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.