December, 2009



Dec 09

“A Lesson on Nonviolence for the President” (and where to find Gaza Freedom March updates)

I never had a chance to post anything about the Nobel Peace Prize, but Eric Stoner did a better job of it than me at Foreign Policy in Focus anyway, so here  it is….

Also, for Gaza Freedom March updates check out the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation blog, we’ve been trying to compile updates there. Mondoweiss is also carrying updates, and of course there’s the Gaza Freedom March site itself.

Here’s Eric Stoner:

A Lesson on Nonviolence for the President

Obama receives the Peace Prize. Credit: White House.In Oslo last week, President Barack Obama ironically used his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize to deliver a lengthy defense of the “just war” theory and dismiss the idea that nonviolence is capable of addressing the world’s most pressing problems.

After quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and giving his respects to Gandhi — two figures that Obama has repeatedly called personal heroes — the new peace laureate argued that he “cannot be guided by their examples alone” in his role as a head of state.

“I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people,” he continued. “For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

Unfortunately, this key part of Obama’s speech, which the media widely quoted in its coverage of the award ceremony, contains several logical inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies that tragically reveal Obama’s profound ignorance of nonviolent alternatives to the use of military force.

The Power of Nonviolence

Almost immediately after acknowledging that there is “nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King,” Obama equated nonviolence with doing nothing.

To live and act nonviolently, however, never involves standing “idle in the face of threats.” Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Dave Dellinger, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and countless other genuine peacemakers have put their lives on the line in the struggle for a more just world. Advocates of nonviolence, like Gandhi, simply believe that means and ends are inseparable – that responding in kind to an aggressor will only continue the cycle of violence.

“Destructive means cannot bring constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal-in-the-making and the end-in-progress,” Martin Luther King explains in his book Strength to Love. “Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are pre-existent in the means.”

Therefore, to put it bluntly, it’s impossible to create a world that truly respects life with fists, guns, and bombs. As A.J. Muste, a longtime leader of the labor, civil rights, and antiwar movements, famously said: “There is no way to peace — peace is the way.”

Using a broad array of tactics — including strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, and protests — nonviolent movements have not only gained important rights for millions of oppressed people around the world, they have confronted, and successfully brought down, some of the most ruthless regimes of the last 100 years.

The courageous, everyday citizens who spoke out and took to the streets to stop the murderous reigns of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, to name only a few examples from recent decades, were anything but passive in the face of evil.

Moreover, these incredible victories for nonviolence were not flukes. After analyzing 323 resistance campaigns over the last century, one important study published last year in the journal International Security, found that “major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.”

Victories Against Hitler

Contrary to Obama’s speech and the dominant narrative about World War II, nonviolent movements in several different European countries were also remarkably successful in thwarting the Nazis.

In 1943, for instance, when the order finally came to round up the nearly 8,000 Jews in Denmark, Danes spontaneously hid them in their homes, hospitals, and other public institutions over the span of one night. Then, at great personal risk to those involved, a secret network of fishing vessels successfully ferried almost their entire Jewish population to neutral Sweden. The Nazis captures only 481 Jews, and thanks to continued Danish pressure, nearly 90% of those deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp survived the war.

In Bulgaria, important leaders of the Orthodox Church, along with farmers in the northern stretches of the country, threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This popular pressure emboldened the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country’s 48,000 Jews.

Even in Norway, where Obama accepted the peace prize, there was significant nonviolent resistance during the Second World War. When the Nazi-appointed Prime Minister Vidkun Quisling ordered teachers to teach fascism, an estimated 10,000 of the country’s 12,000 teachers refused. A campaign of intimidation — which included sending over 1,000 male teachers to jails, concentration camps, and forced labor camps north of the Arctic Circle — failed to break the will of the teachers and sparked growing resentment throughout the country. After eight months, Quisling backed down and the teachers came home victorious.

