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Opinion and Analysis From the Grassroots

The Conflict in Palestine/Israel Cries Out for Justice
By Meghan Walsh

Meghan Walsh

When people ask me about my interest and slight obsession with the Middle East, I always fumble with a response. The progression is blurry, but I guess I would trace it back to my older brother, Matt. After years of studying and questioning American and Israeli policy, he set out to see for himself in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. I remember the August day in 2008 when my brother returned and I sensed that something was different; he was not the person I had known one month prior. A complete internal change had occurred as anyone can attest to after looking into the eyes of the oppressed, anywhere in this world. Since those fateful days, I have spent eight weeks in this troubled region, and I have joined the “club.”

Occupation is an ugly thing. It is not dormant because in order to control people there must be an active force invoking fear on a daily basis. No Palestinian lives outside the reality of occupation—harassment at checkpoints, arbitrary arrest and detention, complete absence of freedom of movement. After 43 years of occupation, however, most Palestinians have gradually lost that sense of fear and have replaced it with strength and resistance.

One of the main actors in this struggle, a true Palestinian Gandhi, is Iyad Burnat. He is from the small village of Bil’in in the occupied West Bank. This village has lost much of its land due to the separation wall that was constructed by Israel for “security” reasons, yet the wall does not fall on internationally recognized borders. Burnat, and others from the Bil’in Popular Committee, organize protests every Friday; they lead residents, Israeli activists and international supporters to protest the theft of their land. The soldiers await the protestors’ arrival at the fence, heavily armed and shielded.

I quickly and unexpectedly experienced the demonstrators’ weekly reality of getting tear gassed—an intense burning of the lungs, throat, nose and eyes in which every breath you attempt becomes more difficult. Besides its effect on the body, it should be mentioned that the high velocity tear gas canisters can take the form of a weapon.

A grave near the separation wall honors a former leader of the protests, Bassem Abu Rahme, shot in the chest by a tear gas canister in 2009. Sadly, he is not the only protestor who has been killed in demonstrations and more than 1,000 protestors have been injured. Stun grenades, rubber bullets and live ammunition have also been employed. Armed repression and collective punishment are prohibited under international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Other victims, who have managed to elude death from this disproportionate use of force, are Tristan Anderson from California and Emily Henochowicz, a young Jewish girl from Maryland. The former suffered a traumatic brain injury and blindness in his right eye, and Henochowicz, an artist, lost her left eye.

Despite these risks, the nonviolent movement is growing and will continue to grow. Knowing the power that comes with mobilized groups of people, leaders are now being arrested for incitement and “illegal” protests. Many Palestinians have been taken from their homes in the middle of the night for partaking in these protests and are now being held in Israeli prisons. Burnat’s home has been visited repeatedly during nighttime raids, and we asked his young son if he was afraid of the soldiers. He smiled bashfully and assured us he was not afraid.

My encounter with the Hannoun family of Sheikh Jarrah is forever embedded in my memory. They are literally homeless in their own neighborhood, in front of their former house, where Jewish settlers now reside. The Hannoun family lived here for decades, and now they sit helpless in the streets with no system of justice that will support them. The tent in which they sleep has been torn down repeatedly by the police, yet they continue to maintain a presence because they will not give up on their home, or their dignity. Sharihan Hannoun is 21 years old and she goes to college just like I do, but when I escape to my apartment each night after class, Sharihan does not know what her fate will be at any given hour.

During my time spent living and working in the Askar refugee camp in the West Bank, I witnessed an unmatched resilience and zest for life that I did not expect to see. Walking through the streets of the overpopulated camps, I learned some lessons as an individualistic American when strangers invited me in for tea and showered me with undeserved hospitality.

I find it quite ironic and sad that one must travel across the world in order to bring back a message that counters popular perceptions and says “wow these people are just like us!” But really, they are just like us—the same hopes and ambitions, the same desire for purpose and love in their lives. I hung out with my new Palestinian friends as I would hang out with my friends at home—going out to coffee and hookah, singing, laughing and making fun of the other internationals at times. And during some moments, I would forget about the reality and the one difference that does exist between us—that they have never known a life free from occupation.

Throughout my precious, and challenging, time in the region, it would be nice to think that I was outside of this bubble of conflict—an objective bystander. As an American, however, I am not, and this is from where my overwhelming sense of responsibility stems.

It must be known that as Americans, we are very much embedded in this controversy because Israel receives more foreign aid from our government than any other country in the world. Israel is expected to receive $30 billion in military aid in 2009–2018. The United States, since 1972, has used its veto power 42 times to prevent the adoption of UN resolutions condemning Israeli actions.

