Myself and three other members of Veterans For Peace, Ellen Davidson, Tarak Kauff and Chris Smiley, will be speaking in Texas in a couple of weeks. We’ll be in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston if anyone is able to join us. Thanks so much to the incredible Leslie Harris for making this speaking tour happen.
Veterans For Peace Palestine/Israel Delegation Texas Tour: Walls of Racism and Oppression From Texas to Palestine and Beyond
DALLAS—Thursday, October 19, 6:00 pm reception; 7:00 dinner & program Kasra Persian & Afghan Cuisine, 525 Arapaho Rd., Set 21, Richardson, TX Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. Click here to RSVP/get info on Facebook
AUSTIN—Friday, October 20, 6:00 pm veggie meal & schmoozing; 7:00 program Friends Meeting of Austin, 3701 E. Martin Luther King Blvd, Austin, TX Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to RSVP/get info on Facebook
SAN ANTONIO—Saturday, October 21, 7:00 pm program Coates University Center, Fiesta Room, Trinity Univ., Trinity Pl., San Antonio, TX Contact: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to RSVP/get info on Facebook
A nine-person Veterans For Peace delegation visited Palestine/Israel earlier this year, where they met with Palestinian popular resistance leaders as well as members of the Knesset. They participated in nonviolent direct action and witnessed the resiliency, solidarity, creativity and courage of the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation and the settlements that steal their land, water and other resources. Photographer Ellen Davidson, former State Dept official and USMC Captain Matthew Hoh, former US Army paratrooper Tarak Kauff, and filmmaker Chris Smiley are touring Texas to tell us what they observed firsthand, using dramatic video clips and photos of this eventful trip, soon to be made into a documentary series. Their experience helped them see how Palestinian struggles relate to those of oppressed communities in Texas and beyond. Click here to see a trailer for the documentary series.
I also wanted to share an interview I did last week, with RT, on veteran suicides in the United States, the relationship of suicides to being in combat, and the further connection to moral injury/guilt. It’d be nice to get the chance to talk on an American network about this topic…
Additionally, here are three podcasts of radio programs I’ve done over the last month with three people I greatly admire.
The first is with award winning journalist Dave Maresh, who I have been very fortunate to know, along with his wife Amy, for seven or eight years now. Dave’s experiences are pretty unparalleled. He’s now in some form of non-retirement in New Mexico where he hosts a daily hourly radio program on KSFR, Here and There with Dave Marash. It’s one of the few podcasts I subscribe to and so it was pretty incredible to now have been one of his guests.
I was on with Blase Bonpane on his World Focus radio program earlier this month as well. I was also on with Blase again this past week, but I’ll do a separate blog post for that interview. Blase’s life story is heroic and amazing, he was a priest who defied the Catholic Church by practicing and living the liberation theology taught by Jesus Christ. My first interview, with a transcript, is with him here:
Finally, I was on with Army veteran Nate Bethea. I’ve known Nate for several years now. He’s been honest and forthright about his military service and his time during and after the wars, and his outspokenness on societal issues in the United States has earned him my deepest respect and gratitude, even though it has delivered him the scorn and vitriol of many from the Right Wing, including men with whom he served in combat. Nate now co-runs a podcast called What a Hell of a Way to Die. It’s a program by military veterans that takes on larger and broader issues from a socialist/leftist perspective. It’s fantastic.
I have a benefit tonight that I am speaking at in support of Palestine. In the toast I am to give, I will reference other struggles against oppression and occupation, particularly those resistance struggles that I was grateful to be given the opportunity to stand with in solidarity this past year: in Okinawa, at Standing Rock and in Palestine.
