Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Audiotape of Marc Steiner show on Frederick Douglass and July 4th

The link to the Marc Steiner show in a previous post did not work for several people.

"We commemorate the upcoming 4th of July weekend with a discussion on what American Independence Day means to different people in this country. You will hear a passage from Frederick Douglass’ “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” interpreted by actor, narrator, writer, and social commentator Keith Snipes, and then Keith is joined on the panel by: Dr. Alan Gilbert, John Evans Professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and author of Black Patriots and Loyalists; and A. Adar Ayira, project manager of the More in the Middle Campaign for Associated Black Charities and facilitator and analyst at Baltimore Racial Justice Action, a program of Fusion Partnerships."


Our discussion reached considerable agreement about telling the truth in history - that as Douglass says, slavery is no thing to celebrate and no part of freedom, and that genocide toward indigenous people has also been part of the holiday. The Bill of Rights is important if it is extended to each person (far from the initial situation). It is only through struggle from below, often led by blacks and indigenous people (the most oppressed), which gives rise to this slow realization.


And American patriotism - as the Obama administration and the Senate's barbarous support for the Israeli government's calculated slaughter in Gaza indicates - is often retrograde, and in such cases, we all need to dissent from it. See here.


Here is the right link.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Here is the right link to 3:AM in the last post on Amnesia: Spain, Sand Creek, Oklahoma and Germany

Many thanks to Irene Rodriguez and others who have pointed out that the link to my column on Amnesia: Spain, Sand Creek, Oklahoma and Germany does not work. Here is the right one:

3:AM magazine: Amnesia: Spain, Sand Creek, Oklahoma, Germany

For my second and now regular column - the first on Remembering Vincent Harding is here - 3:AM magazine in London published Amnesia: Spain, Sand Creek, Oklahoma, Germany and the letter from Silas Soule to Major Ned Wynkoop following the Sand Creek Massacre, see here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Poem: beloved

Vincent saw each one of us

not as a bent tree

leaves aslant

on a high peak

or crumpled in a thin basement

stripped of resource

urged a rent party

for a desolate artist

eating greens with friends

slept on a cot

near a young man



doing the job of life

making the

here and

not yet

belov ed community

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The repulsiveness of Israeli expansion: sign the Jewish Voice for Peace petition and demonstrate Saturday

As a jew and a long standing opponent of the Occupation of Palestinian Territories by Israel as well as of the denial of human rights and well-being to Palestinians even within Israel, I still find it hard to write about the latest Netanyahu criminality. I am not alone in this.


In the Occupied Territories, Israel is the self-conscious imitator of the American West and the extermination of indigenous people. It is at least a subconscious imitator of the Nazis and the Tsars toward Jews. Uri Avnery writes, in some despair below, of how if in today's Germany, neo-Nazis had kidnapped and burned a Jewish child to death, there would be outrage. In America today, unlikely crowds shouting "death to Jews" - those in Israel stirred by Netanyahu screaming "death to Arabs" - would produce a fierce response.


Avnery has to go back to the Spanish inquisition and the auto-da-fes (burnings) of Jewish children for a precedent (see Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws, book 25 for a satire on "things so clear they are sure never to convince" on the burning of a young girl).

Mohammed Abu Khdair was the 16 year old boy kidnapped, murdered and burned.


Avnery names the truth.


It is hard to think of the country that carried out the holocaust - I, without reflection, rooted for Argentina in the World Cup (colonialism and fascism are a heavy heritage) against Deutschland - being so much more decent than the country against whose parents and grandparents genocide was committed.

It is hard to think that what the leaders of the wretched state of Israel learned from the genocide was that it was okay to form an exclusive Jewish regime - down to exclusive unions and exclusive kibbutzim, once upon a time, though now Netanyahu's regime works overtimes on inequality for the .001% - and commit ethnic cleansing against Palestinians (see the work of Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe).


Suffering a Founding Amnesia ("a people without land for a land without people"), Israel seized Palestinian land, driving out or murdering some 800,000 - the first ethnic cleansing - and then illegally and immorally Occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Israel has planted 500 gleaming settlements above a walled off, open air concentration camp.
See here and here.


The murders of three Israeli teenagers - going to religious school in the Territories - were horrifying. But as JJ Goldberg has pointed out in a revelatory article below, those murders were known about, a kidnapping gone wrong because one of the boys called the police on his cell phone immediately. Yet Netanyahu falsely blamed the kidnapping on Hamas and then whipped up a racist frenzy for two weeks (worse than his 2012 murderous Operation "Pillar of 'Defense'").


There are arrests, but Avnery's point - the mobs are the Inquisition - is buried in the tepid press (worse in the U.S., though the New York Times yesterday did finally run a front page story about it here, but then removed the print title "A Boy Set Ablaze"...).


For the Jewish Voice for Peace petition, sign here, or see the second item below.

For a demonstration - a prayer and a march - in Denver (everyone should check their own city; the protest is worldwide and growing) against the Occupation and killings this Saturday at 12:45 at the Colorado State Capitol, see here.


Netanyahu, as it were, displayed the corpses of the three Jewish teenagers as Denver officials in 1864 did the Hungate family (murdered they said by "generic Indians") and used this to stir the Sand Creek mutilation of bodies.

The display of corpses in America was used, from well before the Revolution, to sanction mass extinctions starting with the 1638 Pequot Massacre of 500 and the founding of Harvard (see Peter Silver, Our Savage Neighbors, 2012; Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and Ivy).


Curiously, Hitler, like David Ben Gurion, was a fan of American extermination of indigenous people. Hitler read the novels of Karl May in this way and called the Poles and Russians "redskins," although my recent post on this, see here - accurate on Hitler - was wrong about May who idealized noble indians (h/t Uwe Meizner; in contemporary Europe, calling Reagan a "cowboy" was not a friendly remark).


Even military officials like Brigadier General Moti Almoz, as Goldberg underlines, resisted the dreadful, counterproductive commands of the explicitly "Jews-only" government of Israel. The statements of government ministers in the Netanyahu government, as Ury Avnery says below, would rightly be called fascist anywhere else.

As Goldberg puts it, "few statements were more blunt, or more telling, than this throwaway line by the chief spokesman of the Israeli military, Brigadier General Moti Almoz, speaking July 8 on Army Radio’s morning show: 'We have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard.'”


It is hard to think of how Netanyahu could have done more damage to ordinary Israelis than through this policy. It makes everyone else regard the "good Germans," the "good Americans" during Vietnam with horror; many oppose the policy, but it must be hard for a decent person to look in the mirror this morning...


In Gaza,

"The Palestinian death toll stands at more than 200, including 31 children. On Tuesday, funerals continued for the victims in Gaza, including a 10-year-old boy. Two members of the al-Hajj family, a son and an uncle, spoke out about an Israeli bombing of a home that killed eight family members, including two parents and five siblings.

Yasser al-Hajj: 'After losing both my parents and my brothers and sisters, I am now all by myself. I have no one except a sister who is married and lives in Rafah, and that’s far away. Life is going to be difficult from here on out.'

Mohammad al-Hajj: 'Imagine the feeling when someone carries his sister and her sons and daughters, who are children, 18, 16 and 14 years old. I carried them when their bodies were ripped apart. It was horrifying.'" (Democracy Now, July 16, 2014)


In Gaza, no one is safe. The International Red Cross also warns that the water supply is threatened.


Gideon Levy below shudders about this "Jews-only" regime...


The futile Hamas rockets strike fear into Israel - they hit no one until they wounded two Arab-Israelis yesterday and today killed the first Israeli who was aiding the army - but they strengthen the most reactionary forces in Israel. In addition, they can be used in mindless US government and media proclamations of "moral equivalence" to cover up burning and blowing apart children.


Nonviolent resistance would isolate the Israeli government even internally. See here.


