Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Justice or Death at Guantanamo

      Guantanamo Bay Prison: is it still open? Yes.  Does it still have 779 men there?   No.  All but 41 have been released because, after all, they were not the worst of the worst.  
     Yet that is how they were treated.
    On Wednesday, January 11th I quickly lay down on the floor of the Hart Senate office building in Washington, D.C. beside a banner that read, “Hate Doesn’t Make U.S. Great.” I was  part of a die-in.  I chose to risk arrest in this way to honor one of the nine men who have died while detained at Guantanamo.  In my heart I carried the name of Awal Gul from Afghanistan who had died of a heart attack at age 49  in 2012 while imprisoned at Guantanamo.
     Mr. Gul had been cleared for release by a military tribunal (i.e. found not guilty), but in the end it was God who released him.   We don’t know what caused Mr. Gul’s heart attack, but the conditions for detainees at Guantanamo would be cause enough.  Can you imagine being tortured?  Really I can’t.  How would I behave if I were striped naked and exposed to extreme cold for hours and hours, or chained in a painful posture until my whole body screamed?  What if I had to hear blasting noise with no let-up?  Was Mr. Gul one of the detainees being sexually assaulted by female guards, or told his mother would be raped if he didn’t give the required information?
    Eight other men have died at the prison, and eight of my friends also lay on the floor in the atrium of  the Hart building to represent them.  We were dressed in orange jumpsuits, wore black hoods, and were prepared to be arrested. The men we represented were not prepared for what awaited them when they were sold to the U.S. army for bounty, shackled, hooded, flown to Guantanamo and tortured.   Three of the nine were almost certainly tortured to death.   But let me turn your attention to the 41 men still in detention.
What do I know of these men?  I know they are MUSLIMS, and Guantanamo was created to tell the world that Muslims are dangerous, that Muslim men are sub-human, and that the United States should decide their fate.  Yet this was not an image that went down well in the rest of the world, so Obama tried to close the prison. He did not succeed, leaving President Trump to carry on the anti-Muslim message.  It points a lethal finger at our Muslim brothers and sisters, those who live in this country and the l.6 billion worldwide.
What do I know of these Muslim men?  I know they are human beings with families who miss them.  I know some are poets because there is book of their poetry.  (Poems from Guantanamo, Marc Falkoff, ed.) I know some are artists, because  Ghaleb Nassar al Bihani  has a lawyer who got some of his paintings to Washington, and I saw them.   And their beauty made me cry.  Beauty.  Men thrown away like disgusting garbage are creating beauty.  I know that these Muslim men have not seen or touched their wives and sisters, mothers and sons for up to 15 years.
What do I know of these men?  I know they want to go home, and they have as much right to freedom and justice as we do.  If we can’t prove they did something criminal, we have to honor their rights, because  tomorrow they might come for you – or me – and call us non-human according to some new definition. 
We have to remember that Guantanamo Bay Prison is still there.  We have to remember all the men who were ever there and the ones still there and what we have done to them.  We have to remember because it gives them a sliver of hope, and because it restores our humanity.  We have to remember  the ones who died there so that one day we might be forgiven.
 Sherrill Hogen, a Charlemont resisdent,  has been protesting Guantanamo and torture for 10 consecutive years with Witness Against Torture (www.witnesstorture.org).
 Sherrill Hogen  413-625-8195

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hadil Hashlamon - A Story That Must Be Told

