Why the Ruins of a Little Village Called Lifta Still Matter

In the Middle East stand the ruins of an ancient settlement known as Lifta. Archeological digs have traced its’ origins as far back as the Iron Age. It contains the remains of a court-yard home from the Crusader period at its centre and the ruins of several other beautiful homes, and once housed a vibrant and culturally rich community.

In the first half of the 20th century it had a modern clinic, two coffee houses, schools, a mosque. Lifta was also well known for its fine embroidery. All of that changed in 1948 when the residents of this village were ethnically cleansed. It remains one of the only surviving testaments of that tragic era. But this, too, may change in a very short time.

Following the Nakba, or Catastrophe, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were violently expelled from their ancestral lands. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were razed to the ground in what is now known as Israel. Many had forests planted over them, with trees that are not indigenous to the region and that are susceptible to wildfires, especially thanks to climate change. Many others were taken over by Jewish Israelis with the support of Israeli law. But, in violation of international law, the former residents of these villages are not permitted to return. Many of the families still have the keys to the homes that were stolen from them.

In the 1980s, Israel designated Lifta as a nature reserve, and for decades it as been used by Israelis for recreation. An ancient pool fed by a natural spring became a popular swimming hole. But now the ruins of this ancient village are on the brink of being razed once and for all to make way for luxury villas, a shopping mall and a hotel. The UN had listed Lifta as a potential World Heritage Site, but since Israel left UNESCO in 2019, it is no longer interested in that highly desired heritage designation, especially if it may enshrine a piece of Palestinian history or reveal the crimes that emptied that village decades ago.

Lifta is important because it represented a visual example of the Nakba to Palestinians and Israelis alike. As Israel becomes more entrenched in its apartheid policies, it is symbolic of the lengths colonial settler ideology will go to erase history. And it isn’t just history we are talking about. At this very moment, Palestinian residents of the neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan are being forcibly expelled from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers and a biblical theme park. These struggles are what make the ruins of Lifta iconic.

Throughout history, colonial settler projects frequently targeted indigenous houses, burial sites, temples, villages and cities for demolition. The Spanish razed the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and replaced it with Mexico City. The Americans carved the faces of four white men, known for their role in slavery and in Manifest Destiny, into the rockface of Tȟuŋkášila Šákpe (Six Grandfathers), one of the most sacred places to the Lakota in the Black Hills. Australian mining company Rio Tinto just recently destroyed a sacred Aboriginal site that was a 46,000-year-old rock shelter at Juukan Gorge.

Perhaps the destruction of Lifta is not on the same scale, but it bares striking similarities. This is of a piece with Israel’s ongoing attempt to erase Palestinian heritage, culture and history. And it enables the Israeli apartheid system to proceed with further demolitions and erasures, while pretending it isn’t destroying anything at all. Lifta still matters because it is a reminder that the Nakba never really ended.

Kenn Orphan July 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

On a Ten Minute Joyride in Space, Capitalism’s Endgame, and a Radical Imagination for the Future

“It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” – Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

To say we live in bizarre times would be an understatement. How else could you explain a billionaire, who pays virtually no taxes, launching himself into space in a rocket, releasing 300 tons of climate warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and then thanking his underpaid, over-worked employees for whom he doesn’t allow bathroom breaks, and the customers he fleeces, for that 10 minute joyride? Or the corporate media literally giving this stunt endless praise and more coverage than the global climate crisis? Or the near emotionless automaton, aka POTUS press secretary Jen Psaki, actually lauding this spectacle as “a moment of American exceptionalism?”

While all of this was unfolding, thousands of people have been displaced, killed or are missing from record breaking floods in Germany, China and Japan. And in Siberia and the west of North America lakes are drying up and forests are being burnt to ash (again). The type of capitalist adventurism Bezos and other billionaires are engaging in isn’t original. Capitalists of all stripes have used their inordinate wealth on extravagant displays like this for years. But on a planet with a rapidly unraveling biosphere, it is a demonstration of how disconnected the powerful are from the existential moment we are standing in.