But one has to be in a fog of racism to equate the murder of 200 people and lots of children with 1 murder so far. And in even more of a fog to equate the Occupier of the Territories today with independent Mexico. In the war of 1846-48, US aggression stole a large part of Mexico: California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado - an equivalent today would be something like feeble rocket fire from Chicanos in the Southwest...

Chicanos are oppressed, but it might be useful to think of what conditions would have to be to provoke this....


Avnery is not way out in his analogy about the burning - for Jews particularly terrible since this is what the Inquisition did to children - nor is the Jewish Forward in printing the truth. People who do not take in the vigilante nature of Israel, led by the government, the burning of an innocent young man as "revenge" and the unprovoked, wanton and continuing slaughter in Gaza are simply not looking at the truth.


Mr. Netanyahu likes to talk about how Christians are tolerated in Israel as a (race, national social) "democracy." How about Muslims?

How about Palestinians (including Christians)...?


Obama could pull the plug on aid to Israel. The US gives $3 billion a year, largely spent on American weapons; every helicopter in the Occupied Territories is an "Apache," the name a "return of the repressed" genocide in the United States. That would be a reasonable response.

The American elite and media, self-destructively invested in Israel "right or wrong," so far forbids this.


Israel is today engaged in a calculated transfer - ethnic cleansing, genocide - in the illegally and immoral Occupied territories.

Unless it is stopped, this murder and expulsion will get worse. Sign the petition, demonstrate and express nonviolent outrage at the Occupation in any way available (it would be good if 100,000 sat down around the White House over this policy...).


How dangerous for all of us is this situation? Israel also has the lone stockpile of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. If peace is not made with the Palestinians - one that most importantly, restores for Palestinians as well as preserves for others the human rights of each person - the likelihood is that Israel, despite its weaponry, will find itself in a long unwinnable war - live by the sword, die by the sword... It will find itself rightly detested by ordinary people in Europe and even here for apartheid (even the usually banal John Kerry rightly named this "apartheid").

In this situation, the likelihood that the racists at the helm will use nuclear weapons, grows apace.

Radiation travels....


And an international and internal movement against apartheid - Anarchists against the Wall is a noble organization of Israelis in this cause - and for one democratic state based on equal rights for each individual is the sole decent alternative which the Netanyahu leadership has now motivated.


About Obama and the noble victories for the rights of gays and lesbians, Andrew Sullivan often signs off on his posts: know hope. In the brief post below, he says of Israel and the US: "know despair."

I share his feeling (and my friend Mike Schwartz's), but we must all gather the courage to act.


I am also inspired by Palestinian activists and Palestinian endurance of and courage against these horrors, and by the students - including Jewish students - who are part of the growing campus divestment movement - and by organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace who stand up against Israel and the US government. We should all do so.


"Gush Shalon - Israeli Peace Bloc

Uri Avnery's Column

The Atrocity

BOMBS ARE raining on Gaza and rockets on Southern Israel, people are dying and homes are being destroyed.


Again without any purpose. Again with the certainty that after it's all over, everything will essentially be the same as it was before.

But I can hardly hear the sirens which warn of rockets coming towards Tel Aviv. I cannot take my mind off the awful thing that happened in Jerusalem.

IF A gang of neo-Nazis had kidnapped a 16-year old boy in a London Jewish neighborhood in the dark of the night, driven him to Hyde Park, beaten him up, poured gasoline into his mouth, doused him all over and set him on fire -- what would have happened?

Wouldn't the UK have exploded in a storm of anger and disgust?

Wouldn't the Queen have expressed her outrage?

Wouldn't the Prime Minister have rushed to the home of the bereaved family to apologize on behalf of the entire nation?

Wouldn't the leadership of the neo-Nazis, their active supporters and brain-washers be indicted and condemned?

Perhaps in the UK. Perhaps in Germany.

Not here.

THIS ABOMINABLE atrocity took place in Jerusalem. A Palestinian boy was abducted and burned alive. No racist crime in Israel ever came close to it. (my italics).

Burning people alive is an abomination everywhere. In a state that claims to be "Jewish", it is even worse.

In Jewish history, only one chapter comes close to the Holocaust: the Spanish inquisition. This Catholic institution tortured Jews and burned them alive at the stake. Later, this happened sometimes in the Russian pogroms. Even the most fanatical enemy of Israel could not imagine such an awful thing happening in Israel. Until now.

Under Israeli law, East Jerusalem is not occupied territory. It is a part of sovereign Israel.

THE CHAIN of events was as follows:

Two Palestinians, apparently acting alone, kidnapped three Israeli teenagers who were trying to hitchhike at night from a settlement near Hebron. The objective was probably to use them as hostages for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

The action went awry when one of the three succeeded in calling the Israeli police emergency number from his mobile phone. The kidnappers, assuming that the police would soon be on their tracks, panicked and shot the three at once. They dumped the bodies in a field and fled. (Actually the police bungled things and only started their hunt the next morning.)

All of Israel was in an uproar. Many thousands of soldiers were employed for three weeks in the search for the three youngsters, combing thousands of buildings, caves and fields.

The public uproar was surely justified. But it soon degenerated into an orgy of racist incitement, which intensified from day to day. Newspapers, radio stations and TV networks competed with each other in unabashed racist diatribes, repeating the official line ad nauseam and adding their own nauseous commentary -- every day, around the clock.

The security services of the Palestinian Authority, which collaborated throughout with the Israeli security services, played a major role in discovering early on the identity of the two kidnappers (identified but not yet caught). Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, stood up in a meeting of the Arab countries and condemned the kidnapping unequivocally and was branded by many of his own people as an Arab Quisling. Israeli leaders, on the other hand, called him a hypocrite.

Israel's leading politicians let loose a salvo of utterances which would be seen anywhere else as outright fascist. A short selection:

Danny Danon, deputy Minister of Defense: "If a Russian boy had been kidnapped, Putin would have flattened village after village!"

"Jewish Home" faction leader Ayala Shaked: "With a people whose heroes are child murderers we must deal accordingly." ("Jewish Home" is a part of the government coalition.)

Noam Perl, world chairman of Bnei Akiva, the youth movement of the settlers: "An entire nation and thousands of years of history demand: Revenge!"

Uri Bank, former secretary of Uri Ariel, Housing Minister and builder of the settlements: "This is the right moment . When our children are hurt, we go berserk, no limits, dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, annexation of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), execution of all prisoners who have been condemned for murder, exile of family members of terrorists!"

And Binyamin Netanyahu himself, speaking about the entire Palestinian people: "They are not like us. We sanctify life, they sanctify death!"

When the bodies of the three were found by tourist guides, the chorus of hatred reached a new crescendo. Soldiers posted tens of thousands of messages on the internet calling for "revenge", politicians egged them on, the media added fuel, lynch mobs gathered in many places in Jerusalem to hunt Arab workers and rough them up.

Except for a few lonely voices, it seemed that all Israel had turned into a soccer mob, shouting "Death to the Arabs!"

Can anyone even imagine a present-day European or American crowd shouting "Death to the Jews?"

THE SIX arrested until now for the bestial murder of the Arab boy had come straight from one of these "Death to the Arabs" demonstrations.

First they had tried to kidnap a 9-year old boy in the same Arab neighborhood, Shuafat. One of them caught the boy in the street and dragged him towards their car, choking him at the same time. Luckily, the child succeeded in shouting "Mama!" and his mother started hitting the kidnapper with her cell phone. He panicked and ran off. The choking marks on the boy's neck could be seen for several days.

The next day the group returned, caught Muhammad Abu-Khdeir, a cheerful 16-year old boy with an engaging smile, poured gasoline in his mouth and burned him to death.

(As if this was not enough, Border Policemen caught his cousin during a protest demonstration, handcuffed him, threw him on the ground and started kicking his head and face. His wounds look terrible. The disfigured boy was arrested, the policemen were not.)

