Nov 30, 2009

Whistling Past the Graveyard of Empires

The Long Gray Line waits with breath at attention for the commands of the president, but will you, the American public, really hang on every word of the president's speech tomorrow at West Point? What will you be looking for? Nuance? Restraint? That last glimmer of Hope, of that "yes, we can win this war" attitude, of the thought that perhaps, here in the darkness there is light at the end of the tunnel? That after eight years and a number of twists and turns, here while the train is stopped so we can figure out if we want to go on or back up, perhaps you will see a promise of a glint of a glimmer of the sundown of ultimate defeat after another 7 or 8 years of traveling in darkness yet to come?

Tired of Hope yet? Tired of war in the graveyard of empires? Ready to send some more marines and national guardsmen out for their third and fourth tours of duty into the mountains and deserts despite their PTSD and their IED-battered cerebellums? Ready to keep feeding the yawning maw of the military industrial congressional complex?

Well, I have seen commentary that Obama has been manipulated by the generals--and to a certain extent he has been manipulated by the sneaky leaks, by the generals trying to bring pressure to bear on his deliberations--but it seems to me that Obama painted himself in a corner when it became clear to him in Iowa last year that he just might be able to win the nomination.

There's a sucker born every minute, and the con men will always tell you that the mark has to believe. So if the generals did manipulate or pull the con on the President, it's not like they didn't have an easy and willing mark.

In order to establish his hawk credentials against McCain, he insisted that Afghanistan was the war he would prosecute with vigor. And indeed, within a week of taking office, he ordered drone attacks in Pakistan and has now in fact ordered more drone attacks than George W. Bush.

You can tell it will be an escalation--why else deliver the talk at West Point? Ever heard of a retreat speech given there? (The closest you might get is MacArthur in maudlin feeling sorry for himself as he began fading away.) And I marvel at how, after all of the sneak previews during the last week, the little peeks inside the box, they still do their PR coordination in the manner which Edward Bernays would have approved: in Parade Magazine.

Yep, tucked inside the massive advertising supplements--if you are like 95% of the newspaper readers in the country, I'm sure you know the drill--strip out the various sections from the real estate pages and the auto ads and the advertising supplements for Christmas lights and clothes, plasma TV screens and iPods, retaining less than 50% of the totality of the dead trees and there is the Parade Magazine with "A War Briefing from General Petraeus" written by Col. Jack Jacobs (U.S. Army, ret.) military analyst for NBC and shill extraordinaire for the military industrial complex. A message from General Petraeus to tug on your patriotic heartstrings, and would you believe it just happens to be right after Thanksgiving and two days before Barack Obama goes to West Point to tell us, finally, what he has decided.

We don't get the details of course, just the reassurances on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, our own "war briefing" in a publication that reaches--according to its own circulation claims for advertising penetration-- 72.7 million people, nearly half of whom are over 50. I mean, talk about getting to the really loyal and consistent voting people in this country--the people who still buy the newspaper or have it delivered to their permanent address. In the country of the sleepwalkers, the Parade Magazine reader opens his and her eyes onto the far off dirt and rock of our manifest destiny. Or maybe it's the L-tryptophan from all that turkey that really puts us in the receptive mood for the war briefing? And the blind shall see. Bring it on, but with calmness.

Sure, Petraeus readily admits that "many Americans, including some members of Congress, question whether the war in Afghanistan remains worth fighting." At which point you know that "some members" refers to the cowards and the appeasers, you know, the traitors who voted against the War Powers Resolution way back at the tunnel's entrance in 2001--well, you know what will follow, don't you? Wanna feel better over your Sunday coffee and for the rest of the week as you work off the tryptophan high? Well, Colonel Jacobs will calm your soul with the words of the General:

Once the President settles on a strategy for Afghanistan, [Col Jacobs] asked, what will America need, besides more troops and good intelligence? "Time," Petraeus replied, "and as General McChrystal observed, lots of humility."

Notice the assumption? There will be more troops, and we will need good "intelligence." But the kind of intelligence we need now is moral and ethical and practical. Real intelligence, not digitized information, or information from turncoats. Get ready for a long humble war. Sorta like Vietnam was LBJ's war. But humble? I don't think so. McChrystal led the dark and, as we now know, secret ingredient in the Iraqi "surge"--the targeted assassination program. The mask of humility hides the grin of empire. The audacity of drones. BHO's war.

Oct 29, 2009

Kudos: the Daily SHow

John Stewart and his staff are to be congratulated for interviewing Mustafa Barghouti and Anna Baltzer this past week. For once, national television made an effort to provide a platform for the voice of the Palestinians' peaceful non-violent resistance. A significant portion of the Palestinian people have carried out non-violent resistance for years and find themselves the targets of violence from the Israeli military--a number of Palestinian demonstrators have been killed in the past year; one young American male protester is still in a coma after brain damage when he was hit by a tear gas canister. (Canisters these days sometimes get fired on a flat trajectory at body level, not lobbed into the air. Non-violence never receives the coverage that violence does, and the absence of coverage of the non-violent protests tends to perpetuate the misconception that all Palestinians are a violent. This is preposterous, of course. I am glad that both Barghouti and Anna Baltzer were able to state the case for a movement that those of us who are for justice, equality, and humanity in the Middle East have been making for many years now.

I urge all of you to access the interview through Philip Weiss's Mondoweiss website. Adam Horowitz, Weiss's associate, was in the audience and witnessed the kerfuffle that occurred during the show with a member of the audience being ushered out. But whether you access it through the Daily Show website or Mondoweiss, please make sure you check out the 10 minutes or so of the joint interview. Some people ridicule that the Daily Show is not the real news but is looked upon as a news show. In this case, it's the real news.

