Monthly Archives: May 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.

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!

There is No Getting Around It: This Is Apartheid

I suspect some of you may be tired of my posts on Israel/Palestine this last week, especially on social media. I would say I am sorry if I was, but I am not. Not in the least. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians, as well as their allies, including many, many Jews and even many Israelis, for most of my adult life. And until apartheid ends and as long as I have a voice that isn’t censored, I will not cease speaking out. So here are my latest thoughts…

I have noticed some striking parallels with this past year’s major topic of American police state violence against mostly Black and Brown people and Israel’s ongoing oppression/ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. In fact, Israel’s “self defense” narrative sounds an awful lot like American police when they tell Black people to “stop resisting” as they kneel on their necks. But let’s be clear, this is not a defense, it is the usual brutalization of a captive population that has no means of escape. An open air prison where vicious collective punishment is meted out liberally. And remember, half of Gaza are children.

They have no army, navy or air force. They barely have a few hours of electricity each day and medicine is in short supply. Most of the water in Gaza is undrinkable thanks to Israeli bombing of infrastructure. All of this is because of the inhuman decade long blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt and supported by the United States.

It’s time to realize that it is, in fact, the United States, along with Canada, the EU, the UK, and Australia, that this is allowed to continue. Israel, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are colonial client states in the region. The US is not a puppet here, it is the puppet master.

Today is the eve of the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, where thousands of Palestinians were massacred in their villages by Zionist militias and at least 750,000 were expelled from their ancestral lands in the years leading up to 1948. It should not be seen as a mistake then that this was the date that was chosen. History has demonstrated that the oppressor uses demoralization as a weapon in much the same way as torture, night raids and outright massacres.

According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch, Israel is an apartheid state. There is no getting around this, just as there is no getting around the fact that this is not a “conflict” between equals. Israel is far more powerful and has the backing of the American Empire, the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. It is time to stop the lying and obfuscation of world leaders and the corporate media that parrots them.

Kenn Orphan May 2021

*Photo is from the Guardian.


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!

Enough is Enough: It is Time for Apartheid to End

I have anxiety in my heart tonight. I have friends in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, Palestinians and Israeli Jews, and I am truly fearing for them. Several of them have reported explosions close to their homes. Buildings and entire blocks have been flattened in Gaza, rockets have fallen in Tel Aviv, and rightwing Israeli mobs are terrorizing Palestinians at Al Aqsa Mosque. And this feels like the build up of something big. Like it felt before the 2014 assault on Gaza. I pray this isn’t so, but it is difficult to ignore the signs.

Over the next few days or weeks we will hear familiar things from the corporate media. Things that will obfuscate the conditions that led to this recent escalation. It will once again be presented as if it is a conflict between equals and that Israel is merely responding to terrorism. The words occupation, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and dispossession will likely not be mentioned.

But the truth is that the two sides are not equal. They never have been. One is a state with an army, navy, air force and nuclear weapons. It uses tanks, drones, white phosphorus and sophisticated technology to terrorize and obliterate targets. It has deliberately targeted schools, hospitals, shelters and mosques. The other is disconnected and resists with stones, some rockets and some balloons that are on fire. It does not possess the technology to target anything specifically. One is occupying and moving people out of their homes and has done so for the last 70 years. the other is cordoned off from other members of their community, forced to take separate roads and have different license plates on their cars, and are prevented from accessing their land. It is what amounts to the bantustans of apartheid South Africa. One enjoys full support from the most powerful countries on the planet, the US, Canada, the EU, Australia. The other is routinely ignored, blamed or humiliated by the mainstream press and politicians.

As someone who has been involved in Palestinian solidarity for most of my adult life I may understand the details and nuances of this issue better than most westerners, but I think there are things every person of conscience can comprehend:

-Palestinian families should not be thrown out of their homes to make way for other families based on ethno-religious status. This is what is happening right now in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem.

-Palestinian homes should not be demolished by the state simply because they do not come from a specific ethno-religious group.

-Entire populations should not be kept in an open air prison where food, medicine and the movement of people is severely restricted. This is Gaza.

-Palestinian fishermen and farmers should not be fired on when they are out at sea or in their fields. Israel Defense Forces routinely do this off the Gaza Strip.

-Palestinian workers and travelers should not have to go through endless and humiliating checkpoints every time they leave their homes to get bread, or flowers, or medicine, or to go to work, or to visit a friend or family.

-Entire communities should not be collectively punished for the alleged infractions of a few. This has been the way the IDF has operated for years in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

-Refugees from the Nakba (Catastrophe), where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their country should be allowed to return to their homes. Many of them still possess the keys to their houses, that are now occupied by Israeli citizens.