THE ATROCIOUS way Muhammad was murdered was not mentioned at first. The fact was disclosed by an Arab pathologist who was present at the official autopsy. Most Israeli newspapers mentioned the fact in a few words on an inner page. Most TV newscasts did not mention the fact at all.

In Israel proper, Arab citizens rose up as they have not done in many years. Violent demonstrations throughout the country lasted for several days. At the same time, the Gaza Strip frontline exploded in a new orgy of rockets and aerial bombings in a new mini-war which already has a name: "Solid Cliff". (The army's propaganda section has invented another name in English.) The new Egyptian dictatorship is collaborating with the Israeli army in choking the Strip.

THE NAMES of the six suspects of the murder-by-fire -- several of whom have already confessed to the appalling deed -- are still being withheld. But unofficial reports say that they belong to the Orthodox community. Apparently this community, traditionally anti-Zionist and moderate, has now spawned neo-Nazi offspring, which surpass even their religious-Zionist competitors.

Yet terrible as the deed itself is, to my mind the public reaction is even worse. Because there isn't any.

True, a few sporadic voices have been heard. Many more ordinary people have voiced their disgust in private conversations. But the deafening moral outrage one could have expected did not materialize.

Everything was done to minimize the "incident", prevent its publication abroad and even inside Israel. Life went on as usual. A few government leaders and other politicians condemned the deed in routine phrases, for consumption abroad. The soccer world cup contest elicited far more interest. Even on the Left, the atrocity was treated as just another item among the many misdeeds of the occupation.

Where is the outcry, the moral uprising of the nation, the unanimous decision to stamp out the racism that makes such atrocities possible?

THE NEW flare-up in and around the Gaza Strip has obliterated the atrocity altogether.

Sirens sound in Jerusalem and in towns north of Tel-Aviv. The missiles aimed at Israeli population centers have successfully (up to now) been intercepted by counter-missiles. But hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are running to the shelters. On the other side, hundreds of daily sorties of the Israeli Air Force turn life in the Gaza Strip into hell.

WHEN THE cannon roar, the muses fall silent.

Also the pity for a boy burnt to death."


"The roots of the rising violence in Gaza and Israel
Submitted by Cecilie Surasky on Thu, 07/10/2014 - 1:57pm
Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace executive director on the occupation and rising death toll

The last several days have been devastating. The weeks leading up to it have been horrifying. Since the beginning of the Israel’s Operation Protective Edge on July 8, 2014 upwards of 80 Palestinians have been killed and approximately 500 wounded by Israeli missiles and 2 Israelis have been wounded from rockets fired from Gaza. We have watched with sadness and anger as the deaths of children have mounted, racist mobs have rampaged, the fears of people throughout both Israel and Palestine have reached unbearable levels, and the collective punishment of the Palestinian people has intensified.

In just the last few days, scores of Palestinians--with no place to hide--have been killed, while the entire population of Gaza experiences the terror of widespread bombing. Israelis have had to endure the fear of never knowing when or where the next rocket will fall.

What is worse, reports from Israel and the Jewish Daily Forward ( in the US are now confirming that this entire escalation was artificially created by Israeli political leaders and built on a foundation of lies.

None of this should be happening. As we mourn all who have died, we also reaffirm that all Israelis and Palestinians deserve security, justice, and equality.

To end violence - and truly mourn its victims - we must acknowledge, and challenge the root causes beneath it. The occupation, with US military and financial support, is the root cause. The daily structural violence of the occupation systematically denies the very humanity of Arabs, while valuing Jewish lives at the expense of others. Our unshakeable belief in justice - as Jews and as human beings - compels us to acknowledge that the root of this violence lies in the Israeli government’s commitment to occupation over the well-being of Palestinians or Israelis. Where our leaders have so thoroughly refused that truth, it is our responsibility to hold it up.

This is why my organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, is calling for signatures to an Open Letter demanding an end to the Occupation. When we reach 18,000 signatures, we’ll publish the letter in Ha’aretz and The Forward - and call on our communities stand up with us.

The media is portraying the current violence as the most recent flare-up of a long running conflict between two-sides using equal force against the other. We know the truth to be different. The relative ‘calm’ in Israeli and international media for the last 7 years or so has not been calm for Palestinian communities. The ongoing occupation inflicts both direct and structural violence, making daily life and the struggle for existence into an act of resistance.

The recent and very public violence against Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem and elsewhere did not happen in a vacuum. Anti-Palestinian bigotry is not only acceptable but a powerful political tool in Israel. Long before this latest escalation, everyday life for Palestinians meant increasing numbers of settlements taking over their lands and homes, and a web of violence and control which reached into every area of life, simply because they are not Jewish.

Those few Israelis who are bravely speaking out against their governments’ inhumane policies need to know that they have our support. Those Palestinians who are under daily assault need to know that we see them.

As Americans, and especially as Jews, we can not wait one more moment to speak up. In such a terrible moment, we must join what we feel with what we know.

Please join me in signing this urgent Open Letter that says:

Only by ending the occupation, which is funded by unconditional US military aid and diplomatic support, and embracing equality can this terrible bloodshed end."

Sign here.


"Daily Digest
Haaretz: Gideon Levy: Our wretched Jewish state

Haaretz | 06.07.14

Our wretched Jewish state

Now we know: In the Jewish state, there is pity and humane feelings only for Jews, rights only for the Chosen People. The Jewish state is only for Jews.

By Gideon Levy

The youths of the Jewish state are attacking Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem, just like gentile youths used to attack Jews in the streets of Europe. The Israelis of the Jewish state are rampaging on social networks, displaying hatred and a lust for revenge, unprecedented in its diabolic scope. Some unknown people from the Jewish state, purely based on his ethnicity. These are the children of the nationalistic and racist generation – Netanyahu’s offspring.

For five years now, they have been hearing nothing but incitement, scaremongering and supremacy over Arabs from this generation’s true instructor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Not one humane word, no commiseration or equal treatment.

They grew up with the provocative demand for recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state,” and they drew the inevitable conclusions. Even before any delineation of what a “Jewish state” means – will it be a state that dons tefillin (phylacteries), kisses mezuzot (doorpost fixtures with prayer scrolls), sanctifies charms, closes down on the Sabbath and keeps strict kashrut laws? – the penny has dropped for the masses.

The mob was the first to internalize its true significance: a Jewish state is one in which there is room only for Jews. The fate of Africans is to be sent to the Holot detention center in the Negev [!], while that of Palestinians is to suffer from pogroms. That’s how it works in a Jewish state: only this way can it be Jewish.

In the Jewish state-in-the-making, there is no room even for an Arab who strives his utmost to be a good Arab, such as the writer Sayed Kashua. In a Jewish state, the chairman of the Knesset plenary session, MK Ruth Calderon (from Yesh Atid – the “center” of the political map, needless to say), cuts off Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), who has just returned all shaken up from a visit to the family of the murdered Arab boy from Shoafat, impudently preaching to him that he must also refer to the three murdered Jewish teens (even after he did just that).

In a Jewish state, the High Court of Justice approves the demolition of a murder suspect’s family home even before his conviction. A Jewish state legislates racist and nationalist laws.

The media in the Jewish state wallows in the murder of three yeshiva students, while almost entirely ignoring the fates of several Palestinian youths of the same age who have been killed by army fire over the last few months, usually for no reason.

No one was punished for these acts – in the Jewish state there is one law for Jews and another for Arabs, whose lives are cheap. There is no hint of abiding by international laws and conventions. In the Jewish state, there is pity and humane feelings only for Jews, rights only for the Chosen People. The Jewish state is only for Jews.

The new generation growing in its shadow is a dangerous one, both to itself and its surroundings. Netanyahu is its education minister; the militaristic and nationalist media serves as its pedagogic epic poem; the education system that takes it to Auschwitz and Hebron serves as its guide.