Alternatives to the War on Terror

Obama’s rejection of negotiations as a possible solution to terrorism also doesn’t square with the evidence. After analyzing hundreds of terrorist groups that have operated over the last 40 years, a RAND corporation study published last year concluded that military force is almost never successful at stopping terrorism. The vast majority of terrorist groups that ended during that period “were penetrated and eliminated by local police and intelligence agencies (40%), or they reached a peaceful political accommodation with their government (43%).” In other words, negotiation is clearly possible.

For his book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, University of Chicago professor Robert Pape created a database on every suicide bombing from 1980 to 2004. Pape found that, rather than being driven by religion, the vast majority of suicide bombers — responsible for over 95% of all incidents on record — were primarily motivated by a desire to compel a democratic government to withdraw its military forces from land they saw as their homeland.

“Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism,” Pape said in an interview with The American Conservative, “the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us.”

Apart from pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East, calling off the deadly campaign of drone attacks, and ending military, economic, and diplomatic support for repressive regimes in the region, how can the threat of terrorism be best minimized? A recent article in the Independent by Johann Hari may provide an answer.

Through interviews with 17 radical Islamic ex-jihadis over the course of a year, Hari discovered that they all told strikingly similar stories about what drew them to extremism, and what eventually got them out. They all felt alienated growing up in Britain, and connected their personal experiences to the persecution of Muslims around the world. In most cases, however, coming into contact with Westerners who took the values of democracy and human rights seriously, opposed the wars against Muslim countries, and engaged in ordinary acts of kindness first made them question whether they were on the right path.

As I silently carried a cardboard coffin from the UN headquarters in New York to the military recruiting center in Times Square during a protest on the day of Obama’s speech, I couldn’t help but cringe to think of the president justifying the deployment of 30,000 more troops to the “graveyard of empires.” Every nonviolent alternative has not been exhausted. In reality, they have yet to be tried.

Recommended Citation:

Eric Stoner, “A Lesson on Nonviolence for the President” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, December 17, 2009)

(My comment: Take THAT, Global Violence Pandemic!!!)



Dec 09

Self-promote without ceasing

I promise you that I am much more articulate in person than this interview with IslamOnline makes me out to be. They sort of…paraphrased me. Oh well. Media is media.

I sound way more impressive (I hope) on this interview that I did a little while back with BBC Radio‘s “Up All Night” program.



Dec 09

From the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation: “As Gaza Freedom Marchers persist in Cairo, solidarity actions across the globe”

From the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’s blog:

Reports from Gaza Freedom March participants in Cairo are rolling in so quickly that I am struggling to keep up. Here are just a few of the reports we’ve been receiving:

1) Emily Ratner of US Campaign member group New Orleans Palestine Solidarity and the New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival (which the US Campaign has helped sponsor for the past several years), writes at Mondoweiss:

Yesterday we joined the people of Gaza, the people of all of Palestine, and allies around the world in remembering the anniversary of the inhuman and illegal Israeli attacks that stole the lives of more than 1,400 mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons last December and January. And, in a manner far too appropriately suited to remembering an unfathomably vicious massacre and the preposterous silence of the American and Egyptian governments, we freedom marched in circles throughout the streets of Cairo.

Read her full report here.

2) The front page of Ma’an News was dedicated to the Gaza Freedom March:

Surrounded by police, an international group of human rights advocates staged a demonstration at a UN installation in Cairo on Monday after the Egyptian government denied their request to enter Gaza….Former EU parliament vice president Luisa Morgantini, Filipino Senator and president of the Transnational Institute Walden Bello and others held a news conference outside the UN building in Cairo in hopes to negotiate their entry in Gaza via the Rafah crossing. Another member of the Gaza Freedom March group, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstien, 85, declared a hunger strike in protest of Egypt’s decision. More than 600 others joined the demonstration at the UN building….

