Sunday, April 10, 2016

Foreign But Not Too Foreign

My ancestors were foreign but not too foreign. They were foreign enough to come over on a ship but not foreign enough to clean the ship. My grandma, seasick, couldn't make it to the toilet and vomited on the stairs, summoning the first black person she had ever seen.

My ancestors 'legally' immigrated to the US during a period when immigration from Asia, South and Central America and Africa was severely restricted. They gained a foothold in this country by owning land taken from Native Americans. A privilege denied black Americans, Chinese and Mexican immigrants. They worked in trades people of color were systemically excluded from and they consolidated these gains through economic opportunities like home, auto and college loans and access to good infrastructure and schools in racially segregated neighborhoods.

The playing field was never level. My family's economic successes are historically derived through acts of conquest, enslavement and exploitation. I've had family members argue earnestly that growing up on a modest dairy farm (it was loads of hard work they point out), qualified them as poor and deprived. But people often confuse this.... the difference between "land rich" and "cash poor."

No family rich in land is poor. No family rich in white racial privilege is deprived. Quite the opposite.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

An Unforgettable Night with Dr. Mads Gilbert

I got to listen to this incredible human being speak tonight in Seattle – Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor, humanitarian and activist.

He shared his experiences working in solidarity with Palestinians at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, often while under Israeli attack. Working alongside Palestinian medical and first responder staff, Dr. Gilbert has labored tirelessly to save lives. He has been visiting Gaza since the early eighties . . . but he is no hero, he made clear, pointing again and again to the unparalleled courage and resilience of the Palestinian people.

The event focused on the children of Gaza. In addition to the ongoing occupation and siege, Israel has launched 4 full-scale military assaults on Gaza within the last 10 years. That means a small child of ten in Gaza has lived through four wars!

The scale of devastation in the last Israeli attack (summer of 2014) was unimaginably horrific. Over 550 children were slaughtered in what the international community condemned as a one-sided war against a captive civilian population. Because the average age of a Palestinian in Gaza is only 17 years, Dr. Gilbert calls the tiny enclave a "child's ghetto."

The personal images and stories Gilbert shared had grown men in the room openly weeping. Something I will never forget. On a positive note, over $20,000 was donated by individual audience members to KinderUSA's efforts in Gaza before the talk even started. I have never witnessed such generosity with my own eyes. It was incredibly moving and felt like a Christmas miracle in the middle of March.

Dr. Gilbert joked that he heard an orange man with yellow hair recently talk about the threat of radical Islam. But the real threat he reminded us, is the threat of "radical colonialism."

The core of Dr. Gilbert's message centered on the Palestinian people's inalienable right to resist the occupation and fight their oppressors. After seeing what I saw tonight, I dare anyone to disagree. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Risk Factors for Raping

Rape is a special kind of evil, it is often said. It’s a horrific violation of a person’s body and can change the victim’s life forever.

But perhaps what puts rape, and by extension sexual assault, in a class of its own is its sheer pervasiveness. RAINN, the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the US, reports that “every 107 seconds another American is sexually assaulted,” resulting in more than 290,000 victims every year.

A CDC study found that nearly 1 in 5 women in the U.S. has experienced a completed or attempted rape.

Which raises the question, is America composed entirely of darkened back alleys or what? Because most rapists are strangers, right? Wrong.

RAINN also reports that 4 out of 5 assaults are “committed by someone known to the victim.” Nearly half of rapes are what are called “acquaintance rapes,” where the attacker is a friend or acquaintance of the victim.

Meaning, most people are raped by people they know.

Time to sound the alarm bells, because the enemy is within, not without. Rapists exist within our communities, our homes, our shared spaces. Rapists are our friends, lovers, roommates, bandmates and coworkers, not complete monsters from the dark side who love the sound of screaming.

Instead of talking you to death, I am going to save my breath and just say that society is to blame. The slings and arrows of rape culture have been baked into our patriarchal system from the very beginning.

And today we are still conditioned to accept rape and sexual violence as a fact of everyday life, to shrug and laugh it off (rape jokes), to blame, doubt and vilify the victim, to stonewall, deny and hedge the issue. And worst of all, to shame survivors, thus preventing an open and honest dialogue about the topic.

But if we are to have an open and honest conversation about rape we would soon be confronted with the biggest problem, how we frame the issue. Take for instance those public service announcements teaching women how to avoid being a victim of rape. But so long as men continue to commit the majority of rapes, victim-blaming won’t solve the problem.

Instead, it’s young men and boys who need to be targeted by anti-rape campaigns. Rather than teaching women how not to get raped, we have to teach men how not to rape.

We need “to attack the culture that creates predators in the first place,” writes Zerlina Maxwell, to rip these illusions out by the roots, so to speak.

In a reversal of traditional prevention efforts, let’s look at the risk factors associated not with being raped, but with being a rapist. 

A risk factor is a variable that is linked to an increased risk of something bad occurring, like a disease in the body, or an undesirable behavior in the community, like rape. Risk factors help us identify associations between things.

