Human Rights

On sexual harassment, Yemen, and growing up a bullied child

A version of this article first appeared on Medium.   I invite you to go there and clap for it!

Recently a friend who works for a non-profit that seeks to reform U.S. foreign policy posted on Facebook a mild defense of comedian Louis C.K.’s “apology” to the women he had sexually harassed. I pointed out the deficits of his confession in the comments and linked to an article about the Old Boy’s network in comedy that enabled Louis C.K. to continue his harassment and which silenced his accusers. A LOT of other people offered up their opinions in the comments on my friend’s Facebook post.

In a subsequent posting, he wrote, “It’s so funny to me that if I post something about Louis C.K., some people get so exercised about it that they send me private messages about it. But if I post something about the U.S.-assisted Saudi genocide in Yemen, two or three of my closest people respond. Nobody else gives a shit. I need to figure out a way to force people to care about this.”

For that not following the famine in Yemen, and that includes the vast majority of people in the U.S., here is a recent article. U.S. policy is essentially supporting the Saudi blockade that is preventing aid from reaching millions of starving Yemeni civilians. Here is a petition you can sign to a support a current bipartisan resolution in congress: Save Yemen from famine & stop helping Al Qaeda. Use war powers to force a vote on ending U.S. participation in the unauthorized Saudi war in Yemen.

Most people would agree that genocide, military occupation, police brutality, political prisoners and other issues taking up my head space are more important that celebrity culture. But truthfully, I have never had much interest in celebrity culture. I have, however, found myself intensely engaged in the stories of victims coming forward and accusing powerful figures in the political and media communities of sexual abuse and silencing. I haven’t watched Woody Allen movies for years, nor would I watch anything by Roman Polanski.

My friend’s Yemen comment made me probe the depths of my interest. I have experienced mild sexual harassment, but I think the sore spot these stories touch don’t relate to these encounters as much as they do to my history with bullying.

I grew up socially awkward. I cried easily, and because I read several hours a day, I used a vocabulary that was not only beyond my peers but, I realized in later years, some of my teachers. In elementary school, I was always the last chosen for teams, an object of scorn and derision, the cootie girl. One of the worst insults a boy in my classes could hurl at another boy was to claim that I was his girlfriend.

In junior high and high school, the bullying stepped up a notch. It’s probably safe to say that almost every day I was the target of verbal or physical abuse. I was tripped; I had food thrown at me in the cafeteria; I was slammed into lockers and asked “Why are you even alive you ugly skank?”; I had my books ripped out my arms and thrown across the hall—always, always to the accompaniment of laughter by my fellow students. As I write these events—and my hands are trembling as I type—once again, I feel the old shame, shame more than anger, the wondering “what is there about me that is so inherently disgusting that would cause people to do this to me?”

Not once, did any adult intervene on my behalf. When I tried to tell what was going on, I was given some version of, “You need to buck up or you will always be victimized.” Kind girls who reached out to me, I repaid by becoming too attached and clingy, desperately wanting to hold onto their friendship and protection. I became depressed, withdrawn and suicidal, pleading with God to kill me during the night as I slept.

In college, I had a chance to reinvent myself. The sensitivity and passion that made me a loser in public school gained me friends and allies in college. I poured myself into Nuclear Disarmament and Central American solidarity work. Later in 1993, I joined Christian Peacemaker Teams, where I have spent the last twenty-four accompanying people in Haiti, Colombia, Palestine, Washington DC, and in Indigenous Communities who have lived far less privileged lives than I have—who, if we’re going to go for metaphors, have had to fight against state-sanctioned bullying on their entire populations.

Many of the people I know who go into human rights work have had difficult childhoods. I used to find redemption in this narrative. But I have become less enamored of the “wounded healer” trope lately. First of all, in human rights work, it has colonial overtones. Also, I have seen the damage done when the unhealed wounds end up bleeding all over tasks we need to do. But more importantly, in relationship to myself, I don’t think it sustains you for the long haul. If true healing never really happens, that bullied girl keeps getting in the way of adult Kathy, diverting focus from the acute needs of people I am supposed to be accompanying.

And currently that bullied girl, who experienced silencing and gaslighting from her peers and the adults who were supposed to protect her is celebrating that Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey (whom she liked in the film Beyond the Sea), Louis C.K. (whose TV series she enjoyed) and so many other celebrities are facing accountability for their silencing and gaslighting. She is ecstatic about the Washington Post story on Roy Moore. She wants Bill Clinton to face reckoning, finally, for rape, too.

Adult Kathy…well, I am watching as Roman Polanski and Woody Allen are still living as free men, even feted, and the woman who was fourteen when Roy Moore sexually molested her is already having her divorces and bankruptcies (Donald Trump’s divorces and bankruptcies being somehow irrelevant) displayed for public scrutiny. I am thinking that even if the victimizers du jour are finally held accountable, it won’t bring back the careers of so many of the people they victimized, nor will it un-traumatize the lives of their victims. I am thinking about famine in Yemen, the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and the current futility of either the two-state or one-state solution. I want be an ally to people of color and sits wordless in front of the Twitter feed and Facebook as I bear witness to the indignities they experience, how society both targets them and renders them invisible. I think I have no right to feel this paralyzed, this hopeless, given my life of privilege. I want to be like other activists I know, who approach the work with a certain joie du vivre, who draw energy from the struggle and from their association with other activists.