This is especially significant this week, which saw the J-Street convention, where there were about one thousand attendees expected, be an enormous success with over 1500 attending.

This installment of the Daily Show will be seen as a brave act years from now when progress has been made for peaceful and just co-existence, whether in two states or one.


Sep 28, 2009

After a Long Vacation

I wish it were more like the sleep of Rip Van Winkle. The world has not changed. Awake and returning, I just know more about it.

For example, yesterday in the Los Angeles Times Op-ed pages, Frank Luntz--the man who successfully changed the exact phrase "Estate Tax" into the negatively charged "Death Tax" (which must have sent currents of damaging electrical energy along the decomposing spine of Thomas Jefferson)--Frank Luntz, sounding oh so sympathetic and sincere, wrote about how "The angry, fearful American" has changed from optimist to frantic raincoated Howard Beale, mad as hell and not wanting to take it any more. According to his research, 72% of Americans are mad as hell, 57% think their children will have a worse world than they, and only 33% think their children will have it better. The paper version of the op-ed was "The angry, fearful American" but on the LAT website it this has been changed to "What Americans really want." Perhaps the first title had too heavy a connotation--think of "angry, fearful Indian" or "angry, fearful Negro."

He has interviewed, he says, 6400 people from all areas and ethnic and political backgrounds, has taken instant responses over the past 100 days, and here is his conclusion: "that intense despair and loss of confidence exactly reflect what we're seeing and hearing in healthcare town halls." Further, he says, the focus on the loud extremist voices don't see the significance: "a once optimistic people now filled with rancor and vitriol." (He never mentions the incivility, the racism, or the angry charges that Obama is a Hitler, a maniacal Heath Ledger Joker, a grass skirted witch doctor, or worse, a monkey.) Politicians shouldn't criticize the outbursts, he says, they should respect them and listen to them carefully. So should business executives.

He goes on sincerely to make a few points: that his surveyed people choose as their highest priority as "restoring personal responsibility'; that wrongdoing isn't punished; that "enforcing rules and letting failures fail" would prevent mistakes; that business executive shouldn't "skunk" their employees and walk off with millions. In fact, he says, his surveys have shown him that never has the gap been so large: "employers resent the lack of loyalty and commitment from their people; employees resent the lack of job security and the need to work longer and harder for less."

I wonder what American doesn't feel similarly? My gawrsh, you think that Frank has seen the light? That he finally has become progressive, looking for ways to make the American worker more secure (by providing health care for all Americans for instance) or asking for tighter and stronger enforcement of regulations? maybe for salary caps? Yes, yes, he is looking for Bank of America to fail, right?

It's almost convincing until you realize that this is the rhetorical tactician whose twists and chiseling of words to make them emotionally loaded with fear or distortion--see "death tax" above and a bushel of other words and phrases in his recent revision of Words That Work: It's Not what You say, It's What People Hear.

And Luntz creates their fear. In the current health care debate he wrote an important memo of rhetorical prescriptions for conservatives, "The Language of Healthcare 2009." Read it through. You will find that his talking points showed up at town hall meetings all over. You can find the memo here. Try this one on for size: 'it is essential that 'deny' and 'denial' enter the conservative lexicon immediately because it is at the core of what scares Americans most about a government takeover of medical care." Sound familiar?

Or how about talking point #13: "Maximize your attacks on the Democratic plans by choosing the BEST words . . . 'Washington Takeover' beats 'Washington Control.' Takeovers are like coups--they both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom. What Americans fear most is that Washington politicians will dictate what kind of care they can receive."

Luntz tips his hand when he says that an "incredible 88% believe in the adage 'live free or die'." It's at that point that I understand how selective his audience sample probably is: he's not talking to progressives, liberal democrats, or beleaguered minorities; he's not even talking to thinking independent middle class folk.

No, he's talking to the very crowds that he has helped create over the past fifteen years: mad as hell white suburbanites who feel their impending minority status creeping up, who still believe, as Mark Twain once remarked, that they are merely temporarily embarrassed financially, and that it's only a matter of time until the American greed dream will be theirs. In other words, if they were corporate executives, they would be skunking their employees and walking away with millions with no qualms.

So a piece which on the surface appears to appeal to the good nature of most Americans is merely a dramatic exercise. This is the puppet master who wrote the script surveying the puppets who learned it from their blanket emails and right wing swift-boaters. This is Frank Luntz listening to the echo and then turning to us to insist that the echo comes from a vast reality. This is seductive rhetoric here, folks. While he may have picked up buzz words that appeal to both left and right don't believe for one minute that this is anything but sophisticated manipulation at a higher level. It's still the same word game.

I'll try not to go back to sleep.

Jul 21, 2009

US Tax Dollars at Work

This is what remains of the American International School in Gaza, bombed by an Israeli Air Force pilot sometime in the early morning of January 3, 2009. The Israeli military spokesman told Ha'aretz that the "American College" site was a munitions storage dump, and therefore the bombing was justified. No weapons remnants have been found. There were no secondary explosions or fires. Anyone with an ounce of intelligence can figure out that a munitions dump would have rendered more destruction than this. I suppose one can argue that the timing of the bombing was humane in that it took place during the night when no children were present. Actually, they failed to take into account the janitor who lived on the premises. But what's a janitor compared to imaginary munitions?