Get ready to turn blue with shock (especially if you are a member of the gender “dude”) because it turns out a man is at an increased risk of raping if he engages in any of the following activities:

1. Goes to college.
The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing writes in its report, "The Problem of Acquaintance Rape of College Students":

Women ages 16 to 24 experience rape at rates four times higher than the assault rate of all women, making the college (and high school) years the most vulnerable for women. College women are more at risk for rape and other forms of sexual assault than women the same age but not in college. It is estimated that almost 25 percent of college women have been victims of rape or attempted rape since the age of 14.

RAINN notes on its online page, Campus Safety:

According to a December 2000 report entitled “The Sexual Victimization of College Women” by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) at the U.S. Department of Justice, a college with 10,000 students could experience as many as 350 rapes per year.

2. Enjoys a night out on the town.

NPR covered this topic in its piece, "If He's Sexually Aggressive In Bars, It's Not Because He's Drunk,” stating:

When researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Washington observed young people's behavior in bars, they found that the man's aggressiveness didn't match his level of intoxication. There was no relationship. Instead, men targeted women who were intoxicated.

3. Befriends a woman. 

"Nearly 1 in 5 Women in U.S. Survey Say They Have Been Sexually Assaulted" asserts a New York Times headline: 

More than half of female rape victims had been raped by an intimate partner, according to the study, and 40 percent had been raped by an acquaintance; more than half of men who had been raped said the assailant was an acquaintance. 

4. Dates or marries a woman.

"Nearly 1 in 5 women in the U.S. has been sexually assaulted,” reports Feministing:

This should be old news by now, but it bears repeating: The myth of the stranger-in-the-alley rape is way off. More than half of female survivors reported being raped by a current or former partner and 40% reported being raped by an acquaintance. Only about 1 in 7 were raped by a stranger.

Fortunately, these risk factors are something we can control and change, unlike genetic traits.

But seriously, YIKES!

It’s shocking to learn that the majority of rapes don’t happen at knife-point but rather with the help of sly social engineering (like manipulating a person’s trust) and/or alcohol and drugs, where consent cannot be legally or affirmatively given.

However, further complicating this counter narrative to the dominant narrative of stranger rape is the reality that ANYONE can perpetuate sexual violence.

Men are also affected by sexual violence even though they make up the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of rape. A CDC study reported that “one in 71 men (1.4%) have been raped and nearly 5% have been made to penetrate someone else in their lifetimes.”

And let’s take an even bigger step back and openly admonish me for talking in incredibly cisnormative terms here, keeping things neatly organized according to the socially constructed gender binary by using misleading words like men and women, when what I am really implying is cisgender men and women.

To be clear, all abusers are not cis men and not all victims are cis women. And certainly not all abusers are straight. Cis straight women can commit sexually abusive acts, as well as cis or non-cis queer women, trans people and non binary conforming folks. Misogynistic violence stems heavily from toxic forms of masculinity that for different reasons are internalized, mimicked or reproduced by anyone, including sex and gender minorities.

However, transgender people, especially transgender women, are MUCH MORE likely to be victims of sexual abuse and violence, than perpetrators of it. (Remember this next time you are combating negative stereotypes of trans people, which I am sure you do.)

So now that we have a clear understanding of who the rapists are, overwhelmingly cis, straight and male, our friends and colleagues, neighbors and lovers, rather than strangers, how do we react when someone we know, and perhaps love, commits the ultimate evil act?

That’s what this zine hopes to get you talking about. And it’s a conversation that poses some interesting questions, especially since we know the epic failure of traditional criminal justice approaches to rape and sexual assault.

RAINN reports that “68% of rapes are never reported to police and 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail or prison.”

How about them apples?

If perps aren’t spending their days behind bars, that means they're outside with the rest of us, chilling in our communities and social circles.

So do we seek vengeance, retribution, punishment, justice? And what does justice look like? Especially when the rapists are our friends, not cartoonish super villains (though some rapists are serial offenders adverse to change and they deserve to be struck down with all our wrath).

It appears that we have two possible options, one: “name and shame” and blacklist the individual, or two: call out the individual while helping to create a space for them to come forward, admit their wrongs and be held to account. This means engaging and talking with them and creating a space that would enable them to seek treatment and atone for their sins. (But of course not at the expense of the victim, whose safety, well-being and healing MUST be prioritized above all else.)

Do we believe people can change? Can they be reformed? Is it possible to turn over a new leaf and make up for one’s misdeeds after fully appreciating the consequences of one’s actions and the pain they have caused?

Do we reform and reintegrate sexual offenders, most of whom will never be charged with a crime, back into the community or put a metaphorical bullet between the eyes?

There's a big difference between the I-regret-nothing-perpetrator-of-sexual-violence and those on a redemption quest, and I bet most abusers sit somewhere in the middle.

But without selling out to rape culture or being rape apologists, how do we create a culture where men and boys are encouraged to hold themselves and others to account for their sexual offenses, to “call out their friends, relatives, and classmates for inappropriate behavior and create systems of accountability amongst them"?