None of this is to condemn space exploration. In fact, many people (myself included) love learning more about our solar system, our galaxy and our universe. Many of us (myself included) dream about being able to physically go to space and visit other planets. But the recent jaunts and escapades of Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk, are not about that at all. This is space escapism for the ultra-rich at the expense of the biosphere we all share. It is worth remembering that it is the excesses of the capitalist class that have brought us to the brink of ecological disaster. That they would somehow be cast as humanity’s saviors by so many is the very essence of collective lunacy. But what is the alternative?

I have no definitive answers to that question. But I think we could start by looking to visionaries who embody values that are not rooted in an exploitative, capitalist worldview. Kim Stanley Robinson is one such visionary. As a revolutionary science fiction writer, Robinson presents to us a future that is distinctly different than the prevailing theme of dystopia that is in so much of the genre. There are no zombies or gangs of marauding mutants in his works. But there are the real life consequences of climate change, ecological devastation, political discord and economic disparity. Robinson frames all of these complex issues through the lens of radical imagination. He gives us a world that is post-capitalist, post-war, and post-ecological exploitation.

With billionaires competing to privatize the planet as well as space, Robinson offers us a far more appealing alternative. Viewing earth and solar system as a commons to be cared for and protected, even with various countries working on their own projects, sometimes in conflict, his books help us envision the potential of our species beyond this present moment. Without resorting to tired tropes or frequently used literary devices, Robinson pulls us in to our own collective human experience.

The expensive experiments of the uber-billionaires are not only costly to the working class, they are costly to the planet’s ecosystems and human civilization itself. But the left, and I include myself in this, has all too often relegated itself to the margins of this discourse by being excessively cynical. Doomerism has become a sort of cultish enclave for many leftists to hide in and await the apocalypse. It sees the violent ruthlessness of capitalism. It understands that this global arrangement of power and wealth has the potential to destroy everything, including our future. But it frequently fails to possess the courage and radical imagination necessary to engage with the public and entertain ideas and the steps for radical transformation. So, it should come as little surprise that people like Bezos or Musk or Branson would fill the void.

Capitalism is in its end game. And that game involves ruthlessly oppressing the working poor and the global south, as well as destroying our fragile biosphere. And it is in a race to carve up what is left of the planet and venture into space to do the same. But, as the late Ursula Le Guin once said:

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

Perhaps it is time we took back the vision stolen from us. To imagine what the world will look like with capitalism gone. And perhaps it is time to be radical about that vision, more radical than an 10 minute joyride in space by a self-absorbed, parasitic billionaire.

Kenn Orphan July 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

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In the End, it is the Embrace that Matters Most

I have been in a state of shock since I lost my little feline companion, Pippa. She died so suddenly this week. Just over an hour after I had been holding her on my lap as I wrote, her playing with the computer keyboard as I gently held her paws back from making a mistake on my behalf, purring, nuzzling my chin, she became violently ill. I had no idea that in a matter of hours she would be taken from me.

Pippa was relatively young for a cat, and by all accounts healthy. But the vet believes she had an aneurysm and there was nothing they could do to save her. Since then I have found myself being hit with waves of grief only punctuated by numbness. How fragile life is. I worked in hospice care for 20 years, but if there are some lessons I have learned it is that the death of a loved one always feels unexpected. It is always unwelcome. It always feels as if every bit of joy has been robbed of you.

One of the ways I cope is through writing. It is one balm for the pain. But it doesn’t cover all of it. Not by a long shot. The wound is still there. And one wound leads to another, and another. I realized after our cat Memur died this past winter that I had a lot of unmet grief hiding under my skin. Grief over the deaths of family members like my father, my aunt, my sister-in-law. Grief from the deaths of former loves and longtime friends. His death made me face some of that grief, but I shrunk from much of it and was able to quickly bury it again with the business of life. Pippa made that a whole lot easier.

She grieved too, after Memur died. They were inseparable. Affectionate, comforting and playful with each other. When he died, Pippa climbed unto the bed where his body was and laid down next to it with her head against his head. She stayed like that for hours not moving. For weeks later she followed my partner and I around endlessly, never wanting to be alone. And when she sat on the couch next to us she would press her head firmly into the cushion in a clear display of sorrow.