But before I get over the PTSD I am experiencing now from years of working in Palestine, I am probably going have to fix her—the girl with the glasses:

May healing come to all of us, who have tried, in our own muddled ways to hold people accountable and may the next generation—whatever gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or ethnicity—live free of silencing.

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What I’ve been doing for the last nine months

Yeah, my synopsis is pretty much crap

I took a leave of absence from Christian Peacemaker Teams beginning in January 2017, having a long list of goals to accomplish in mind. I knew from the experience of my sabbatical four years ago that I would not accomplish all or most of these goals. Still, despite the fact I have played way too much Plants vs. Zombies and have been dealing (gladly) with unexpected health crises of elderly relatives, here are some things I have accomplished:

 

I wanted to finish my novel, working title Don’t Call Me Buffy, and I did. I don’t have the perfect pitch yet, but here’s a summary:

 

Jubilee McVey, brought up in an evangelical purity culture, deals with the shames heaped on her by her family and church by brutally restricting calories and indulging in mutilation fantasies. Then Rania Khalidi, an energetic social justice activist and Lior Artzi—who views the world through the lens of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, approach her one day to tell her that she has been called by the Council of Huldah to convince her father to stop building his dream church on land belonging to the Seneca Indian Nation. She assumes that what they are asking her to do is impossible, but the encounter pulls her into a world where she discovers abilities she had not imagined.

 

What Rania, Jubilee and Lior do not know is that the Prophet Huldah, briefly mentioned in the book of II Kings, is alive and grumpy and teaching Biochemistry in western NY. She has little interest in God or prophecy. Mostly, she wants to support her talented student Jayce, a member of the Seneca Nation who is investigating medical waste dumping on the Allegeny reservation. But as she sees a prophetic movement beginning to emerge in Western NY the way it did in Israel and Judah, and as Jubilee flees to Jerusalem to escape her prophetic obligations, Huldah wonders if the land belonging to the Keepers of the Western Door has been chosen to change history.

 

Currently, my beta readers say it reads very fast, so that’s always good news.

 

I also cleaned out boxes that had been sitting in the upstairs alcove of our house pretty much since we had moved in, as well as some that came my way after Mom moved into the nursing home. I found recycling my mother’s stuff emotionally wrenching as well as other keepsakes, so I dealt with it by posting about it on Twitter:

 

Today I recycled my mother’s proofreading notes on my second novel.

Today I recycled a handwritten coupon good for “1 hour of sewing help from Sylvia D. Klassen exp. 12/25/04” @SylviaDHook  

Today I recycled my 1984 college commencement program and dozens of Christmas letters from people I love.

 

A more amorphous “success” for the year was that I generally said “yes” to my husband Michael when he suggested an activity for the evening or weekend instead of telling him I was too tired or had too much work to do and that felt good.

 

When I think of what I did not achieve around the house and yard, well, it’s a pretty long list, and I won’t go into it; besides, I’ve still got two months, right? Probably of most concern was not just my neglect of spiritual growth, but my inability to focus on spiritual growth.   I found sustained attention on prayer, meditation, or anything remotely spiritual almost impossible. Coming along with this acknowledgement of my deficit is that I realized I have for some time been dealing with low-grade PTSD, and I’m not sure what to do about it. After serving in Palestine since 1995, and seeing small victories, friendships built all get swept away, seeing the relentless cruelty of occupation get more and more entrenched—I think it has broken something in me. And I am reluctant to use the word “trauma” in relationship to myself when I’ve been coming over just once a year, because the people of the Old City are living with this brutality every day. It seems like whining, or attention-seeking behavior.

But this year, for the first time I had to walk out of a movie at the Palestine Film festival after eight minutes. I had already seen those faces at home demolitions. I had seen those terrified children being dragged away by soldiers. I didn’t need to watch them on the screen. And I had to stop watching a documentary about Israeli women soldiers on our local public television station for the same reason. I acknowledged it was a good thing they were coming clean about their abuses of Palestinians, but I kept seeing the faces of those Palestinians they had abused.

 

So I probably won’t be going back to Hebron when I return to work in January. Perhaps I will work on another team, or perhaps I will just take a year off to work with Christian Peacemaker Teams’ new Communications Director. And maybe I’ll figure out how to classify my stupid trauma. Maybe I just did.

 

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We still have political prisoners in the U.S. from the Nixon Era: One of them is my friend

Originally published on Medium.com

Ever since the start of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has invited comparisons to authoritarian figures in history.

Richard Nixon is currently enjoying favor in the media because of their shared obsession with law and order, White House leaks, and hatred of journalists.

But before the punditry glibly snags another Trump twin from its Arcade Claw Machine of Despotism, I’d like it to focus, really focus, on Nixon and the COINTELPRO era of law enforcement, because we still have political prisoners in the United States serving sentences due to the legal abuses from that era.