We toured the site. I walked around and saw the athletic fields--and again thought what this could look like undamaged and filled with children and teenagers.

As Amira Hass, the Ha'aretz correspondent, pointed out the "College" is a school for children in grades 1-12. According to its director, the school opened for operation the day before Ariel Sharon led his troupe of policemen to the Al Aqsa mosque, seen by many as the precipitating event of the Second Intifada. It will cost $7.12 million to bring the school back to operation, over $5 million of which will be needed to reconstruct the building itself. Of course, the Israeli government is refusing to allow construction materials to enter the Gaza Strip, but what's the problem?

According to Hass, the school was intended to attract international families moving to Gaza after the Oslo accords, but in fact it became a school for the children of the upper classes of Gaza, the political leaders. It had "a Western look and feel to it: a full day of studies, class size limited to only 20 students at most, lots of open space, boys and girls in the same classrooms, universal and liberal education, English as the language of instruction (Arabic and Islamic or Christian studies were taught in Arabic), music, computers and physical education." Though the international clientele never materialized due to the political turmoil, the local Gazans sending their children to school there suggested that the overcrowded public schools were not adequate.

Ironically, the school was trashed and vandalized in April of 2007 and January 2008 by unknown parties. The motives apparently were religious, because the school represented a departure from more traditional (and religiously based) values. You would have thought that Israel might have spared the school in order to sow ideological divisions. Hamas is ideologically opposed to the school, and yet promised to protect it after the vandalism. The school still operates in an older building in an older section of Gaza City.
About the man who was killed in the attack, the school janitor. His father lived nearby and went looking for his son immediately after the bombing. Had there been munitions exploding secondarily it might have been difficult to enter the rubble and call for his son. This was his second son to be killed. A third son was seriously injured by Israeli flechettes fired into a crowd of people, and is hospitalized in Egypt. Flechettes are little darts bundled together into a munition. This is the modern version of the thousands of arrows that you see in movies about medieval warfare. Flechettes were fired by a tank a few years ago and killed a TV journalist in his clearly identified vehicle. The Israeli military explained it by saying that the hand held camera was mistaken for a rocket launcher.

All of this material about the American International School was mentioned to Senator John Kerry when he was in Gaza. So where is Kerry when you need him? Speaking of assistance, where is the first dollar of the billions in reconstruction aid pledged by various nations to rebuild Gaza after the Israeli onslaught? Oh, that!

We send millions of dollars in aid to Israel every day, but there is no accounting. This is another example of collective punishment that we encourage by our uncritical support of the Israeli government. The auditing and accountability are long overdue.

Jul 17, 2009

Gaza Farewell

We left Gaza on a bus to the Rafah crossing on the evening of the 16th, watching the sun set in the Mediterranean, a few people on the beach and in the surf, trying to cool off. The shore of the Gaza Strip could be developed into a resort if there were any substance to the economy. Along the shore road south of Gaza City, you can see the ruins of buildings, targets of the Israeli warships: they are, for the most part, the villas of leaders of the PA. Within the borders of Gaza City, there was an industrial zone. All of the factories have been destroyed by the Israeli onslaught. I have done risk management and safety surveys on concrete factories, and one of the factories first bombed into oblivion was a cement factory--the burned hulks of cement mixing trucks and crane pumpers lay in the yard of the factory--crumbled cement walls and twisted rebar all around. I find this significant, because I know for a fact that the Israeli government refuses to allow the delivery of construction materials into the Gaza strip as part of their siege.

When you travel through Gaza City you see wide boulevards and what could be neat paved roads on a set of gentle hills, stone buildings (unlike the concrete and brick tenements you find everywhere in Egypt--some sections of Gaza City look more like towns in the West Bank or in Amman or Damascus--but there is so pavement, only sand, no evidence of the means of creating infrastructure. The pockmarks of bullets and shells are almost everywhere--sometimes in a jagged line leading up to a window and then on the other side, the last evidence of some Israeli soldier spraying his ammo. As we are finding out now in testimony from Israeli, it may or may not have been a response to a sniper or attacker. Soldiers were instructed to shoot at any movement at all, shoot first and don't ask questions later might be the phrase.

I must be an optimist, I decided, because in looking at all of this wreckage and devastation from the Israeli attack, I kept thinking to myself that if the Palestinians were in possession of full economic independence, this might be a town to compete with Haifa or Beirut for middle class vacation hordes, or how neat this one divided boulevard might be if it were paved and the stunted palms given the water to grow. And because despite this devastation and this very high unemployment, the people welcome us, smile at us, wave at us, greet us warmly and continue in their persistence--sumud is the word for this.

We were headed back to the Rafah crossing at the end of the 24 hour limit set by the Egyptian Government (and we assume also with the consent of the Israelis and the US State Department). By ten we reached the Gaza side of the border, retrieved our passports, and then bussed over to the Egyptian side of the "no man's land" for another slow and expensive re-entry into Egypt. When you first arrive, the cost of a visa is US$20. When we left Egypt for Gaza, there was a 92 Egyptian Pounds charge (the exchange is 5.6 pounds to the dollar), and now when we return there is another exit fee of 42 pounds just to leave the terminal. They get you going and coming.

By the time the buses were loaded, head checks done, security services settled in, it was after midnight and we crossed the Sinai, over the magnificent Mubarak Peace Bridge over the Suez Canal, the cargo vessels still moving slowly through, and back to Cairo airport, a trip of over 6 hours, and this despite the police escort vehicles who quickened our passage through the checkpoints that appear on the major roads every 30 kilometers or so. At dawn we were at the airport. Some on earlier flights headed to change to later or next day departures. The rest of us ate, exchanged last minute thoughts, names and addresses, shook hands and hugged. We had done it, and now, framed by long busrides in the night, it all felt like a dream.

