God and Caesar

Thank you brother. Let us not give anymore to the violence and the killing.

soitgoes1984

Both God and Caesar

have more than enough resources

so, as for me

I’ll render unto my fellow peasants

the pennies the tax collector has come calling for.

I’ll let the Romans crucify me

before I ever pay for war.

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Breaking this Cycle of Imperial Violence

I was grateful for the opportunity to author a guest post over at the Strategies and Tactics for the Anti-War Blog at the Veterans Reparations Project. The Veterans Reparations Project is a joint project between Veterans For Peace and the Islah Reparations Project and is something very meaningful to me, something with which I hope to become more and more involved. Please visit the Veterans Reparations Project’s webpage to see how you can be involved and how you can help with the grassroots reparations process.

Breaking this Cycle of Imperial Violence:

I’m in my local Starbucks—yeah I know corporate evils and all that, but at 5pm on a Sunday in Wake Forest, NC you take what you can get, and I can walk here. So you take all the good you can get with the bad. Here in Wake Forest we’re not far from Ft. Bragg, home to the US Army’s paratroopers and special operations forces. Thousands of them have been ordered to deploy to Kuwait, where they will be sent into Iraq and Syria to make their own contributions to a decades long folly that has brought death, mental and physical mutilation, and societal destruction to the peoples of Iraq and Syria, profits to American defense corporations, corporate board memberships and university professorships to retired generals, and thousands upon thousands of new recruits to foreign terrorist groups; if there is something else these wars have brought, please leave a reply below, because I certainly can’t think of anything.

There is a large, neon green sign, hand written, like you would see announcing the homecoming dance in the high school hallway or your neighbor’s kid’s lemonade stand on your intersection’s stop sign: “Our Troops Are Deploying, Help Us Thank Them With Coffee.”  A large cardboard box is about a 1/3 of the way full of bags of coffee and boxes of k-cups, hopefully no decaf for those young paratroopers.

I’m not lying to you when I tell you I’m wearing a t-shirt with a Howard Zinn quote on it that reads “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people” as I stand next to that box of coffee bound for the Persian Gulf. I linger for a bit hoping that maybe someone will read the shirt and the sign, that maybe something will register, someone will say something to me, something to medicate me, numb me, tell me that this cycle isn’t starting all over again for several thousand young men and women, barely more than an hour’s drive from me, about to travel halfway around the world to do irreparable harm to people they’ve never met and irredeemable harm to their own souls, hearts, and minds.

I’ve been involved in this war effort since before it even had a name, taking part in training exercises with Indonesian, Malaysian, Philippine, and Thai counterparts that actively engaged in fighting Muslim insurgents in their own countries prior to 9/11. Whether as a willing participant of the wars or as a vocal war opponent, as an occupier or now as someone who hopes to do more to support those who are occupied, I’ve seen very little explained as to how to right the wrongs done in war and even less done to repair, to rebuild, to resuscitate, or to resurrect. Surely, I have never walked into anyplace in America since we began killing more than 1 million people overseas in response to the attacks of 9/11 and seen a box asking for coffee for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, or Yemen.

Now, of course, reparations may be the proverbial bridge too far at this point, as all the nations for which we have transgressed against are still receiving the blows of our aggressions, and those of others, from both internal and foreign belligerents and villains. However, I do recognize that waiting for our government to act in the future to administer some form of restorative justice to the people of the Greater Middle East may be as great a sin as the original acts of violence themselves, because we know that our government, the United States, will never do such a thing, and if our government ever does act the list for such reparations will be a long and worthy one.

So, I am extremely grateful for what the the Veterans Reparations Project is doing. Through grassroots reparations projects we can make a difference, we can begin to help rebuild and repair, and we can begin to fix some of what we destroyed.

Nothing we do will absolve us of what we have done in these wars, I am clear on that; the spot is on and always will be on our hands, to use one of my favorite allusions from high school English class. So be it and so it goes. However, we don’t have to go along with the killing any longer and we don’t have to go along with sitting idly by either and not helping to rebuild and repair. We can and we must do what we can to help those who we hurt. I do not believe we have any other choice.