3) AFP is carrying this report on Hedy Epstein and other hunger strikers:

An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was among a group of grandmothers who began a hunger strike in Cairo on Monday to protest against Egypt’s refusal to allow a Gaza solidarity march to proceed. American activist Hedy Epstein and other grandmothers participating in the Gaza Freedom March began a hunger strike at 1000 GMT. “I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how my body will react, but I’ll do whatever it takes,” Epstein told AFP, sitting on a chair surrounded by hundreds of protesters outside the United Nations building in Cairo.

UPDATE: The BBC is now carrying the report as well.

4) Democracy Now! is carrying this report as well as an interview with Palestinian journalist Sami Abu Salem:

5) Ken Mayers, National Treasurer of Veterans for Peace, writes of an action at the Kasr al Nil bridge in Cairo:

This was a small but moving action in which small groups of us moved to the bridge and tied notes to the bridge recording our solidarity with the people of Gaza and our sorrow at the horrors inflicted on them a year ago in the three weeks prior to the inauguration of Barack Obama. The action was schedule to unfold from 11am to 1pm. I was there from 11 to 12:30 or so and saw no security force interference during that period [the memorial was apparently broken up by security forces later on-ed.]. Pictured below is the flower and the note that I tied to the bridge. This is not to say that there were no security forces around. I don’t believe I have ever been in a city where police are more visible — and that includes Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Beijing.

6) Mohammad at KABOBfest breaks down a recent report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza one year after “Operation Cast Lead” in a devastating fashion, including these figures:

  • Since the assault ended, leaving 15,000 buildings damages and 5,000 completely destroyed, only 41 trucks of contsruction materials have been allowed to enter Gaza
  • Prior to 2007, and average of 70 truckloads of exports left Gaza everyday. For the past two years, that number has been zero.
  • Only 35 categories of items are allowed into Gaza. That is, only 35 types of products are allowed in to the 1.5 million prisoners.

The figures highlight the complete failure of governments to act on behalf of justice and peace.

When governments–whether Egyptian, Israeli, or U.S.–fail to act, civil society steps up to the plate. This time around it’s no exception. As 1400 human rights advocates work to highlight the siege of Gaza in Cairo, people around the world are organizing. Some are contacting the Egyptian government. Others are organizing solidarity actions.

Here in the United States, it’s important to link these solidarity actions with our ongoing national campaign to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to one that respects international law, human rights, and equality for all. Take action in the media, with Congress; and in the streets. Link your actions with ongoing campaigns against Caterpillar (whose bulldozers were used heavily in Operation Cast Lead), Motorola, Ahava, and U.S. military aid. It’s long past time for the siege to end. It’s long past time for the Israeli occupation to end. It’s long past time for apartheid to end.



Dec 09

Three important developments in the struggle for Palestinian rights

Three important developments in the struggle for Palestinian rights:

1) 1300 people from around the world are gathered in Egypt for the Gaza Freedom March, marking one year since last winter’s 22-day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip (codenamed “Operation Cast Lead”). As of right now, the Egyptian government is stating that they will not let the marchers through the Rafah border crossing into the Gaza Strip. For more information on the Gaza Freedom March, check out the march’s website here.

You can see the latest news from and about the Gaza Freedom March here. And you can click here to contact the Egyptian government and tell them to let the Gaza Freedom March into the Gaza Strip.

2) Related to the first item, solidarity actions with the Gaza Freedom March are being organized all across the globe this week. To find a Gaza solidarity action near you click here. For resources to organize your own action and other ways you can take action, check out the US Campaign’s Gaza action resources here.

3) The Palestinian Christian community has issued a document entitled “A Moment of Truth,” commonly being referred to as a Palestinian Kairos Document. The word “kairos” is a Greek word for time. Unlike “chronos,” chronological time, kairos implies the in-breaking of eternal time into our time. Kairos is a moment or eternal truth. The original Kairos Document was written by South African Christians, calling on the global church to oppose apartheid, and included a call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions. The Palestinian Kairos Document “declare[s] that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity, and that any theology that legitimizes the occupation is far from Christian teachings because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed, a call to justice and equality among peoples.” It also calls for churches around the world to prayerfully consider taking up tactics of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the Israeli occupation. I’m hoping to have more about “A Moment of Truth” up in the coming days, but in the meantime, you can read about it here. Check out the list of signatories (including many of the folks I had the honor of working with at Sabeel) here. Read a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the authors of the document here. And check out resources for getting involved with boycott and divestment in your own community here.