In the US, mid afternoon of the 17th, we passed through immigration and customs with nary an inquiry. I understand that one or two people were detained, but apparently that was easily handled. And so back in the US, we have memories, and pictures, and the determination to tell the story of the Israeli siege of Gaza, the slow dying and the collective punishment of 1.5 million people who are kept from developing their own land.

Now, exhaustion is high, but so is determination to tell the story as often as we can to the American public. The mainstream media are not telling it. The idea that brings hope to all of us is that we are on the side of fairness and justice, and that will keep us going, as it has kept the Palestinians going. Our lesser sumud. When next I see Gaza City, I hope it will be for a stroll along the beach, fisherman coming in with catches from further out than two kilometers (where the Israelis now cordon off their boats) and no rubble and destruction in sight when I look inland. Viva Palestina!

Jul 12, 2009

Viva Palestina Convoy at Suez Crossing

From Alexandria I write, getting ready to go into a meeting regarding the pickup of the vehicles and the departure. We have been receiving contradictory information regarding what happened to the Cairo contingent of the convoy last night as they tried to cross the Suez Canal into the Sinai and head for the rendezvous point at Al Arish. Because I hear contradictory statements, I send on the official press release.

We are all hoping that this will be the last night in Alexandria, but what appears to be more important now is that we are running out of time. The return flight to the US leaves Cairo on the 17th, so we have five days to rendezvous at Al Arish, deliver the supplies across the border, and high tail it back to Cairo airport for the afternoon of the 17th.

Robert Burns' words keep repeating in my head: "the best laid plans of mice and men oft gang awry" (loose translation from the Scots); but in this case, it appears that some of the going awry is due to diplomatic machinations. The careful listing of passports that has been done all along now apparently is not good enough. That is my speculation. As I wrote in the last one--inshallah has resonance that I never clearly understood before. I hope I will be able to update this one more time, but it may well be that I will not get a chance as we drive and rendezvous.

Check the VP website below regularly for updates.

At least today is slightly overcast and less hot than yesterday, though all night long the power was out and I ended up sleeping on two chairs on the cool rear balcony of the rented apartment. Sorry for no pictures. Unfortunately my camera is incompatible with this internet computer, and the jpg. files are not transferring well from the flash drive.

So here's the latest update from the Viva Palestina group--link to the website is below the press release.

From: Kevin Ovenden Viva Palestina

The 100 Viva Palestina humanitarian volunteers have
decided to stay the night in their buses at the Mubarak Peace Bridge over the Suez Canal despite pressure from the Egyptian security officials to return to Cairo.

The official reason given at the checkpoint for
refusing to allow them to cross is that the officials there did not have a list of the names of the members of the convoy. Such a list was, however, at the request of the Egyptian authorities before any of the convoy members set foot in Egypt sent to the Egyptian ambassadors to Washington, D.C., and London.

The US Embassy in Cairo has now stepped in to forward
a newly provided list of those convoy members aboard the buses at the bridge to the Egyptian foreign ministry to clear the way for the convoy's passage.

Nancy Mansour Leigh, a spokeswoman for the Viva
Palestina delegation at the Suez crossing, says, "It's going to be an uncomfortable night, but it's nothing compared with what the people of Gaza must live through every day. We've already succeeded in securing internet access and are negotiating other necessary facilities. But whatever facilities are provided
or not, our determination will see us through the night and all the way to Gaza."

New York City Councilman Charles Barron is on the
scene at the Suez Canal and acting as chief negotiator with Egyptian security officials. "The Viva Palestina movement has had a great success this morning with our stand at the Suez crossing. We've now got an agreement for us to stay until the list of our convoy members reaches the foreign ministry. It shows what can be achieved with the determination and commitment of a collective body of people. We are determined to cross onto Gaza, and no matter what happens next, out of this first small confrontation, we've achieved a success for the movement
in support of the Palestinian people. The convoy is going to move on, and we ain't gonna let nobody turn us around."

British Member of Parliament George Galloway offered
these words of encouragement for the delegation being held up at the crossing:"This is an American convoy. And Americans are used to refusing to give up seats on buses in the struggle for justice. I regard everyone who's putting themselves on the line tonight at the Suez Canal for the success of this humanitarian mission as nothing short of a hero."

For more updates, visit

Jul 10, 2009

From Alexandria

Called "Alex," scene of the famous Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, home of the poet Constantine Cavafy, site of the famous museum and library burned and then destroyed by earthquake--no telling how different the texture of history might have been had all the volumes of papyrus survived--site of another famous seven wonder of the ancient world, the lighthouse at Pharos--well, there is a lot of history here in this seaboard town, the Mediterranan sea pounding against the stones and concrete, umbrellas by the seashore so closely packed that no sun penetrates. Millions on the beach and millions walking the streets, riding the trolleys and the minibuses that go everywhere and no tourist can tell where. The coptic church in the sun--where the women are not covered by a hijab. Cavafy's house in the shade of the small street, the view of the old Jewish Synagogue--but we cannot visit, and "No Camera" the instruction from the white-uniformed antiquities police.

