Category Archives: rants

Memorial Day: Musings and Rantings

It is hot today. I think my brain has melted and I can’t seem to keep much in the way of “coherent” thoughts….still, I’ve been wanting to write something about Memorial Day since I talked about cakes with my friend Abby. This is one of those friends with a sense of humor “sick and twisty” enough to match my own. She was commenting on the plethora of cakes, cookies, and other goodies at the local stores all decorated in stars and stripes; red, white, and blue frosting, or little toothpick flags. “Wouldn’t it be more honest”, she commented, to have a big green sheet cake with little white crosses or small white slabs across the top. I mean isn’t it supposed to be about remembering those who have died.”

Okay, a bit morbid. I did say she has a humor sick and twisty enough to match my own. But she has a point. As Howard Zinn said “Memorial Day will be celebrated … by the usual betrayal of the dead, by the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The memory of the dead deserves a different dedication. To peace, to defiance of governments.”http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0528-07.htm

Yes, we “celebrate” memorial day with picnics and BBQ, with sales and with consumerism run amuck, and if we remember at all the meaning of the day it is too often lost in the never ending waving of flags; blind patriotism and the glorification of those very wars that killed far far too many.

Is there not a way we can honor the dead without this glorification of war and patriotism? It seems to me that truly honoring those who have been killed means taking a hard look at ourselves. It means asking the question: have we allowed these humans to be sacrificed because we are unwilling to change our life-style? Are we willing to consume less, and to share more. Are we willing to challenge our governments policies of domination and waste? Are we willing to examine and to give up some of our unearned privilege? Are we willing to put our resources into building the real and viable alternatives to war and militarism that have been proven possible?   ( http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/ and http://michiganpeaceteam.org/) Are we willing to take the time to look at our own attitudes about power and justice… and forgiveness and reconciliation? It seems to me that however each of us answer questions such as this taking the time to ask them, and for self-reflection and honesty — even when it is uncomfortable – is the only real way to honor those whose lives were taken.

And let’s pause for a moment here. It seems this may be the moment to clarify. Yes, I mourn the deaths of those US soldiers, but also those soldiers from “the other side”. All. From all sides in all wars. A US life is not worth more to me than the life of another. And what about the civilian deaths?  These men, women and children who are victims of wars are no less worthy and no less deserving of a moment to honor their humanity. No matter what their nationality. And the numbers are astounding.

At the same time, I understand the need to honor the soldiers. To honor the warriors. We pause to honor soldiers each Memorial Day because, regardless of our belief in the immorality of war we honor those women and men because they died for a cause they saw as larger than themselves. No matter whether they became soldiers to take care of their families or lost their lives defending buddies and comrades. No matter if they joined because they were drafted (legally or economically ) or if they believed in the mission, it seems right to reflect on those who lost their lives in this way.

But let us remember also that not all wars are military missions and not all warriors wear a uniform. And not all are willing to use violence. There are many ways to be a warrior. If memorial day is to honor those that died in the service of their country then those civil rights leaders, and labor leaders and those who have struggled for social change also qualify. Were not those that joined the freedom rides warriors? Were those that fought for an 8 hour work day and the right to form a union any less “in the service of our nation”?

There are so many people who have fought for our rights – fought for “liberty and justice for all” who did not carry guns and weapons into the battlefield but the tools of nonviolence and a willingness to give their safety, their comfort and at times their lives for these causes larger than themselves.

And so this memorial day I take a moment to honor Ferdinando Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Diane Nash, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, Howard Zinn, Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks and so many many more. Many nameless and unknown to our history books, but none the less courageous and inspiring.

And I know, as well, that those killed “on the battlefield” (wherever that battle field may be and however you may define it) are not the only casualties of war. And as labor and community organizer, Mary Harris “mother” Jones taught us we must “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living. “ According to Veterans for Peace “….. recovery from the trauma of military training and service is not automatic. There are estimates that 20% of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Child abuse has been three times higher in homes from which a parent is deployed, for example, and police and courts are dealing with skyrocketing partner abuse rates, which are up 177 percent in Army families since 2003.The Veterans Administration estimates that 300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Unemployment rates have been two percentage points higher among war veterans than civilians. The VA estimates that a veteran takes his or her own life every 80 minutes — 6,500 suicides per year. Approximately 30% of all homeless are veterans.” Want to honor veterans? Work for real health care reform, work to end homelessness, volunteer on a suicide prevention or GI Rights hot line. And fight like hell to put an end to the military industrial complex, stop wars, and support the real and viable alternatives we have!

Gaza Journal

 

Hello friends,

For now this is just a fingers to keyboard/ pen to paper journal. Thoughts, feelings, things I want to remember. Not much analysis or reflection. New postings at the bottom. I’ll do more when I get back in terms of some deeper reflection

25 Dec 2009

Some travel day news to share w/ you all…

As you may have heard, the Egyptian government has denied our request to go into Gaza and has cancelled our permits for our orientation at the College Holy Family for December 27 at 7pm. We are also told that gathers of 6 or more people (or maybe it is over 6 people – reports have been scattered) of any type are illegal. Either way, challenging laws is part of our work

And, we have come too far to “be tourists” as the Egyptian Government has suggested. Recognizing that our creativity and flexibility are one of our most powerful tools we are exploring new and exciting ways to get our message out and keep the pressure on!

The MPT team of 6 will meet up in Cairo and determine our next steps.
December 27

Today the plan was a simple commemoration of those killed in Gaza during operation Cast Lead.  In an effort to commemorate those killed in Gaza during the Israeli attack on Gaza, we were going to meet on the Nile River Corniche We were going to take feluccas (Nile river boats) onto the Nile and place 1400 lighted candles in bio degradable “boats” /baskets into the Nile that will then float down the river. That was the plan.