Regardless of what any tone deaf essentialist might opine, grief is not something unique to human beings. I have observed it many times throughout my life, and in many different species. In hospice care I often observed patient’s animal companions howling in despair after they died, or refusing to leave the bedside, and then laying somber and refusing to eat. This is not an attempt to anthropomorphize, but to think grief is ours and ours alone strikes me as the height of hubris and demonstrates a fundamental lack of curiosity and imagination. Indeed, their very non-humanness can help us gain more empathy for each other and for ourselves.

As many of you know, my mother has dementia. And the only way I can describe that disease is as a reckless and sadistic thief. It robs a person of their memories, their connection to this life and, often, aspects of their personality. My mother isn’t the same person I knew. She is there, and I love that which remains. Her smile, kindness, grace and gratitude are all intact. But the disease robbed so much from her, and from us, her family. And anyone who meets her now will never know the woman I knew. The person who raised me. And that angers me. It angers me that many will only see the disease and not the human being who had a rich, long life before that disease ruthlessly stole it from her. The human being that is still there.  


There is a unique, biting kind of pain when you hear your mother ask you over and over if you are her son. To ask where her mother is, even though she has been dead for over 20 years. To see her face sink in sadness to hear that her mother had died. My sister and I decided not to tell her that dreadful truth ever again. And there is the guilt from getting cross with her for not remembering or asking the same questions over and over. All of this feels like someone punching you in the chest, again and again and again.

So I found solace these past few years in the company of my cats. Those curious beings who are free from prejudices or judgements. The ones who don’t care about the conventions or confinements of human culture, or expectations, or “appropriate” conduct and communication. Who look to you as a companion without conditions except to feed and clean up after them, and provide them with some affection and a warm place to sleep. Whose fur gives our bare human skin a gentle caress that no human could match. They comforted me often when my heart was sore.

Of course, I have had immeasurable love and support from my partner, my family, and so many dear friends throughout the years, but it is hard to explain the importance of a non-human companion to anyone who hasn’t experienced that kind of relationship. Harder still to describe the intense grief one feels at their death. Some may say, “I’m sorry, but maybe you should just get another cat.” Could anyone imagine the same being said about a human being? Has our culture become so divorced from our place in the family of beings on this earth that we would think that any life is replaceable? I do hope to share my life with more of these beings, but they will inhabit their own space, not that of those who are gone.

Right now I am wrapping myself in the warmth of the memories I created with these wonderful beings that graced our human lives. Between the many tears and feelings of despair there is a glimmer of joy. And I have begun to realize that is where joy is really found. We don’t invent it or create it. It doesn’t produce itself by positive thinking or by surrounding ourselves with successful people or by attaining material riches. It is a mysterious and sacred gift to all of us that is never deserved, but always offered. And it is temporary. It comes and then it goes. Like the warm embrace of my mother, who sometimes forgets she is my mother. In the end, it is the embrace that matters most.

Kenn Orphan July 2021

*Title painting is His First Grief by Charles Spencelayh, 1910

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

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The Blindfold is Removable

“​Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” – Albert Einstein

“Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.” – Arundhati Roy

It should come as no surprise that I don’t celebrate patriotic holidays. I won’t condemn you if you do, it is just not something I can relate to. But this year’s Canada Day, which coincidentally falls on my birthday, was certainly no day to celebrate. After all, the country is reeling from the revelation of two unmarked, mass graves containing nearly a thousand Indigenous people, most of them small children. For any person of conscience, it is difficult to understand how one can feel any national pride in this moment knowing that there are still more unmarked graves heaped with Indigenous children still hidden around the country.

Thankfully, at the very least, most Canadian municipalities along with most of the citizenry, recognized this somber reality and decided to use the occasion as a day of reflection and remembrance. Few fireworks were set off, which was a blessing for wildlife as well as for countless veterans who suffer the affects of PTSD thanks to endless imperialistic wars abroad.  

