Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Yes, We CAN End War.

     We all want peace, but do  we believe we can achieve a world without war? No, we do not, so we don’t focus on it. We have enough to focus on with climate change threatening our very life on Earth, with refugees seemingly everywhere fleeing one disaster after another, with militarized police shooting young black men and boys, with pipelines taking land and resources, etc. etc.. Too many good and necessary causes to name them all.
    But I just spent three days listening to activists and experts explain that we CAN abolish war.  We CAN exchange the culture of violence in which we live for a culture of peace and nonviolence. We DO have the technology and science to back us up IF we believe in our collective power to create a different world.
     I want to enlist you - and all that you care about - into the still small anti-war/pro-peace movement.  Because, as Dennis Kucinich reminded us, “The lie about war is that we are separate from each other.” .  It follows that the truth about peace is that we recognize our interconnectedness, and it includes all of our issues.  We simply need to expand our focus and imaginations. We don’t have to add another cause to our list, just widen our umbrella. Here are a few notes to help us do that.
     Define war. Besides violence and killing, war is also preparation for war that robs our local budgets to produce more weapons.   It is poverty and resource theft. It is the contamination that spreads onto our streets and schools,  It is massive pollution and consumption of natural resources. It is the lack of imagination to look for alternatives.
     Define peace.  It is whatever we think will meet our basic human needs, that will protect all life, that respects cultural identities, and protects us from avoidable harm. (This definition came from Kozue Akibayashi of WILPF who also lay blame for war on patriarchy’s values of power, strength and force.)
     What are the root causes of war, besides patriarchy?  Harvey Wasserman, who called Howard Zinn his mentor, mentioned that the Puritans provided a spiritual foundation for our Nation which was decidedly racist. I presume Harvey expands on this idea in his book “Harvey Wasserman’s History of the U.S.”   And clearly greed is a root cause, as the arms industry wants to make money regardless of the human cost.
     How does war act?  It dehumanizes “the enemy”, uses rape as a weapon of war, and kills far more civilians than soldiers. It also lays bare the land it comes to.
     How does peace act?  What is our concrete vision of a home, a community and a world at peace? Without this vision we can’t hope to attract the youth, whose energy we need for this and all of our causes.  For this I will quote John Dear, SJ because he offered us the clearest path forward.
   l) Act like we are already there, living a culture of peace.
   2  Non-cooperate with and resist the culture of death.
   3  Practice non-violence daily, toward others, toward self, and towards the planet and all its creatures.
   4  Come out to support all grassroots efforts for change, because they are all connected.
   5  Create non-violent cities. (His organization, Campaign Nonviolence, leads this effort.)
   6  Insist on the truth that all religions are rooted in nonviolence and can be called on to teach and spread it.
   7  Resist the loss of imagination imposed by the culture of war which tries to blind us to our ability to achieve peace.Declare the Abolition of War with the same certainty that the abolitionists declared the abolition of slavery.
     I have left out more than I have included from this World Beyond War weekend conference, but perhaps you will join me in putting ending war in your thinking as a real possibility - as a real necessity - that we CAN achieve together.
"World Beyond War is a global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace."   

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Something You Will Want To Do About Climate Change