A US veteran reflects on protesting alongside Palestinian human rights activists in Hebron

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Last month I was in Palestine with a delegation from Veterans For Peace. I’ve been on several such delegations over the past year, traveling with VFP to stand in solidarity with resistance movements against occupation, oppression and militarism in Japan, in the US and, in February and March, in Palestine. To be on the other side of the rifle barrel, to go from being occupier to being in support and in line with those resisting those with the guns has been humbling and rewarding, and I say that with the full knowledge that their resistance is very far from over and that their resistance is not my struggle but theirs, and, at most, I can only support and stand with them.

Below is an article I wrote about one experience myself and my comrades from VFP and CODEPINK had in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. In particular I speak of Issa Amro, known as the “Palestinian Gandhi”. Those of you who know me personally can attest to my cynicism and my self described black heart, so I think you’ll find it striking the enthusiasm and praise I offer for an individual. However, Issa Amro is a transformational leader and, as I explain in the essay, that is why the Israeli government, and the United States government, is afraid of him.

You can see video of the encounter in Hebron here.

http://mondoweiss.net/2017/03/protesting-alongside-palestinian/

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Before joining the hundreds of other marchers, VFP links arms with Issa as noon prayers come to a close in Hebron. Credit: Ellen Davidson

I hadn’t been shot at in seven and a half years. In the week prior, some tear gas cans were fired by the Israeli army at my fellow Veterans For Peace members and me in the Palestinian town of Bil’in. But for a former tough guy Marine, that doesn’t count.

Hebron was different.

For over a decade, peaceful, non-violent Palestinian residents of Hebron, along with friends and allies from Palestine, Israel, and foreign countries, have marched through the streets of Hebron annually to demand the re-opening of their former main market place on Shuhada Street. What many hope is one of the several first steps in a process to restore dignity and human rights to the Palestinian people.

Each year the peaceful march is stopped violently by the Israeli military and police forces, as similar non-violent resistance is violently met by the Israeli military and police forces throughout all of occupied Palestine.

At this year’s march, my comrades and I, including organizers of the march, were roughly one-third of the way from the head of the protest of several hundred people, and, when we wound through the streets of Hebron, linked arm in arm, and made blind turns, walking deeper into the old city. As we descended down a hill and bent to the left, weapons were fired and the crowd came back toward us.

Explosions from concussion grenades echoed off the concrete streets and stone buildings, and the white wispy fingers of tear gas followed the crowds. The gas soon ballooned into thicker clouds of chalky white. My mate on my right arm, I now know is no simple activist. Issa Amro is his name and he said “let’s go”, and we did. Through the tear gas and toward the gun line of the Israeli army and police, we went.

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Issa leads us towards the Israeli Army and Border Police troops, with Will Griffin, Mike Hanes, Tarak Kauff and Ariel Gold (CODEPINK) credit: Ellen Davidson

Amro scares Israel. If the Trump administration weren’t so ignorant and arrogant Amro would rightly scare them as well because he is an archetype of popular non-violent leadership against oppression, occupation and fascism. Recognized as a Human Rights Defender by the European Union, Amro is currently facing 18 charges in an Israeli military court. These charges are largely nonsense, meant to silence Amro and take him away from being a witness to the world and prevent his role in fighting for a Free Palestine.

In a report issued last November, Amnesty International stated: “The deluge of charges against Issa Amro does not stand up to any scrutiny,” and the group noted that some of the charges were previously made against him and already dismissed, were charges for which he was not physically present. Or, they were charges for actions that are not internationally recognizable criminal offenses. Amro is a very real threat to Israel, and if it—a racist apartheid state— is not to go the way of the Jim Crow South or pre-1994 South Africa, then it must do everything it can to silence him.

Amro works professionally as an electrical engineer. From what I understand, he’s a pretty good one, as he travels and lectures on the subject internationally. It was while studying electrical engineering at college when the Israeli military closed his university. Amro started then as a leader of the Palestinian nonviolent resistance. At his school, he led his fellow students who remained on campus to sleep there in protest until the military left. The Israeli forces relented, and the university was reopened. Issa understood the asymmetric power of nonviolent resistance, the moral authority of it, and he began to study the classic leaders of non-violent resistance and change so that he could lead and inspire his own people in their struggle for freedom. He started his organization Youth Against Settlements in Hebron a decade ago, founded a kindergarten, and is in the process of opening a cinema. He is constantly targeted and harassed by the Israeli military and settlers in Hebron and throughout Palestine, and, for good reason, he is incredibly effective.