After living most of my life in the States I can say, with total confidence, that the same would never occur on the fourth of July in the US. After all, the “Fourth,” much like Memorial Day, is an annual day of collective amnesia. Forget the forever wars. Forget the war crimes and atrocities. Forget the occupations, drone strikes, extra-judicial assassinations, covert actions by the CIA. Forget Julian Assange. Forget the veterans who have come back from those wars deeply damaged and lacking support and care. Forget US arms deals and support of nations actively practicing apartheid and ethnic cleansing, or who rule by military juntas, or by theocratic terror. Forget the crushing, imposed poverty in so many Indigenous communities. Forget the sprawling shantytowns outside of major US cities. Forget that most Americans are drowning in some sort of debt. Forget there is no universal healthcare, even during a pandemic. Forget that the police have killed over 32,000 civilians, most of them Black, since the year 2000. Red, white and blue everything festoons stores, schools, homes, athletic fields, food, mundane objects, people’s bodies, even the mind itself.

Nationalism, as Einstein once averred, is a disease. It separates the human family into controlled, exploitable camps. It weaponizes culture in order to otherize and dominate. It cynically manipulates our collective crises in order to scapegoat or demonize the “foreigner,” the “infiltrator,” the other. It uses sentimental imagery, tear-jerking anthems, and familiar symbols to ensnare and stultify our moral imagination. In a flash of light, a bit of coloured cloth becomes more powerful than the pulsing blood of the living beings with whom we share this world.

But the illusion can only go on for so long on a planet with a rapidly unraveling biosphere. Record heat and drought in the West, fires devouring vast swaths of earth, birds dropping dead from the skies, rising seas contributing to the collapse of skyscrapers. It can only go on so long in a nation bent on ramping up militarism even as it encircles the world with over 800 military bases. Mass graves, ongoing atrocities, dying ecosystems. It can only go on so long as we allow it to. Today’s nation-states are not oases of civilization. They are not bastions of democracy. They are protectorates and storehouses for the wealth of the capitalist class. And they divide every other segment of society that is beneath them from one another in order to exploit us more efficiently. They are an albatross around our collective necks.

Nationalism diverts our gaze from the eternal unto to the temporary. It loathes culture, while it glories in the banality of pomp and circumstance. It cannot fathom the idea of an intricate human tapestry because it can only see national identity as the pinnacle of human expression. History is littered with dead nation-states, their corpses shrouded in what is left of their flags, ceremonial robes, and emblems of supposed greatness. And each of them took untold souls with them on their descent into nothingness. Today is no different.

So, the question is not how long will we allow a bit of coloured cloth to obscure our view, it is how long will we allow it to be our blindfold of choice as our backs are pressed against the wall awaiting the firing squad to commence with its execution? Despite what many might think, the blindfold is removable.

Kenn Orphan  July 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Defending the Shame of Apartheid

It was to be expected. Following the worldwide exposure of an active campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem and Israel’s murderous 11 day campaign raining death and destruction on the captive population of Gaza, the apologists for Israel went into full on damage control. Anyone who decried these obvious injustices and war crimes were swiftly labeled “antisemitic” or extremist.

The liberal icon Bill Maher, never interested in understanding the long history of injustice in the region, wasted no time in defending Israel’s murderous crimes and attacking anyone who opposed them. He never does when it comes to the Palestinians. Representative Ilhan Omar was pilloried by politicians in both parties and talking heads for simply stating the obvious. And “journalists” like Melanie Phillips, a darling of the far right, came out recently with a laughable article decrying a new so-called “Palestinianism” of the left, and absurdly warned that support and solidarity with Palestinians is “opening up a new Nazi front” against Jews.

Anyone who has had any experience in Palestinian solidarity is hardly surprised by any of this. These tactics have always been used generously against anyone who even lightly criticizes the state of Israel. But there is something different now. Since extensive reports from Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem outlined the details of Israeli apartheid, the Israeli brand has been tarnished with the stain of racism. In the era of Black Lives Matter, this is something that cannot be easily shook. But while there are growing, global mass movements opposing all forms of racism and apartheid, most governments, particularly in the West, continue to follow the party line when it comes to Israel.

