn’t come as a bolt of lightening — an “AHA” moment. Instead, it crept up on me slowly over the past 30+ years. First, I wanted to connect the dots. I was on the look out for the invisible common threads that bind us all.

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Second, I wanted to tear down the metaphorical silos that keep our minds and creativity locked up. Everywhere I looked, primarily in the fields of environmental, land use and planning law, I saw silos. Regulatory and administrative silos, issue silos, political silos, and much more.

Third, I wanted to learn new creative ways of looking at these challenges. I was overjoyed whan I found Kate Raworth’s Doughnut.

Today, I realize that Dr. King’s “radical revolution of values” may be as simple and as difficult as #LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions).

Not the syrupy goody two shoes type of love. Not a naive and guilt-ridden type of love. Certainly not a passionate Eros type of love.

#LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions) opens me to the empathy and concern and vulnerability that provides a space within me for my neighbor. That we are “tied together in a single garment of destiny” cannot be denied. The ravages of climate change may perhaps be the most visible symbol of this truth, but we can find evidence in every facet of our lives. Americans are tied to the refugees’ destiny as tightly as we are connected to our parents and siblings. The Citigroup bankers and U.S. Legislators who are racing through the revolving doors in each direction are intimately connected to the homeless perched over the heating grates on K Street.

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Just as the monkeys learned to wash the sand off their fruit, the evolutionary progress that humans need (and need very quickly if we’re going to survive) is the radical revolution of values to encompass #LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions). This won’t happen with linear thinking or actions, I’m convinced, because it requires a transformational shift within.

The nonlinear thinking embodies an openness to new ideas from every source, a willingness to be comfortable with the unknown, a greater humility than most of us can muster, and a commitment to model the energy and spirit we trust affirms our neighbors as it affirms us.

So why will I join the March for Science in DC this Saturday, and then the Peoples Climate March on April 29? The simple answer — I’m looking for the Hundredth Monkey.  The truthful answer — I feel energized with the spirit and creativity at each march.

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#MLK50AWAKE – Remembering Dr. King

MLK50 sign

True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.

–from Stride Toward Freedom, 1958, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most of us have those “before and after” moments.  That time when we clearly feel a break with the past, and the beginning of something new. The moment when our lives have changed forever, and we know we’re in new territory now.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

–from ‘Letter from Birmingham, Alabama Jail’, April 16, 1963

My visit to the Gaza Strip (9/2012 – 5/2013) was that moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but since my return to the U.S. and with some reflection, I see my personal timeline divided — before Gaza and after Gaza.

Love Not Hate

My understanding of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s impact on the world is a case in point. “Before” — I honored Dr. King’s memory each year knowing his contribution to the civil rights movement intellectually. I could recite most of the great milestones of his life, and I was grateful that America had such leaders. I had read his “I Have a Dream” speech but none of his other speeches.

“After” — something clicked in me. When I learned that April 4, 2017 was the 50th anniversary of his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, I was motivated to read it in its entirety. When he talked about a “revolution of values” and the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism” — I knew he was speaking to me, to my world, and to my generation.

The blunt truth of his message was much more than an intellectual respect for a great leader but a heart filled with love and sadness that his truth has not rung deeply within the halls of power. To many Americans, the radical revolution is merely hyberbole, and they can’t be bothered with the difficult struggle required to change our society.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

–from Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York, NY

On April 4, 2017, I spent the afternoon and evening at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC just two blocks from the White House with an amazing group of clergy and lay people from many different faiths. We gathered to remember and celebrate Dr. King, and to send a message to the White House that Dr. King’s message of #LoveThyNeighbor – with no exceptions – is alive and well.

New York Ave Presbyterian Church is a Sanctuary Church that opens its doors to anyone who feels “threatened or vulnerable.”Church welcomes immigrants

Some people may feel their spiritual calling requires them to stay above the political fray and partisanship that permeates most discourse in Washington these days. Not these clergy members.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.

