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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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There are some forms of sadness more worth having than some forms of happiness.

A young mother shared in church on Sunday the pain her family was going through with their foster child at the moment: a pain coming from loneliness, frustration, anger and yes, love for this child that they welcomed into their home last year, and whom we have welcomed into our church.

It made me think of something I have found to be true in my life—that there are some forms of sadness more worth having than some forms of happiness.

Some people, Christians in particular, find this statement bizarre, or even a little offensive—as though I am romanticizing depression.  And I truly don’t mean that.  There was a time in my life when I did think depression was an essential part of my personality, because I had no memory of a time when I was not depressed.  Then I went to college, and found out what it was like to be happy.  I learned that much of my depression had its roots in external sources like family dynamics and the Findlay, OH public school system, and that I was more myself when I was not depressed.

Usually, I tell people who are alarmed by statement about sadnesses worth having that everyone who has had children has experienced pain they would never have experienced, had they not had children.  Some parents, in particular have had children who experienced illnesses or other hardships they never anticipated when they felt the drive to become parents, but the vast majority of people think that having their children were worth that pain.

But I am usually thinking about the pain absorbed by people who have chosen to take risks, for the sake of love, that most people choose not to.  Like the people at my church who chose to become foster parents (and before that, worked as volunteers with undocumented migrants), I have chosen to take risks in my life that took me to sad places.  I have worked for a human rights organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, since 1993, that currently has projects in Palestine, Iraqi-Kurdistan, Colombia and with Indigenous communities in North America.  Often it seems that every small triumph our partner communities experience arises out innumerable setbacks, failures, and humiliations.

By choosing to write novels, I also essentially chose a life of rejection.  I think my current depression is partially rooted in the fact that all three of my previous novels came from a very deep place of inspiration, were enthusiastically received by beta readers and then…the end.  So I am struggling with the question of why I was handed these novels—almost compelled to write them—so that maybe 20 people could appreciate them.  (I’m exaggerating a little, but am at a low place.)

Women and children of At-Tuwani  in the South Hebron Hills, Palestine remove roadblock to their village

Women and children of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills, Palestine, remove roadblock to their village

So why live this sort of life?  Why put myself by choice among people who did not have the choice to live the life they did?  Because when ordinary people choose to struggle together to change their worlds, and when the world takes notice, and begins to reach out to them and stand with them and tell other people about what they are doing to claim their human rights and their dignity; and when the systems and powers that are oppressing and robbing those people finally have to stop telling their lies about them and back off; and when you have been a small part of standing with them and telling their story…there’s a deep, tired joy in all that makes you extraordinarily glad you got involved.

And once I get to a certain point in my novel where it stops becoming work, and characters take on a life of their own, and it’s hard to stop writing—that’s an adrenaline rush like no other.

So at times like these, when I feel everyone of my fifty-two years, and all the young writers on Twitter seem to understand how to navigate the publication and agenting system so much better than I do, and the war in Gaza and the ongoing depredations of ISIS, and tawdry reality of Ferguson, MO and the LAPD and Prime Minister Harper make me dread approaching the CPT Twitter account every morning, I remember and believe:

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On Gaza, Twitter, and Despair

Note: The following post originally appeared on the Jewish Pluralist website.  I have adapted it slightly to avoid confusion.

I manage the Twitter account for my human rights organization, and lately, I find I have to take a deep breath every time I check it.  Since we have a project in Palestine, our Twitter feed follows other accounts concerned with peace and human rights in Palestine/Israel and now, it’s all about the bombing in Gaza.  We also have a project in Iraqi Kurdistan; the team there is dealing with land confiscation by oil corporations and Syrian refugees.  (Remember them?) In Colombia, corrupt authorities have used riot police to evict a community we accompany.  The Supreme Court of Canada has just ruled that Ontario could open the land of our Anishinaabe partners to industrial logging.  But right now, Gaza trumps all on Twitter.

When a friend who runs The Jewish Pluralist website asked me if I had anything to contribute regarding the war in Gaza, I told her that I just could not find the words to write about the current situation.  Part of that may be due to my having entered another cycle of depression this spring, but I think mostly, having worked in the region since 1995, I just see no light at the end of this tunnel, and no light back from where I started, and how can I write in the dark?

