I am a U.S. citizen who has worked in the West Bank City of Hebron since 1995 with the human rights organization Christian Peacemaker Teams. I am currently serving with two Australian teammates who brought to my attention a picture of the four you enjoying time in Jerusalem under the caption, “Bringing peace to the Middle East.”
I do not know you, but if I were to see a similarly captioned photo of Democratic and Republican lawmakers from my country in Jerusalem, I would feel it like a kick in the gut. People are dying over here. In our context, it happens most often when soldiers shoot them at checkpoints in extrajudicial executions with complete legal impunity. For years at the checkpoints we monitor in the morning, we have watched Israeli soldiers shoot teargas at small children walking to school—something that you would never tolerate in your own electorates. We cannot count all the other indignities and humiliations we have witnessed this military occupation inflicting on the inhabitants of Hebron—as it is in the nature of all military occupations to do.
And the geographically expansive region of “The Middle East,” to which you referred encompasses the people caught up in the carnage currently engulfing Aleppo, Syria, as well as the violence in Iraq, Yemen, Egypt. These are real human beings, loved by their families, who feel pain when bombs and bullets slice though their flesh, or who who suffer that stab of utter horror when they realize it is their child buried beneath the rubble. In other words, peace in the Middle East is not a joke, Mr. Marles, it is a moral imperative for all people of conscience.
Colleague of [names redacted in order to foil Israeli security officials who think Palestinians have no right to have internationals spend time with them and who have complete control over the borders of Palestine.]
Diya (11) is arrested by an Israeli Border Policeman
I didn’t add this anonymous letter that appeared on Mondoweiss in October, because I was going to be heading to Hebron in the winter or Spring, but I think enough time has passed now that I can probably post it.
The following was written by a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron. The author writes, “*I am not using my name because Israel has complete control over the borders of the West Bank and Gaza and routinely denies entry to human rights observers. Israel denied two of my colleagues entry in the last few months and banned another from Hebron because she took an Instagram photo showing the Israeli military violating the human rights of Palestinian children. Furthermore, Israel may soon deny entry to anyone who advocates any sort of boycott, even of those products produced in settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
Dear J.K. Rowling,
I have worked as a human rights advocate in Palestine for twenty years and most of the people in my circles support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to one degree or another. I am married to an Israeli who supports the boycott of settlement products and corporations that enable the Israel’s occupation of Palestine, but, like you, does not support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. I believe it is possible for people of good conscience to disagree on this issue.
But I want to tell you that in the city of Hebron where I have worked for the last twenty years, I have, with my own eyes, seen Palestinian children attacked, beaten, arrested—without any of the due process the civilized world grants minor children—and in general treated with utter contempt by Israeli soldiers and settlers. A major part of our work is monitoring the treatment of children as they walk through checkpoints on their way to school everyday in the Old City of Hebron. The Israeli military’s of teargas has become almost routine when elementary children passing through—something Israeli families would never tolerate for their own children (and indeed the police do not use it against Jewish Israelis inside Israel.)
Several days ago, 17-year-old Dania Arshid was walking to her English class through a checkpoint. Accused by Israeli Border Police of having a knife, she threw her hands in the air, backed away, and was summarily executed by multiple gunshots.
I can tell you, based on my experience, that no one will go to jail for her murder, or for the murder of Hadeel Hashlamoun, a few weeks earlier or for Fadel al Qawasmi. In the impossibly slim chance an investigation into her extrajudicial execution occurs, the courts will exonerate the soldiers and racist Israeli social media will hail them as heroes.
As of the end of August, 133 Israeli children and 2065 Palestinian children had died since 2000 in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. I view the death of any child of any nationality with horror, but in this conflict, it is the Palestinian children whom the agents of Occupation kill and abuse with impunity.
So Ms. Rowling, you do not have to support the Academic and Cultural Boycott, but for the sake of all Palestinian children who love Harry, you do need to say their lives matter. You need to say they are entitled to exactly the same rights, dignities and freedoms that Israeli children are. And you need to say that Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians, this Unforgivable Curse from which all the violence tormenting the inhabitants of this land emanates, must end.
– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/10/rowling-palestinian-children/#sthash.ewShkzCY.dpuf
Every year when I return to Hebron I have come to expect that I will find the Israeli Military Occupation more entrenched, the people more battered, more resigned. I expect that the Christian Peacemaker Team I have worked with since 1995 will have new challenges to meet. When I rejoined the team in early March, however, the extent of the restrictions on team’s monitoring work at checkpoints during school hours frankly shocked me. Border Police no longer permit us to exit the Old City near our apartment and make the five-minute walk to the Qitoun checkpoint to document how the soldiers treat schoolchildren and teachers passing through. Instead, we must take a fifteen-minute taxi ride over the hills and around to reach a location we can see from the roof of our house.
Once we are there, we must stand on what my teammate Stephanie calls poetically “the teargas side of the checkpoint.” Occupation forces have built up the checkpoint considerably since I left and from where we stand, we can see only from a distance the interactions between soldiers and children. We can no longer hear what happens or ask the children what soldiers said to them. The situation is worse for the children at Qurtuba School. Our colleagues with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme (EAPPI) were intended to be present for students as they passed through Checkpoint 56 and the settlers on Shuhada Street who have a history of attacking them. Now they must remain on the H-1 side of the checkpoint, where they can do nothing if something happens to the children on the other side.
The Occupation’s restrictions on international monitors in the H-2 area of Hebron are of course falling more heavily on Palestinians, and nowhere is this more the case than those living in Tel Rumeida. Last fall, the military began assigning numbers to Palestinians living in Tel Rumeida. Hani Abu Haikel showed us two numbers written on the outside of his green ID case when we brought a visiting CPT delegation to visit. If you don’t have that number, you are not legally allowed to be there. It doesn’t matter if you are a relative or a friend. (Relatives and friends of settlers living there are of course, allowed to visit them.) Three days earlier, Hani had workers pruning his grapevines, and settlers “reported” them to the soldiers, who told Hani he had to get special permission to have his grapevines pruned. The morning we visited, his wife Rheem and daughter Bashaer had been walking to a dentist appointment and a settler boy told the soldiers they didn’t live there, so the soldier made them wait in the pouring rain for twenty minutes while he checked their IDs.
Last month, as Hani was arguing for his right to pass through the checkpoint, a soldier called his commanding officer and asked if he could shoot him, and he overheard the commanding officer say on the radio that Hani was “too old” to shoot. Last fall, when killings in the Tel Rumeida area of Hebron were an almost daily occurrence, the Israeli military authorities evicted the International Solidarity Movement volunteers from their apartment just outside of the Gilbert checkpoint. That was when the neighborhood felt at its most vulnerable, an international married to a Palestinian resident told me after when I ran into him after our Friday afternoon mosque patrol. INTERNEMENT
“They want to make us afraid,” Hani said. Many of his neighbors have moved now. He says the intention of the occupation authorities is clear: to make life so unbearable in H-2 that Palestinians will leave. And of course, that is why they have placed the restrictions on international volunteers as well. They want to make us afraid, too—afraid of deportation, afraid of making the situation worse for our Palestinian partners, afraid that our work is becoming pointless, because we cannot reach the areas that where we need to do our documentation.
Listen to us carefully. If all of H-2 from Tel-Rumeida to Kiryat Arba becomes a settlement corridor, do not say you were not warned, because right now, the Israeli settlers here in Hebron are winning.
An Editorial Note—by Peter Eisenstadt
Kathy Kern is one of the bravest persons I know. As she mentions in her article, she has been going to Hebron as a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for over two decades. CPT is a Christian pacifist organization, with its roots in the traditional peace churches, the Mennonitesand the Church of the Brethren, , though it is broadly ecumenical in its outlook. To quote from its website, CPT “ places teams at the invitation of local peacemaking communities that are confronting situations of lethal conflict. These teams seek to follow God’s Spirit as it works through local peacemakers who risk injury and death by waging nonviolent direct action to confront systems of violence and oppression.” They do not go into war zones, but areas, like Hebron, that are what might be called “near war zones,” areas of great tension between the oppressors and the oppressed, between the occupied and the occupiers.
