Tag Archives: refugees

The Human Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mural

Mural in Patras, Greece

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Borders

Protest refugees 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethlehem

 

 

 

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Movement

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

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

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

Consider the following:

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

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

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

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

The-Erez-crossing-between-007

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

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

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

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

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

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

border

Israel’s separation barrier

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

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

 

 

 

 

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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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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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UNRWA’s flawed business model

Americans who have advocated for Palestinians’ human rights in Congress and elsewhere have experienced personal threats, intimidation and much worse over the years. James Zogby’s description of those battles filled me with gratitude that there were (are) Americans who have never given up fighting for justice for Palestinians. (The Struggle For Palestinian Rights: Then And Now, August 4, 2018)

In several significant ways the Palestinian reality, whether under occupation or in exile has worsened in recent years, taking a horrific toll on both Palestinian lives and aspirations. Although US politicians may now feel comfortable mouthing support for a “two-state solution,” it is difficult to imagine how such a solution can be implemented. It is even more unlikely that some of the same elected officials who say they support two states would consider taking the tough positions to force Israel to end the occupation in order to allow a viable Palestinian state to come into being. Their profession of support for two states, therefore, appears to be hollow and designed more to side-step their responsibility to address Israel’s abuse of Palestinian human rights and justice.

Nevertheless, I remain more optimistic than I was 40 years ago. The developments that have occurred have had a profound impact. The situation may be more difficult, but the movement for Palestinian rights is stronger, larger, more diverse, and more deeply committed to justice. There is new energy and new hope that we are turning a corner in our ability to secure justice for Palestinians. James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute.

I wish I could find hope in this political environment.  Last week, the Trump Administration announced it’s ending US support for UNRWA, the UN agency created to assist the Palestinian refugees when the State of Israel was created.

Great_March_of_Return_2016-

What this means is that overnight, UNRWA has lost 1/3 of its budget. What this means is that Palestinian children may not be attending UNRWA schools this year. What this means is that the Palestinian engineers, doctors and other professionals working for UNRWA may join the unemployment rolls and will not be able to provide services to refugees.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the business model and fiscal practices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) made it an “irredeemably flawed operation.”

“The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA,” she said in a statement.

Nauert added that the agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.”

Now the US considers human rights through the “business model” lens rather than through the lens of internationational human rights.

Let’s put this in perspective for Americans who don’t follow these things as closely as they should.

First, no one wants to be a refugee less than a Palestinian. 

I’ve heard many Zionists argue that Palestinian refugees are just beggars who don’t know anything besides living on handouts from the international community. Those same Zionists have never met or talked with a Palestinian, as I have, and so they’re uninformed (to put it mildly). Using their same logic, one might argue that Israelis are just beggars who don’t know how to survive without the largesse of US aid to the tune of over $38 billion over the next 10 years.  U.S. taxpayers have given much, much more $$ to Israel since its creation 70 years ago than it has given to the Palestinians who were involuntarily and forcibly removed from their homes, businesses and villages to make way for the new state of Israel.  The “refugee” status is not one of their own making.

From a business model perspective, the state of Israel is a “flawed operation.”

Second, the State of Israel (not UNRWA) is responsible for the growth in the number of Palestinian refugees.

The Trump Administration argues that UNRWA has an unsustainable business model because the growth of the number of refugees is unsustainable.  Now Trump wants to change the definition of who qualifies as a refugee. The UN and international community count those Palestinians who were displaced from the region in the 1948 and 1967 wars, as well as their descendants—even if they possess the citizenship of the Arab country to which their ancestors fled—as refugees.

In fact, no one wants to go out of business and become obsolete more than the folks at UNRWA. Just ask them, as I have. The failure of the State of Israel to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and end the occupation has resulted in the growing refugee crisis. Rather than use carrots and sticks to force Israel to come to terms with reality and end its occupation, thereby resolving the refugee crisis, the U.S. government has enabled this “unsustainable business model” to grow and flourish. Shame on Congress. Shame on President Trump and all of his predecessors.

Third, the newly created State of Israel supported the creation of UNRWA to focus on the needs of Palestinian refugees.

Jonathan Cook, a British writer and freelance journalist living in Nazareth, Israel spells out the history of UNRWA succinctly:

UNRWA was created to prevent the Palestinians falling under the charge of UNHCR’s forerunner, the International Refugee Organisation. Israel was afraid that the IRO, formed in the immediate wake of the Second World War, would give Palestinian refugees the same prominence as European Jews fleeing Nazi atrocities.