The new sabra (native-born Israeli) is a novel species, prickly both on the outside and the inside. He has never met his Palestinian counterpart, but knows everything about him – the sabra knows he is a wild animal, intent only on killing him; that he is a monster, a terrorist.

He knows that Israel has no partner for peace, since this is what he’s heard countless times from Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. From Yair Lapid he’s heard that they are “Zoabis” – referring dismissively to MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad).

Being left wing or a seeker of justice in the Jewish state is deemed a crime, civil society is considered treacherous, true democracy an evil. In a Jewish state – dreamed of not only by the right wing but also by the supposed center-left, including Tzipi Livni and Lapid – democracy is blurred.

It’s not the skinheads that are the Jewish state’s main problem, it’s the sanctimonious eye-rollers, the thugs, the extreme right wing and the settlers. It’s not the margins but the mainstream, which is partly very nationalistic and partly indifferent.

In the Jewish state, there is no remnant of the biblical injunction to treat the minority or the stranger with justice. There are no more Jews left who marched with Martin Luther King or who sat in jail with Nelson Mandela.[there are still such people in Israel and they need to act...] The Jewish state, which Israel insists the Palestinians recognize, must first recognize itself. At the end of the day, at the end of a terrible week, it seems that a Jewish state means a racist, nationalistic state, meant for Jews only."


"Andrew Sullivan
The Revenge Doctrine, Ctd
JUL 11 2014 @ 12:20PM

J.J. Goldberg reveals that the official story of what happened after those three Israeli yeshiva students were kidnapped is more hasbara than fact:

Once the boys’ disappearance was known, troops began a massive, 18-day search-and-rescue operation, entering thousands of homes, arresting and interrogating hundreds of individuals, racing against the clock. Only on July 1, after the boys’ bodies were found, did the truth come out: The government had known almost from the beginning that the boys were dead. It maintained the fiction that it hoped to find them alive as a pretext to dismantle Hamas’ West Bank operations.

What more do you need to know about the bigotry, callousness and hubris of Netanyahu? Well, this, maybe:

"It was clear from the beginning that the kidnappers weren’t acting on orders from Hamas leadership in Gaza or Damascus. Hamas’ Hebron branch — more a crime family than a clandestine organization — had a history of acting without the leaders’ knowledge, sometimes against their interests. Yet Netanyahu repeatedly insisted Hamas was responsible for the crime and would pay for it."

So Netanyahu knew that the kidnapping wasn’t by Hamas proper, insisted that it was anyway, withheld the truth about the boys’ deaths in order to sustain a massive process of collective punishment of Palestinians in the West Bank, and then unleashed yet another brutal, lop-sided pulverization of Gaza. This is not a rational regime; and it is not a civilized government. J.J. Goldberg notes the Israeli military’s profound ambivalence about where Netanyahu is taking the country, along with the religious fanatics and racist haters who propel him forward.

And yes, yes, and yes again to the notion that Hamas should not be firing rockets into Israel at all, let alone at civilians directly, even though they have incurred no casualties and have bounced off the Iron Dome when they encroached too far into Israel proper. But in this instance, there is no equivalence. One side deliberately and deceptively instigated absolutely unjustified collective punishment of an entire population, and pre-meditatedly whipped up nationalistic and racist elements to back them up. They then went on to bombard Gaza – and many civilians – into another submission – after a period of relative calm and peace. [And this leaves out the illegality and immorality of the Occupation itself...]. The result is another disproportionate slaughter: around 100 Palestinians dead so far, and no Israelis. If you see nothing wrong with this, your moral compass is out of whack.

Meanwhile, Obama and other world leaders have offered to broker a ceasefire, but Netanyahu has made it clear he’s not interested. An unnamed Israeli official tells Raphael Ahren that the goal of the bombardment this time is to permanently dismantle Hamas’s ability to strike Israel (didn’t they say the same thing last time?):

“It is quite possible that Hamas would agree to an immediate ceasefire — we’re hitting them hard, they want the situation to cool down,” the senior official told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity. Brokering a ceasefire with Hamas would have been possible a week or a two ago, but an agreement that would leave in place the group’s offensive capacities not what Israel wants, the official said.

“Today, we’re not interested in a Band-Aid. We don’t want to give Hamas just a timeout to rest, regroup and recharge batteries, and then next week or in two weeks they start again to shoot rockets at Israel. Such a quick-fix solution is not something we’re interested in.” While refusing to discuss concrete steps the Israel Defense Forces plan to take in the coming hours and days, the official said that the government is discussing a ground invasion of Gaza “very seriously.”

Robert Naiman wants more US pressure on Israel to end the escalation:

'The United States government has many levers on Netanyahu. Of course the U.S. gives Netanyahu billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars a year, but while it would be politically difficult (to put it mildly) to cut off U.S. military aid – the Obama Administration could not bring itself to cut off military aid to the Egyptian military coup, even when clearly required to do so by U.S. law – the Administration has many other, more subtle levers on Netanyahu that it could deploy without giving AIPAC, the ADL and their allies a convenient target for counterattack. The Administration could raise the volume of its public criticism of Netanyahu. The Administration could let it be known that it might refrain from vetoing a U.N. resolution that condemned Netanyahu. The Administration could “leak” that it is deepening efforts to engage Hamas politically, then issue a non-denial denial when these efforts are criticized. The Administration knows full well that it has all these levers and more. All it lacks is sufficient public political pressure to use them to force an end to the killing."

Au contraire. Most of the political pressure will come from those defending this latest slaughter built on a knowingly false pretext. Know despair. [my italics]

(Photo: A Palestinian man sits next to the body of five-year-old Abdallah Abu Ghazal killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral at a mosque in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, on July 10, 2014. By Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.)"


"The Forward
How Politics and Lies Triggered an Unintended War in Gaza
Kidnap, Crackdown, Mutual Missteps and a Hail of Rockets


By J.J. Goldberg
Published July 10, 2014, issue of July 18, 2014.

In the flood of angry words that poured out of Israel and Gaza during a week of spiraling violence, few statements were more blunt, or more telling, than this throwaway line by the chief spokesman of the Israeli military, Brigadier General Moti Almoz, speaking July 8 on Army Radio’s morning show: “We have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard.”

That’s unusual language for a military mouthpiece. Typically they spout lines like “We will take all necessary actions” or “The state of Israel will defend its citizens.” You don’t expect to hear: “This is the politicians’ idea. They’re making us do it.”

Admittedly, demurrals on government policy by Israel’s top defense brass, once virtually unthinkable, have become almost routine in the Netanyahu era. Usually, though, there’s some measure of subtlety or discretion. This particular interview was different. Where most disagreements involve policies that might eventually lead to some future unnecessary war, this one was about an unnecessary war they were now stumbling into.

Spokesmen don’t speak for themselves. Almoz was expressing a frustration that was building in the army command for nearly a month, since the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli yeshiva boys. The crime set off a chain of events in which Israel gradually lost control of the situation, finally ending up on the brink of a war that nobody wanted — not the army, not the government, not even the enemy, Hamas.

The frustration had numerous causes. Once the boys’ disappearance was known, troops began a massive, 18-day search-and-rescue operation, entering thousands of homes, arresting and interrogating hundreds of individuals, racing against the clock. Only on July 1, after the boys’ bodies were found, did the truth come out: The government had known almost from the beginning that the boys were dead. It maintained the fiction that it hoped to find them alive as a pretext to dismantle Hamas’ West Bank operations.

The initial evidence was the recording of victim Gilad Shaer’s desperate cellphone call to Moked 100, Israel’s 911. When the tape reached the security services the next morning — neglected for hours by Moked 100 staff — the teen was heard whispering “They’ve kidnapped me” (“hatfu oti”) followed by shouts of “Heads down,” then gunfire, two groans, more shots, then singing in Arabic. That evening searchers found the kidnappers’ abandoned, torched Hyundai, with eight bullet holes and the boys’ DNA. There was no doubt.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately placed a gag order on the deaths. Journalists who heard rumors were told the Shin Bet wanted the gag order to aid the search. For public consumption, the official word was that Israel was “acting on the assumption that they’re alive.” It was, simply put, a lie.