Working in Hebron is hard and dispiriting. CPTers try to help Hebronites in their conflicts with settlers, soldiers, and Israeli officials. They document the daily indignities meted out to local residents. The team in Hebron is currently short-handed, in part because Israel sometimes does not allow CPT members to enter the country. (Kathy was once denied entry at Ben-Gurion airport.) And in the recent years, its work has been pervaded by the sense that Israel and the settlers are winning; and that it will win its long, slow war of attrition against the Old City of Hebron; as Palestinians are either forced out or leave because living conditions have become impossible.
I was privileged, in December 2014, to spend a day with Kathy and her husband, Michael Argaman, at the CPT apartment in Hebron. It is utterly chilling to think that however bleak things were at the time, the situation has radically deteriorated. As Kathy notes, the Qitoun checkpoint, which was a twisty-turny five minute walk from the CPT apartment is now inaccessible by foot, and unlike when I was there, the CPT team is now limited to the Palestinian side of the border, so they cannot see the interactions of the school children with the IDF soldiers. I accompanied the CPT team early one morning to watch children crossing the checkpoint on their way to school. I can still smell the tear gas. Hebron has been, in recent months, even more explosive. At the Quitoun checkpoint recently there was an incident when the IDF killed a Palestinian youth in an alleged stabbing incident. The Old City of Hebron for many decades has been the site of the hottest of cold wars, requiring little in the way of additional kindling to burst into flames. The Israeli occupation of the Old City of Hebron is where the occupation of the West Bank began, and if it ever ends, it will make its last stand in Hebron. All I can say is that Kathy and her CPT colleagues, trying to salve the half century old open wound of Hebron, are truly doing God’s work.
This is the second installment from the novel writing course through Curtis Brown Creative in London, under the mentorship of author Nikita Lalwani and with fourteen other novel writing peers. As I said in my previous posting, the bulk of the work is evaluating 3,000 work segments of each other novels, but we also get little voluntary 500 word homework assignments we can submit for peer review as well. This week, in which we focused on endings, the assignment was to rewrite the ending of a favorite novel.
I am predicating an alternate To Kill a Mockingbird, told from the viewpoint of a black girl who was sent from Chicago with her brother to Maycomb, Alabama, to live with her Aunt Helen and Uncle Tom because the pollution in Chicago is bad for her asthma. While they are there, her Uncle Tom is charged with rape, put on trial, killed…(I didn’t feel I had a handle on Southern Black dialect from the 1930s.):
Miz Richardson wouldn’t let Mama take off work right away to come get Jem and me after what those men did to Uncle Tom, because Miss Susan was getting married. So while we waited, the ladies from the church came over with food for Aunt Helen and our cousins. They cleaned the house, swept the yard, even boiled the water for our baths on Saturday. They combed out our hair into pigtails so tight that I had to work my eyebrows loose. But I didn’t complain, like I would have for Mama or Aunt Helen.
Some colored men from out of town in suits came to talk to Aunt Helen with that white lawyer who defended Uncle Tom. He smiled at Jem and me all sad like and said he had children our age. He even had a boy named Jem. They want Aunt Helen to go to Washington, DC and tell her story to some important people so that white folks in the north will understand what’s happening in the south. But Aunt Helen can’t hardly even talk to her own family, so how’s she going to talk to white folks up north?
Half the people in the neighborhood came into the house when that Atticus lawyer and the men in suits came to see Aunt Helen, and someone must have spread the word, because then the pastor came and half the church. They told us we should shake the hand of that lawyer and that he was a great man.
“If that were true,” he said, “Tom would still be alive.”
Aunt Helen, she just look at him like, so some white man finally said something that make sense.
All of the people, the smiles at the white man, the sad looks at my aunt, they began squeezing the air out of my lungs. I grabbed Jem’s arm.
“I can’t breathe,” I said.
He got me out of the room, and out under the tulip tree; I began wheezing. He ran around the side of the house, brought some mint and crushed it against my nose.