The library has long gone, but the new spectacular Library, a large cap of concrete with incised and molded characters from all languages, Arabic, Greek, Latin, looks out over the old Harbor toward the entrance of the harbor,signified by crosses, an unexpected item. From the parapets of the fortress built on the traditional site of the lighthouse, you can see the fishing fleet at anchor in the late afternoon. From down the street, the smell of fish carefully stacked and laid out by the fishmongers.

And yet now not really as a tourist, here on a mission, twiddling my mental thumbs and walking in the sun in this interesting city as I wait to get into the vehicles, still standing about as we wait for the final release, and then on through the hot delta, cross the Suez Canal, head to al Arish where the rest of the medical supplies and the other members of the convoy who have been procuring them join up with us.

The lodgings are uncomfortable and red bites on my arms, despite the DEET, suggest that I may be the freshest meat for mosquitoes and flies; or worse, fleas, or worse than that, perhaps bedbugs. A good friend who had been in Alexandria caught dengue fever here, so I hope the bug spray keeps working. At any rate, it is hot and you live for those moments in a shady passageway when the breeze flows by and brings wanted relief. Hot, but not to the point of unbearabliity. Today on a balcomy we consumed kalamata olives, local green olives, sardines, pita bread, fruit juices and non-alcoholic beer, and a lovely ripe melon.

Inshallah, as they say here, and I am learning, very quickly, why they say it, we will be in the vehicles and heading out of Alexandria soon in the direction of the Sinai. From there, the opportunity to post to this extent or even to check emails will be limited, and I hope therefore, within a few days we will be able to deliver to those who need it the braces and wheelchairs and walkers and medicine. Inshallah, of course, always inshallah.

Jul 8, 2009

Viva Palestina Convoy Readying to Launch

The Viva Palestina Convoy members have been in Cairo since the fifth of July--having left NYC and other cities on the Fourth of July in order to declare independence from US policy of tacit support of the Israeli siege. The people of Gaza await our delivery of medical supplies and equipment. Over 180 Americans are in the convoy from all over the country with a very strong contingent of 34 from CA.

And now that the planning and various supply negotiations have been completed, we are beginning the convoy. One team remains here in Cairo to handle last minute procurement, packing, and inventory to add to the supplies already shipped from the US. Another team heads out tomorrow morning to procure the convoy vehicles, prepare and secure them for loading and transport.

British MP George Galloway, the inspiration for the convoy, has been interviewed by Al Jazeera in NYC before we left, by the AP here in Cairo when we arrived on Sunday. Wednesday at the Association of Egyptian journalists, Galloway and a contingent of 30 Viva Palestina participants answered questions regarding the convoy. Unfortunately, American media, despite some prodding by individuals, have not been very responsive up to this point, consistent with their usual ignoring of this continuing collective punishment of the Palestinian people in Gaza for the past three years, most notoriously during the onslaught of late December 2008 and January 2009.

Cairo is a thronging city, its downtown area on both banks of the Nile incrediby interesting. Activity never stops, and traffic is relentless. Our cab today taking into the older sections of the city just narrowly brushed by two women crossing the street as the cabbie, excitedly practicing his English started waving his hand in imitation of a cowboy movie. We traipsed through the market and furniture manufacturing areas of the city, looking longingly at the fruit, but with no surplus of bottled water to rinse it thoroughly, had to pass them up. Apricots, grapes, mangoes, cactus pears in abundance--donkey carts driven by young children or old men, people drinking their water out of brown decorated pitchers. I wondered how the women in the full veils, with their dark eyes peering out of the slits slaked their thirst--did theu have to wait until they returned home? Cabs and constant honking, downtown in the modern section of the city near the airlines and banks, someone is always ready to speak to you and even more, to accompany you, show you where the bookstore or the bank is for a few piastres.

Uniformly, the people are friendly and when you do get into conversation, their favorite president, above all, is Jimmy Carter, seen by everyone as a man of peace. President Obama is appreciated for his speech in Cairo, but people we spoke to, while appreciating its sentiments, unanimously express some reservations about actions speaking louder than words. From what they can see, the actual policy has not changed very much. They are, in fact, still waiting for the deeds.

Donations can still be made at the Viva Palestina website , and if you are in tune with the plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza, I encourage you to think about donating and sending this blog entry on to sympathetic friends and acquaintances. I am including the URL in case the hyperlink doesn't work, as this computer tends to slide in and out of Arabic, making the hyperlinks a bit difficult to fix firmly: You will find on the website some pictures of our unloading some supplies at JFK on the Fourth the afternoon of our flight. Other sites with pictures and writing about the convoy are:
and .

Check them out and watch for further pictures and reports on the VP website and on this blog.

More follows from the delta and the road through the Sinai desert as we head towards Gaza and I sneak a few monents on someone's computer.

Now comes the hard and exhausting part--the heat and the sand and the mosquitos along the Meditarranean Sea desert scape, the loading and the driving and the convoy and the jump off in just a few days into the damage and heartbreaking sights: the recovering wounded, the cemeteries, the rubble of the bombed schools and hospitals and civic structures, and among it all, the people who just will not give up in their long struggle. After work, not rest but the sorrow of bearing witness. We realize that even this little penetration into that sandy prison called Gaza is just one of many things that must be done to bring justice. And we also know, as Reverend Daughtry said from his lectern, we also know that right is on our side.

Jul 7, 2009

From Cairo

The weather, believe it or not is not as hot as expected, no higher than 100 fahrenheit, though I was expecting to have to deal with 110. Little surprises continue to occur. Traffic as rapid and chaotic and unrelenting as can be and on a road with no sidewalks you really need eyes in the back of your head--since the frantic last minute beeps and honks don't come until the car is right upon you.