Moti Almoz, as army spokesman, was in charge of repeating the lie. True, others backed him up, including Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. But when the truth came out on July 1, Almoz bore the brunt of public derision. Critics said his credibility was shot. He’d only been spokesman since October, after a long career as a blunt-talking field commander with no media experience. Others felt professional frustration. His was personal.

Nor was that the only fib. It was clear from the beginning that the kidnappers weren’t acting on orders from Hamas leadership in Gaza or Damascus. Hamas’ Hebron branch — more a crime family than a clandestine organization — had a history of acting without the leaders’ knowledge, sometimes against their interests. Yet Netanyahu repeatedly insisted Hamas was responsible for the crime and would pay for it.

This put him in a ticklish position. His rhetoric raised expectations that after demolishing Hamas in the West Bank he would proceed to Gaza. Hamas in Gaza began preparing for it. The Israeli right — settler leaders, hardliners in his own party — began demanding it.

But Netanyahu had no such intention. The last attack on Gaza, the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, targeted Hamas leaders and taught a sobering lesson. Hamas hadn’t fired a single rocket since, and had largely suppressed fire by smaller jihadi groups. Rocket firings, averaging 240 per month in 2007, dropped to five per month in 2013. Neither side had any desire to end the d├ętente. Besides, whatever might replace Hamas in Gaza could only be worse.

The kidnapping and crackdown upset the balance. In Israel, grief and anger over the boys’ disappearance grew steadily as the fabricated mystery stretched into a second and third week. Rallies and prayer meetings were held across the country and in Jewish communities around the world. The mothers were constantly on television. One addressed the United Nations in Geneva to plead for her son’s return. Jews everywhere were in anguish over the unceasing threat of barbaric Arab terror plaguing Israel.

This, too, was misleading. The last seven years have been the most tranquil in Israel’s history. Terror attacks are a fraction of the level during the nightmare intifada years — just six deaths in all of 2013. But few notice. The staged agony of the kidnap search created, probably unintentionally, what amounts to a mass, worldwide attack of post-traumatic stress flashback.

When the bodies were finally found, Israelis’ anger exploded into calls for revenge, street riots and, finally, murder.
Amid the rising tension, cabinet meetings in Jerusalem turned into shouting matches. Ministers on the right demanded the army reoccupy Gaza and destroy Hamas. Netanyahu replied, backed by the army and liberal ministers, that the response must be measured and careful. It was an unaccustomed and plainly uncomfortable role for him. He was caught between his pragmatic and ideological impulses.

In Gaza, leaders went underground. Rocket enforcement squads stopped functioning and jihadi rocket firing spiked. Terror squads began preparing to counterattack Israel through tunnels. One tunnel exploded on June 19 in an apparent work accident, killing five Hamas gunmen, convincing some in Gaza that the Israeli assault had begun while reinforcing Israeli fears that Hamas was plotting terror all along.

On June 29, an Israeli air attack on a rocket squad killed a Hamas operative. Hamas protested. The next day it unleashed a rocket barrage, its first since 2012. The cease-fire was over. Israel was forced to retaliate for the rockets with air raids. Hamas retaliated for the raids with more rockets. And so on. Finally Israel began calling up reserves on July 8 and preparing for what, as Moti Almoz told Army Radio, “the political echelon instructed.”
Later that morning, Israel’s internal security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told reporters that the “political echelon has given the army a free hand.” Almoz returned to Army Radio that afternoon and confirmed that the army had “received an absolutely free hand” to act.

And how far, the interviewer asked, will the army go? “To the extent that it’s up to the army,” Almoz said, “the army is determined to restore quiet.” Will simply restoring quiet be enough? “That’s not up to us,” he said. The army will continue the operation as long as it’s told.

The operation’s army code-name, incidentally, is “Protective Edge” in English, but the original Hebrew is more revealing: Tzuk Eitan, or “solid cliff.” That, the army seems to feel, is where Israel is headed.
Contact J.J. Goldberg at

Read more:"


"Andrew Sullivan
Understanding The Permanence Of Greater Israel
JUL 14 2014 @ 12:39PM
Israeli air strikes on Gaza

My old sparring partner, Jeffrey Goldberg, has been busy pondering why Hamas has sent hundreds of rockets – with no fatalities – into Israel. He argues that it does this in order to kill Palestinians. It’s an arresting idea, and it helps perpetuate the notion that there are no depths to which these Islamist fanatics and war criminals will not sink.

It also helps distract from the fact that Hamas itself did not kill the three Israeli teens which was the casus belli for the latest Israeli swoop through the West Bank; that Netanyahu had called for generalized revenge in the wake of the killings, while concealing the fact that the teens had been murdered almost as soon as they had been captured; and that Israeli public hysteria, tapping into the Gilad-like trauma of captivity, then began to spawn increasingly ugly, sectarian and racist acts of revenge and brutality. It also side-steps the rather awful fact that this nihilist and futile war crime is all that Hamas has really got left.

Yes, they conceal armaments and rockets and weapons in civilian areas – and that undoubtedly increases civilian deaths. But what alternative do they have exactly, if they wish to have any military capacity at all? Should they build clearly demarcated camps and barracks and munitions stores, where the IDF could just destroy them at will? As for the argument that no democratic society could tolerate terrorist attacks without responding with this kind of disproportionate force, what about the country I grew up in, where pubs and department stores in the mainland were blown up, where the prime minister and her entire cabinet were bombed and some killed in a hotel? I don’t recall aerial bombing of Catholic areas in Belfast, do you? Or fatality numbers approaching 200 – 0? Democratic countries are marked by this kind of restraint – not by calls for revenge and bombardment of a densely populated urban area, where civilian casualties, even with the best precision targeting and warnings, are inevitable.

And there is, for all the talk of aggression on both sides, no serious equivalence in capabilities between Hamas and the IDF. The IDF has the firepower to level Gaza to the ground if it really wants to. Hamas, if it’s lucky, might get a rocket near a town or city. I suppose Israel’s reluctance just to raze Gaza for good and all is why John McCain marveled that in a war where one side has had more than 170 fatalities, 1,200 casualties, 80 percent of whom are civilians, and the other side has no fatalities and a handful of injuries, Israel has somehow practiced restraint. One wonders what no restraint would mean.

And look at the image above. Part of our skewed perspective is revealed by it. Imagine for a second that Hamas had leveled a synagogue. Can you imagine what Israel would feel justified in doing as a response? Or imagine if a Jewish extended family of 18 had been massacred by Hamas, including children? Would we not be in a major international crisis? At some point the lightness with which we treat Palestinian suffering compared with Jewish suffering needs to be addressed as an urgent moral matter. The United States is committed to human rights, not rights scaled to one’s religious heritage or race.

But this morning, as if to balance Hamas’s blame for every single death in the conflict, Goldblog feels the need to chide the Israeli prime minister for his “mistake” in having utter contempt for any two-state solution. “Mistake” is an interesting word to use.

It implies a relatively minor slip-up, a miscalculation, a foolish divergence from sanity. But it is perfectly clear to anyone not always finding excuses for the Israeli government that Netanyahu wasn’t making a mistake. He was simply reiterating his longstanding view that Israel will never, ever allow a sovereign Palestinian state to co-exist as a neighbor. And unless you understand that, nothing he has done since taking office makes any sense at all. Everything he has said and done presupposes permanent Greater Israel. And he is not some outlier. Israel’s entire political center of gravity is now firmly where Netanyahu is. The rank failure of the peace process simply underlines this fact. As do half a million Jewish settlers and religious fanatics on the West Bank. Which means that US policy is completely incoherent. Since the whole idea of a two-state solution is as dead as the infamous parrot, why on earth are Americans still pursuing it?