The Egyptian Govt. had other ideas. Our small group got there early and was almost immediately told to disperse. We didn’t. There were Egyptian Security from high officials on down. They would not let us down to the boats.  We refused to disperse, however, and a rally on the sidewalk parallel  to the Nile resulted. I have much I want to say about this but time is short. It is already not enough hours ‘til it is time to get up. For now a few misc. things:

      * Police did not want pictures taken or notes taken. Almost every time someone tried to take a picture the police would threaten to take the camera away. At one point I was taking notes and a plain clothes cop told me to stop. He reached out to take my notebook. I wouldn’t let him and at one point when he tried again I pretended not to understand and ripped out a piece of paper to hand it to him as though I thought he wanted to borrow it. When I went to offer my pen too he laughed a bit and looked away.

      * We held candles and walked but every few feet the police would stop us, but the crowd continued to grow and coalesced

     *Speaking on behalf of the marchers, Media Benjamin, one of the GFM planners stood aloft a concrete planter and proclaimed, with the crowd repeating: “We are part of the Gaza Freedom March. We would like to take a boat on the Nile and place candles on the water in memory of the dead in Gaza. Unfortunately, the government of Egypt finds this action a threat. We are people of peace. We are not here to cause trouble for Egypt. We don’t event want to be in Egypt, ” she continued. “We would be happy to leave now for Gaza. We ask the government of Egypt to change its position.”

 * you may also want to check out http://starhawksblog.org/ Starhawk does a nice write up and you can even see a nice photo of Yusif – one of my team mates

We also learned more about the plans of  85 year old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein who will begin a hunger strike demanding that Egypt open the border. I may join that, I will have to see how I feel and what actions I may be doing over the next few days. Others who wish to fast in solidarity are welcome!

Throughout all we will keep attempting to cross into Gaza! This is where we need your support:

Egyptian embassies and missions all over the world must hear from us and our supporters (by phone, fax and email)** over the coming crucial days, with a clear message: Let the international delegation enter Gaza and let the Gaza Freedom March proceed. ( I know, many of you called/emailed before! Thank you!! Please consider doing so again.)

Contact your local consulate here:
http://www.mfa.gov.eg/MFA_Portal/en-GB/mfa_websits/

Contact the Palestine Division in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cairo
Ahmed Azzam, tel +202-25749682 Email: ahmed.azzam@mfa.gov.eg

In the U.S., contact the Egyptian Embassy, 202-895-5400 and ask for Omar Youssef or email omaryoussef@hotmail.com

Thanks friends! (sample letter below)

In Peace and Solidarity
Sheri

* * Sample text **

I am writing/calling to express my full support for the December 31, 2009 Gaza Freedom March. I urge the Egyptian government to allow the 1,300 international delegates to enter the Gaza Strip through Egypt.

The aim of the march is to call on Israel to lift the siege. The delegates will also take in badly needed medical aid, as well as school supplies and winter jackets for the children of Gaza.

Please, let this historic March proceed.
Thank you.

 

December (?) 28th

Hello friends,
Sorry it’s been so long. Both internet and phone access proved to be more challenging than we thought. We will post to the blog tonight or tomorrow including pictures! So please check, http://www.mptingaza.blogspot.com/ You might also want to check out code pink’s website/ http://gazafreedommarch.com/article.php?id=5022

Tomorrow early AM we will head out for another action. We will meet at the buses that we had planned to take to Gaza at that time. Unfortunately, the Egyptian Gov. has stopped the buses. We will see what unfolds. While our goal remains getting into Gaza we also know that we must use the nonviolent tools at our disposal to hold the Egyptian government accountable for their role in the illegal and immoral seige against the people of Gaza! 

Some smaller groups have attempted to go on thier own to Gaza. Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 activists in their hotel in el-Arish as they prepared to leave for Gaza, placing them under house arrest. The delegates, all part of the Gaza Freedom March of 1,300 people, were Spanish, French, British, American, and Japanese. The Egyptian security forces eventually yielded, letting most of the marchers leave the hotel, but did not permit them to leave the town. When two younger delegates, a French and Japanese woman, attempted to leave el-Arish, the Egyptian authorities stopped their taxi and unloaded their luggage. Another group of eight people, including citizens from American, British, Spanish, Japanese and Greece, were detained at the bus station of Al Arish in the afternoon of December 27. As of 3:30 PM, they were still being held.

I think I have to end this for now. Very tired and more work to do. Please keep those calls, emails and faxes coming! I honestly beleive they can make a difference — and even if they do not convince the govt. to open the border it does let them know that people are watching which ultimatly helps keep us all a bit safer. More when I can.

Love, Sher

December 28

Some of this is a recap of what I’ve already written. But bear w/ me as the days are all a little running into each other… probably in part because there hasn’t been enough sleep to divide them. In any case – gonna try to catch up a bit.

Such days — it feels like I have been here for WEEKS instead of days. Ironic since I DON’T EVEN WANT TO BE HERE!! I WANT TO BE IN GAZA! But, beyond that…. where to begin?

After too brief a sleep, on my first night I woke to meet up w/ Yusif and Dorothy head over to one of the 3 hotels where most of the delegates are staying. Our big orientation meeting for that evening had been cancelled, its permit revoked. So we’re doing smaller briefings in hotels. This makes communication between delegates hard. And it seems to just keep getting worse. Any public gathering of over 6 is illegal and businesses are pressured not to help us. (The bus companies cancelled our buses due to pressure and fear of ramifications etc.) None the less we do what we can. Anyhow, briefings will happen each AM at this hotel and we thought it might be “the place” to hang out and see what the buzz is. It was.filled w/ activity. Activists were busy on lap tops doin’ the media work, banners being made, endless coffee and strategizing. I could have stayed much longer – totally in my element. But, I was also anxious to see my friends and team mates Kim and Liz who had gotten in even later than us the night before and were at the hotel sleeping.

Later, about a hundred people went out to the Kasr al Nil bridge around noon—the bridge to the large island in the middle of the Nile. They placed cards and flowers on the bridge to commemorate the more than 1300 Gazans who died in the Israeli assault that began a year ago today, on December 27, 2008. The police eventually showed up and ordered them off the bridge, but didn’t arrest anyone. I wasn’t there, but I heard it was pretty calm. The MPT team spent some time in a team meeting. This was a unique team and this was the fist time all of us had met face to face so we determined we needed to spend that time together.