Dec 09

That tricky Christian Zionism

It happens almost every time I give a presentation.

I’ll be rolling along, really laying it down. People are inspired. They’re pumped. They’re ready to act.

And then, someone raises their hand, and says something along the lines of this:

“Here’s my problem. I agree with everything that you’re saying [ok, they don't usually say THAT, but they are generally agreeing]. But when I try to talk to my brother/best friend/uncle/congregation/pastor about Israel and Palestine, they just tell me that the Bible says we have to support Israel, and that’s that. What do I say to them.”

Oh man. Nothing presents more of a challenge in talking about Palestine and Israel in the church (with the possible exception of people’s fear of being branded as anti-semitic for speaking out) than this thing called Christian Zionism.

Books have been written–and websites founded–on this concept, many of them addressing this theology in its most extreme form (which involves fervent belief in a Rapture and other creepy Left Behind horror movie stuff). Yet a watered down, primarily subconscious form of Christian Zionism (which is in and of itself truly anti-semitic) remains very much prevalent even in “liberal” churches today.

Recently a friend contacted me. They had had an encounter with a person they love and respect, who told them in no uncertain terms that their advocacy for Palestinian rights was against “the will of God.” Here is my response to that friend, which I hope will be helpful for folks facing Christian Zionism in their own communities:

“The simple answer is that your friend, no matter how good of a person that they are, is wrong about what the Bible says, wrong about how they are reading it, and certainly wrong about you going to Hell (or at least the part about you going to Hell due to supporting the Palestinians, haha). There’s a couple of books I can recommend you on the subject if you want, but here’s a really quick run-down. Believing what your friend does requires a few things:

1) A literalist view of the Bible, which would also require that your friend believes that touching pigskin is against the will of God and that disobedient children should be stoned to death.

2) A decontextualized reading of Hebrew bible prophecy, which reads the Hebrew bible as if it was written for people in the 21st century instead of people in the century it was actually written in. Amalekites and Canaanites and Israelites become, uncritically, Palestinians or Arabs or Russians or Israelis or whoever, instead of being the actual people the texts are in reference to.

3) A view of Biblical prophetic texts that reads them not as political and social critiques of power and culture, but as “predictions of the future,” which is not what they were, really.

4) A complete lack of knowledge about the history of Palestine/Israel, which consists in statements such as “Jews and Arabs have fought for all of history,” “Those people won’t ever learn to get along,” “This all goes back to Isaac and Ishmael/Jacob and Esau/whatever.” None of this is true. Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together just fine in the Middle East–speaking Arabic, in fact–for centuries before Zionism. There were certainly tensions and power struggles between communities, but there are tensions and power struggles between all communities. This conflict is a modern conflict–past 100 years tension wise, past 60 years as far as the conflict as we know it. So it’s just BS to say that this is somehow a Biblical or ancient conflict.

5) The type of Biblical view that your friend holds, unfortunately, is connected to some really scary (and anti-Semitic) views of the ‘end times,’ which involve all of the Jews going back to the Promised Land so that they can be wiped out by Divine Conquering Warrior Jesus. This is not a belief that I hold, at all….

So that’s the basics. Like I said, there are a lot of books out there about Christian Zionism (which is what I would identify your friend’s beliefs about this as being), many of them written by faithful and concerned Christians who think this type of belief is not only dangerous but biblically unsound. Of the top of my head I’d suggest Stephen Sizer, Donald Wagner, Naim Ateek, Mark Braverman (a Jewish author on the subject), and Colin Chapman as good names to look into.”