If we get back to tackling the issue at its roots, of targeting young men and boys and teaching them how to respect the bodily autonomy of others, the question of creating this space is critical. Especially if our goal is to reduce the incidence of sexual assault long-term.

I would argue that shaming, vilifying and ostracizing abusers (the ones open to reform, to be clear) disincentivizes the process of accountability and further buries the issue and entrenches rape culture. Which isn’t good for anybody. Who will be brave enough to come forward, if only to be met with rejection and humiliation?

These are important questions to ask. And hopefully by seeking answers to them we can deepen the conversation with the kind of critical self-examination and analysis needed to help transform our communities and protect the autonomy and well-being of every individual.

The search for constructive solutions to the problem of sexual violence is desperately needed, since penal and punitive responses are failing us so miserably.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Nabokov was on a butterfly collecting trip in the summer of '48 when he started to write his masterpiece, Lolita. And I am not surprised. Nabokov was as privileged and white and male as Humbert Humbert, the deranged middle-aged protagonist narrating the book. And both clearly expressed themselves through cruel acts of appropriation and exploitation.

Whether chasing butterflies like the author, or nymphets (eroticised little girls) like his character, both acted out their desires by invoking and projecting onto reality a warped fantasy world – Nabokov called it "the meadow-world of childhood."

The end result was always the same. Either dead and pinned to a board close-fitted with glass for eternity or to a bed shackled for life by the demons of sexual trauma, the objects of these mens' personal preoccupations did not fare well in these encounters. Powerful white men, Nabokov and Humbert had the privilege of cultivating their unique selves at the expense of others.

Arguably, this "natural right" is what allowed Nabokov to write his classic and express his individual genius without reproach being any sort of barrier to his success. It takes a lot of privilege (a lot of sexual privilege) and cultural capital and a context of white supremacy and patriarchy to be able to reject uniformity, like he did, by praising in high speech the child molester.

No matter how hard I try, I just can't imagine a poor man, a black man, a brown man, a trans man or a differently abled man being permitted or encouraged or championed for dedicating himself to the task of composing more than 300 pages of intricate, evocative word play to sympathetically render a man physically and philosophically devoted to pedophilia.

It reminds me of millennial-golden-girl Lena Dunham and her offhand confessions of sexually breaching the boundaries of her little sister's body in her memoir, “Not That Kind of Girl,” a New York Times Bestseller (a fact that makes my soul exit my body and plead for death). Again, not a negligible cruelty. And again, not something I can imagine anyone but an influential white person from a wealthy (Nabokov), aristocratic (Marquis de Sade) or urban creative class (Dunham) background being rewarded for.

Only in a world shaped by power systems that center cis white male heteronormative sexuality can a story like Lolita be transformed into a gripping iconic cultural touchstone – celebrated at once for being entertaining and transgressive.

This quibble aside, I am quite enjoying the book!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Another white terrorist's name burned into the history books

What a fucking disaster.

While women's sexual and reproductive rights are heatedly debated in government and under threat from don't-know-how-the-female-body-works-cuz-I'm-too-dumb-to-be-alive socially conservative lawmakers and religious right, our Planned Parenthoods are getting shot up.

Since 2011, more than 240 laws have been passed in state legislatures that put women’s health at risk. And just days ago, another white man's whacked out anti-abortion agenda took the lives of three innocent people. All three were parents, leaving children behind. 

I am fucking sick of watching this play out. Of watching a basic tenet of any forward thinking, civilized nation get repeatedly kicked in the neck: the idea that women are autonomous beings and that our social, economic and physical health are directly tied to our ability access things like sexual education, cancer screenings, and critical family planning services like contraception and abortion access.

I have ovarian cysts. I won't humor you and tell you that this condition is "painful," when it's horrific. The size of marbles, these little demons are produced monthly by my ovaries. Sometimes they are silent and other times they get an A in evil and send shock waves through my body and knock me unconscious. Birth control is used to treat this condition by regulating the body's hormones.

I have health insurance these days, but in an embattled show of solidarity I will be going to Planned Parenthood to access the care I need. For most of my life Planned Parenthood was all I had and I'll never forget that. Loyal and indebted to this wonderful organization, I am proud to utilize its services and will be sure to write the biggest donation check I can on the way out.

Within the last week domestic terrorists have gunned down Planned Parenthood workers, cops and BLM activists, yet we are expected to believe that Syrian refugees pose the greatest threat to our safety.

Busy counting enemies outside our borders, we miss a host of foes at home who continue to kill us with impunity, like anti-abortion right-wingers who, in attempting to annihilate the other side, transform ordinary trips to a health clinic into something charged, political, urgent, reminding us that the personal is political and that our bodies are battlegrounds.

This is where we are in 2015 in America. And it is not normal. Gun violence, a culture of fear, attacks on a whole society's reproductive health (Planned Parenthood treats men, trans and non-binary people too) is not normal.

"Not normal" may not sound like the most compelling argument or mode of analysis but it is when the ever-present threat of violence against the largest single provider of reproductive health services in the US is so thoroughly normalized.

