Shootings during “Great March of Return”

May 16, 2018

An open letter to Senators Hassan and Shaheen and Congresswoman Kuster

This week the Israeli military fired from the Armistice Line across 300 yards of farmland in Gaza killing more than 60 and maiming over 2,700 unarmed Palestinian men, women, and children.  Since March 30 over 108 Palestinians have been killed participating in the “Great March of Return,” organized by the civil society in Gaza, not by Hamas.  70% of Palestinians in Gaza were forced from their homes in Israel 70 years ago.  Since then they have been seeking the right of return or reparation.  And they seek freedom.

Senators Hassan, Shaheen and Congresswoman Kuster:  we need your voices and your legislative initiative to counter President Trump, Ambassadors Friedman and Nikki Haley, as well as some Zionist Jews and Christians, who are saying these actions of the Israeli military are appropriate and OK. Their statements and United States complicity with the Israeli military are an embarrassment and an outrage to U.S. citizens and people of faith.  They are in violation of U.S. and international law and the values of compassion, human rights, freedom, and justice for all.

It is not OK to use “butterfly bullets” (bullets that explode on contact to tear flesh and fragment bone) fired from U.S. sniper rifles to kill unarmed people.  It is not OK to drop gas from drones on peaceful people seeking freedom. The gas has killed at least one young child with breathing problems.  It is not OK to kill people with high-powered rifles and artillery who farm and walk on their land near the Armistice Line or even kill young people who sling stones at the fence and armored vehicles.  There have been no reports of Israeli deaths or injuries.  It is not OK to imprison a whole people, bomb their infrastructure, hospitals and schools, and restrict their water, food, electricity, and supplies for rebuilding.  It is not OK to give billions of dollars in military aid to Israel that supports these abuses against people of the land.

It is an absolute a moral imperative that you speak out firmly against this Israeli military violence and seek legislation to end U.S. complicity.  Communicate with President Trump and our State Department that they must support UN resolutions condemning Israeli military action against Gaza, and also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Advocate for support of an impartial investigation of Israeli military action against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Initiate legislation to withhold all military assistance to Israel until there is an end to the immoral of use of lethal weapons against civilian Palestinians and innocent children and a path toward freedom, the right of return, and equal justice for all Palestinians and Israelis: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Seek action to eliminate the introduction of Israeli military tactics in the training of our local police forces by the Israeli military.

U.S. complicity with Israeli oppression challenges our sensitivity as people of goodwill, justice, and peace.  It risks a trend toward normalization of violence in the name of security against people who are not just like us.  We ask that you let your values of love, care, compassion, empathy, and justice for the powerless inform your actions and guide your positions on Israel – Palestine and on issues of white privilege in our own Country.







Overcoming Bullying, Racism, Fear

View from Kalorama Guest House, Washington, DC

Recently my wife, Faye, and I spent a week in Washington, DC.  Our primary reason for the trip was the annual meeting of the national United Church of Christ Palestine – Israel Network (UCC PIN) Steering Committee. There were dozens of other groups meeting in the city planning to lobby their senators and representatives on issues driven by their convictions and passions.  These assorted groups included the annual “Ecumenical Advocacy Days” conference and J-Street.  As we went from appointment to appointment on the Hill, we overlapped with delegations from J-Street.  UCC PIN and J-Street have different positions on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. However, we learned that both were advocating for a vote against Senator Benjamin Cardin’s Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S720.  Both see the Act as a freedom of speech issue. This bill makes it a crime to support or advocate boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israeli products.  Also, both delegations were urging an end to the Israeli military shooting across the armistice line at un-armed demonstrators in Gaza.

In addition, UCC PIN was asking our Representatives to co-sponsor and support the Betty McCollun bill: H.R. 4391, Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.  It extends an absolute prohibition against the torture and ill treatment of detained minors, in keeping with both U.S. and international law. It requires that the Secretary of State certify that American funds do not support Israeli military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill treatment of Palestinian children.