-There shouldn’t be two different systems of justice for two segments of the population, one military for the Palestinians and one civilian for Jewish Israelis. This is how it is in the occupied West Bank where Palestinians face military tribunals instead of civil courts like their Jewish Israeli counterparts. It is also an occupation system where many Palestinian chidlren are whisked away in the middle of the night to unknown military detention centres (prisons).

This injustice has been allowed to fester for far too long. And far too many have suffered and perished thanks to the intransigence of the powerful. We can move to protest and prevent another bloodbath but we must move quickly. Palestinians and many Jews, both in Israel and throughout the world, have united in solidarity to say enough is enough. It is time for all people of conscience to join them. It is time for apartheid to end!

If you would like to learn more and how to be an ally for a just peace, I encourage you to start with a visit Jewish Voice for Peace, B’Tselem, BDS and We Are Not Numbers.

Kenn Orphan May 2021

*Title photo is Palestinian women protesting a US peace plan proposal in the centre of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 30 January 2020 (AFP)

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!

Paul Klee and the Power of So-called “Degenerate” Art

“Fish Magic” by Paul Klee, Swiss-German, 1925.

Paul Klee wanted to paint like a child, but with wisdom. I think he achieved this. His paintings capture both an innocence and layers of meaning and depth. In this one, Fish Magic, he harnesses the wonder of an almost otherworldly mysticism, but with the delightful air of children’s game.

It is no wonder that the Nazis labeled his works “dangerous and degenerate.” At its core, fascism has no capacity for grappling with nuance or complexity. Eventually, the Gestapo ransacked his home and the threats mounted to the point of him losing his teaching position at the famous Bauhaus. He and his family were forced to flee Germany and return to the nation of his birth, Switzerland, in 1933.

The Nazis seized many of Klee’s paintings and included them in their infamous exhibit “Degenerate Art” in Munich in 1937. It featured the works of artists, many of them Jewish, socialists, anarchists, communists or homosexuals, whom they deemed were an “insult to German feeling.” They used this exhibit as a tool of propaganda, intimidation and ridicule, while promoting art that displayed conformity and deference to loathsome and false ideas of racial purity and complete obedience to nationalistic militarism.

It is a delightful irony that, in the end, Klee and the other artists’ works of this vicious exhibit, ones that were labeled “degenerate,” eventually prevailed. It seems Klee’s desire to paint as a child tapped into something infinitely more human than any sadistic ideology ever could: love.

Kenn Orphan May 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!

The Work of Marie-Denise Villers and the Impact of Misogyny on Western Art

Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes by Marie-Denise Villers (1774 – 1821) French.

This painting was originally thought to have been done by one of several famous male artists of the time. When it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1922 for $200,000 it was erroneously attributed to the great artist Jacques-Louis David. It was not until 1951 that it was revealed to be a painting by Villers, and not until 1977 that the name was changed at the museum to reflect this.

When this painting was attributed to David it was widely praised as a masterpiece. But after it was revealed to have been painted by a woman it received mostly negative and even scathing criticism, much of it coming from the same male critics that had previously praised it.

The subject of this powerful portrait was Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, a woman of privilege and status who had once aspired to be an artist herself. She subsequently gave up this ambition upon getting married.

In the painting, one can see the young woman drawing in a room now known to be in the Louvre in Paris. It was common for women of means to take art courses there at the time. In the background through a cracked window we can see two figures, a man and a woman standing on a parapet in a romantic pose.

My interpretation of this piece is that Marie-Denise Villers was actually painting herself. She came from a family of artists. In fact, her two sisters were also accomplished in their work. To Villers, painting was far superior to giving up ones ambition and passion for the comfort and stability of a conventional marriage like Charlotte du Val d’Ognes did, especially in the age in which she lived where women were often treated as chattel.

Overall this is a superb work of art. And it is supremely sad that it was treated so differently by male critics once it was revealed that it was done by a woman. But it illustrates the strong undercurrent of misogyny in art and culture in Western society, much of which has endured to this day.

Kenn Orphan May 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!

Pain and Mortality: a Meditation on What it Means to Possess a Body

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

I’ve been dealing with dull and acute pain for over a week. Primarily back pain, from a pinched nerve I suspect, but it migrates to my head and down my arms too. I have had it before and it is usually from unwisely lifting something heavy and with poor posture. Now I am not writing any of this to illicit sympathy, but more as a meditation for myself on the phenomenon.