One last thing to add:

It is highly problematic to associate the modern, political, nuclear-armed state of Israel with the Israel that we read about in the Hebrew and Greek bibles. There has been a lot of work done to critique this sort of uncritical reading of the scriptures, not the least of which has been undertaken by Palestinian Christian scholars such as Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek and other authors of the Palestinian Kairos Document.   However, even if we do this for a second, as a thought experiment, the idea that “the Bible says we have to support Israel” has a serious, Biblical flaw.

In short, one thing that the Hebrew texts record over and over again is that the ancient Israelites were not to trust in military might, and certainly not in military alliances with seemingly more powerful nations. Here’s Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder on the topic:

“2 Chronicles 16 recounts the formation of an alliance between Asa of Judah and Benhadad of Damascus against the Northern Kingdom [which would have been Israel, FYI]. Whether it is the alliance itself or the attack against the sister kingdom which brought forth the word of condemnation by the prophet Hannai, one cannot say for sure. In any case, what the prophet’s words condemn specifically is the reliance upon politico-military resources….” (Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, Eerdman’s Publishing, 1994, pg. 80).

And here’s “New Monastics” Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw: “Yahweh continues to be careful to choose the weakest, most unlikely characters to be the heroes of the liberation story, lets we be tempted to think we did it ourselves, with our own power or might or ingenuity. It is clear that God was the one fighting for these people whom no one else would fight for….There is the brilliant story of Gideon, who went forth to fight the Midianites (Judges 7). Like any good commander in chief, he rallied the troops, 32,000 of them, to be exact. But then the Lord said, ‘You have too many men,’ and order that he send some away so that Israel couldn’t boast that her own strength saved her. So 22,000 headed off, leaving him with 10,000. And then the Lord spoke again, telling him there were still too many, and sook it down to 300. From an army over 30,000 to 300–not exactly a force to be reckoned with. But this is precisely the point. Only God can be trusted with power and strength, lest Israel think too highly of herself or depend on her military might rather than the miraculous God who can split oceans open to protect them.” (Claiborne and Haw, Jesus for President, pg. 47).

The Israelites were warned in Isaiah 30 against “tak[ing] refuge in the protection of Pharaoh” and “seek[ing] shelter in the shadow of Egypt,” at the time a much stronger power. (Note that conservative evangelical types use these passages all the time to argue against Israel making peace with its Arab neighbors. But at the time, Egypt wasn’t Arab. The point here is alliances with stronger nations, with empires. It doesn’t matter what particular name or shape that empire takes).

Here’s Isaiah 31: “Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!”

And here is Psalm 33: “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples….A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.”

Not exactly a formula for supporting $30 billion of purely military aid over 10 years, is it? It seems to me that if one has a literalist view of scripture, and one associates the ancient Israelites with modern Israel, then the last thing you’d want to do is lend military support. That would be a recipe for disaster, and for Israel’s downfall. No, you wouldn’t want to send weapons at all–you’d want to get out of the way, and let God do the work.

Ok. That’s it. End of thought experiment. Hope this has been helpful to some folks out there!



Dec 09

Two great sermons (and an ok prayer) to help you get over your post-Christmas blues

Two of my friends gave sermons today that go along way to addressing some of the “what next” feeling that comes after the Christmas holiday. (And no, the answer is not “New Year’s Eve,” although of course that is literally true).

My good friend John-Forrest, who is a student at Wesley Seminary, gave the sermon at Capitol Hill United Methodist Church today. In the sermon, which you can listen to here, he wonders why the church spends so little time lingering on Christmas before rushing off to Jesus as a 12-year old boy (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the text of the Gospel of Luke, we get very little information about Jesus as a child. All of a sudden he’s an adolescent, and then an adult). John-Forrest argues that there is an importance both to the recognition that “Jesus grew up” (in the words of Taladega Nights…), and that we are all called to grow and to become the “us” that we are made to be. But there is a simple truth in the Nativity story, he adds, that has to stay with us in this process of “growing up.” Listen to his sermon here.