Please support your local ‪#‎PlannedParenthood‬ in whatever way you can. We can't let the DOMESTIC terrorists win.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Carrying on Tradition

Without a touch of self-irony people in the United States are falling for it. The recent attacks in Paris are hardening hatred against 1.8 billion Muslims and cementing Islam’s status as synonymous with violence, fanaticism and terrorism.

The other day over half of all US governors declared they won't allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states, even though not a single refugee resettled in the US has committed an act of terrorism. If history is to be a guide, anti-immigrant activists, pro-life Christians and gun-toting, anti-government extremists have proven themselves more prone to terrorism than refugees.

Earlier today, writer and activist, Pamela Olson wrote on Facebook, “Soon we'll celebrate Thanksgiving, a commemoration of arriving in someone else's nation as migrants and refugees.”

It’s America’s defining irony.

A nation of immigrants always ready to decry the newest wave of immigrants.

Yet most of us come from mixed, murky backgrounds, forgetting “American” is not so much an ethnicity as a euphemism for white. “Everybody else has to hyphenate,” Toni Morrison reminds us.

Because my grandma immigrated to the US at 17, fleeing a poverty-stricken Switzerland, and didn’t receive citizenship until I was five years old, I grew up thinking everyone had a mitigating voice or presence somewhere in their family reminding them that we all came from somewhere. I thought everyone was consciously reflective of this fact. I was wrong.

George Carlin quipped this country was “founded by slave owners who wanted to be free.” In achieving their paradox, they fashioned a white supremacist society run on collective passions, virulent sectarianism, and divisive, dehumanizing rhetoric.

Today I am reminded not everyone has a close relative who saved up for a year for a ticket in steerage. So let me remind you that we all have a country of origin, and it’s not "America," unless you are of Native ancestry. We are all products of a colonial environment.

Today is a good day to remind ourselves that the stubborn, fear-mongering, xenophobic vitriol currently targeting Syrian refugees is nothing new, and neither are, on the other side of things, the reasons why Syrian men, women and children are risking everything to make the perilous journey from war-torn Syria to a better life elsewhere. 

By reminding ourselves we all came from somewhere, I hope you can see how silly and cruel are the calls to halt Syrian refugee resettlement to the United States. Here's a by no means exhaustive list of the huddled masses who came to America and why they did:

- The first African-Americans were forcibly brought here as slaves, but immigrant communities from all over Africa have resettled here, fleeing violence and poverty

- English-Americans fled economic and religious repression

- German-Americans, French-Americans and Dutch-Americans fled poverty, wars and fascism

- Chinese-Americans came for economic opportunities on the transcontinental railroad and in the gold mines

- Irish-Americans fled famine and The Troubles

- Italian-Americans fled poverty and political oppression

- Jewish-Americans fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe and Russia and The Holocaust (well sorta, US policy opposed taking in Jewish refugees during The Holocaust and we all know what happened)

- Polish-Americans fled the chronic poverty and oppression of Tsarist Russia

- Cuban-Americans fled Castro

- Iranian-Americans fled the ’79 Revolution

- Vietnamese-Americans fled the Vietnam War

- Mexican-Americans and Latin Americans fled poverty, drug wars and proxy wars

- Arab-Americans – Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians and Iraqis – fled war, economic hardship and dictatorship, as did Hmong, Karen, Bhutanese, Indian, Haitian and Somali Americans.

We are all descended from migrants and refugees, who came here in good faith hoping to escape the conditions that "crushed human souls." The loss of one's homeland is the saddest fate and today there are more refugees in the world than ever previously recorded – 60 million.

This Thanksgiving, if you are truly thankful, give generously and with open arms, pressure our government to take in more Syrian refugees and donate to organizations like the International Rescue Committee. Our country is indebted to immigrants and refugees for its prosperity and advancement and there's no future without them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dealing with Street Harassment is Emotional Labor – And I Quit

A sex-obsessed Harry Block in the film Deconstructing Harry asks the prostitute he’s just slept with if she likes her job. Still under the sheets, she replies “It’s okay, it beats the hell out of waitressing.”

“That’s funny,” Harry laughs, “every hooker I ever speak to tells me that it beats the hell out of waitressing. Waitressing’s gotta be the worst fucking job in the world!”

Perhaps not THE worst job, waitressing is without a doubt ONE of the worst jobs. I’ve toiled away, overworked and underpaid, in a number of unenviable trades, including as a janitor hauling trash and scrubbing toilets, but what made waitressing so unbearable was that thing that often separates men’s work from women’s work: emotional labor.

Read the rest at Stop Street Harassment.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

It is an Incredibly Brave Act to Speak Up

It is an incredibly brave act to speak up. One way to make our voices heard is through the liberatory power of poetry. My own experience has shown me that a poem often starts with a lump in the throat and the determination to say the unsayable, not divine inspiration or lofty ideas.

A poem that shakes me to the core every time I hear it is Calayah Heron’s, “CornerStoreCandy.” In this poem, Heron – who first experienced street harassment at the tender age eight – details in haunting, evocative language the terror of being sexually objectified and preyed upon. Heron’s voice cracks with pain beneath a beautifully measured eloquence. Her words illuminate the deep, unnamed feelings that are routinely suppressed when we bottle up our rage, grief and disbelief.