I think because many want Israel to be other than what it plainly is. They understand that this project of a bi-national state with Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement is a horrible fate. Jeffrey is as eloquent on this today as he has ever been:

"If Netanyahu has convinced himself that a Palestinian state is an impossibility, then he has no choice but to accept the idea that the status quo eventually brings him to binationalism, either in its Jim Crow form—Palestinians absorbed into Israel, except without full voting rights—or its end-of-Israel-as-a-Jewish-state form, in which the two warring populations, Jewish and Arab, are combined into a single political entity, with chaos to predictably ensue."

But this is clearly the reality. The Obama administration was the last hope for some kind of agreement, and the Israelis have told the president to go fuck himself on so many occasions the very thought of accommodation is preposterous. With the acceleration of the settlements, and the ever-rising racism and religious fundamentalism in Israel itself, this is what Israel now is. And what it will always be. Anyone still assuming that a two-state solution is actually in the minds of the leaders of Israel is therefore whistling in the wind. One wonders simply how many Palestinians have to die and how much largess we must keep sending to Israel before that whistling eventually stops.

A reader adds:

"This is what really put Israel’s occupation and settlement of the West Bank in perspective for me: Israel has possessed the West Bank for almost precisely the same proportion of its national existence as the United States has possessed Texas and California. About seven-tenths. That is, Israel has occupied the West Bank for 71 percent of the time since national independence in 1948; the United States has possessed Texas and California for 69 percent of the time since national independence in 1776.

Imagine an American claiming that possession of Texas and California was not in some way fundamental to the character of the nation. Imagine if American border politics was predicated on the claim that possession of Texas and California was temporary and both would someday be returned to Mexican sovereignty. Preposterous! A United States without Texas and California would not be the United States anymore. Though it might keep its name, it would be a fundamentally different nation. Even more, the United States would first have to become an existentially different nation before it would even consider peaceably permitting California and Texas to leave the union.

Just so with Israel. Despite protestations otherwise, possession of the West Bank has become a fundamental and existential part of the character of Israeli nationhood. Possession of the West Bank is not temporary, it is not contingent, and it is not an exception to the general rule of the character of Israeli nationhood. Occupation and settlement are as central to the Israeli nation, its politics and culture, as burritos, Hollywood, and Sunbelt conservatism are to American politics, culture, and national identity."

And this was the vision of many of the Jewish state’s founders. To see what is in front of one’s nose …

(Photo: A Palestinian boy inspects the Al-Noor Mosque destroyed in air attacks staged by Israel army within the scope of “Operation Protective Edge” on July 14, 2014 in Deir Al-Balah district of Gaza City, Gaza. By Belal Khaled/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Globalization and Tibet: reflections from Jordan Farrar

Jordan Farrar is just finishing her Ph.D. in social work. See "A Journey from the South" here and here. Here are her reflections on our experience in Dharamsala with the exiled Tibetans and globalization as well as poems (whitening creams for Indian women and men) from last December. The theme of globalization from Tenzin Tsundue’s talk at the outset of our being in Dharamsala to reliance on Apple products (the titanium is stolen from Tibet; Apple pays even lower wages to Tibetans than to Chinese) and the Chinese advertizement for Chengdu in the flight magazine returning home – Chengdu is also a center of detention and brutalization for Tibetan protestors – captures the underside of glittering oppression, the nearness of Tibet however innocently unaware we are or how initially exotic the word seems.


Jordan also worries about whether the self-burnings of Tibetans, suicide as an act of protest, are not or are not completely nonviolent. A few thoughts about this question (read her essay and then look at them again). To change the violence of those who do evil, nonviolence takes suffering on the innocent. The oppressors act violently. But if you are Gandhi or King or Cesar Chavez and you lead a nonviolent demonstration of oppressed people, individuals, willing to take risks but perhaps not realizing the full danger to them, can end up being injured or killed. That is a consequence of public action against oppression which even the most honorable person has to accept, encouraging preparation for, warning about the dangers of as best she can, as something related to her own acts (mostly in large nonviolent protest, this doesn't happen; given the massive evils of oppression, this consequence is - for people who engage in nonviolence, also take the risks themselves - not impossible to accept...).


If you burn yourself, your husband or wife may be arrested and tortured (or executed). Your family is left to fend for itself (fortunately, most Tibetans still have extended families, but...). There is no political action, no matter how saintly in inspiration, which does not have often at least some ugly consequences (of course, this is also and grimly true of ostensible "non action," i.e. as Jordan emphasizes, consuming the life and skin, as it were, of Tibetans in glossy global products, "living one's life"). What is good about nonviolent protest is that 1) you maintain your spiritual center (you are not trying to kill people which is what participants in violent movements do), 2) nonviolent mass protest can achieve major objectives with relatively few casualties, officially 800, probably a couple of thousand in Arab Spring in Egypt, compared to state extermination campaigns against violent movements. Both are called "terrorists" by the rulers - cf. Egypt's dictator Mubarak about Arab Spring - but everyone in the population and with publicity, often around the world, sees state violence strike outrageously against nonviolent protests. Consider the Chinese soldiers who fired on nonviolent protestors in Tibet in 2008 - and a government whose publicity conjures absurd pictures to this day among the Chinese of violent...monks. Barbara Deming's short essay "Revolution and Equilibrium" is very good on this. 3) nonviolence makes for a better and less violent regime afterwards as in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation; such movements (consider Tunisia after Arab Spring) do not consume their own in the way violent revolutions (the Jacobin Terror, the purge in the Soviet Union) sometimes do.


Unjust violence is a curse of ordinary or normal politics. But that also includes revolutionary politics (even justified violence is never unalloyed, and lots of innocent people get killed). Nonviolence breaks decisively with this. In our rapidly warming and increasingly militarily poisoned world, nonviolence may be - if anything is - a way to break the cycle, a way out. That is also the spirit of the Dalai Lama...


Jordan also recognizes how difficult it is to reverse glaring injustices. She says, perhaps overly strongly, I know I cannot change the world, but I need to act meaningfully.

But one never really knows when an act of protest, an individual decision, will invite the storm - consider Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus...


One also does not know whether even a long time working for decency can achieve unalloyed results. The United States is more egalitarian today with civil rights, women's rights, gay rights - large victories - and yet still murderous, militarist, ravenously inegalitarian....


And outside of revolutionary situations, the changes generated by individual actions are small. It is thus inner conviction - that I can do no other - which leads to small public actions, and, once in a while, with many others, the whirlwind...


"ISL [International Service Learning] Dharamsala: A Compilation of poetry and prose

Jordan Farrar

January 6, 2014

University of Denver

Graduate School of Social Work

Reflection of Experience

One of the more interesting things I learned from our trip came as a result of the speech given by Tenzin Tsundue. Tsundue is a remarkable speaker. He came to Tibet World with all of his knowledge and nothing prepared, choosing instead to feel out the crowd and let his words flow organically. Tsundue began with his childhood and ended with globalization. That might seem odd to an outsider, but when you learn about how those like Tsundue and Yeshe were smuggled out or exiled as young children, I can't think of any other way to begin.

As Tsundue spoke my internal struggle began. His discussion of globalization and consumerism really hit home for me, and probably for most of us. As we learned about the hiring and labor practices of Apple the guilt really started to set in. On this trip alone I brought three Apple products: iPhone, iPod, iPad. In our entire group most everyone had an Apple product. Most organizations we visited relied on Mac books and iPhones to operate most efficiently, yet Tsundue's discussion partly focused on how these products contribute to the environmental degradation of Tibet and oppression of the Tibetan people. For me it really painted a "one step forward, two steps back" scenario.