And one of them is my friend, Jalil Muntaqim.

As has been amply documented by authors like Peter Matthiessen, Ward Churchill, Betty Medsger and documentaries like COINTELPRO 101, the FBI under Nixon targeted activists who were part of movements like the Black Panthers, and the American Indian Movement (AIM), infiltrating their activities, often marking them for assassination.

When they fought back, their experience with the judicial system was one marked by the government’s illegal tampering with evidence and with witnesses lying to judges.

In Jalil’s case, the tampering in his trial and his co-defendants for murdering two police officers involved inconsistent evidence from three witnesses, the recanted testimony of one witness who was intimidated into cooperating, the suppressed exculpatory FBI ballistics test on a .45 caliber weapon seized after he and his co-defendant Albert Washington were arrested and the perjured testimony of NYPD detective George Simmons concerning the test. The Nixon tapes contain a record of a secret White House May 26, 1971 meeting in which Richard Nixon, John Erlichman, FBI Director Herbert Hoover, and others named the murders “NEWKILL,” (for “New York killings”). Those involved with the case of Jalil and his co-defendants believe they decided to blame them on Black Panther Party (BPP) members as part of the COINTELPRO conspiracy to destroy them.

While the 1975–76 Senate Church Committee hearings disclosed some of the abuses of COINTELPRO and other intelligence agencies, it never sought redress for those prisoners framed by the FBI’s manipulations of the justice system.

So Jalil and the other COINTELPRO targets are still in prison.

Why? Because the Judges that put them there refused to grant appeals and because parole boards are made up largely of law enforcement personnel, who almost never vote for the parole of prisoners involved in the death of other law enforcement personnel. And they have a powerful lobby when it comes to petitioning governors and presidents against clemency.

Any other prisoner serving twenty-five years to life with Jalil’s record would have been paroled long ago.

While in prison he has graduated with a BS in psychology and a BA in Sociology, taught computer skills to prisoners, and helped them get their GEDs.

He has twice received commendations for quelling prison riots and was recognized by the Deputy Superintendent of Auburn Prison for his efforts to raise inmate funds for the Red Cross after 9/11.

From prison he has also co-sponsored a Victory Gardens project, enlisting Maine farmers to distribute produce to poor urban New York New Jersey and Boston communities.

Think of what this man could have done if he had not spent the last 45 years in prison.

I saw Jalil last weekend.

He had been transferred from Attica to a super max facility near the Pennsylvania border because he had been teaching a class in Black History and had compared, unfavorably, the Crips and the Bloods gang membersto the Black Panthers.

He noted how the former were not invested in supporting their communities while the Panthers’ raison detre was uplifting their neighborhoods.

Somehow, the prison authorities took from this bit of pedagogy that Jalil was promoting gang warfare.

Attica is refusing to release the tape of the session, which Jalil is certain will exonerate him — but it is in the hands of his lawyer now.

We asked him why he thought Obama, during his last days in office, had pardoned Oscar Lopez Rivera, targeted by COINTELPRO because of his activism for Puerto Rican independence and not AIM activist Leonard Peltier, also a COINTELPRO victim.

(Jalil, convicted on a state offense, is not eligible for federal pardon.) Jalil thought Jimmy Carter appealing for Lopez Rivera probably had something to do with it.

However, he thought that it probably had more to do with the quantity of votes Puerto Ricans had to offer the Democratic Party versus the quantity of votes Indigenous people have to offer.

I have followed the Free Peltier Campaign for some time on social media, and my heart broke in January for Peltier and all the dedicated activists, when they found out that Obama would not pardon Peltier, who is quite ill.They viewed Obama’s decision as a death sentence.

Because, of course, no one has any illusions that Trump will respond to appeals for political prisoners.

This is a man who still claims the Central Park 5 are guilty despite the fact they were all exonerated after DNA proved them innocent and the actual rapist confessed to the crime.

So what is our responsibility to Jalil Muntaqim, Leonard Peltier and all the remaining political prisoners in the United States?

Addressing past assaults on civil liberties that resulted in the presence of political prisoners in U.S. jails might very well equip us to face the contemporary assaults on civil liberties committed by the Trump Administration.

Learning the names of these prisoners is a start.

Here, for example are all the Black Panthers, like Jalil, currently still in jail or in exile.

Updates since this this article was written in March.

April 2, 2017 Update:

Jalil reports that he has finally received all of his property, except for TV. The typewriter is broken and has been sent out for repairs.

March 22, 2017 Update from Jalil:

I’m out of SHU, however, phones, commissary and packages won’t be restored until March 29, 2017.

They released me from SHU and placed me in the “Close Supervision Unit” (CSU) absent any notice or due process procedure. At the surface, prisoners are treated like all other prisoners, go to school, programs, recreation, etc., as all other prisoners. But they are scrutinized more closely, searched more often, and, I imagine, reported on more frequently.

I intend to file a FOIL request for all documents regarding the unit and the arbitrary and capricious decision to place me in the CSU. Once I get the documents, I’ll file a grievance to exhaust administrative remedies and proceed with a petition in the Court.