I spent ten years in the Marine Corps. I went to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once. I’ve traveled a lot, been on television, and for a time revolved in a world of big shots and important people in Washington DC and New York City. But true leaders, people whose presence is unordinary, occur less often than we would like and, as we in America know, selfless and dedicated leaders cannot be manufactured by the military rank on one’s shoulder, the attention of a TV camera lens, or the ballots of voters.

In Hebron, I was with a leader. Amro said “let’s go, “and we went, into the gas and towards the guns of a fascist state, towards an Israeli military that wantonly kills Palestinians not just without repercussion, but also with the conscious financial reward of my own government.

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The gas was too much for us on that first attempt to reach the army and police line, an effort we were making just to speak with them. We retreated, back up the street from where we came, our eyes sealing shut, our chests convulsing, and everything else burning from the gas. We regrouped around a corner where a fortunate breeze helped dissipate the gas. Between the seven members of Veterans For Peace, we had nearly 60 years of military service between us. We all looked to Amro.

A few minutes passed, the street below us was quiet, no one else continued to march, no one else was making a move to restore the lost dignity and rights to the people of Hebron. “Let’s go,” Issa said again. And we went. We linked arms again, down the hill and around the bend towards the gun line of the Israeli police and the army. No words from the army or police, no movement at all from them. As we got closer some shouts from us, “we are unarmed,” “we want to talk.” Those of us whose arms weren’t linked had hands and fists raised in the air, perhaps to show defiance, but also to show our absence of weapons and to plead with the soldiers and police not to shoot.

Halfway down the street, maybe 50 yards after the turn, the first tear gas cans rush directly over our heads. The cans are fired level at us so that we were forced to duck. If struck in the head or chest, we could be killed. Many Palestinians have died that way, on our trip I met the relatives of several who were murdered in that manner. Amro doesn’t duck. He stood tall, said, “Don’t do that” and kept us advancing. As we moved, having to duck further, we were fortunate that the gas canisters, just several feet off the ground, passed wide of us. The gas, some from American corporations, is more powerful than the human body and we had to retreat once again.

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Forced to leave the street Issa still tries to conduct a dialogue with the Israeli security forces. Credit: Ellen Davidson

And here it is. Here is why Israel is scared of Amro. After ten minutes, when the gas wore off because that magnificent and benevolent breeze has worked its wonders, we walked for a third time to that same gun line. The army and police have killed people in Hebron, they have done so routinely and often; the murder of a wounded Palestinian by an Israeli soldier in Hebron has recently been one of the major news stories in Israel and Palestine. A costume of the soldier who murdered the Palestinian was a top choice among Israelis for the Purim holiday.

Often at demonstrations, after the gas and the concussion grenades are used and a greater degree of force is desired, the Israeli army and police will add the use of live and rubber ammunition. This is something we witnessed them do in the village of Nabi Saleh the following week—for those of you who have not been gassed in Palestine, the gas the Israeli army and police forces use is of a potency well beyond anything any of us in Veterans For Peace had ever encountered in the U.S. military, or U.S. law enforcement—At that point Israeli army and police had shot directly at us, and we were lucky not to have been severely injured or killed. Although there was a very strong possibility that we would now encounter rubber bullets or live ammunition. Yet we went back onto to the street because Amro led us there once more.

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Me after the second gassing. It would take more than five minutes for me to be able to open my eyes and begin to function again. What we had been told that the Israelis use the Palestinians as a weapons laboratory I can attest to. Credit: Ellen Davidson

The Israeli army and police held their fire this time and we reached their line where we encountered a heavily armed and armor plated phalanx comprised primarily of apparent scared and confused 18 and 19-year old conscripted soldiers and border police officers. Nothing came of our attempts to speak with the army and police, as they quickly deployed squads to raid Palestinian homes, which punished the residents of the city for the actions of those who demanded dignity and human rights that day.

It was by no means a wasted effort to have endured the gas to reach their line, as I now understand very well that it is madness to assume that Israel’s occupation can endure, particularly if it were to ever lose its backing from its patron the U.S. As we stood in front of those young, terrified boys and girls, some not much bigger than the rifles they carried, the actuality of the legendary and mythic “Israeli Defense Forces” was evidently morally and ethically haphazard, and the folly of the occupation was too clear.

