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:
Note: The following post originally appeared on the Jewish Pluralist website. I have adapted it slightly to avoid confusion.
I manage the Twitter account for my human rights organization, and lately, I find I have to take a deep breath every time I check it. Since we have a project in Palestine, our Twitter feed follows other accounts concerned with peace and human rights in Palestine/Israel and now, it’s all about the bombing in Gaza. We also have a project in Iraqi Kurdistan; the team there is dealing with land confiscation by oil corporations and Syrian refugees. (Remember them?) In Colombia, corrupt authorities have used riot police to evict a community we accompany. The Supreme Court of Canada has just ruled that Ontario could open the land of our Anishinaabe partners to industrial logging. But right now, Gaza trumps all on Twitter.
When a friend who runs The Jewish Pluralist website asked me if I had anything to contribute regarding the war in Gaza, I told her that I just could not find the words to write about the current situation. Part of that may be due to my having entered another cycle of depression this spring, but I think mostly, having worked in the region since 1995, I just see no light at the end of this tunnel, and no light back from where I started, and how can I write in the dark?
However an e-mail I read from Noa Baum—an Israeli woman who does a poignant and educational one-woman show about Jewish and Palestinian experiences of the 1948 and 1967 wars—got me thinking. She writes, “As despair sees it, anyone who still hopes, who still believes in the possibility of peace, is at best naïve, or a deluded dreamer…”
She made me realize my despair is formed from different stuff. It grows from love—love of Palestinians and Israelis I have worked with, celebrated with, grieved with. People who were dreamers at one time and who have for decades, under craven political leadership, seen their work treated like trash. My despair is based on the knowledge that I have almost no power to facilitate peace or human rights in the region. I can only witness, document, and at a micro-level, provide accompaniment for individuals, families, and small communities nonviolently resisting the occupation. Any real change is in the hands of Palestinians and Israelis working at a grassroots level, and people at the roots have been trampled until they are bloody.
I had chosen not to share graphic images of dead and mutilated children coming across the Twitter Feed. But one picture this week dug its claws into me and would not let go, so after some internal debate, I did post it on our account. It shows a little girl in profile, gray eye open in death, with a tear slipping from its corner. Jehan Alfarra (@palinoia), who tweeted the picture from Gaza wrote, “Shedding her final tear, she leaves us.”
This post first appeared on The Jewish Pluralist website.
My husband and I met because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A progressive Israeli-American, he came to hear me give a presentation called “Eye-witness to the Intifada” in November 2001 and asked good questions. A few months later, we met at another Middle East peace event, talked for hours afterwards and have been together ever since.
While some may view us as an odd couple—a secular Israeli Jew and a religious Mennonite who works with a human rights organization in Palestine—we agree on the most fundamental issues at work in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. We believe that Palestinians and Israelis are entitled to the same human rights; no exceptions. We agree that the Israeli military occupation must end. We agree that Israeli leaders, supported by the U.S. Congress, have been most responsible for scuttling effective peace negotiations, but that most official Palestinian leaders have not done well by their people either.
Our arguments over points of disagreement never reach satisfactory conclusions, I think, because we are arguing from two different platforms. Israel was Michael’s home for fifteen years and he would still live there if family circumstances had not compelled him to return to the U.S. I, on the other hand, in addition to working in Palestine have worked with my human rights organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), in Haiti, Chiapas, Mexico, Colombia, and with Indigenous communities in North America. So I view the situation in Palestine through the lens of a human rights observer, rather than as from the perspective of someone with ties to a homeland.
This reality colors our disagreement over the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement. Although even in that area, we probably agree more than we disagree. Michael always boycotted items produced in settlements, and as someone who does socially responsible financial planning for a living, he would boycott the corporations that reinforce and profit from the military aspects of the Israeli occupation—e.g., Motorola, Raytheon, and Caterpillar—anyway. But when it comes to boycotting products made inside Israel proper, or boycotting Israeli cultural and academic enterprises, Michael is passionately opposed.