Still haven’t received my property, hopefully by the end of the week at the latest.

Revolutionary Love and Unity,
Jalil

In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela
in Apartheid NYS Prison System!

Please take the time to write to Jalil and let him know he is in our hearts and on our minds.

Anthony J. Bottom #77A4283
Shawangunk C.F.
P.O. Box 700
Wallkill, NY 12589–0700

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Letter to Australian MP Richard Marles: “Peace in the Middle East” is not a joke

 

Dear Mr. Marles,

I am a U.S. citizen who has worked in the West Bank City of Hebron since 1995 with the human rights organization Christian Peacemaker Teams. I am currently serving with two Australian teammates who brought to my attention a picture of the four you enjoying time in Jerusalem under the caption, “Bringing peace to the Middle East.”

I do not know you, but if I were to see a similarly captioned photo of Democratic and Republican lawmakers from my country in Jerusalem, I would feel it like a kick in the gut. People are dying over here. In our context, it happens most often when soldiers shoot them at checkpoints in extrajudicial executions with complete legal impunity.  For years at the checkpoints we monitor in the morning, we have watched Israeli soldiers shoot teargas at small children walking to school—something that you would never tolerate in your own electorates.  We cannot count all the other indignities and humiliations we have witnessed this military occupation inflicting on the inhabitants of Hebron—as it is in the nature of all military occupations to do.

And the geographically expansive region of “The Middle East,” to which you referred encompasses the people caught up in the carnage currently engulfing Aleppo, Syria, as well as the violence in Iraq, Yemen, Egypt. These are real human beings, loved by their families, who feel pain when bombs and bullets slice though their flesh, or who who suffer that stab of utter horror when they realize it is their child buried beneath the rubble. In other words, peace in the Middle East is not a joke, Mr. Marles, it is a moral imperative for all people of conscience.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Kern

Colleague of [names redacted in order to foil Israeli security officials who think Palestinians have no right to have internationals spend time with them and who have complete control over the borders of Palestine.]

Diya (11) is arrested by an Israeli Border Policeman

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Letter to J.K. Rowling: For the sake of all Palestinian children who love Harry you need to say their lives matter

I didn’t add this anonymous letter that appeared on Mondoweiss in October, because I was going to be heading to Hebron in the winter or Spring, but I think enough time has passed now that I can probably post it.

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The following was written by a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron. The author writes, “*I am not using my name because Israel has complete control over the borders of the West Bank and Gaza and routinely denies entry to human rights observers. Israel denied two of my colleagues entry in the last few months and banned another from Hebron because she took an Instagram photo showing the Israeli military violating the human rights of Palestinian children.  Furthermore, Israel may soon deny entry to anyone who advocates any sort of boycott, even of those products produced in settlements, which are illegal under international law.”

Dear J.K. Rowling,

I have worked as a human rights advocate in Palestine for twenty years and most of the people in my circles support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to one degree or another.  I am married to an Israeli who supports the boycott of settlement products and corporations that enable the Israel’s occupation of Palestine, but, like you, does not support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.  I believe it is possible for people of good conscience to disagree on this issue.

But I want to tell you that in the city of Hebron where I have worked for the last twenty years, I have, with my own eyes, seen Palestinian children attacked, beaten, arrested—without any of the due process the civilized world grants minor children—and in general treated with utter contempt by Israeli soldiers and settlers.  A major part of our work is monitoring the treatment of children as they walk through checkpoints on their way to school everyday in the Old City of Hebron.   The Israeli military’s of teargas has become almost routine when elementary children passing through—something Israeli families would never tolerate for their own children (and indeed the police do not use it against Jewish Israelis inside Israel.)

Several days ago, 17-year-old Dania Arshid was walking to her English class through a checkpoint.  Accused by Israeli Border Police of having a knife, she threw her hands in the air, backed away, and was summarily executed by multiple gunshots.

I can tell you, based on my experience, that no one will go to jail for her murder, or for the murder of Hadeel Hashlamoun, a few weeks earlier or for Fadel al Qawasmi.  In the impossibly slim chance an investigation into her extrajudicial execution occurs, the courts will exonerate the soldiers and racist Israeli social media will hail them as heroes.

As of the end of August, 133 Israeli children and 2065 Palestinian children had died since 2000 in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. I view the death of any child of any nationality with horror, but in this conflict, it is the Palestinian children whom the agents of Occupation kill and abuse with impunity.

So Ms. Rowling, you do not have to support the Academic and Cultural Boycott, but for the sake of all Palestinian children who love Harry, you do need to say their lives matter.  You need to say they are entitled to exactly the same rights, dignities and freedoms that Israeli children are.   And you need to say that Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians, this Unforgivable Curse from which all the violence tormenting the inhabitants of this land emanates, must end.

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/10/rowling-palestinian-children/#sthash.ewShkzCY.dpuf

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Restricting the life out of Hebron’s Old City– by Kathleen Kern

A repost from The Jewish Pluralist from my most recent assignment in Hebron.