“Hold that breath, and count to five” he said. “Now let it out,” and soon the world was more than just my breath again; I heard locusts and the hum of the sawmill up the road.
A truck drove by the house with two white men in the flatbed. One had a gun. We started to get to our feet to run for the house, but they just laugh and the one without the gun hold his arm up high in the air like his head in a noose and shout, “Next time we’re coming for you, niggers!”
Mama sent us down here from Chicago so we’d get some fresh air, but sometimes the air in a place, even if you can’t see it or smell it, holds more poison than all the smoke and soot put out by the South Works or the Illinois Central line.
I have been taking an online novel writing course through Curtis Brown Creative in London, under the mentorship of author Nikita Lalwani and with fourteen other novel writing peers. The bulk of the work is evaluating 3,000 work segments of each other novels, but we also get little voluntary 500 word homework assignments we can submit for peer review as well. This week, in which we focused on plot, the assignment was to take the plot of Red Riding Hood and “retell it so that the events of the tale takeplace in yourtime and in a real place known to you.”
The Predator in my Family In my twenties, I hated that Robert Frost poem about the Road Not Taken. I imagined myself forever cut off not from one road that diverged in a wood but from dozens, each one leading to a better life than the one I had chosen.
My unhappy marriage broke me, and like the face of a mountain cracking, then sliding off, it demolished more paths leading through that bleak forest, or so I thought. And several years of dithering and depression swallowed up others.
Then, of course came therapy. I looked backward in order to move forward and saw how my parent’s dysfunctional marriage had affected my own, and that I had to deal with my childhood traumas, yada yada yada.
But something besides dysfunctional relationships had stalked my family. My mother had spoken of a predator—something that got into the brain. She told me about her visits as a child to the family farm in Ohio and her grandfather’s violent, incoherent rages after the predator got into him.
My grandmother, an austere woman—although attentive to her grandchildren when I knew her as a child—became more sweet natured and gentle after the predator overtook her. I didn’t understand, as a teenager, why my mother and grandfather seemed upset by this lovely old woman who was always smiling and happy, and reveled in my righteous adolescent indignation when my mother stopped visiting her.
When she ordered the autopsy on my grandfather and saw that the predator had been inside my grandfather’s brain as well as my grandmother’s, decades of paralysis overtook my mother as she waited for it to come get her.
I lost my cellphone last month. I know it’s in the house somewhere, lurking, the battery dead now. I remember the last time I used it, or I think I did, and I retraced my steps of the day I lost it and pulled apart the furniture. What did I do that accidentally turned the ringer off? My brother was absent-minded even before he became a professor, but the predator as stripped us of the ability to regard these things as harmless. I do not think much about other roads through the woods anymore. I just keep looking behind me, and I just keep trying not to trip.
My mother lives in a charming cottage now, called a “Green House.” Her fellow occupants are called “elders” and the staff called “Shabahzin”—the Persian name for midwives. The founder of the Green House movement had the idea that elders are being birthed into a new life.
And I’ll buy into that concept. I am happy she has put the smells and clatter of the nursing home behind her, the noise of the roommate who continually moaned “ithurtithurtsithurtsithurtsithurts.” Happier still, that she has lost her terror of the advancing predator and succumbed to it. On our visits, she often does not know who I am, but I think she knows I am someone she loves as she cocks her head, smiles, and looks up at me with curious, wide, wide eyes.
Note: This article originally appeared on the The Jewish Pluralist website. (I sent a penultimate draft from Hebron, so this represents a corrected draft.)
Shopkeepers in Hebron now address me respectfully as ‘Amti, or “Auntie”—a title that means I am not elderly, but well, matronly. And it means that I have worked in Hebron for a full generation—twenty years, minus the five that the Israeli government decided to deny me entry into Palestine.
In 1995, my organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, responded to an invitation from the Hebron Municipality to address the violence of the Hebron settlers in the Old City for a period of five months beginning in June At the time, people believed there was a realistic chance Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would remove the Hebron settlers and an actual plan existed to redeploy the Israeli military from Hebron at the end of the summer.