I do not match his passion in my disagreement. Those of us who work on the CPT’s Palestine team could not ourselves agree on an ardent support of the full spectrum of the BDS movement when we tried to write our own statement on the topic. But when Palestinian Christian partner organizations launched the Kairos document in 2009, asking the international community to support them by adopting BDS principles, we felt we had to stand with them. For decades, the international community has lectured Palestinians on using nonviolent resistance against the occupation. BDS is nonviolent resistance, and, as the document says, Palestinian Christians are not viewing it as an act of revenge, “but rather a serious action in order to reach a just and definitive peace.” Those are principles very much in keeping with the philosophy of CPT.
I have heard all the arguments against BDS. Why is Israel being singled out when human rights abuses are so much worse in [insert country]? Answer: Idi Amin’s regime killed exponentially more people in Uganda during the 1970s than the South African government killed in four decades of apartheid. Does that mean the international community should not have been in solidarity with South African anti-Apartheid activists?
BDS will only make Israelis more recalcitrant. Answer: How could Israel be more recalcitrant than it is now? The same argument was used for South Africa, and for a time the South African government did push back, but ultimately, practical people like DeKlerk recognized that Apartheid could not go on forever.
The academic cultural boycott alienates the very Israelis who are most supportive of ending the occupation. Answer: A. there is a distinction between boycotts of artists and academics who are officially representing the state of Israel, and academics and artists who happen to be Israeli. B. Presenting an attractive, cultured face helps mitigate the barbarity of the occupation. It was, in fact the boycott by sports teams and entertainers, that swung white public opinion against apartheid in South Africa more than the economic boycott.
Israel is nothing like South Africa. Answer: Every South African Israeli I know, every South African I have met who has come through Hebron has told me the checkpoints and treatment of Palestinians by soldiers and settlers eerily evoke to them the worst of Apartheid’s heyday.(1)
I can keep generating responses like these. I have used them in many conversations with Israeli and Jewish friends, and I see that I cause them pain when I do so, which I hate. But I have seen Palestinian friends brutalized by soldiers and settlers. I have seen them lose their land and their homes. I have seen Palestinians shot, spit on, and in general, treated worse than animals by the hideous tentacles of the Israeli military occupation. And since I began working in Hebron in 1995, the situation has only gotten worse; no amount of dialogue, solidarity outreach, or top level diplomacy has stopped the erosion of civil rights and human dignity for the people in the Hebron district and the rest of Palestine.
So ultimately, the decision for my colleagues and me to support the BDS movement is this: Palestinians have asked us to participate with them in this nonviolent struggle of last resort. Their lives and livelihoods are not worth more than Israeli or Jewish lives. But they ARE worth more than Israeli and Jewish feelings, even the feelings of those Israelis and Jews I love the most.
(1). Michael and I watched a PBS special on the 25th Anniversary of Paul Simon’s Graceland album. During its production, Simon went to South Africa at the time of the Cultural Boycott and used prominent black South African musicians in the recording of his album, which caused a huge debate. Some, including founder of Artists Against Apartheid, Dali Tambo, argued he should be boycotted, while others argued he was providing employment for and celebrating black musicians. The special included a segment with Simon and Tambo cordially discussing the boycott. Dali Tambo still believed Simon should have been boycotted, but they hugged at the end of the conversation. My takeaway? We won’t know ultimately about the effectiveness of BDS in Israel and Palestine until we have some hindsight. Michael’s takeaway? Boycotting Simon was a ridiculous idea then, and it’s still a ridiculous idea.
[Warning: This release contains profanity and triggers about violence.]
The way these phrases and photos invade my life is a bit like grace, in that I do not anticipate their effect and I know they are spiritually important—but they do not feel like grace. They are always something dreadful and sad that spring out of the information gathering I do that is part of my work. Usually, they are not accounts of slaughters or grand tragedies, or pictures of carnage. When an Israeli military bulldozer driver ran over Rachel Corrie in March 2003 (can it really be eleven years now?) The photo of her corpse did not pierce me. It was the photo of her colleagues—calmly comforting her in previous photos—weeping and embracing each other in the final photo, after her death, that got its hooks into me, that still has its hooks in me for that matter.
Most recently, the item of hideous grace was this: “Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love.”
It was a comment by a young women going by the name “Willow Deplorable” on the Tumblr blog of our Aboriginal Justice Team. They had posted a notice about 26-year-old Loretta Saunders’ body turning up on the Trans-Canada highway in New Brunswick. An activist trying to publicize Canadian authorities’ lack of interest in more than 800 murdered and missing Indigenous women, Saunders had been writing her thesis on the topic when she disappeared on February 13. I clicked on a link that brought me to the article about her disappearance, and for some reason, among the 64 notes posted at the bottom of the article, Willow Deplorable’s jumped out at me:
“Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love.”