Restricting the life out of Hebron’s Old City– by Kathleen Kern

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Every year when I return to Hebron I have come to expect that I will find the Israeli Military Occupation more entrenched, the people more battered, more resigned. I expect that the Christian Peacemaker Team I have worked with since 1995 will have new challenges to meet. When I rejoined the team in early March, however, the extent of the restrictions on team’s monitoring work at checkpoints during school hours frankly shocked me. Border Police no longer permit us to exit the Old City near our apartment and make the five-minute walk to the Qitoun checkpoint to document how the soldiers treat schoolchildren and teachers passing through. Instead, we must take a fifteen-minute taxi ride over the hills and around to reach a location we can see from the roof of our house.

Once we are there, we must stand on what my teammate Stephanie calls poetically “the teargas side of the checkpoint.” Occupation forces have built up the checkpoint considerably since I left and from where we stand, we can see only from a distance the interactions between soldiers and children. We can no longer hear what happens or ask the children what soldiers said to them. The situation is worse for the children at Qurtuba School. Our colleagues with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme (EAPPI) were intended to be present for students as they passed through Checkpoint 56 and the settlers on Shuhada Street who have a history of attacking them. Now they must remain on the H-1 side of the checkpoint, where they can do nothing if something happens to the children on the other side.

The Occupation’s restrictions on international monitors in the H-2 area of Hebron are of course falling more heavily on Palestinians, and nowhere is this more the case than those living in Tel Rumeida. Last fall, the military began assigning numbers to Palestinians living in Tel Rumeida. Hani Abu Haikel showed us two numbers written on the outside of his green ID case when we brought a visiting CPT delegation to visit. If you don’t have that number, you are not legally allowed to be there. It doesn’t matter if you are a relative or a friend. (Relatives and friends of settlers living there are of course, allowed to visit them.) Three days earlier, Hani had workers pruning his grapevines, and settlers “reported” them to the soldiers, who told Hani he had to get special permission to have his grapevines pruned. The morning we visited, his wife Rheem and daughter Bashaer had been walking to a dentist appointment and a settler boy told the soldiers they didn’t live there, so the soldier made them wait in the pouring rain for twenty minutes while he checked their IDs.

Last month, as Hani was arguing for his right to pass through the checkpoint, a soldier called his commanding officer and asked if he could shoot him, and he overheard the commanding officer say on the radio that Hani was “too old” to shoot. Last fall, when killings in the Tel Rumeida area of Hebron were an almost daily occurrence, the Israeli military authorities evicted the International Solidarity Movement volunteers from their apartment just outside of the Gilbert checkpoint. That was when the neighborhood felt at its most vulnerable, an international married to a Palestinian resident told me after when I ran into him after our Friday afternoon mosque patrol. INTERNEMENT

“They want to make us afraid,” Hani said. Many of his neighbors have moved now. He says the intention of the occupation authorities is clear: to make life so unbearable in H-2 that Palestinians will leave. And of course, that is why they have placed the restrictions on international volunteers as well. They want to make us afraid, too—afraid of deportation, afraid of making the situation worse for our Palestinian partners, afraid that our work is becoming pointless, because we cannot reach the areas that where we need to do our documentation.

Listen to us carefully. If all of H-2 from Tel-Rumeida to Kiryat Arba becomes a settlement corridor, do not say you were not warned, because right now, the Israeli settlers here in Hebron are winning.

***

An Editorial Note—by Peter Eisenstadt
Kathy Kern is one of the bravest persons I know. As she mentions in her article, she has been going to Hebron as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for over two decades. CPT is a Christian pacifist organization, with its roots in the traditional peace churches, the Mennonitesand the Church of the Brethren, , though it is broadly ecumenical in its outlook. To quote from its website, CPT “ places teams at the invitation of local peacemaking communities that are confronting situations of lethal conflict. These teams seek to follow God’s Spirit as it works through local peacemakers who risk injury and death by waging nonviolent direct action to confront systems of violence and oppression.” They do not go into war zones, but areas, like Hebron, that are what might be called “near war zones,” areas of great tension between the oppressors and the oppressed, between the occupied and the occupiers.

Working in Hebron is hard and dispiriting. CPTers try to help Hebronites in their conflicts with settlers, soldiers, and Israeli officials. They document the daily indignities meted out to local residents. The team in Hebron is currently short-handed, in part because Israel sometimes does not allow CPT members to enter the country. (Kathy was once denied entry at Ben-Gurion airport.) And in the recent years, its work has been pervaded by the sense that Israel and the settlers are winning; and that it will win its long, slow war of attrition against the Old City of Hebron; as Palestinians are either forced out or leave because living conditions have become impossible.