My friend Mark is the United Methodist campus chaplain at American University. He gave a sermon today at Stillwater United Church, which you can read in full here. Mark also notes the tendency of the church–and U.S.-society-at-large–to rush off after Christmas, when in fact according to the traditional church calendar we are only on day 3 of Christmas! (Remember that song that takes way too long to sing?) Mark argues that for folks who are in the church, the celebration of Christmas should really be the celebration of the Incarnation–God with us, God in solidarity with us in our struggles.

A bit of self-promotion in this one, since Mark quotes my story about Yanoun. He also quotes Archbishop Oscar Romero. In no way, shape, or form do I think I’ve at all earned this quote slot, but I’m honored nonetheless….Here’s a couple of my favorite parts:

“There is much we get wrong about Christmas. Christians get this wrong as much as anyone. The culture has so overwhelmed us that we buy into it. We get upset when retailers wish us “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” without ever bothering to ask ourselves why we care what some clerk at Wal-Mart or Target says to us as we buy our goods. But commerce and Christmas have become incredibly intertwined, that even for us Christians it is not always easy to separate.”

“The true message of Christmas is not in the parties, it’s not in the Capitalist onslaught that is the Holiday Shopping Season or in the giving and exchanging of gifts. It’s not in the trappings of the season, not in the greetings we get from retail clerks. It’s not really even in the birth of a baby in a manger.

The message of Christmas–and of Christianity–is that in the midst of our sorrows, our suffering, our brokenness, God should dwell with us , in our midst. God should take on our life, our pain, our suffering, our joys, our being, even our death. God pitches a tent among us and sets up camp as one of us.

Christianity is about the Word becoming Flesh and dwelling in our midst. Of the radical declaration of the Eternal God’s solidarity with mortal humanity: and all the implications and consequences that that solidarity has for us.”

“If Christ is the demonstration of God’s solidarity with us, it is the demonstration of God’s solidarity with all of us. And that necessitates that we relate to one another not as people separate and disconnected from us, but as fellow human beings, likewise made in the image of God, and as ones for whom Christ also came.

The poor, the oppressed, the lowly. The outcast, the despised, the marginalized, and rejected. The alienated, the friendless. The declaration of God’s solidarity with mortal humanity in the flesh means that our lives have fundamental dignity and meaning. All of us. Every single one. There is not a person on earth whose life does not have a fundamental human dignity, because our human lives were validated by the Eternal, who pitched a tent among us.”

Read the whole thing here.

Great job friends!

I didn’t do any preaching today (heard a great joint sermon from Dumbarton UMC’s pastor, Rev. Mary Kay Totty and her best friend, Rev. Allen Harris), but I was the liturgist and had to write the peace prayer for the day. Here’s what I came up with:

Compassionate and Merciful God,

Your birth is announced with words of peace, not to the powerful, the Emperors or Governors, but to seemingly powerless shepherds. Be born in us, and make us instruments of your peace. May our feet walk in the way of peace. May our hands dismantle the tools of violence. May our mouths speak up against injustice. May our eyes see visions of a more peaceful and healthy tomorrow for ourselves, our communities, our nations, and our worlds.

Amen.



Dec 09

The first time I really understood the Nativity

I am sometimes not so great at Christmas cheer. But here is why I think it matters:

The first time I really understood the Nativity was in Yanoun, in the northern West Bank. The shepherds we were with–Mohammad and Mohammad, not joking–showed us where they keep their sheep. It was a low, dark, cave. Noisy, crowded with animals, and smelling like–well–sheep shit. The mangers were rusty, with sheep pushing at each other to find space to eat. Not the sort of place you’d want to have a kid.

I remember thinking: “If God can be born here, I guess God can be born anywhere.”

(To support the people of Yanoun, who are sorely pressed by military occupation and nearby settlements, check out the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program of the World Council of Churches, which maintains a nonviolent accompaniment and human rights observation presence in the village.)



Dec 09

Another anti-GVP resource

Thanks to Kim MacVaugh for sending along this handy resource for curing the Global Violence Pandemic (GVP), which I missed in my last GVP-related post.