In addition to the grassroots Palestinian movements, many brave Israelis are calling for boycotts and showing solidarity at demonstrations in the aforementioned Bil’in and Sheikh Jarrah. They believe that equality and freedom of all people would be more indicative of a true “Jewish” state. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated that, “No lie can live forever.” Both Palestinians and Israelis, along with a growing number of Americans, are beginning to expose this lie of inequality and injustice piece by piece, and it is only a matter of time until the expansion of truth evokes the freedom and justice that is being cried out for.
*****
Meghan Walsh is working on her master’s in peace and justice studies at the University of San Diego. In the summer of 2009, she worked in a refugee camp in Nablus, Palestine, and she spent the summer of 2010 with a delegation known as Interfaith Peace Builders (www.ifpb.org). Contact her at megwalsh4@gmail.com.


Eco-Village Project

By Al Williams

Al Williams

Homeless people from the Park Side area, homeless advocates from all over Fresno and, equally important, people from the Park Side neighborhood are ready to begin construction of the first model of the Eco-Village Project. There are some in the hood who hate homeless people, but NIMBY (not in my backyard) does not usually apply in the Park Side area.

Most of the homeless people in the Park Side area are well known by those who live in the neighborhood, therefore they present virtually no problem or threat to the neighborhood. There are several whom you may see in public consuming a beer, and you may even see one or two smoking a joint. Duhhh. How many of you gotta have that beer, or shot of booze, or glass of wine or smoke a joint when you get home, or inside to safety. Homeless people don’t have the privy of going home to safety, or inside. Remember, they are homeless. Take away your walls to hide behind (your house), and guess what, you’re just like them, homeless, but still a human being.

Yes, there a few homeless people who are total screw-ups, putting it mildly, and a couple of lost children (i.e., those with mental issues), but the people of the Park Side community know who those are, and the neighborhood deals with those individuals.

The majority of the homeless people that reside in the Park Side area have some skills, mostly in construction or landscaping. They’re just lacking work to get back in pace with everyday life and a place to live that doesn’t cost $1,500 or more to move into.

By the time one becomes homeless, his/her credit is shot, gone, depleted. Lose the credit check bull. It’s a scam anyway when you have to pay $15 to $50 for a credit check that you/they (whoever gets the money) know you are going to fail. Besides, if 100 people or more apply, still only one person gets the house, and someone makes a lot of money. The Eco-Village Project eliminates all that caca and gets people off the streets, with a safe place to sleep, do their hygiene, even kick back and actually relax without having the police or anyone telling you that you got to go. That is important in a person’s life. That is a human right. That is within our reach as a community.

What is unique about the Eco-Village Project is that it is not a rescue mission, a Poverello House kind of band-aid designed to maintain a consistent number of homeless people in the area in order to receive more money for itself. Nor is the Eco-Village Project an out-and-out handout.

The Eco-Village offers an opportunity for a person to actually take him/herself out of homelessness with dignity. These studio-type apartments will be built by homeless people who have construction skills and knowledge, with the help and guidance of students from nearby colleges and universities including Fresno State, Fresno Pacific and Fresno City College, along with Art Dyson, a prominent architect, and people from the neighborhood, among other people from throughout the city. The Eco-Village will have a resource area to help the people residing in the Eco-Village to support themselves.

Dyson, who has lectured on Eco-Villages and homelessness worldwide, says that “based on the premise that each citizen should enjoy basic rights to peaceful sleep, dignity, health and a chance for employment, and productive work, the Eco-Village concept emerged. The basic concept is a holistic approach to resolving the issue of homelessness.

“It will cultivate health and emerging leadership in the homeless community, ultimately empowering the homeless themselves to utilize their personal restoration as a catalyst to positive change in their lives, creating steady cultural adjustments that support sustainable and cooperative, healthy societies. Once built, it will be totally sustainable through alternative energy design and income generated by the particular economic component proposed for each village.”

This project is not designed for all homeless people in Fresno but for approximately 40%, or 6,000–8,000 out of Fresno’s 15,000–20,000 homeless. We are asking the public (the residents of Fresno and elsewhere) to help with this humane Eco-Village project by way of providing labor, materials, land, suggestions and cash donations. To assist with this project or for more information, e-mail alphonsowill62@yahoo.com or adyson@att.net or call 559-352-1979.
*****
Al Williams is a homeless advocate and a Board member of the Community Alliance. Contact him at alphonsowill62@yahoo.com.

A Green Strategy to Win in November
By Richard Gomez

Richard Gomez

The American Revolution started with the shot heard around the world at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. A Green Party victory, with Laura Wells leading the way by being elected governor of California, would be a thunderous, shattering blow to the bickering partisanship and sleazy corporate-owned politics as usual in America. A wake-up call to the world that a new day and a new way have arrived, because finally the people have taken hold of the promise that elections were originally meant to be put into their hands. All we need for this revolutionary victory for humanity to happen is a 90% turnout at the polls in this November’s election. An impossibility? All that is needed is for each registered voter to individually vote. That’s all!