However an e-mail I read from Noa Baum—an Israeli woman who does a poignant and educational one-woman show about Jewish and Palestinian experiences of the 1948 and 1967 wars—got me thinking.  She writes, “As despair sees it, anyone who still hopes, who still believes in the possibility of peace, is at best naïve, or a deluded dreamer…”

She made me realize my despair is formed from different stuff.  It grows from love—love of Palestinians and Israelis I have worked with, celebrated with, grieved with.  People who were dreamers at one time and who have for decades, under craven political leadership, seen their work treated like trash.  My despair is based on the knowledge that I have almost no power to facilitate peace or human rights in the region.  I can only witness, document, and at a micro-level, provide accompaniment for individuals, families, and small communities nonviolently resisting the occupation.  Any real change is in the hands of Palestinians and Israelis working at a grassroots level, and people at the roots have been trampled until they are bloody.

I had chosen not to share graphic images of dead and mutilated childrenGazaGirlTear coming across the Twitter Feed.  But one picture this week dug its claws into me and would not let go, so after some internal debate, I did post it on our account.  It shows a little girl in profile, gray eye open in death, with a tear slipping from its corner. Jehan Alfarra (@palinoia), who tweeted the picture from Gaza wrote, “Shedding her final tear, she leaves us.”

And I think, that tear could drown the world.

But we’re still here.

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And so it descends

princ_rm_pet_scan_of_depressed_brain

A few weeks ago, I finally said aloud in church what I had been resisting admitting to others and myself. I have entered another cycle of depression. In April, I was feeling a lot of stress about finishing some CPT-related projects and kept focusing on some indeterminate future time when they would be over, and I would catch up. But the calendar kept filling up, and my stress level did not drop. I continued to feel as though I were constantly on the verge of tears.

I began missing writing deadlines and meetings. Still, when I went to see my doctor about having a mouth so full of canker sores that I could not speak clearly (yes, also a symptom of stress) and he asked about my depression, I told him that my mood was fine.

I don’t remember now what triggered the, “Duh, of course you’re depressed,” epiphany. I only know that when I shared it in church, I felt a lot better; it took some of the power from this nebulous stress-creating force away. Knowing that people are praying for you always helps. And then, well, it’s like living with any kind of chronic pain. My husband can call and ask how I am and I can say, casually, “Oh you know, consumed by dread and anxiety,” and he can say, “Oh, the usual,” and I can say, “Yeah.”

Unlike chronic pain, this depression will go away eventually. Knowing it’s temporary is also helpful. When I am working in the garden, for some reason, the internal pain is less and I feel closer to God. This week, when I was with friends at my spiritual formation group, they pointed out that my depression generally coincides with periods when I am not writing, so I am trying to institute a discipline of writing one page a day on my new novel—working title, “Don’t Call Me Buffy”—before I run e-mail. I’m finding the results are a little disjointed. It’s a two volume novel and I know exactly how I want both books to end and I have a strong general story arc, but I’ve been unclear on the very beginning, so stopping abruptly after I have finished  250 words isn’t doing much for flow or a generally zippy opening. I’m hoping that once things start clicking I can go back and a better beginning will suggest itself.

Unfortunately, a symptom of depression is that it makes focus and concentration difficult, which affects my writing and editing, my work for Christian Peacemaker Teams and my general life skills here at home. (Yesterday my husband asked me to follow up with my doctor about a wellness screening form I was supposed to have mailed in more than a week ago, and I hadn’t mailed it in yet. Guess I’ll do that today.)

Most days, I triumph over inertia. Most days, I triumph over blind panic. If d4b5602ef0fa695a47fe87b27950e37fyou met me for the first time, you would not know I am struggling. But just maintaining a safe distance from the magnetic pull of the abyss takes all my energy.

Yesterday was a bad day. We learned our friend Jalil Muntaqim had been denied parole for the eighth time, and we knew that for the first time he had had one sympathetic person on the parole board, so she evidently had failed to convince one other person to vote with her. All day, I couldn’t stop imagining what it must have felt like for him to have his hopes raised after more than four decades in prison and then…

Everything else seemed so pointless, you know?

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My newest beta reader is a COINTELPRO prisoner

UPDATE:  We learned on the morning of June 25, 2014 that Jalil was turned down for parole yet again.  He wrote to me and my husband that there had been one sympathetic person on the parole board, but she must have failed to convince one of the other two people.   I feel so sad, because I know from letters he wrote to me and my husband that he had allowed himself to hope.

