Profiting Off Pain

“Live simply so that others may simply live.”

Suffering is a significant piece of the human experience – loss, pain and struggle are part of the journey. It is when suffering is intentionally caused – created for the pleasure or pursuits of one group at the explicit expense of another – that it becomes evil. Suffering that stems from greed, corruption, exploitation, theft, and the desire to control or possess, this is the kind of suffering I encountered in Palestine – gratuitous and unjust suffering due to inhumane (and illegal) practices.

The way in which the state of Israel profits off oppression, occupation and colonization is atrocious. Take, for example, the precious resource of water. Below are photos of an aqueduct in the Jordan Valley used by Bedouin for generations. It has dried up due to the recent digging of a deep Israeli well 30 feet away. The captured water goes to growing Israeli dates for export, at the expense of those who need water for their livelihood and survival. Not only is this stolen water vastly cheaper to purchase for Israelis than Palestinians (who now have to purchase that which has been a part of their lives for millennia, but they no longer have access to), Israelis use four-to-six times the amount of water compared to Palestinians. And if that weren’t bad enough, there are advertisements for a water park in the area – allowing those with access to water to indulge in its excesses, all the while those without access continue to suffer.

Land theft presents another area of profitable injustice. From Israel conquering over 78% of Palestinian land with it’s establishment in 1948 to its occupying the rest of the land in 1967 to building a wall that concretely separates Palestinians from their land to establishing illegal settlements in the areas the wall doesn’t reach, Palestinians are confined to ever diminishing spaces in their own homeland.

It was the fears of Daoud, activist and resident of Silwan, that brought home to me the ever-present fears of losing what little remains within Palestinian communities. In the picture below, the Mount of Olives is on the right, and Silwan, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem and home to 55,000 Palestinians, is on the left. Daoud shared that more than 700 demolition orders have been issued for Silwan, with the goal of removing Palestinians from this area and using the land to create gardens for tourists. These “development programs” are strategic attempts at further population removal and to transform this ancient Palestinian community into a type of Disneyland park for Holy Land tourism. Contrary to Israeli propaganda, residents of Silwan are not poor or unorganized, they are simply not free to determine the future of their own community and forced to live within an unjust legal system that promotes Israeli self-interest at their expense. (To learn more about Silwan’s demolitions, check out this Al Jazeera report: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/09/silwan-demolitions-destroying-jerusalem-170920080554388.html)

Land and water theft are only two examples of the pernicious ways in which Israel seeks to prosper at the expense of Palestinians. Exporting structural control of peoples is the larger project, profiting from their security and military expertise and their ability to export mechanisms of control (surveillance, military training, wall construction, etc.) to other countries. The United States is a huge supporter of Israel precisely because our government seeks out this expertise for economic gain.

Outraged yet? Good. Fear not, for there are hopeful and effective ways to participate in resistance!

To challenge these atrocities, the Palestinian community has created the powerful resistance movement Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), specifically targeting some of the major Israeli companies that benefit economically off occupation and oppression of their people. Activists throughout our tour repeatedly encouraged us – if you want to help our cause, if you want to stand with us in solidarity, please participate in our BDS campaigns. Next week’s blog will highlight these amazing efforts, and how you can be part of the solution. Stay tuned!

 

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Colonies and Colonization

 

Settler colonial occupation. These words have been added to my everyday vocabulary, and my framework for understanding the world, since my visit to Palestine. It’s not that I hadn’t heard them before, or that I don’t know the history of my own country – but I’ve been trained to ignore such history, to silence the disturbing questions this history raises, and to think of such atrocities as happening centuries ago in the United States, before our country was “civilized.” The benefits I have as a Euro-American are so normalized that I’m often an unquestioning benefactor of the ill-gotten gains of land theft, resource theft, ethnic cleansing and targeted killing that continue to shape my country and its vast assets that are enjoyed by some at the expense of others.

Palestine has suffered from Israel’s colonial settler project for 100 years. Since the catastrophe of 1947, more than 550 villages have been destroyed, over 7 million refugees live in diaspora and another 720,000 live as refugees in their own land. All the while, their homeland has been filled with more than 600,000 Israeli settlers and the establishment of more than 240 illegal settlements/outposts (https://uscpr.org/learn/togetherwerise/not-that-complicated/#1497288348678-2211f8d9-4819). Current practices of home demolitions, targeting of villages, occupation, military control, and mass incarceration, as well as land and resource theft, continue at aggressive rates. All the while, Israeli propaganda is hard at work actively spinning webs of lies to confuse people, distort reality and rewrite history.