   Do you worry about climate change like I do?  Do you despair it won’t stop in time to save our coastal cities, the coral reefs, New England’s famous maple trees, polar bears, etc?  Me too.  But there is a solution, and I think you will want to be part of it.
   This solution will come from Congress passing “carbon fee and dividend” legislation. But the initiative will come from us – citizen lobbyists, organized as Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL).   Recognizing the need for Republican support for any climate change legislation, CCL has taken several steps.  First, it promoted the creation of the new congressional Climate Solutions Caucus where bi-partisan discussion of climate change can begin to take place, and insisted that no Democrat could join it without a Republican partner.  Already there are 20 members of this caucus, ten from each party, and they favor the carbon fee and dividend solution.
   Second, it proposes that a “fee” be imposed on fossil fuels as they come out of the ground, and that the money thus collected be returned back to every tax-payer in the country, making it a “revenue neutral” proposal.  This dividend will offset the rise in fossil fuel prices that will result when extraction companies raise prices to recover the money they paid in fees.
   Third, CCL carefully trains each of us who want to join the annual lobby day.  I was one of 1000 citizen lobbyists this past June.  I did not start out feeling good about this project. I had lobbied before and didn’t like it.  I went to Washington this time because a friend whom I admire did a good job of recruiting me.  Then when I got to the pre-lobby conference,  the cheer-leading  enthusiasm of the other participants was over the top.   I felt like I was at a party I was not going to enjoy-- until I began to hear the values that were making people cheer.   “Put relationships first.”  “Find common ground no matter how unlikely you think it is.”     “Ask questions before giving answers.” “Connect.”  “Practice relentless optimism.”  “We are all one people inhabiting one planet.”
   Values and cheers, however, are not enough to stop climate change. (When I say “stop”, you know what I mean.  It is already happening, but we have to stop contributing to it.)  CCL is organized  into local chapters,  covering all 435 congressional districts.  Once a year members go to D.C. where appointments have been set up with every  Congressional office, usually with a staffer.  I learned  the power of entering a Congressional office seeking relationship and common ground before asking for anything.  If I left with just the relationship, I was closer to my goal.
   CCL does not tell the fossil fuel industry how it should redirect its resources, but if a company wants to stay with energy production, then renewable energy is clearly an option.  And, by returning the dividend to each tax-payer, it does not funnel the money into a government entity such as the EPA, as this would not garner Republican support..   Also in its favor the carbon fee and dividend solution corrects the failure of the market to charge fossil fuel extractors for the damage they have caused to our atmosphere. As it is now they are allowed to pollute for free.
    This is one key strategy to stop the use of fossil fuels, and it needs your support.  In addition to spreading the word about carbon fee and dividend legislation, or joining a local chapter of CCL, we must act creatively on other levels, including doing acts of civil disobedience to stop the machinery of extraction.  What can be more important than trying to save the planet that we all share? The Ashfield Chapter of CCL meets the second Saturday of every month at noon at the Congregational Church in Ashfield.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

When the Timing Is Right

When the timing is right, the very sound of singing might break the chains of suffering.  That is why I sang with 20 other Witness Against Torture activists, flanked by our supporters, as we faced the White House on January 11th, 2016.  Maybe the time would be right, and we would free the last 103 Muslim men from their unjust captivity at Guantanamo Bay prison.  (By coincidence, a day later that number went down to 93.)
This wasn’t the first time I had come to Washington with this intention; it was the ninth, and the fourteenth anniversary of the opening of the dungeon called Guantanamo.  For a whole week our small group had been fasting and demonstrating in public places in solidarity with the prisoners, until finally we came to the house of the man who could free them.
President Obama could have watched from his windows as we set up a living room in the wide pedestrian area in front of the White House where protests are permitted.  We arranged 2 chairs, rugs and  a table with food and flowers, and invited all who were attending the “Close Guantanamo” rally to take turns entering this space with the photo of one of the detainees. We read his name and what “home” might mean to him, then placed his photo on one of the rugs saying, “I want to send you home.”     When all had been honored in this way, a group of us, dressed in orange prison jumpsuits and the black hoods of torture, stepped onto the White House sidewalk where people are not permitted to stand and risked arrest to bring our song to Obama:
“We hear a wonderful sound.  It is the breaking of chains. We see a path full of hope. We have found the way.  Let them go home. Let them go home. Let them go home. Let them go today.” (lyrics and music by New York Peace Poets) 
We sang these words for a solid hour, then stepped away.  We had delivered our message.   The timing may not have been right, but there was power in the singing – a power that might help send these men home.  And why should they go home?  Because we have found no evidence with which to charge them. Indeed, 44 (now 34) had been cleared for release as many as 9 years ago and yet still remain in Guantanamo, locked away from their families.  Our government has admitted that many men were falsely accused and turned over to the U.S. army in order to collect the $5000 reward.
If we are not going to try these men, we must release them. Indefinite detention is a form of torture.  The fact of our government torturing people – and not just Muslim men from foreign countries – is not a matter of dispute.  The Senate “Torture Report” released in 2014 has revealed the ugly truth.  Our treatment of the men in Guantanamo is part of this ugly truth.  I have seen a video of the psychological torture of  Canadian detainee, Omar Khadir, who was only 15 when he was dug out of the rubble of a bombed house and accused of killing an American soldier.  Shaker Aamer, a recently released detainee from Great Britain, has testified to the physical torture of this same child, which he called “unspeakable.” (Omar was released to Canada in 2012.)
It could be that we need Guantanamo to keep more ugly truths locked up forever.
When Witness Against Torture gathers in D.C., we admit to ourselves and to God that we are not perfect and the men in Guantanamo are not perfect.  We try to face our role in what our government and our culture do to dehumanize the Other. Most of us are white and have an obligation to acknowledge the privilege that brings to our lives.  When we risk arrest, we are not likely to be abused or shot for doing so, or tortured in a jail cell, or denied counsel or deported.
I know my protest is not unique. Many people have spoken out before me, and we can point to events when the timing has been right and change has come: chains have been broken.  If Obama does close Guantanamo, he must give the detainees due process – free them or try them  - not transfer them to another prison where they can be forgotten.  These Muslim men are human beings.  We are human beings. When the timing is right, we will embrace our common humanity.
    (For photos of our actions in Washington:, Facebook) 