And then I read a piece by Saunders’ thesis advisor, Darryl Leroux, who wrote that the image of her final resting place by the highway “hurts beyond anything I could say in words…I simply cannot get this image out of my mind.” I read Tara Williamson’s piece, “Don’t be tricked,” in which she said she shared Leroux’s initial gut reaction, “she’ll show up in a ditch like so many indigenous women before her” but allowed herself “this glimmer of hope, this notion that, for some reason, maybe this time it would be different…because she was an urbanized grad student or because she could pass as white … Despite all my talk, all my activism, all my ‘decolonizing’ work, I swallowed the pill… I got tricked.”
Williamson goes on to say,
• If you are an Indigenous woman, don’t be tricked into thinking you are any more safe than any of our other sisters out there. You’re not. The system and most Canadians don’t give a shit about you…
• Don’t be tricked into thinking that wearing a ribbon for a day, or signing a petition, or composing a tweet, or writing an article is going to change anything on its own…
• Finally, don’t be tricked into thinking someone else will do this work. You are that “someone else.” Loretta knew this. That’s why she was working so hard on uncovering the truth about murdered and missing women.
Honour Loretta. Don’t be tricked.
The thing is, I knew about murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada before Loretta Saunders’ death—women whose disappearances and deaths the authorities mostly could not be bothered to solve. I edit releases for the Aboriginal Justice team for CPTnet. If I were working with the team in Canada, I would have gladly joined demonstrations and put my skills to work on behalf of this issue. In fact, I have edited hundreds of releases describing many horrible things over the years, but for some reason, Willow Deplorable’s comment, “Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love” was like a raft that carried me past the word “issue,” and forced me to face the agony of the people who loved these women.
And then that raft left Canada. It was 1999; I was with Lakota friends in South Dakota who were telling me about their ancestors’ bodies displayed like animal specimens in museums and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers flooding their sacred burial grounds along the Missouri river. I was in college in the 1980s learning of other bodies tortured and dumped by the roadside in El Salvador and Guatemala, disposed of by men trained in the U.S. to terrorize civilian populations. It was 1998; I was viewing the photos of Mayans from Union Progreso in Chiapas who had been stripped naked and cut open by the Mexican military and returned to their families that way. I was reading the reports of how paramilitaries slaughtered and mutilated Las Abejas, our partners in Chiapas from 1998-2001. It was 2001-2003 and I was editing reports of my CPT colleagues and friends pulling bodies and parts of bodies out rivers in Colombia, bodies who had been teachers, and farmers, and labor organizers and some of whom would remain unidentified—all to teach the people in the Magadalena Medio Region that rightwing paramilitaries were in control.
“Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love”does not completely capture what I felt as I wept for these poor abused bodies, and the people who lived in them and their loved ones, but it echoes the sentiment. Willow Deplorable’s Tumblr comment begins with outrage, lays bare the awful truth, and then ends with compassion.
And as I said earlier, the tenacity of its grip around my heart seems like something spiritual.
I will soon be leaving for a field assignment with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). For those of you who don’t know me well, I work most of the year for CPT from my home in Rochester, NY, editing releases from workers staffing our projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, North American Indigenous communities, etc.
At least once a year, however, I spend some time in the field, so I am alerting my blog readers that I will soon be shifting my writing into a more political mode (maybe I should say “even more political.”)
Those of you who know me well know why I am not going to go into great detail here about the whens, wheres, whys and hows of my travel. I will post more of an explanation for those of you who don’t once I get to my destination. Those of you given to prayer—I would appreciate prayers for an open and loving heart should I encounter people on my journey who don’t want me to get to where I’m going.
I will have my traveling companion Markie with me, who will probably post some of his adventures on Facebook. He has encouraged to wear this lucky unicorn necklace. I am hoping it makes me look inoffensive.
Haven’t blogged because, as usual, I’m entering seven months worth of bank statements into Quicken instead of having set up a time on the calendar to do it monthly. I’ve also spent about six hours in the last couple weeks with Jim Loney getting his feedback on my novel, which I wrote about in my last blog entry, and there’s been a trip to Boston and the garden, so actually, no, I don’t feel guilty about not blogging.