Later, we attended an event that was also to commemorate those that were killed. The plan for was to meet at 4 pm down by the Nile and take feluccas, Nile river boats. From the boats we would place candles in biodegradable “boats” and float them down the river. Also, on the boats, we could meet in small groups and then converge later for a larger meeting. We got there right on time and were surprised not to see anyone. As soon as we paused in our walking however we found out why – When the team arrived we were immediately surrounded by Egyptian security forces and police officers who barred us from boarding the flotillas and closed down the rental place.

But we gathered, a group of a couple of hundred, which we had been clearly forbidden to do. As we gathered MPT members started to document w/ photos and notes. Almost every time we tired to take a photo we were told “no”. A plain closed police officer told me I was not allowed to take notes. He threatened to take my notebook. When he moved to grab it away I pulled it back. Acting confused , like I didn’t know what he meant I tore out a page and offered it to him with a pen – for taking his own notes. He laughed and the tension decreased

Medea Benjamin, one of the Code Pink organizers got up on a planter like thing and made a short speech. Speaking in short sentences so that those of us near-by could repeat them loudly amplifiying the sound. “Who here wants to take a boat on the Nile, like tourists do?” she asked. Everyone raised their hands. “Who here wants to go to Gaza?”The crowd began cheering and unfurling banners and chanting “Free Gaza!” She continued: planter and proclaimed, with the crowd repeating: “We are part of the Gaza Freedom March. We would like to take a boat on the Nile and place candles on the water in memory of the dead in Gaza. Unfortunately, the government of Egypt finds this action a threat. We are people of peace. We are not here to cause trouble for Egypt. We don’t event want to be in Egypt, ” she continued. “We would be happy to leave now for Gaza. We ask the government of Egypt to change its position”

We lit our candles in cups and held them up. There were people from all over the world in the crowd! The spirit was strong, and as more and more police arrived, everyone remained calm. I really felt like I was clearly in a group of seasoned and disaplined activists. The crowd began marching back down the riverside, and then the police threw up a cordon and blocked us in. The police seemed as if their hearts weren’t really in keeping us blocked in. Their barricade was simply them holding hands and they kept smiling. People lifted up their arms and ducked under and got out, and from time to time they opened up and let people out, without much rhyme nor reason.

MPT’s Yusif, was interviewed by several media outlets in both Arabic and English.

Was all that really only 2 days ago…. see now I am up to yesterday. But, I promised myself I would try to get to bed before 1 AM — sooooo , g’nt for now!

December 29th (I think)

So where am I at? 2 days ago…The morning was a never ending play of frustration. Looking for meetings only to get there and find they had been changed. Or asking a dozen people for directions all of them sending us in the wrong way … walking several miles around Cairo. Finally we gave the morning up and Determined to be a the Protest at the World Trade Center Building where the UN is housed (yes, really. that is what it is called.) at noon.

After lots more walking we got there to find a spirited crowd of around 300 had gathered. The UN was declared the ” Gaza Embassy”, the Italians were leading us in energized rounds of Bella Ciao  and people were signing, dancing, drumming. Dorothy, Liz, Kim and I were immediately welcomed to stand up on top of a short wall around a raised garden w/ a banner reading “Free Gaza” by a group of women.

We hoped up on the concrete planter wall a few feet in the air and clapped and danced along w/ the singing and drumming. How can you not clap and dance and grin when the Italians are singing Bella Ciao? Between rounds of signing and chanting we’d talk w/ folks around us. It feet good. We had nonviolently claimed some space – and here that has proven to be difficult task.

Egyptian police were there – but mostly in plain clothes and it all was going well. But apparently our elevated space on the planter was too visable. We were repeatedly told to get down.

 Do I even need to say we didn’t?

This went on for some bit when the police stepped up on the planter with us. These are mostly young men. Their hearts clearly with us, and struggling with their  role. Even as he told me to move the guy telling me to get down made space for my feet around his. Under his breath and out of the ears of his superiors he chanted “free gaza” along with us.

The young guys on the front lines are conscripts just doing their time and the truth seems clear that their hearts are with us. They seemed to struggle with their role.

The higher ups seem to be struggling less. On their command we were suddenly and roughly/forcefully pushed from the planter.

Things started escalating fast and me and my MPT team switched immediatly and instintively from role of demonstrator to peace team. Doing what we could to calm both the demonstrators and the police. I found myself in a line w/ Liz, Kim, and Dorothy from MPT and Starhawk, and for a bit former MPT team member Will.

One of the GFM started kicking the police and Liz stepped in to stop her. Reminding her of why we are there and our commitment and all. The Italians were… well, being loud and spirited and, well –  Italian and while some of us were comfortable w/ that others not so much so  and for a short time s it looked like we might be detained . Still, I realized this felt good. I am in my element up against a line of riot police, or between angry people somehow getting in the way.

Dorothy took our cameras and such and moved back to a less arrestable spot as planned. Yet we kept connected checking in w/ eye and hand gestures. In hind site she probably didn’t need to head out. Things deescalated quickly

Those of us “on the line”  joked and traded songs with the young Egyptian soldiers and I think they were teaching Starhawk to count in Arabic. They laughed with us when ever their higher ups looked the other way and from time to time would point to our “Free Gaza” signs and give the thumbs up.

There was a group of women near us who have worked w/ rageing grannies and they made up songs the soldiers would join us in singing.

I told them I was sorry their government put them in such a horrible position. That here they had to stop us from expressing our solidarity when I know thier hearts were truely with the people of Gaza. I told them I was sorry they felt they had to push us and maybe hurt us.  One young man’s eyes welled up w/ tears and he quickly looked away.

This went on for sometime and once it was clear things were calm we left to head back to the hotel. We planned for an early night but somehow that never materialized. Although at this moment I can no longer remember why.  I think it was because we all started to realize we prob. Won’t get into Gaza and we needed time to debrief with each other, to grieve and to cry. To be so close and still know we can’t seem to get there. It is …. I can’t even begin to describe.