For someone like me, who had professionally studied war and insurgencies for years, and then executed such knowledge on behalf of the US government in support of the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, being on the other side of the rifle was heartbreaking and difficult, as seeing the military and police enforcing the racist occupations, political oppression and environmental destruction was a mirror held up to me, reflecting my own past, my own mistakes, my own collaboration with greed, hate and subjugation. Being allowed the opportunity to stand with these resistance movements was rewarding and it was healing, as it was a form of recovery for my moral injury and guilt from the wars. I can never undo or repair what I took part in in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I can, going forward in my life, live a life working with others for peace and justice, both at home and abroad.
The commonness and similarities that exist between these resistance movements are many: a firm belief in and understanding of non-violence; the use of music and song; and the graciousness and openness to outsiders, like myself and other white veterans of the American military whose relationship to the occupation forces and powers cannot be ignored or dismissed, but are understood as the actions of the colonial and imperial powers and not the actions, will or soul of the individual soldier, or Marine in my case.
There is also something that runs very deep, is very true, and that exists within all these resistance movements. Something prime and underlining, a force that is infinite and enduring is the intangible reality that exists in all of the men, women and children who are struggling for their society’s freedom, for the preservation of their land, water and air, and for the chance for their children and grandchildren to live lives not held in obeyance to the guns and violence of a foreign, abusive and repressive power. I have no other choice for my description of what I witnessed and stood among than to use the word divine to explain what it is that moves, sustains and carries forward these movements and people. Words like justice, peace, freedom, and safety have their well deserved places as descriptions of what these movements strive for, but it is the word divine that I come back to when I think of what it is which motivates, maintains and upholds these movements and what it is that links them together across continents, religions and races, and, ultimately, time.
I saw this again in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, where myself and other white allies escorted black students from Howard University through the city streets. There was something divine, again a better word I stumble trying to find, behind the purposes of those students from Howard, a very existent and timeless connection to something beyond the human experience that animates our desires for truth, justice, equality and peace. This force, this beyond-human force, ties together these movements now, and ties them to the movements of the past, to their ancestors who suffered and were persecuted in their struggles of liberation, fights for peace, and marches for equality, whether there be a direct lineage of descent to those ancestors or an ancestry consisting of purpose and principle removed by epochs of historical and geographic separation.
I’m an intellectual, logical and rational atheist a good 6 1/2 days a week, but what I experienced in Okinawa, Standing Rock, Palestine and Charlottesville these past twelve months moved me with a force much greater than any and all of the spirited nationalist formulations or conceptions of brotherhood I ever encountered or beheld in my time as a Marine or while working for the US government. This force, this divine presence, cannot be discounted, diminished or dismissed, but is as factual and proven to me in its effect and purpose as any rifle I ever held, any money I was ever paid, or any exceptionalist American myth I ever consumed.
It is why anyone who has taken part in these movements can receive healing from their own sins in war, as I have; it is why even those who have been silenced by jailing or with bullets and bombs have never truly been defeated – lost to us with great sorrow and grief, yes, of course – but not defeated; and it is why these movements will ultimately be successful, because the divine that is the foundation of these movements and these people cannot be extinguished, cannot be undone, bought or quieted, as this spirit will always carry forward this generation and subsequent ones.
To see and understand some of the divine involvement that is present in the people of Palestine and the Palestinian Popular Resistance movement, please watch Chris Smiley’s latest video of the Veterans For Peace delegation I participated in to Palestine earlier this year.
When I was in DC at the end of May, I taped an interview on Afghanistan with Chris Hedges. Chris is a Pulitzer Prize winning former NY Times reporter and author who has for so many years been a brilliantly dominant force in writing painfully objective, truthful and explosive articles, essays and books on American foreign policy and society. It was my first time getting to spend any substantial amount of time with Chris, as we had the better part of the afternoon together, an afternoon I am very thankful for having had. I basically feel like I got a free graduate seminar 🙂
Here’s the interview:
Here also is Chris’ speech from the previous day at the Lincoln Memorial during the Veterans For Peace antiwar rally:
My friend Ariel Gold, who works for Code Pink as their Middle East Campaign Director, is in Palestine to support Issa Amro. Issa is a Palestinian human rights leader who recently was put on trial by the Israeli military. Ariel, who is Jewish and from NY, actively supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). BDS is a Palestinian led, international, nonviolent effort to change the government of Israel’s well documented apartheid policy towards the Palestinian people; much the same way boycotts were used in the American South to support the Civil Rights movement and all three actions were used against the South African government. I support BDS as well. I strongly urge you to do so too. You can find out how to do so here.
