Palestinian Schools Threatened

As the school year begins in New Hampshire the headline news seems to be the inability to find enough school bus drivers, especially to transport our grade school children to school. Districts having difficulty are offering signing bonuses to driver applicants, modifying start and dismissal school schedules, and delaying openings by a few days. Beyond efforts to provide transportation to all children there is also the on going goal of fulfilling the value of equal access to quality education once children arrive at the school building. This goal is far from fulfilled in New Hampshire and across our country. However, we cling to the value and persist in the search for solutions.

In contrast, on August 22 Ma’an News wrote Israeli military forces reportedly seized eight mobile classrooms from the village of Jubbet al-Dib, near Bethlehem and a neighbor of the illegal Noqedim Israeli settlement. The classrooms were donated by an Italian NGO for 64 students from the first to the fourth grade. Although disputed by village leaders, a spokesperson for the Israeli civil administration contested that the structures had not received the necessary permits, and that the construction was “illegal.”  The Norwegian Council Policy Manager Itay Epshtain said, “It was heart breaking to see children and their teachers turning up for their first day of school under the blazing sun, with no classrooms or anywhere to seek shelter in, while in the immediate vicinity the work to expand illegal settlements goes on uninterrupted.”

Another school, a kindergarten, was demolished in the Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba on August 21. According to The Norwegian Refugee Council, NRC, some 55 schools in the occupied West Bank are threatened with demolition and stop-work orders by Israeli authorities, many of them built with funding from the European Union states and other donors. “In the first three months of this year there were 24 cases of direct attacks against schools, including incidents where tear gas canisters and sound bombs were fired at students on their way to or from school. Last year, four communities’ educational facilities were demolished or confiscated and 256 education-related violations were documented in the West Bank, affecting over 29,000 students,” NRC’s statement said.

It seems, while we in New Hampshire seek ways to keep our children in school, our Israeli military ally is initiating ways to keep Palestinian children away from school. These actions by the Israeli military fly in the face of one of our cherished values: the right to access to quality education for every child.

The Israeli military attack on Palestinian children’s access to schools in order to make room for Israeli settlements and their infrastructure motivates people around the globe to boycott Israeli illegal settlement goods. It is an illegal Israeli settlement, Noqedim, that encroaches on Palestinian land where those mobile classrooms were situated. Senator Maggie Hassan’s opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement needs to take into consideration Israel’s anti-education activity toward Palestinian children as well as the United States complicity with its military financial aid to the Israeli military that enforces this injustice.

Senator Hassan believes the roots of the BDS movement spring from an intention to harm Israel. However, she misses the understanding that non-violent boycotts are an acceptable action for change acknowledge by our Supreme Court. In addition, she does not take into consideration that any movement includes a spectrum of advocates. In this case the vast majority of supporters of BDS recognize Israel’s right to exist as they call for the humanitarian administration of the occupied territories and a return to negotiations between Israel and Palestine. And even though it is becoming less and less realistic, many still support the goal of a two-state solution.  Also, Senator Hassan perceives BDS as an impediment to a return to negotiations and a two-state solution. However, BDS can just as easily be considered a non-violent lever to motivate to start negotiations. In contrast, Israel, with its military, political, and economic dominance uses harsh treatment of Palestinians and their children, as well as expansions of settlements, as pressure to force the Palestinians to the table.

And most of all, it is important that the United States be true to its value of education for every child, not only in our country but around the world. Our country can not credibly advocate for that value while at the same time being complicit with the Israeli military who violates that value in its treatment of Palestinian schools and children. U.S. complicity is evidenced by its more than $3.1 billion annual aid to the Israeli military.

There are three ways that Senator Hassan and Senator Shaheen can influence the United States to be a justice-seeking nation as well as to stand for the humanitarian value of dignity and respect for children and their education.

1.Vote “no” on S.720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and pledge to reject all amendments, and Senator Hassan to withdraw her co-sponsorship of S.720.