Every Saturday afternoon, at about the same time settlers would attack Palestinians, their homes, shops and cars on a short length of Shuhada Street—formerly the main street of Hebron—referred to as Dubboya Street. Our main focus of that first summer of 1995 was to spend Saturdays on Dubboya documenting settler intimidation of Palestinians there and if possible, intervening to prevent violence.
Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. It turned out that Amir was behind many of those attacks on Dubboya Street and for a time, much of the settler violence subsided. Our focus shifted to home demolition and land confiscation in the late 1990s and then the Second Intifada exploded and gun battles in the streets of Hebron became a nightly occurrence. The stipulations of the Oslo Accords that Shuhada Street remain open to all traffic—stipulations never respected by the Israeli government… well, by that time everyone agreed Oslo was dead.
This week, our team received a call that the Israeli military was evicting an elderly woman and her daughter from their home on Dubboya Street. As is often the case in fraught situations like these, it took us awhile to get all the facts right. The police said that someone had thrown Molotov cocktails from the women’s roof, but they had given the women no warning before they sealed their home. They said they should have known someone was throwing Molotov cocktails from their roof. And while soldiers were welding their home shut they laughed and settlers taunted them.
We posted an album of photos and our basic understanding of the story on Facebook and our website. And then the comments exploded. On our Facebook page, people kept posting this video, which they say proved the daughter was encouraging her mother to cry on cue, although when my teammates got there they tell me the women were genuinely distraught. JewishPress.com framed the video with an incredibly factually inaccurate piece entitled, “What gets a foreign anarchist up in the morning.” No, we’re not all anarchists and no, we’re not trying to settle in the abandoned buildings.) If you want to know the facts of the story, see this video by Hebron Defense Committee member and Al Haq researcher Hisham Sharabati.
I went to visit the two women the next day. The older Zuheira was depressed and tired, her daughter, smiling and energetic. I don’t know why she was smiling in the video. My bad photo of the two of them seems to indicate that it seems to be her natural disposition.
I do know this: In 1995, even though many shops on Dubboya Street had already closed due to settler and soldier harassment, some were still open. Many people still lived there. Palestinian cars were still able to drive on it. And today, when you walk on the street, door after door after door is welded shut. As Hisham notes in the video, settlers have broken into the backs of the shops to steal the electricity. Most of the families have moved out. The settlers have largely won the battle for Dubboya Street by a process of attrition.
So don’t tell me that Zuheira was crying over fake losses. The Palestinians of Dubboya Street have seen nothing but loss for the last twenty years. And I find it disgusting that people are trying to score propaganda points off the tears of an old woman who has just been evicted with no warning or due legal process.
Christian Peacemaker Teams at their biennial retreat in Quito, Ecuador at the beginning of September. We are straddling the purported divide of the Northern and Southern hemisphere. I am on far left in the goofy hat.
Dear Friends, Family and Other Interested Parties,
I have not written a holiday letter for two years. In 2012, I was just coming out of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month during which I completed my third novel. CPT had given me a sabbatical to do so, and I think all I had to say was, “I just wrote this novel and it came from this amazing, spiritual mystical place and I’m not sure what to say about it yet.”
Also, my sabbatical, which had begun in September, had not quite gone as planned. All the massive organizing I planned to do in the house and garden was not getting accomplished. My mother’s declining health was taking a lot of time, and I guess I just didn’t want to write about any of it.
Last year, CPT’s Palestine team did a three year planning session in October, so I worked the month of October, came home for six weeks and then went back December through February and I just wasn’t able to squeeze in the time.
So…hi everyone! 2014 has also been a busy year for me. I have taken over the CPT Twitter account and we have gained 1000 followers since I have done so. Twitter is a major timesuck, however. It’s very easy (and important) just to take a few minutes to check the feed to see what’s happening among the Palestine, Indigenous, Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, Refugee rights, anti-racism activists/NGOs the account follows and then you follow an important topic and next thing you know… The same is true with Facebook. Many people would envy me having a job where checking Twitter and Facebook is part of the work, but it does require some discipline.
