Archive for January, 2010

My Week in Gaza

January 30, 2010

When people heard I was going to Gaza there were two common comments. Why are you going there and will you be safe? In fact, I was very safe in Gaza. I was protected by Gaza hosts and my White, Male, American privilege. The Gaza people were happy to meet and talk to any Americans who were allowed into their prison home. I am told the Israeli weapons control systems were so sophisticated that they could tell who they were killing. They would probably not risk an incident by firing on an American, unless of course my name was Rachel Corrie.  If asked why the Israelis murdered her, I answer the way some Palestinians would respond to questions of Israeli motivation, “I don’t know,” because anything is pure speculation.

“I’ve seen the bombed-out buildings, the tunnels that are used to bring basic supplies, food, clothing, fuel, medicine, into Gaza from Egypt, saw where Rachel was murdered, talked with a farmer who could not ship his strawberries outside the border of Gaza, talked with people who, like the strawberries, could not leave Gaza, learned that structures cannot be rebuilt or replaced because building supplies are not allowed by Israel to enter Gaza. I saw a destroyed juice-processing plant, an industrial facility destroyed by illegal white phosphorus, talked with workers who did not speak English (I don’t speak Arabic), but somehow we connected. I learned to love the Palestinian people.  They do not know why they were attacked last year or why they are now imprisoned in there own country. My goal was to keep caring, listening and to show that I understood, to learn more and commit to return to the US to tell what I had learned in Gaza. That was the first full day. There were four more to experience.

We went to the House of Wisdom where several of us had dialogue with Gaza intellectuals. From the 11th floor, it was a long walk to the ground because a normal power failure disabled the elevator. The daily 4:00 am Muslim chanting, the 5:00 am coffee with the hotel staff, the friendly black uniformed Hamas guard who laid down his AK-47s to have morning coffee with us. Often called “Terrorists,” this nice young Hamas soldier gave me souvenir to bring home, but absolutely refused the t-shirt I tried to give him in return.

In conclusion, I found the People of Gaza very polite. ”Welcome,” “Sir” and “Thank You” were words I heard frequently. Departing was usually accompanied by a hug and perhaps a kiss (by men only). That is a very warm memory.

The other side is not as pleasant. I came to the realization that when I completed an IRS Form 1040, my check was supporting the 3 to 5 Billion dollars we send each year to Israel. Much of that money buys  arms from American companies, American manufactured weapons such as F-16 fighters, Apache Helicopters and other weapons of destruction. In the Siege of December ’08 to Jan ’09, there were about 1400 Palestinians killed compared with about a dozen Israelis. Out of balance? Add to those statistics the fact that 300 women and 400 children are included in the Palestian Figures. American involvement? We sent money and manufactured weapons. The fact that we did not send troops does not relieve me of the blame as enabler-country of this gross massacre that took place last year. They best I can do for now is remind you that there are lies that must be tested by truth. There is much to learn and I hope you do. Write your Congress people and ask for a complete public evaluation of America’s involvement in Israel-Palestine.

Peace to all of us,
Jack
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Gaza and Jack: Followed by a Short Dialogue between Jack and Nancy

January 22, 2010

GAZA AND ME

I have always supported Palestine. People said going here would be life changing. In Gaza I kept waiting for a lightning bolt to strike. It didn’t. Since I returned, I find I am actively pursuing Congressional meetings, writing Gaza support items on email and Facebook, developing Middle Eastern Muslim friends on Facebook to dialogue with, supporting anyone who is making efforts to support Gaza, making group presentations, etc.

But the change is not limited to Gaza. Since returning I find myself more assertive and less demanding. I speak my beliefs boldly, but in the interest of mutual dialogue I am more respectful of hearing what others believe. I am more respectful of life and have an awareness of how fragile it is. I am more aware of the joy of being with people, but equally able to walk away when things are not productive. I was very pleased, after short discussion with a woman in the Social Justice field, to have her say, “It is a pleasure to meet a true activist.”

I know, even at my age, I can on a growth spurt. Ahead, I may level out. At the same time, the more I learn, the more I realize there is much more that I can and want to contribute to.  The good thing is that before, during and after Gaza I have always been blessed with a sense of humor that allows to have fun no matter the Social Justice activity. Que Sera, Sera.

Do I see this as an end? No, at 67 this is just the beginning.

Support Peace for the Children of Gaza and Israel

Jack Smith

DIALOGUE BETWEEN JACK AND NANCY

In response to a comment on a list email from a third party, Jack wrote:

“only a continum of Israeli war crime” – I know what you mean but I cannot bring myself to use “only” when it comes to the devastation that was GAZA Dec 08 and Jan. 09. What Military on this Earth could be trained and motivated to accept killing women and children like was done then and there.