Earlier this year, the government of Israel declared that people who support BDS would be denied entry into Israel. Israel also continued to declare BDS to be an anti-semitic movement, which it is not; claiming that BDS is anti-semitic is about as justifiable as claiming the boycott movements that were utilized against the Jim Crow American South or Apartheid South Africa were anti-white or anti-Christian. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago, Ariel was not denied entry. However, after attending Issa’s trial, a right wing newspaper announced Ariel’s presence to the Israeli government, complaining that the Israeli government was not living up to its promise to ban people like Ariel. Of course, Ariel could be deported, but there is also the danger that members of the often violent communities that compose the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the West Bank may identify Ariel and take matters into their own hands. Ariel, true to her self, has not backed down and, showing great courage, is still in Palestine working alongside her Palestinian brothers and sisters. You can read more about this here:
and watch this short video:
Peter Van Buren, whose book on his time in Iraq, We Meant Well, got him fired from the State Department has a new book out: Hooper’s War. It is a novel of alternative history, set during an American invasion of mainland Japan. It is an anti-war novel and it is excellent. Peter sent me an advance copy and asked me to blurb it. This was my honest-to-God response after reading it:
“PVB obviously is a scholar and historian both of Japan and America, there is no doubt to that as you read Hooper’s War, a modern day Catch 22 or Slaughter House Five that we desperately need. Peter has obviously been to war, as have I, and his heart has been broken, as has mine. He broke it again, several times in Hooper’s War, I wasn’t sure I had that much left to break. He’s owed a debt of gratitude for this, for bearing such witness and testimony for so many millions who cannot do so for themselves, those who have been so ghastly immolated in our past and current wars and who can only cry out when people like Peter do so for them.”
Peter has done a number of interviews on Hooper’s War over the last several months, but this one, with Scott Horton, is one I very much recommend for Peter and Scott’s deep, thoughtful and moving discussion on war and moral injury. For those who don’t have a full hour or if you only have a few minutes, I recommend beginning the interview at around the 27 minute mark, where Peter defines moral injury and speaks about veteran suicide.
My friend Bill, who runs the blog The Contrary Perspective, recommended B. Traven’s The Death Ship to me. Traven is best known for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Written eighty years ago, Traven’s prose, style and tone is reminiscent of that generation’s cadre of post WWI ex-pats, of which he was one. The book is an excoriation of the world post-war, of the new establishments and conventions that arose post-war, of the stupidity of the war itself of course, but of the new ways of the world in particular. The resemblances and similarities to today’s world are genuine and rattling. My response to Bill upon completing The Death Ship, with a bit redacted so as to try not and spoil the ending:
“I used to keep all my books, however several years ago I decided to unload my library with the exception of the books that had personal meaning to me or with the exception of the books that caused me to think or kept me thinking. I thought about The Death Ship every day I read it and I’ve thought about it in the days since I finished it. I have a feeling, in a few months, when I make a run to the used book store to sell back my books that The Death Ship will remain behind in my house.
As I write this now, I am struck by the prescient savagery of Traven’s thesis, summarized _______________at the very end of the book. All because of bureaucracy, all because of man-made borders; borders that didn’t exist prior to________, borders that were soon to be erased again _________. The nonsense of it all, the cruelty of it all, and it all still plays out now.