On the writing front, I got really good input from Beta readers this year for my novel, current working title, The Price We Paid. Here are the first 2 paragraphs of the letter I’ve been sending to agents:
In THE PRICE WE PAID, political dissident and philandering husband Islam “Iz” Goldberg-Jones describes how he, his wife, Shea Weber, and other members of the resistance brought down the totalitarian Christian Republic that ruled the U.S. from 2049-2086. While in power, the Christian Republic shredded the Bill of Rights by targeting dissident and minority communities (e.g., LGBTQ, Muslim and Chinese-Americans) with imprisonment, torture, and mass executions. It put the children of these communities into a vast group home system run by the Department of Christian Affairs (DCA).
Now, after three decades of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Goldberg-Jones has become a cause célèbre. He is trading on his notoriety to publish a scrupulously honest memoir that includes the pain his infidelities caused his wife, who was famous for writing sentimental literature about children she was raising in the foster home she ran as an alternative to DCA homes. She channeled this pain into speaking out against the Christian Republic’s abuses of power, which turned her into an outlaw and an icon for the movement that toppled the government.
What I haven’t been telling most agents is that the novel is also a retelling of the narrative of the prophet Hosea and Gomer the prostitute. Because it came from a place of such deep spiritual inspiration, the fact that I have only aroused slight interest here and there in the publishing world I think led to a depression this spring, which I have been coming out of in the last couple months. I have been telling myself that most people are glad to have deep spiritual inspiration without getting it published, why can’t I? But anyway, I have a few more venues I am trying and I have started on my fourth, which I am afraid will just as awkwardly straddle the religious/secular divide. The Spirit does not send me marketable fiction, I am afraid.
For other writing I did this year, check out my blog: KathleenKern.net (I am not all that regular, so it’s not a huge amount of material.)
Michael and I have been working this year on the campaign to free Jalil Muntaqim, one of the 25 or so FBI COINTELPRO prisoners who still remain in jail despite the highly irregular legal processes that put them there in the 1960s and 70s. I have several pieces on my blog about his situation. We will be traveling to Palestine/Israel together on December 17 and traveling around Israel with our friend Peter Eisenstadt to visit with Michael’s friends before I join the Palestine team in January. Michael’s son Aldo has a new Malamute named Bailey. David Mark is finishing up basic training with the Ohio National Guard before he returns to Ohio State and Beth Melissa is doing five months of internship with a business in Israel. We are looking forward to seeing her in a couple weeks when Michael and I travel to Israel together to visit friends. He will return home at the end of the month and I will work with the Palestine team until mid-February.
My siblings and I have weekly Skype calls with my mother, Marilyn Kern. The staff at Betty House in Bluffton, frequently tell us. “We love Marilyn!” The Parkinson’s and the dementia make her response time slow during our conversations, but she still laughs a lot.
On our teams this year, the Iraqi Kurdistan team has been trying to support its partners, who tabled a lot of the work they were doing to support human rights in the Kurdish Regional Governate in order to address the enormous inflow of refugees fleeing ISIS and joining the million refugees from the Syrian War already in the KRG. The Colombia team continues to accompany small communities struggling nonviolently to remain on their land while powerful corporate and criminal interests try to drive them off. In Palestine, the team continues to monitor the Israeli military checkpoints through which Palestinian teachers and must cross through in order to get to school and support our Palestinian and Israeli partners who continue to find ways of mounting nonviolent resistance to the increasingly brutal and inhumane Israeli military occupation. Our Aboriginal Justice team was actively involved with the Elsipogtog First Nation’s anti-fracking resistance this year, and continues to walk with Grassy Narrows First Nation, which, undeterred by the Canadian Supreme Court decision allowing logging on their traditional lands, continues to assert their sovereignty. Christian Peacemaker Teams Europe opened its first project this year on the Greek island of Lesvos, partnering with other NGOs to address the problem of desperate migrants and refugees who are drowning by the thousands in the Mediterranean because of European Union immigration policies. Their Welcome Center at Pipka proved that treating refugees humanely was far more efficient and less costly than the way the Greek Coast Guard was treating them.