Recently, the US, Canada, the UK and Australia stated they will not send delegates to the annual anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa because they are concerned about antisemitism. Since there is a concerted effort to equate antisemitism with any criticism of Israel or the political ideology of Zionism, it makes it easy for them to make such a ludicrous claim. But this is especially rich coming from nations either founded through the usage of racism to justify slavery and the violent ethnic cleansing of the indigenous populations or whose imperial projects were steeped in racist ideology to justify colonialism. And it is worth remembering that these same nations were at the forefront of defending apartheid South Africa decades ago even as a worldwide movement against the racist state was growing.

The supposed “indignation” of these countries is rather trite and transparent. This isn’t about condemning the vile social hatred of antisemitism. This is about the defense of a client state that has served as an asset to their neo-imperialistic interests and aspirations in the region. But this defense is becoming more untenable by the day as evidence piles up proving the crime of apartheid beyond any doubt. The conference will go on despite the tantrums of these states, and that may be for the best. They would only muddy the waters of discourse with meaningless platitudes, something their politicians have excelled at.

The decades long oppression of the Palestinians appears to be coming to a head. And there is growing global opposition to blind support of Israel so long as it continues its brutal system of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Most of this opposition is not falling for the old tricks used by apologists to derail any meaningful criticism or demands for the basic, equal human rights of the Palestinians. The shame of apartheid is far greater than any of the lies generated to defend it. But, make no mistake, it won’t stop them from trying.

Kenn Orphan June 2021

*Title photo is by Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

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Navigating the Digital Commons on Our Own Terms

The other day I made a Facebook post that referred to the arbitrary and, yet, purposefully designed algorithms of social media and how they are effectively silencing and censoring people, especially those on the left. I have noticed it myself. I get far less traffic to my page than in prior years. This makes the social media “experience” less desirable (I will go into the reason why a bit later), and so I said I would likely be spending less time here as a result.

Unfortunately, my post was mostly misunderstood. I got a flood of well-meaning comments asking me how I was doing and urging me to remember my value and worth. Now, it was reassuring to see such kindness. But the nuances of my commentary were eclipsed by concern for my mental health. To be sure, this misunderstanding had mostly to do with my poor wording. But it also has to do with how we communicate in our age. Sadly, it took away from my point, so I deleted it.

Today, social media has become our commons. The place where people gather. But this isn’t the commons of old. The digital commons come in an era of late capitalism. And we, the participants, have little to no say in how it is governed, even as it uses our personal information as capital to amass even more profit.

But this “experience” with social media has an affect on how we interact with it and what we get out of it. It depends on the “dopamine/serotonin effect” which has a lot to do with how we experience joy, satisfaction and contentment, but also, unfortunately, has a lot to do with how addiction works. Because I get less traffic to my page these days, I have less interest in it. Those “reward centers” are not being toyed with as much. And this is not a bad thing. Not in the least. The experience enabled me to detach from Facebook with greater ease than before, as I was not obsessing over the next red “bell” on the upper left hand corner of my Facebook screen as much as I was before.

Now, none of this is to say that social media offers nothing to the world. It does offer a great deal when it comes to raising awareness about injustices. Such was the case in the recent carnage Israel unleashed on the captive population of Gaza. Or Saudi Arabia’s merciless war against the people of Yemen. Or about environmental destruction by corporations, past and present. Or racist police state violence. Or the fundamental brutality and unfairness of capitalism.

It also offers people a chance to connect with others of like mind. To reach out across borders in solidarity and form mass movements that upend the fundamental structures of power in our world. And on a personal level, it helps us to connect with people who may live far away. Some of whom we knew years ago. I am grateful for the friendships and connections I have made here. But we need to remember that these are billion-dollar corporations that holds billions of people in its hands, so to speak.