Israel is dependent on a massive infusions of cash and patronage from one of the wealthiest nations in the world, as political shielding from—well deserved—sanctions that the near entirety of the rest of the world seeks to enact against the Israeli government as a response to the decades-long Israeli governmental crimes against the Palestinian people. To keep control within its borders and within the lands it illegally occupies, Israel must heavily arm tens of thousands of teenagers, many of whom have no interest in the fundamentalist, sexist and racist views of the far hard right in Israel, a nationalist movement that takes orders from an invisible real estate agent in the sky who demands the theft and occupation of Palestinian lands. Such a position is morally bankrupt, strategically impossible and bound to collapse. Dissolution of America’s support of Israel’s apartheid and occupation is the most important element in this eventual collapse.

Desperation is now clear in Israel’s actions, how else to describe the bill passed this past week to ban the Muslim call to prayer?

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VFP member Tarak Kauff approaches Israeli forces for a third time. We were unsure if they would escalate and utilize rubber or live ammunition as they have in the past, and as they used in other locations during our delegation to Palestine. Watching Tarak and the other members of our team still go forward, despite this knowledge, will stick with me for the remainder of my life. Credit: Ellen Davidson

Men and women, like Amro were raised under occupation, harassed, silenced, humiliated, arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and tortured. Every action the government of Israel can take to keep alive the occupation and the apartheid state, they have been on the receiving end.

When Dick Cheney spoke of going to “the dark side” I now no longer believe he spoke of Star Wars, but believe he was referencing the policies of Israel. What has occurred has not been a stamping out of a Palestinian people, a destruction of the Palestinian nation, or a subdued land of collaborationists and cowards. Rather Israel’s terrorism has grown a generation of non-violent popular leaders.

Throughout our time with the non-violent popular resistance in Palestine we met and worked with men and women committed to restoring dignity and human rights to their people. Many of them were of the caliber, temperament and quality of Amro: able to inspire, capable of transferring confidence and infusing hope. These Palestinian men and women are what terrify Israel; and as the Trump administration moves further along a path akin to Israel’s, President Trump and his legions will see as well a rise of such leaders from within the American people—of that I am sure.

Israel is pursuing its charges against Amro in military court. A petition has been started to remind the United Nations that Amro is a designated and recognized international human rights defender and as such, the United Nations, and its member states, have certain obligations to him.

Please take a moment to add your name to the petition and then share it with your friends and allies. Amro is a tremendous leader and he, like many other, will end the occupation of Palestine through their non-violent resistance, so long as we follow them, support them and stand with them.

 

Seeking Atlas; a Q&A with Telesur on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria

 

Following the news the US would be expanding airstrikes in Afghanistan I was interviewed by Charles Davis of TelesurCharles’ article, which puts my comments into excellent context can be found here, while my full answers to Charles’ questions are below.

Are airstrikes likely to have a tangible impact?   

-The renewed airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan will have the same effect as the thousands and thousands of previous airstrikes we have conducted against the Afghan insurgency. American airstrikes will make for triumphant press releases from the US military in Kabul, and it will kill many Taliban fighters, and also many civilians, but, strategically and long term, the airstrikes will not significantly weaken the Taliban, and, very likely, may strengthen them by providing more public support due to the civilian casualties the air strikes will cause. Under General Petraeus, starting in 2010, the US initiated scores of airstrikes, as well as dozens of nighttime commando raids, daily against Afghan insurgent targets. Many of these strikes hit legitimate targets, but many more of them hit civilians. The surge in the increase of public support for the Taliban in the areas of the air and commando strikes is undeniable. Similarly, this surge in American attacks only saw an increase in Taliban attacks. Rather than weakening the Taliban, the Taliban’s ability to fight, judged by nearly all indicators (number of Americans killed and wounded, number of assassinations, number of IEDs, etc) increased, year by year. There should be no doubt as to the effectiveness of American air power against the Afghan insurgency in the achievement of strategic and political goals in Afghanistan: at best there is no evidence the air strikes had a positive strategic effect pursuant to American goals, except to provide political cover for the American withdrawal; and at worst the evidence is that the airstrikes were entirely counter-productive. In Afghanistan, during our nearly 15 year occupation, there has been no reliable, non-corrupt, non-predatory, local Afghan forces that have been able to hold ground against the Afghan insurgency, let alone claim the support of the Afghan population, primarily Pashtun, in the East and South of Afghanistan. Without a militarily capable and locally endorsed Afghan ground force, no amount of American air power will be successful.