By putting pen to paper, poets like Heron remind us that even if we can’t speak up in the moment, we can later. It’s never too late to reject the ritual humiliations of living in a world where men have been taught to feel entitled to our time, our bodies, and our lives.

Read the rest at Stop Street Harassment.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Andrea Gibson's Powerful Poem That's Meant to Be Used

Whether we’re carrying mace, a rape whistle, switchblade or scythe (I’ve considered them all), these weapons, like Gibson’s dagger-sharp wordplay, are symbols of the violence women face daily. They evoke with forceful lucidity our second-class citizenship. There is significant risk in defying this system, in defying the will of the harasser, even for those who might try to intervene on our behalf.

Read the rest at Stop Street Harassment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poetry and Street Harassment

Despite her themes of feminism, there is no Sylvia Plath poem about street harassment. If you type “street harassment” into the search bar at two of the largest poetry databases (The Poetry Foundation and you’ll get zero results. Type in “trees” or “love” and you’ll find hundreds or thousands of matching results.

It appears as if street harassment is not the subject of poetry. Which isn’t surprising, considering how historically male-dominated the literary world has been. Just like public space, cultural circles and high centers of learning are long-established male domains. Only within recent memory have women experienced some success in forcing the doors open, demanding a ‘room of their own’ in the literary world.

Read the rest at Stop Street Harassment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rest In Power, Zahid

I recently learned that a dear friend passed away, Zahid Shariff. He was a longtime professor at The Evergreen State College and my teacher for much of my time there. Despite graduating many years ago, we remained close. He was the best teacher, mentor and friend anyone could ask for.

As a college professor, Zahid set minds free. That is what he did best. Zahid was the consummate mixture of fierce intellectualism, moral consistency, tenderness, warmth and absolute devotion to his students. The generosity of spirit in which he taught and nurtured his students made them feel deeply cared for and valued.

Most remarkably, his classroom always held the promise of building a better self, of connecting heart, mind, and experience and situating them in lived reality and the broader struggle for global social justice and equality. Zahid's courses on colonization and imperialism were instrumental in my own political awakening. He taught me about the colonizer and colonized, the oppressor and oppressed, and the possibility of something more, of exceeding this fraught binary, of reaching a place of collective flourishing, the rendezvous of victory, in the words of Aimé Césaire, the first of many freedom fighters I encountered in his classes.

Words fail to do justice to the profound affect Zahid had on all those lucky enough to have known him. Ten years ago I was wholly unprepared to meet a person like Zahid and today I am just as unprepared to let him go.

I will miss his voice most, his pleasant British lilt, the slow rise of a gentle voice that carried great moral force. There was gravity and grace in every word he shared.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

War Crimes Radio

War crimes radio. That's what NPR sounds like these days as I drive to and from work. Israeli is doing everything within its power to ensure that the median life expectancy of the average Palestinian doesn't exceed the mayfly.

I turn on the radio in the morning and learn about Israel bombing its 6th UN school, killing scores and wounding countless others. I turn off the radio and head into the office.

The day is done, I head home. I turn on the radio - scores more dead. This time in a market temporally opened during a 4 hour humanitarian ceasefire. The market sits adjacent to what used to be a neighborhood - called Shuja'iyah - before it was reduced to rubble by Israel's overwhelming firepower. Bodies remain entombed in the remains of the bombed-out neighborhood as there has not been a sufficient lull in the violence to enable their retrieval.  

Everywhere they go, everywhere they seek shelter, the people of historic Palestine in Gaza are subjected to the extreme violence of a colonial regime whose main objective remains constant: "Jewish supremacy in Palestine — as much land as possible, as few Palestinians as possible," as Bashir Abu-Manneh reminds us.

"Israeli violence isn’t senseless — it follows a colonial logic," elaborates in his recent piece for the Jacobin. (Go read it.)

Yesterday Gaza's sole power plant was bombed . . . a deliberate attempt to engineer a humanitarian crisis and shore up Israel's long-term efforts to de-developed Gaza's economy, making it a ward of international aid.  

Israel destroys infrastructure and bombs trapped civilians all under the obnoxious pretext of punishing terrorists. In reality, Israel's objective is to root out any resistance to the military occupation and siege that it has imposed on Gaza, and to transform the tiny enclave into a compliant vassal state unwilling or unable to challenge Israeli dominance.

The death toll in Gaza surpassed 1,300 today. Of that number, nearly 300 are children. An orgy of destruction. That's all it is.

Meanwhile in Israel, life remains minimally disrupted. The hugely disproportionate effect of the rockets vs Israel's massive technological advantage and firepower speaks to the incongruent nature of the conflict - what is tantamount to one-sided barbarism carried out by a democratically elected government that believes it has a free pass to kill, vaporize, explode, decapitate with bombs whoever it wants in order to feel "safe" and protect its illegal, expansionist borders.