Pain is something our society does not deal with well. It is to be medicated, numbed out of existence, or “pushed through.” Pain is to be seen as a means to gaining strength or some other kind of reward. Many of us know the cliched catch phrases: “no pain, no gain” or “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” No time is to be spent contemplating it except as a stepping stone to power or in its eradication.

Pain’s association with pleasure, of which there is a myriad of evidence to support, is also routinely denied, made a joke of, or looked at with disdain. It is seen as merely a kink or a fetish. A so-called “deviant behavior,” and not a fundamental and wondrous contradiction of the human experience itself. And to talk about pain inevitably invites tons of unsolicited advice as to how to deal with it and eliminate it. It is a language designed to obscure one of the most basic and universal conditions that define possessing a corporeal body.

To be clear, I am not saying anyone should ever have to endure pain. I am also not suggesting one ignore it. After all, pain is the body’s best way of alerting us to something wrong, misaligned or disordered in its systemic processes and function. Psychic and spiritual pain are messengers too, and are all too often ignored, suppressed or explained away in our cultures’ penchant for intellectualized detachment. But pain, as well as ecstasy, are two of the most powerful ways to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. To have a body and a mind. And to know on some visceral, as well as transcendent level, that that body, and even that mind, will fail us. And, at some point, it will cease to function and eventually break down.

There is a renewed push today to pursue immortality, not in a spiritual sense, but in a desperation to stave off aging forever. Mass media, as well as the fitness and fashion industries, have long honed their skills of playing on our existential anxieties, albeit in the most base of ways. But science, in the thrall of profit, is on board too. One quick internet search and you will find recent articles saying scientists are closer than ever in achieving it thanks to genetic research and other related fields. Hubris aside, this obsession is really nothing new.

Consider the ancient Egyptians. Immortality was associated with more than the concept of a spirit. It was entwined with the body itself. And yet for all their elaborate rituals their bodies merely became empty shells, bathed and well preserved in exotic oils and herbs, but forever devoid of the spirit that once animated them. Now they festoon great museum halls like garishly bedecked, slowly putrefying ghouls. And so when I look at this obsession with staying alive and young, I am compelled to grapple with the obsession humans have with this fragile fleshy, watery, boney vehicle that temporarily houses our spirit.

When I worked with terminally ill people in hospice I encountered human pain and suffering every day. We understood that death could not be medically prevented and that the only compassionate course of action was for palliative care. The mantra, one which I wholeheartedly support, is that no one should have to die alone or in pain. I encountered many who wanted to be sedated or medicated, but there were others who decided to endure as much of the pain that they could so that they could be present until the very last breath.

Now I want to be clear that I think of neither way as being superior, and I would likely choose pain killers over facing death without them. But it caused me to consider that if we ignore the lessons that pain gives us we may risk shortchanging a keen insight into what it means to be alive in the first place. Death is widely seen in many religious and philosophical traditions as a portal to something else and a release from earthly pain, and I sense this is true, although I don’t possess the language to describe it. But do we really want to be released from pains’ grip without contemplating its meaning?

To be sure, I don’t know the answer to that last question. I know there are fates worse than death, and I want nothing of this to sound trite. After all, I don’t want anyone to suffer from unnecessary pain, and I want to be out of my own pain. I am taking the necessary analgesics, anodynes and therapeutic measures to help with this process. It is still there even as I type this essay, waxing and waning. Perhaps it is a warning sign of something more grave, and I don’t intend to ignore it if it is. But I will have to wait to find out given the state of the pandemic.

In the meantime I must sit uncomfortably with my pain, like an unbidden companion who selfishly demands all of my attention. I must also face the fact that this is only the beginning of my body betraying my wishes more frequently as it sees fit. But maybe I will experience a deeper sense of connection to all those who suffer or have suffered, both human and non. And maybe, if I am lucky, I will have gained some humility and grace from the unwanted conversation it has compelled me to have with myself and my mortality.

Kenn Orphan May 2021

“𝐼 𝑑𝑟𝑎𝑛𝑘 𝑡𝑜 𝑑𝑟𝑜𝑤𝑛 𝑚𝑦 𝑠𝑜𝑟𝑟𝑜𝑤𝑠, 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑑𝑎𝑚𝑛𝑒𝑑 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔𝑠 𝑙𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑛𝑒𝑑 ℎ𝑜𝑤 𝑡𝑜 𝑠𝑤𝑖𝑚.” – 𝐹𝑟𝑖𝑑𝑎 𝐾𝑎ℎ𝑙𝑜

*Title art piece is “Sin Esperanza” by Frida Kahlo, 1945

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!