More in a few days. In the meantime don’t forget to check http://mptingaza.blogspot.com/

Hugs,sher

30 December

Dear friends,
Here is an attempt at a report from December 29. I think that was yesterday, it is all a blur. Our team meeting the night before revealed we needed to do a variety of “housekeeping stuff” as a team. Liz and Yusif graciously agreed to take out cell phones to have them fixed while Dorothy and Bella went to do some report writing and blogging. (Check it out at  http://mptingaza.blogspot.com ). Kim and I would attend the briefings and meetings at the Lotus hotel and then we’d all connect at the US Embassy.

So, after an early morning of meetings to get filled in on the latest developments in the ever changing plans and to engage in some group problem solving about what the Gaza Freedom Movement (GFM) could and should do next Kim and I joined up with 2 of the GFM organizers to head toward the US embassy. We approached the gate and were told we had to use another entrance, walking around we were given the same response at a 2nd gate. Finally we ended up at the gate in a small recessed area along a busy street that runs along the Nile river.

We approached the gate and simply held up our passports prepared to just walk through “we are US citizens, and are going to see our ambassador. ” We were stopped and told we could not go in. Alternately the reason was given “you cannot go in” or “the embassy is closed”. A few more people arrived (still just a handful ) and barricades were put up in front of us and Egyptian security (police, plain clothes police and some who identified themselves to me as “private security” came out to stand in front of us.

As more and more of us continued to gather the ever present metal barricades that had moments ago been just in front of us  were placed both in front of us and behind us “blockading” us in. We continued to insist we see our embassy staff – holding up our passports and alternately singing, chanting and simply talking to those trying to stop us.

Many of the other delegates have reported having good meetings at their Embassies  and while I didn’t expect the US to really care I did think they would at least attempt to maintain the illusion by sending some low level person out to smile and pretend to listen to our concerns. HA — was I wrong!!!

When access to our embassy was denied, the Americans linked arms in groups of threes and marched to the gate where they held up their passports. Within a couple of minutes, one of the Americans was on the other side of the fence and on the ground. She yelled for help as she was surrounded by a large group of Eqyptian Security personnel.  GFM delegates surrounded her as well “pulling” her back from the security personnel.

Egyptian plain clothes police, uniformed police, and riot police as well as numerous Egyptian “security” officials continued to grow in number— along with an American K9 unit — complete w/ 2 German Shepherds.

Kim and I were able to document the situation although, at several points we were warned not to photograph or take notes. And on more than one instance security threatened to or tried to take our cameras away.

Since, as I said, this area is recessed and not too visible from the street, Kim and I decided to continue observing from the sidewalk in front of the area where the Americans were being detained. We felt it was important both to see and be seen, and the sidewalk gave them a good vantage point. Besides we still had not reconnected with the rest of the affinity team who as due to meet us there and we figured being out front would make it easier for them to see us.

Almost immediately, we were ordered to move off the sidewalk by one of the security personnel who demanded that we reenter the recessed area and join the others who were being barricaded. It was so odd and surreal. If I wrote a role play like this no one would believe it was realistic. The plain clothes and uniformed security were literally telling us “go in the pen”. 

There were two other American women, including one who walks with a cane, who were seated on the sidewalk. Plainclothes security forces, led by a man who identified himself to me as Mr. Sieead  physically shoved one of the woman and shouted at her. As this occurred, Kim and I  moved in between her and the men who were shoving her. Almost immediately, a police van arrived and we found ourselves ringed and barricaded by the metal barricades and a group of about 20 policemen.

Again, most of the young conscripts seemed to have their hearts with us – singing “we shall overcome” and giving thumbs up out of the eyes of those in command. But the plain clothes security and those who seemed to obviously be in positions of power were less sympathetic to us. While we continued to document and attempt to photograph “Mr Sieed” grabbed my hand that held my camera squeezing painfully until my hand was red and sore. He quickly pulled his hand away as I maneuvered my camera into my pocket.

Still, even with this I know we were treated w/ “kid gloves.“ We observed a young man who appeared to be of Arab ancestry shoved and screamed at by “Mr. Saieed“. who then directed a group of security officers to pick the man up and hurl him over the barricaide to the ground

Kim and I remained in this position for about two hours, observing, documenting and holding the space.   It should be noted that while the woman with the cane was being treated roughly, a man in shirt and tie who appeared to be American or European simply looked on.

When the other MPT members arrived, they were ordered away from the area where the others were being barricaded. Crossing the street, they were met by a group of plainclothes officials, including “Mr. Saieed“, who screamed at the team and then roughly pushed Yusif down the street.

Kim and I had decided to join Hedy Epstein and others in fasting and the team had agreed to go to the press conference that was rapidly approaching. Since, by this time, it appeared that the situation was relatively calm outside the embassy, notwithstanding the number of law enforcement and government personnel milling around Kim and I consulted with others being held to assure they felt okay with out leaving .  With their support we negotiated a release, but left wondering why a desire to visit one’s embassy would prompt such a response, especially when other internationals were graciously received by their embassies?

See the MPT blog www.mptingaza.blogspot.com for a more detailed “what went down” listing of what happened next. It is again late and I have had about 8 hours sleep over the last 3 days combined. I am tired, I am hungry and tomorrow is a big day. (is any day here not a big day?)

For now let me just say:

* Isn’t the US embassy considered American soil? What does it mean to have Egyptian police on US soil barricading US citizens , stopping them from seeing thier ambassadors, and at times being very very rough! (pushing, shoving, grabbing arms — yelling in the face of.)

* There is no doubt that this is a dictatorship and a police state. Everywhere we go we are fenced in. Everywhere we turn they stop us (or attempt to stop us) from gathering. I feel like I can’t move. My creativity feels as restricted as our movement. And I can’t remember ever feeling so helpless and hopeless. If , as Kim says, there is any grace from this it is that I have a small taste and understanding of how the Palestinians live.

* I really really do NOT like Egypt right now

* I really really do NOT like the US right now

* As I noted Most of the police we encounter are young, their hearts already seem to be with us. When thier superiors are not looking they laugh and joke and sing “we shall overcome” right along with us. They point to our “free Gaza” T-shirts and pins and give the thumbs up and whisper “free gaza” under thier breath. The higher ups -not so much so. Have seen some really mean people who seem like… while I don’t like to use the word evil when talking about people. I think it is rarely (ever?) true. But … it is the only word that comes to mind.