Nancy rejoined:

I appreciate this very much and add that the US military and the mercenaries employed in US wars are also ruthless in killing women and children.  If anything, the US kills far more of them in terms of sheer numbers.

To which Jack replied:

I thought of that when I posted it but I wanted people to think of another Country.  Isn’t it great that apparently the US and Israel will do whatever necessary to “protect their people.”  Does Hitler come to mind? Interestingly enough all three governments are Fascist.

Nancy said to that:

Yes!  And did you ever think growing up that the US government would be fascist?  In my post war childhood, such an idea was beyond the pale.  Not that the reality even then was so very different from now if we take Mussolini’s definition of fascism which is corporatism.  Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex.  It has gotten much worse during my lifetime and exponentially worse in the past thirty years to be sure.

And Jack finished:

That is why blogs are important. People generally don’t want to think about these things let alone act on them.

Anti Recruiting

January 21, 2010

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I arrived a few minutes past noon to find Elaine Brower already reading the list of US service people who have been killed in the conflict in Afghanistan.  When, at a little after one o’clock, we stopped our demonstration outside the new Army recruiting center on Chambers Street in lower Manhattan, located near a city high school and a city college, her voice had grown weak, so she had been replaced by another member of our group.  The list was nowhere near completed, and, of course, it is growing a lot longer now than in some periods of the lengthy US occupation.

Elaine was present when this center opened in December of 2009, and has shown up every Wednesday since, having promised the personnel that she would be their worst nightmare. Click here or above to read her account of that day.

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Debra Sweet, head of World Can’t Wait, and others protesting at the recruitment center on Chambers Street.

I held my sign and watched people walk by.  A number of students were in our group, perhaps the best persons to speak with the legions of their peers passing by.  Some of our them handed out flyers which gave facts about US aggression and occupations as well as more realistic information about the life and fate of US service men and women than young people can get from the recruiters inside the center.

It was lunch hour when students were out in large numbers going to eat.  Police officers were in evidence, surely to intimidate rather than for any other reason.  Even so, not a single potential recruit walked into the center while we were there.  That in itself may be a good reason to be there.  Furthermore, a young man stopped to speak with me and the student standing next to me, who offered him a flyer.  He read the flyer and asked if what he was reading were true.  We assured him it was and suggested places to veryify the information.  He then said that the recruiters wanted him to sign up, but his parents didn’t.  The student next to me urged him not to do it.

I can’t know whether he will pass by sometime when no one is there to support his doubts about signing up, but at least he did not go in right then and do it.

Click here for video footage of the December 18 protest at the center and to see Elaine in action.

This was worthy work and I look forward to doing it again soon.

The recruiting center is located at 143 Chambers Street, on the West Side of Lower Manhatttan.  Elaine and others are there every Wednesday from noon to one o’clock.

MLK, Torture, Human and Civil Rights: January 18, 2010

January 19, 2010

When I arrived, outraged at how this part of lower Manhattan is now so obviously a police state with barriers that block off streets you used to be able to walk or drive down, swarming with police cars and vans, I didn’t see anyone I knew.  A couple of people in very cheesy excuses for powdered wigs, a not so bad three cornered hat, and a stove pipe hat were probably going to do some kind of theater; there were cameras about, none from the major press.  Having read earlier in the day suggestions to send money for Haiti to MADRE, an organization that knows that relief money given directly to women will be used for good, I saw a group of Muslim women, some with infants and small children, and decided to head for the women.  I can trust the women.  I smiled and stuck out my hand to the first ones I encountered, saying “I’m Nancy.”  They, very graciously, smiled back and shook hands.  We didn’t strike up a conversation, but I felt safe with them and glad to be with them.

People began arriving in larger numbers as preparations continued under the watchful eye of the police and with the Manhattan Correction Center, the federal prison and torture center in New York at the intersection of Pearl and Park Row, looming beside us.  I was there to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the federal prison where Fahad Hashim, an American citizen, is held and tortured without respect of his Constitutional rights.  Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said “While Hashmi’s political and religious beliefs, speech and associations are constitutionally protected, the government has been given wide latitude by the court to use them as evidence of his frame of mind and, by extension, intent. The material support charges against him depend on criminalization of association. This could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of others, particularly in activist and Muslim communities.”

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Chris Hedges had written about this event a few weeks ago, quoting the statement by Ratner, and encouraged everyone who could to attend.  He showed up and was greeted by a young woman whom I learned later was Jeanne Theoharis, an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College.

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She had taught Fahad Hashmi, the US citizen whose imprisonment in the MCC was the reason for this vigil.  As Hedges says in his article “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists,” the imprisonment and torture of Fahad in defiance of his Constitutional rights is an example of the ‘corruption of our legal system” which “if history is any guide, will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists, or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive.”  I know Hedges is right and that was reason enough for me to take his suggestion to attend.  It was good to see a contingent from the Center for Constitutional Rights present as well as a large group of law students from CUNY.