I still feel extremely conflicted. My work requires me to be on a computer most of the day, every day. As a woman I have been conditioned to think that I need a cell phone so I can reach someone or 911 if ever in trouble; emergency and safety apps are further touted as a woman's saving grace. Is it enough to protest Apple, but not boycott their goods? Surely other companies are just as bad if not worse. I think the conversation we had at Tsundue's ashram really put it into perspective for me. You need to find something you're passionate about and hope that at the end of the day you are proud of what you do. You can't fight every battle and you won't win every war. You can, however, make some ruckus along the way and hope that your tenacity and perseverance make a difference.

Made in China
Made in China it says
Buy me it beckons
My copper parts and lithium fuel are yours
I come from a place unknown
I come from the sacred mountain
I am mined from the colonizer
-for your enjoyment

Made in China it says
I have many stories to tell
I am your lifeline to the world
Without me you are not whole
Without me you are behind
I have traveled all the way from China to be with you
-for your pleasure

Made in China it says
Take me from the Wal Mart shelf
Take me home with you
You are the consumer and I am to be consumed
Together we will live an easy life together
Together we will fulfill each other's need
-for your destiny

Made in Tibet it mourns
don't forget about my other home
the home that is occupied, exoticized, fetishized, colonized
the home that is too cold for you, too windy, too pure
the home only visible as 'un-free' on your bumper
I have traveled from my home and from exile to tell you this
-for my existence

I wrote this poem after our evening discussion with Raschi from Students for a Free Tibet (SFT). I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion in the morning, first and foremost because she was the first woman we heard from and secondly because she spoke with a firey, and at times militant, passion. Even though she was exhausted from traveling all night from Delhi and gearing up for the celebrations on Human Rights Day, she agreed to come to Pema Thang to speak with us about the status of women in India. While I appreciated the advice and insight she provided, I personally did not enjoy her talk. I have to remind myself that India is at a much different place in their feminist/women's movement compared to the United States. I also recognize that because of this it was not possible for our conversation to go deeper. Her talk seemed more like a lecture, something similar to what I hear from my mother from time to time, versus a critical discussion of patriarchy and misogyny and how these concepts are reproduced and reinforced in India's systems. Needless to say I left her talk fairly mad and wrote the following poem as a way to process. I also understand certain portions of my poem were not represented in her speech, but this is what I put to paper.

The Female Commandments
Don't walk alone
Don't go out at night
You shouldn't drink
Don't even think about smoking
These are the rules

Don't speak English
Don't fight back
Don't speak up
Don't step out of line
These are the rules

Call me when you're home
Don't wear your headphones
Know your place
Don't yell for help
These are the rules.

Most of our days were filled and at times, over scheduled. On those days when we had some free time or my buddy was at language partners in my place, I found solace in turning on the television and just checking out if only for an hour. One set of commercials that really struck a chord with me (and others) were the various lines of skin creams promising to whiten or lighten your skin. These creams crossed gender lines as I even saw advertisements for fairness creams for men. I remember in the women's studies courses I took at William and Mary we would discuss the double standard in beauty across "developed" and "emerging" countries. I refuse to use the term "third world", but I won't get into that here. Anyway, we would discuss how in the west women were marketed tanning salons and "native" skin tones as the ideal, while in places like India women are inundated with products pushing whiteness as the ideal. In the west, however, there is always the underlying message of maintaining and exercising one's whiteness. Case in point, a tanned, glowing skin is much more desirable than overly tanned skin a la MTV's The Jersey Shore; be brown, but not too brown. Anyway, while in Dharamsala I watched a commercial for Pond's skin cream called "White Beauty" and I decided to write about it.

White Beauty
A cream
By Ponds
To whiten
Your skin
And make
You beautiful.

Our first week and, as if by chance or "fate", our last full day in Dharamsala a self-immolation occurred. Whereas in the United States we rarely (if ever) hear about these issues, in Dharamsala for those Tibetans living in exile they seem to be a daily reality. Something that has stuck with me, haunted me even, was something I learned at my second to last day at Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD). The Executive Director, Tsering Tsomo, was meeting with someone, someone from Tibet, someone whose identity was kept from the rest of the staff. This informant traveled to Dharamsala from Tibet and immediately came to TCHRD with all the information they had; something I learned was fairly typical and greatly explained how TCHRD received all their information regarding the abuses perpetrated by the Chinese on the Tibetan people. It was essential that their identity was protected as this person was returning to Tibet the following day; compromising their identity was a matter of life and death. In passing, Tsering mentioned the presence of a list. This list is filled with thousands of names of Tibetans living in Tibet. To put it in perspective, the last list I found my name on was the posted Indian Railway train reservations at Chakki Bank. This list was more sinister, this list was essentially a sign up sheet for self immolations. Thousands of Tibetans, hopeless and fighting for survival, had signed up to show their commitment to self immolating in the name of the Tibetan cause. Even as a write this I get chills. During our time in Dharamsala self immolations were presented as one of the highest forms of nonviolence. People were literally willing to take the suffering of all of Tibet on their shoulders, versus, say, suicide bombing as a contrast mentioned at the Tibetan Parliament in exile. While I agree the act itself is nonviolent, what about the violent aftermath or the trauma inflicted by witnessing such an act? We learned that families of those who self immolate are often jailed and sometimes killed. Is it still nonviolent? Maybe, but I don't know. This is maybe one of the harder concepts/issues I'm grappling with from the trip. I wrote this poem after the first candle light vigil we attended in Dharamsala.

The Fire Breather
I breathe the fire
It comes out of me and into your view
This is my struggle
This is the only way I know to communicate it to you
-I am the fire breather

But it's nonviolence you say
I'm taking the struggles of the world on my shoulders
With a match the struggle is mine
-all mine

But what about the family?
What about the eyes that are never the same?
The eyes that see your pain go up in flames
-the eyes that burn

If nonviolence begets violence is it still noble?
Try Lakhar!
Cut down your flag pole!
Speak your Mother tongue!
-ingest the purity of His soul day

But I breathe the fire
It comes out of me and into your view
This is my struggle
This is the only way I know to communicate it to you
-I am the fire breather

I wrote this poem the day following the performance put on by Jagori, Eve Ensler, and One Billion Rising on December 16, 2013. I had a fairly surface knowledge of the "Delhi Gang Rape" incident so after dinner following the performance I did a little bit of research online. I remember telling my partner Pat, "after reading what happened to Jyoti, I will never forget, I will never un-remember what I read, I don't know if I will ever be the same."

Never the Same

A bus will never feel the same
It will never be a safe and environmentally friendly way of travel
As I wait for my stop at 30th & York I think these thoughts
For I am not the same
Not the same after hearing your story, hearing your struggle

A tire iron will never look the same
I remember my Dad showing me how to use it
With the ease of his hands he showed me
"Take it like this, you see"...this is how it works
See, it's used to fix, to help, not tear apart, not violate

Your name, Jyoti, or "flame", will never read the same
I did not know you, but I have heard your story
A story you are no longer here to tell
I have seen your sisters dance and mourn and yell
Because of you, your struggle, I will never be the same

But this is bigger than you and I
Because of you, women everywhere, India, the world, will never be the same
One billion will be violated, but a billion more are ready
Ready to stand, to fight, to cry, to mourn, to remember
Because of you we are ready, because of you I will never be the same

In conducting research at TCHRD I came across a political prisoner named Dawa Dorjee. Dorjee, a student, was detained and imprisoned for "shout speech". What I found most interesting about Dorjee was his gift as a writer. Through Dorjee I learned about the Tibetan secular art form known as the "street song". These songs rely on sarcasm and irony to voice criticism of the socio-political; an important tool in heavily censored communities. Traditionally song lyrics in Tibet follow a format where each stanza is comprised of 4 lines, each with 6 syllables (Goldstein, n.d.). "Because they normally consisted of only one or two stanzas (4 or 8 lines), they were heavily dependent on imagery. Like political cartoons, they caricatured political, and sometimes social events and people with a few deft strokes but here the strokes were alliterations, extended puns on names, allusions, etc" (Goldstein, n.d., p. 56) For this assignment I chose to tackle such topics as a myriad of social issues in the United States, the performance we attended on December 16 where Eve Ensler spoke, and the recent Edward Snowden/NSA leak.