I think you are aware that I was just in Palestine in February and March, where I spent time with people who have been ruined by such borders and their attendant walls. In October, prior to that, I was North Dakota, where to my embarrassment and shame, I spent the first moments of my life, ever, and it is half over, with the Native American community, those people who are the living lineage of 500 years of genocide, but whose more modern history and current lives are dominated by these inventions of borders, treaties, walls, reservations, etc. And, of course, my own time in Iraq and Afghanistan, two nations that had their borders drawn by the West, their people corralled, marshaled, divided and amalgamated.
So now I have Traven’s other book’s on my list to look for when I step into used books stores :)”
Finally, Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary on our drone killing program National Bird is available on Netflix. I am mentioning this because I want you to watch it. Not just as it is so well done, so important, and because Sonia does such an admirable and honorable job in informing us of the reality of the brutal, criminal and senseless killings we are conducting with our flying robots against thousands and thousands of innocent people, every day, but also because Sonia documents so very well the lives of three people who were involved in the drone program AND WHAT THEY DID ABOUT IT. One of them, Lisa Ling, has become a friend of mine these last few years, and a hero of mine. So if you haven’t seen it, please give National Bird a viewing, even if you know about the drone program, you’ll see what three courageous people did about something they knew was wrong.
Just a short post with links to interviews I did on the war in Afghanistan with The Real News Network and on the occupation in Palestine with Scott Horton. The transcript for the interview with TRNN is included at the bottom of this post. Also, the trailer for the documentary feature on the Veterans For Peace delegation to the popular resistance in Palestine is pasted below, please give it a watch. Wage Peace!
Matthew Hoh, a Marine veteran and former State Department official, discusses his recent activism on Palestinian rights issues; the common myths recited to Americans to keep them from learning the truth about Israeli apartheid; the new generation of Palestinian and American non-violent activist leaders; and why Gaza is shaping up to be one of history’s greatest human catastrophes.
Finally, here is the trailer for the documentary film Chris Smiley is producing on the recent Veterans For Peace delegation to the Palestinian popular resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank:
Transcript for TRNN interview on Afghanistan:
Aaron Maté: It’s “The Real News,” I’m Aaron Maté. The 16-year war in Afghanistan is deadlier than ever. A new US government report says, “Last year was the worst so far for Afghan civilians and soldiers. A recent Taliban attack killed more than 160 Afghan recruits and the violence could grow as the spring fighting season begins. In a recent visit, Defense Secretary, James Mattis, said he expects a tough year ahead.James Mattis: And I’d say that we’re under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission. 2017’s going to be another tough year for the valiant Afghan security forces and the international troops who have stood and will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan against terrorism.Aaron Maté: The White House is now considering a request for more US troops. At a hearing earlier this year, the US commander in Afghanistan, said he needs several more thousand.John McCain: How many more do you need to get this stalemate reversed?General Nicholson: Mr. Chairman, I have adequate resourcing in my counter terrorism mission. In my train, advise and assist mission however, we have a shortfall of a few thousand.Aaron Maté: So with the potential of more US forces, what is next for this never-ending war? Well joining us is Matthew Hoh. He served as a Marine in the Iraq war and later resigned from the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of US policy there. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, welcome.
Matthew Hoh: Hello and thank you for having me on.
Aaron Maté: Thanks for joining us. So talk to us about what is now being considered. There’s about 9000 US forces on the ground in Afghanistan right now. The White House is considering adding what is said to be a few thousand more. What do you make right now of the current US strategy?
Matthew Hoh: The policy and the rhetoric for the Americans in Afghanistan have remained the same. Basically, since the Americans and NATO have started the military escalation of the war, which predates the Obama escalation. I mean, this goes back to the NATO escalation in Afghanistan, which begins about 2005, 2006, which if people remember, is when President Karzai was being criticized for being only the mayor of Kabul and for the humanitarian interventionists out there are the folks in the western part of the world who wanted to see democracy flourish, who felt that we had to prove that the Western way was the right way, that couldn’t be allowed.So what you had in 2005 was this escalation of the NATO presence in Afghanistan and that’s when you really start to see the insurgency start to re-flourish the Taliban, rather than reentering forcibly into Afghanistan in many cases being pulled back into Afghanistan. And so, much of what we’re seeing Aaron is the same rhetoric, the same policies, the same type of things we’ve seen over and over again on the American side, on the NATO side of, “We’re going to send in more troops, more money, we’re going to help the Afghans build, we’re going to help them stand up,” but the reality is, is that we’re just fueling the same type of corruption. We’re keeping the same warlords and drug lords in place and we’re seeing the conflict continue to grow because all we’re doing is continuing the bloodshed.