In a midterm election, we’ll be lucky to have 35% to 45% of the voters showing up at the polls; that’s normal for the last three decades. The media will downplay the significance of low voter turnout in the November elections, refusing to acknowledge that the voters are smart enough to have figured out what is going on. They’re being hoodwinked, lied to and cheated out of good governance. So why bother to go vote?

Millions of dollars are again being spent on paid political advertisement (aka propaganda) by each of the two major parties to convince the voters that the other candidate is a child of Satan sent to California to do great evil. Voters will be overwhelmed through television and newspaper by this toxic sludge of politics.

Now, there are those who would complain to me and say that the two major parties have different ideals. That may be true, but once they’re elected they seem to do the same things the other one did; so what’s the point in saying they’re different? The media and the major parties don’t have to care because only those voters who vote will count and a winner will be declared, regardless of what the majority of voters— who didn’t vote— think. Unless we were to all vote, and how difficult can that be?

I have worked the polls on Election Day many times, and I have seen all kinds of people vote. I remember one woman who came in with her entire family every time to vote. She went into the booth with two kids hanging on her arms, another two clutching her legs, a smiling sprite strapped to her back, another being cradled, her newest baby, in front, and her eldest child waiting outside while she voted. He was older than 14 so she legally couldn’t bring him into the booth with her. When those children became eligible to vote, they were there to vote, saying that it was just the way they were raised.

Another lady, her husband, and family members, when they were old enough, came to the polls all together every time. Eventually the children grew up and moved away and her husband died, but she was always there to vote. The last time I saw her, she was living alone in the house where she had raised her children. She had become fragile. We talked and, although I did enjoy seeing her show up each time to vote, I suggested that it was time to use the mail-in ballot because it would be easier for her. She did so because old age wasn’t going to stop her from her constitutional right to vote.

Now I know what you’re thinking: There is no point in voting if the major candidates are going to win anyway. Well, a 90% turnout means that at least more than double the usual number of voters will vote. It also means that whoever the majority of those voters support will win.

As an individual, you probably haven’t found a good person to support for governor. Well, I believe that California deserves someone like Laura Wells, who has a background in finance, management and political innovation. But check out her Web site at www.laurawells.org. You can contact me for more information about all the Green Party candidates.

Finally, it’s up to you to realize that a large turnout says that you and a whole lot of other registered voters have had enough and are ready to do something about it, and that’s how you start a revolution. That’s something that the major parties don’t want you to do. That’s all!
*****
Richard Gomez is a councilperson of the Fresno County Green Party and can be reached at 559-269-3828 or nate136_66@yahoo.com or on FaceBook.

Don’t Let the “Inevitable” Bite Us
By Ruth Gadebusch

Ruth Gadebusch
Ruth Gadebusch

With all the polls indicating that the Democrats will not fare well in the coming election, it is easy to sit back and let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is not inevitable unless we let it be.

I remind the old-timers to think back to that headline, “Dewey Wins.” To the young, I say don’t expect instant gratification from the Obama presidency. And, in case you don’t remember a history lesson about “President Dewey,” your memory is not failing. It was Truman who won that election!

It is all too easy to concentrate on what has not been accomplished in the time since that joyous night of such high expectations nearly two years ago. In the scheme of things, two years isn’t much. Plus, knock off a few months until inauguration and add an opposition like none the nation has ever seen before, then the wonder is that anything has been accomplished at all.

We elected a man who promised reconciliation, a different Washington. Instead, the political climate has become more and more contentious; however, the fault does not lie with President Obama. He kept extending a hand long after many of us felt it was useless. The opposition was not going to cooperate in any way whatsoever. Just think what it would be with a McCain-Palin administration. That should be enough to clear anyone’s head of doubts about voting this November.

Then there are the members of the President’s own party who have not exactly shown courage in support. In other words, the expected support has been hard to come by. When one tacks on the Senate’s arcane rules, we have to again wonder how anything has been accomplished.

This economic situation, the worst in many a decade, was not created by this administration. It was inherited from an administration that blew a surplus, creating a deficit that they are now so concerned about. There are those, including some Ds, who think that tax cuts for the wealthy will pull us out of this morass, while we have the largest gap in history between the lower paid workers and the top. How do we think returning to those who created the mess will improve the lot of ordinary citizens? This is the story that we progressives—liberals—must tell.

Those who fail to vote are abdicating a responsibility as well as missing an opportunity. Every vote counts. We often hear how one vote made English, instead of German, the language of this country, or how one vote made Hitler the chairman of the Nazi party. Here at home, we had two close elections in a Board of Supervisors and a City Council election requiring weeks to assure that every vote was counted properly.