I was privileged, in December 2014, to spend a day with Kathy and her husband, Michael Argaman, at the CPT apartment in Hebron. It is utterly chilling to think that however bleak things were at the time, the situation has radically deteriorated. As Kathy notes, the Qitoun checkpoint, which was a twisty-turny five minute walk from the CPT apartment is now inaccessible by foot, and unlike when I was there, the CPT team is now limited to the Palestinian side of the border, so they cannot see the interactions of the school children with the IDF soldiers. I accompanied the CPT team early one morning to watch children crossing the checkpoint on their way to school. I can still smell the tear gas. Hebron has been, in recent months, even more explosive. At the Quitoun checkpoint recently there was an incident when the IDF killed a Palestinian youth in an alleged stabbing incident. The Old City of Hebron for many decades has been the site of the hottest of cold wars, requiring little in the way of additional kindling to burst into flames. The Israeli occupation of the Old City of Hebron is where the occupation of the West Bank began, and if it ever ends, it will make its last stand in Hebron. All I can say is that Kathy and her CPT colleagues, trying to salve the half century old open wound of Hebron, are truly doing God’s work.

 

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Two More Doors Welded Shut on Dubboya Street

Evicted Zuheira, Amal and Amal’s son

Note: This article originally appeared  on the The Jewish Pluralist website. (I sent a penultimate draft from Hebron, so this represents a corrected draft.)

Shopkeepers in Hebron now address me respectfully as ‘Amti, or “Auntie”—a title that means I am not elderly, but well, matronly. And it means that I have worked in Hebron for a full generation—twenty years, minus the five that the Israeli government decided to deny me entry into Palestine.

In 1995, my organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, responded to an invitation from the Hebron Municipality to address  the violence of the Hebron settlers in the Old City for a period of five months beginning in June At the time, people believed there was a realistic chance Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would remove the Hebron settlers and an actual plan existed to redeploy the Israeli military from Hebron at the end of the summer.

Every Saturday afternoon, at about the same time settlers would attack Palestinians, their homes, shops and cars on a short length of Shuhada Street—formerly the main street of Hebron—referred to as Dubboya Street. Our main focus of that first summer of 1995 was to spend Saturdays on Dubboya documenting settler intimidation of Palestinians there and if possible, intervening to prevent violence.

Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. It turned out that Amir was behind many of those attacks on Dubboya Street and for a time, much of the settler violence subsided. Our focus shifted to home demolition and land confiscation in the late 1990s and then the Second Intifada exploded and gun battles in the streets of Hebron became a nightly occurrence. The stipulations of the Oslo Accords that Shuhada Street remain open to all traffic—stipulations never respected by the Israeli government… well, by that time everyone agreed Oslo was dead.

This week, our team received a call that the Israeli military was evicting an elderly woman and her daughter from their home on Dubboya Street.   As is often the case in fraught situations like these, it took us awhile to get all the facts right. The police said that someone had thrown Molotov cocktails from the women’s roof, but they had given the women no warning before they sealed their home. They said they should have known someone was throwing Molotov cocktails from their roof. And while soldiers were welding their home shut they laughed and settlers taunted them.

We posted an album of photos and our basic understanding of the story on Facebook and our website. And then the comments exploded. On our Facebook page, people kept posting this video, which they say proved the daughter was encouraging her mother to cry on cue, although when my teammates got there they tell me the women were genuinely distraught. JewishPress.com framed the video with an incredibly factually inaccurate piece entitled, “What gets a foreign anarchist up in the morning.”  No, we’re not all anarchists and no, we’re not trying to settle in the abandoned buildings.) If you want to know the facts of the story, see this video by Hebron Defense Committee member and Al Haq researcher Hisham Sharabati.

I went to visit the two women the next day. The older Zuheira was depressed and tired, her daughter, smiling and energetic. I don’t know why she was smiling in the video. My bad photo of the two of them seems to indicate that it seems to be her natural disposition.

Doors Welded Shut on Dubboya Street

I do know this: In 1995, even though many shops on Dubboya Street had already closed due to settler and soldier harassment, some were still open. Many people still lived there. Palestinian cars were still able to drive on it. And today, when you walk on the street, door after door after door is welded shut. As Hisham notes in the video, settlers have broken into the backs of the shops to steal the electricity. Most of the families have moved out. The settlers have largely won the battle for Dubboya Street by a process of attrition.

So don’t tell me that Zuheira was crying over fake losses. The Palestinians of Dubboya Street have seen nothing but loss for the last twenty years. And I find it disgusting that people are trying to score propaganda points off the tears of an old woman who has just been evicted with no warning or due legal process.

Dubboya Street

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My 2014 Holiday Letter

Christian Peacemaker Teams at their biennial retreat in Quito, Ecuador at the beginning of September.  We are straddling the purported divide of the Northern and Southern hemisphere.  I am on far left in the goofy hat.

Christian Peacemaker Teams at their biennial retreat in Quito, Ecuador at the beginning of September. We are straddling the purported divide of the Northern and Southern hemisphere. I am on far left in the goofy hat.

@KathleenKern @FakeNovelPitch

Dear Friends, Family and Other Interested Parties,

I have not written a holiday letter for two years. In 2012, I was just coming out of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month during which I completed my third novel. CPT had given me a sabbatical to do so, and I think all I had to say was, “I just wrote this novel and it came from this amazing, spiritual mystical place and I’m not sure what to say about it yet.”

Also, my sabbatical, which had begun in September, had not quite gone as planned. All the massive organizing I planned to do in the house and garden was not getting accomplished. My mother’s declining health was taking a lot of time, and I guess I just didn’t want to write about any of it.