A few minutes later, Cindy Sheehan and Debra Sweet arrived together.  I have not seen either of them for months and was glad for hugs and greetings from them.  They joined Chris and Profesor Theoharis as things got closer to starting.

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As I had suspected, there was theater, very instructive about the US Bill of Rights and the abrogations of it by acts of Congress and presidential orders from the earliest days of the Republic.

Professor Theoharis spoke with both passion and knowledge, quoting the 1967 speech of Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church on the upper west side of Manhattan.  She  reminded us that Obama and Holder, who have signed Special Administrative Orders, including for Fahad, which permit extra-legal treatment of prisoners and are a legacy of the Bush regime; she says that Obama and Holder have now made this case their own.  Professor Theoharis challenged Obama, who said in a speech recently that he stands on the shoulders of Dr. King, that such a statement places huge responsibility on him.  She read a part of Dr. King’s 1967 speech Beyond Viet Nam: A Time to Break Silence.

“Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.”

She challenged Obama and Holder to risk losing friends if necessary in order to do, as Dr. King did, what is right and not what is popular.
I would add the following section of that speech, as very germain today as well:

“A few years ago there was a shining moment in that[the civil rights] struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

“Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.”

Professor Theoharis, addressing Obama and Holder, reminded them that King was a man of peace and of great moral courage.  He dared to make that speech though he was warned not to by friends and foes alike.  He was never allowed to speak with the president of the country again, was immediately condemned by the New York Times and the Washington Post (at the time a much more “liberal” medium than now) immediately, and was killed a year to the day later.  He did, however, help bring about the end of the Viet Nam war.  Obama could stop the wars and occupations today, if he would.

I had at some point already taken a few minutes to collect myself and just look at the prison, huge and looming.  It was important to me that Professor Theoharis asked us all to turn toward it and to remain silent for a minute.  After that powerful silence, she asked us to say as loudly as we could “I am Fahad.”   Who are you?  “I am Fahad,” as indeed I am.  We are indeed all one.

Chris Hedges continued with more remarks about Dr. King and his interactions with Malcolm X which informed that historic speech.  He remarked that all great American revolutionaries are appropriated by the media and the authorities, sanitized, and made acceptable.  He said that Martin Luther Kind Day is now an opportunity for Americans to congratulate themselves on having overcome racism, which he thinks would outrage Dr. King if he were alive today.  He also notes that the 1967 speech is not quoted in the corporate media and by politicians and other “leaders” on this day who repeat ad nauseum King’s remarks about little black children and white children holding hands.  Hedges warned us again that if we think that the treatment of Fahad will not become widely used against people like us who exercise our rights to free speech, we have not learned from history.

I was very glad to hear Chris Hedges today.  I was glad to have taken a stand with others who are resisting the repression that creeps steadily onward in this country.

When Cindy was introduced, the MC, who is a professor also, but whose name I missed and whom I cannot find, said that her son was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004.  In her remarks, Cindy said that Dr. King gave his great speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, was killed on April 4, 1968, and that her son Casey died on April 4, 2004.  April 4 is a date that is now very important to her for many reasons.  Always passionate and herself extremely courageous, she said that she had never gotten so much hate mail as when she announced that she was going to protest last Saturday at the CIA against the drone bombings in Pakistan and elsewhere that kill large numbers of innocent civilians, many of them children.

Her next remark seemed to me to be much in the spirit of Dr. King.  She said that nothing is going to change until Americans care about the helpless children whom we kill with our drones in Paksitan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, until we care enough to stop the attacks.

She wore a shirt that read “Arrest Bush,” and told us about participating in an attempt at a citizens arrest of Cheney after the protest at the CIA.  She said her shirt should say Arrest Obama, as well.  The wars and atrocities have not stopped.  Obama has increased troop levels in Afghanistan and increased the already gargantuan war budgets.  He now has responsibility for the atrocities as well.  She said she is outraged that innocent people are imprisoned and tortured, while known criminals like Bush, Cheney, and Obama are free.

Cindy asked at the conclusion of her remarks, that we turn again toward the prison and call out as loudly as we could “Free Fahad” for a minute.  I doubt that he could hear us, but I hope that somehow our energy reached him to help sustain him.

Two speakers whose family members are held in either the MCC or in Guantanamo told us what it is like to have a relative in that condition.  One of them was the brother of a woman held in the MCC and another has an uncle and a cousin imprisoned in Guantanamo.  They were very courageous to tell us what it is like for them.

Fahad’s best friend closed the speeches with the poetic and impassioned language of the young and the committed.  It would be wonderful to see his spirit more widely among our young adults today.  I grieve that this situation with his friend has been the reason for me to hear him.

A folk singer sang us away with We shall overcome, a song I had not sung in decades and that I very much needed to hear myself sing.