 

In previous blog posts I wrote about a visit to Attica prison and my conversation with Jalil Muntaqim, a member of the Black Panther Party who70949 was swept up in the COINTELPRO prosecutions/persecutions of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI in the 1970s and has been incarcerated since 1973.

During our visit in April, we were talking about our writing and my husband brought up, a little to my chagrin, my novel, The Price We Paid, and suggested that Jalil’s opinion on it was worth having.

Now, the thing is, my main character, Islam Goldberg-Jones is a political prisoner incarcerated for three decades for a crime he did not commit. Even though the fascist Christian Republic government has fallen by the end of the novel, he remains in jail because the federal judiciary remains filled with Christian Republic appointees. I actually had in mind COINTELPRO prisoner Leonard Peltier when I subjected Iz to life in prison. (I had this fantasy that if the novel were published I would follow up with a novella or short story that frees Iz on the condition that Obama pardon Peltier—but it looks unlikely at this point that the book will be published while Obama is still in office.)

So, I never thought I’d have the chance to have an actual COINTELPRO prisoner read the novel and offer suggestions—and he was someone I did not know well to boot, always a bonus in a beta reader. (People most willing to read your manuscripts are usually people who like you, and they will try to be objective, but they will also always cut you a little slack.)

Within a few days of his receiving my manuscript, I had Jalil’s first letter. It was exactly the sort of critique that any writer hopes to receive from a reader, one that shows the reader has read the manuscript carefully, noticed gaps in logic, and sees ways that it can be improved. He followed it with two more letters containing some afterthoughts—again, gratifying to the writer, because it shows the novel has stuck with the reader.

The flaw he pointed out that I most want to remedy was the omission of how the African slave trade, 400 years of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow etc would have fed into the rise of the Christian Republic theocracy—even though the people participating in the government, including people of color, might not understand this history.

Additionally, he wrote

As you may recall, I mentioned there was an absence of the African diaspora experience and how it shaped the U.S. existence. What I failed to mention as a method for you to include this dynamic is the reality of how the slave trade miscegenation created a New Afrikan. The Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Mandigo, Mandika, etc. etc. were chained, shackled and brought to the country, denied the right to practice their indigenous religions (Yoruba, Islam, Animism, etc.) were told to Christianize their names, not permitted to read or write, until they were integrated into the Christian religion, soon being allowed to read the Bible and Christian literature, etc. until they were able to have Black Christian churches and other forms of worship. This method of creating a New Afrikan, including Native American and European DNA in the Afrikan bloodline, wrapped in the Christian belief system was an important plan/procedure to domicile these Africans, which lead to the U.S. becoming an international economic power.

So this has given me the idea to go back to the Ralph section, when he is meeting the young people from all the various youth groups in the DC area to plan public witnesses that are veiled critiques of the government, and having one of them be a New Afrikan youth group, who view Christianity as a slave religion. I was thinking that Jerry, Ralph’s boyfriend, could become fascinated by the New Afrikan kids and interested in that history. Hank, on the other hand, devout African Methodist Episcopal Zion member that he is, would frown on this talk, and that could increase the sense of alienation that Ralph begins to feel towards Hank, who has been a mentor and father figure to him.

Last summer, I wrote about the pleasure of revising future Canadian history in the manuscript after my colleague Jim Loney read it.  I will feel some of the same pleasure incorporating Jalil’s suggestions, especially since Iz and most of the people in my novel’s resistance movement are people of color.

So I was even more apologetic than I would have been ordinarily that it took me so long to respond to Jalil’s letters. I noted that I was feeling a little overwhelmed by my CPT work, and had been unable to do writing that really fed me for more than a month (more about this in a future post.) He wrote back that it was good to take time away from CPT work to deal with my needs and mentioned that his comrade in the struggle, Safiya Bukhari had died too young because she had not taken care of herself. (It feels weird to receive comfort and encouragement from someone who is locked up in Attica while I am living a suburban lifestyle in Rochester, NY.) I googled Bukhari and really wish she was still around. She sounds awesome. And she was a year older than I am when she died.

In a couple weeks, Jalil will be face a parole hearing for the eighth time. It is my great hope that justice will prevail and he will be able to leave prison and sit down to the family dinner his mother wants so much. If not, I am going to adjust my fantasy. If I manage to sell this book I will suggest, as part of the marketing, that I will follow up with a short story or novella about Iz leaving jail, on the condition that all of the COINTELPRO prisoners receive a pardon.