Israel did not want the two cases compared, especially as they were so intimately connected. It was the rise of Nazism that bolstered the Zionist case for a Jewish state in Palestine, and Jewish refugees who were settled on lands from which Palestinians had just been expelled by Israel.

Also, Israel was concerned that the IRO’s commitment to the principle of repatriation might force it to accept back the Palestinian refugees.

Israel’s hope then was precisely that UNRWA would not solve the Palestinian refugee problem; rather, it would resolve itself. The idea was encapsulated in a Zionist adage: “The old will die and the young forget.”

President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will not make the “problem” disappear by changing the definition of “refugee” or by blaming UNRWA for failing to solve the “problem” or by reframing the refugee crisis as an “unsustainable business model.”

Human rights are not grounded in business practices. Security is not won or maintained with weapons and armaments. Refugees are not numbers, they’re our neighbors.

Please donate to my UNRWA fundraising campaign. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to support critical mental health services for Palestinians in Gaza.

Gaza boys flag beach

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Magical thinking

Donald (you know which Donald) wants to make the “deal of the century” in the Middle East and he’s assigned that task to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Here’s what we know about the “deal” thus far.

  • Make the issue of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future State of Palestine disappear by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and declaring Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel. (See here.) No capital for Palestine, no problem.
  • Strip the more than 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan of their status as refugees, and pay Jordan to absorb them as new citizens of Jordan. That would solve the ‘right of return’ problem, at least for those 2 million Palestinians. (See here.)  No refugees in Jordan, no problem.
  • Dissolve the U.N. agency (UNRWA) that was created in 1949 to provide relief to the Palestinians displaced by the creation of the State of Israel. (See here.) No UN agency requiring funding to sustain the refugees, no problem.
  • Redefine who qualifies as a refugee to include only those individuals who were displaced 70 years ago, not their descendants. Of course, this would drastically reduce the refugee population which is around 5 million, nearly one-third of whom live in camps across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza. (See here.) No descendants of Palestinian refugees to be concerned about, no problem. JUST WAIT THEM OUT AND THOSE PESKY REFUGEES FROM 70 YEARS AGO WILL DIE.
  • Provide aid to the Palestinians in a way that makes clear that the international community does not recognize the vast majority of Palestinians who are currently registered as refugees are deserving of refugee status. (See here.) Again, no refugees, no problem.

Lest you think this is all magical thinking, H.R. 6451 – UNRWA Reform and Refugee Act of 2018 was introduced in July and would accomplish many of these points pushed by Jared Kushner.

By any objective measure, this is a war between the U.S. Congress and Palestinians with a clear goal to erase the impediments to the “deal of the century”. No refugees, no UNRWA, no capital in Jerusalem, no ‘right of return’ – such a headache for Israelis to contemplate – this deal will certainly fall right into place.

And Congress wants to ensure that the State of Israel maintains a military advantage which translates on the ground to Israeli snipers shooting and killing Palestinian journalists, nurses, doctors, women and children (some in the back, others who were merely standing and observing) — a total of 156 since the weekly protest marches at the Gaza fence began in March this year.

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

My delegation from New Mexico (Heinrich, Lujan-Grisham, Lujan and Pearce) have signed on as cosponsors to H.R. 5141 and S.2497 – United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 which states in part:

It is the policy of the United States to ensure that Israel maintains its ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military or emerging threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damages and casualties, through the use of superior military means, possessed in sufficient quantity, including weapons, command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that in their technical characteristics are superior in capability to those of such other individual or possible coalition states or non-state actors.

(1) The quantity and type of precision guided munitions that are necessary for Israel to combat Hezbollah in the event of a sustained armed confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah.

(2) The quantity and type of precision guided munitions that are necessary for Israel in the event of a sustained armed confrontation with other armed groups and terrorist organizations such as Hamas.

(3) The resources the Government of Israel can plan to dedicate to acquire such precision guided munitions.

(4) United States planning to assist Israel to prepare for the sustained armed confrontations described in paragraphs (1) and (2) as well as the ability of the United States to resupply Israel in the event of such confrontations described in paragraphs (1) and (2), if any.

Read this language carefully and it’s clear that the U.S. Congress wishes to re-write the rules of war, and international humanitarian law, by authorizing the State of Israel to preemptively strike anyone (civilians included) who, in their sole discretion, poses a threat.

I suspect that many members of Congress don’t understand what they’ve signed onto, and they trust AIPAC’s propaganda. But the words speak for themselves, and anyone who values the rule of law must remove their name as a cosponsor.

That’s the message I’m sending to my delegation from New Mexico.

Palestinian President Abbas condemned the ‘deal of the century’ as the ‘slap of the century’.

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