2.  Seek legislation to withhold military financial aid assistance to the State of Israel due to its military practices of injustice in the occupied Palestinian territories including impediments to education as well as arrests and detention of Palestinian children.

3.  Vote for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, which has been ratified by 194 countries including Israel.

The second and third actions were affirmed by a 79% majority by the delegates to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ at their meeting in July, 2017.

Children in Palestine have been under duress for over fifty years. They witness daily barriers to their education and constant anxiety concerning their vulnerability to institutionalized violations of their legal rights. Therefore, calling our ally and friend, Israel, to account for its use of power is the right thing to do. It’s how friends support each other.

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Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation

Concord Monitor “My Turn,” published April 8, 2017

The phone rang at 2 in the morning. Our friend Mafaq said, “Two Israeli military vehicles have come into the village. Soldiers have entered the house of our neighbor and taken away fifteen year old Khaled.” We dressed quickly and hurried through the dimly lit maze of narrow streets to Khaled’s home. A small gathering of men, women, and children stood across the street, distancing themselves from the armored military vehicles holding Khaled inside.

We were a World Council of Churches international team of four Ecumenical Accompaniers living for three months in a farming village forty kilometers northwest of Jerusalem.   As we approached Khaled’s home, the front door opened. The family clustered around as we entered: mother, father, two young children, and a grandfather who leaped from a mat on the floor against the far wall. We were invited to sit on the mat while the grandfather demonstrated what had happened. Speaking Arabic and greatly agitated, he raced back and forth across the sparsely furnished room showing how the soldiers had forced open the door armed with United States M16 rifles, asked for Khalid, herded the family into the far bedroom, rousted Khalid from sleep in the other bedroom, put him in handcuffs, and took him outside to the waiting vehicle while they searched his room leaving his possessions scattered.

By the time the grandfather had finished his pantomime, tea had been served and the military vehicles had driven away with Khalid. His parents, speaking English, explained the soldiers had refused to give a reason for taking Khalid and would not tell the parents where they were taking him. We sat with them as they vented their helplessness, fear, and controlled anger.

We learned later that while we had been listening to this family, a sound bomb had been thrown into a home in another part of the village and another teenage boy had been taken away. These incursions into this Palestinian village in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory were repeated four times during our three-month stay. They continue in Palestinian villages and refugee camps to this day.

A United States State Department Human Rights Report released in March 2017 highlighted “grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.” Among the issues cited were the ill treatment of child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights. Other violations included excessive use of force against children and unlawful killing, use of administrative detention (held without charges), and coercing Palestinian Arabic speaking children to sign confessions written in Hebrew. The report noted a “significant increase in detention of minors in 2016.”

Between 2012 and 2015, No Way to Treat A Child and the American Friends Service Committee reported that 97% of children had no parent present during interrogation or access to legal counsel. 84% of children were not informed of their rights. Three-quarters of detained children endured some form of physical violence. “Interrogators used position abuse, threats, and isolation to coerce confessions… 66 children were held in solitary confinement, for an average period of 13 days.”

Our experience with Khalid’s family and these human rights reports challenge the relationship between the United States and Israel. Vice President Penze said on March 31, “President Trump and I stand with Israel… because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight.” This statement is disconnected from the plight of Palestinian children. Our country’s cause is not to inflict military injustice upon children. The Israeli military’s abusive treatment of Palestinian children since 1967 does not reflect our values. The United State’s fight is not against Palestinian children.

