June 30, 2016

No such thing as the ‘voiceless’

Project helps Gaza youth proclaim, ‘We are not numbers’
We Are Not Numbers” is the proclamation of Palestinian youth from Gaza – desperate, yet also proud. 
A project known by the same name pairs developing writers from Gaza and the refugee camps of Lebanon with authors/mentors around the world to tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news. And as the second anniversary of the Israeli war on Gaza, "Operation Protective Edge," nears, supporting its goal of lifting up the voices of the voices of the survivors—many of them youth—is critical.
The Forgotten Group
Gaza as a place—1.8 million people—is neglected by most of the world, rarely receiving much more than a shrug between the periodic Israeli assaults. But one group particularly left out of the power politics and aid allocations is young adults. They go into university stretching every penny, and finally graduate to…nothing. Unemployment among this age group is over 60 percent, and one survey showed the incidence of serious depression at more than half. No wonder suicide is increasing at an alarming rate and smuggler boats—including the one that sunk off the coast of Egypt in 2014—are full. Yet most “aid” programs are aimed at women and children.
From Writer to Gaza Project Manager: How The Journey Began
Twenty-one-year-old Ahmed Alnaouq lives in Deir Al-Balah, in the middle of the Gaza StripDuring the Israeli assault of the summer of 2014, his older and only brother was killed by an Israeli missile, while walking on the street near his home.  Ahmed sunk into a depression from which he thought he would never emerge.
During a Facebook conversation, he confessed, “I extremely miss my brother. I go to his grave all the time, and when I am alone, I burst out crying.”
Given Ahmed’s major, English literature (a very common choice among Gaza youth, in the belief it’s the best way to learn the language and win an NGO job), I encouraged him to write about his brother, to celebrate him, rather than hide his grief. Over the next two months, I worked with Ahmed on his essay, pointing out patterns of English problems and tagging spots that could benefit from an anecdote to make the story “come alive.”
When we were done, Ahmed commented that his English-language skills and grasp of storytelling had improved more over those two months than from a year of classes. I realized Ahmed's story needed to be shared, and found a way to publish it for others to read. But with a future that looked dim –with no opportunity to apply what he was learning – Ahmed was increasingly thinking of joining the armed resistance. At least then, he reasoned, he would be doing something to stand up for his people.
My liberal, Western knee-jerk response was to say, “No, don’t do it. Your family already has lost one child. There are other ways to resist.” But then I realized I had nothing to suggest as an alternative.
Thus, We Are Not Numbers was born, and today, Ahmed is the Gaza project manager. 
The Mentors and Writers
Since then, many other mentors have joined me. They are journalists, book authors, communications professionals and bloggers from English-speaking countries around the world. Some are Palestinians, such as Susan Abulhawa (author of “Mornings in Jenin”) and Leila El-Haddad (author of “Gaza Kitchen”). Some are Jewish Americans, such as Miko Peled (author of “The General’s Son”) and Alice Rothchild (physician and author of “Broken Promises, Broken Dream”). Some are journalists (such as Ben Norton from Salon) and others are even comedians (Amer Zahr, author of “Being Palestinian Makes Me Smile”). Many mentors are not “famous,” however—just good writers with a commitment to helping youth, and we are always in need of more, since we have grown to more than 75 writers.

Want to know how you can get involved? Email pam@euromedmonitor.org.

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” --Arundhati Roy

June 24, 2016

Strategizing and planning unique responses

GUEST: Larry Bogad, long time progressive activist, professor of Performance Studies at U.C. Davis, and author of a new book, "Tactical Performance: The theory and practice of serious play," talks about the use of art and drama in facilitating social change.

This was a fun interview. Using art and drama to oppose the empire often gets overlooked in our effort to turn out larger and larger crowds at progressive events. It's all about numbers. But that story has been done before, and even massive crowds fail to get much coverage in our media, obsessed with its two party system for engaging in political debate. 

The two party system is paid for by the same corporations; there is very little debate allowed. There is no testing of the limits of dissent either. For demonstrations, it is "stay within these barricades and go home when we tell you to." 

Tactical performances can liberate the resistance to economic exploitation, racism, and imperialism. Suddenly creativity and humor can be used against the state. Not that we are going to dress up like clowns and hug the cops. That is the enemy of an effective action, the mindless repetition of what has been done before. Maybe the true revolutionary process involves strategizing and planning unique responses to the authoritarian state. 