Aaron Maté: Okay Matthew, so if the US wanted to seriously change course, what would some tangible options be? There have been some fitful attempts at something resembling a peace process, including negotiations with the Taliban, or indirect negotiations, but those never seem to pan out. And part of the conventional thinking on that is that the Taliban isn’t seriously interested in an accommodation because they are doing well.
Matthew Hoh: Well that’s been a complete and total lie on behalf of the American government and I think that’s very clear now in late … I mean that’s part of the reason why I resigned. I mean, my story is a minor story. I was a US State Department officer in Afghanistan, I was a mid-level one but part of my … When we were approached by Taliban surrogates my instructions from the embassy was, “Do not talk to them. Negotiation is not what we’re here for.” It is now certainly clear that what General Petraeus did in Iraq say, was not to negotiate peace in Iraq, was negotiate an exit for the Americans in Iraq, was to negotiate a retreat. A way to get President Bush right out of Iraq. The same thing is true for what he did for McChrystal, was going to do for President Obama in Afghanistan; escalate the war, make it look good enough for the Americans to withdraw and then blame it on the Afghans that they couldn’t handle it. Same with the Iraqis. In our case, was there was no interest in negotiations on the Americans’ part and this has been shown over and over again. If you look at various press from the Middle East from Western Central Asia, you can see that throughout 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, there were overtures. 2011 even. There were overtures by the insurgency to negotiate. The American media, unfortunately, never really picked up on this. Most importantly though, and there are other figures too who were commenting on this from the United Nations. Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was the UK and the NATO senior diplomat in Afghanistan has spoken about this, a complete absence, a complete lack of desire on the part of the Americans for anything resembling peace, only wanting victory, only wanting a military win in Afghanistan, only demanding surrender from the insurgency. But most importantly, most recently, at the end of 2016 the New York Times reported on the Norwegian attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. It lasted for three years, from 2007 up until 2011 when the United States put 100,000 more American troops into Afghanistan and escalated the war dramatically. Said, “We’re not going to negotiate. We’re going to beat you. We’re going to force you to surrender.” The Norwegians actually met with Mullah Omar. Up until last year there was no indication that no Western or no non-Muslim had ever met with Mullah Omar. Now we learn that Norwegians had actually met with him to discuss peace in the years up to the American escalation of the war and Americans had no interest. My government, your government, our government … had no interest in talking about peace in Afghanistan. We only wanted a military victory.
Aaron Maté: Is the current approach of relying so heavily on the Afghan forces to fight the Taliban, is that sustainable? Because already in the first six weeks of this year, according to that report that we talked about, more than 800 Afghan forces have been killed and every year about one third of the Afghan military and police desert their post, which is a dynamic very similar to what happened in Iraq before the time that Isis took over control of towns like Ramadi and Mosul. They would do so in part because the Iraqi military just fled.Matthew Hoh: I think it’s sustainable as long as the American Congress continue to spend three and a half, four billion dollars a year propping up the Afghan military, that’s what we’re doing right now. So as long as we continue to do that, it’s sustainable because the Afghan economy has nothing else. There is nothing else in the Afghan economy. Of course, with the exception of the Afghan drug trade, with the exception of the opium trade. So as long as that’s continuing, there will be people who are desperate enough to go into the military or into the police services or into the intelligence services but as you said Aaron, 1/3 of them are getting into it and realizing that, one, “I don’t want to die for this.” But there’s another part of why they’re also leaving. Part of it is, “I don’t want to die for this, it’s not worth it.” The other part is what they’re seeing. What they’re seeing is obscene.One of the reports that came out recently from the United Nations is the prevalence of torture that is used by the Afghan security forces across the board, whether it be the Afghan army, the Afghan intelligence or the Afghan police forces, torture is so widespread in use by the Afghan security forces. It is used by every branch of the Afghan security forces and it is used on a common and routine basis. Anywhere from 25 to 50% of detainees are reporting torture being used against them by various branches of the Afghan security forces. So many of these recruits, many of these Afghan recruits who are entering and then leaving the Afghan security forces, certainly are doing it because they say, “Hey, I don’t want to die for this corruption. I don’t want to die for these drug lords and warlords ultimately who I’m working for on behalf of the Afghan army.” But a lot of them are also leaving Aaron, I believe, because of what they’re seeing.