Worse yet, Israeli leaders blame the incomprehensible destruction wrought by its own invading army on the people it has penned in like animals and massacred in the full light of foreign media. Under international law, the Israeli army cannot claim self-defense against a people it is blockading, occupying, invading, and indiscriminately shelling.

Terrorism is the act of killing civilians to further political ends, terrorism is creating enemies to cynically use them as a pretext for further war, terrorism is occupation, terrorism is theft of indigenous land and the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive.

Terrorism is more often state-based than not. Terrorism is absolving oneself of moral responsibility, terrorism is claiming that Palestinians wanted to die, terrorism is blaming the dead for their own deaths.

As Susan Abulhawa, a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist, states clearly, to blame Palestinians in Gaza for the colossal loss of life and destruction they are currently experiencing is morally repugnant and inexcusable:

It’s the equivalent of saying a woman in a tight dress is forcing men to rape her. No one is forcing Israel to kill unarmed civilians in their homes. No one is forcing them to bomb hospitals, rehabilitation centers, water treatment plants, bakeries, or children playing soccer on the beach.  They’re doing it all on their own. Willfully and deliberately. They are using guns and bombs and planes and warships and drones and snipers of their own volition against a defenseless civilian population in one of the most densely populated places on earth. Together with Egypt, they have besieged all borders, so there is no place for people to run or take cover. There is just no refuting this simple fact. 

I have amassed a painfully large collection of links - but to spare you I will post the six most important articles I have come across this week, aside from three very powerful pieces by Palestinian writers I am saving for a later post:

The Guardian front page today (31st)

The four boys recently torn to bits by an Israeli bomb on a beach in Gaza belong to the Bakr family, who happen to be interviewed in this short (beautiful) film made in 2013. Fisherman in Gaza are prevented by Israel's naval blockade (and their gunboats) from going farther than 3 nautical miles out to sea. Which means their nets mostly catch seaweed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Take Action Now: Stop Arming Israel

Demand an arms embargo, demand that Israel be held to account for striking civilian targets. Email this letter to your local, state, and national elected officials. Urge them to take action.

Click for contact info:
US Representatives 
US Senators
US President
Israeli Embassy 

Dear __________________,  
I am deeply troubled by recent events in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I urge the US government to immediately stop the transfer of all arms to Israel. An arms embargo is the only long-term solution to Israel’s 47 yearlong military occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
F-16s, Hellfire missiles, U.S. government-issued Caterpillar bulldozers, Apache helicopters and other weapons, munitions and equipment have been directly linked to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by Israeli forces. Knowing this, the U.S. government is not only violating its own law and policy, but is complicit in the commission of these human rights violations. 
Many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are calling for an UN-imposed comprehensive arms embargo on Israel and Palestinian armed groups. From 2008-19, the US is projected to provide military aid to Israel worth $30 billion.  
The U.S. government must stop arming a military power that launches devastating attacks with impunity against civilian populations, and regular engages in the use of excessive force, including the recent collective punishment of the Palestinians in the West Bank that proceeded the murder of both Palestinian and Israeli teenagers (which Israel has admitted was not the work of Hamas), as well as the escalation of violence in Gaza - the third such assault on a blockaded and displaced people since 2009. 
Since Israel began military operations targeting the Gaza Strip, over 1,700 Palestinians and 54 Israelis (all military personal except for 3) have been killed. The United Nations has estimated that 77% of the deaths in Gaza are civilians. Of those, over 24% are children.   
Israel is an occupying power whose military tactics routinely violate international humanitarian and human rights law. To help stop these human rights violations, the U.S. must stop supporting Israel unconditionally and do its part to protect the lives of non-combatants. U.S. policy prohibits the provision of weapons where there is a credible expectation that they may be used in grave human rights violations. Israel must put in place effective mechanisms to ensure that they are not using American made weapons to violate the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people. 
The U.S. must act in accordance with its own laws and policies concerning weapons transfers. It must stop arming Israel. This is the surest way to end the ritual of violence, to protect Israel’s security, and achieve Palestinian freedom.  

Israeli actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories constitute war crimes and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions, including the most basic principles and laws of armed conflict (as detailed here by legal experts and in this vital piece: "Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza—Debunked").

Call the White House and protest American complicity in Israeli war crimes: switchboard 202-456-1414, ask for President Obama’s office.

Sign the BDS Movement's petition and check out their fact sheet: The Case for a Military Embargo on Israel

Learn more ways to take action at

[The language used in this letter draws heavily from various human rights organizations including Amnesty International.]

Friday, July 25, 2014

Massive Link Dump: War Postcards

French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre said "Hell is other people." He was halfway there. Hell is other people who steal your land.

Hell is being colonized, hell is occupation, hell is asymmetries of power - things Sartre failed to recognize in regard to Palestine.

Today the suffering in Gaza deepens - death toll now exceeds 800, 4,000 injured, 80% of those civilians, 1/3 children - while Israelis carry on in a rather uninterrupted fashion with their lives and leisure.