Therefore, in order to “stand with Israel,” the United States must negotiate common values to support the relationship, guided by the State Departments 2017 report on human rights in Israel – Palestine concerning children. Meanwhile, consistent with U.S. values and considering 50 years of continuing violations by Israeli’s military, U.S. Senators’ and Representatives’ actions should include withholding military aid to Israel until acceptable uses are defined. The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act supports such action. It states that no assistance will be furnished to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

With its over $3 billion a year military aid to Israel, the United States is complicit in the military injustices inflicted on Palestinian children. Before any more aid is given, the Israeli military must cease human rights violations, insure basic due process rights, and establish an absolute prohibition against torture and the ill treatment of detained Palestinian children. Requiring these actions is not only consistent with our own values and sense of justice but also supportive to the many Jews and Israelis who are speaking out against the Israeli military’s unjust treatment of children in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The “phone” still rings since I’ve returned to my home in Concord. We still receive posts on Facebook from Palestinian friends, “last night the Israeli military came into our village at 3AM and took away two of the children.” As Jews, Muslims, and Christians, we need to support our leaders’ efforts to withhold military aid to Israel until the military no longer perpetrates fear and hopelessness against desperate Palestinians crying out for justice. Then, perhaps, the next communication from a Palestinian will be the joy of a great olive harvest or the success of the youth volleyball team. (names in article are fictitious)

Note:  The United Church of Christ General Synod; June 30 – July 4, 2017; will consider the resolution:  A Call for the United Church of Christ to Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation.  See <ucc.org> General Synod resolutions for detail.

FUTURE OF HUMANITY

When we read and see on television and the internet the horrible ways that human beings treat each other it makes me despair of the nature and future of humankind. What is the dynamic that makes possible the kidnapping and recruitment of 10-year-old boys to be taught to torture, kill and commit suicide? What in human nature justifies the incarceration and shooting of Palestinian children by the Israeli military. How can people in the United States tolerate 33,000 people being killed in gun violence each year.

What is the thinking of the Texas legislature with its vote to permit concealed carry of guns on the state university and college campuses or the New Hampshire legislature allowing guns to be carried into the legislature chamber? And what drives a Christian church in Texas to hire armed guards to be present at its services of worship? The television report showed men with body armor and automatic rifles standing against the walls on each side of the church sanctuary.

During this election cycle, what is the human condition that drives grown adults to insult, defame, discredit, and hate others under the guise of being strong, truthful, and a winner? In contemporary society, how is it that beliefs and actions of civility and tolerance are twisted into perceptions of weakness, gullibility, and looser mentality?

The Southern Poverty Law Center conducted a survey from March 23 – April 2, 2016 concerning the effect of the 2016 Presidential campaign on school children and classrooms. The results of the survey included, “Gains made by years of anti-bullying work in schools have been rolled back in a few short months.” Students have been emboldened to use slurs and engage in name-calling. Some have become fearful of the people in power in our country. Other children justify their language and blustery behavior as they “point to candidates and claim they are just saying what everyone is thinking.” In New Hampshire, “one high school teacher… wrote, ‘A lot of students think we should kill any and all people we do not agree with.’”

These observations invite us explore the nature of humanity, where we have been and where we are going as the human species on this earth. There are two possibilities. One, humanity may be too broken to override violence and hatred that cling to our society and world. Commitment to striving in the same historic ways of domination through coercive power and using the ways of more lethal weapons, xenophobia, gender bias, and racial constructs may be advancing the extinction of humanity.

However, there is a second possibility. Humanity may be on the verge of becoming a new kind of influence in our world. It may be that we are experiencing the last gasps of people resisting the progress and change of humanity. It may be that we are moving toward a future where the relationships among people and between people and the natural environment is exchanging violence for empathy, caring, cooperation, and the complexities of diverse cultures. It could be that we are experiencing the birth pangs of a future where the intellect and the heart join together to resolve the challenges and stresses of humanity and its relationship with creation.

You see, just as I begin to think that evil and depravity are overwhelming us, I remembered where we have been. I think about attitude changes, just in my lifetime, concerning issues of anti Semitism, racism, sexism, the rights of the GLBTQ community, care for the environment, and many others. I read accounts of people sacrificing their own wealth and wellbeing to serve the needs of others. I read about people running into burning buildings to rescue victims. I read about a person running across a university plaza under sniper fire to retrieve a fallen student.