Freedom Song
Red, white, blue is freedom
Barack, the drone of peace
Kerry our white savior
Heroes honoring home

We are a mosaic
Wielding welfare we'll win
Land envied by brown gaze
Red, white, blue is freedom

Rise for Justice
It was unique and weird
Dancing in the temple
A space for all to share
Weary women wanting

Even Ensler exclaims
Vagina! Vagina!
Hips moving, bodies shake
All rising for justice

Stifled Creativity
Banned Russian far away
Snow-den wintery 'morn
Spied on like little thieves
Welcome to the U.S.

Protecting us from them
A need to know basis
Obama's ears they burn
N.o S.afer A.lly here

This poem was inspired by the two very different, yet similarly passionate talks we attended by Tenzin Tsundue and Lhasang Tsering. Tsundue clearly favors nonviolence as the best method in order to achieve an independent Tibet. Tsering, on the other hand, favors a more militant approach. Some call him a patriot, others more specifically point to his past involvement in guerilla warfare. While I personally favor nonviolence, I enjoyed Tsering's concrete proposal of civil disobedience. It was frequently discussed, and maybe even a common point of contention, that many discussions on nonviolence failed to provide specific steps in order to realize a nonviolent movement. When I sat with Tsundue and Dr. Gilbert I felt like I received more information as to how Tsundue sees a nonviolent movement carried out; something that I personally found lacking in his presentation to our group. Anyway, I envision this poem as representing how a conversation between Tsudue and Tsering might play out.

A Conversation
We're not that different you and I;
We're cut from the same sheet.
But you're the fiery sword of patriotism,
And I preach nonviolence and don't eat meat.
Your beard is long.
My headband's red.
Your dream is filled with passion,
While mine swirls in my head.
As your fervor grows,
you beat your chest.
While my patience persists
in Lakhar dress.
You stand and pace
I cross my legs.
Your thoughts they race
While the movement begs.
We may be different,
but our identity is strong.
We may disagree,
but neither is wrong.
So you have yours
and I have mine.
And one day we will see
A Tibet for us to call our own.
A Tibet that will be free.

Here I am sitting on Lufthansa Flight 418 from Frankfurt to Washington, D.C. I really lucked out with a bulkhead seat meaning unlimited leg room. I was excited to notice it was the same type of aircraft we took from Delhi: spacious, two floors, plenty to eat (and drink), basically anything one could need to make their time in flight as enjoyable as possible. I noticed business class had a lot of empty seats. My naivety caused me to actually consider asking to stretch out there, hoping to use my long journey as my argument. I quickly decided against this. I hate how whenever I fly I always have to pass through first and business class before coming to my seat in economy or coach. It's like those cartoons where the carrot is dangled in front of a horse or donkey as an incentive. I always picture what it would be like to fly like that; getting the beverage of my choice before the "others" have even reached their seat or handed a magazine to read that "we" have to pay double for in the airport. I usually don't put this much thought into my flying experiences, but this was the first time I was given the "curtain treatment".

Much like the world in the late 1940s, the iron curtain was dropped. Of course it wasn't iron, just thick blue fabric, but it served essentially the same purpose: containment and separation. See this particular curtain separates economy class from business and first class. No matter it creates a nuisance for the stewards when passing through cabins or infringes on my sitting space. It creates a separation, a barrier between us and them, as though we are things to be separated. Perhaps it is for our protection. Yes! Imagine if we got wind of all the perks reserved for those privileged few. Perhaps they worry an Occupy Lufthansa would commence at 36,000 feet. The bigger slap in the face, at least in my opinion, is the sign letting "us" know that "we" are to use our own bathrooms, not those in first class. I have noticed, however, if the toilets in first class are occupied, it is acceptable to cross the fabric barrier and use the toilets in economy class. Could you imagine those in first class actually having to wait to use the bathroom? The mayhem! Of course I am writing this with quite a bit of sarcasm and disdain. I clearly remember Naomi and P.B. remarking how nice Lufthansa is, how accommodating the stewards are, etc. I would agree. At the end of the day, however, Lufthansa is a business, a corporation. Their business is not people, it's money. Something I have really taken away from this entire experience is the power of big business, capitalism, globalization, and consumerism. Even though I am fully aware of these things, I directly participate and contribute to the maintenance of all of these institutions. I am hopeful that all of my experiences provide me with a way to push back, to speak out, and to be an ally. I can't change the world, but I know that my passions and commitment to social justice will aid me as I continue to work to understand and speak out about these issues.


Classified and stratified
Tibetans, IDPs, and exiled refugees
Hindu caste
From lower to upper class
First, business, and economy
There's a reason for this taxonomy

Men and women
with their separate spheres
A woman with a voice
is something to be feared

Boarding group 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5
We all fight to be first
while you fight to survive

We all race to the front
while you bear the brunt
of this cruel, cruel world
that does not care
or know you exist
and if you do
we'll separate you out
declare us versus them
and never let you forget
where you stand in line
as you pay for your crime
-of being……alive.

As I wrap up this paper I wanted to reflect on one final thing that always seems to invade my thoughts as I return home from these extended trips. I should note that the past three international trips I have embarked on have been focused on volunteering/service learning, meaning your experience is as close to authentic and real as it gets. Every time I leave I am left wondering if all my caring, sympathy and motivation to be present in the issue will dissipate. It’s easy to fall back into the routine you had before embarking on a journey, especially if the issue is not in your face like it has been for the past month. As I sat on my flight finishing up the previous poem I decided to grab the Lufthansa magazine in the seat pocket and take up some time.

Anyway I’m browsing through this magazine, thinking about how the “Tibetan issue” will become so removed from my life when I come across a full page write up titled, “Western China’s Emerging International City”. This piece was about Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan Province and host to the FORTUNE Global Forum and World Chinese Entrepreneur’s Convention among other things. While at TCHRD I learned about Chengdu (its Tibetan name escapes me) as a prime location for the detainment and sentencing of political prisoners. This piece boasts Chengdu as having “a global transportation network, a vast talent pool, and a comfortable lifestyle” (n.p.). While Chengdu is touted as being “home to more than 50 higher education institutions” (n.p.), I was entering prisoners aged 19 and up into a database, a database that logs all those Tibetans who are arrested, detained, and sentenced by the Chinese government. Many of those whose name I entered were college age, but instead of heading to one of Chengdu’s 50 universities, they were heading to prison, or maybe a labor camp, or maybe they were just going to be tortured for the next 4 months before being released.

In this piece a 20-year-old Chinese man, Wang Liping, was quoted as praising Chengdu for its many opportunities. I wonder- does this person even exist? This idealized version of Chengdu only exists for a select few. The Chengdu that I learned about was much more abrasive, controlling, and limiting in what it had to offer its inhabitants. The Chengdu I learned about had a lot of blood on its hands, but this Chengdu has the world at its fingertips. I quickly realized that the Tibetan issue is very much a part of my reality, it’s just up to me to decide what that means."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

3:AM - Remembering Vincent Harding

3:AM is a leading cultural, literary, philosophical, independent film avant-garde online magazine in London (a kind of more daring New Yorker). It did an interview with me last year on my career as a political philosopher - see here - and published 5 of my poems here; it also named Black Patriots and Loyalists a nonfiction book of the year in 2012 - see here.


The editors have now commissioned a monthly column from me, and the first one is about the recent death of my friend Vincent Harding. You can read the essay here.