There are over two hundred of us here working on various tasks in preparation for our delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, and the shared commitment of everyone is just accepted and part of the conversation. I am working on the media committee, and would hope that when my posts are read by my chosen friends that these entries will be passed around to all. My understanding is that the Viva Palestina website will start carrying a blog entry or journal within the next few days and I will post the link to it when it comes up.

Things are a bit hectic and I still am scrambling to find someone who can upload my pictures--though I have not had a chance to take that many of the local scenery or the heated and dusty turmail that is this gigantic city--so I can get them posted here.

One of the convoy members has been checking coverage in the local media, and while there is news here, the news in the United States has been absolutely minimal, even though press releases have been sent, inteviews have been given to the AP and to Al Jazeera. So I would suggest your going to either of those places to find some articles and then pass on to your local news outlets to see if some local cover can be stimulated for the Viva Palestina convoy. The tendency of US papers in general to ignore any news about relief to the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, is a given, and indeed one of the intentions of the convoy is to generate interest. That's why we have Americans of various faiths and origins here, most from the East and West Coasts, but a number from mid-western states as well.

As the week rogresses, computer time will diminish, but I hope to get something up every day to record the events, and will certainly continue to follow the movement to bring relief and humanitarian assistance to the long-suffering people of Gaza.

Jul 4, 2009

Piracy Off of Gaza

For three days now I have been scouring the US press looking for updates--no, actual mention--of the piracy, complete with armed masked men boarding the ship in waters off the coast of Gaza Port. (First reports said that the ship was hijacked in International Waters, but according to one of the participants, they reckoned to have been in Gazan waters.) The ship was carrying toys, crayons, medical supplies, and some construction materials to Gaza. On board were over 20 people including Cynthia McKinney, the former Congressional Representative, and Mairead Maguire, the Irish Nobel Prize winner. The ship is the latest attempt of the Free Gaza movement to provide relief to the besieged people of Gaza.

McKinney is still in jail awaiting a "deportation order" which she has refused to sign since it was presented in Hebrew. Since the people on board were arrested by Israel and put into prison in Israel, and Israel is threatening deportation because of their "illegal entry" into Israel, the only conclusion to draw is that the state of Israel regards Gazan waters as Israeli waters, showing once again the illegality and the deliberate choke hold of control over the Palestinian people.

All of the countries whose citizens were hijacked have raised heavy objections with Israel. Except the United States, which remains very quiet in the face of this obvious international violation. It makes you wonder how much pressure is actually being brought by the Obama administration to settle the conflict. Silence and neglect seem to be the policy. It certainly is the operating policy of the Mainstream Media. Cynthia McKinney was pretty outspoken Congressperson, and the US press was quite good at demonizing and marginalizing her, so it is no surprise that her incarceration has not received any attention.

More later as I get to the Middle East and get to a computer.

May 27, 2009

Loyalty Oaths for Second-Class Citizens?

Imagine, if you will, for just a moment--longer if you can tolerate it--that you are a Native American living on your impoverished reservation in the dry badlands of the upper Midwest or the desert Southwest and reading in the newspaper or seeing on television that the Senate's subcommittee on patriotism of the Senate Homeland Security Oversight committee--or whatever its name may be--has just voted to send a bill to the full committee for debate.

The bill says the following: that all Native American people, as well as Japanese Americans, African Americans, East Asian Americans, Arab Americans, Jewish Americans--that is to say, all Americans who are not White Christians--must swear
allegiance to the United States as a "Christian Democratic nation." Further, the draft legislation has a provision that if any American called publicly for the end of the United States as a "Christian" (and "democratic") state, they would be thrown into prison for one year. The bill additionally specified that commemoration of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, or the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942-43, or the mention of slavery during Black History Month, or Commemorations of the Holocaust, were illegal.

All of us would support that truly democratic bill, don't you think? Especially strong in their support would be the governing party of the United States--let's pretend for the moment that John McCain and the Republicans had won the election. (I don't see the Democrats producing such a bill; at least not yet; no telling what might happen if we had another terrorist attack on the Democrat's watch).

Well, that is exactly the kind of legislation that has gained traction in the Israeli Knesset. According to the Jerusalem Post, the bill was sponsored by a member of the Israel
Beiteinu party--the party of the racist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. It garnered 47 votes within the ruling coalition. It calls for a loyalty oath on the part of Palestinian Israelis to the "Jewish democratic" state, and provides a year of imprisonment for publicly speaking out against the state (as in calling for a single state solution or a "secular" state); it contains further penalties and jail time for commemoration of al Nakba, the events of displacement and ethnic cleansing that took place at the time of the declaration of the state of Israel.

Of course, opposition to the bill by the opposition parties has been strong and outspoken, but that the legislation is even contemplated and voted upon preliminarily, is not a good sign, and it does not speak well for Israel's self-proclaimed status as the "only democracy" in the Middle East. It's a new and more virulent form of the political infection we know in America as McCarthyism.

Lieberman's party has had on its agenda since its beginning the transfer of the
Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship to other Arab countries or to the occupied territories. Of course, the presence of Palestinian citizens, who compose about 20% of the total population, has been a long-standing concern of the Israeli government. The government claims that they have full citizenship, but any one who studies the Israeli-Palestinian question learns quite early on that Palestinian Israelis have a second-class citizenship, receive far less services for their tax dollars than other Israelis, are kept in segregated neighborhoods, are spied upon and harassed in a way that other Israelis are not. The right to vote is always trumpeted as proof of equal citizenship. Any Israeli citizen speaking honestly will tell you that equality is not the case.