Friday, November 6, 2015

A Delightful Encounter

At about 7:00 p.m. Doris and I took a walk through the dark, wet streets of the Old City, not feeling hungry enough to look for a restaurant, but needing to stretch our legs.  I expected it to be deserted with all the shops closed, but was pleased to see some stores still open that serve the local residents instead of the tourists.  

When we got to where the street we were on would have taken us into the Jewish Quarter, we took a turn  to see if we could make a loop and return through the Muslim Quarter by another route. I halfway knew where I was going, but soon it looked like we were at a dead end.  A clump of boys were playing there and paid us no mind.  Approaching them, I could see that there was an opening to our right leading to another street. “Street” may give you the wrong impression. These are more like alleys, just wide enough for a car to get through, but barely ever used by cars. On either side are doors or other alleyways or shops, and underfoot are ancient, uneven stones that serve as pavement.

So we took this opening as it headed in the right direction, Doris walking beside me so that we filled the narrow space.  I heard people coming up behind us, but Doris didn’t hear them, so I grabbed her arm to pull her aside to let them pass.  This startled her and made her jump, so one person behind us, seeing our alarm, spoke to us in English to reassure us.  It was a woman carrying a small child, and a man was with her.  She saw I was wearing the traditional Palestinian scarf called a “kafiyya” so perhaps she assumed we were friendly and asked us where we were from. In turn, she offered that she was a math teacher living in nearby Beit Hanina, but was visiting her parents’ home in the old city.

We admired her child, and after a few more pleasantries she invited us for tea to come in for tea.  Well, we knew that this was an opportunity not to be missed, and that the invitation was sincere, as Palestinians frequently offer this kind of hospitality on the spur of the moment.  But we politely said, “Really?”, before following her inside.  We climbed a couple of flights of stairs before reaching her parents’ apartment.  She shooed the kids through one door, shut another door, and quickly tidied up a small but nicely furnished sitting room.  We sat down, and she told someone to bring us tea, which soon appeared from behind a door, brought by her Ukrainian sister in law.  Every once in a while a child would appear, curious or crying, or just overflowing from the adjoining room.  It was clear that we were occupying valuable space, and our hostess explained that there were 21 children plus assorted adults in the next room!  The reason for such a crowd was that it was the eve of their day off, and most 6 of her siblings plus their children were in the family home.

As we could tell that the kids were bursting the seams of the other room, we didn’t let ourselves stay too long, but we were so grateful for this opportunity to see what the average tourist never sees, namely the gracious, overcrowded, tiny apartments of the Old City.  We finally asked our hostess’ name: Sabreen.  She is a math teacher in a public middle school. A graduate of Beirzet University, she spoke quite good English. Her major had been Mathematics with a minor in Economics, and she had a two year post graduate degree in Education. One of her brothers is a doctor and another a dentist. All are doing well, raised in this two-room apartment by loving, strict, and educated parents.  Now Sabreen sends her kids to a private school (International School in Beit Hanina) so they will learn English and have the tools needed to leave Palestine in order to have a future.

We had lots of questions. Mine were about her experience as a public school teacher, because I have heard that the public schools are not good, students there are not motivated, and the atmosphere is chaotic.  This, in spite of there being a strong emphasis on education in Palestine.  What I gleaned from her answers was that the kids are under so much stress every day from seeing soldiers, and being delayed at checkpoints, and living in crowded conditions with parents or single moms who don’t have time to give the children enough attention, that they have trouble in school.  But she gets them to listen to her by first allowing them to talk about how they are feeling. She has 25 students in each of four classes that meet four days a week.  She teaches calculus, algebra, geometry, etc..  She said she loves these kids and they love her, and I believed her because it showed in her beautiful, open face and smile. 