Aaron Maté: Finally Matthew Hoh, Pakistan, Afghanistan’s neighbor. Can you talk about this strange dynamic we have where there are elements of the Pakistani government that support the Taliban inside Afghanistan but at the same time, Pakistani military getting huge amounts of support and aid from the US every single year. So can there be a solution to the Afghan war without a serious change in policy inside Pakistan?
Matthew Hoh: Well none of these wars. Whether they be in Asia or Africa or the Middle East or the Americas or wherever will stop until the Western world, in particular the United States, as well as Russia, stops exporting arms as well as stops funneling money into these conflicts. Pakistan, this is probably maybe one of the heights of absurdity and the heights of obscenity, because we do. We don’t have as many troops in Afghanistan as we once did and we’re certainly not taking a little [inaudible 00:10:38] as we once did, but we did for many years. We were having our young men and women being killed by the people who were being funded and trained by the military that we were giving billions of dollars in assistance and aid and intelligence and support and who are generals were going out for cocktails with them, Washington DC, with their generals and above the surface there was some cat-fighting going on and maybe when Admiral Mullen left office he said some nastiest things about the Pakistanis but for the most part, they got along. But yes, there is this very real and the word “obscene” keeps coming to mind because I’m not sure how to describe it, but that is what we’re dealing here with Aaron. We’re dealing with this conflagration, this unholy mixture of the arms industry, of these politicians, of these generals, who are willing to trade various interests in order to get their way, in order to see their career ambitions fulfilled, in order to see the maps on the board colored the way they want. And so if that means young men and women from Florida, Arkansas get killed in a country 9000 miles away by a bomb-maker who was trained by an intelligence operative who is funded by money appropriated by the U.S. Congress, but if that means that that country is then going to buy our F-16s, then so be it. Because they’re not going to buy, you know, MiG-31s from the Russian then. I mean this is the reality of what happens in Washington DC.
Aaron Maté: Matthew Hoh, former US Marine and State Department official, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, thanks.
Matthew Hoh: Thank you Aaron.
Aaron Maté: And thank you for joining us on “The Real News.”END
The first of several documentaries to be produced about our recent delegation to the people and popular resistance movement of Palestine. This short documentary covers our first day in Palestine, as we took part in the 12th anniversary of weekly demonstrations in the village of Bil’in against the Apartheid Wall and the seizure of the village’s farming lands.
Will Griffin, who was a member of our delegation and runs The Peace Report, put this doc together and, along with film maker Chris Smiley, will be putting together further videos and documentaries.
Will also did me a great favor by finding and posting, on The Peace Report, the recent United Nations report that established “on the basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid” (emphasis mine). This report generated great controversy as the United States, Israel’s lone supporter in the world, with the exception of one or two other nations, forced the UN to pull the report from the world’s view. The UN Under Secretary General for West Asia, Rima Khalaf, resigned her position in response to the UN’s cowardice and the US’ obscuration. The report, Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, can be found at The Peace Report.
Please give the documentary a watch and please share it widely. Wage peace.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone. -Kurt Vonnegut