Good night friends, I prob. won’t post tomorrow. Remember no news is good news. Thanks for all your support!

In solidarity and struggle, Sheri

31 December

After the last few days I guess the team really needed to debrief and process a bit together. Long long after our nightly team meeting Kim, Bella, Dorothy and I sat around talking and laughing. Really really LAUGHING and at times crying.

Somewhere in the wee hours of the AM we got an email on Bella’s crackberry — a group from the women’s contingent had been able to meet w/ representatives for President Mubarak’s wife (maybe even w/ her? ) and had negotiated that 100 people could go to Gaza along with all the supplies we had brought. The organizers had about 2 hours to present them w/ the list of who would be going.

Now mind you — here we are in Cairo. Communication is HARD. They block us from gathering, navigating the streets is challenging and asking for directions seems sure to alert the authorities to where we were going — bringing company as soon as you step out of the cab or to walk w/ you along the way.

While many of the GFM have phones now we don’t yet all have each other’s numbers and you cannot guarentee people have access to the internet. So – I am sure they did not think the organizers could pull that off. None the less at 3:30 AM a list was released. Priority was given to journalists, those of Palestinian descent, those who haven’t been in the last 4 years, and there was a strong attempt to have folks from all 42 countries represented here. Yusif was on the list! We quickly called up to his room to wake him. No luck. We raced upstairs to pound on his door and finally used the hotel phone to call his room phone. The bus was meeting at 7:00 AM! He had just a few hours to get ready and we had to also determine how that impacted our plans for the next day. A few minutes of joyous celebration and the team went inot “prep mode” — who would make what calls, getting out a press release etc. After a bit we left him to have a moment to center himself and finish packing w/ the promise to meet him in the AM for a send off.

Ahh.. and hour nap.

We got to the bus station and at first all seemed like a subdued but happy send off. Yusif got on the bus to assure himself a seat upfront on one of the buses w/ a bathroom. Liz helped facilitate the loading of supplies and the rest of us buzzed about taking photos and hugging new friends. Then the tenor changed. People started to shout about the divisiveness of us not all going. Several people spoke and explained that they were not going even though they were choosen. The decsion to break us apart was wrong. The speaking went from those like Hedy Epstein who explained why she wouldn’t go but also spoke about folks needing to follow thier conscious to those who spoke harshly about those who were on the bus.

Not all were so understanding. Many spoke with angry voices. Code pink organizers said they made a mistake in accepting the offer. There was confusion and mixed messages. Gazans still wanted us to come. Gazans didn’t want us to come. What to believe.

We called Yusif on the bus. He was safe, wasn’t leaving. We were feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the scene . People — “my people” were acting horribly! Shaming those who were going. I felt betrayed. Yet, I also understood their points about solidarity and such. Then we heard that the Egyptian government angry about the deal had put the following spin on it. “The 100 people on the bus were choosen by the gov’t since they are the only ones here truly nonviolent. The rest of us are the troublemakers, “hooligans” and were denied.

As the scene continued to decline we again called Yusif. He was sad and angry about what was happening and but was not gonna get off that bus. I support that. We all thought the buses would be leaving any moment so we determined we’d head back to the hotel. Yusif felt good about that.

I wondered a bit about staying around to help calm the situation down. Do that peace team thing as we do. And leaving was one of the hardest decisions I made there. Maybe the hardest.  I know we could have been helpful.  But, I didn’t feel grounded and centered enough to calm anyone down.

Beyond that I didn’t feel at all hungry, tired or dehydtrated and after fasting for a couple of days, very very little sleep, and I know not enough water (I am doing better today — no worries!) I knew I should be! So, I was not trusting my ability to be in touch w/ my own body and needs. I wasn’t trusting my own instincts. I rely on my instincts in this work. If I can’t trust them it is dangerous.  So we left. It was really really really hard!!! But, I know I am here with some of the most skilled and creative organizers around and I needed to trust….

I guess after we left it all got much worse

From what we heard was a madhouse. People were weeping on the busses, others were crying “Shame! Shame!” at those who boarded. Some were bounding on the buses and calling those inside “traitor”. Yusif said that inside the bus it was also a mess. People weren’t sure what to do. Some were getting off the bus, then back on, then off again. Father Louis Vitale, the priest from San Francisco who has been arrested hundreds of times doing civil disobedience actions, got on, got off, got on again, and finally got off for good. Our friend David Hartsough did the same –ending up on the bus. Another friend, John Dear ended up not going after also getting on and off

As the bus went to leave people surrounded it and would not let it out. In an ironic and sick turn of events the bus needed a police escort to lead them out.

Those behind were encouraged to attend nonviolence training and be prepared for a large march today in solidarity with the march in Gaza. Our team spent hours in prayerful disernment about what to do. It felt like every move we made would look like a political statement. How could we support the decision of our dear friend Yusif yet still support the goal of those who stayed behind? And most importantly how do we keep the focus where it belongs – on Gaza.

There is more, but I cannot really capture it just yet.

We put a plan in place, headed to the internet cafe and promised each other we would all be in bed by midnight for a long day in the AM. I’ll write more about the plans – but it will have to wait.  Don’t want it “out there” public just yet.

(We made it to bed by 1:00 — not too bad). An early AM found us stuck in our hotel. While 2 team were able to make it out early early the other 3 of us planned to join them shortly after.

Unfortunately the police had a different idea. We found our doorway blockaded by “paddy wagons” and security, plain clothes, and Egyptian police. 5 uniformed police and several others were blocking the door, and not letting people out. When we saw them being served tea, coffee and food we knew we’d be stuck awhile and hunkered down.

It was fine in the sense we were safe and well. But soooooooo unfine in so many many ways. Can you imagine going to leave your hotel and not being able to? We also found suddenly none of our phone worked. Really, even the US phones. We could call no one, we could not get calls. This sounds so paranoid and surreal as I type it! I can barely believe it and I just lived it. But I assure you it was very real.

Once communiction was back, We learned others were in the same situation. After some brainstorming we have come up with a plan for today and a few back up plans…..