—from King’s 1963 book Strength to Love

We began the afternoon by getting to know each other, standing up, clapping and appreciating each other’s differences. The Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Quakers, the LGBT, the old and the young, the poor and those who had plenty, and from all different parts of the country and the world.

“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. – Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958.

Then we broke into groups for workshops on such topics as “Personal healing from Racism to Action” — “Faithful Resistance, Advocacy and Organizing” — “Powerful, Pragmatic and Spirit led Lobbying”, — “Increase Militarism in the Trump Budget” — “Addressing Poverty – Breaking the Silence”.workshop

I joined the Quakers who led the lobbying workshop because I wanted to know how to be more effective on the Hill.  We learned about some of the priorities of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (easy to agree with these priorities), and then went through the nuts and bolts of an office visit with our member of Congress.  The discussion was both concrete and very encouraging.

The take away message for me was: Come to the meeting with my Senator or Representative with the right spirit, with the goal of building a long-term relationship. Our members of Congress need to hear stories from real life to anchor them as they discuss policy and new laws.

At 5:00 pm we picked up signs from the sanctuary and marched down to Lafayette Square in front of the White House. There were about 30 – 40 people marching, with some drumming and others chanting. Probably the most well-behaved March I’ve ever participated in.

The time is always right to do what is right.

–from Oberlin College Commencement speech, 1965

We stood in a straight line, singing, chanting and then mic-checking to the words of leaders who encouraged us to lift our voices to the White House and the visitors and tourists who were gathered around.

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At 7:00 pm some of us reassembled at the church for the 49th observance of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination. Several hundred members of the community joined to listen to people eulogize Dr. King; to hear his words come alive with the reenactments of some of his speeches; and listen to the DC Labor Chorus, the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church Male Chorus, and others fill the church with music. I wish I could have recorded it all.

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The highlight for me was second-grader Kiye Bashiri Corbitt who read some passages from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream Speech”. He stood up straight, and with great composure read his lines on cue in front of an audience of several hundred adults. Dr. King would be very proud of this future generation following in his footsteps.

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—from Dr. King’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize (1964).

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.

Bless you Dr. King.

And thank you to the organizers for planning this very special day.

Rev. Aundreia Alexander, associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches

Christine Ashley, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Cherie Brown, director, National Coalition-Building Institute

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK (“Nuns on the Bus”)

Rev. Richard Fernandez, (In 1967) executive director, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam

Rev. Roger Gench, New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director, Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church USA

Rev. Mike Neuroth, Washington Office, United Church of Christ

Jacqueline Patterson, Director, Environmental Justice, NAACP

Bishop Dwayne Royster, political director, PICO National Network

Imam Talib Shareef, Masjid Muhammad, Washington, DC

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

 

 

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The Israeli Occupation Comes to the UN Security Council

Hagai El-Ad’s address in a special discussion about settlements at the United Nations Security Council on October 14, 2016

(The following transcript and short videos are located on the Btselem website.

Members of the Security Council,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I begin, I would like to express my deep thanks for this unique opportunity of speaking at this distinguished forum and engaging with the members of the UN Security Council.

What I’m about to say is not meant to shock you. It is, however, meant to move you.

For the past 49 years – and counting – the injustice known as the occupation of Palestine, and Israeli control of Palestinian lives in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, has become part of the international order. The first half-century of this reality will soon be over. On behalf of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, I implore you today to take action. Anything short of decisive international action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.

Meanwhile, ever present, are the settlements and the settlers. They are Israeli citizens living, ostensibly, in a first-world democracy, that somehow exists only for them, beyond the borders of their country. This ever-expanding venture, its illegality notwithstanding, is to be found everywhere throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settlements encompass the built-up areas as well as the generous allocations of land around them, meant for future expansion or “special security zones”; they mean checkpoints for Palestinians, and bypass roads for settlers; they mean the Separation Barrier; and finally, they mean the fragmentation of Palestine into hundreds of isolated communities, floating – or rather I should say, slowly sinking – in a sea of Israeli domination. Who could possibly deserve to endure such conditions for half a century?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Almost all aspects of this reality are considered legal by Israel. Israel’s control of Palestinian lives is unique in the careful attention the occupying power gives to the letter of the law, while strangling its very spirit. The occupation has so perfected the art of watering down International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law as to render them virtually meaningless. Once military lawyers, State Attorneys and Supreme Court justices are done masterfully chiseling out legal opinions, all that remains is raw injustice.