We visited the offices of Senator Shaheen, Senator Hassan, and Representative Kuster.  We met with Legislative Assistants and a Senior National Security Advisor. We were warmly welcomed and given ample time for a thorough discussion of our “asks” and the reasons for supporting them.  Information was shared, questions were asked, and the developing positions of our legislators were explained.  They received our background literature and promised to consider the contents.  Each session ended with encouragement to keep in touch and offer any additional information that might develop.  Noticing the rain outside, one aide even offered to arrange a ride for us to our next appointment on the far side of the Capital building.

However, also included in these visits and throughout our five days in Washington was a cloud of apprehension. The infusion of power abuse, hegemony, lies, and bullying tactics of President Trump and some others in the administration infected the mood and spirit of the city.  Conversations contained hints of caution and despair. We heard it in congressional offices, in the voices at a demonstration on the lawns around the Capital, and in overheard discussions in the street, on the Metro, or in a cafeteria.  Several times we heard the words, “In this political climate it is not possible…” Lobbying groups exhibited anxiety and caution. Friends hesitated to delve into controversial issues.

Therefore, we were surprised by an experience at Kalomara Guest House.  Early in the morning six sleep-deprive strangers straggled in and pulled up chairs around the breakfast table laden with eggs, potato cakes, bacon, cereal, coffee, tea, and orange juice.  There was even a plate of home-baked chocolate chip cookies sitting on a side table! Cautiously we tested each other’s tolerance for early breakfast conversation. Names were exchanged. Hometowns revealed. Comfortable accommodations and a good, if short, nights sleep were affirmed.  Then the more courageous among us began to ask about why each of us was visiting Washington, D.C.  The conversation soon became energized.  Interest blossomed.  Awkwardness disappeared as we shared our stories.

During the next hour, regional accents from the South, Midwest, New Hampshire and Maine blended into the conversation.  Four of the people around the table were in D.C. to meet with their Congressional delegations or to testify at Congressional hearings. The other two were a daughter and mother visiting the college where the daughter had been accepted for the fall term.

One by one the breakfast guests expressed their commitment for improving the human condition.  The student from a small town in Maine was seeking to expand her horizons, study with other young people from a variety of ethnic and cultural origins.  The woman at the end of the table was scheduled to testify at a Senate hearing. Her organization advocates for immigrant children, as young as four, who have crossed the Mexican border and been separated from their parents or other adults.  By executive order, President Trump has taken away their grant funds. She is asking for funds to defend these children at risk.  The man sitting across from me was lobbying for convenient, affordable mass transportation by financing improvements in the rail system.

When our turn came, we explained our membership on the Steering Committee of UCC PIN and our efforts to lobby for the protection of Palestinian children living in the occupied Palestinian territory. Then the man sitting across from me said, “I am Jewish.”  After a pause he smiled and acknowledged the difficult struggle in Israel and Palestine.  For the next 20 minutes we shared our positions and passions concerning the Israeli – Palestine situation. Around that breakfast table grew trust and respect for the honesty of our varied convictions.

I give thanks for that early morning breakfast at Kalorama Guest House. The conversation among six strangers affirmed that the lies, bullying, racism, and all the current phobias have not won the day.  The Greek root of “kalorama” means “beautiful, wide view.”  Our day of advocacy on the Hill was validated by this small group of strangers who were willing to take in the wide view of listening to one another and extending love, care, and peace with justice for all human beings.  It is a beautiful view when walls come down to reveal honest sharing among neighbors, no matter from where they come.

Gazans began Demonstrations on 42nd Anniversary of Land Day

In 2009, my wife Faye and I visited families in the Israeli village of Sderot, 2 ¼ miles east of the armistice line between Israel and Gaza.  From Sderot one can look into Gaza where today tens of thousands of non-violent Palestinian demonstrators are gathered.  As I write, there have been over two-dozen deaths inflicted by the Israeli military and almost two thousand injuries, more than half from live gunfire. Reading the news, I can imagine standing at the edge of Sderot watching the Israeli armored vehicles and tanks along with 100 Israeli military snipers behind the recently bulldozed berm scanning 300 meters into Gaza.

This scene is in contrast to the village life we experienced on our visit to Sderot several years ago. Residents gave us a tour of the village square and the schoolyard. They pointed to the barrier fences that the Israeli military had constructed on the Gaza territory. It prevented them from visiting their friends in Gaza as they had once been able to do.  They showed us several buildings exhibiting small one-foot in diameter breaks in the wall from a stray rocket fired from Gaza. They explained to us that the rockets were capable of only minor damage.   They lived with some anxiety but also with some confidence in the inaccuracy of the rockets and in Israel’s early warning system.