After about 2 hours we found we were allowed out. We came to the internet cafe to get some news on how others are doing and revamp plans for today. More when I can…

As always, thanks for all your support.

In Peace for Justice, Sher

 

1 Jan 2010

Happy New Year everyone!

Yesterday when I emailed I mentioned 2 of our team members had left the hotel before we got blocked in, but I didn’t want to say more in order not to jeprodize thier trip. Early early AM Liz and Dorothy set of for the bus station. Thier goal was to buy 5 tickets to Al Arish. With Yusif in Gaza we thought we’d try to go join him! Or …. really to go and hold vigil in Rafah Egypt. It seemed appropriate to go into the desert, to try to hold the space between those from Gaza Freedom March in Cairo and Gaza Freedom March in Gaza and in doing so to hold that tension. I don’t know if that makes sence if you are not here. But it just felt right.

So – Dorothy and Liz headed our to buy tickets with the idea that Kim, Bella and I would do some work getting some reports up etc. and would then meet up with them at the bus station. Of course, It is what we came to do. With full team consultation via phone we decieded that Dorothy and Liz would continue on as best they could and that Kim and I would stay here — scout the city and provide help, support and observation/monitoring work as needed. Bella would remain in the hotel acting as “home base” and being support should Kim and I get caught up in a sweep, detained or who knows what.

Kim and I noticed right away that we would not go more than 2 blocks without people watching us, taking notes, and calling someoone. It seemed as if they were calling to say what direction we were headed. We determined our safest way to scout was to play the role of tourist…. casually meandering from window to window, stopping in a park for a bit – while walking past the areas we thought people might be gathered on the way to the Egyptian Museum where we knew 200-300 people were holding space.

We had received word earlier that the March had not occured. Most of the hotels where activists were staying were blockaded in the AM, essentially puting people under “house arrrest”. In spite of this we also had heard that several hundered people had gotten out and were protesting in front of the Egyptian Museum. We also heard rumors of smaller gatherings scattered around the city as people were able. Hence our scouting.

We never made it to the Egyptian Museum. I have heard rumors of both police beating people, and that things were similar to many of our other events here. I am not sure what truely happened. The protest did breakup after about 6 hours. (So even if we got there it might have been over.)

What was interesting was noticing the difference in the city. Before yesterday people would invite us in to thier shops, talk with us etc. Yesterday that was simply not true. One young man told us to leave. Liz and Dorthothy reported the same experience in one of the bus station shops. The Egyptian Government has been engagaing in a campaign of lies and misinformation. It was put out in the newspaper that those who were allowed to go into Gaza are the only “good”/”truely nonviolent” people who came. The rest of us are (I kid you not…) ” Hooligans” here to cause trouble. While it does not seem most of the people believe that it seems very evident that they know we are being watched and that they have been intimidated and threatened if they help us.

Crime is very low in Cairo. Yet, I confess I have never felt really safe and secure here. That feeling of always being watched. We get in a taxi and the “tourism police” or some other police type official is immediately there asking the driver where he is taking us, and writtting down his licence number. I am not exagerating when I say Kim and I did not go 2 blocks w/out someone taking note of us and passing it along. (And we were walking in a group of 2 )

The repression is omnipresent and woven into the fabric of daily life.

After walking around many hours and a crazy number of miles we determined that there was nothing at any of the “likely spots” (the Israeli embassy, the US embassy, the UN, the government….) That seemed important to me to check as given how fractured we have become smaller protests might be isolated and really in need of support. We were sad we had not made it to “the big” protest at the museum but figured it was likley over and headed home.

How ironic that New Year’s eve was my earliest night yet. In bed by 12:30! And… I slept ’til 8:00!!! Ya’ll know that is crazy late for me!

The team all headed over to the Lotus hotel this AM and connected with folks there. After that Bella and Liz headed back to the hotel while Kim, Dorothy and I attended a pressconference for those of us who have been fasting. While it only lasted 1/2 hr. — 1 hour it was an incredibly powerful and nonviolent witness to our work and brought the focus back to Gaza and to Palestine.

We all sat on the steps of the journalist syndiate building and read a unified statment from those fasting http://mptingaza.blogspot.com/ in several languages, sang “we shall overcome” and a few people made personal statements. Most were great!

We hope to attend some closing “meetings” tonight for evaluation, reflecton, next steps etc. So hopefully, a calm and easy night. It’s hard to know. Here in Cairo everything you do seems to become an action in and of itself. Tomorrow is the day that Yusif returns from Gaza. I am so looking forward to hearing his news!!!! It is also the day I would have returned from Gaza to Egypt. The plan at that time was to then spend a few days in and around Egypt. I am mean it’s Egypt. So much to see. Only, I confess I am sick of Egypt. I just want to come home. I don’t want to spend my money or my time in this police state being a tourist after this week stuck here.

Dorothy, Bella and I planned to do this and then to fly out together. We will talk tonight and see if we are in agreement about changing our tickets — and further IF I can change my ticket. (The last 2 times I have tried I have not been allowed since I was told I am on “airport security” — then again the Egyptian gov’t might be just as happy to see us go at this point.

(Laurel, I’ll let you know!)

Thanks dear friends for all your love and support! Your encouraging emails, notes on FB and such have really helped. I hope in the days after I get back to do some relfecting and analysis on all we saw.

In solidarity and struggle.

Sher

2 Jan 2010

Dear friends,
This will most likely be my last report from Egypt. (Though I will send a note when I get home.) With the Gaza Freedom March officially at the end Kim and I broke our fast this AM. Dorothy, who had joined us in solidarity on our last day broke her fast as well. We had a team meeting and then a play day. I wasn’t sure I was up to it, but it seemed important to me to see some of the beauty in this country too before we leave.

It was great! Really fun. I felt I could breath easier, and weight was off me as soon as we left the city! We saw the pyramids, Bella and I rode camels, and we went to a huge suc (outdoor market). Not much money to buy – but wonderful to wander around, people watch, drink coffee and take it all in!

On the way back to the hotel we got a call from Yusif! He is back in Egypt -though still several hours from Cairo. I am so very much looking forward to seeing him and hearing all his news!!!!!