Last year, CPT’s Palestine team did a three year planning session in October, so I worked the month of October, came home for six weeks and then went back December through February and I just wasn’t able to squeeze in the time.

So…hi everyone! 2014 has also been a busy year for me. I have taken over the CPT Twitter account and we have gained 1000 followers since I have done so. Twitter is a major timesuck, however. It’s very easy (and important) just to take a few minutes to check the feed to see what’s happening among the Palestine, Indigenous, Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, Refugee rights, anti-racism activists/NGOs the account follows and then you follow an important topic and next thing you know… The same is true with Facebook. Many people would envy me having a job where checking Twitter and Facebook is part of the work, but it does require some discipline.

On the writing front, I got really good input from Beta readers this year for my novel, current working title, The Price We Paid. Here are the first 2 paragraphs of the letter I’ve been sending to agents:

In THE PRICE WE PAID, political dissident and philandering husband Islam “Iz” Goldberg-Jones describes how he, his wife, Shea Weber, and other members of the resistance brought down the totalitarian Christian Republic that ruled the U.S. from 2049-2086. While in power, the Christian Republic shredded the Bill of Rights by targeting dissident and minority communities (e.g., LGBTQ, Muslim and Chinese-Americans) with imprisonment, torture, and mass executions. It put the children of these communities into a vast group home system run by the Department of Christian Affairs (DCA).

Now, after three decades of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Goldberg-Jones has become a cause célèbre. He is trading on his notoriety to publish a scrupulously honest memoir that includes the pain his infidelities caused his wife, who was famous for writing sentimental literature about children she was raising in the foster home she ran as an alternative to DCA homes. She channeled this pain into speaking out against the Christian Republic’s abuses of power, which turned her into an outlaw and an icon for the movement that toppled the government.

What I haven’t been telling most agents is that the novel is also a retelling of the narrative of the prophet Hosea and Gomer the prostitute. Because it came from a place of such deep spiritual inspiration, the fact that I have only aroused slight interest here and there in the publishing world I think led to a depression this spring, which I have been coming out of in the last couple months. I have been telling myself that most people are glad to have deep spiritual inspiration without getting it published, why can’t I? But anyway, I have a few more venues I am trying and I have started on my fourth, which I am afraid will just as awkwardly straddle the religious/secular divide. The Spirit does not send me marketable fiction, I am afraid.

For other writing I did this year, check out my blog: KathleenKern.net (I am not all that regular, so it’s not a huge amount of material.)

Michael and I have been working this year on the campaign to free Jalil Muntaqim, one of the 25 or so FBI COINTELPRO prisoners who still remain in jail despite the highly irregular legal processes that put them there in the 1960s and 70s. I have several pieces on my blog about his situation. We will be traveling to Palestine/Israel together on December 17 and traveling around Israel with our friend Peter Eisenstadt to visit with Michael’s friends before I join the Palestine team in January. Michael’s son Aldo has a new Malamute named Bailey. David Mark is finishing up basic training with the Ohio National Guard before he returns to Ohio State and Beth Melissa is doing five months of internship with a business in Israel. We are looking forward to seeing her in a couple weeks when Michael and I travel to Israel together to visit friends. He will return home at the end of the month and I will work with the Palestine team until mid-February.

My siblings and I have weekly Skype calls with my mother, Marilyn Kern. The staff at Betty House in Bluffton, frequently tell us. “We love Marilyn!” The Parkinson’s and the dementia make her response time slow during our conversations, but she still laughs a lot.

Ferguson collage_1_On our teams this year, the Iraqi Kurdistan team has been trying to support its partners, who tabled a lot of the work they were doing to support human rights in the Kurdish Regional Governate in order to address the enormous inflow of refugees fleeing ISIS and joining the million refugees from the Syrian War already in the KRG. The Colombia team continues to accompany small communities struggling nonviolently to remain on their land while powerful corporate and criminal interests try to drive them off. In Palestine, the team continues to monitor the Israeli military checkpoints through which Palestinian teachers and must cross through in order to get to school and support our Palestinian and Israeli partners who continue to find ways of mounting nonviolent resistance to the increasingly brutal and inhumane Israeli military occupation. Our Aboriginal Justice team was actively involved with the Elsipogtog First Nation’s anti-fracking resistance this year, and continues to walk with Grassy Narrows First Nation, which, undeterred by the Canadian Supreme Court decision allowing logging on their traditional lands, continues to assert their sovereignty. Christian Peacemaker Teams Europe opened its first project this year on the Greek island of Lesvos, partnering with other NGOs to address the problem of desperate migrants and refugees who are drowning by the thousands in the Mediterranean because of European Union immigration policies. Their Welcome Center at Pipka proved that treating refugees humanely was far more efficient and less costly than the way the Greek Coast Guard was treating them.
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We have just finished Giving Tuesday, and our pitch was that 365 people chipping in $55 supports a CPTer in the field for a year. Also pretty cost efficient, huh! You can donate here: http://www.cpt.org/participate/donate or send checks to CPT/PO Box 6508/Chicago, IL 60680

Since so many of you are on Facebook, I will be posting this letter there this year. Those of you, who do not have Facebook accounts, or who do not use your Facebook accounts may be receiving this letter with an odd card. I am creating space in my card drawer.