June 19, 2016

Maybe he did it because of God

GUEST: Reverend Chris Antal, minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Rock Tavern, and founder of the Hudson Valley chapter of Veterans for Peace, talks about his life as a U.S. Army chaplain in Afghanistan and the reasons that he publicly resigned in a letter to President Obama.

I was never morally caught up in the US military. I didn't believe in the Vietnam War, and I didn't want my death to be part of what I saw as a fool's errand. 

In a way, Reverend Antal is a more moral person than I am. He was willing to be part of a killing machine because he saw some ethical reason for what the military was doing in Afghanistan. He joined, in effect, to add his "prophetic voice" to the moral cohesion that he believed he would find once on the battlefield.

The US Military has dropped its call for prophetic voices, preferring to have its chaplains guided by Pentagon propaganda. There was no longer a moral space for Reverend Antal, and he recognized it. Chaplains cannot serve the empire and serve God at the same time.

When Father Daniel Berrigan was speaking in Dutchess County more than a two decades ago, a priest in the audience asked him why the Catholic Church was not opposing the illegal US blockade of Iraq.

"What you are smelling is the stench that comes from the marriage of church and state," Father Berrigan replied. He went on to declare that any religion serving the interests of the state destroys its spiritual authority in the process. 

Reverend Antal, like Daniel Berrigan, came to a moral quandary and chose correctly. Maybe he did it because of God. I like to think it was because of the holiness that we are all capable of experiencing. 

June 10, 2016

Simply determined to do the right thing

GUEST: Kit Kittredge, member of Code Pink who has been to Gaza six times, talks about the "Women's Boat" that will try to sail through the Israeli blockade to expose the suffering of 1.8 million entrapped Palestinians.

Kit was kind enough to explain the heartache that is Gaza. She has made six visits there in the last decade, documenting the declines in basic services like food and drinking water that have made Gaza a living prison for 1.8 Palestinians. It is an American prison, paid for by US tax dollars, and supported by our ambassador at the UN. It is the Israelis who do the actual killing, using drones and periodic invasions. The last Israeli military slaughter in Gaza killed over 550 children by targeting schools with white phosphorus. Yet our Congress, flush with Israeli campaign donations, votes time and time again to congratulate apartheid Israel for its war crimes.

Kit helped us understand Gaza as a textbook example of the American Empire, always mouthing platitudes about human rights while promoting the savage occupation. Hitler praised how America resolved its problem with indigenous populations by fencing them off in reservations. Gaza is such a reservation, in the best spirit of ethnic cleansing and genocide. 

That America also has people willing to risk their lives for Palestinian rights is a bright light in the heart of the empire. Kit will risk her life again because her sense of justice is far greater than any sense of nationalism or self interest. History has its mass murderers like Himmler and Kissinger, but also its heroes like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. And then there are people simply determined to do the right thing with their lives. Like planning to break the blockade on the Women's Boat to Gaza.

June 4, 2016

Eventually part of the resistance

GUEST: Jen Marlowe, award-winning author, documentary filmmaker and playwright, talks about her recent production, "There Is a Field," and how the play helps audiences understand Palestinian suffering.

Jen Marlowe is a multitalented person with a deep sense of fairness. We spent most of the interview talking about her play There is a Field, written about a young Palestinian killed by Israeli soldiers. She had worked with the young man, and wrote the play in collaboration with his sister.

She describes the goal of her plays, documentary films, and books as the education of the American people. Without the consent of US citizens, Israel couldn't occupy Palestinian land, destroy their houses, and murder their children. The occupation and the apartheid treatment of millions of Palestinians will be forever a part of the story of the American Empire. That such suffering and injustice were constantly defended by the US media will be proof of how effective pro Israel propaganda was during our decades of war making. 

So it was quite natural that Jen would turn her attention to the blatant racism facing people of color in the heart of the empire. Her book on Troy Davis, again written in conjunction with the victim's sister, exposes how young Black men are falsely accused, denied fair trials, abused by the prison system, and often murdered by the state. Of course the two liberation movements are connected; Black and Palestinian lives don't matter in the least to an empire built on exploitation and violence. 

We had a call during the interview. A man told us that we were "depressing" him. I told him that was good, he was getting the picture. "Would you prefer being ignorant?" I asked him. Change won't happen until millions of Americans get depressed by what our government is doing. Depressed, disgusted, angry, and eventually part of the resistance.