After a short rest, the 5 of us had a wonderful dinner together!

I still very much hope that we can work it out to leave early!! But, we shall see. In any case, I look forward to being home!

Love, love, love, Sher

Sunday 1/3

Hello my friends,
I started typing this once but the computer had a little glitch and all went away! Ug. Of course, being all emotional I hadn’t saved anything. Grrrr….. hate it when my own stupidity gets in the way…

In any case, after an early AM at the internet cafe Kim and I joined the rest of the team — including Yusif (who got back late last night) for breakfast. We then all headed over to hear the report out from those that had been in Gaza. There will be a more detailed report on the MPT blog soon http://mptingaza.blogspot.com but for now I just wanted to give you some of the things that stuck out for me: (These are just things that ressonated w/ me. They are not confirmed nor have I done any fact checking – yet I trust the intent, perception and heart of those who went.)

* 90 went

* One of the organizers noted she has been there 4X since March and every time it is more intense. Every time more and more surrounded by Hamas. Every time more evidence of a police state emerging

* “Every bottle of water we drank. Every piece of TP we used. Every everything was brought in through those tunnels. It is the only way.”

* Every person noted with awe the Palestinians resiliance, their ability to still love, forgive and have hope in all this. They also noted the ingenuity.

* MPT friend and NP co-founder David Hartsough noted that 61 years ago his dad worked in Gaza in a refugee camp.He met a man who worked w/ his father. 61 years later they still are refugees”

* Women met w/ a group of Gazan women who’s husbands were killed in operation cast lead. “We do not want/need your charity. WE need your solidarity and your help to have us help ourselves. We neeed sewing machines, we can raise rabbits, chickens”

* “What happened in Gaza was a march, a protest, and was imporatant and good for what it was, but it was not the Gaza Freedom March. The Gaza Freedom March has yet to happen. We will end the seige.”

* Many many spoke about the rabbi’s. 4 Rabbies who tried to get to Al Arish themselves and were left along the way. The GFM bus literally picked them up from the street in the middle of no where. At first the children in Gaza were afraid of them. They didn’t understand or recognize thier closhes, thier hats, their long beards and ringlets etc. But they soon won everyone’s hearts and were the stars. They said “Judism has been hijacked by Zionism. We all lived in peace together before and we can do so again.”

* One woman spoke of pictures drawn by school children and spoke of a girl around 10 who drew and bright eye with tears of blood.

* some spoke of a Hamas crackdown on the arts/artists and how it is getting worse and worse for women. Women were not allowed to March.

* a man spoke about being shown a box w/ what looked like cement pieces it was actually sand. It was the sand that contained the blood of the father

* Women in Gaza spoke about the difficulty in living under Hamas.

* Need for the end of Isolation

There is so so much more. But team members are ready to go back to the hotel and some are heading out tonight. Turns out our work here is not done (so I won’t be back early). Tomorrow some in the Egyptian civil society have asked for some international support and witness. I am honored to be able to do that.

In struggle and love, Sher

 

The massacre in Gaza continues…please do something

The massacre in Gaza continues.

I’ve seen the accounts of Palestinians killed ranging anywhere from 430 to over 500. Too many. And with many bodies still buried beneath the rubble the body count will continue to grown. Counts of the injured range around 2700 – 3000. And this does not take in to account the trauma, and other less visible – but no less real – injuries. The ground invasion began last night.  This will no doubt increase casualties on both sides.

Bloggers and journalists living in Gaza and volunteer human rights workers on the ground with ISM report that if you look at the bombs being launched from above it seems that Israel is dropping  cluster bombs –  yet another war crime. And Norwegian medics told Press TV correspondent Akram al-Sattari that some of the victims who have been wounded since Israel began its attacks on the Gaza Strip on December 27 have traces of depleted uranium in their bodies.

The madness continues.

Al jazeera http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/01/200914103921799948.html is reporting that Israel occupation forces have now cut gaza in two:

“Perhaps the most significant military development on the ground is that Gaza has now actually been split in two. A column of Israeli tanks and artillery, and armoured personnel vehicles has made its way through from the eastern part of Gaza, reaching as far as the Mediterrannean sea on the Western part, essentially splitting Gaza. That area, mostly in the former settlement of Nitzerim, was an open area after Israel withdrew the settlement, so they were able to make strong advances all the way across Gaza, essentially cutting off the northern part from the southern”

Schools, mosques, police stations, television stations, phone lines… all targeted with many reports of hospitals, medics and ambulances being targeted as well.

The devastation is unbelievable, and seemingly never ending. Hospitals and medical personal are overwhelmed with the incoming wounded and dead.

The corporate owned media tells us nothing, but lies. Please, take the time to read the eyewitness accounts:

http://palsolidarity.org/

http://electronicintifada.net/new.shtml

http://gazatoday.blogspot.com/

http://www.michiganpeaceteam.org

 

Meanwhile, the US – with out veto power -prevents any meaningful UN action, while our tax dollars pay for the terror brought down on the Palestinian people.

It is not difficult to see that the blockade and the conditions Israel (with full US support) has created in Gaza are a breeding ground for violence and retaliation such as the rocket attacks. Gaza is a huge, open air prison. Israel closes the borders, keeps food and medical suppliers, gas, replacement parts for water pumps and other necessities from getting through, and we wonder why there are rockets fired?

And do not get me wrong, I in no way support these rocket attacks.  As a (struggling to be) pacifist I do not support violence.  All life is sacred and any death by violence is wrong. And these rockets are sent into Israeli cities and towns where civilians live. That is, in my view, wrong.  And – let’s be honest – targeting civilians is a violation of humanitarian law. The rocket fire is illegal.

But, Israel’s claims that it is “responding to” or “retaliating for” these Palestinian rocket attacks is outrageous.  On her blog, http://gretasgroundhoggrooming.wordpress.com, my friend Abby notes: “According to the BBC, in 2007, 783 rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel, and 2 Israelis were killed by rockets.  And between 2000 and Jan. 2008, a total of 13 Israelis have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza.  Here is the link to that article:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3702088.stm.  