 

Recently destroyed homes in Qalandiya, just outside of Jerusalem

Two members of our delegation, Amy Juan and Nellie David, Native Americans of the Tohono O’odham Nation on the U.S./Mexico border, helped me make sense of the current realities in Palestine and their intricate connections with the centuries of colonizing practices in the United States.

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Amy and Nellie with Bedouin shepherd Abu Saqr

The ways in which their experiences have paralleled those of the Palestinian people is revealing: similar experiences of being relegated to a confined piece of land and separated from their larger community due to outsider created and imposed borders, of being a desert people whose access to water has been stolen, and of seeing their land filled checkpoints and surveillance towers to control their movements and limit their freedom. The ways in which both indigenous peoples had European governments give away their land, colonists come and try to wipe out their existence, and when that failed, sought to re-write history to “civilize,” assimilate and eradicate their ancient cultures also matches. Both groups live with the reality that their very existence negates the false history of settlers that the land they settled in was unoccupied, free for the taking. Their very presence compromises the propaganda of “benevolent benefactors.” Even the rhetoric with which their oppressors sought/seek to dehumanize the indigenous communities was/is similar: poor, uneducated, unorganized, criminal. The maps below provide a visual of the parallel realities of land loss both indigenous groups have endured – and continue to fight: (https://uscpr.org/learn/togetherwerise/freedom-bound/)

 

In witnessing the Palestinian experience of aggressive and blatant attempts at colonization, I couldn’t help but think of the history of the United States. Conversations with Amy and Nellie helped me connect dots not only with U.S. history, but also to the ongoing realities of living in our colonial context. Many of the parallels listed above are from their current – 21st century – struggles for freedom, justice and self-determination, especially as the U.S. continues to militarize the border with Mexico, 75 miles of which are on Tohono O’odham land.

As the United States celebrates Thanksgiving, a holiday steeped in apocryphal myths of colonial and indigenous relationships, it is important to remember our country’s larger history of colonization: occupation, land and resource theft, and ongoing mistreatment of the first peoples of the land. As people gather around tables of abundance and offer gratitude for what they have, it is important to also acknowledge the ways in which what many in the United States have belonged to people long before the U.S. existed, and in many cases was violently taken from them. In this season of gratitude, I encourage you to keep in mind the ways in which the relationship between those who have and those who do not is intricately connected. In claiming this truth, may we continue working toward a day when our country truly provides freedom and justice for all.

Safety and (in)Security

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Jamal Juma’ – Palestinian activist, freedom fighter and our group leader

I’ve been struck by the number of people who’ve expressed concern for my safety while I was away. From close friends to congregants to the kind man who cooks me kabobs every Saturday. Again and again, with genuine concern in their voices, people let me know that they have worried about me. Setting aside the illusoriness of “safety” in the first place, I simply respond, “Yes, I’m home safe, but I now carry with me the names and faces of many for whom safety is an unaffordable luxury.”

I’ve also been asked countless times how safe I felt when traveling. At first, the question is surprising – while in Palestine I was surrounded by welcome and warmth everywhere I went. In fact, it was for the purpose of bringing safety that we spent a day with olive pickers (harvest time can be quite dangerous for Palestinians without an international presence providing witness to potential violence). Far from fear, I felt a deep connection with the people I visited – a sense of unity, friendship, and joy.

But then, I remember the guns – massive guns in the arms of Israeli soldiers throughout the area. I remember the checkpoints, the people I witnessed being harassed by soldiers, and the times we were sternly warned about our behavior lest we attracted attention. I remember my own fear while traveling of Israeli airport security who had the power to deny me entry or detain me for questioning. I remember the fear in a young woman’s eyes as she was forcibly removed from our bus in Qalandiya.

Questions of safety can be tricky. Who determines safety, what constitutes security, and how does fear get manipulated in the argument? When appeals for safety are made, it is important to ask: safety for whom and at what cost? Too often it is in the name of “security” that governments enact unjust practices, ensuring long term insecurity.

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Arguments for safety typically use fear as a weapon to control people, behavior and thinking – a frequent tactic of both Israeli and U.S. governments. Throughout the West Bank we passed giant red signs warning us of the dangers of entry into Palestinian villages. These signs were symbolic of the many invisible walls that separate Palestinians from Israelis, lest fraternization lead to friendship. These signs reminded me of my own beloved Oakland, and its notorious national reputation that is anything but an accurate depiction of the people who call it home.