In concert with local proxy forces they appear to be helping reduce ISIS’s hold on land in Iraq and Syria… does that mean they could work against the Taliban?

-In Iraq and Syria US airstrikes have had a role in pushing back the Islamic State and its allied Sunni fighters, but the overwhelming reason for this has been increased success by sectarian forces, Kurdish in Syria and Shia in Iraq, on the ground against the Sunni forces. It is very important to realize the sectarian nature of this conflict and to note that all sides are committing atrocities, as noted by the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Those atrocities, in turn, motivate continued sectarian conflict and provide an existential reason for Sunnis, Kurds and Shia to support their respective sides. You’ll note that in the cities in Iraq from where the Islamic State has been forced to retreat from, Ramadi and Tikrit particularly, the cities have been massively destroyed, widely looted and are mostly empty of their previous Sunni residents due to the occupation of the Shia militias. The Shia militias are the primary reason for the success of the counter-offensive against the Islamic State, as the Iraqi Army is still very corrupt and ineffective. American air strikes in Iraq and Syria are a supporting mechanism only and on their own cannot push the Islamic State from the (Sunni) territory they hold.

Is this a slippery slope that will lead to US troops eventually returning to a combat role?

-In terms of US troops going into full scale ground conflict in either Iraq or Syria, I don’t believe it will occur for any military reason, but rather will occur for a political reason such as the American president making a “red line” statement or due to an atrocity, both of which were the reasons offered by the Obama Administration to enter into the Syrian civil war in 2013 (in a manner that would have placed American forces in a position where their objectives and goals were directly aligned with those of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist groups). Regardless of the rationale, the reasoning will be political and it will be because the US president feels she or he needs to strengthen their display of American resolve in the Middle East, which would be in line with President Johnson’s decision(s) to escalate the Vietnam War and President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan in 2009. By saying there is no military reason, I mean that no mid- or long-term outcome can come out of American troop involvement in the civil wars in Iraq and Syria other than American boys and girls once again patrolling hostile city and village streets in a country half a world away they do not understand while being under constant guerrilla war attack. I think the biggest impetus on US troop involvement would be in protection of the Kurdish oil and gas fields in northern Iraq, particularly if the planned attack on Mosul, by the Iraqi government, Shia militias and Kurdish forces, fails (if the attack ever happens), and the Kurds, and the large number of American and European energy firms resident in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, feel threatened as they did in 2014.

Does the US even have a strategy?

-The US does not have a strategy in any way that any person who has ever put together a plan of action or strategy for a business, construction project or even a kids’ soccer game would expect. Rather the US is simply reacting to events in Syria and Iraq that failed to meet the hopes and aspirations of politicians and politically inspired planners in Washington DC over the last decade and a half. This really has been and continues to be a foreign and military policy based upon allegiance to neoconservative ideology, whether carried out by a Democratic or Republican administration, and propelled by “hope” that things will fall in line with expectations due to an unwavering belief in American superiority and faith in the righteousness of American supremacy. The US has found its role in both Iraq and Syria by unleashing sectarian conflict in Iraq and Syria and then being disappointed when those sectarian forces have ignited civil wars that cannot be controlled. For example, since 2011, in Iraq the US hoped to use the Shia dominated government to control Sunni discontent and to keep the violence of the Islamic State in check, while in Syria, right across the border, the US hoped to utilize Sunni discontent and the Islamic State’s violence to overthrow the Syrian government.

What is apparent is an American strategy in the Middle East that is astonishingly detached from reality, let alone history, both this and last century’s. The success of such a policy as America’s would require the intervention of a determinist deity, such as Atlas, to hold together the badly fracturing Middle East that had previously been held together, in definition, by America’s massive arms and financial support to despotic monarchies, revolutionary groups, and unquestioned support of Israel. Such a house of cards could never stand.