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.

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)