Dreams are free, right?

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The BDS Debate In Our House

This post first appeared on The Jewish Pluralist website.
My husband and I met because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A progressive Israeli-American, he came to hear me give a presentation called “Eye-witness to the Intifada” in November 2001 and asked good questions. A few months later, we met at another Middle East peace event, talked for hours afterwards and have been together ever since.

While some may view us as an odd couple—a secular Israeli Jew and a religious Mennonite who works with a human rights organization in Palestine—we agree on the most fundamental issues at work in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. We believe that Palestinians and Israelis are entitled to the same human rights; no exceptions. We agree that the Israeli military occupation must end. We agree that Israeli leaders, supported by the U.S. Congress, have been most responsible for scuttling effective peace negotiations, but that most official Palestinian leaders have not done well by their people either.

Our arguments over points of disagreement never reach satisfactory conclusions, I think, because we are arguing from two different platforms. Israel was Michael’s home for fifteen years and he would still live there if family circumstances had not compelled him to return to the U.S. I, on the other hand, in addition to working in Palestine have worked with my human rights organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), in Haiti, Chiapas, Mexico, Colombia, and with Indigenous communities in North America. So I view the situation in Palestine through the lens of a human rights observer, rather than as from the perspective of someone with ties to a homeland.

This reality colors our disagreement over the Boycott, Divestment, and BDS-Sticker2009Sanctions Movement. Although even in that area, we probably agree more than we disagree. Michael always boycotted items produced in settlements, and as someone who does socially responsible financial planning for a living, he would boycott the corporations that reinforce and profit from the military aspects of the Israeli occupation—e.g., Motorola, Raytheon, and Caterpillar—anyway. But when it comes to boycotting products made inside Israel proper, or boycotting Israeli cultural and academic enterprises, Michael is passionately opposed.

I do not match his passion in my disagreement. Those of us who work on the CPT’s Palestine team could not ourselves agree on an ardent support of the full spectrum of the BDS movement when we tried to write our own statement on the topic. But when Palestinian Christian partner organizations launched the Kairos document in 2009, asking the international community to support them by adopting BDS principles, we felt we had to stand with them. For decades, the international community has lectured Palestinians on using nonviolent resistance against the occupation. BDS is nonviolent resistance, and, as the document says, Palestinian Christians are not viewing it as an act of revenge, “but rather a serious action in order to reach a just and definitive peace.” Those are principles very much in keeping with the philosophy of CPT.

I have heard all the arguments against BDS. Why is Israel being singled out when human rights abuses are so much worse in [insert country]? Answer: Idi Amin’s regime killed exponentially more people in Uganda during the 1970s than the South African government killed in four decades of apartheid. Does that mean the international community should not have been in solidarity with South African anti-Apartheid activists?

BDS will only make Israelis more recalcitrant. Answer: How could Israel be more recalcitrant than it is now? The same argument was used for South Africa, and for a time the South African government did push back, but ultimately, practical people like DeKlerk recognized that Apartheid could not go on forever.

The academic cultural boycott alienates the very Israelis who are most supportive of ending the occupation. Answer: A. there is a distinction between boycotts of artists and academics who are officially representing the state of Israel, and academics and artists who happen to be Israeli. B. Presenting an attractive, cultured face helps mitigate the barbarity of the occupation. It was, in fact the boycott by sports teams and entertainers, that swung white public opinion against apartheid in South Africa more than the economic boycott.

Israel is nothing like South Africa. Answer: Every South African Israeli I know, every South African I have met who has come through Hebron has told me the checkpoints and treatment of Palestinians by soldiers and settlers eerily evoke to them the worst of Apartheid’s heyday.(1)

I can keep generating responses like these. I have used them in many conversations with Israeli and Jewish friends, and I see that I cause them pain when I do so, which I hate. But I have seen Palestinian friends brutalized by soldiers and settlers. I have seen them lose their land and their homes. I have seen Palestinians shot, spit on, and in general, treated worse than animals by the hideous tentacles of the Israeli military occupation. And since I began working in Hebron in 1995, the situation has only gotten worse; no amount of dialogue, solidarity outreach, or top level diplomacy has stopped the erosion of civil rights and human dignity for the people in the Hebron district and the rest of Palestine.