     “When you lose a member of the family, you suffer for a long, long time.” These were the words of Hadil’s father, Dr. Salah Hashlamon as he addressed our group of 8 Americans and 2 Palestinian guides in his living room, on October 15, 2016.  His 19 year old daughter had been shot dead  the year before on September 22 at a Hebron checkpoint.
     Hadil was on her way to her volunteer work to help the needy in the Old City of Hebron.  She had started the Fall semester of college, but found time to continue this work out of devotion to the task.  Being a very devout Muslim, she chose to cover her face except for her eyes.  Being a Palestinian woman, she carried a large purse.  For these two things she was killed by an Israeli soldier.  When the soldier stopped her to search her before letting her pass the checkpoint, Hadil, according to witnesses, asked for a female soldier to do the searching.  Whatever the soldier then said to her, she apparently did not understand.  That was when he shot her, first in the legs so that she fell to the ground, and then 14 more bullets into her body.  Medics were there in 10 minutes, but were not allowed to attend to her for 45 minutes.  She died in the hospital.
     How do we know that this is what happened?  The soldiers claimed Hadil had a knife with which she intended to stab a soldier, and they displayed it on the ground next to her body.  But an international observer with the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAPPI) wrote a detailed account of what he observed on that day, and it was clear that Hadil posed no threat to the soldiers at the checkpoint.  In addition, Israeli surveillance cameras also captured the event, and the army would have gladly displayed their video if it proved they were right.
Nevertheless, Dr. Hashlamon’s home was raided at 2:30 a.m. one morning so the army could get the dimensions in order to prepare to demolish the family home as punishment for Hadil’s supposed terrorist intentions.  Members of the family were also interrogated as to Hadil’s possibly unstable emotional state that would explain her “attack”.  (So far the house still stands, but demolition orders have no expiration date.)
     One month after Hadil was killed, an Israeli army officer declared that Hadil had not been a danger to the soldiers. 
     Dr. Haslamon’s lap was full of papers and photographs showing the extent of Hadil’s injuries and every word that has been said both in and out of court since her death.  Two of his adult sons sat near him as he spoke to us.  A younger son served us juice and candies, and maybe coffee – I don’t remember.  My attention was upon this grieving father, who was making sure his daughter’s life would not be in vain because it would be told outside of his living room and outside of Hebron, Palestine.  He has taken the case and others like it to the International Criminal Court office in Ramallah, but he cannot take it outside of the borders of the West Bank because his family has been labeled terrorist and cannot get a visa from Israel.
     Hadil was a poet and had been locally recognized for her talent.  Dr. Hashlamon read one of her poems which she had written in English.  I wish I had a copy, but share these lines that I wrote down: 
       "The Israelis say we have a problem: we love to die.”
      "One word can help others.”
      "We have a State waiting for us in the future that will hold us all.”
     After an hour it was time for us to leave.  I, as tour leader, tried to thank Dr. Hashlamon for his time, which had been requested only that morning.  I wondered to myself how Hadil’s brothers felt  listening to their father tell of such sadness and injustice once again.  I know the father was angry that nothing had come of Hadil’s murder. In fact it had been followed by the deaths of 235* more young Palestinians in similar situations – some actually carrying a knife, but most gunned down by young soldiers following orders: Kill if you feel threatened, let them bleed out on the street, frame them if you can.
      Hadil’s story echoes around the world, in our Black, brown and gay communities and wherever native peoples claim their rights or try to protect land and water.   I hope Dr. Hashlamon can count on us all to tell Hadil’s story and to stand up for human dignity wherever it is under attack.

*The death toll included 34 Israelis as of September 30, 2016. Ma’an News

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why Not Dance?

Have you heard music from the Middle East, from Palestine, from Sabina’s living room in the Balata Refugee Camp?  Turn it up very loud – hard on my older ears – and watch Sabina’s 12 year old daughter dance.  She is graceful, using the hand and hip motions typical of this part of the world, and she sings along with each song.  In moments Dareen joins in.  She is 11, and she too knows the motions and the words.  Sabrina gets up and dances with the girls.
Dareen’s mother, who is my Palestinian sister named Ansaf or Im Wafa, cannot restrain herself.  She is up off the sofa, a broad smile on her lovely face.   I watch with delight because life here is so hard, and my dear Ansaf is enjoying herself.  I try to stay out of the way as the living room is small, but Ansaf won’t let me sit and watch, no matter I am stiff as a board with hips that refuse to move like hers do.  So I pretend with my hands and let myself be part of the fun.
The occasion for this playful, joyous half hour was simply to bring me, the American “relative”, to visit another member of the family, this time Ansaf’s sister. Indeed this was our second such visit of that day.  Upon arrival, we were served juice and cookies – so very Palestinian – and so very sugary.  Before the music was turned on, I sat with the little sister and made moulds from pink putty.  (I wrote about that in my blog on “distractions”. )  I only have a few words of Arabic, and there were no words of English in this humble dwelling, but putty and music, juice and cookies are universal.
When  it was time to leave, I happened to see into the kitchen.  I don’t think one can make a kitchen any smaller and still have a stove, fridge and sink.  “How does she do it?  How does she cook for her husband and four children in this tiny space?”  I thought.  This is what apartments in the refugee camps are like:  cramped, and in buildings so close together that sunlight never enters, impeccable on the inside amid narrow, dirty alleys on the outside.
Before I was whisked off to the next relative, Sabrina’s hospitality and music filled me with the warm feeling that I would burst from love and sugar.