I wish you all a meaningful and hopeful holiday season,

Kathleen Kern

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NBC’s ‘Constantine’ may be the most racist show on television

download (1)I find myself doing double takes with NBC’s new show Constantine, as in, “Did they really just say that on network TV in the 21st century?” In the November 2 episode, which featured a Romani woman, who basically cast spells because her marriage hopes were disappointed, the protagonist, Constantine actually says, “There’s nothing blacker than gypsy magic.” Pick the racism you want to deconstruct there.

And then on November 21, we had the Haitian Vodou priest.

Now, I have never seen a U.S. popular culture depiction of Vodou that was not racist—and completely divorced from the reality of what Vodou is. I worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Haiti 1993-94 and I knew rightwing practitioners working for the coup regime and practitioners that were all about social justice—basically the same spectrum that practitioners of Christianity fall into. Vodou/Vodoun and its historic connection to African religions is way too rich and complex for me to get into here, but I can tell you what it does NOT involve. It does NOT involve Haitian Vodou priests killing their sisters so they can communicate easily with the spirits of the underworld. Look it up on Wikipedia.

Yet, this is what the Papa Midnite character, with whom Constantine works in the November 21 episode, has done. Actually, in the episode Constantine accused Papa Midnite of having done something nefarious to his sister, and a little bit later, Papa Midnite was addressing a skull with braids as his sister, and it took me a minute to put the two together.

With Police Officer Darren Wilson’s testimony that unarmed black teenager Michael Brown looked like a “demon” when he shot him in Ferguson last July, this sort of supernatural stereotyping has real dangers for our society. Thank goodness last Friday’s episode featured possessed axe murderers that were all white children.

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Treasure in Ferguson, Colombia, Palestine, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Turtle Island

Note: I originally wrote this reflection for my blog, then adapted it for my organization’s CPTnet. I’m adapting it back again a little.

Since a St. Louis, Missouri prosecutor and Grand Jury have determined that Police Officer Darren Wilson killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown did not merit a trial, I have been busy tweeting #Ferguson on the Christian Peacemaker Team Twitter account. Those tweets have been getting a lot of retweets. We have no people working in Ferguson and I have asked myself why I am inundating the account.

I think it has to do with the disposability of human life, with the contempt shown to Michael Brown when the authorities left his body in the street for four and a half hours and did not bother interviewing key witnesses to the shooting for weeks (until there was a public outcry.) That contempt connected directly with our work in Colombia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Palestine, with indigenous communities in North America, and with migrants in Europe. In all these cases, people in power have deemed the people we work with disposable.
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If you want to drive Colombian farmers off their land so that you can make big profits with palm oil plantations, it’s okay to assault them, to threaten to rape their nine-year old daughters, to kill their animals, to burn their homes, to use the instruments of the Colombian state illegally to evict their communities’ teachers. And of course, you can do much worse. The types of violent harassment cited above are just some issues the communities we work with have been dealing with recently.

In Iraqi-Kurdistan, our civil society partners have had to drop most of their work to focus on the some most disposable people in the world: refugees. And these refugees have included those from the Ezidi/Yazidi community, whose wives, sisters, and daughters are now in ISIS/DAESH brothels, women considered worthless except for sexual gratification.

And then there is the project CPT Europe participated in this summer, welcoming the refugees that Europe wishes would just disappear, and who, because of European policies, have drowned by the thousands in the Mediterranean, fleeing the violence in countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

In Palestine, for nineteen long years, we have watched the forces of military occupation say it is acceptable to arrest, jail and torture Palestinian men, women and children without due process, and destroy their homes if Israel wants their land for settlement expansion. It is acceptable for soldiers to shoot teargas at Palestinian children on their way to school and look on as settlers attack them.

In our work with Indigenous partners, we have watched again and again naked racism strip them of their sovereignty, strip their lands of their resources, and leave behind the toxic poisons of their industries. We have watched the Canadian government shrug as 1800 Indigenous women are reported murdered and missing.

So I think it’s all related—Mike Brown, VonDerrit Myers, Tamir Rice, Tina Fontaine, Loretta Saunders, Bella Laboucan-McLean, Marissa Alexander, Jalil Muntaqim, Leonard Peltier…People of color who lost their lives, livelihoods, and freedom because here in North America they were considered just as disposable as the people we work with in Colombia, Palestine, Lesvos, Turtle Island and Kurdistan.

The good news, of course, is that our Colombian, Indigenous, Palestinian, Kurdish, and refugee partners are revealing to the world that they are a treasure—as are the people of Ferguson. The season of Advent is upon us. Let us listen.

Good hashtags to follow #BlackLivesMatter #TheologyofFerguson #StayWokeAdvent. Good accounts: @FaithinFerguson, @BroderickGreer @MikeBrownCover. The #Ferguson hashtag has a lot of good information, but you will also find really racist tweets there.

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