Postcards from hell, war on Gaza, July 15th - 25th:

Postcards from paradise, fashion shows and beach bumming in Israel, July 15th - 25th:

Media: (* = a must read)
Israel's propaganda machine, however, insists that these Palestinians wanted to die ("culture of martyrdom"), staged their own death ("telegenically dead") or were the tragic victims of Hamas's use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes ("human shielding"). In all instances, the military power is blaming the victims for their own deaths, accusing them of devaluing life and attributing this disregard to cultural bankruptcy. In effect, Israel—along with uncritical mainstream media that unquestionably accept this discourse—dehumanizes Palestinians, deprives them even of their victimhood and legitimizes egregious human rights and legal violations.

I feel guilty in leaving, and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.
But it is wrong to suggest that Israeli civilians near Gaza suffer as much as Palestinians. It is much, much worse in Gaza. I defy anyone with an ounce of human feeling not to feel the same after ten minutes in Gaza’s Shifa Hospital with wounded and dying civilians. In the mortuary, it’s so overcrowded that the bodies of two children are crammed on to a single shelf. One day, they had only found enough of the remains of six women and children to fill a single stretcher.
The IBA said the ad's content was "politically controversial". The broadcast refers to child deaths in Gaza and reads out some of the victims' names.

In its appeal, B'Tselem demanded to know what was controversial about the item. "Is it controversial that the children [aren't] alive? That they're children? That those are their names? These are facts that we wish to bring to the public's knowledge."

West Bank:
The shelling of the UNRWA school, which killed 15 and injured 200, was a war crime. The UN had given the school’s coordinates to the Israelis, so they knew it was a school and was holding displaced persons. The UN, when informed it would be shelled, asked for more time to evacuate people but were denied it.

Behind all these maneuvers looms Israel's occupation of Palestine, now in its fifth decade. Not content with having ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967 and not satisfied with owning eighty-two percent of Mandatory Palestine, every Israeli government since 1967 has built or expanded settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while providing generous subsidies to the 600,000-plus Jews who have moved there in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Two weeks ago, Netanyahu confirmed what many have long suspected: he is dead set against a two-state solution and will never--repeat never--allow it to happen while he is in office. Given that Netanyahu is probably the most moderate member of his own Cabinet and that Israel's political system is marching steadily rightward, the two-state solution is a gone goose.
After spending one week in Jerusalem from July 14-19, one day in the West Bank, and one afternoon being harassed by Israeli security in Ben Gurion airport, I must say that the ubiquity of the Israeli security complex has left a lasting impression on me.
Unlike conventional wars, the longest and most legitimate wars of all have been the people's fight for independence from colonialism. 

Israel is in the midst of such a fight against a people's struggle for freedom and independence and it makes similar, if not identical claims, to those made by other colonial powers of the past.

But not one foreign power big or small was able to win a single asymmetrical war against a people resisting colonialism throughout the entire 20th century.

This definite and paradoxical conclusion - the most instructive, and yet ignored of all lessons of war is categorical: Not one great power possessing superior firepower has won against a weaker, less organised and less professional resistance against occupation. 

Not the French, not the English, not the Belgians, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Italians, the Soviets, the Chinese, the Afrikaners, etc. Not one!  In the end, they all lose. And if they don't, then it's not the end.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Massive Link Dump: "The Evidence Is In The Morgue Refrigerators"

 Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC News: A child has been killed in Gaza every hour for the past two days according to the UN.

Media:  (* = a must read)
From most American media you would assume that the Israelis were minding their own business and the Palestinians of Gaza just irrationally started firing rockets at them. With rare exceptions, we aren’t told that most truces have been broken by Israel, not Hamas. We aren’t told that over 70% of Gaza’s population used to live in Israel and was ethnically cleansed and left penniless. We aren’t told that Israel has a blockade on Gaza that does not allow it to export most of what it produces, that this blockade has thrown 40% of the working population into unemployment and left 56% of families food insecurity (just on the verge of going to bed hungry). We aren’t told that Israeli occupation has left 90% of [the strip's aquifer non-potable] people in Gaza without potable water. * We aren’t told that Gaza’s Palestinians demand an end to being kept in a big concentration camp. If Israelis were being treated as the Palestinians are, what do you think they would do about it?

The Human Toll: 
Israeli soldiers sniping a youth in the street in front of distraught mother, bombing hospitals filled with the sick and elderly, firing on buildings adjacent to UN water tankers --- and little kids practicing their English with reporters - UK Channel 4 captures it all here, powerful reporting.
Gaza City - Two small bodies lie on the metal table inside the morgue at Gaza’s Shifa hospital. Omama is 9 years old. Her right forearm is mangled and charred and the top half of her skull has been smashed in. Beside her lies her 7-year-old brother. His name is not certain. It might be Hamza or it might be Khalil. Relatives are having trouble identifying him because his head has been shorn off. Their parents will not mourn them—because they are dead too.
 My conclusion after numerous interviews with ordinary youth, from one end of Gaza to the other? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his spokesmen are wrong when they accuse Hamas of ordering a sheep-like people to act as human shields or to remain in their homes in the face of warnings to evacuate. The decisions of tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza to stay in their homes until they were literally forced to leave were for some an act of desperation, saying they had nowhere else to go
A cease-fire agreement is possible, but all parties need to be at the table; Hamas was not consulted over the one proposed by Egypt last week. Even peace might be possible — if the international community has the courage to engage in dialogue with Hamas. The terms outlined by Hamas for a cease-fire are the same as those the United Nations has called for repeatedly: open the border crossings; let people work, study and build the economy. A population capable of taking care of its own would enhance Israel’s security. One that cannot leads to desperation.
In January 2008, barriers along the Gaza-Egypt border were knocked down. Thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt to acquire much needed supplies. I remember the relief within the Palestinian community. This transient glimpse of freedom was a treat.