Over the last weekend I went to the 7
th Annual Al-Awda Conference. Al-Awda is a mostly Palestinian- American group, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition. It is, so to speak, the conscience of the Palestinians in diaspora, steadfastly reminding everyone that the "right to return" to one's home is an inalienable right under international law, and constant in its reminder to all--including the PLO--that unless the right of return is an integral, primary issue to be discussed honestly and at the start of negotiations, Palestinians will not receive full justice. The Right of Return, because it is the most painful issue of all, has always been shelved for "final status negotiations." And why? Because if it is discussed honestly by Israel, Israel will be in the position of publicly having to admit that they did in fact expel, transfer, or murder Palestinians in 1947-1949. They also will have to admit to the destruction of over 500 Palestinian villages in the territory originally assigned to Israel by the UN partition act of November, 1947.

One of the speakers at the Al-Awda conference, an Israeli Palestinian doctor,
Hatim Kanaaneh, has lived for years in his family home in Gallilee. Dr Kanaaneh is a gentle man, whose memoirs, A Doctor in Galilee, is an excellent corrective to the stereotypical view, unfortunately perpetrated by staunch champions of Israel, that all Palestinians are terrorists. For many years, Dr. Kanaaneh was involved in public health matters, and he knows well how the second-class citizenship of the Palestinian Israelis has adversely affected the overall health of his minority.

Kanaaneh's blog, with the same title as his memoirs, is a gateway to knowing what it is like to live as a Palestinian within the Israeli state. An April entry on his blog, an "Open Letter to President Barak Obama" will give you insight into just how threatening the Israel Beiteinu proposals are to Palestinian Israelis. Here are some excerpts from the full letter, and I urge you to go to the blog to read the full text:

Mr. Lieberman wants me transferred out of the country though I have lived on land I inherited legally from forefathers who almost surely have better claim to descent from the ancient Hebrews than his. And mind you, Mr. President, my residence in the home he wants me evicted from predates the establishment of the state he wants to appropriate as his, and his alone, while he is a recent immigrant from Moldova. Would you, Mr. President, take a loyalty oath confirming your second-class status?


You have to understand, sir, that I speak here of life-and-death issues for me and my family. Mr. Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, attained his impressive status through an openly racist election campaign that featured mass rallies at which calls of “Death to Arabs” were standard. Would you trust such a man with your future in the international arena, Mr. President? I surely hope not: but the majority of Israeli citizens seem to have done exactly that.

We as Americans, pride ourselves on our democratic tolerance of free speech, we lament the thought that some citizens receive second-class treatment. Yet in this California
which has just created a new class of homosexual second-class citizens, I also find a reluctance on the part of the main stream media even to acknowledge the racism and injustice and very undemocratic implications of new proposed legislation in Israel. Americans should know what is going on there and make their objections known to Lieberman's brand of discrimination.

May 15, 2009

al Nakba

Sixty-one years ago today, Israel declared its statehood, and celebrates it. The Palestinian people do not celebrate. They remember al Nakba, the catastrophe.

Watch this short video from the American Friends Service Committee, "Israel Palestine: A Land in Fragments." It's a little over two minutes long. The Quakers--the American Friends--have no interest other than peace and peaceful resolution of conflicts. Their little video sums up the terrible spatial irony of the present situation. It bends over backwards to keep itself as neutral as possible at the start, but by the end the depiction of the facts on the ground tell their tale. Sixty one years of control over territory originally allocated by the UN to the Palestinian people have diminished the land so significantly that a "contiguous" territory for the Palestinian people looks now to be an impossibility. See it for yourself in the short film. The last forty-one years have done the most damage. Israel continues its strategy and tactics of creating "facts on the ground" and eating further into the land which is not theirs to eat.

Follow the links on the page to Resources on Fragmentation of the West Bank. If you feel adventurous, read the words of Palestinians telling their own stories about 1948. These people are not terrorists, not "savages," not "cockroaches," not "people who only understand violence," as some of the more partisan defenders of the Israeli position would like to have Americans believe. These are people like you and I who have been victims of a catastrophe and its ongoing aftermath.

And yet, despite the maps and the visuals and the accumulation of voices that peacefully protest for peace, the blindness to injustice continues, a deafness, deep and tinny and implacable continues, and the Israeli government continues to demolish and expand and refine this matrix of control, oppresssion, and occupation.

"Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes but do not see; Who have ears but do not hear." (Jeremiah, 5:21)

May 4, 2009

Not By the Hair of my Chinny Chin Chin

Have you noticed that when you see news clips of pigs in a current story on swine flu that they are always freely rooting about--in corrals or pens--and often times shown eating garbage. You never see the pigs as the vast majority of them exist to be slaughtered: in corporate petri dishes, crammed together and injected with antibiotics, trading sneezes and feces and infections. It's not for nothing that pork is not kosher or haram.

Wanna buy a pig? If you do, they can be bought, they are for sale--the ones with the weak leg bones--the genetic inefficient morphs if you are a Smithfield exec--which are rejected by the corporate pork factories simply because they will not be able to stand firmly as they grow heavier, crammed in next to their neighbors among the food and the feces. Pigs like that get broken bones and lay down to die and get infected. Can't waste that meat, so risk management says get rid of the weak-legged ones. Pigs also have their cute spiralling pigtails lopped off because they are likely to be torn off in rage by their maddened companions.

Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Planet of Slums and The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, sums it up in "The Swine Flu Crisis Lays Bare the Meat Industry's Monstrous Power":

Last year a commission convened by the Pew Research Center issued a report on "industrial farm animal production" that underscored the acute danger that "the continual cycling of viruses … in large herds or flocks [will] increase opportunities for the generation of novel virus through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human to human transmission." The commission also warned that promiscuous antibiotic use in hog factories (cheaper than humane environments) was sponsoring the rise of resistant staph infections, while sewage spills were producing outbreaks of E coli and pfiesteria (the protozoan that has killed 1bn fish in Carolina estuaries and made ill dozens of fishermen).

So the next time you see a clip of pigs with more than 2 square yards to move around in, don't believe you are seeing anything but the spin. Ask yourself why the networks can't get footage of the REAL conditions under which "the other white meat" is produced. Of course not: it would be a threat to the pork industries' trade secrets. I'm sure the swine industry would scream if a YouTube clip of a PETA underground video were broadcast. That of course, would result in a lawsuit against the broadcaster.

That's a shame. Forty years ago a friend of mine, over a lovely roast loin of pork covered in sage and pepper and a few too many glasses of wine declaimed that "all meat aspires to the condition of pork." Like wild salmon, decent local pears and peaches, good North Atlantic Cod, vegetable slop fed pork raised on a farm by some freckle-faced 4H Club blue ribbon winner is long gone from the local stores and supermarkets. You'd have to have an expensive farm connection to obtain it. "Animal husbandry now more closely resembles the petrochemical industry than the happy family farm," says Davis:

In 1965, for instance, there were 53m US hogs on more than 1m farms; today, 65m hogs are concentrated in 65,000 facilities. This has been a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates.

My apologies to all my Muslim and observant Jewish friends. My origins are deep in Eastern Europe--and eating pigs is in both sides of my family's genes, and the genes cry out every once in a while for a fix, for crackling satisfaction. But I'm in the process of waterboarding those genes to make them swear that they really don't like it. At least not the factory swine. What's a Lithuanian Pole to do in this era of high return on investment?

May 3, 2009

The Crusading Troops in Afghanistan

A year ago, the Los Angeles Times broke a story about how Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse and the Southern Baptist International Mission Board were poised on the border of Iraq ready to enter when it was safe, in order to carry out their proselytizing. A couple of adventuresome Christian fellows were also trekking through South Asia looking to bring the message of Christianity to these Muslim countries. You might remember how former President Bush and some higher Pentagon officials would slip, now and then, and refer to our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a Crusade.

Now, from
Al Jazeera's veteran reporter on Afghanistan, James Bay, we find further evidence of what must be called "institutionalized" missionary work. Bay obtained video footage taken by a former soldier at Bagram, showing that US soldiers are not only carrying out missionary work; they have been encouraged to do so by their commanders. In fact, the video is from about a year ago, which may only be coincidental with the proselytizers reported on in the LAT in 2008.

Bibles have been translated into Pashto and have been made available for distribution by our soldiers. Here's a snippet from the article:

In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him".

"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down," he says.

"Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That's what we do, that's our business."

I urge you to read the article in its entirety. Those of us who have been following this issue for a number of years now should be more concerned than ever, because the actual translation and printing of the bibles into the chief Afghan language shows not only an official approval of the proselytizing, but also gives the lie to the continuing denials of the Pentagon and the Chaplains' corps that any proselytizing is going on.

"Why do they hate us?" was a question that was all the rage after 9/11. Those of us, libertarian, conservative, liberal, progressive, socialist, green, and sane--all of us questioned the crime and pointed to the United States' continuing exploitation and manipulation of other countries. This information shows that we have to add evangelical manipulation firmly into the list. This boneheaded collusion of our Armed forces with Evangelical Christianity is a further indication that apparent gaffe about Crusaders in the Middle East was something to be taken seriously.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been warning for years about the open proselytizing among our troops and how some units look upon these wars as if they were Crusades. (After adverse publicity from the MRFF, one Air Force Unit finally took the Christian symbolism off its particular attack group.) Go to the MRFF website to check out their articles and their ongoing attempts to have the United States Military actually conform in practice to their constitutional duty to separate church and state. Order a copy of Michael L. Weinstein's book, With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military (available through a link on the site) to read about why he thinks this is a very serious problem for all Americans, whether in the services or not.

President Obama's War in Afghanistan now has another element to deal with. The proselytizing is really just part of the American exceptionalism manifesting itself again. We have the religion of Democracy, the religion of unbridled capitalism, the religion of religion, the religion of advanced technology. As if we always know best what goes for other countries, the majority of whose citizens want us to get the hell out of their country and start sending them real aid and assistance and reparations.

Praise was recently given in Congress for our National Guardsmen on special agricultural duty to teach farmers in Afghanistan"modern methods of farming." Nice of them to do it, and praiseworthy, better than more drones or attack helicopters, but those fellows should be going over as true farmers only, not as part of the military. In a pinch, they will be forced to choose between the seed bag and the rifle. And the rifle will win to their detriment. That's all the Afghan farmers need, modern farming, with no money to buy fertilizer or genetically modified seed. (Perhaps it will be another replay of the "green revolution" in India, whose modern corporate farming pressures and patented corporate seed have helped to create high rates of suicide among poor Indian farmers.) Orchards and farmland in Afghanistan have been ruined by our military presence. The vast majority of the Afghan people want us to make sure the door doesn't bang us in the butt on the way out. Get the troops out, let the Afghan people call their
loya jurga and carry on their own society.