On August 6, I witnessed a group of people demonstrating on the Concord statehouse plaza against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. A family from out of town, who happen to be walking by, joined them. Together they walked to the edge of the Merrimack River to confess and to grieve over the people killed and maimed by the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They threw flowers into the river in their memory. At the riverside, they meet a family picnicking and fishing. The woman wore a hijab. This family also threw flowers into the river.

Then I listen to the account of an educator in Tucson, Arizona who hosts a classroom of 3-5 year olds. Together, they build a caring community of children who support each other while they learn through questioning, exploring, and experimenting. They try out ways among themselves to solve conflicts, celebrate successes, and be with someone who is sad. They practice ways of hospitality as they welcome new children, parents and friends into their classroom and include them in their community. When these children move on to the first grade, their new teachers recognize the children from this pre-school classroom by the way they are energized to learn and by their skill in mediating and negotiating difficult behaviors among their peers.

Many religious faith traditions envision the progress of humanity from bearers of weapons to people armed with powers of persuasion, reason, empathy, community, love and care. The prophet, Micah, envisioned, “They (human beings) will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives.”   When Peter drew his sword against Roman occupiers seeking to arrest Jesus, Jesus said, “Put away your sword.” Muhammad urged charity toward people in need.

Governments may refuse to relate to populations with compassion and nurture. Some people may resist movement toward equality and freedom for all people in favor of the ways of domination. But some, during this season’s election cycle, will let the vision of a common humanity guide our words and our votes for candidates.   Some will give support to teachers as they provide relationship skills for children. Some will encourage gun-free suburban – urban neighborhoods and churches. Some will reject our government’s plan to fund a renewed nuclear weapons arsenal. We have the memory, the will and the imagination to define humanity’s future.

September 8, 2016

 

Published in “My Turn”, Concord Monitor, September 15, 2016

U.S. Must Push Israel on Justice for Palestinians.

August 3, 2016

On July 27, during the Democratic National Convention and a week after the Republican National Convention, it was reported that 20 single and multi-family Palestinian homes were demolished in East Jerusalem by Israeli authorities. One Palestinian, Noor, reported that he found a demolition notice tacked to his door less than twenty-four hours before the destruction of his home. He had no opportunity to dispute the order, show his papers of ownership, or remove the family possessions. His home was one of the twenty single and multi-family homes destroyed that night. There have been 76 demolitions thus far this year in the Jerusalem municipality. In 2015 there were 74 and in 2014, there were 52 demolitions.

Also on July 27 it was reported that a 52 year old woman, Miriam, living in the Gaza strip was refused a visa for the third time to enter Israel for medical treatment in the hospital where she had previously been treated for cancer with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. She now experiences bone pain and seeks follow-up examinations in the same hospital using equipment that is not available in Gaza. This equipment is forbidden by the Israeli government to be imported into the Gaza Strip. (Noor and Miriam are not their real names).

These incidents of injustice are important to lift up because such injustices are not recognized in either the Republican or the Democratic platforms concerning the relationship of the United States to Israel. Both platforms commit to an unexamined uncritical relationship of United States with Israeli political, economic and military policies.

Israel/Palestine may not be a primary concern for the electorate choosing a new president and congressional delegation. However, in the sections on Israeli relationships with the United States, both Convention platforms are blind to the conditions of injustice toward Palestinians such as the two incidents above. This should trouble the conscience of any citizen who values equal rights and justice for all people living in a democracy.

The Republican platform reads, (Israel is) “The only country in the Middle East where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are found. Therefore, support of Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”

Furthermore, the platform seeks to discredit and limit the freedom to non-violently act contrary to the Party’s advocacy of an uncritical relationship with Israel. It reads, “We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel. Therefore, we call for effective legislation to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner.”

The Democratic Platform is briefer, focusing primarily on actions perceived to “delegitimize Israel.” It reads, “A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism. That is why we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.”