So ultimately, the decision for my colleagues and me to support the BDS movement is this: Palestinians have asked us to participate with them in this nonviolent struggle of last resort. Their lives and livelihoods are not worth more than Israeli or Jewish lives. But they ARE worth more than Israeli and Jewish feelings, even the feelings of those Israelis and Jews I love the most.

(1). Michael and I watched a PBS special on the 25th Anniversary of Paul indexSimon’s Graceland album. During its production, Simon went to South Africa at the time of the Cultural Boycott and used prominent black South African musicians in the recording of his album, which caused a huge debate. Some, including founder of Artists Against Apartheid, Dali Tambo, argued he should be boycotted, while others argued he was providing employment for and celebrating black musicians. The special included a segment with Simon and Tambo cordially discussing the boycott. Dali Tambo still believed Simon should have been boycotted, but they hugged at the end of the conversation. My takeaway? We won’t know ultimately about the effectiveness of BDS in Israel and Palestine until we have some hindsight. Michael’s takeaway? Boycotting Simon was a ridiculous idea then, and it’s still a ridiculous idea.

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Pope Francis in Palestine and Israel

My piece that appeared on The Jewish Pluralist website this past week:

Pope Francis in Palestine and Israel
Kathleen Kern

“I have a huge crush on the Pope,” I announced to my coworkers in our Hebron apartment* over supper last fall. “I suppose that’s weird, being Mennonite and all, but…”

“No,” my teammate said, “I’m Muslim and I have a crush on the Pope.”

Even my Jewish husband—who was at first skeptical of Pope Francis because of his silence as Archbishop in Argentina during the 1970s-80s when the U.S.-backed junta was torturing and murdering thousands of Argentineans—has admitted he has been a drastic improvement over recent occupants of the Papal See.

For me, the priority Francis places on caring for the marginalized, and the way he seems to have marginalized more popular obsessions of the Catholic church hierarchy tell me that he is serious about following Jesus, and encouraging the wider church to do so. And let’s face it, the guy is a champion when it comes to symbolism: washing the feet of Muslim women prisoners, confiscating the mansion of a rich bishop and turning it into a soup kitchen, choosing not to live himself in the luxurious Papal palace, but in small monastery apartment.

So I expected a certain amount of symbolism when he arrived in BoeCHcQIYAAXNrCIsrael/Palestine this past weekend. And sure enough, that moment happened at the wall that surrounds Bethlehem and which has strangled its economy: the Apartheid/Separation/Security Wall/Fence/Barrier.

Pictures of him laying his hand on the wall and pressing his forehead against it were probably meant to evoke the reverence with which people make contact with the Kotel on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. Someone on my Twitter feed crowed, “This picture is worth a thousand Kerry visits.” But in a picture of the Pope laying his head against the wall I see something else. I see a certain slump in his shoulders. I see depression. I see futility—a “God, you must do something, I can do nothing” attitude.

Perhaps I am projecting. You see, I am married to someone who strongly believes in the two state solution as do his J-Street colleagues, whom I like and admire. And the human rights milieu in which I work contains strong proponents for the one-state solution, whom I like and admire. And I, who have worked in Hebron since 1995 and seen the settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank grow from 150,000 to 500, 000 believe this:

Neither solution, as I have studied them, can possibly work, not with the craven Israeli and Palestinian political leadership in power now. Not with Israel holding all the cards and continually confiscating land in the West Bank and building settlements while it claims to want negotiations. Not with the U.S. Congress prepared to give Israel all the aid it wants, no questions asked. I do not see what new or creative ideas Shimon Peres or Mahmoud Abbas, whom the Pope invited to the Vatican while he was in the region, could possibly have to offer to the peace process.

If some solution does come, it will not come from Popes or Presidents, but from people that nobody is watching right now. People who see a chink in the wall of the Occupation that is not widely visible now and a way to bring at least a small part of it down. They in turn will inspire others to bring another part of it down and so on and so on, and finally the politicians will move in, legislate the end and take credit for it.

But I have a feeling that Pope Francis, if no one has assassinated him by then, will know who’s responsible and will give credit where it’s due. (Okay, yeah, I have this worldview thing…)

*I work for a Human Rights organization called Christian Peacemaker Teams. We have projects in Colombia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Palestine and with Indigenous Nations in North America.

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