We have just finished Giving Tuesday, and our pitch was that 365 people chipping in $55 supports a CPTer in the field for a year. Also pretty cost efficient, huh! You can donate here: http://www.cpt.org/participate/donate or send checks to CPT/PO Box 6508/Chicago, IL 60680
Since so many of you are on Facebook, I will be posting this letter there this year. Those of you, who do not have Facebook accounts, or who do not use your Facebook accounts may be receiving this letter with an odd card. I am creating space in my card drawer.
I wish you all a meaningful and hopeful holiday season,
I find myself doing double takes with NBC’s new show Constantine, as in, “Did they really just say that on network TV in the 21st century?” In the November 2 episode, which featured a Romani woman, who basically cast spells because her marriage hopes were disappointed, the protagonist, Constantine actually says, “There’s nothing blacker than gypsy magic.” Pick the racism you want to deconstruct there.
And then on November 21, we had the Haitian Vodou priest.
Now, I have never seen a U.S. popular culture depiction of Vodou that was not racist—and completely divorced from the reality of what Vodou is. I worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Haiti 1993-94 and I knew rightwing practitioners working for the coup regime and practitioners that were all about social justice—basically the same spectrum that practitioners of Christianity fall into. Vodou/Vodoun and its historic connection to African religions is way too rich and complex for me to get into here, but I can tell you what it does NOT involve. It does NOT involve Haitian Vodou priests killing their sisters so they can communicate easily with the spirits of the underworld. Look it up on Wikipedia.
Yet, this is what the Papa Midnite character, with whom Constantine works in the November 21 episode, has done. Actually, in the episode Constantine accused Papa Midnite of having done something nefarious to his sister, and a little bit later, Papa Midnite was addressing a skull with braids as his sister, and it took me a minute to put the two together.
With Police Officer Darren Wilson’s testimony that unarmed black teenager Michael Brown looked like a “demon” when he shot him in Ferguson last July, this sort of supernatural stereotyping has real dangers for our society. Thank goodness last Friday’s episode featured possessed axe murderers that were all white children.
Note: I originally wrote this reflection for my blog, then adapted it for my organization’s CPTnet. I’m adapting it back again a little.
Since a St. Louis, Missouri prosecutor and Grand Jury have determined that Police Officer Darren Wilson killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown did not merit a trial, I have been busy tweeting #Ferguson on the Christian Peacemaker Team Twitter account. Those tweets have been getting a lot of retweets. We have no people working in Ferguson and I have asked myself why I am inundating the account.
I think it has to do with the disposability of human life, with the contempt shown to Michael Brown when the authorities left his body in the street for four and a half hours and did not bother interviewing key witnesses to the shooting for weeks (until there was a public outcry.) That contempt connected directly with our work in Colombia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Palestine, with indigenous communities in North America, and with migrants in Europe. In all these cases, people in power have deemed the people we work with disposable.
If you want to drive Colombian farmers off their land so that you can make big profits with palm oil plantations, it’s okay to assault them, to threaten to rape their nine-year old daughters, to kill their animals, to burn their homes, to use the instruments of the Colombian state illegally to evict their communities’ teachers. And of course, you can do much worse. The types of violent harassment cited above are just some issues the communities we work with have been dealing with recently.
In Iraqi-Kurdistan, our civil society partners have had to drop most of their work to focus on the some most disposable people in the world: refugees. And these refugees have included those from the Ezidi/Yazidi community, whose wives, sisters, and daughters are now in ISIS/DAESH brothels, women considered worthless except for sexual gratification.
And then there is the project CPT Europe participated in this summer, welcoming the refugees that Europe wishes would just disappear, and who, because of European policies, have drowned by the thousands in the Mediterranean, fleeing the violence in countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
In Palestine, for nineteen long years, we have watched the forces of military occupation say it is acceptable to arrest, jail and torture Palestinian men, women and children without due process, and destroy their homes if Israel wants their land for settlement expansion. It is acceptable for soldiers to shoot teargas at Palestinian children on their way to school and look on as settlers attack them.