Show me a dead Palestinian whose killing must be explained away to ensure impunity, and there you will find a learned opinion by the Military Advocate General. Show me the 100,000 Palestinians ignored and neglected on the other side of the Separation Barrier built inside East Jerusalem, and I will remind you that even this glaring injustice has been pre-approved by Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Show me a plot of Palestinian land you wish taken over, and the Civil Administration will come up with the appropriately tailored legal mechanism – of course, it must all be legal! – to achieve that end: military training zones, nature reserves, archeological sites and, above all, declaring thousands of acres “State Land” – what “State” exactly? All these are successfully used in order to forcibly displace Palestinians and justify denying them access to running water or the power grid. Of course, such Israeli actions aren’t successful 100% of the time. That would be too transparent. So once in a long while, maybe once a decade, a low-ranking soldier might be put on a show trial; and once in a blue moon a master plan for a Palestinian village will be approved. These extraordinary cherry-picked rarities provide useful distractions from the big picture.

In order to uphold the guise of legality, Israel applies “due process” in just about everything: to potentially force-feed hunger strikers, as recently approved by the High Court; to routinely approve and renew administrative detention orders, or extend prolonged imprisonment without trial, of hundreds of Palestinians; to demolish the homes of the families of Palestinians who perpetrated attacks – yes, that too has happened hundreds of times, with due process and a seal of approval by the High Court. Since the year 2000, more than 4,400 Palestinians have lost their homes in this way.

Yes, Israel has professional lawyers, attorneys and judges. It is, indeed, a highly “professional” occupation. We have had plenty of time to work towards a more perfect occupation. But you don’t need to be a lawyer in order to recognize injustice. Look at the occupation and all the legal pretense surrounding it, and call it for what it is: a legal guise for organized state violence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Israel has systematically legalized human rights violations in the occupied territories through the establishment of permanent settlements, punitive home demolitions, a biased building and planning mechanism, taking over Palestinian land and much, much more. Israel’s military law enforcement system – if one can call it that – routinely whitewashes hundreds of cases in which Palestinians were killed or abused.

Here are some figures: Israel has declared 20% of the West Bank “State Land”; Israel “generously” allows Palestinians to build on one-half of one percent of Area C, the 60% of the West Bank placed “temporarily” under Israeli control a generation ago; over the past decade, Israel has demolished some 1,200 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, thereby rendering homeless over 5,500 people, half of them minors; East Jerusalem figures would raise these by roughly another 50%; in April 2016 there were about 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli custody, a quarter of them individuals remanded for the duration of their military court proceedings, and roughly 10% administrative detainees. One final figures: in a quarter of the 740 plus complaints referred by B’Tselem to the military authorities since 2000, no investigation was even opened; in another half, the cases were eventually closed with no action taken; and only in 25 cases, were indictments served. And get this: during that time, the military authorities have physically lost track of 44 cases – more than the 25 cases that went to court. Israel insists that all of this is legal, under both Israeli law and international law.

It is not.

But this fact is of little practical significance in terms of keeping Israel from carrying on implementing its policies because, regrettably, international law lacks any effective enforcement mechanisms. And so, Israeli policies are implemented and advanced with ever greater domestic support. Despite broad international agreement – including previous Security Council resolutions – that the settlements are illegal, the only measurable change in this area is the growing number of settlements, of settlers, and of Palestinians living in their shadow, facing demolitions or displacement.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

B’Tselem has worked for 27 years to document and publish violations of human rights in the occupied territories, to analyze and interpret data, and advocate locally and internationally on these issues. We are not advocating for any specific political outcome: we are fighting human rights violations. In fact, we realize how Israel has effectively used the “peace process” itself to buy time – a great deal of time – while it further establishes more facts on Palestinian ground. B’Tselem’s mission to tell the Israeli public about the ways in which the state oppresses Palestinians will continue as long as the occupation does. We were and will always remain relentless in this effort, for it is our basic moral obligation. But after so many years, one has to draw certain conclusions. Moral principles alone will not be enough. Israel will not cease being an oppressor simply by waking up one day and realizing the brutality of its policies. Decades of false pretexts and genuine fears, economic interests and political dogma, have come together to prevent that eventuality, while too few convincing reasons to change course were presented. And globally?