From Kim:

“The Friends [Quakers] have GREAT resources explaining U.S. complicity in global violence, but they also to try to change laws towards preventing conflicts instead of making them :) So if David’s post depresses you, check out FCNL’s Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict and see how YOU can act! http://www.fcnl.org/ppdc/

[FCNL is the Friends Committee on National Legislation]



Dec 09

Homeless in Nome, Alaska

Here is an article in the Anchorage Daily News about the Nome Emergency Shelter, which my wonderful friend and co-mission intern Abby Huggins serves as staff for. In Abby’s words, getting in the Anchorage Daily news is “a pretty big deal for little Nome.” Abby is quoted, but I’m sure she’d rather you focus on the story of those trying to survive without housing in such a cold place:

“On the Bering Sea coast, 100 miles below the Arctic Circle, Eugene Iknokinok is homeless. For years the 44-year-old has slept in abandoned cars and under buildings in Nome. He’s suffered frostbite and awoken stiff with cold. In January a man he described as his best friend was found frozen along the seawall downtown. Iknokinok had lost friends before, he said. But this time something changed. The death of 40-year-old Lyle Okinello prompted a loose group of volunteers to collect some old Army cots and create an emergency shelter at a local church, offering up to 20 spots for Nome’s homeless on the coldest nights.”

Coming back to the U.S. from Palestine, where houses are routinely destroyed by the Israeli occupation, its jarring that we’re the ones who can’t find housing for all.

Read the article here: “Homeless aren’t nameless in small town like Nome.” Read Abby’s blog here. And learn more about what people are doing to draw attention to the dangers facing people without housing in the community that my dear friend Liz Hooks is serving by reading Liz’s blog.



Dec 09

Sabeel’s 2009 Christmas message: “The Message of the Manger”

Christmas message from the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, which is where I worked when I lived in Jerusalem:


This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!’

Luke 2:12-14

In the Christmas story, the sign for finding the Christ-child was this:  He would be wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. There are three important messages that emanate from the manger:

1.God in Christ has become accessible. Jesus Christ was born in a manger making God approachable, reachable, and available to all people. This is the great sign of God’s love.

2.The manger stands for a different kind of a Messiah. The seemingly contradictory sign that the Christ is lying in a manger does not bode well for the birth of a great leader who was supposed to come from the line and lineage of his great ancestor David. The manger is the way of meekness and humility, the way of sacrificial love, the way of nonviolence.

3.The Christ of the manger brings peace through justice and not through violence.  Luke takes the titles that people attributed to Caesar – liberator, savior, lord, and god – and gives them to Jesus Christ. The contrast between the two figures, in the eyes of the world, was huge. For the early Christian community, and for us, Jesus Christ is the authentic Savior and Lord. Caesar brought peace through military means that were tremendously costly in terms of human life and property, and such peace is always shaky.  Christ can bring peace through justice and love that, when applied and practiced, is more stable and permanent. This is what Christ teaches and that is why, from Christ to this day, we dare to defy the Caesars.

Reading the Christmas story through Palestinian eyes, and in light of our daily experience, is revealing. We live in the shadow of empire, of which the modern state of Israel is part. It is easy for Palestinians to contrast their oppressive situation under the Israeli occupation with people of Jesus’ day who lived under the brutal occupation of the Romans with its daily oppression and humiliation.

Empire always talks about peace but its peace is false and temporary. Its peace is imposed and, therefore, an extension of its oppressive military power. It can never last because it is built on injustice. Israel’s peace rhetoric is a mirage that quickly disappears and people are hit with the glaring reality of injustice, violence, and humiliation. Such peace cannot be trusted.

Christ’s peace is built on justice and is acquired through nonviolence and love. It can be trusted. Therefore, the unjust and illegal Israeli occupation must come to an end. Doing justice to the Palestinians ensures the achievement of peace through justice. At this Christmas season we need to re-commit ourselves to the liberation that Christ brings; and to continue to walk the way of peace through justice and nonviolence.

Sabeel wishes all its friends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  May the message of the manger inspire our activities throughout the coming year!

For information on how to support the work of Sabeel while here in the United States, check out the website of Friends of Sabeel North America.



Dec 09

Resources for stopping Global Violence Pandemic

So thanks to the power of the internets, and the help of friends both real and Facebook, I’ve got some resources to share with you to assist in combating (militant language?) the Global Violence Pandemic (GVP).

Here’s a slightly outdated but still very useful resource on U.S. military aid from the Center for Public Integrity, entitled “Collateral Damage.” Top ten includes some real winners–Israel is of course #1, followed by the ever-cuddly Egypt. Also included in the top 10: Colombia, Pakistan, Jordan, and…Poland?

Here’s info from the Friends Committee on National Legislation on “Conventional Weapons and Military Assistance.

Here’s some earlier musings on U.S. military aid and its links to outbreaks of the GVP.

Here’s foreign aid figures for FY 2008, 2009, and 201o from the U.S. State Department. Relevant pages: pg 91-93 covers Foreign Military Financing (direct military aid), pg 87-90 lists figures for International Military Education and Training, pg 84 covers “counter-terrorism” operations (as well as, ironically enough, non-proliferation and destruction of small arms, perhaps the same small arms bought with the direct military aid from pg 91-93?), and pg 81-83 covers the always-suspect “narcotics control” (like, say, gassing agricultural land in Colombia).

Ok, so what to do with all this stuff? Still haven’t been able to find a good, action-oriented, national campaign or coalition of groups working against U.S. military aid to human rights abusers (me, I’m against military aid, period, but luckily for me there isn’t usually much of a distinction between these two concepts). There’s organizations working regionally–the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which you’re familiar with if you’ve been reading this blog (or have known me) for any length of time, PEARL (Sri Lanka), USAPAN (Philippines). Christian Peacemaker Teams are active in Colombia and Palestine/Israel (as well as Iraq, First Nations tribal land in Canada, and U.S./Mexico Border). FCNL has a general action center, and as I mentioned before they’re active on military aid and small arms.

Anybody have resources or ideas to add to this impartial list? Feel free to comment here or on the Facebook wall?

I was thinking a bit before I wrote this about why this issue of military aid to notorious human rights abusers has caught my attention. Surely, in pure dollar amounts, our military aid is piddling compared to our own massive military expenditures. Between the ‘Defense’ Department budget, supplementary spending on the invasion and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the nuclear programs tucked away in the Department of Energy budget, we’re closer to $1 trillion in military spending per year than we are to $500 billion. That’s an astronomical amount, and it doesn’t even include debt incurred from past wars (or veterans benefits for past wars, which are also a very real cost of war). And certainly that massive amount of money does a horrendous amount of damage globally. And I definitely oppose it, whole-heartedly.

But there’s something that seems particularly sinister to me about military ‘aid.’ There it is, hidden in our foreign aid budget, in the part of the budget that at least in theory is dedicated to helping other people, to building positive relationships with the world around us. And instead, it is providing weapons to bullies and state-funded murderers.

Of course, there’s a chicken and egg question here. Do we just have a knack for picking ethnic cleansers and assassins to give weapons to? Or is there something about getting millions or billions of dollars worth of weapons that has a tendency to lead to this kind of abuse? Maybe some of both, but I certainly wouldn’t trust myself with $3 billion worth of weapons.  Nothing good could come out of that. I’m not sure I even really trust myself to take good care of anything remotely fragile, like small animals or romantic relationships. The last thing I need is an M-16.

I oppose militarism. I oppose military spending and military aid. I don’t think you can say that you trust in God and also say that you trust in weapons to bring peace.

Actually, I just don’t think that you can really say, honestly, that you trust in weapons to bring peace.

How can we take concerted action to end the U.S. contribution to the GVP? Your ideas, resources, and suggestions welcome!