In our work with Indigenous partners, we have watched again and again naked racism strip them of their sovereignty, strip their lands of their resources, and leave behind the toxic poisons of their industries. We have watched the Canadian government shrug as 1800 Indigenous women are reported murdered and missing.
So I think it’s all related—Mike Brown, VonDerrit Myers, Tamir Rice, Tina Fontaine, Loretta Saunders, Bella Laboucan-McLean, Marissa Alexander, Jalil Muntaqim, Leonard Peltier…People of color who lost their lives, livelihoods, and freedom because here in North America they were considered just as disposable as the people we work with in Colombia, Palestine, Lesvos, Turtle Island and Kurdistan.
The good news, of course, is that our Colombian, Indigenous, Palestinian, Kurdish, and refugee partners are revealing to the world that they are a treasure—as are the people of Ferguson. The season of Advent is upon us. Let us listen.
Good hashtags to follow #BlackLivesMatter #TheologyofFerguson #StayWokeAdvent. Good accounts: @FaithinFerguson, @BroderickGreer @MikeBrownCover. The #Ferguson hashtag has a lot of good information, but you will also find really racist tweets there.
A young mother shared in church on Sunday the pain her family was going through with their foster child at the moment: a pain coming from loneliness, frustration, anger and yes, love for this child that they welcomed into their home last year, and whom we have welcomed into our church.
It made me think of something I have found to be true in my life—that there are some forms of sadness more worth having than some forms of happiness.
Some people, Christians in particular, find this statement bizarre, or even a little offensive—as though I am romanticizing depression. And I truly don’t mean that. There was a time in my life when I did think depression was an essential part of my personality, because I had no memory of a time when I was not depressed. Then I went to college, and found out what it was like to be happy. I learned that much of my depression had its roots in external sources like family dynamics and the Findlay, OH public school system, and that I was more myself when I was not depressed.
Usually, I tell people who are alarmed by statement about sadnesses worth having that everyone who has had children has experienced pain they would never have experienced, had they not had children. Some parents, in particular have had children who experienced illnesses or other hardships they never anticipated when they felt the drive to become parents, but the vast majority of people think that having their children were worth that pain.
But I am usually thinking about the pain absorbed by people who have chosen to take risks, for the sake of love, that most people choose not to. Like the people at my church who chose to become foster parents (and before that, worked as volunteers with undocumented migrants), I have chosen to take risks in my life that took me to sad places. I have worked for a human rights organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, since 1993, that currently has projects in Palestine, Iraqi-Kurdistan, Colombia and with Indigenous communities in North America. Often it seems that every small triumph our partner communities experience arises out innumerable setbacks, failures, and humiliations.
By choosing to write novels, I also essentially chose a life of rejection. I think my current depression is partially rooted in the fact that all three of my previous novels came from a very deep place of inspiration, were enthusiastically received by beta readers and then…the end. So I am struggling with the question of why I was handed these novels—almost compelled to write them—so that maybe 20 people could appreciate them. (I’m exaggerating a little, but am at a low place.)
Women and children of At-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills, Palestine, remove roadblock to their village
So why live this sort of life? Why put myself by choice among people who did not have the choice to live the life they did? Because when ordinary people choose to struggle together to change their worlds, and when the world takes notice, and begins to reach out to them and stand with them and tell other people about what they are doing to claim their human rights and their dignity; and when the systems and powers that are oppressing and robbing those people finally have to stop telling their lies about them and back off; and when you have been a small part of standing with them and telling their story…there’s a deep, tired joy in all that makes you extraordinarily glad you got involved.
And once I get to a certain point in my novel where it stops becoming work, and characters take on a life of their own, and it’s hard to stop writing—that’s an adrenaline rush like no other.
So at times like these, when I feel everyone of my fifty-two years, and all the young writers on Twitter seem to understand how to navigate the publication and agenting system so much better than I do, and the war in Gaza and the ongoing depredations of ISIS, and tawdry reality of Ferguson, MO and the LAPD and Prime Minister Harper make me dread approaching the CPT Twitter account every morning, I remember and believe: