Sunday, June 29, 2008

us vs john lennon

I just watched the movie "US vs John Lennon" with a group from my meeting. It's a documentary about Lennon's (and Yoko's) political activism, and it was very interesting and well done.

It left me feeling somewhat hopeful and somewhat depressed, which I think is generally the state I'm in regarding peace activism in general these days. I'm hopeful that some people will catch on, but depressed that even in the '60s and '70s when peace was popular, it's hard to see the good it did in changing American policy or who's in power. And now it's depressing to see a majority of that generation--those now in their fifties and sixties--living like normal Americans. Did they lose hope? Did they become disillusioned? Did they fall in step with The Man and give in? Did they lose all their leaders to political assassination???

And it's also depressing to see my own generation, which hasn't even paused to "Give peace a chance."

And although it's really cool to see how John & Yoko's clever use of media brought the idea of peace to a whole generation, it's depressing to see how media is used today to speak the language of worldly power and fear. We don't see what is happening in Iraq like they saw Vietnam. People aren't beaten and arrested at protests because that would be something to report. Instead protests are a non-event, evoking no news accounts. Pop stars who speak out for causes are seen as one more rich person with too much time on their hands trying to get publicity.

There's hope, too--I mean, look at all those people who assembled and wanted to work for peace! Look at the hope in their eyes, listen to the cry for a revolution that seeks justice nonviolently for the oppressed! This is the desire of our hearts, if we only listen to it. This is the desire of the hearts of so many, and it's already here if we believe it. Like the posters John & Yoko put up:

So you say you want a revolution? Who's going to lead us? It's a dangerous's not comfortable and it takes creativity and you might get crucified or shot. I don't know. It's not going to be me. But I'll follow you if you start one!

(If not me, then who?
If not now, then when?)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

good news & bad news in the bbc

Two articles caught my eye in the BBC newspaper this morning: the good news is that New Zealand signed a land deal that gave back "huge tracts of land" (as the BBC put it) to the native Maori people. This is exactly the kind of thing that needs to happen around the world, especially in the United States.

The bad news is that Israel again blockaded Gaza to imports and all vehicular traffic. A cease-fire was signed 6 days ago between Israel and Hamas, but Israel says the Palestinians broke that by a militant group firing a rocket. The Islamic Jihad group claiming responsibility for this attack said it was in response to the killing of two Palestinians in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers, reported in the BBC yesterday or the day before.

The blockade means that no material aid goes into Gaza, which is currently one large prison for the people who live there. It is fenced in with barbed wire and soldiers, and access is only given to Israeli military, journalists and diplomats. It is supposedly "Hamas which controls Gaza," but the truth of the matter is that Israel controls Gaza, keeping its inhabitants locked inside. This is eerily similar to the camps within cities in Nazi Germany into which Jews were locked in WWII. While this was a grave injustice in WWII, it does not give Jews the right to do the same thing to others in the name of their own "security."

One more thing: the BBC says right off the bat that the cease-fire was between "Israel and the militant group Hamas." Who seems more militant to you: the group with the 5th largest standing army worldwide that keeps a military border around an entire section of a foreign country, or a group that is defending itself from military occupation? Which seems more militant to you: soldiers entering an illegal occupied territory (the West Bank) and killing two civilians, or a small group of angry and desperate people inside a closed military zone with lack of access to food and other necessities, who fire a homemade rocket aimlessly toward their enemies? (I assume since the article says nothing about any deaths or injuries that this rocket didn't actually hurt anyone, and I know that Palestinians have no professionally made rockets, let along bombs to go inside them.) Why does the BBC label Hamas a militant group, but not Israel (or the United States or Britain, for that matter)?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

overnight in a cave

I adapted this post from an article another Christian Peacemaker Teams group member (Brooke) wrote and sent out to be shared with others about the delegation while we were there. The pictures are mine (or others' taken on my camera!)

One night four members of the delegation had the opportunity to travel away from the village of At-Tuwani to remote villages in the South Hebron Hills. (The picture is of me at the road block that keeps villagers from traveling to larger Palestinian towns...and Ross in the background apparently attempting to move the road block.) CPT has a presence in At Tuwani, and also provides accompaniment and outside observation when requested by other outlying villages. At Tuwani is kind of the hub of 8 small villages, with the next real Palestinian town being Yatta. The elementary school for these villages is in At Tuwani, and is pictured at right.

Near these villages is the Israeli settlement of Maon. This settlement (pictured left) has all the modern conveniences, including an Israeli-only highway leading to it. It is within sight of At Tuwani and some of the other villages. The settlement also has an outpost (pictured right and below), which is an expansion of the settlement onto the next hill. This is how the settlements grow: they take over one hilltop and attack anyone who gets near, even if that land has traditionally been used for grazing a specific family's sheep. Then a settler family moves to the top of the next hill, creating an outpost. Services (electricity, water, etc.) are extended to this outpost and more families move there--or more buildings are built. I heard that in Maon there are only a handful of people who actually live there full-time, while many other families use their home as a weekend get-away or a the equivalent of a summer home. Also, sometimes buildings are built or caravans (mobile homes) are brought there to make "facts on the ground," to show there is a higher settler population than there actually is, so that international law will not make settlers move off this land that they now "occupy," even though it is illegal according to the UN (as well as Israeli law!)

Anyway, two members of the delegation stayed with a family in the village of Tuba, and Brooke and I stayed in the village of Maghayir Al Beed. These are small villages comprised of no more than 50 people each, and the houses are in old caves built into the side of the mountains. Most of these caves have been inhabited by the same families since the Ottoman Empire.

CPT's relationship with the villagers came about because the settlers closed the road that connects Tuba and Maghayir Al Beed with Tuwani because it runs between the settlement and the outpost. In order for children to get to school in At Tuwani they have to either walk the short way that goes by the settlers (who have attacked the children in the past), which takes 20 minutes, or walk a route that takes two hours through steep hills. To solve the problem an agreement was made so that soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force escort the children through the short road and CPT members watch from both ends of the road by the settlement to make sure the children are safe. (This road is currently closed to all other traffic for the "security" of the settlers.)

One family in Maghayir Al Beed is Shanti's family. They are a family of twelve: nine children, parents and a grandmother. They live in a small cave and make money shepherding and making cheese. We were welcomed lavishly by this family and almost immediately made connections with them (although our CPT team member-interpreter, Josh, was not yet present) by cooing over their baby and communicating with our limited language skills in one another's language. I showed them a picture of my baby (and my husband), and we figured out later, once Josh was there to translate for us, that my son is just about the same age as their youngest daughter. This was an important bonding point for us with the family, especially the mother.

We sat down on cushions on the floor of their cave. One of the girls poured warm water over our hands, and then we received an amazing meal consisting of a cheese, rice and tomato soup; stuffed zuchhini; chicken and taboun (flat bread). It was a little strange because we were all sitting around in a circle--Shanti, Josh, Brooke and I eating, and the grandmother eating some and somewhat included in conversation, and then the mother and all the kids sitting further back and not eating with us. I just hope they ate earlier, because we didn't see them eating anything! We asked Shanti about his experience living that close to the settlers, and he told us his family's story. We asked Josh to ask the mother what her thoughts were, and at first Shanti answered for her. Then Josh asked him if we could ask his wife a question, so that seemed to work--rather than a man asking a woman a question it was women asking her through a translator. It was good to hear her voice and to be able to learn her perspective as well. (The picture is of her making taboun in their hand-made rock oven with the baby looking on.)

Shanti told us that two years ago they built an outhouse and the army said they had to knock it down because they didn't have a permit to build it. Permits for building are nearly impossible for Palestinians to get. When the army came to knock the outhouse down Shahadi told them that the family needs an outhouse for all guests who come to stay including Israelis. The army ended up knocking down the outhouse with a tractor. (The picture is of the demolished outhouse. Josh and Shanti slept on its roof, which is now next to the outbuilding on the ground.) The army wants to demolish the family's cave home because it doesn't have a building permit! (It makes perfect sense to have to have a building permit for a natural cave, doesn't it???) They tell him to move to Yatta but they can't afford to move there: the family's livelihood is their sheep, the cheese and wool they produce. Selling hte sheep would not provide the income a family their size would need to live in a city, and jobs are nearly nonexistent in Palestinian towns. The soldiers don't seem to understand this.

The settlers and the family have had some difficult interactions. Two months ago two of their goats were killed by settlers, and 5 years ago some of their sheep were beaten by settlers. 3 years ago settlers stole 15 goats and when he complained about this the high court said that he couldn't have them back, so he lost $4500 (American). On another occasion his mother was at the well drawing water and settlers were walking across his land. His mother said to them that she didn't like them on their land and they shot her. She went to the hospital, but he didn't have the money to pay for it.
Lastly, settlers have blocked the road so it is a very long way to Yatta. When he complained about this to the police he was arrested for 10 days.

In the village all the homes are old. They are too small to hold the families, but they can't build on to them because construction is forbidden due to inability to gain permits. Many of the caves are also collapsing and need work and reinforcement. Shanti's family cave leaks in the winter and they are afraid it may collapse. They cannot do the necessary repairs because of the permit situation and if they did do the repairs the caves would be demolished. In the end, says Shanti, the Israeli District Coordinating Officer wants all the caves to be uninhabitable so that they can condemn the village and give the land to settlers.

For Shanti and his family, the current situation for making a living is this: during the most recent rain period there was barely any rain, and so there isn't any forage for the sheep. It costs $500 (American) for one ton of food, which lasts for 4 days. The sheep are going hungry and cannot even be sold because they are sickly. While they do make cheese, the cheese is made from milk provided by their livestock. If they lose their livestock they lose their ability to make a living.

If I was in this situation I can imagine myself being incredibly frustrated, but this family still has hope. They are committed to nonviolent action, working with CPT and with the people of other villages to combat this injustice in ways that will effect change. The day after the settlers shot and killed two of his sheep, all the villagers grazed on that hillside so that their sheep covered the area. They refused to let the settlers push them out of the area using scare tactics. They invite us into their home in hopes that our presence will help bring their story to the world. And in the morning we had another wonderful traditional meal!

Many, many families have already moved out of the area because of threats by the settlers. Now they are refugees in Yatta and other towns. Where will it end?

Hopefully it will end with a group of brave souls like Shanti and his family standing firm, nonviolently defending their right to their own land. Hopefully the world community will see the injustice occurring and act in ways that no longer support injustice, but support rights for all people. Young children should not have to be afraid to walk to school, and no one should have to fear the demolition of a house that has been lived in by their families for generations--demolition by fixable repair or bulldozer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

cpt delgation: first reflections

I got back a week ago from Israel/Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. This was a first exploratory step for me, to learn about what CPT does there, the situation and culture(s), and to see if I want to be involved with CPT in the future. The answer to the latter question is "yes," if they'll have me (us). My husband is going to go on a delegation (the same kind of trip I just did) in November, hopefully, and then we'll do the month-long nonviolence and conflict resolution training, and then we'd like to be reservists and spend a month each year in Palestine, taking our son with us. So hopefully that will work out. (The picture is me in an Arabic newspaper called Al Quds. I'm at a demonstration against the wall being built around the West Bank.)

Today I'll give some initial impressions and thoughts, and then in the coming days I plan to write about some of the people we met and their stories. Each person we met asked us to share their stories so that the world knows what it's like to live in occupied Palestine, or to live as an Israeli within that system, so I want to share those stories with you. But today I'll give a general overview of what we did and what I thought. And I'll try to be brief...

The trip was two weeks long. There were 14 of us in the group, and I liked every person on the team. It was fun getting to know other peace-minded folks. Many of us were from "peace churches," but we also had a couple of Catholics, a Baptist and a Mormon, as well as a couple of people not affiliated with a denomination. We were from all over the USA and Canada, one from the UK and one from Italy. (The Italian is already working with CPT but came on the delegation with us.) We ranged in age from 20-67.

When I got to Jerusalem I thought it looks a lot like southern California. There are some fairly high hills with sage-brush-type stuff on them, there are palm trees, and there are lush areas that are being irrigated. It's very hot, and women had to wear long sleeves and long pants all the time out of respect for the culture, so I was really hot for two weeks!

We spent the first couple of days in Jerusalem, then went to Hebron, down to At Tuwani, back to Hebron, Bethlehem and back to Jerusalem. We visited with many organizations working for peace in these areas, as well as individuals who told us their stories. We experienced amazing hospitality from people whose lives have been devastated in many ways. At most stops we received Turkish coffee, Coke, hot tea, and an assortment of snacks if not full meals! We all made sure to stay hydrated since it was so hot, and our leader told us last time he led a delegation half the group ended up in the hospital on IVs because they were dehydrated. But we managed not to get dehydrated even with all that caffeine!

There is so much to explain that it's hard to know where to begin. My overall sense is that the Palestinians are not terrorists any more than Americans are terrorists--and probably even less. There are of course individuals in every culture who use terror as a weapon to try to get their way, but the Palestinians have been painted by the media as a culture that as a whole breeds terrorists, and this is not the case. We met amazing people who are working nonviolently for basic human rights. We met patient people who refuse to be treated as sub-human, and have a high value for human life. These people are not terrorists: they are individuals like you and me who want a decent life for themselves and their children. And this decent life is by and large not being allowed them.

I can see the situation from the Israeli side to some degree. The Jews have been mistreated by so many other groups for so long that now that they have the chance to have a homeland they are not going to give up that chance for anything. This is a place where they can supposedly be safe to live as they please. The problem is, there were already people living on this land when the rest of the world gave it to them. So what do they do with those other people? They do what the European nations did to the native people living in the Americas: they push them out, they legislate inhumane treatment of them, they vilify them so it is easier not to feel guilty about ridding the world of them. They build walls to keep them out and hold them in, they make it difficult to live in the area so that hopefully they'll flee, and in the name of "security" they impose 24-hour curfews for years at a time to starve them and break their will.

The problem is, there are many more Palestinians than Jews, so it is hard to destroy them all and it is difficult to keep them under control.

And as I see it, as long as there are people who are suffering and who are in dire need of basic necessities, there will always be a security threat. There will always be desperate individuals and groups who will do anything to get rid of the opposing force. Imagine if another country came into the United States and took over more and more land, kept Americans from getting access to education, food and transportation, and put their military in control of entire areas. Would Americans not fight back? Would Americans sit around and acquiesce to whatever this occupying force wanted them to do? Of course not! Americans would fight back using whatever tactics necessary to gain our freedom back. And yet, when Palestinians use such tactics, the world calls them terrorists.

One thing that stood out to me was that someone pointed out that the Palestinians use home-made explosive devices, basically whatever is on hand, and they have no way of aiming them, and even if they manage to hit something they don't do a whole lot of damage. (Suicide bombs are another thing entirely, but still they don't kill that many people compared to a regular bomb.) This is called terrorism, because it is not authorized by a legitimate government and those who do the acts are not garbed in some sort of army uniform. Israel has the 5th most powerful military in the world for a country the size of Rhode Island, I believe. They have all the conventional weaponry including nuclear bombs. Their military kills many more Palestinians each year than Palestine's puny attempts at harming Israel. And yet, they are not seen as terrorists because their government is "legitimate" and these attacks are military endeavors. What we fail to notice is that Palestine is not given the right to have a "legitimate" government (when they had democratic elections in 2006 and elected Hamas leaders, the world refused to recognize this "terrorist" government), and they are not allowed to have an army. So they resort to guerrilla tactics, as most people would. I'm not saying these tactics are right, but they are certainly understandable.

So to me, one of the main issues here is the worldwide media picture of this people as a huge group of terrorists. This is just not true, unless we're willing to face the fact that our own governments are terrorist organizations that are much more effective and lethal than the Palestinian "terrorism." There are many Palestinians actively and nonviolently working for peace, and a majority of Palestinians just want to be left alone to live their lives. The media is encouraging the dehumanization of the Palestinian people in order for western ideals of conquest, capitalism and wealth to gain more ground. This is cloaked as a religious battle, but really it is a battle of cultures, with the front line in the Holy Land of three ancient religions.