We have district representation but all manner of shenanigans are played about candidates’ residences. We have candidates who seem to just want to get elected to something, anything. They run regularly with little thought given to the office. We have important school board elections where candidates have no opposition showing little interest from the electorate. We have a school bond election that demands a yes vote to keep faith with our future. It does matter and staying at home is not a viable option for protest.

If we allow the “tea party” to take over, we deserve what we get, but the price will be high. We make a grave error if we think the damage is only to the Republican Party, that some of the strange characters, who have won their primaries, can’t get elected. Strange things do happen.

It is easy to get discouraged because we haven’t accomplished all that we expected, but we should be celebrating all that has been done. We must convince those who see only the negative that there is still hope. We need not succumb to the grim prophecy that the president’s party always loses in the midterm. My preaching to the choir is unnecessary. We will vote, but we must do more. Our responsibility is to motivate those who believe they are unaffected, or just disappointed, to go to the polls this November as they did in 2008. The stakes are high.
*****
Ruth Gadebusch, a community activist, is a former member of the Fresno Unified Board of Education, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.

The U.S. Supports Brutal Dictators
By Patrick Young

Patrick Young

The United States has supported undemocratic brutal butchering governments in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay—actually, you could just go through all the (southern part of) the Western Hemisphere.

Governments as utterly repugnant and savage as El Salvador and Guatemala had no problems (except crocodile tears and toothless “warnings”) about their death squad activity. The Duvalier dynasty, the Somozas—the list of murderous dictatorships the U.S. supported is as long as your arm. This is fact.

As a more recent example, the Mexican government has death squads operating all over southern Mexico, murdering indigenous people with impunity using U.S.-supplied weaponry. I visited the town known as Actael just a few months after the Mexican death squads murdered 54 people during a church service there, killing an infant, 14 children, nine men and the rest women. I met the people and saw the graves. The U.S. response? Tsk tsk.

We are the big boys on the block and historically have never given a whit about human rights or democracy in Latin America. It is repulsive to me to call the succeeding governments “pro-U.S.” What does that mean?

If the American public was fully aware of the mini-genocide in Chile, the 250,000 slain in Guatemala, the distinctively brutal rule of “President for Life” Duvalier in Haiti (I’d write more, but the list would simply go on and on), they wouldn’t call these thugs “pro U.S.” because the real citizens of the United States stand for something. We don’t like dictators or torturers.

This regional hegemony has been U.S. policy ever since we ascended to the most powerful nation in the Western Hemisphere, taking over Spain’s possessions with the help of local independence fighters, then immediately afterward wiping them out and simply assuming Spain’s role as imperial power in each respective nation.

If you are not blinded by (false) patriotism, do a Google search for any of the following: Smedley Butler, El Salvador and human rights, Guatemala 1954 military coup, Honduras and Battalion 316 or Contras and cocaine. Again, I’ll stop because the list is endless.

I don’t know what kind of game Brazil is playing with its new “security” agreement, but I am positive it will have no benefit for the people of Brazil beyond a few jobs maybe doing laundry on U.S. bases.

The U.S. elite through their lackey politicians does nothing in smaller and weaker countries (i.e., all of Latin America and the Caribbean) except follow their own interests and has no intention in the least of helping the people in these terribly impoverished countries. This is historical fact, and a few token USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) projects don’t change the overwhelming evidence to the contrary or balance the hopelessly lopsided scales.

And I must add that when I say “U.S.,” I really do not mean the United States of America and the many freedom-loving people who loathe dictatorships and death squads. I mean the ruling elite that install our president, Congress and Supreme Court.

The official U.S. policy of supporting human rights and democracy for other nations is so full of holes you could drive an aircraft carrier through it. To say that U.S. military arrangements with Latin America have brought the people of those nations anything but suffering, repression and dictatorship would be untrue. Sadly, when I discuss these issues with most friends, they usually just say something like “whoa, that’s so depressing” and just throw up their hands like we do every few years when presented with mediocre candidates/pawns of the rich every election cycle.

I’ve spent the last 25 years in Central America and the Caribbean, mostly in countries at war such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas (Mexico) and Haiti. Any true believers in free and fair elections, human rights and self-determination would want our leaders jailed for war crimes given past and present behavior in those nations.

It gives me no pleasure—actually it gives me great sadness—to know about U.S. foreign policy in this region in depth. I honestly wish I’d never looked under the rock. I just got curious during the 1980s after the Salvadoran government raped and murdered four U.S. nuns and killed an archbishop and the U.S. response was to say “Now stop that!” and then after a month or so to resume arms shipments.

The people that run our nation, our politicians and “leaders” don’t even believe in democracy for our own nation. Why would one think they’d care about it in Latin America?
*****
Patrick Young is an Army veteran and retired government/history teacher.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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