13 Israelis killed by rockets in 7 years, compared 500 Palestinians killed in one week. How can we even pretend to talk about “both sides” as if they were equal? How can we not acknowledge that the current massacre is not beyond disproportionate?

And anyway, that rocket fire, even if it is illegal and wrong, does not give Israel the right to punish the entire population of Gaza for those actions. This is not retaliation, it is vengeance. It is ruthless.  It is collective punishment and it is a violation of the Geneva conventions.  

I find myself feeling helpless and hopeless in the face of such overwhelming horror. I believe what we are witnessing is nothing less than genocide. But, giving up hope is not an option and claiming helplessness is too often just an excuse not to act. So what do We Do?

 

For the “now” – the answer is do something. Do anything. Do everything:

 

* don’t’ hide from the truth no matter how painful –  Read accounts of those living this hell, watch the videos, look at the photos – bear witness to the truth.

 

* sign on to the many petitions being circulated.

 

* write letters –  to Congress members and the State Department, to UN officials, to Israeli officials, the Obama transition team. Amnesty International has some templates and some addresses,  http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/israelopt-immediate-access-humanitarian-workers-and-observers-essential-20081231

 

 

* write letters to the editor and op-eds for every news outlet you can find, call radio talk shows

 

* Get in the streets! Organize and join demonstrations in front of Israeli and Egyptian embassies or when not doable in front of offices for elected officials, and any other visible place. End the Occupation, http://www.endtheoccupation.org/  has been keeping track of many of the demos happening

 

* Start talking! We need to engage people and tell them the truth Hold a teach-in, seminar, public dialogue, documentary film viewing  etc.   Pass out fliers with facts and figures about Palestine and Gaza in your community. Do something to gain attention and help start a conversation with someone: put a Palestinian flag in your window, wear a Koufiya (Palestinian head scarf) ,wear Black arm bands…

 

* Write and call people in Gaza. Let them know they are not alone! Call people in your community who have family there.  Get in the way of Israel’s plans to isolate the people.

 

* Pray, hold the people of Gaza in light, and whatever else your faith traditions call on you to do.

 

* Give aid directly- . Support Shifa Hospital in Gaza Palestine Aid Society of America
P.O.Box 130572,Ann Arbor, Michigan  48113  Tax # 38-2381-291 (I know the folks here, they are great and 100% will go to the hospital! See PS note at bottom of post also) or send direct aid to Gaza through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
http://www.un.org/unrwa/

 

So – yes, do something. Anything. Everything. Do it now.

 

But we need to go beyond the immediate. We need to build for real justice (which peace does not exist without ) in Gaza and in the rest of occupied Palestine. There is lots of work to do, my friends, but I firmly believe it is doable.

———————————-

PS – the following appeal if from a friend. It’s a good organization. They are good people. I have no hesitation in passing this along on their behalf:

Dear Friends,

Genocide is being committed in Gaza by the Israeli military in violation of international law, not to mention all sense of decency and proportion. We at the Palestine Aid Society (PAS) have been inundated with calls for action by fellow Americans of all faiths and ethnicities. We feel the pain and the hurt as we watch, with horror, the terrorized children, the dismembered bodies, the wounded crying in pain, the frustrated aid workers, all on our television screens. We also hear in disgust the support for this Israeli-conducted genocide by some of our representatives in Washington DC. At the time of this writing the number of dead has exceeded 345 and the wounded more than 1650, most of them unarmed civilians. And it seems that Israel is intent on carrying this orgy of violence for days to come, proclaiming that the people of Gaza are not Israel’s enemies, but that their democratically-elected government is! The need in Gaza for immediate relief is immense. The Shifa Hospital is the major medical facility in Gaza receiving and caring for the majority of the victims and it has been inundated, especially after months of an inhumane and punitive siege that has left it short of medicine and other medical supplies. As a small gesture of solidarity with the people of Gaza and in order to help alleviate a bit of their suffering, PAS is calling on all people of good will in our community to donate what they can to a fund for Shifa Hospital. Your tax-deductible donations (100% of all monies contributed) will be transmitted by PAS to the International Red Cross with instructions to deliver them to Shifa Hospital. Please make your checks payable to PAS, earmarked to Shifa Hospital, and send it to:
 
Palestine Aid Society of America
P.O.Box 130572
Ann Arbor, Michigan  48113
Tax # 38-2381-291.

Peace,

Rabia Shafie
Palestine Aid Society

 

 

 

I gotta get me one of them….

So, I’ve been thinkin’ ; I’ve got get me a penis.  

I figure I can keep it in my purse or my backpack. Maybe tote it around  in with my lap-top,  and when I really want people to pay attention to what I have to say and to take me seriously I can just pull it out and set it down in front of me. If anyone fails to notice I can always hold it up and point it assertively at people while shouting “HEY, LOOK…I’VE GOT THE PENIS NOW  – YOU HAVE TO ASSUME I AM SAYING SOMETHING INTELLIGENT AND IMPORTANT.”

Yeah – I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say it “PATRIARCHY SUCKS” (no pun intended.) 

What brings this remarkable grasp of the obvious to the forefront of my mind you ask? Recently a friend sent me an email detailing a great plan for an organization we both work with and love.  He had gotten all these great ideas from a mutual friend of ours.  ( A friend who happens to have a penis.)  I say they are great ideas, but I should acknowledge that I am not an unbiased source here, ‘cuz the thing is – they are the same ideas I’ve been advocating for almost 2 years now! But… I’ve been advocating them w/out the use of a penis – silly me. What was I thinking? Obviously, without such an important resource I simply could not be heard, or taken seriously.

The thing is this all occurred not long after I was making note of some changes in an organization I used to work for. Changes that I (and my co-worker, also sans penis) had been advocating for most of the time we were there.  Changes that once the one with the penis initiated started to happen.  UG!

I’ll say it again…  I gotta get me one of those!

Okay… okay… I know there is way more to gender then genitalia… but this is a rant here and there is little room for logic, sense, shades of grey, or especially rationality in a rant…. It is what it is and what this is- is my being pissed off and so just let me go w/ it here…

Patriarchy Sucks!