On an individual level, cultivating the kind of social media environment we find fulfilling is necessary in order to enjoy that experience. Sometimes that means censoring people who bring to us a certain level of discord or who cannot seem to respect our values when it comes to our personal page. But when a behemoth corporation does this we can only see it as authoritarian and dangerous. Was former US president Trump a menace to the public good? Was he a peddler of false, reckless and even deadly information? Yes, he was. But when people celebrate a corporate power’s use of censorship, when it has broad control over societal and civil discourse with little to no accountability, we must wonder if they understand the real danger at play.

Many in the west like to point to China’s authoritarian system of “social credit” which is designed to enforce “good behavior” by its citizens. This system translates into real life transactions. Want to buy a plane ticket? Purchase a house? You better make sure you have not had too many infractions on your record.

But few see the social credit system arranged and implemented by social media in the West. How many people know that these companies have developed algorithms which allow for discriminatory practices based on racial or economic status? How many oppose such authoritarian overreach in our society? Recently, research by Black scholars Joy Buolamwini, Deb Raji and Timnit Gebru, revealed racist algorithms in facial recognition software developed by Microsoft, Amazon and IBM. Software that was routinely sold to police departments and government agencies who then used it to target Black and Indigenous activists. There is an insidious “social credit system” that is ubiquitous in the West and is most often overlooked in our day to day interactions.

The current rulers of the digital commons allow us time in the play pen or even give us a “platform” as long as we do not rock the boat too much.  We can have “lively debate,” as Noam Chomsky once averred, but only within the boundaries they have set up. They determine which ones of our “thoughts or feelings” (what is “on our mind?”) merit “boosting” and which merit disappearing. When we feel “disappeared” we can react in a myriad of ways. We can completely disengage, which works for a few, but not most. We can “cry out” for more attention. Or we can understand how our minds have been molded by a complex set of algorithms and begin reshaping it to respond to our own agency.

We are at the nexus of enormous technological advancement, rapid environmental destruction, unending imperialistic militarism, and the alarming erosion of civil liberties and democracy under late capitalism. The digital commons provide us a needed link to one another and to the broader, global community. But as long as it remains under the aegis of wealthy corporate entities, our voices will continue to be marginalized and silenced. To push back against this, we must learn how to navigate the digital commons intelligently and on our own terms. And that begins with understanding how it is designed to shape our responses, our thoughts, our perceptions, indeed, our very minds.

Kenn Orphan June 2021

*Image is Global Circuit via Shutterstock.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

“Green Capitalism” is Still Capitalism

I see many climate activists taking on the G7 in the UK. For those who may not know, the G7 is a meeting of wealthy nations who like to celebrate their collective pillage and plunder of the world, via a long legacy of colonial imperialism, with meaningless photo ops. Kudos to those activists for their creative demonstrations in calling out the hypocrisy of the global ruling elite.

But there was a time, not too long ago in fact, when the “environmental movement” was primarily determined to protect and preserve what is left of the supposed “wilds” of the world.

Now, that objective has been subsumed and, most often, erased by corporate, “green capitalism” whose objective is only to continue the Western “way of life,” albeit now through “renewable energy” and other schemes. Perpetuation of the very “way of life” which has led us to the precipice of ecological disaster in the first place.

Most of this is predicated on viewing the earth merely as a resource to be used for human consumption. It is still capitalism, which views everything, living and non, as capital.

I long for the days when people would see a river, or a field, or a mountain, or the sea, and not see an opportunity to exploit it, even in a so-called “green” way.

Kenn Orphan June 2021

*Illustration by Joan Wong.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Cultural Genocide: the True Goal of the Infamous Canadian Residential Schools

“We instill in [the children] a profound distaste for native life that they should feel humiliated when reminded of their origin. When they graduate from our institutions, the children have lost everything Native except their blood.” – Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin

Cultural genocide. This was the stated goal of the Canadian residential school system, largely run by the Roman Catholic Church in Canada.

+At least 150,000 Indigenous children were stolen from their families and communities over a 120 year period.

+Abuse and neglect were rampant at these schools. The goal of this project was the eradication of Indigenous culture and identity in Canada and, very often, led to the eradication of Indigenous lives.

+At least 4100 died, although some estimate the amount as being much higher.

+The last school was closed in 1996.

+The whereabouts of scores of children are still unknown and the Canadian government turned down a request to search for more unmarked graves in 2009 citing its expense as an excuse. It would have only cost approximately 1.5 million dollars.

+Bishop Grandin died in office on 3 June 1902. He was declared venerable by the Roman Catholic Church in 1966.

+The Roman Catholic Church has still refused to issue an official apology for their role in this atrocity.

Kenn Orphan June 2021

Tree Huggers Have a Legacy to be Proud of

If you ever get labeled a tree hugger, as I have, remember the origin of the term. In 1730, 363 men and women from the village of Khejarli in India were slaughtered by soldiers who came to fell their forests for firewood in order to construct a new palace for Maharajah Abhay Singh.

For more than 300 years the people of the Bishnoi sect of Hinduism had lovingly cared for their ecosystem. When they heard their trees being cut down they did not hesitate to embrace them because they understood that their lives and that of the trees and other living things were interwoven. One woman, a villager named Amrita Devi, led her people and placed her body between the soldiers and the trees. After that her three daughters and other villagers joined her. They refused to leave and for that they were massacred.

When the Maharajah had learned what his soldiers had done he felt deeply ashamed and issued a royal decree which outlawed the chopping down of any trees in Bishnoi villages. The Khejarli massacre is one of the first known environmental protests. Even today, the forests of Jodhpur have protections gained from this heroic act. And it didn’t end there.

In 1974, inspired by this incredible act of sacrifice, a group of women in Uttar Pradesh, India, hugged trees to stave off foresters in their villages. This led to the Chipko Movement (chipko meaning “to cling to”) that spread throughout India. Thanks to these women, and all the people who joined them, millions of trees in the Himalayan region were spared from clear cutting and extensive logging.

So if you ever get called a tree hugger, wear it as a badge of honour.

Kenn Orphan May 2021

*Painting courtesy of the National Museum of Dehli.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

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The Spotlight on Israeli Apartheid Must Not Fade

Unlike ever before, Israel is finally seeing some major pushback that is international in scope. With its ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign exemplified by the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, its attacks on worshippers at one of the holiest sites in Islam, Al Aqsa, and on the holiest of holidays, and its murderous and criminal assault on the captive population of Gaza, Israel has been put in an uncomfortable spotlight. But the key to dismantling its entrenched apartheid system lies in keeping that spotlight fixed, especially now that a ceasefire has been implemented. If attention is diverted, as Israel desperately wants, then it will become even more intransigent, especially as the Biden administration continues its business-as-usual approach.

Fortunately, there has been a noticeable shift in public opinion. Even among many American Jews there has been increasing unease with being associated with such an obviously belligerent and sadistic colonial settler regime. Much of this is thanks to the tireless work of organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace. The recent reports from Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem which detailed Israel apartheid, have also been instrumental in providing a framework that can be used to understand and confront this decades long injustice. But it is also largely thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement which galvanized public outrage in the wake of the brutal police murder of George Floyd. Justified parallels are being drawn between systemic racism in the US and the intricate system of apartheid in place in Israel/Palestine. And, in both instances, the self defense excuse is wearing thin on anyone who has a conscience.

For years Israel has justified its periodic carpet-bombing rampages in Gaza as its right to “self defense.” But that narrative is beginning to sound an awful lot like American police when they tell Black people to “stop resisting” as they kneel on their necks. It falls apart upon close inspection of the facts on the ground. Just as the case with the police, one cannot claim to have feared for one’s life if you are the one holding the gun and have your supposed attacker in handcuffs on the ground. Gaza and the Occupied West Bank and Jerusalem resemble the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa. They are captive populations in shackles, with no say in how they wish to be governed, constantly subject to arbitrary and violent punishment by the state of Israel.