A neighbor of mine was simply delighted to drink a Coca-Cola. The freedom to move, fresh food and clean water, and the simple pleasure of sipping a soda, this is what Gazans need: the normal life everyone else takes for granted. During the first days the border was open, Hamas suspended rocket attacks from Gaza. Israeli politicians should take note.
One day children have a large family and the next day they are orphans. The practical implications of this will affect them forever. Children grow up in a environment where they realize they have no security in their own homes. Even their bedrooms are not safe anymore.

I know of many Palestinians who do not like Hamas. Yet for them, the Gaza war is about the siege – part of their own war of independence. Israelis refuse to get that.

Outside Gaza: 

Solidarity and Action: 

1. Contact President Obama at (202) 456-1111 and the State Department at (202) 647-4000. Demand that they immediately withdraw U.S. military aid from Israel and call on Israel to immediately end its attacks. Tell them to stop supporting Israel’s crimes with our tax dollars.

2. Call the Egyptian Embassy at (202) 895-5400 and demand they open the Rafah border for injured Palestinians in need of urgent medical care. Alternate number: (
202) 966-6342.

3. Call Boeing. Boeing provides Israel with F-15A fighter jets, Apache AH 64 helicopters, tungsten or DIMEbombs to attack Gaza. Boeing’s headquarters are located in Chicago. Contact Boeing at (312) 544-2140 and demand they stop giving Israel weapons to use against civilians in Gaza.

More than half of all US international aid goes to trigger-happy Israel:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Terrorism Of The Telephone

Three summers ago I read the short memoir "I Saw Ramallah" by Palestinian writer Mourid Barghouti.

It became an instant favorite of mine.

It's a book about loss, about the exile's fraught relationship with return. It's evocative. It's unforgettable. It's written by a true poet and beautifully translated by Ahdaf Soueif.

Edward Said called it “one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement we have.”

But after three years I have yet to finish it, refusing to read the last chapter, which is only three pages long. I am saving it, but for what or why, I don't know exactly.

At my bedside it remains despite countless moves that keep my books boxed up and in storage for months or years on end. This one though, always remains within arm's reach. 

Tonight I picked it up, leafing through the pages without real purpose . . perhaps looking for some sort of comfort or poetic insight to cope with the terrible news streaming out of Gaza. But instead of finding solace my heart sank deeper and my stomach clenched as my eye caught one paragraph in particular. It's a passage that describes the special place the telephone has in the lives of Palestinians, a people displaced by war and occupation:

The details of the lives of all whom we love, the fluctuations of their fortunes in this world, all began with the ringing of the phone. A ring for joy, a ring for sorrow, a ring for yearning. Quarrels, reproach, blame, and apology between Palestinians are introduced by the ringing of the phone. We have never loved a sound so much, and we have never been terrified by one – I mean, at the same time. Bodyguards – or your luck, or your intelligence – can protect you from terrorism, but the displaced person can never be protected from the terrorism of the telephone. (Page 127)

The terrorism of the telephone. Today the phrase takes on new meaning as Israel's indiscriminate onslaught drags on and the most moral army in the world continues to make its "courtesy calls" - a warning call to Palestinian families to flee their homes before they are bombarded

But in the midst of such incalculable human suffering, countless massacres and the lack of safe places to evacuate to, these calls amount to little more than cruelty disguised as mercy. The pained language of an unnamed writer describes how they induce a different kind of death: 

I'll tell you what is harder than dying in Gaza by an Israeli missile deluxe. What is harder is that you get a phone call from the Israeli army telling you to evacuate your home because it will be bombed in ten minutes. Imagine; ten minutes; and your whole short history on the surface of Earth will be erased.

Gifts you received, photos of your siblings and your children (dead or alive), things t
hat you love, your favorite chair, your books, that last poetry collection your read, a letter from your expatriate sister, reminders of the ones you loved, the smell of your bed, the jasmine tree that hangs off your western window, your daughter’s hair clip, your old clothes, your prayer rug, your wife’s gold, your savings; imagine; all this passes in front of your eyes in ten minutes, all that pain passes while you are struck by surprise.

Then you take your identification papers (passport, birth certificate, etc.) which you have ready in an old metallic candy box, and you leave your home to die a thousand times, or refuse to leave and die once

"I Saw Ramallah" is a book that gives life-affirming substance to a tragedy whose dimensions only seem to grow.

Tonight I won't finish it.