Fear is powerful, working on multiple levels to alienate people from one another, from our humanity, and from our ability to think and act ethically. At the mercy of fear, we allow ourselves to be divided into subgroups that separate us into “good” and “safe” people versus “questionable,” “bad,” or “dangerous” people. At the mercy of fear, we forgo our shared humanity, allowing false dichotomies to distort reality. At the mercy of fear, we allow ourselves to transition to survival ethics, thinking only of personal or in group safety. Ironically, it is fear itself, with its ability to separate, alienate and dehumanize, that carries with it the self-fulfilling prophecy of creating situations for violence to erupt.

Appealing to the rhetoric of fear, the U.S. government has been able to increase military spending on activities that threaten our long-term safety, the Department of Homeland Security has promoted racial profiling and intrusive surveillance, incarceration rates of people of color and mass deportation have skyrocketed (becoming a modern U.S. form of ethnic cleansing), and a few powerful people have made obnoxious amounts of money in the process.

It’s not that we don’t have things to be truly afraid of, but there is a very real danger of selling our collective souls to the devil of safety, destroying our ability to care, to connect, to befriend and love. Creating “safety” for one group at the expense of another never leads to peace. As fear levels continue to rise in the United States – going to a concert or movie theater no longer feels safe, walking the streets of an urban center or running a marathon no longer feels safe, attending school or a place of worship no longer feels safe – let’s be cautious of the ways in which these emboldened fears will be used against us to create further walls that separate us from one another, our humanity, and our ability to know, understand and work for real peace.

May our faith in connection, kindness, justice and mercy be greater than our fears for safety.

World Without Walls

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Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church works and prays for a World Without Walls; as we sang for justice, we acknowledged, “As our land does to others, O Lord, we do to you”

From Palestine to Oakland – we stand united.

November 9 marks the 28th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a teen, I had large poster in my bedroom celebrating this revolutionary day of reunification. While living in Berlin (1996), I would walk along beautiful pathways where the wall once stood – pathways that had been transformed from concrete barriers and a massive death strip to open spaces that provided city-dwellers with connection to nature and one another. The freedom of movement that these open spaces provided gave me time to reflect weekly on the hope of peoples transcending separation and division, learning to live side by side. That many Germans warmly greeted me, laughing at my American need to power-walk through these beautiful trails, only confirmed the joy of befriending strangers and learning from one another.

Dismantlement is the ultimate outcome of all walls that seek to divide, dehumanize and destroy – but what human costs must be borne by the unending cycles of violence before the walls come tumbling down? November 9 is also the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a night of mass murder, destruction and deportation. Our current realities are pointing us far more in this direction of history. There is much dismantling work to do to end the ongoing construction of walls that destroy lives, communities and hope.Today it is time we unite against the global proliferation of walls – we call for November 9 as Global Day of Action for a World without Walls..png

November 9 is a Global Day of Action for a World Without Walls. Anti-wall protests are taking place in more than 25 countries today, and throughout this week. Together, we are joining our voices in outrage at the nearly 70 concrete walls that are destroying lives and lands. These walls:

are monuments of expulsion, exclusion, oppression, discrimination and exploitation… Israel has been central in promoting this new global era of walls and the US has risen to back it up: From India, to Saudi Arabia, to Turkey, Western Sahara and Europe, today, the number of walls designed to forcibly define and seal borders has almost tripled over the last two decades. These walls bar the right to freedom of movement and self-determination. They have become cornerstones in a world where wars, militarization and exclusion are to substitute justice, freedom and equality. https://www.stopthewall.org/2017/06/19/november-9-global-day-action-world-without-walls

Here are a few ways to consider joining in this global protest:

  • Identify walls (both visible and invisible) that wreck havoc in your communities – name them, protest them, work to dismantle them
  • Support an organization that is actively building bridges
  • Pay attention to how our tax dollars are being spent to erect racist walls of separation, and how these actions are being challenged
  • Learn more about the walls that are being built across the globe, why they’re being built, and how you can help build an alternative world
  • Commit yourself to the work of freedom, justice and equality
  • Post your solidarity with the global day of action through the hashtag #worldwithoutwalls
  • Livestream Nov. 10 and 11 workshops on resisting walls, from the U.S.-Mexico border to Palestine http://fosna.nationbuilder.com/encuentro_livestream
  • Share how you are participating in the reply section of this blogpost!

28 years ago, one massive government-controlled wall of oppression was overthrown. Together we can overthrow them all.

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Reunification statue at the Berlin Wall Memorial

 

 

Israel’s Wall

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The story is told of Netanyahu visiting China, eager to learn wisdom from a country of master wall builders. When he spoke with China’s Prime Minister, inquiring about what his country has learned from their experiences with the Great Wall, the Prime Minister responded, “if you really want to learn from us, don’t build a wall, but build good relationships with the people around you. This is what we’ve learned.”