How do common values between the U.S. and Israel and the commitment to democracy work in Israel where the Palestinians lack freedom of movement to medical facilities, schools and the workplace or where Palestinians have limited access to Palestinian water, experience home demolitions, and taking of farmland? And what does it mean for the United States with it population diversity of race, religions, cultures and ethnic origins to bind itself to a state with such injustices? Do we in the United States want to support Israel’s oppression of ethnic and religious groups of Arabs, Christians, and Muslims? Do we want to support the perception that all Arabs, Christians and Muslims are dishonest and terrorists? Do we want to support, uncritically, a country that seeks to create conditions that will force these people to leave their homeland? Is not this support inconsistent with our American efforts to learn and grow from the mistakes we’ve made in our relationships with Native Americans, African Americans, and others?

Another issue of concern in the platforms is the opposition to United Nations approach to humanitarian law, resolutions concerning the Palestinian occupation and its administration, and recognition of a Palestinian state. Blanket opposition without deliberation, understanding, and seeking a variety of solutions may delegitimize the effectiveness of this international organization.

Perhaps, for United States citizens, the most distressing concept in the platforms is the opposition to non-violent boycott and divestment actions. The Republican platform also advocates the adoption of legislation to thwart BDS activity. Attempts to restrict boycott and divestment activity is a violation of first amendment rights to use economic measures to bring change. Boycott and divestment are tools to motivate serious negotiations to end the economic, political, and military injustices against the Palestinian people. They are appropriate non-violent actions following nearly fifty years of failed negotiations between unequal powers. They are in the tradition of boycotts that have been used to influence change in South Africa, segregation in the United States, and farm workers rights. Finally, labeling boycott and divestment as anti-Semitic or delegitimizing of Israel is spurious and dangerous to people seeking non-violent change for justice. It is also inaccurate to suggest that critique of the conduct of the Israeli government is in any way a comment on the Jewish faith.

When talking to candidates for Senate, Congress, and the Presidency this election season it is important to question their understanding of our relationship with Israel expressed in these two platforms. What is their understanding of the party platform on Israel in relationship to the injustices being perpetrated on the Palestinians in the Palestinian occupied territory of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip?

This is the time to seek their support for justice and peace in Palestine/Israel. It is time to encourage candidates to pledge the use of economic, political, and military leverage to move the Israeli government toward actions of justice for all the people. It is time to use the billions of dollars in United States military aid to Israel as leverage for a more just administration of the occupied Palestinian territory and to advance credible negotiations toward a just peace for Israel and Palestine. Palestinians, such as Miriam and Noor, are counting on us to help them get their freedom back.

 

 

 

No Trumpisms for me

A coffee mug holding my pens and pencils sits on my desk. It is decorated with insulting phrases spoken in Shakespeare’s plays. They are pithy, insightful, humorous, imaginative images. They hint at truths about the adversary and the speaker. They often embody a critique of manners, selfishness, or ethics: “A fusty nut with no kernel.” “Highly fed and lowly taught.” “Infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker.” I’m envious that I did not think these up or recognize occasions to use them.

Verbalizing ludicrous images that encapsulate a germ of truth contained in an action, an attitude, or an idea contribute to understanding and expose hidden motives. At the same time laughter eases the tension of discomfort over the personal and societal flaws exposed. The goal is to raise consciousness and stimulate the intellect of the audience.

However, Donald Trump’s political rhetoric consuming this year’s presidential campaign leads us in a different direction.   His efforts to show his superiority are blatantly uncreative, dull, humorless, and lacking any hint of truth. His goal is to win by domination, destroying the dignity of the opposition, and playing his audience for fools. It’s troubling to me to read reports of people saying, “We like Donald Trump because he speaks like us. We admire Trump’s refusal to be ‘politically correct.’”