Six-and-a-half years ago US Vice President Joe Biden warned that “the status quo is not sustainable”. Clearly he was at least six-and-a-half years too early in voicing such a warning. The “status quo” – that ever progressing vector of Israeli interests at the expense of Palestinian rights – has proven not merely sustainable, but in fact thriving.

Almost exactly a year ago the European Union embarked on a six-month “structured dialogue” with Israel, seeking to end administrative home demolitions in Area C. Six months later, the dialogue was going nowhere and demolitions were on the rise, yet the EU decided – to extend the dialogue. If an unprecedented number of demolitions goes hand-in-hand with an unlimited timetable for international dialogue, why stop demolitions?

Clearly, the occupation is internationally sustainable. It is so, because so far the world refuses to take effective action.

Recent years have made that realization even more painful. Israel’s long-term project to maximize its benefits from Palestinian land while minimizing the nuisance of Palestinian presence there has become even more palpable than perhaps ever before. Admittedly, even just half a day spent in the West Bank has long been more than enough to realize the permanence sought for the enterprise that Israeli governments right, center, and left have been advancing there since 1967. Similarly, retired Israeli officials have openly said so – most recently it was put quite simply by a former OC Central Command who said: “The army is there because the State of Israel has no intention of leaving.” But now that Israeli leaders currently in office, from the Prime Minister down, have been skipping the lip-service in real time and openly admitting this – with such a level of official clarity – it seemed that surely, finally, there would be implications. Was one naïve to have that expectation?

Perhaps. While unprecedented clarity in Israeli language has narrowed the divide between Israeli actions and the empty rhetoric on negotiations and diplomacy, the global response to it was, well, yet another report. Demolitions have been stepped up, making 2016 the worst year on record in this sphere. I feel compelled to ask: how many more Palestinian homes must be bulldozed before the realization sinks in that words that are not backed up by action do no more than indicate to Israel that it may carry on?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The realization of human rights need not wait any longer. Palestinians have the right to life and dignity, the right to determine their own future. These have all been delayed for far too long – and justice delayed is justice denied.

As Martin Luther King Jr taught us, “we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor”. So the reality facing the international community is this: absence of action not only effectively gives the oppressor a license to proceed without having to suffer too many repercussions, but also gives the oppressor the power to decide when will be the right time to start considering alternatives. “Wait,” demands Israel, “now is not the right time”. But “‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’,” responds Martin Luther King Jr. “The time is always right to do what is right.” That time is now: the time to, at long last, take action. The UN Security Council has more than just power: you have a moral responsibility – and a real opportunity – to act with a sense of urgency, before we reach the symbolic date of June 2017 and the second half of that first century begins, to send to the world, to Israelis and to Palestinians, a clear message, backed by international action: Israel cannot have it both ways. You cannot occupy a people for fifty years and call yourself a democracy. You cannot violate the rights of millions and claim international perks justified by hollow words about commitment to shared human rights values.

Israel is a sovereign country established through international legitimacy granted through a historic decision by this very institution in 1947. I am a citizen of that country. It is my homeland. For most of my country’s existence, the world has allowed it to occupy another people. I have lived my entire life, every single day of it, with that reality. Millions of Israelis and Palestinians know no other reality. We need your help. Fifty years of “temporary” occupation are too long for even a single person on this planet to accept such a contradiction in terms. The rights of Palestinians must be realized; the occupation must end; the UN Security Council must act; and the time is now.

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