After Israel’s heavy bombardment of the captive population of Gaza last week, unprecedented mass protests have swept over the entire world. But make no mistake, Israel is wasting no time now with its public relations campaign. It realizes that its image as the Middle East’s “only democracy” has once again been shown for the farce it is with videos on social media showing Palestinian families being violently removed from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Jewish settlers, many of whom were not even born there and come from the US or Russia.

These campaigns to sway international perception of Israel, known as hasbara, are nothing new and they are not unique to them either. Apartheid South Africa made many attempts to restore its image on the world stage as it violently oppressed its Black population. The infamous Sun City courted international celebrities to play in its one and only “integrated” enclave. And during segregation in the US the government routinely sent Black artists on international public relations tours to obscure the cruel reality of Jim Crow segregation and create an illusion of American inclusiveness.

It is important to remember this when apologists for Israeli apartheid say things like “there is no apartheid in Israel since Arab citizens can vote and there is an Arab on the supreme court there.” Oppressive systems often engage in what is known as tokenism as a way of distraction. In other words, placing some members of an oppressed population in positions of authority or high esteem as judges or heads of departments or as celebrities.

This is an insidious tactic that has long been used in the US by its ruling class. President Biden’s own cabinet picks reflect a lot of this. A person from Cuba to head the Department of Homeland Security. A Black person as Secretary of Defense. A woman to head the Department of the Treasury. Tokenism is obfuscation. It gives the illusion of inclusion and change when, in fact, it is primarily optics. Nothing of substance in regard to policy or systemic operations of government change in the least.

Israel is no different in this regard. It routinely parades the LGBT community and Black Israelis on the world stage in an effort to obscure its fundamentally discriminatory and oppressive apartheid system. It is a cynical approach which, sadly, often works. But fortunately, this game is beginning to lose its edge.

Apartheid is easily demonstrated to most reasonable people when presented with the facts on the ground. Within Israel, towns and neighbourhoods have committees that have the right to exclude whomever they want on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Those that have a Jewish majority can effectively ban non-Jews from living where they want, echoing the redlining practices in the US that excluded Black Americans from purchasing homes in predominantly white, middle-class neighborhoods. Many Palestinian and Bedouin communities are disproportionately discriminated in building permits and are often disconnected from basic services like water and garbage collection. In fact, there are over 65 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and it allocates only a fraction of its budget to Palestinian Israelis councils.

In addition to this, nearly 3 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem live under Israeli occupation. Israeli apologists claim that the Palestinian Authority is their government when, in actuality, it is merely a proxy government for the occupation. Thanks to the corrupt Oslo Accords, Israel has effectively divided the occupied West Bank into three administrative areas. In all but one of those areas, Israel has absolute control. Palestinians in the remaining area are still subject to the Israeli occupation by way of the administration of its proxy, the PA.

All Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem face home demolitions, walls, barriers, separate roads, scores of dehumanizing checkpoints, daily violence from Jewish settlers that include being shot at and the burning of olive groves, and military tribunals instead of civil courts like their Israeli settler counterparts. Palestinian children are routinely spirited away in terrorizing night raids and taken to detention centers that are often undisclosed. There they often face abuse and neglect.

And over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, which has been blockaded and besieged for nearly 15 years, have absolutely no say regarding their unjustified imprisonment or the routine collective punishment meted out by the Israeli military. These Palestinians are subject to indiscriminate bombing and are prevented from leaving the Strip by Israel and Egypt. The UN has warned repeatedly that Gaza will be unlivable thanks to poverty, scant access to clean drinking water, and routine Israeli drone surveillance and bombardment.

As the conviction of Derrick Chauvin was no cure for US police state violence, the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza offers no solution for ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing and apartheid. It may provide some relief, especially to the people of Gaza who were mercilessly terrorized for 11 days by one of the world’s most sophisticated military powers. And it may ease the consciences of those simply weary of the story dominating headlines and social media timelines. But it does nothing to solve the entrenched problem itself. Only through ongoing public pressure and mass movements will systems change. Now, more than ever before, it is crucial that the spotlight on Israeli apartheid not fade.

Kenn Orphan  May 2021

*Title photo is by Dan Balilty of the New York Times.

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