Monday, October 10, 2016


I am in Balata Camp, West Bank, Palestine.  I am playing with silly putty with a four year old girl and realizing that there is no toy or trinket or technology in the States that is not here also.  Same goes for snack foods - chips, candy, cookies - multiple flavors of each, and the kids are constantly asking mom or dad for a shekel to go buy something. (A small bag of ketchup-flavored potato chips cost about 12 cents.)

I press the putty into a sheep mold and make a sheep sound.  “Renam,” is the word for sheep.  The child is happy.  An older sister who looks about 12 puts music on the computer and turns up the volume. Loud. Them she gets up to dance, hips and feet moving, singing along with the words of the music, hands making graceful gestures in the air. Eleven year old Dareen joins in while Dareen’s mother claps and smiles joyfully.  Then she too gets up to dance.  A few minutes later I am pulled off the sofa and required to pretend I know what I am doing.  I really wish that I did, but at no time have I been a good dancer.  

After about half an hour it is time to go.  I use the bathroom and peek into the kitchen. Like other refugee camp apartments, this one is small. I marvel at the size of the kitchen which might fit two people standing up.  Here the mother prepares meals for a husband and four children. Heaven knows how.

However, we are not focused on the crowded camp or the tiny kitchen. We have been distracted by music and snacks.  Good, because life here could make you crazy. Just a little distraction keeps you sane.  The Occupier would like you to be very distracted so you will not think about what they are taking from under your nose. They are pleased if your nose is in your iPhone.  

Dareen’s sister, Lena, lives  in Beita outside the city of Nablus and outside the refugee camp where she was born.  She has a nice kitchen on one side of a large room that triples as a living room and bedroom for the 3 children, ages 10, 9 and 6.  I think Lena distracts herself with parenting and cooking, and that she does very very well. She serves us a lunch which includes homemade pita bread, babaganoush, hummus, chicken, 3 kinds of salad and baked pasta. Followed by dessert and coffee.  I ask if there are settlements near her town. No, no settlements so no settlers come to harass like they do other towns. But, her mother tells me that the army (Israel’s) enters Beita every night, searching homes and arresting young men who look like they are the right age to be terrorists.  That won’t happen to Lena’s son for a few more years, but her husband, only 33, might  get snatched when he returns from work after dark.

Back home I too am distracted. I have a vegetable garden which must be planted, weeded, harvested.  The harvest must be frozen, canned,  stored or cooked.  I have emails to read and respond to. Now I have my first i-Pod Touch to learn to operate so I can take better photos when I am traveling.  This new devise has all sorts of  bells and whistles that get me into trouble, and take up time.  

I try to keep track of my Occupier, but the media is tricky and I get distracted.

Friday, October 7, 2016

When Is a Good Road a Bad Road?

Our shared taxi van is hurtling down the paved road reserved for Palestinians skirting around Jerusalem to get from Bethlehem to Ramallah.  The road is extremely steep, full of hairpin turns, and full of trucks, cars and buses in a hurry to get somewhere.  I am thinking, “Glad this road is well paved,” because I have been on lots of rural roads in Palestine that are rutted and pot-holed, or only paved for the width of one car.

Then I think another thought.  I wonder if this road is paid for by USAID, a conduit for many millions of dollars of development money our government gives to Palestine every year.  (You can Google U.S. aid to Palestine if you are surprised to learn that we do contribute.)  I had heard several years ago that USAID was paving roads for Palestinians, so that the Jews could have exclusive use of roads connecting the settlements to Israel’s cities.  So all of a sudden this good road became a bad road.  

Indeed, this particular steep and curving road was built after Israel barred Palestinians from the direct route North to Jerusalem and Ramallah.  What used to take 30 minutes, now takes 80 minutes. What used to be direct, is now this circuitous and dangerous road that takes you on a roller coaster ride into Wadi Nar - the Valley of Fire.  The direct route still exists, but only for Israelis or those Palestinians who have obtained a permit to leave the West Bank.  Many a West Bank Palestinian has said to me, “You are so lucky to get to go to Jerusalem!”

But the Palestinian traveler can get on a good/bad road and go around Jerusalem to visit Ramallah and points North, like Nablus where I am now.  I chose to take the good/bad road with them, and like them I hold my breath around the curves.

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.