But wisdom is often not really what people want to hear.

Israel has spent the past 15 years constructing a wall that is currently over 450 miles long (over 500 when complete) and as high as 26.25 feet (twice the height of the Berlin Wall). The wall, in violation of United Nations international law and the Oslo peace accords, snakes through the West Bank devastating communities and capitalizing on the area’s best land. It separates and isolates the Palestinian people not just from Israelis but from one another, creating ghetto communities, suppressing movement, annexing land, and robing Palestinians of precious resources that they have been connected to for millennia (water, fertile soil, and minerals, to name a few).

In addition to this wall, there are over 600 checkpoints and barriers that limit access to cities, districts, villages and communities (including 34 fortified checkpoints; 22 terminals for cars and workers). Built purportedly for security, the wall and checkpoints serve as a visible manifestation of the many ways Palestinians are living under occupation, in apartheid conditions that are grounded in racism, discrimination and ethnic cleansing strategies. For more info on Israel’s wall, check out https://stopthewall.org/the-wall.

And yet, to point a finger at Israel in scathing contempt wouldn’t do justice to my own government’s actions in wall promotion and construction. Did you know that the United States gives more money in foreign aid to Israel than any other country? Or that we’ve turned to Israel for their expertise not only in wall building, but in Homeland Security protocols and policing methods? The artistic renderings at the Bethlehem wall, below, point to the depth of pathological love between our lands:

 

 

Visible walls are concrete manifestations of the multitude of invisible walls society creates and perpetuates to divide and conquer peoples, lands, cultures and communities. Even as the United States seeks to fortify it’s border wall with Mexico, U.S. society has long capitalized on the creation of social and economic divisions, often in the name of security, that prevent people from truly knowing one another and working together. Invisible walls that divide us by race, class, gender, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship, education, geography, sexual orientation and political party, to name a few, wreck havoc on our ability to create communities that span difference and promote equality, justice and freedom for all.

November 9 is a global day of action to demand a world without walls. I invite you to find a way to participate – in prayer, in action, in resistance, in community – to join your voice with people from over 25 countries saying, ENOUGH. We can, and we must, do better. Together, let us break down the dividing walls of hostility that poison our humanity. Let us heed the wisdom of building good relationships with those around us – especially those from whom our governments would seek to divide us.

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expressing my anger
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chipping away at the walls that divide us

Pilgrimage and Perspective

I recently traveled to Israel and Palestine. The trip was a spiritual pilgrimage for me – not so much to walk in the physical places Jesus walked, but more importantly, to walk among the people Jesus walked with, a people who knew occupation and oppression, those to whom he proclaimed hope and healing. As expected, the experience was transformative. This blog details what I encountered during my travels, and how these experiences continue to shed light on my ministry.

My travels were part of a World Without Walls movement that protests the destructive construction of walls throughout the globe used to separate peoples, destroy communities, reify racism and nationalism, and perpetuate injustice. I was part of a delegation of Mexican and U.S. activists to learn about Israel’s Wall and the devastation it is causing the Palestinian people, even as President Trump is working with Israeli companies to fortify the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. You can learn more about this delegation here https://stopthewall.org/2017/10/11/worldwithoutwalls-delegation-arrives-palestine.

Our hosts encouraged us to learn more about Israeli tools of oppression – tools that are being exported throughout the world and particularly to the United States – and to make connections between the Palestinian experience and the many experiences of oppression in our own lands. Further, they shared multiple strategies of resistance that can equally be exported to different struggling communities to build stronger resistance movements across the globe.

This blog will give voice to the people I met and their stories, as I experienced them and was invited to share them. It will also allow me to share what I learned on this sacred pilgrimage and continue to learn as I integrate my experiences from the trip with my life in the U.S. Finally, it will allow me to add my own voice to the struggles for freedom, justice and equality that are taking place all around us.

There is no shortage of information on the Palestinian people and their struggles, and I do not seek to speak on their behalf. I do want to bear witness to what I saw and heard, and how my experiences have given me a clearer understanding of the many struggles of those in my own community. Further, there is no shortage of people giving voice to the struggle, many of whom are more articulate, and more insightful, than I. And yet, I have the need to add my voice to the mix – in my own way, from my own positionality – and to incorporate my voice with the many others who are calling all people to a higher standard of living. This blog is not meant to be a monologue. Please ask questions, raise alternative views, and help me further understand what it means to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly in our world.

I invite you to journey with me as I give voice to the struggle.