But I thought I’d note here that I’m getting better at Twitter, and it’s not through the account I started because sources told me it’s mandatory for authors, especially self-published authors to have one. It’s through my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), which, to save time, I’ll call a human rights organization.
I edit the releases that come in from our field projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, Palestine and with Indigenous communities in North America. Our interim director, who formerly was our Outreach Director and guided our communications, suggested that I could start reposting our releases, which automatically appear on our Twitter account, with hash tags.
I was enjoying finding ways of drawing in audiences to our work that might not think to follow it. For example, a lot of environmentalists and animal rights activists are concerned about how palm oil corporations are decimating old growth forests and killing orangutans. I thought they might also be interested in how the corporation Aportes San Isidro was attacking the community of subsistence farmers, Las Pavas in Colombia, in an effort to drive them off their land, so I used the hashtags #PalmOil and #PalmOilKills for our Colombia team releases. For our work with the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick who was resisting the SWN corporation doing seismic testing on their traditional lands, I knew the #fracking hashtag would draw in the wider anti-fracking crowd and the #IdleNoMore hashtag would group the resistance of the Elsipogtog nation with a much wider Indigenous resistance movement across North America.
Then my interim director told me that a more media-savvy CPTer told him that I shouldn’t just repost titles with different hashtags; I needed to repost something a little different with each link to the team’s release. And once I knew that, it began to get fun.
#SOUTHHEBRONHILLS URGENT ACTION: Ask U.S. Secretary of State Kerry to heed Israeli jurists’ and writers’… http://dlvr.it/3lY9G7
#JohnKerry’s probably not listening to the right Israelis. Ask him to listen to these jurists: http://dlvr.it/3lY9G7
#JONESBOROUGH,TN: Activism, War, and the #MilitaryIndustrialComplex http://dlvr.it/3kWTxb #DepletedUranium #Aerojet
Why are those working against #DepletedUranium in #Jonesborough TN area having tires slashed? http://dlvr.it/3kWTxb
#ALKHALILHEBRON REFLECTION: A better than usual Friday (8 August 2013) http://dlvr.it/3nkg6N
“#TGIF” said no Christian Peacemaker Team member in #Hebron EVER. http://dlvr.it/3nkg6N #AlKhalil #IsraeliOccupation
When I first started on Twitter, I was told that I should put out at least four tweets a day and following each other was one way independent authors could support each other. I began to notice that my twitter feed was deluged with tweets by some of these authors, including one of my self-publishing “mentors.”
Here’s the thing. I have an eye condition that makes reading normal size fonts painful. I have to zoom everything to 300 percent on computer, so I will never follow twitter on a cellphone. And on an average page I only see about 12 tweets at a time; so if someone is touting their novel over and over, or zealously retweeting “tips” as they’ve been told to do, it really clutters up my feed.
Neil Gaiman wrote about this Twitter phenomenon in the last Poets and Writers (crude language alert):
I do it because I like it and it’s fun. And the fact that I like it and it’s fun communicates itself…People who are interested are going to sign up and stick around and follow me because I’m obviously enjoying it. If you are not enjoying it, for God’s sake don’t do it. There is nothing worse—sadder, more bleak, and more pitiful—than somebody who signs on, follows a hundred people, then sends out fifty to sixty tweets saying, “please read my book.” It’s like a sad little mouse, peeping in the corner… If you want to do it, you join. Talk to people. Talk to your friends. Talk to famous people. Talk with anybody you’d like. Twitter is completely democratic. If you’re a dick, people will notice you are a dick. If you’re nice, people will notice you’re nice. If you’re funny and smart, people will respond to the funny smartness. And if you want to get something read: Establish, be there first, and then say to people who are interested and like you, “By the way I’ve got a book coming out,” and people will go, “Oh, we’ll go and check it out then.
So I’ve started to unfollow the people who hog my feed. I tend to keep the ones who make me smile. I’m interested in literary agents of course, but I drop the ones who reject me unless their tweets make me smile.
I thought that once I started unfollowing, my follower-ship would also drop steeply, but it hasn’t. I currently stand at 318 followers. I am following 857 people/ entities. I figure that means I am a good listener—or whatever the word for tweet receptor is, tweetor? To be a good listener has a better connotation than to be a good follower, right?
When I first started working in Hebron with Christian Peacemaker Teams, from the beginning, we networked with Israeli human rights and peace advocates. These Israelis took for granted that the reports of abuses we witnessed Israeli soldiers and settlers inflicting on the Palestinian residents in the Hebron area were accurate. They had witnessed similar abuses themselves. When I had returned from my first stint working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Haiti, most people assumed I was telling the truth about the abuses I saw paramilitary thugs committing in 1993-94 (after the first time the Haitian military overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide.)
I wasn’t prepared, then, for the accusations from Jewish and non-Jewish partisans of Israel in the U.S. telling me I could not possibly have witnessed what I had witnessed in Hebron. That was the crucial point at which Noam Chomsky came into my life.* I was talking to a Jewish friend in Hebron about these partisans making feel as though I were crazy for simply reporting what I was witnessing and he told me I needed to read what Chomsky wrote about Israel and Palestine. I did, and I was hooked. If you take a look at my annotated history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (to which I stopped adding in 2002 because of an eye condition that makes reading normal-size fonts too painful) you’ll see he’s heavily represented.
So that’s the primary gratitude Chomsky compels from me: he confirmed I wasn’t crazy. He made me feel like I could trust my eyes and ears, and that I was witnessing virulent racism on the streets of Hebron, even though, back in Rochester, New York and other places around the U.S. where I spoke, people told me I was mistaken, or that I needed to provide “balance.” (Once, when I was speaking at Chautauqua, during the Q&A, a person told me that if he had come from outer space and heard my presentation, he would have a very unbalanced idea of what was happening in Israel and Palestine. I said that if I knew I was going to be addressing space aliens, my presentation would have been very different, but I assumed people at Chautauqua were already familiar with what got reported in the New York Times, etc. Learning experience? Clever retorts are never a good idea during Q&A.)
I am also impressed by his graciousness. Every time I have written to him, he has always responded to my letters. When I have gotten back from trips to conflict zones I know he monitors and had illuminating conversations with people there, I have sent him letters about these experiences, because I know from reading interviews with him he values eyewitness accounts of situations that are not being reported in the news. I always add the tagline, “I know you always respond to your letters, but as a sign of my gratitude for all you have done for me, I would prefer that you not respond to this one.” He always writes back anyway. And Chomsky, in general, makes time in his extremely busy schedule for small organizations who are working for justice. Recently he did an interview with our CPT interim assistant director, Tim Nafziger and even though he is not religious, if he believes that religious organizations are putting out better information than the New York Times, as was happening in Central America in the 1970s and 80s he will cite the information from those organizations.
And then there was the time four of my colleagues were kidnapped in Iraq in 2005-06. Chomsky was among the first of a group of intellectuals to sign a petition calling for their release and during their captivity, he said that our work there—when we sent people with the Iraq Peace Teams to camp out at water treatment plants, hospitals, and other vital infrastructure so they wouldn’t be bombed during the invasion—gave him hope.
So that’s why I want to have Noam Chomsky’s baby. And no, my husband is not jealous. His metaphorical love is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
*Well, actually, we had met in Haiti. A friend had brought a copy of Deterring Democracy with him, and as all literature was in short supply, I was reading that, while my friend was reluctantly trudging through my Jane Austen. I had been involved with Latin American solidarity movements in college, so it wasn’t news to me that the United States was supporting fascist regimes in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. However, I was impressed at how coherently he laid it all out, with all the footnotes (oh, he made me a sucker for the footnotes), and I thought, “You know, if someone were just going to read one book, to see HOW the U.S. has prevented democratic regimes from gaining a foothold, this would be the one.”
I think my first true literary passion was Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. Like other U.S. first graders of my generation, I learned to read on the Dick and Jane series, and I enjoyed learning to read, but I remembered thinking that Jane was kind of useless. She would drop a sack of flour on the floor and go to pieces and then have to wait for big brother Dick to make it all right by bringing her a broom and helping her sweep it up.
I picked up Heidi because I liked the picture of the little girl with the dark curls on the cover and with my limited vocabulary began picking my way through the novel.
A whole new world opened up to me. I mean, here was a girl with real problems. She was an orphan with a craven aunt and a scary grandfather and yet she arose to meet these challenges with a positive, life-embracing attitude. And when she was separated from her beloved Alps and sent to Frankfurt, to be abused by the cruel Fraulein Rottenmeyer, I wept. I read Heidi thirty-seven times between first and second grade; I think it would be fair to say I learned to read by reading Heidi.
Other books that have inspired that sort of rereading passion over the years have included C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Jane Austen’s novels. And it is that literary passion that I associate most closely to how I feel about Joss Whedon’s pre-Avenger’s work. I did not watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel until after they were in syndication and after I had been doing Christian Peacemaker Team’s work for a while, but when I did, they struck a deep chord. In 2004, I wrote the following letter to Whedon:
Dear Mr. Whedon
I have worked in the field of human rights since 1993, serving on assignments in Haiti, the West Bank, Chiapas, Colombia and South Dakota. I worked in the West Bank City of Hebron from 1995 until Israel denied me entry into the country in October 2002.
I had watched Buffy sporadically (because I don’t have cable and have been out of the country a lot) for the last several years and had admired the way you combine humor and pathos. An opportunity to get a copy of season 6 on VHS came my way in September. I am watching the episodes for the second time in a month and have watched the musical episode three times. After I got over being irritated with myself for being so moved by a TV show, (given the actual human misery I’ve witnessed) I began to examine the feelings of yearning and grief that the Buffy episodes seemed to be roiling up inside of me.
There are actually a lot of similarities between the work of the human rights teams and the work of the Scoobies. A special camaraderie develops between human rights workers, and for some reason, most people attracted to human rights work have really good senses of humor (the ones that don’t, don’t last.) A good solid team is way greater than the sum of its parts. People’s weaknesses and strengths are balanced, and sometimes perceived weakness can actually get the job done better than perceived strength. On the negative side, the intimacy on a team and within the human rights community can (and often does) lead to ill-advised romances. Worse, you can never unwitness what you have witnessed or unknow what you have known. You come and go knowing that oppression will continue to grind down people you love, that these people—Haitians, Indigenous, Colombians, Israelis, Palestinians—cannot leave, as you can, that often, oppression and violence win.
After I was deported by Israel in October 2002, all my loved ones at home and abroad were very solicitous of my feelings and anxious to commiserate with me about not being able to return to Israel/Palestine, since that has been a big part of my life. They thought I was being brave when I told them I was happy to be able to catch up on some writing projects, but here’s what I didn’t tell them: I was glad the Israeli government wouldn’t let me return. I was tired of being around suffering people. I didn’t think I could care for one more person, whatever his or her need. I was tired of being assaulted and spit on and called a Nazi. I was tired of providing encouragement to Israeli and Palestinian friends who have worked so hard for peace and reconciliation only to see their work destroyed. I was tired of being a representation of a Christian, an American, a peace activist, etc, instead of a real human being.
So I guess you can see how Buffy coming back from heaven into this earthly hell struck a chord. But, as I’ve thought about Season 6, I realize that it also confirms some deep truths that I have known and repressed: Some forms of sadness are more worth having than some forms of happiness. The fellowship of true minds and true hearts is the engine that will keep you going; you’re never really alone. God can use you along with all your selfishness and fear and despair to accomplish good—even if you’re not a superhero. Love is stronger than the forces of death. And, maybe most importantly, Season 6 made me realize it’s time for me to finish up my writing projects and go back into the field—Iraq or Colombia, if not Israel and Palestine (I’m engaged to an Israeli guy and we’re hoping that may get me back to Hebron, but we’re not sure it will.) Frankly, I would have preferred to get this revelation via prayer or Bible study, but I also know from experience that God often chooses to speak to people in unorthodox ways. So anyway, thanks for what Buffy has given me, even if you didn’t intend this particular outcome.
I have enclosed a Reuters photo and a Christian Science Monitor article to show I’m not making all this up. (See other side of this page.)
Whedon wrote back, telling me that he also had friends who worked for human rights organizations and he had wanted to do a TV series about it, but in the end he couldn’t sell it, so he had just added vampires.
I am embarrassed to admit it took me years before I realized he had been joking.
Anyway, this week, I stumbled across a contest on Twitter that was looking for a mashup of Shakespeare and Whedon’s work as a promo for Whedon’s new film rendition of Much Ado About Nothing, starring Amy Acker, Alex Denisof, Nathan Fillion and some other familiar faces from the previous collected Whedon oeuvre. And it became one of those things where I couldn’t stop thinking of jingles and puns—while I was gardening, in the bathroom, over lunch, and, frankly, when I should have been working.
Here’s what I came up with:
For a vamp is a knobbly thing, and this is my conclusion.” (From Much Ado’s “For a man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.”#buffybard
Refers to the bumpy foreheads of Whedon vampires. Not my best effort.)
Sigh no more Joss sigh no more,
Networks were clueless ever –
Titillation’s blowsy whores-
To erudition constant never #buffybard
(A reference to Whedon’s history of canceled TV shows and a take off from the song in Much Ado: Sigh no more, ladies,
sigh nor more;
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never
I thought it was a little bit suck-uppy, but one of the winning participants, who is an actual Shakespearean scholar favorited it.)
Behind Whedon’s new
of Much Ado
are Two by Two
(GASP) Hands of Blue #buffybard
(I think this one was probably my favorites. The Hands of Blue are from Whedon’s series Firefly. According to Firefly.wikia.com they “were a pair of mysterious men, who wore suits and blue gloves. They were contractors to the Anglo-Sino Alliance and were in pursuit of River and Simon Tam. Anyone who had any form of contact with River, even Alliance personnel, was killed without mercy with the use of a sonic device that induces massive bleeding from every orifice.”)
“Buffy/Spike, Darla/Angel, Dr. Horrible/Penny, Echo/Paul” are too wise to woo peaceably” said no one EVER #buffybard
(From what Benedick says to Beatrice in Much Ado: “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.”
Bad Horse! Bad Horse! My kingdom for Bad Horse! #Buffybard
(Bad Horse is the head of a crime organization in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along blog. He is an actual horse.)
Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor; Most choice, forsaken; and most loved, despised! #BuffyBard
(This is actually just a quote from King Lear but seemed to describe well the character of Cordelia Chase, who appears in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.)
There is no evil angel but Love–or Angelus #BuffyBard
(Angelus is the evil demon that the vampire Angel turns into when he loses his soul.)
For ’tis the sport to have the slayer hoist with her own Mr. Pointy #BuffyBard
(This was my first, and probably weakest effort. It comes from Hamlet’s “hoist with his own petard” quote, and for some reason, I had imagined that weapon to be something pointy, but it was actually a bomb. In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series Mr. Pointy was a special stake given to Buffy by another slayer.)
The winner? “Scooby or not Scooby.” Of course.
URGENT INVITATIONS from Colombia and Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick
Now back to my real job: In the last seven to ten days Christian Peacemaker Teams has received urgent request for accompaniment from Colombia and Elsipogtog that we don’t have the people to fill.
On May 30 a member of Las Pavas community in Colombia had been attacked with machetes by workers for Aportes San Isidro, the palm oil company that has been trying to push the community of Las Pavas off their land for many years:
Tito, the man who was attacked, is wearing a red shirt and holding a camera. The man on horseback is a security guard who has ordered attacks on the people of Las Pavas
My colleague Tim Nafziger visited Las Pavas community and wrote here about the destruction of their crops and cattle that he witnessed last year. This attack is an escalation on the pressure on this community that is deeply committed to nonviolence. It comes three days after a breakthrough in the high level peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government of Colombia.
In response, the community has asked CPT to provide more frequent presence on the ground as part of our accompaniment of them. Our team on the ground is already stretched thin and they’ve made an appeal to CPT reservists to support them.
On June 8, our Aboriginal Justice team sent a group of reservists to New Brunswick, Canada in response to an invitation 48 hours earlier from Elsipogtog First Nation. Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples have been using creative Nonviolent Direct Action to stop shale gas exploration on their traditional lands, including peacefully blockading a truck hired by the exploration company, SWN Resources Canada. “They broke the law a long time ago when they started this fracking in our traditional hunting grounds, medicine grounds, contaminating our waters,” Elsipogtog chief and protest leader John Levi told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Tim notes, “As we’ve seen in Syria most recently, violent actors and arms dealers are right around the corner, ready to step in. If we truly believe that the cross is an alternative to the sword, now is the time to step up: cpt.org/participate.”
Today is the last day of my sabbatical from Christian Peacemaker Teams, which began June 1, 2012. I ran a search on Google images for “sabbatical” and most of them involved beaches.
I wanted to write my novel Shea, which for biblically-interested people is a retelling of the Hosea-Gomer narrative with the gender roles reversed, and a fascist theocratic government running the U.S. instead of a theocratic government that had adopted elements of Canaanite fertility religions running ancient Israel. For those not interested in the biblical aspect, it is the memoir of Islam Goldberg-Jones, written from prison, telling of how he, his wife Hoshea “Shea” Weber, their family and comrades brought down the Christian Republic that ruled the United States from 2065-2087. He also writes about how he betrayed Shea with three increasingly heartbreaking affairs (which is the parallel of Gomer having three children—although to be fair to her only one was officially by another man.) Mission accomplished.
I wanted to get Because the Angels formatted as an E-book. Mission accomplished.
I wanted to get a website set up. Mission accomplished.
I learned how to use Twitter. I have NOT learned how to spend only fifteen minutes a day on Twitter.
What I didn’t get done
I wanted to help a friend who was a dissident in Iran under the Shah and Khomeini regimes write her memoir. The process turned out to be too painful for her so we had to let it go.
I did not finish filing all the papers in the boxes in the hall upstairs, but I have made good progress in throwing out things that don’t need to be filed anymore.
I still have a room full of my mother’s stuff that needs to be listed on Ebay.
I did not work on my Arabic language study AT ALL.
I did not do a retreat with my spiritual director.
So what have I learned? I’ve been on a cycle over the years where I would become overwhelmed with CPT work, get depressed because I didn’t have time to write the novel that was in me, and then had to leave CPT to do it. I need to figure out a way to take depression out of that equation. And that probably means that I need to actually assign times for CPT work, time for housework, and time for writing work. And within the CPT work, I need to assign time for filing, time for e-mail, and time for Arabic language study, or they won’t get done.
So am I happy to be going back? Not sure. I’m not great with transitions. But having spent a year saying that I do human rights work without actually having done any, it will be nice now to be saying it for real. And I will enjoy interacting with my colleagues again and following what’s going on in Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, Palestine, and the Indigenous communities we work with. And I’m pretty sure the idea for my next novel will come to me while I am working, as all the others have.
But oh the conference calls; I have not missed the conference calls at all, or the personality conflicts that arise because we tend to attract intensely committed people, and when you get all that intensity in the same room, well, sometimes people of goodwill can be very hard on each other.
I’ve had the good fortune, at the end of my sabbatical, to find a writer friend with whom I can exchange manuscripts for critique. The writer’s group I wanted to get together at the beginning of the sabbatical fell through. I met Sara Selznick through She Writes, a forum for women writers—one of the sabbatical indulgences I’m afraid I will have to put aside when I start work again tomorrow. We had applied for the same fellowship and received identical, “you’re very talented and we hope you apply again, but no” rejections. After we exchanged applications, we became a two-woman writer’s critique group. You will find a description of her writing project The Color of Safety on her blog Three Kinds of Pie.
When I edit colleagues writing for CPTnet, I am doing more than one role. My main role is to make sure they provide a voice to our local partners and communicate the realities of their work effectively. But it is also my job to encourage them to become better writers. Their work in the field is the vital part of what we do. Our writer/editor relationship is a vehicle to enhance that work; the writing is not an end in itself. So I generally DO pull punches. I am not blunt about the deficits in their writing (although some of my colleagues may disagree.)
For my novel, Shea, I don’t want someone trying to tiptoe around my feelings. I need people to say, “This doesn’t work for me.”; “I don’t understand what you’re saying here.” “I hate this character.” My regular manuscript readers, who know me personally, tell me when something bothers them, but they usually will pull punches. Other writers won’t. I may choose not to change something based on a critique (one writer friend and I have what we call the Jane Austen—William Faulkner spectrum, with his taste leaning heavily toward the latter), but I want to hear it. I will consider it. And I find it liberating to dispense the critiques as well. I suppose I should check in with Sara to see whether she’s as happy with the arrangement as I have been, because I’ve been more on the dispensing end. But let me just say this: her novel is more than 200,000 words long and I was never bored.
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