Joining with a “winner” sounds good when we feel buried in the daily frustrations of economic, political, or social impingements on our lives. It’s distressing when a health insurance company resists paying for a covered procedure; a bill collector demands money that’s been allocated for the basics of food, shelter, and education for our children; or when ordered to work overtime instead of attending a daughter’s school play. It’s fearful when we experience familiar laws, rules, and customs changing in ways that challenge historic relationships between women and men, among races, strangers, immigrants, and levels of privilege.

Given these daily struggles, joining Trump’s chorus of angry words, labels, and accusations seems like a good idea. How good would it feel to let it all out, shake loose from inhibitions, and join the world of name-calling; invective; derision; and ethnic, religious, racial, and gender slander! And if I’m unable to risk it, I can at least be on the side of someone rich enough and brazen enough to abandon political correctness and hurl derogatory epithets without consequences.

However, I would suggest that bravado and unbounded ranting and raving never trump empathy, humility, creativity, and clear thinking. “Political correctness” may be simply recognizing and honoring people’s sensitivities and dignity. It invites people into community: listening to concerns, discovering differences, and seeking ways to create common understanding and solve problems. The models come from our childhood and may include the hospitality of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, or Sesame Street. They may recall the stories of Dr. Seuss or watching the recently released film, Zootopia. The model comes from the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, and other writings from faith traditions.   Basically, it doesn’t take a college degree or accumulation of wealth or the credentials of a “winner” to initiate these concepts we learned as children and contemplate as adults. And what about that old adage, “Count to ten before speaking?”

This approach is not naive, weak, or gullible. One of the ways to make America still greater is to resurrect impulse control, particularly control of the mouth! There are ways toward empowerment that are far more effective than lashing out with bluster or hitching our wagon to a rich man who cannot relate to an hourly or salaried worker, a grocery shopper, a commuter, a prisoner of war, or a refugee. To make our lives better, it is not necessary to associate with a man who has bankrupted two companies and makes questionable statements true by saying them over and over until they seem true. To make America still greater is to do the work of a good neighbor.

The world is watching. Handala, a ten-year-old Palestinian boy, has shown up in most political cartoons of Naji al-Ali since the early 1970’s. We see Handala standing with his hands clasped behind his back observing the injustice portrayed in each cartoon. He is watching depictions of injustice in Israel, Palestine, the United States and around the world. He’s the witness to oppression everywhere. Al-Ali says that Handala will not grow up or turn around until there is peace and justice in the world. He is our conscience.

What does Handala see when he looks our way? Donald Trump with his entourage speaking out with belligerence, belittling others unlike themselves, and relishing the bluster of a bully? Or will Handala witness evidence of the making of a still greater America?  I hope he will see my college cross country coach who insisted that whenever we passed an opposing team member during a race we talk to him, encourage him, and challenge him to pick up his pace and run with us. The result was we all ran faster, made personal bests, and contributed to a great race for all of us.

I hope Handala will see a small group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians meeting monthly together in Concord exploring ways of justice and peace for all people. Perhaps he will see college students in Palestine seeking nonviolent ways to claim dignity while under Israeli occupation.   He will see a group of Concord church people joining Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum’s initiative to write to President Obama, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for 440 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.  He will see people from many walks of life forming food co-ops and farmers’ markets to access affordable healthy food. He will see the hospitality Concord citizens extend to our refugee community and the help struggling people give to each other.   He will also see courageous volunteers from our country serving in Doctors without Borders, the Peace Corps, and working with refugees in Lebanon. And he will see groups of people speaking truth to power in the language of reason, imagination, and empathy while affirming the dignity of all people.

These ways are filtered out of Trump’s awareness. He seeks personal domination to rule. People in a democracy seek community empowerment to correct injustices. No matter who we are: our education, our social or economic class, our race, ethnicity, gender orientation, religious belief, or skill set; we have contributions to make for a greater America. Donald Trump does not speak for us. We can refuse to be, in Shakespeare’s words, “not so much brain as earwax.”  We can choose faithfulness over fear, hospitality over hostility, dignity over domination.

Rev. John Buttrick, Minds Crossing, Concord, NH