The kids from the other room began to appear one by one, and we knew we had to leave.  But Sabreen wanted to give us her email address, and we readily complied.  Then 4 of the kids showed us the way back to the street, waving and shouting, “goodbye!”

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Strangling of Hebron


I haven’t gone to Hebron during this trip, and a group of 6 British women “on holiday” were advised not to go Saturday because it had been declared a day of mourning, including the funeral for 5 recently killed Hebronites.  Instead, three of the women went with me to hear a talk by a human rights activist from Hebron, Ahmad Jaradat.  He concurred with the advice not to go to his city on that day.  The atmosphere would most certainly be charged with grief and anger, and bring hundreds of mourners and enraged young men to the streets.  They would be protesting the unjustified killings by the Israeli army and settlers and the fact that the bodies had been withheld for several days from their families as punishment - which is illegal under international law.  The funeral march to the cemetery would be followed by the inevitable strone- throwing by some of the young men, and the Israeli army would respond with live fire and tear gas. 

During October the repessive measures taken by the Israeli army against young protesters have increased in intensity and lethality: 70 Palestinians were killed, many of them without provocation. New weaponry is being tested: rapid firing tear gas guns so that no one can escape the barrage of gas, and protesters are unable to grab the canisters and throw them back at the soldiers; and new chemicals are in the gas, akin to pepper spray.

Captured on video are close-range shootings of non-threatening people, a jeep running over a protester who is then beaten and forbidden medical attention, threats to tear gas an entire refugee camp until all its residents die, etc.  All of these things have happened in the past, but now it is every day, and thanks to video cameras is being documented for all the world to see and for Israel to have to justify.

The talk by Ahmad Jaradat included a lot of the basics I already knew but are worth hearing again, along with some statistics and updates. However, he started by expressing a widely held Palestinian demand:  it doesn’t matter if you have one state or two states  - and everyone knows too states are no longer possible - as long as you recognize the Right of Return. (No politicians can negotiate away the fundamental right of refugees to return to their homeland. For those who say this is a non-starter because Israel won’t allow it, they should be aware that it is the start for any lasting peace in the region.) Ahmad added to this preface the observation that the Jewish Israeli settlements were conceived from their inception in 1967 as the means to take land away from Palestine until there would be no more Palestine.

Hebron is a district that covers 21% of the West Bank and has a population of one million, while the city itself has 170,000. Historically, it is the industrial center of Palestine, with stone being a major resource. However, this potential prosperity has been decimated by Israel dividing the city into two distinct areas, H-1 and H-2. in order to allow settlers to live in the center of the city. 
While the whole city should be in Area A - under complete Palestinian control according to the Oslo Accords, H-2 was re-zoned to be Area C where Israel is in complete control.  It includes the Old City and hundreds of small shops.  Although the shops have long been shuttered by order of Israel, 50,000 Palestinians still live there.

Why have the shops been shuttered?  Because a group of radical settlers,  inserted itself into the center of the city, taking over apartments they claimed were long ago inhabited by Jews.  This nucleus has grown to 600, and is protected by an army force of 2,000 soldiers.  They are aggressive, full of venom towards Palestinians, and violent. Interestingly, these Jews are mainly from the United States.  Their presence has resulted in the placement of 33 “security” checkpoints within the city, some are manned by soldiers, others are fences and cement blocks that close off streets.  As you can imagine, such an infrastructure is not conducive to commerce,  to the psychological well-being of the native residents, nor to getting to school, work, medical appointments, meetings, celebrations or funerals.

Which brings us to the present eruption of violence and funerals and more violence. Until a few days ago (October  21)  a few families refused to move out of the two neighborhoods most coveted by the settlers.  They stood their ground against daily attacks on their persons and houses, refusing to give in to fear, refusing to leave their homes.  But one the leaders determined to stay,  Hassem al-Azzeh, a 54 year old physician, died of tear gas inhalation trying to cross a check point to reach a doctor for his chest pains. Now the future of his neighborhood is in doubt.  Already the Israeli army has gone door to door to tell each household they are not allowed to have any visitors that are not family.  Everyone must register with the army and prove they live in the neighborhood.This will exclude international supporters who regularly visit these families. And the army has closed all but one entrance to each neighborhood where they stand guard and check each person’s identity card. One resident told an international activist, “For the people living in the area, it will become like a prison. For people living in Hebron, the closure of Tel Rumeida will mean that the city will be split in two.”

About 5 years ago I was in the home of Hassem upon the occasion of his daughter’s 15th birthday.  I remember having to climb over several obstacles thrown by settlers onto the walkway leading to the house.  In spite of this threatening behavior, Hassem and his wife insisted on having a birthday party and inviting guests.  Now he is dead. Dead because an ambulance could not get close to his house due to similar barriers erected in the roads by settlers, necessitating that he try to walk to where one might be able to pick him up.  Dead because the route to help was full of tear gas.

Being designated Area C, schools in H-2 cannot add classrooms to their schools, and families cannot add rooms to accommodate new members.  Nor can they repair old homes.  Permits are required for all construction, but Israel does not issue permits to Palestinians.  Such are the  fruits of the Oslo Accords, basically a death sentence for Palestine.  Area C comprises 60% of the West Bank, mostly agricultural land and small villages, but also central Hebron -  because there are settlers there.  And to protect the settlers, 22 military posts have been placed atop Palestinian homes in this area.  This is the matrix of control, where almost every move one makes is governed by a law meant to restrict, forbid and disrupt. 

This is the immediate context for the violence, the fear and the anger erupting in Hebron these days.  Twenty from Hebron are among the 70 killed since the start of the repression and resistance on October 3rd. But the larger context which is fueling the youth who throw stones is the Isaeli military occupation, now in its 48th year, which has robbed them of hope for a better future.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"We will gas you till you die."

Dear Friends,
  I hope you can open this link and view the shocking video it contains. The article is from Ma'an News Agency in Palestine. Many other news agencies have since carried the story, so no one is making it up.  I believe Jewish Voice for Peace has also disseminated it.  I hope it goes viral.
Love from the suffering Holy Land, Sherrill

Friday, October 30, 2015

Another Encounter

Another Encounter

     I just met a man who might be 40 years old. He was waiting in the Beit Sahour Center for Rapprochement for his violin student to arrive for a lesson.  The Center offers music lessons at affordable rates to over 85 young people of all ages, which costs about $1000 a month and operates at a loss.
     Back home I have started to read Sandy Tolan’s new book, Children of the Stone, which has given me a new appreciation for the healing power of music for the children of Palestine.
Hence, I wanted to engage in conversation with this man, even though he had only moments to spare.  He told me that he had been teaching music at the Edward Said Conservatory for Music in the city of Hebron, but left that job due to scheduling problems, and now teaches in a music school in nearby Beit Jala, as well as here.  But actually he is an IT professional with full time work in Bethlehem.    
     Before I could find out any more, a boy arrived, a violin case strapped to his back. I would have loved to stay for the lesson, but my taxi was waiting outside. 

There Is No Future

     Prior to meeting the violin teacher, I had been upstairs in the new offices that house not only the Rapprachment Center but also Siraj - a non-profit that promotes and guides “experiential tourism” through hiking and biking all over the West Bank, and IMEMC, the International Middle East Media Center.  While waiting to see the director, I met Maher, the program coordinator.  Maher is young, lanky, good looking and friendly.  After hello’s and how are you’s, my friend Doris asked him what he saw for the future of Palestine.  “There is no future.  We cannot plan even for tomorrow.”  I wanted to know what he meant. “Is this a choice, in order not to be disappointed when the plans fall through?”
    “No.”  Patiently, Maher explained from his own experience how the restrictions of the occupation shape his life.  He is a basketball player in the top league in Palestine.  Yet he does not have the season’s schedule of games because there is no schedule that anyone can count on. Instead, he has 3 days notice for his next game. For example, he will learn on Monday that there should be a game on Wednesday, which might be 2 hours travel away, not accounting for delays at military checkpoints.   On Wednesday, exactly three hours before the game should start, he gets a call as to whether the game is on or off. It depends on the degree of danger that might be encountered on the way. If the game is on, the team has no time to warm up. If it is off, they have lost valuable time they could have spent at the gym.
     Maher wanted to give another example.  “I went to a private elementary and high school with a class of 35 students. Of the 35, 20 have jobs now. Fifteen do not.”  And how many would leave the country if they could?  “Probably 25. But I will not leave.” He wanted us to understand that even though there is no way to plan for the future, which even keeps him from setting a date for his wedding next year, people survive by living in this moment,  taking what is hard and transforming it into a life for tomorrow.