The explained to us that they were committed to working together with the Palestinians of Gaza toward ending this conflict.  They were setting up communications with their Gaza neighbors using cell phones and computers.  Together they compared the devastation of Israeli rockets and bombs on Gaza with the minor damage from Gazan rockets.  They talked about Gaza’s lack of food, water, and electricity.  They agreed that neither the Israeli government and military nor the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas parties were demonstrating any success to end violence.  They acknowledge the imbalance of power by Israeli economic, military, and political dominance over Palestinians.   They shared the feeling of being caught in the middle of a conflict between Israeli and Palestinian leaders with the complicity of the United States.

However, primarily, the people of Sdrot and Gaza share a common concern for their young people.  They observe psychological wounds among their teenagers and young adults.  The Israeli children suffer anxiety over the fear of rockets.  Older Israeli teens and young adults exhibit personality changes resulting from their compulsive military service, and their indoctrination to see Palestinians as enemies and inferior.  The Palestinian children witness the humiliation of their parents and the stripping of their dignity.  Access to education is limited.  Powerful Israeli military bombs and rockets destroy their homes.  The children become radicalized and angry.  Together, the people of Sdrot and Gaza have committed to caring for and healing their damaged children as well as to advocate for change to prevent a continuation of this tragedy inflicted on their children.

A recent Associated Press story,  “Gaza violence is latest salvo in war of narratives,” contradicts the impulses of the people we met in Sdrot.  Its bias suggests the protest was orchestrated by Hamas to infiltrate the border and attack Israelis.  The reality is that several human rights groups called thousands of Palestinians together to demonstrate non-violently more than a hundred yards from the fenced armistice line.  The few disrupters who threw stones and created smoke from burning tires are hardly a threat to the fence, the earthen berm, or the armed Israeli soldiers.  It is not accurate to suggest that a few agitators dominate the non-violent movement of the vast majority.  We know that peaceful demonstrations everywhere risk a few disrupters.

Also left out of the report was the prior preparation of the Israeli army.  Days before the demonstration they built an earthen berm to hide 100 snipers with rifles able to kill from three hundred meters away.  They stockpiled teargas and issued rubber bullets.  It appeared the plan was to prepare to kill and maim people in the open land on the Gaza side of the barrier that runs through Gaza territory.

The article left out important background.  In 1948 the Israeli military emptied over 400 Palestinian towns and villages.  Some Palestinians fled the army.  Others were forced out of their homes.  70% of the residents of Gaza are refugees from these villages.  The demonstration is motivated by the 42ndanniversary of Land Day.  In 1976 Israel planned to expropriate more than six thousand dumas of Palestinian land.  Six Palestinians were killed protesting this Israeli action.  The issue today is the right to return to their homes or be compensated for them as well as ending the occupation.

In 2006, U.S. and Israel demanded Palestinians hold elections.  The U.S. and Israel rejected the results of the election because they were disappointed in the outcome.  Hamas won a significant number of seats.  Israel blocked the movement of the Palestinian elected legislators so that the legislature could never meet.  Israel also arrested some of the Hamas legislators.  The results were that the two parties, Fatah and Hamas, could not work together with the possibility of influencing each other’s political positions.  Hamas is isolated in Gaza and Fatah primarily resides in the West Bank occupied territory.

Finally, the article rightly reported that the United Nations called for an independent investigation of the violence.  However, it neglected to report that the United States has blocked the implementation of that investigation.

The people of Sdrot and Gaza need the support of the people of America to call upon government elected leaders to cooperate with the United Nations and pressure Israel to put away the sniper rifles as well as abandon violent actions against peaceful demonstrators. Lift the barriers restricting people and building materials.  Let food, electricity, and water flow.   Let the people meet one another to organize around their common concerns and heal their young men and women.  What good news it would be to stand in Sdrot and see the fertile farmland of Gaza rather than barrier fences and berms.


We Must Confront Israeli Injustice

Tuesday’s February 8, 2018 Concord Monitor reported the impending trial in an Israeli military court of 17 year old Ahed Tamimi “for slapping and punching two Israeli soldiers.” The soldiers were armed with assault rifles and able to lightly swat away Ahed’s slaps, according to Amnesty International.

The encounter had taken place at a non-violent demonstration in Nabi Saleh against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The soldiers were standing on the edge of the Tamimi family’s walled front yard. Ahed’s cousin, 15-year-old Mohammad Tamimi, had been hit in the head at close range by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. He later required surgery that involved the removal of part of his left skull. Ahed was arrested 4 days after the incident in the middle of the night from her Palestinian home in Nabi Saleh. She was 16 at the time. She has been held in detention for four months awaiting a military court trial. Her conviction would subject her to as many as ten years in prison. An Israeli woman in a similar situation was subject to the Israeli civil court system, not a military court, and received no prison time.

Leading up to the trial Tamimi requested a public proceeding. The military court rejected her request. After weeks held in prison and interrogated under the threat of ten years in prison (Israeli military courts have a 99% conviction rate) Ahed Tamimi accepted a plea agreement that was accepted by the court on March 21.  The agreement included three counts of assault and one count of incitement to violence. Six other charges were dropped. She was sentenced to 8 months in prison and fined $1,437 (5000 shekels). Calculating time served while waiting for the trial she will be released in July. Ahed’s mother received a similar sentence for incitement in the release of a video of the incident between Ahed and the Israeli soldiers.

The background for Tamimi’s confrontation with Israeli soldiers goes back to the late 1970’s. At that time the Israeli army seized 150 acres of land from Tamimi’s village of Nabi Saleh for “military purposes.” Soon after, Israel handed over the land to Israeli settlers who began to develop the illegal settlement of Halamish. More Palestinian farmland has been taken during the ensuing years for the expansion of Halamish. Also seized by the Settlement was Nabi Saleh’s water source, Bow Spring.

In non-violent demonstrations against these injustices, Tamimi’s uncle, Rushdie, was shot and killed. Another time her mother was shot in the leg. In her lifetime of seventeen years, Tamimi has known only political, economic, and military domination of her Palestinian village and her person.

The Israeli army prosecutes hundreds of Palestinian children in juvenile military courts every year, often after arresting them in night raids and systematically subjecting them to ill-treatment, including blindfolding, threats, harsh interrogations without the presence of their lawyers or families, solitary confinement and in some cases physical violence. There are currently some 350 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and detention centers, according to local human rights organizations. I have personally witnessed the taking of a 16 year-old boy from his home in the Palestinian village of Jayyous at 3 AM. I also witnessed the debriefing by the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, of another Palestinian boy who reported being handcuffed, blindfolded, threatened, and receiving harsh physical interrogation asking for the names of his friends; all without the presence of lawyers or family.

It is important to know that we are not alone in protesting against these injustices inflicted on Palestinian children.   On November 14, 2017 Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.) introduced legislation—the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, H.R. 4391 — to prevent United States tax dollars from supporting the Israeli military’s ongoing detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children. (The United States gave Israel $3.1 billion for fiscal year 2017 in direct bilateral military aid).

There are also elements of the Israeli Jewish population who seek human rights for Palestinians and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. They include organizations such as Machsem Watch, B’Tselem, and Breaking the Silence. In the United States J-Street and Jewish Voice for Peace seek ways to promote a just peace in Israel / Palestine. They recognize that the health of Israel is dependent upon the just treatment of Palestinians and their children.

Vice President Pence said in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, “We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny.” It would be more appropriate to say, “We stand for right over wrong, good over evil, in liberty over tyranny, and call upon Israel to join us in seeking the end of oppression and injustice for Palestinian children like Ahed and Mohammad Tamimi, and dignity for all Palestinians.” That would be an affirmation consistent with the values of our Country and the ethics of American Jews, Christians, Muslims and other faith communities.

(Published in the NH Concord Monitor, March 31, 2018)

Vice President’s religious justification for the state of Israel

Vice President Pence’s address to the Israeli Knesset on January 22, 2018 ignores the existence of Palestinians in the land. He also fails to acknowledge the Israeli military’s dehumanizing administration of the occupied Palestinian territory. Finally, he refuses to recognize the military, political, and international involvement in the existence of the State of Israel. Instead he embraces a religious justification for the restriction of the rights of non-Jews and for Israel’s claim to all of the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. He told the members of the Knesset,

“The people of the United States have always held a special affection and admiration for the People of the Book… The Jewish people’s unbreakable bond to this sacred city reaches back more than 3,000 years. It was here, in Jerusalem, on Mount Moriah that Abraham offered his son, Isaac, and was credited with righteousness for his faith in God… It was here, in Jerusalem, that King David consecrated the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. And since its rebirth, the modern State of Israel has called this city the seat of its government… It was the faith of the Jewish people that gathered the scattered fragments of a people and made them whole again; that took the language of the Bible and the landscape of the Psalms and made them live again. And it was faith that rebuilt the ruins of Jerusalem and made them strong again.”

In this speech, Pence neglected to recognize that 43% of Jews in Israel self identify as secular or non-observant. Then the Vice President sidestepped our country’s commitment to never give preferential treatment to any particular religious faith. He chose to interpret the history of Jerusalem and the surrounding region with “the language of the Bible and the landscape of the Psalms…” He chose one from among many Jewish, Christian, and Muslim interpretations concerning the land and its peoples: Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians, and Muslims. He chose an interpretation of a particular Jewish-Christian belief system to justify United States support for Israel.

However, the conflict in Israel-Palestine is not a religious struggle. Religion is used only as a leverage or diversion to divide people and subvert their voices. For example, there is a conviction circulating that Muslims persecute Palestinian Christians. However, a Christian woman and village council member in the Palestinian Muslim village of Azzun said to me over a meal in her home, “Why do people keep asking about our relationship with Muslims? We are all Palestinians! Christian, Muslim, it doesn’t matter. We all suffer the same injustice.”

When Pence inserts his personal religious belief interpretations into the conflict, he bolsters these misunderstandings about relationships among Jews, Christians and Muslims in Israel – Palestine. He also gives justification for a God-given Jewish Nation State. For example, he gives credence to Netanyahu’s advocacy for the bill before the Israeli Knesset, “Israel – The Nation-State of the Jewish People.” The bill declares “the right to realize national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

This religious framework also justifies treating non-Jews differently. For example, Jewish citizens are tried in civil courts while Palestinians are tried in military courts. Palestinian movements are severely restricted and they suffer indignities at checkpoints. Palestinian children receive harsh treatment from the Israeli military. For example, I have personally witnessed the taking of a 16 year-old boy from his home in the Palestinian village of Jayyous at 3 AM. Another Palestinian boy reported being handcuffed, blindfolded, threatened, and receiving harsh physical interrogation asking for the names of his friends; all without the presence of lawyers or family. Other methods used on children include solitary confinement and physical violence. There are currently some 350 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and detention centers, according to a local human rights organization, Addameer.

Vice President Pence, speaking about his understanding of the biblical mandate for the Jewish Nation State, has failed Palestinian children and their elders. He has failed Palestinian Christians, Jewish advocates for human rights, and Palestinian Muslims. He said in his speech to the Knesset, “We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny.” It would be more appropriate to say, “We stand for right over wrong, good over evil, liberty over tyranny, and call upon Israel to join us in seeking the end of oppression and injustice in Israel/Palestine.” That would be an affirmation and a request consistent with the values of our Country and with the ethics of Jews, Christians, Muslims and many other faith communities.

John Buttrick


Abandon Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons,

Like plump poisonous mushrooms

Lure humans toward death.


Outside my window is a Hawthorn tree covered with bunches of red berries supporting dollops of new snow. Every year in the middle of January thirty or forty Canadian robins will flock to its branches. After two or three days the birds will move on, every berry eaten, leaving the branches empty, colorless, and grey. Thus will be the end and the beginning of New England’s life cycle: barren branches soon bursting with buds announcing spring, the shade of green leaves softening the summer heat, followed by speckled leaves and emerging berries of frosty Fall nights.

Over breakfast and coffee last Sunday the dependability and joy of this view was overshadowed with two articles in the Concord Monitor. The first was a report of the missile alert mistake in Hawaii that sent the population scrambling for cover. The second article reported plans to increase the number of long-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads on Trident submarines.

These articles followed earlier news reports that over the coming years the Pentagon plans to spend another $1 trillion to build a new generation of nuclear bombs and delivery systems. All of this is in the context of the debate over the wisdom of a President being able to make the unilateral decision to launch a nuclear attack.

There also is Congressional legislation being offered to control the use of nuclear weapons. Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu have introduced HR 669 and S. 200 Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. It “prohibits the President from using Armed Forces to conduct first-use nuclear strike unless such strike is pursuant to a congressional declaration of war expressly authorizing such strike” (Congress.Gov).

Senator Edward Markey and Representative John Conyers have introduced S. 216 and HR 4140, No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act of 2017. It seeks “to prohibit the introduction of Armed Forces into hostilities in North Korea without declaration of war or explicit statutory authorization and for other purposes” (Congress.Gov).

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, NPT, prohibits all but five states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—from possessing nuclear weapons. However, India, Israel, and Pakistan also possess nuclear weapons but are not signatories of the NPT.

The reality is that these proposed congressional bills and the nuclear nonproliferation treaty leave the United States with approximately 2122 deployed nuclear weapons. They include 470 ICBM warheads, 1,152 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 300 bombs, and 200 air launched missiles. Also, there are 2530 more nuclear warheads on reserve and 2530 waiting dismantling. Many of these US warheads have explosive yields 20 to 40 times larger than those of the warheads that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 (Union of Concerned Scientists). These numbers do not include the nuclear weapons held at the ready by the six other countries known to possess them.

The reality is that “half of 1% of the explosive power of the deployed nuclear arsenal can create nuclear darkness. 100 Hiroshima-size weapons exploded… would put 5 million tons of smoke in the stratosphere and drop average global temperatures to Little Ice Age levels. Shortened growing seasons could cause up to 1 billion people to starve to death” (nucleardarkness .org). A nuclear war would result in “widespread damage to human health, agriculture, and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Killing frosts would reduce growing seasons by 10–40 days per year for 5 years. Surface temperatures would be reduced for more than 25 years due to thermal inertia and albedo effects in the ocean and expanded sea ice. The combined cooling and enhanced UV would put significant pressures on global food supplies and could trigger a global nuclear famine” (American Geophysical Union). And my hawthorn tree would be a leafless, berryless, spiky skeleton.

I write this not to create fear. I write to suggest that for the past 73 years we have been living as a nation with a psychological blind spot: living with the belief that we can use nuclear weapons to protect life. We are like a person with a bomb strapped to their body believing that setting it off will kill the enemy but save the individual who explodes the bomb. Our nation is tied to nuclear weapons. We do not see that the emperor wears the clothes of death.

The Union of Concern Scientists calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:  “renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first; ending the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack; taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons; and actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.”

These methods to prevent nuclear war are important to support. However, they divert from the reality that any use of nuclear weapons: response strike, first strike, or threatened strike; will not save us. Believing that possession of nuclear weapons contributes to our safety is a national psychosis. The use of nuclear weapons is a suicidal mission contributing to the death of the world. There are no winners.

Our national leaders need to focus on the realistic humanitarian choice of eliminating all of our nation’s nuclear weapons, now. This will free up the $1 trillion dollars currently planned for nuclear weapons. This money could be used for foreign long-term development and humanitarian aid. In 2015 the United States allocated 26 billion to development and humanitarian foreign aid.   Imagine what an additional $1 trillion would do for U.S. relationships with people in need around the world. We would not only be refusing to be complicit in the mutual assured destruction of the world, we would also be contributing to the health, nourishment, and safety for the people of the world. At the least, we would not be participating in our own nuclear destruction and at best, other peoples and nations would be reluctant to destroy a country committed to the wellbeing of all people.

How would that be for money well spent? And perhaps, just perhaps, other nuclear weapons nations would follow the U.S. lead. Then perhaps, just perhaps, my hawthorn tree will stand laden with berries to feed those robins for another cold New England winter.

December 2017

December 2017                   (Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor)

One of the readings from the Psalms during the Advent season leading up to Christmas includes the lines, “(The ones) who go out weeping, carrying their bag of seed, will come back with songs of joy, carrying home their sheaves.” (Psalm 126: 6)

As a sandy soil gardener, I live through each growing season with the awareness that my ability to coax flowers to bloom and plants to produce vegetables is limited by the whims of weather, climate change, and the cycles of the moon! This past spring, summer, and fall have been especially challenging. I’ve watered, composted, mulched, staked, weeded, and chanted encouraging words over anemic faltering plants. My harvest songs of joy have been strained and muted as I have given thanks for the one meal of green beans, three tomatoes, a couple dozen cherry tomatoes, five stubby cucumbers, a few stalks of scraggly broccoli, and several snippets from stunted basil. Now the frost has frozen in place the pea-sized brussels sprouts. The garden, cleared of debris, sleeps under a protective blanket of snow.

It occurs to me that my gardening struggle may be a living metaphor that reflects the governmental and social malaise currently infecting our wellbeing. Many weep as they sow seeds of non-violence, seeds of welcome to the immigrant and refugee, seeds of healthcare for all, and seeds of economic justice; only to see them sprout and fall to the blight of lies, the drought of empathy, the derision of care for neighbor, and the domination of coercive power. Many “suffer the insults of the arrogant, the contempt of the proud,” and the patronizing of the rich. (Psalm 123: 3-4)

The burden of these struggles and the creeping December darkness bring out the curmudgeon in me. I don’t reach the extreme of a Grinch or a Scrooge or Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. But I am mired in a desperate void empty of the bright spirit of the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah lights, and the shining star of the Christmas nativity. Everywhere I turn the holiday spirit is overshadowed with discount purchase opportunities; new movies filled with explosions and violent solutions to evil; congressional legislation focused on accumulating wealth and human beings as commodities; and a regurgitation of verbal attacks among political and cultural adversaries.

Particularly egregious this holiday season has been President Trump’s announcement defying the wisdom of the nations of the world by declaring Jerusalem the Capital of Israel. He has totally missed the nuance of Jerusalem’s political history and its significance not only to Jews, but also for Palestinian Christians and Muslims. In 1947 the United Nations supported a divided Jerusalem, which held until the six-day war when Israel annexed East Jerusalem on June 18, 1967.  And in 1980 Israel enacted the Basic Jerusalem Law declaring a unified Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal and indivisible capital.” The United Nations Security Council resolution 478 declared this law a violation of international law. Throughout this history, Palestinians have held on to their vision to have East Jerusalem as their Capital.

President Trump’s support of Israel’s claim on West and East Jerusalem has not only limited the possibilities for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians: Jews, Christians, and Muslims; but has also spawned violent reactions during this season of “Peace on Earth and good will toward all people.” Making his announcement just prior to Hanukah and Christmas has emboldened the Israeli military to increase restrictions on Palestinian Christians seeking to cross the barrier wall from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to observe Christmas services. These tightened military actions have also restricted Muslims from their holy sites and their places of work. And so this season of joy has been corrupted with tears of many peace-seeking Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians, and Muslims; who have been working for so long to sow seeds of love and justice in a social and political climate of distrust, aggression, and fear. They are two peoples and three faiths, seeking the political presence of two nations and access to their holy sites in the historic city of Jerusalem.

However, to complete the garden metaphor, on the edge of our fatigued garden grows a thriving five-foot blue spruce tree. It stands strong through this winter of struggles in our country and in the holy places of Hanukah and Christmas. The two hundred tiny white lights sparkling in its branches on cold winter nights join with Hanukah lights and winter solstice fires to testify that darkness will not prevail.   The persistent presence of our evergreen tree of life in our depleted garden proclaims the reality in the promise of a future proclaimed by Mary, mother of Jesus, “God has brought down monarchs from their thrones, and raised on high the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” The presence of this tiny blue spruce with its shining lights declare with Isaiah, “As the earth puts forth her blossom or plants in the garden burst into flower, so will the Sovereign God make God’s victory…blossom before all the nations.”

May the seeds of justice and peace be sown among us this holiday season to be nourished and blossom in our lives, in Jerusalem, and in all the nations of the world.